Review: The Water Castle

The Water Castle

The Water Castle

by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Find it at: Your Library | Your Local Bookstore

Published: Walker Childrens, imprint of Bloomsbury Kids (January 8, 2013)

Recommended reading age: 10 & up

In a nutshell: “Believe in the unbelievable…” When I came across this book at ALA Midwinter in January, I was immediately drawn to the cover and the tagline. Even though I was intrigued at the time, and even though there was quite a bit of buzz circulating about this title, because I tend to be a bit of a spaz with my reading habits and I caught the baby bug following that trip, I didn’t get around to reading it until a few weeks ago. Better late than never, and boy would I have been sad if I had skipped out on reading one of the most complex and gripping children’s books of the year!

Ephraim Appledore-Smith and his family have just picked up and moved to a small town in Maine to a house he has never been to, and which was left to the Appledore family some years ago; a house called the Water Castle. After his father’s stroke, which left him unresponsive and entirely dependent on others, Ephraim’s mother thought it would be best for his recovery to leave Boston and move to the small town of Crystal Springs. What seems like an ordinary small town at first turns out to be anything but. All the children in the town are extremely smart. In fact, they excel at almost everything they do. Shortly after moving, Ephraim meets Mallory Green, who’s family has looked after the Appledore estate dating back to the time it was built. Mallory loved hearing the stories about the Water Castle, it’s history, mysteries, and myths of a secret Fountain of Youth. But as she grew older, she stops believing in those fantasy stories, specifically around the time of her parents’ separation. Trying to be helpful to the new family, Mallory’s father offers to  give Ephraim and his sister rides to school. Mallory’s adamant refusal to have anything to do with the Water Castle and the Appledore family, leaves her with an attitude anything but welcoming to Ephraim. Ephraim learns quickly like the Crystal Springs school is far more advanced than his former school where he was an honors student. Everyone seems to always be one step ahead, especially Will Wylie who seems to have a chip on his shoulder towards Ephraim.  After learning the backstory behind Mallory’s, Will’s, and his own family history,  a common interest in the town’s famous Fountain of Youth myth brings these three characters together despite a rift that has separated their families for centuries.

The story goes back and forth between past and present; between the journal entries of Nora Darling (Dr. Orlando Appledore’s assistant), and the trio of Ephraim, Mallory, and Will and their investigation of the mysterious claims behind the Fountain of Youth. The Water Castle was published at the perfect time, with the implementation of Common Core standards and the STEAM literacy focus in education, teachers are looking for ways in which to incorporate factual texts into their language arts curriculum. In fact, author Megan Frazer Blakemore, who is also a school librarian, created an educator’s guide that is built around these standards. So smart. While reading this book, I regularly  paused and thought, “Man, this book would be incredible for a library program or a series of library programs”. The science, the history, the exploration, and the enchantment would be tempting to any educator of young minds. The Water Castle temps it’s reader to delve into the unbelievable.

What I liked the most about this book was that it dabbles in the unknown; that sometimes even science can’t explain everything. Or can it?  That sometimes believing in something hard enough doesn’t make it real, and that even the biggest critic can find wonder in the unthinkable. Is this book realistic fiction, science fiction, or fantasy? Well… I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Don’t take my word for it: “Author Megan Frazer Blakemore doesn’t write down to her audience, instead she writes up to it. Because of that, there’s a sophisticated elegance that runs throughout the book. “Water Castle” isn’t a fast read, but it’s an engrossing one. You become invested in the characters and you want to know the outcome. It would be interesting to see how a classroom of children would react to this book read aloud.” – review from Cracking the Cover


Extras: Visit author Megan Frazer Blakemore on her website.

Curious City DPW has an entire programming kit for The Water Castle created to inspire public libraries as well as elementary and middle school libraries. You can view those ideas here.

Download The Water Castle educator’s guide here.

Read Megan Frazer Blakemore’s Nerdy Book Club post “Books Become Your Home”.

Source of book reviewed: Advanced Reader’s Copy provided by the publisher.


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