Monday, March 2, 2015

MMGM: Maddy West and the Tongue Taker

I first heard about this book from fellow MMGM-er DorineWhite. When she said it was about a girl who can speak in other languages and travels to Bulgaria, I knew I had to read this.

I have a soft spot for anything set in Eastern Europe, and well, I’d love to have Maddy’s ability to speak any tongue. I love studying other languages; I just wish it came as easily for me as it does for Maddy.

The synopsis (from Amazon):

Maddy West can speak every language in the world. When she is asked to help translate some ancient scrolls, she is thrilled. But she soon learns that the scrolls hide many secrets . . . secrets that send Maddy on a wild adventure with a stowaway ninja, a mysterious monkey, a Bulgarian wrestler, evil magic, and a fiendish witch. Does Maddy have what it takes to save herself and her new friends?

What I loved about about Maddy West:

--How the foreign language was handled: Although it was a bit unbelievable that Maddy could speak any language fluently upon first hearing it, I loved how this skill added a lot of whimsy to the story. I thought it worked well that the author wrote in English, only telling us when Maddy was switching back and forth (because Maddy understood it as well as English). This makes it easier for younger readers to follow.

--An interesting villain. I really thought that the villain was really intriguing and well-described. I also liked her smell. (Sorry, no spoilers!)

--A wonderful side-kick.  Kazuki, who's shy, but wants to be a ninja and has invisibility powers (or not?) was a really fun character. He was a nice counterpoint to Maddy and his loyalty to her was really touching.

--Very kid-centric. One thing I loved about this book was how well it portrayed how kids think and how grown-ups perceive that thinking. Maddy didn’t always “get” what the grown-ups were thinking until the end, and her perceptions were realistic and showed that oftentimes grown-ups don’t understand anything at all.

--An interesting setting.  The London setting at the beginning and of course, the Bulgarian setting throughout the second half of the book, really added a lot of freshness to the story. I couldn’t help but think of how my host family in Crimea talked about Bulgaria as one of their favorite vacation destinations. Of course, for Maddy, it wasn’t quite so idyllic at times.

One of the great things about this story is that I think it will appeal to kids at the lower end of the MG spectrum or more sensitive kids. As any parent or teacher knows, it’s really hard to find books that are smart, yet aren’t too middle-schoolish, for upper elementary students. This would also be a good read for younger kids reading above their grade level.

 It would appeal to kids who like whimsical reads like THE ROOFTOPPERS by Katherine Rundall, THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stewart, or the Blue Balliet mysteries.

If you're looking for Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.


  1. I love it for the mere fact that it's set in Bulgaria. (And I totally concur with your comment about there being a need for books that are "smart, yet aren’t too middle-schoolish, for upper elementary students." I'll be on the look-out for this one.

  2. Hey, who doesn't want to be a Ninja? I mean, really?

  3. I can honestly say I can't think of a single MG book I've read that's set in Bulgaria. (And I'm impressed that you spent time in Crimea!) I enjoyed Blue Balliett's books and The Mysterious Benedict Society, so this sounds like a fun read.

  4. This sounds like a really good book. And one I'd really like. Thanks for telling us about it.

  5. I've always wished I could speak all languages, too! Just think of the trouble you could, er, I mean, just think of all the help you could provide the world? lol This sounds really intriguing. Just the kind of book to show me what else is out there. Thanks for the recommend, and happy MMGM!