The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin: Book Review

February 18th, 2018 by

The Year of the Dog_Grace LinHappy new year!

Confused? Yes, the Western world celebrates New Year’s as the clock strikes midnight between December 31st and January 1st. But this weekend marks the start of a new lunar year, celebrated in some Asian countries such as China and Korea. Each year is associated with a different animal — 12 in all. This is now the year of the dog, and in 12 years we’ll celebrate the year of the dog again! (Last year was the year of the rooster, and next year is the year of the pig.)

Just like with the Western zodiac that is based on your birth month, there are certain characteristics attributed to people born in each lunar year. For example, I was born in the year of the monkey, which supposedly makes me mischievous and clever.

Also, each year’s animal influences what happens to everyone during that year. In The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, the main character, Pacy, learns about what to expect from the year of the dog: Because dogs are loyal, it will be a year dedicated to friends and family; and because dogs are sincere, it will be a good year for thinking hard and finding herself. Immediately, Pacy vows that she will discover her true calling before the year is over — and hopefully it’s tied to a way to get rich!

Over the course of the year, Pacy also makes a new best friend, navigates her feelings about being Taiwanese-American, and deals with the ups and downs of regular school stuff (like the Halloween costume contest and the science fair). In other words, the book is a snapshot of a pretty relatable year. But I love that it is all through the lens of Pacy’s Taiwanese heritage and what the year of the dog means to her and her family.

This book is aimed at younger readers than some of Grace Lin’s other novels (like Where the Mountain Meets the Sea and Starry River of the Sky). So if you’re a super fan of those books, then you might find The Year of the Dog doesn’t hold your attention in the same way. (Also, there are no fantasy elements in Pacy’s life!) But I’d recommend this book for fans of Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins and Andrew Clements’ school stories (like Frindle and Lunch Money).

And don’t just take my word for it — check out these positive reviews from Jackson (age 10) and Tammy (age 10)!

Do you celebrate lunar new year at home, or did you mark the occasion at school? Leave a comment about what you did to welcome the year of the dog!

— Karen

In addition to being quick-witted, people born in the year of the monkey are also supposed to have a competitive spirit. This seems to be true of Karen on board game night!

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Behind the Mountains by Edwidge Danticat: Book Review

February 9th, 2018 by

behind-the-mountains“Behind the mountains are more mountains.”

This Haitian proverb is the inspiration for the title of Behind the Mountains by Edwidge Danticat. It’s obviously a description of the landscape in Haiti. But at the end of the book, the main character, Celiane, reflects on how this saying has applied in a deeper way to her own life, with its many ups and downs. And as I read the final lines of the story, my heart was filled with all of the sadness, hope, and relief of Celiane’s journey — even though her life is so different from mine.

Just like me, Celiane moves to New York City from somewhere else. But unlike me, Celiane is coming from Haiti — a country I’ve never visited. That’s one of the things I enjoyed about reading Behind the Mountains; I got a chance to learn about life in Haiti through Celiane’s story.

Celiane lives with her mother and brother in the countryside, but her father is working in America, saving money and putting in his time until everyone can live in the U.S. together. In the meantime, Celiane studies hard at school, spends time with her boy-crazy best friend, helps her mom make and sell candies at the market, and goes to visit her aunt in the big city. It’s during this trip that Celiane has the most harrowing experience of her life and awakens to the volatile political situation in the country.

Unfortunately, Celiane’s problems don’t end when she gets to the United States. But now she faces a different set of challenges — learning now to navigate at her new school, in her new neighborhood, and within hew newly reunited family.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about life in Haiti — getting a window into another country, while also getting to know a character you’ll identify with despite your different backgrounds.

Have you read any other books about Haiti, or any other books about characters who immigrate to the U.S.? Leave a comment and share your recommendations!

— Karen

Karen grew up in San Francisco. Even though it’s not nearly as warm there as it is in Haiti, Karen also had to acquire a winter coat and boots for her move to the East Coast — just like Celiane. And similarly, Karen was fascinated when she experienced her first snowfall!

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You Asked, We Answered: Sports Fiction & Short Stories

January 28th, 2018 by

On January 19th, Daniel asked us for some book recommendations:

I am looking for a good book but it takes to long to find one . I like sports realistic fiction and short stories do you know a good book for me.

Thanks for sending your question, Daniel!

Sports Realistic Fiction:

With the Super Bowl right around the corner, let’s kick off with sports books. (Get it? Kick off! Ha ha ha. I slay myself…)

  • To get in the mood for this year’s match-up between the Patriots and the Eagles, look no further than this list of Books for the Super Bowl.
  • For other sports, check out this Super Sports booklist, with stories involving hockey, baseball, swimming, and more.
  • When I think of sports novels, two authors jump to mind right away: Mike Lupica and Tim Green. Kidsmomo readers like you have shared reviews for several of Lupica and Green’s books (such as RivalsThe Underdogs, and Heat), so see what they have to say!
  • Until recently, I would have said that sports realistic fiction = novels. But author Kwame Alexander proves that sports realistic fiction = poetry too! Check out Kidsmomo reader reviews for his two sports books in verse: The Crossover (about basketball) and Booked (about soccer).

Short Stories:

And now, time for a short list of short stories. (Get it? A short list of short stories! Ha ha ha ha ha. I slayed myself again…) Official descriptions from the authors and book publishers:

tales-from-outer-suburbiaTales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
Tales from Outer Suburbia is an anthology of 15 very short illustrated stories. Each one is about a strange situation or event that occurs in an otherwise familiar suburban world; a visit from a nut-sized foreign exchange student, a sea creature on someone’s front lawn, a new room discovered in a family home, a sinister machine installed in a park, a wise buffalo that lives in a vacant lot.

wayside-school-seriesWayside School Series by Louis Sachar
There’d been a terrible mistake. Wayside School was built with 30 classrooms one on top of the other instead of next to each other! (The builder said he was very sorry.) That may be why all kinds of funny things happen at Wayside School… especially on the 13th floor. You’ll meet Mrs. Gorf, the meanest teacher of all; terrible Todd, who always gets sent home early; and John, who can read only upside down — along with all the other kids in the crazy mix-up school that came out sideways.

Guys Read books by 90+ authorsguys-read-funny-business
Check out any or all of the Guys Read Library of Great Reading short story collections: Funny Business, True Stories, The Sports Pages, Other Worlds, Thriller, Terrifying Tales, Heroes and Villains.

scary_storiesScary Stories to Tell in the Dark series by Alvin Schwartz
Walking corpses, dancing bones, knife-wielding madmen, and narrow escapes from death — they’re all here in this chilling collection of ghost stories. Make sure you read these books with the light ON!

13-thirteen-stories13: Thirteen Stories That Capture the Agony and Ecstasy of Being Thirteen
[Note from Kidsmomo: This book is recommended for ages 12 and up.] Thirteen. It’s an age of wonder… or dread. The best year of your life… or maybe the worst ever. You’ve just become an official teenager, even though you’re not quite sure you feel like one, but you’re no longer a kid, either. Here, from 14 different points of view, are stories about that wonderful, terrible time. The big bar mitzvah that goes suddenly, wildly, hilariously out of control. A first kiss — and a realization about one’s sexual orientation. A crush on a girl that ends up putting the boy who likes her in the hospital. A pair of sneakers that a kid has to have, no matter what. Written by some of today’s finest writers for young adults, these stories — by turns funny and sad, wrenching and moving — truly capture the agony and ecstasy of being 13.

Are you like Daniel and looking to add to your reading list, but not sure what to read next? Ask Kidsmomo a question in the form below!

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Wonder Movie: Yup, It’s Wonderful

November 19th, 2017 by

wonder-movie-posterOkay, I’m going to keep this short because lately Kidsmomo has been all Wonder, all of the time. First, I posted the movie trailer. Then, I posted some clips. Now, it’s time for the verdict:

This movie is great — dare I say, even wonderful! Although Auggie’s physical appearance in the movie is not nearly as pronounced as described in the book, that really doesn’t matter. That was a big concern of mine beforehand, but as you watch the movie you still see the reactions of everyone around him and you still experience his pain at feeling like an outsider.

But even more than that, the movie does a really good job at showing how the people in Auggie’s world are affected, especially his parents and his older sister (Via). Even though she has chapters dedicated to her in the book, via-photoI didn’t expect Via’s storyline to be so prominent in the film, and I’m really glad that we get so much time to see things from her perspective.

Usually, Kidsmomo gives out smiley faces to the movies that we like. In this case, I think Wonder deserves both a smiley face and a sobbing face — because boy did I cry a bunch during this movie. Thank goodness I planned ahead and brought tissues!

So I give Wonder a 🙂 and a 😭 — but what about you? If you’ve seen the movie, leave a comment with your thoughts!

— Karen

Now that she’s seen Wonder, Karen is looking ahead to the movie adaptations of Wonderstruck and A Wrinkle in Time. They look sooooooo good! 😍

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Wonder Movie: In Theaters This Friday!

November 16th, 2017 by

OMG OMG OMG, it’s almost time! The Wonder movie comes out this Friday! And I’m going to see it on opening night! Yes yes yes yes! YES!

Anyone else planning to see the film? I assume the answer is, well, YES — assuming you’re a fan of the original book by R.J Palacio.

As I said when the trailer was released, I’m a little skeptical about the way Auggie is portrayed in the movie — and that in turn makes me wonder if they’re going to make a lot of changes from the book. But despite my concerns, I’m looking forward to seeing the movie. And let’s face it, I loved the book so much that as long as the film gets the main parts right, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. I’m already pretty psyched, based on these clips:

Are you as excited about the new Wonder movie as I am? Leave a comment about what you expect it to be like!

— Karen

To be honest, Karen cried at that first clip. So please wish the best of luck to the people who are planning to watch this movie with Karen. They’ll need it. Plus, lots of tissues. And maybe hearing aids so they can make out the movie audio over Karen’s loud weeping.

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Walls Within Walls by Maureen Sherry: Book Review

October 1st, 2017 by

walls-within-wallsA few weeks ago, I shared a list of books full of puzzles and riddles. Well, I have a new addition to that list: Walls Within Walls by Maureen Sherry.

The mystery begins when the Smithfork family moves from Brooklyn to Manhattan and the three kids (CJ, Brid, and Patrick) discover a strange painting. But it’s not inside their apartment — it’s on an original wall that still stands BEHIND the walls of their new home. Get it? Walls within walls!

Soon the siblings are sucked into an intriguing adventure as they try to track down a treasure supposedly hidden by their apartment’s original owner and never found. Along the way, they encounter multiple puzzles and coded messages — not to mention some unusual neighbors and a shadowy man who brings the threat of danger to their quest.

As a New Yorker, I especially loved following the Smithforks’ journey around the city during their treasure hunt. Through serendipity, I actually happened to read a scene where they visit the main New York Public Library as I was riding the subway to that very same place! But even if you’ve never been to New York City, I think you’ll still enjoy the very specific setting of the story. For those of you who don’t live here, reading this book will be like taking a brief trip to the city yourself!

Obviously, I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys books with lots of codes and riddles. But I also suggest the book to fans of history- and art-related mysteries like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Chasing Vermeer, and Under the Egg.

And if you’re still not sure whether this is the book for you, check out these reviews from other Kidsmomo readers like you!

Do you have a favorite mystery book to recommend? Share it in the comments below!

— Karen

Karen wouldn’t mind exploring NYC in pursuit of a lost treasure — as long as it’s not too hot. No amount of moolah is worth sweating in the humid New York summer!

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Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer: Book Review

September 19th, 2017 by

unusual-chickens-for-the-exceptional-poultry-farmerRecently, I recommended Moo by Sharon Creech, which is about a city family that moves to the country and the kids get involved in caring for the cows on the farm. Well, this is another book about a city family moving to the country and the kid gets involved with caring for the animals on the farm — but this time it’s chickens. And also, as you might have guessed from the book title, these are not your typical chickens.

In Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, Sophie and her family inherit her Great-Uncle Jim’s land and everything that goes along with it. At first Sophie doesn’t realize this includes chickens, but then they start showing up one by one. And each chicken exhibits quite a peculiar (and sometimes alarming) skill.

Sophie is no chicken expert, especially when it comes to unusual chickens. So she turns to a nearby farm for advice — and what she learns is almost more confusing than the chickens’ behavior!

For example, why does the mailman think it’s strange that she keeps sending letters to this particular farm? And why does a neighbor keep sneaking around their property? I don’t want to spoil the mystery that unfolds over the course of this story, so I won’t say any more — but all will be revealed by the end of the book!

If you enjoyed Moo, I would definitely recommend this book for a different twist on the city-slicker-in-the-country theme. I’d also suggest this book if you like kind of wacky stories like Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money by Christopher Paul Curtis and A Whole Nother Story by Dr. Cuthbert Soup.

Do YOU have any pets or know any animals with remarkable skills? Tell us in the comments!

— Karen

Despite wishing for a dog as a kid, Karen has only ever had one pet, and it was a fish. Unsurprisingly, the fish did not have any particular talents worth mentioning.

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Summer Book Recommendations from YOU

September 3rd, 2017 by

Labor Day is right around the corner, marking the unofficial end of the summer. You may already be back at school, or else you’re about to start. No matter what, now that it’s September, it’s time to say goodbye to picnics, beach days, popsicles by the pool, fireworks in the park, and s’mores at sleep-away camp…

No no no, don’t cry! I personally love fall — the pumpkin spices, the crisp weather, the beautiful leaves, the hot apple cider… Autumn is actually my favorite season! But I understand there’s a certain allure to summer, and that’s why I always enjoy a good summer book — any time of year!

Luckily, you Kidsmomo readers have recommended a lot of wonderful summertime stories on our website. So if you’re like me and you’re looking to make the season last a little longer, check out these suggestions from kid reviewers like you:

sand-dollar-summer-kimberly-k-jonesSand Dollar Summer by Kimberly K. Jones
Recommended by Hahaha me, Age 11 from Maine

“Sand Dollar Summer is short and funny, but serious at the same time. I think the best part of the book is that there is no other book with the same theme. Think about it — there are SO many books about a kid moving to another town or state, or about a kid who needs to win the little league baseball championships. How many books have a car crash, a brother how doesn’t speak, the beach and lobsters in it all together? One. So read it!”
Read the full review.

penderwicks_jeanne_birdsallThe Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Recommended by Liana, Age 10 from New York

“I LOVED this book!! It is one of those books you can’t put down and get hooked on to. This book is about four girls, a dog, their father, and a boy they meet at Arundel where they are going for vacation. There is a little romance, a few adventures, and a little bit of a sad ending.”
Read another review for the book, from Elizabeth, Age 10 from New Hampshire.

SummerlostSummerlost by Allie Condie
Recommended by Ellie, Age 12 from New York

“A girl named Cedar moved to a new town for the summer about a year after her brother Ben (who had autism) and her dad had died. … One night when Cedar woke up she found weird trinkets on her windowsill she had no clue who left them. Read to find out who was leaving the items and how Cedar found herself again.”
Read the full review.

lawn-boy-gary-paulsen-book-reviewLawn Boy by Gary Paulsen
Reviewed by Jameson, Age 12 from New York

“This book is about a boy who mows lawns and makes a lot of money and does some funny things with that money like buying a house on a lake…”
Read all reviews for this book.

umbrella-summer_lisa-graffUmbrella Summer by Lisa Graff
Recommended by Olivia, Age 11 from Rhode Island

“This fiction book is about a girl named Annie and her Summer adventures. She frets about getting diseases, searches the ‘haunted house’ on her street, and misses her passed brother. Will Annie get over her fear of sickness? What will she find in the ‘haunted house’? You’ll have to read and find out.”
Read all reviews for this book.

roller girl_victoria jamiesonRoller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Reviewed by Joyce, Age 10 from Connecticut

“The main character is Astrid and she loses two best friends. One of her best friend is Zoey and the other one is Nicole. Astrid loses Nicole because Nicole goes to a ballet camp and Astrid is going to roller derby camp. … It is a VERY good book! I love it so much! Be sure to read it!”
Read all reviews for this book.

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe BoothKinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth
Reviewed by Alana, Age 11 from Connecticut

“Jarrett goes to a summer school in the Center to try and pass the sixth grade. Since Jarrett’s mother is a foster mother, she takes in a baby girl and she also has to take the baby’s brother. When Jarrett finds out that the baby’s brother is older than he is, what is his reaction towards it?”
Read all reviews for this book.

My Summer of Pink and GreenMy Summer In Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald
Reviewed by Nancy, Age 13 from New York

“This book is a really good book. I was so surprised at the end when…… Something happened and it was so cool.”
Read all reviews for this book.

Do YOU have any summer book recommendations? Share your suggestions in the comments below!

— Karen

You know another thing Karen loves about fall? Wearing pants instead of skirts, dresses, and shorts! Yeah, she’s weird…

More about Karen »

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson: Book Review

August 20th, 2017 by

phoebe-and-her-unicornI have to admit, I’m a total sucker for trends. And right now, unicorns are all the rage. You’ve got unicorn drinks at Starbucks, unicorn horn hairbands, unicorn lamps and mugs and pool floaties and… pretty much everything else! I totally dig it.

But actually, I think unicorns have always been beloved. I remember playing with unicorn toys when I was a kid (aka a million gazillion years ago). And author/illustrator Dana Simpson has been publishing her comic strip, Phoebe and Her Unicorn, since 2012 — way before the current wave of unicorn mania.

Luckily for us, the comic strips are also published in some handy dandy books — sometimes called the Heavenly Nostrils series! Why that name? Well, it becomes obvious when you meet Marigold Heavenly Nostrils:


Yep, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils is a unicorn — and she’s best friend to a 9-year-old human girl named Phoebe. How did this happen? Check out this video, which explains how they met and became BFFs:

Based on that video, I think you can tell how funny and delightful these books are! Phoebe is a bit awkward and a bit anxious, but she’s also high-spirited and always up for adventure. Marigold is haughty and vain, but also a caring and supportive friend. Together, these two besties make a pretty hilarious duo as they get into all kinds of hijinks.

And I love all the humorous insights into the unicorn world — for example, did you know that unicorns use a “Shield of Boringness” so that humans don’t totally freak out when they meet a unicorn? (In the book, Marigold finally allows for a “Shield of Eyebrow-Raising Novelty” to impress Phoebe’s parents.)

There are currently five books in the series:

  1. Phoebe and Her Unicorn
  2. Unicorn on a Roll
  3. Unicorn vs. Goblins
  4. Razzle Dazzle Unicorn
  5. Unicorn Crossing

The next book, Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm, comes out in October!

If you’re still not sure whether this series is for you, then check out the online comic strip. I think that once you spend some time with Phoebe and her unicorn, you’ll want to join them for even more adventures!

Now here’s my question for you: If a unicorn offered to grant you any wish in the world, what would you wish for? Leave a comment with your answer!

— Karen

Karen’s wish would either be world peace or a free lifetime supply of sushi.

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Booklist: Experience an Escape Room, Kidlit Style

August 7th, 2017 by

The other day, my friend told me that he and his family did three escape rooms in one week. Seriously, dude loves puzzles.

Not familiar with escape rooms? They’re theme rooms where you solve a series of puzzles in order to figure out how to exit the room — usually within an hour time limit. You participate in teams, so it’s a fun activity for a family or a group of friends.

I got to thinking… If I had my own escape room company, I’d make all the rooms based on different children’s books where the storyline revolves around characters solving puzzles and putting together clues. In my opinion, reading these brain-teasing books and playing along is like experiencing an escape room!

So check out these puzzle-centric books packed with even more riddles, codes, and drama than you’d find in a real-world escape room (official descriptions from the book publishers/authors):

puzzling-world-of-winston-breen-book-reviewThe Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Erin Berlin

Winston Breen says the only thing better than discovering a puzzle is stumping someone else with it. But when his sister uncovers mysterious strips of wood with words and letters on them, even Winston himself is stumped. Soon the whole family (and some friends) are caught up in the mystery and off on a scavenger hunt that just may lead to a ring worth thousands of dollars! Chock-full of puzzles to solve, some tied to the mystery and some not, this treasure hunt will keep readers’ brains teased right up to the exciting ending!

the-gollywhopper-gamesThe Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman

Gil Goodson’s future happiness depends on winning Golly Toy and Game Company’s ultimate competition. If Gil wins, his dad has promised the family can move away from all the gossip, false friends, and bad press that have plagued them ever since The Incident.

Gil has been studying, training, and preparing for months, and once he makes it through the tricky preliminary rounds and meets his teammates, the competition gets tougher. Brainteasers, obstacle courses, mazes, and increasingly difficult puzzles and decisions — not to mention temptations, dilemmas, and new friends (and enemies) — are all that separate Gil from ultimate victory. Does Gil have what it takes to win? Do you?

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

Kyle Keeley is the class clown and a huge fan of all games — board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the construction of the new town library. Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot as one of 12 kids invited for an overnight sleepover in the library, hosted by Mr. Lemoncello and riddled with lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors stay locked. Kyle and the other kids must solve every clue and figure out every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route!

Floors_Patrick-CarmanFloors by Patrick Carman

Charlie had his chocolate factory. Stanley Yelnats had his holes. Leo has the wacky, amazing Whippet Hotel. The Whippet Hotel is a strange place full of strange and mysterious people. Each floor has its own quirks and secrets. Ten-year-old Leo Fillmore should know most of them; he is the maintenance man’s son, after all. But a whole lot more mystery gets thrown his way when a series of cryptic boxes are left for him… boxes that lead him to hidden floors, strange puzzles, and unexpected alliances. Leo had better be quick on his feet, because the fate of the building he loves is at stake… and so is Leo’s own future!

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

A bizarre chain of events begins when 16 unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger — and a possible murderer — to inherit his vast fortune, one thing’s for sure: Sam Westing may be dead… but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

For 12-year-old Emily, the best thing about moving to San Francisco is that it’s the home city of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger (a game where books are hidden in cities all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles). Upon her arrival, however, Emily learns that Griswold has been attacked and is now in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold himself, and might contain the only copy of his mysterious new game.

Racing against time, Emily and James rush from clue to clue, desperate to figure out the secret at the heart of Griswold’s new game ― before those who attacked Griswold come after them too.

spiderweb-for-twoSpiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright

Randy and Oliver Melendy awake one fall morning full of gloom. Their brother and sister are away, the house seems forlorn and empty, and even Cuffy, their adored housekeeper, can’t pick up their spirits. Will they have to face a long and lonely winter? But a surprise message in the mailbox starts a trail of excitement and adventure that takes them through the cold season. When summer finally comes around again, the children have found 14 messages in all, and the end of the search brings them a rich reward.


I’m pretty sure the characters in these books would kick major butt in an escape room — and I’d love to solve puzzles and decipher clues alongside them, or at least pretend to be in their world for an hour if I could. So… who’s going to fund my new escape room business? 🙂

Leave a comment if you have an escape room idea or a book recommendation I didn’t include here!

— Karen

Karen’s actually never done an escape room — but she would if there were some based on these books!

More about Karen »

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