Readers' Favorite

April 7, 2022

Sixth Grade Girls Take on Their Worlds in Two Awesome Middle Grades Novels

by MK French

Are the kids home and bored? I highly recommend these two middle grades books. They feature strong girls and great messages for kids. The Sea of Always is book 2 in the Thirteen Witches series so if you are like me and haven't read book 1, you can get both now and that will entertain you until Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend publishes later this month.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

The Sea of Always by Jodi Lynn Anderson

book cover of middle grades novel The Sea of Always by Jodi Lynn Anderson
April 2022; Aladdin; 978-1481480246
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); mystery

Rosie Oaks had triumphed over an evil witch, opening a world of magic and experiences. As the last of a long line of witch hunters, it's up to her to track down and defeat the original Thirteen Witches. Rosie has a time-traveling whale to help her complete this quest, but does she really have the skill to defeat witches that had centuries to develop their talents?

This is the second book in the Thirteen Witches series, following The Memory Thief. I hadn't read that one, but in it, sixth-grader Rosie had to take care of everything in the house that her forgetful mother couldn't. There's allusion to this in the prologue, told from the POV of Rosie's mother, who is unable to follow Rosie because the only way to find her brother. Another witch declares that Rosie will die, which adds to the tension from the very start of the story.

As a book series meant for elementary school readers, of course, our heroine is young. Germ's initial wish for an adult to come help them is a very real one because, for all that Rosie has skills and her natural inherited abilities, they're both twelve! This is a concept that all middle schoolers understand: they want to be more independent, but are still children and realistically can't do everything they want to do. In this case, hunting down dangerous witches. Rosie knows she isn't as skilled, which for this novel makes her think about her journey, the job at hand, and the world she's now exposed to. As someone who missed the first book, this was a very smooth way to introduce the worldbuilding, as well as a way to learn more about Rosie and her best friend Germ. In a way, we also see why some of the witches do what they do. Their hearts are literally outside of their bodies and disconnected from them, and the stretch of immortality in front of them is incredibly empty. It's such a mature concept to put in the book, and I enjoy how the bad guys aren't simply evil for evil's sake.

In this book, Rosie and her allies don't charge in swinging and trying to fight off everything at once. I appreciate that, as well as the appreciation for Rosie being "weird." It's more than her imagination is her real tool, and being creative is celebrated. She thinks outside the box and is still affected by friendships, fear, and the need for connection with others. I love how communication remains one of her big go-to skills, even though she is twelve and sometimes gets caught up in what she's afraid of or what she thinks is happening around her. Rosie's strength is her connectedness with others, and how much she cares about her friends, her family, the brother she'd never met, and doing the right thing. What she thinks is a weakness for her or Germ or anyone else is actually what helps them meet their goals. It's a series, so this isn't the end of everything, but she has the strength to keep going even when it's hard, which is wonderful to see.

Buy The Sea of Always at Amazon

Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend by Katie Zhao

book cover of middle grades novel Winne Zeng Unleashes a Legend by Katie Zhao
April 2022; Random House; 978-0593426579
audio, ebook, print (288 pages); fantasy

Winnie is determined to defeat middle school and her rival David Zuo. Though her older sister says middle school is terrible, she's armed with the knowledge gained from anime and comic books. But nothing prepares her for the evil spirits released when she makes mooncakes from her grandmother's cookbook. With the magic cookbook and a talking rabbit, Winnie must defeat the demons. If she doesn't her town will fall into chaos.

This is a great middle-grade book based on Chinese mythology. From the start, Winnie is an average kid of Chinese descent. She attends Chinese school, gets compared to other students, and has hard-working parents that expect the best from her. As a younger sibling, she isn't close to her sister and is overlooked when she does do her best. Summoning her grandmother, whose spirit enters her pet rabbit, is a complete accident, and unlocks Winnie's latent ability as a shaman. Being a sixth-grader, Winnie thinks of it as a superpower, though no one is allowed to know about her abilities; fear draws more spirits, leading to chaos, and her role is to maintain the balance between the spirit world and the living realm. Of course, this is hard to do while balancing middle school responsibilities on top of her piano lessons and Chinese school assignments, and of course, her nemesis is also a shaman.

I enjoyed this story and sympathized with Winne's attempts to do well. With every struggle, I felt the discouragement and pain she did. Fighting off those feelings as well as the demons trying to enter our world and create chaos is a difficult task for anyone, let alone an eleven-year-old. She does it admirably, and it's such a good book to share with middle-grade readers. Her thoughtfulness and love of others are traits that not only make her a good shaman, but a person that any child can look up to and emulate.

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by following us. Get even more book news in your inbox, sign up for our newsletter today! Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.


Post a Comment