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Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

*Fish and Sphinx (Middlegate Series) by Rae Bridgman- young readers book review
Also by Rae Bridgman:

The Serpent's Spell

Fish and Sphinx

Fish and Sphinx (Middlegate Series)
by Rae Bridgman
Ages 9-12 176 pages Great Plains Publications April 2008 Paperback    

Eleven-year-old cousins Wil Wychwood (yes, it’s spelled with one “l”) and Sophie Isidor are back in a new magical adventure in Rae Bridgman’s delightful third book, Fish and Sphinx. The series has come to be known as the Middlegate series, set as it is in the magical town of Middlegate, Canada, that no one who is not a witch (or mage, as they’re called in the book) can get to.

Wil is still trying to learn more about the black medallion and gold ring his grandmother gave him before she died in a fire, and more about the group of people who form the evil Serpent’s Chain. Wil and Sophie have to stop the Serpent’s Chain from destroying the Manitoba Legislative Museum, known to the people of Middlegate as the Palace of the Blazing Star. And who else is better suited to help them accomplish this than a talking catfish that can transform itself into a woman with ten whiskers and call herself Catfysh?

Another school year has rolled around, and Wil and Sophie are starting their second year at Gruffud’s Academy for the Magical Arts, Middlegate’s equivalent to Harry Potter’s school, Hogwarts. If you’re unfamiliar with Bridgman’s books, they are not Potter wanna-be novels, but some elements, of necessity, are similar between the two series, as they both deal with school-aged kids who are learning magical skills.

Fresh from their adventures during the first year at Gruffud’s, which you can read about in The Serpent’s Spell, and during the summer, when they transformed into bees in Amber Ambrosia, the two seem to see catfish almost everywhere, for some strange reason - in the coils of a statue of the talking griffins, Portia and Portius, for instance, and on the cover of a book that Peerslie, the Middlegate Library’s ghost, gives to Wil.

A lot of books I’ve read lately place a huge value on libraries and books as an integral part of their plots, and this series is no exception. There’s Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell, The Historian by Elisabeth Kosova, “The Magic Shop” series of books by Bruce Coville, The Witches’ Hammer by Jane Hitchcock, and the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, to name a few examples. In Fish and Sphinx, the Middlegate Library is finally opening again after the head librarian, Miss Heese - who was really the main villain of The Serpent’s Spell in disguise, Rufus Crookshank - was arrested by the Firecatchers (the police of Middlegate - “they wore distinctive, long red cloaks and were known to probe people’s minds” - somewhat like the Dementors of the Potter books). It had been closed the whole summer while the Firecatchers completed their investigations.

When Wil and Sophie see Catfysh, she is also with people who have green glowing eyes - people who have drowned in the river. She talks in an odd way, adding ‘ysh to the end of some words, and she tells the children they must not tell anyone what they’ve seen or what she asks them to do. She warns them about the Serpent’s Chain:
“Beware’ysh. The Serpent’s Chain grow’ysh long; magical and non-magical worlds be’ysh in danger.”
Fish and Sphinx is a fun-filled tale of magic, myths, ancient Egypt, and mystery that people of all ages can enjoy. One of my favorite things about the series is that the author doesn’t “talk down” to the audience she writes for - each chapter begins with a made-up poetic quote in Latin that is then translated into English, which tells something important about the chapter ahead. It’s a kind of foreshadowing done in a pretty cool and different way, and Rae Bridgman, I can tell, had fun making the quotes up.

I thought that this might be the final book in the Middlegate series, but the good news is that it’s going to continue for at least one more book, because Wil, Sophie, and Aunts Violet and Rue - whom they live with, since they are both orphans - win a trip to Iceland. Fish and Sphinx can be enjoyed as a stand-alone book without having read the first two books in the series. No matter in what order you read them, you’ll eventually want to read them all, though - they are an imaginative and well-written series of books and are highly recommended.
Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

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  Douglas R. Cobb/2008 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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