Knopf, $16.99, ages 9-12, 245 pages) Daniel has long hunted for a way through the thorny thickets and quicksand that guard a forbidden island near his home in Everwood, but it isn't until he befriends a mysterious orphan named Emily Byrdsong that he discovers how important the island really is. Emily, as it turns out, is the granddaughter of a strangely lovable witch-woman named Bridey, part of a long line of Byrdsongs who've guarded the island's secrets. Until now, no one has gotten passed the creeks of poisonous snakes that encircle it. But now a crazed commander named Sloper has stormed into town and is accusing the villagers of a hiding weapons on the island, and suddenly Bridey has disappeared. Could Sloper be behind her disappearance and why is he firing rounds into the forest? It's up to Daniel and his brother Wesley to help Emily find Bridey and save the island, but first they'll have to outwit Sloper and decode an ancient map. Will Daniel's habit of blurting out the truth make things worse? It may take a lesson in "Lefty Lucy, Righty Tighty" and literally the freckles on Emily's back to get them safely across the creeks of poisonous snakes and find a hidden door to the island. But why would any place be so isolated and if they can get there, could the commander too? It isn't called the Impossible Island for nothing. Townley's writing is filled with descriptive gems (trees "tall and thin, like tuning forks") and so imaginative I was halfway done before I looked up.
Simon & Schuster, $19.99, ages 8-12, 464 pages, 2011). While cleaning the hippo tank at the zoo where he volunteers, Jason Walker falls through a portal into a strange and troubled world ruled by a malicious wizard emperor. Lyrian is like nowhere on Earth. As he searches for a way to get back home, he stumbles upon a hidden repository in the woods, where a forbidden tome is preserved in a scribe's flesh. Though cautioned by the repository's loremaster (librarian) not to open the book, Jason cannot resist the temptation and upon reading it, is unwittingly nominated to depose the emperor, Maldor. Unless Jason, with the help of his new ally Rachel, can uncover all of the syllables of a magical word that can destroy Maldor, he'll be executed. First he'll have to find the Blind King and outsmart brave resisters who've been bought off or broken by Maldor. From the author of the best-selling Fablehaven series comes the first book in a fantastic new adventure that reads like a great movie.
Scholastic, $16.99, ages 9-12, 304 pages, 2011) When a magical force blows up their house and nearly snatches them away, twins Jaide and Jack Shield are hurried off to live with their peculiar Grandma X in a small seaside town. But little do they know, the danger has only begun. Strange, unsettling things are going on around grandmother's house, though she won't give a straight answer about any of them: a blue door to the cellar disappears and reappears, a weather vane on her roof twirls opposite to prevailing winds, grandmother talks to her cat as if he understands every word and when the twins drink her hot cocoa, they forget what they've been talking about. Could she be a witch? And why does she tells them never to go out of the sight of the lighthouse? All I can say is, watch out for those fuzzy little hailstones. They bite. And never go near rats with milky eyes. This first book in a trilogy was a blast from beginning to end: a great easy read with a dash of creepy crawly. Perfect for fans of Ingrid Law's Savvy and Scumble.