The first one I read this summer is called "Castle Hangnail" by Ursula Vernon. I just got a series of books by Ursula Vernon for my school library about Harriet the Hamster Princess which is hilarious so I was looking forward to "Castle Hangnail" and I was NOT disappointed. Castle Hangnail belongs to a witches guild and is in transition. The old witch is gone and they are looking for a new witch. There is a cast of minions that includes the caretaker (who has no name), a haunted suit of armor, a stuffed doll named Pins who takes care of wardrobe and furnishings, a minotaur that is the cook, and the cleaner, Serenissima, who is a water spirit that steams every thing clean. They are a bit worried about the new witch, as they have had some bad experiences in the past. They are very surprised when a witch named Molly turns up. Molly is an evil twin (her sister Sarah is very pink and sparkly) and Molly is magical (she can turn invisible by holding her breath) but she has a lot to learn-especially since she's only 12. The minions are a bit taken aback by her youth, but they do their best to make it work. Molly is a very likable character but there are many surprises along the way. There is a bit of mystery, but what's really great about this one is the dialogue and interplay between the characters. I thought it was terrific.
Here's a book trailer about "Castle Hangnail".
And here's a little interview with Ursula Vernon about writing "Castle Hangnail".
The second one I read is called "A Dragon's Guide to the care and feeding of humans' by Laurence Yep. Ms. Drake tells the story. She's a dragon and her favorite pet, Fluffy, has just died. Except, it turns out that Fluffy, who's real name was Amelia was a human and in addition to being a dragon's pet, also had a niece and a grand niece, and before Fluffy/Amelia died, she drew up a will leaving her house to her niece and a letter explaining to her grand-niece, Winnie, how to find the dragon. Winnie loves the idea of having a dragon, but Ms. Drake is not so sure. Winnie eventually wins her over and as they are getting to know each other, Ms. Drake buys Winnie a drawing pad. Unfortunately, the drawing pad has some unexpected magical powers, so Winnie and Ms. Drake have to work together to try to fix the mess. This is a very entertaining story with lots of great plot twists and interesting magical creatures. I think the kids are going to love this one.
The third one, is called "Maxi's Secret" by Lynn Plourde. I almost didn't read it, because it starts off, in my opinion, rather badly. Here's the first line "Let's get this part over with-it's no secret. My dog Maxi, dies." Uggghhh. Really? I HATE this kind of book, you totally fall in love with the dog and then at the very last possible moment, the dog dies. Gaaaahhhh. Big ugly cry. So really? I want to spend my time reading this? The answer is YES, yes, you do want to read this, because Timminy, Maxi's owner, is worth knowing, and actually, even more so, Timminy's friends are worth knowing.
So Timminy starts telling this story, he's short, he gets picked on all the time. His dad has taken a new job as an assistant principal in a school far away, so they have to move. Timminy will be attending the same school where his dad is the assistant principal (so no pressure there). Timminy's parents agree that he can have a dog, since they are going to be living more out in the country. Timminy chooses a Great Pyrenees, which are these giant fluffy white dogs, bred in the mountains of France. They have amazing personalities. Timminy's dad thinks Maxine would be a great name for the puppy, but Timminy shortens it to Maxi. They adore each other from the get-go, and Maxi helps Timminy meet some of the other kids in the neighborhood, including Rory, who is big and loud and starts teasing Timminy immediately as well as Abby, the girl next door, who was adopted by her parents (who are white, she's African American) and is blind. One thing that's pretty interesting is what a negative thinker Timminy is. But the more he is surrounded by positive thinkers, like Abby, the more he starts thinking positively. This book as a lovely climax. It would also be great connected to some of the other great dog stories for kids, like Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo or Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor or, Wish by Barbara O'Connor and yes, it's totally worth reading, even if the dog dies.