ICYMI: February MG novels that deserve your attention

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Each month, a number of fantastic books land on my porch. Unfortunately, I’m unable to read and review all of them. Below are some middle-grade books published in February 2020 that haven’t been featured on Cracking the Cover, but still deserve your attention.

Synopses provided by the publishers are in gray. Reviews from reputable sources are quoted and linked below. Books are listed by publication date.

Secret DeepTHE SECRET DEEP, by Lindsay Galvin, Chicken House, Feb. 4, 2020, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 10-14)

Aster’s last memories are blurred. All she can remember is being on a boat with her aunt and other members of the eco-village where she was sent to live after the death of her mother. But Sam, who once met the sisters on a plane, makes links between the mystery of their disappearance and suspicious happenings in his own life. Though Aster can’t think clearly, she feels the answers to all of her questions may lie beneath the sea. But nothing can prepare her for the secrets and revelations that she will uncover in her search for her sister.

In a stunning dual narrative, the truth unravels with devastating effect — and the answer lies in the secret underwater world surrounding the desert island. The more Aster searches for Poppy, the more strange things she finds. There is a secret deep in the water. A secret with the potential to change medical history.

“With this atmospheric debut, Galvin skillfully captures Aster’s surroundings, bringing the islands and deep waters to life while employing a fast-paced plot balanced among adventure, mystery, science fiction elements, and Aster’s emotional struggle.” —Publishers Weekly


MULAN: BEFORE THE SWORD, by Grace Lin, Disney Press, Feb. 11, 2020, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 8-12)

New York Times bestselling author Grace Lin pens this novel filled with adventure and wonder set before the upcoming Walt Disney Studios Mulan film.

“As usual, Lin artfully develops captivating characters with rich histories. Traditional tales are interspersed throughout the tightly written narrative to gradually reveal a complex web of legends and adventure that seamlessly blend together into one alluring saga.” — Starred Kirkus Review 


Gloom TownGLOOM TOWN, by Ronald L. Smith , Clarion Books, Feb. 11, 2020, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 10-12)

When twelve-year-old Rory applies for a job at a spooky old mansion in his gloomy seaside town, he finds the owner, Lord Foxglove, odd and unpleasant. But he and his mom need the money, so he takes the job anyway. Rory soon finds out that his new boss is not just strange, he’s not even human—and he’s trying to steal the townspeople’s shadows. Together, Rory and his friend Isabella set out to uncover exactly what Foxglove and his otherworldly accomplices are planning and devise a strategy to defeat them. But can two kids defeat a group of ancient evil beings who are determined to take over the world?

“Anchoring this well-paced story is a solid cast of characters whose central relationships feel authentic and grounded. A yarn as full of magic and intrigue as any fairy tale or pirate song.” — Kirkus Reviews 


Wanda SeasongoodWANDA SEASONGOOD AND THE MOSTLY TRUE SECRET, by Susan Lurie , Jenn Harney, Disney-Hyperion, Feb. 11, 2020, Hardcover, $15.99 (ages 8-12)

Wanda hates her little brother, Zane. But don’t judge her for it–Zane is an absolute terror, and her parents blame Wanda for his monstrous behavior. On her eleventh birthday, Wanda makes a wish: to find her true family, because she knows deep down that this one can’t be hers. She gets a surprise visit from a talking bluebird named Voltaire who seems wise and confirms her suspicion that someone has been meddling with her life. He knows the secret . . . he just can’t remember what it is right now. Together they venture into the Scary Wood, where they encounter many magical creatures as they search for the truth. Wanda must summon all her courage and intelligence to outwit giant hairy Groods who want to eat her, a swamp goblin who wants to make her fade away, a nixie who wants to turn her into a squid, dragons who may or may not be nice, and, perhaps worst of all, a frog who wants to kiss her. None of these adversaries prepares her for the biggest one: a witch named Raymunda, who has put her and her family under a spell. Will Wanda succeed in breaking it, or will she be stuck in the wrong life forever?

“Textual descriptions combine with Harney’s cartoon illustrations to establish a largely white cast; in a welcome twist for a genre that too often racializes evil, the dreadful witch has “creamy” skin. This inventive, modern fairy-tale adventure is sprinkled with wry humor.” —Kirkus Reviews 


96 Miles96 MILES, by J. L. Esplin, Starscape, Feb. 11, 2020, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 8-12)

21 days without power. 2 brothers on a desperate trek. 72 hours before time runs out…

The Lockwood brothers are supposed to be able to survive anything. Their dad, a hardcore believer in self-reliance, has stockpiled enough food and water at their isolated Nevada home to last for months. But when they are robbed of all their supplies during a massive blackout while their dad is out of town, John and Stew must walk 96 miles in the stark desert sun to get help. Along the way, they’re forced to question their dad’s insistence on self-reliance and ask just what it is that we owe to our neighbors, our kin, and to ourselves.

“More than just a harrowing survival story, Esplin offers a richly layered look at the frustrations of sibling rivalry, the depths of family loyalty, and the challenges of forgiveness.” — Publishers Weekly


Mermaid SchoolMERMAID SCHOOL, by Lucy Courtenay and Sheena Dempsey, Amulet Paperbacks, Feb. 18, 2020, Paperback, $6.99 (ages 6-9)

It’s Marnie Blue’s first day at Lady Sealia Foam’s Mermaid School, and she’s terrified. What if she can’t make friends? What if she has to ride a seahorse? And what if the teachers assume she’s just like her Aunt Christabel, a famous singer who was a troublemaker growing up. Even though Marnie is sweet and tries her best to fit in, a mermaid named Orla seems intent on getting her in trouble. But when Orla finds herself in danger, Marnie has to swim to the rescue! Filled with fabulous, fishy fun, Mermaid School is the start of a sparkly new chapter-book series that’s sure to enchant young readers.

“This first installment of the Mermaid School series is a fun addition to any collection for young patrons who love mermaid tales and books about friendship.” — School Library Journal

© 2020, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, all books — digital and physical — have been provided for free by publishers in exchange for honest and unbiased reviews. All thoughts and opinions are those of the reviewer.

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About Author

Jessica Harrison is the main reviewer behind Cracking the Cover. Prior to creating Cracking the Cover, Jessica worked as the in-house book critic for the Deseret News, a daily newspaper in Salt Lake City. Jessica also worked as a copy editor and general features writer for the paper. Following that, Jessica spent two years with an international company as a social media specialist. She is currently a freelance writer/editor. She is passionate about reading and giving people the tools to make informed decisions in their own book choices.

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