Carly Bean Bitters has a serious problem. Pale and small for her age, the 11-year-old can’t sleep at night, finding rest only during the day. Leading a lonely life, she sits up in an old chair in the attic of her aunt’s house, orphaned and friendless, waiting for the sun to rise so she can sleep. Young readers will empathize with Carly as she longs for a life beyond the attic but would settle for a friend. The moon is her only companion until she meets Lewis, a fiddling rat, who appears on her roof and asks her to join his little band.

Lewis explains that the number of rat musicians is dwindling. The owls, no longer distracted by the rats’ music, have started hunting them. Soon an owl swoops in, grabbing Carly from her rooftop and dropping her in the Whistle Root woods, and the adventure begins. When Carly meets Breeza Meezy, Queen of the rats, and visits their wondrous village, she learns the rats are in trouble and need her help. Carly finds a cryptic note warning “the Moon Child is in danger,” and begins to wonder if the Moon Child is, in fact, her. More questions than answers arise when Carly is befriended by Green, a classmate who hides out beneath the library. Together they search the stories of Whistle Root for clues.

First-time author Christopher Pennell blends the natural world seamlessly with fantasy in this lively debut novel. Young readers will cheer as Carly struggles to untangle an elaborate mystery, outwit a flesh-eating Griddlebeast and take her proper place in the woods.

The Mysterious Woods of Whistle Root successfully bounces between run-ins at school, where Carly is teased and taunted for sleeping all day, and fantastical moments when she flies high above the woods as Lewis has taught her. Rebecca Bond’s whimsical pen-and-ink drawings make the book especially engaging to read aloud to younger children and ensures a captivating experience for middle graders. When the mystery comes to a satisfying resolution, readers will want to linger a little longer in Whistle Root.

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