Monday, November 01, 2021

MMGM- Liar's Room and Unforgotten

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Poblocki, Dan. Liar's Room
November 2nd 2021 by Scholastic Press

Stella and Alex aren't thrilled to move to Frost Meadow from Brooklyn, but are glad of a change of scenery after their father's death. They like their new stepfather, and Wildwyck is a cool, spooky former boys' school that their mom hopes to turn into town homes. What they can't stand is their stepbrother, Simon. He's a year younger, will unfortunately go to their school as they start 6th grade, and lies all the time to get the twins in trouble. He seems to enjoy it, and they see him smirking when he causes problems in the household. He claims that Wildwyck is haunted, and often runs breathlessly into a room to cause commotion over problems that don't exist. There are times, like when the three find a graveyard in the woods on the property, that even Stella and Alex feel uncomfortable vibes from the past. The daughter of the couple that ran they school, Peggy Wildwyck, died at the age of 12 in 1975 under somewhat suspicious circumstances. Is she the ghost of the little girl they catch glimpses of, or is she behind the eerie humming? When the twins start school, they are befriended by Gordon, who lives with his grandmother and has an odd fascination with their home. They learn a bit from him, as well as from one of their teachers, who started his career there in 1974. We also hear, in journal form, from Simon's brother, Zachary, who wishes that he could have stayed in Ohio with his mother, and who doesn't like his brother's lying any more than his step siblings do. As the secrets of the school are slowly revealed, the horrible treatment of the boys make the children wonder if the house is haunted by the spirits of a boy who died. When they uncover the small rooms where the children were locked in for punishment, will they get any closer to solving the mystery of the hauntings and putting the spirits to rest?

Poblocki knows just the kind of scary ghost stories that young readers like, and his books, from Nightmarys (2010) to Ghost Hunter's Daughter (2020) all circulate very well in my library, with the most popular being The Ghost of Graylock, which is also located in Frost Meadow and gets a mention here when Zachary visits it with his friends. He does a good job of creating ghosts with particular ties to places, so that once the characters figure out what is haunting them, they can help the ghosts make peace and move on. Poblocki definitely knows his way around creepy houses, and Wildwyck is creeptastic from the basement to the attic. 

The family dynamics in this one were really well done. We don't really find out much about the father's death, just a bit about how Stella and Alex are dealing with it, but it's interesting to see how the blended family comes together. The fact that the parents are struggling and meeting with a marriage counselor is interesting, but it's Stella and Alex's strong connection that holds the story together. Simon is a horrible child, so when he gets his due a couple of times, it's easy to enjoy his pain. Of course, when the mystery is solved, the whole family is a lot better off, and that's gratifying to see as well. 

Zachary is a bit of a mystery, and his journal keeping isn't as straight forward as it seems, but there is an clever twist involving his presence that I don't want to ruin. 

Readers who are sure that is they move to a new house, it will be haunted and have already polished off Sutherland's The Nightmare Next Door, Currie's Scritch Scratch and Lawrence's The Stitchers will love investigating the sordid history of Wildwyck. I'm hoping for more stand alone tales that take place in Frost Meadow!

Silvey, Anita. Unforgotten: The Wild Life of Dian Fossey and Her Relentless Quest to Save the Mountain Gorillas
June 29th 2021 by National Geographic Kids
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In a format rich in primary source photographs and lovely page decorations of flora, the life and work of Dian Fossey is explained and discussed. Interestingly, Silvey has also given similar treatment to two primatologists who are easy to confuse with Fossey, Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goddall and Undaunted: The Wild life of The Wild Life of Biruté Mary Galdikas.

After a brief chapter about her childhood and life before going to Africa, we are swept away to Kenya where Fossey trained with Louis Leakey and later spent much time on her own living in the wilds and observing mountain gorillas. There is great supporting material as well, such as a chart of other animals found in the Virungas and overviews of gorilla species. Maps help to place where she lived and studied. 

It's interesting to see how Fossey spent her days, and the details of what went in to her studies. The book does not shy away from her struggles with mental health and alcoholism, but treats those parts of her life briefly and in a matter of fact manner. Her violent death in 1985 is explained by not sensationalized, and it's good that the book ended with her continuing legacy. 

The timeline at the end of the book, with each life event written on a leaf, should be made into a poster! There's also a nice guide to the plants featured in the page decorations, and a good list of Further Resources as well as a complete index. 

Readers who want to find out more about scientists, primatology, or groundbreaking women scientists will enjoy this pictorial biography of a devoted scientist gone too soon. 


  1. It will be interesting to read more about Fossey & I wish I'd had Liars Room before Halloween! Next year! Thanks, Karen!

  2. Liar's Room sounds like a wonderful October read. I didn't do any middle grade or young adult spooky this fall and I missed it. I'm adding this to my list and hope we can get it ordered. Thanks, Karen!

  3. I would have purchased Liar's Room for my library, but probably wouldn't have read it myself. I am not a reader of scary stories - even if they are ones for younger readers. Thanks for the heads up about Unforgotten. I do want to read it.

  4. Such and enticing story line for LIARS" ROOM. I am looking forward to reading this one soon. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  5. Liars' Room sounds like a compelling and unnerving read—I generally try to avoid spooky stories, but I can imagine middle-schoolers will gobble that one up! And Unforgotten sounds great—I seem to recall Greg Pattridge recommending it a while back too, and it sounds like a great biography. Thanks for the great reviews, Karen!

  6. Liar's Room sounds like a real thriller. I'll bet your students will love that one. Dian Fossey is an interesting person. I would think both teachers and students will like that one. Thanks for telling me about both of these.