Children

Fantasy Literature for Children ages 9-12.

The Son of Neptune: The second instalment of a series steadily cranking into gear…

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Warning: Contains some mild spoilers for The Lost Hero

First, a brief reminder of where this book stands among Rick Riordan's collection of YA novels: it is the second book in the HEROES OF OLYMPUS five-part series, which itself is the sequel series to the original PERCY JACKSON books. Suffice to say, if you're unfamiliar with the stories published before this one, you're likely to be hopelessly lost in understanding what's happening here. Head back to Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and work your way up.

For those who are all up-to-date, you'll be pleased to know The Son of Neptune doesn't waste any time in throwing you back into the action. As realized by his friends at the... Read More

Fortunately, the Milk: A wacky children’s story read by Neil Gaiman

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

I never pass up a children’s story written and read by Neil Gaiman. The stories he writes for kids are among his best work and they’re even better when he reads them himself. The audiobook version of Fortunately, the Milk (HarperAudio) would make a great gift for parents who travel with children. Fortunately, the Milk will keep the entire family happily entertained for 1 hour.

In this very amusing story, a boy and his little sister are stuck at home with Dad while Mum is out of town at a conference. Mum left instructions for Dad and reminded him that he needed to pick up a carton of milk before breakfast in the morning. Well, he forgot, and the kids are upset about not having milk for their cereal. So Dad puts down his paper and heads off to the corner market for milk... Read More

The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection: Four delightful stories read by the author

The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection (The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, The Wolves in the Walls, Cinnamon, Crazy Hair) by Neil Gaiman

The only thing better than one of Neil Gaiman’s children’s stories is one of Neil Gaiman’s children’s stories read to you by Neil Gaiman. Do not pass these up when you see them. I found these four stories in audio format at my library, both individually and as the cleverly titled The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection. If your library doesn’t have them, you can purchase them separately for less than $2 each at Audible, or you can purchase the entire collection, which was released by HarperAudio in January 2015, for $9. (Ummmm.... let’s do the math here... purchasing them separately seems like a better deal, however, the complete collection ends with Maddy Gaiman interviewing her ... Read More

The Map to Everywhere: A new whimsical series for kids

The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan & John Parke Davis

The Map to Everywhere is the first installment in a new four-book children’s fantasy series by Carrie Ryan and her husband John Parke Davis. I listened to it with my daughter Tali, who just turned 13. The story made us smile and chuckle occasionally and generally kept us entertained for several hours. We thought it compared favorably with other new fantasy series for kids, but we weren’t blown away.

The story is about two children in tough situations. Marrill is an American girl who gets to travel around the world with her archeologist parents. She has just found out, though, that her mother is sick and the family will have to settle down for a while so that her mom can get treatment. That means Marrill will be going to school and doing ... Read More

The Royal Ranger: A satisfying end to RANGER’S APPRENTICE

The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan

The Royal Ranger is the twelfth and final book in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series for younger readers. Originally book ten, The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, was supposed to be the last book — it wrapped up everyone’s stories nicely — but Flanagan decided to give us one more novel that takes place a few years later. I’m glad he did, since I thought The Emperor of Nihon-Ja was a weak installment.

I suspect that some fans of the series won’t appreciate some of what Flanagan did in The Royal Ranger, put personally, I loved it. Here’s what some fans won’t like: Flanagan gave us an “everyone lives happily ever after” ending with The Emperor of Nihon-Ja... Read More

The Lost Stories: Fun episodes from RANGER’S APPRENTICE

The Lost Stories by John Flanagan

The Lost Stories, book 11 in John Flanagan’s RANGER APPRENTICE series for young readers, is a collection of short stories that fill in some gaps and give us supplemental information about Flanagan’s characters and world. The collection begins with a short frame story which takes place in July 1896 in the Republic of Aralan States which was formerly the medieval Kingdom of Araluen. An archaeologist and his assistant are excavating a site and looking for evidence of Castle Redmont and the Rangers of Araluen. They find a chest full of manuscripts that contain these tales:

“Death of a Hero” — (Takes place about 15 years before The Ruins of Gorlan.) Pauline has convinced Halt to finally tell Will the truth about Will’s parents, whi... Read More

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja: The gang’s all here

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja by John Flanagan

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, book ten in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, was supposed to be the “final adventure” for Will Treaty and his friends. (It wasn’t, but I’ll come back to that later.) I suppose that’s why “the gang’s all here” in this installment. Flanagan has to work hard to get them all to the same place, but he manages.

The story takes place in the country of Nihon-Ja, which is modeled after the Empire of Japan (if you couldn’t tell by its name). Horace and George had travelled there on a mission and Horace went missing. All of his friends, including Will, Alyss, Princess Cassandra, Pauline and Gundar, go to Nihon-Ja to find him. When they get there, they discover that someone is trying to overthrow the emperor, an... Read More

Halt’s Peril: Not much plot, like middle WOT

Halt’s Peril by John Flanagan

Halt’s Peril is the ninth book in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series. It’s a direct sequel to the eighth book, The Kings of Clonmel, in which we learned Halt’s backstory while he, Will and Horace attempted to save the country of Clonmel from Tennyson, a cult leader who was planning a coup. They did manage to save Clonmel, but now Tennyson and his followers have left the country and our heroes suspect that they are on their way to Araluen with similar intentions. So, naturally, they plan to track down the bad guys and stop them before they can bring grief to Araluen. During the process, however, Halt receives a life-threatening injury. Will has to make a long detour to seek help for Halt.

To get straight to the point, Read More

“Thief:” Gen’s childhood escapades

“Thief!” by Megan Whalen Turner

Readers who (like me) are fond of Megan Whalen Turner’s THE QUEEN’S THIEF fantasy series, and who mourn the length of time between publication of her novels, can ease their pain just a little with the short story “Thief!,” originally published in August 2000 in Disney Adventures Magazine and now posted on her website. “Thief!” is a prequel to The Thief, the first book in this series. It’s a brief adventure in the life of young Gen, who begins to develop his thieving abilities at a young age. As readers of the series are aware, Gen’s childhood was marked by frequent run-ins with his numerous cousins. Young Gen has stolen some valuable gold, c... Read More

The Kings of Clonmel: Another adventure for Flanagan’s superheroes

The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan

The Kings of Clonmel, the eighth book in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, begins a new story arc that occurs after the events of book six, The Siege of Macindaw. (Book seven, Erak’s Ransom, went back in time a bit.) For the best experience, you’ll want to read all the previous books before beginning this one. Book nine, Halt’s Peril, is a direct sequel to The Kings of Clonmel.

As the story begins, Will, now a full-fledged Ranger, is at the annual Rangers meeting, overseeing the testing of other apprentices. During this process he is amazed to discover that some of his past exploits, such as the siege of Castle Macindaw, are being used in testing exercises... Read More

Alanna: The First Adventure: Swords, sorcery, and fun

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

Alanna: The First Adventure is, indeed, the first volume of well-known fantasy author Tamora Pierce’s four-book series THE SONG OF THE LIONESS. First published back in the 1980s, the quartet was remarkable in many ways, tackling issues like gender roles, cultural tensions, self-determination, and inherited versus achieved power. Written at a time when “young adult” didn’t exist as a genre and feisty teenage girls couldn’t find much positive representation in mainstream fantasy, the series laid out many of the familiar paths and tropes of what has become modern YA fantasy. Since I’ve read a lot of novels influenced by Pierce’s work, the series’ 2014 hardcover re-release and their attending Author Afterwords was rather like following a river back to its ... Read More

Erak’s Ransom: Goes back in time

Erak’s Ransom by John Flanagan

Erak’s Ransom is the seventh book in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, but chronologically its story occurs after the events of book four, The Battle for Skandia. I would recommend reading Erak’s Ransom after book four and before you read books five and six (The Sorcerer of the North and The Siege of Macindaw). Since I had already read those stories and knew what happened to the characters, it reduced some of the tension. This review will contain spoilers for books one through four.

Will, Halt, Horace and Princess Cassandra are back from overseas after helping Skandia, their former enemy, defeat a common foe. They help broker a peace with Erak, Skandia’s new Ob... Read More

The Siege of Macindaw: Fans won’t care about the flaws

The Siege of Macindaw by John Flanagan

This review will contain a few plot spoilers for previous books in the series.

The Siege of Macindaw is book six of John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series and it’s a direct sequel to the previous book, The Sorcerer of the North. When we left Will at the end of that book, his girlfriend Alyss had been captured and imprisoned in Castle Macindaw by a man who has allied himself with the Scotti, invaders from the north who plan to use the castle to get a toe-hold in Araluen. Now Will must use all his wits and resources to get Alyss out of the castle while saving his country from the Scotti invaders.

The solution to Will’s problem seemed obvious to me right from the start, so the plot of The Siege of Macindaw Read More

The Sorcerer of the North: World-building problems begin to show

The Sorcerer of the North by John Flanagan

This review will contain minor spoilers for John Flanagan’s previous RANGER’S APPRENTICE books: The Ruins of Gorlan, The Burning Bridge, The Icebound Land, and The Battle for Skandia. The Sorcerer of the North begins a new story arc and new readers could start here, but for maximum enjoyment, I recommend going back and starting with The Ruins of Gorlan.

When we left Will and his friends at the end of The Battle for Skandia, our hero Will, a Ranger’s apprentice, had finally returned home to Araluen with the princess Cassandra after they had been kidnapped by Araluen’s long-time Viking-ish enemies, the Skandians. ... Read More

The Battle for Skandia: The enemy of my enemy…

The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan

As usual, since The Battle for Skandia is book four in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, you should expect spoilers for the previous books: The Ruins of Gorlan, The Burning Bridge, and The Icebound Land.

At the end of The Icebound Land, we left Will and Princess Cassandra hiding out in a cabin in the woods during winter in Skandia after they escaped from slavery. Cassandra has been nursing Will back to health for weeks. Now things are starting to thaw and they must leave before hunters arrive. Right away, though, Cassandra is captured by some Temujai warriors. (We haven’t heard of these folks before which, in my mind, may indicate that Flan... Read More

The Icebound Land: Just as entertaining as the previous books

The Icebound Land by John Flanagan

I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series for middle grade / young adult readers. The Icebound Land is the third book and it’s just as charming as the previous books, The Ruins of Gorlan and The Burning Bridge. You need to read those books before beginning The Icebound Land, so expect spoilers for them in this review.

At the end of The Burning Bridge, Horace defeated Morgarath. (This both surprised and delighted me because Morgarath was a cliché and I was afraid that the series, which contains 12 books so far, was going to be a never-ending battle between the good guys and Morgarath. I’m so glad he’s gone!)... Read More

The Burning Bridge: A little derivative, but I didn’t care

The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan

This review will contain minor spoilers for the previous book, The Ruins of Gorlan.

The Burning Bridge is the second book in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series for middle grade readers. In the first book, The Ruins of Gorlan, we met Will, an orphaned boy who grew up as a ward of a baron in the country of Araluen. Thinking that his dead father was a warrior, he wanted to be one also, but instead he is assigned to be a Ranger’s apprentice. The Rangers, who Will knows very little about, are a secretive group of cloak-wearing men that serve the king and protect the kingdom. He doesn’t know it yet, but Will’s smaller stature, quick wit, and courage are perfect attributes for this profession. By the... Read More

Tuesdays at the Castle: I wish I could have read this when I was twelve

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Welcome to our newest reviewer, Tadiana Jones!

Though I enjoy some young adult fiction, I don't read many middle grade books at this point in my life unless my 12 year old really twists my arm. But the idea behind Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George (2011) just sounded so fun that I couldn't resist when I saw it on the library shelf. Its pages were waving to me, I swear!

Eleven year old Princess Celie and her royal family live in Castle Glower, which has a life and sometimes quirky opinions of its own and takes an interest in the affairs of the kingdom. Rooms and corridors appear and disappear, or move from one pa... Read More

Igraine the Brave: A sweet feminist children’s story

Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke

After finishing The Thief Lord, my daughter and I wanted to read more Cornelia Funke (pronounced “FOONK-ah”) so we picked up Igraine the Brave, a short novel that we listened to in audio format.

Igraine is a 12 year old girl who lives in a castle complete with a moat, drawbridge, stone lions and gargoyles, and lots of spiders (Igraine hates spiders). Her parents are famous magicians and her older brother is training with them. Igraine has no use for magic, though. She wants to be a knight. She gets her chance when her parents accidentally turn themselves into pigs just as the castle is under siege by enemy forces. The only way to turn her parents back into humans so they can protect the castle with their magic spells, is to make a potion t... Read More

Serafina and the Black Cloak: Plot problems outweigh engaging protagonist

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Serafina and the Black Cloak, a Middle Grade book by Robert Beatty, has its moments, but a thin plot, a meandering middle segment, and several gaps of logic/plausibility come close to outweighing its positives, and probably will outweigh them for any readers older than middle grade.

Set at the opulent Biltmore Estate in 1899 (and having been there, oh my, is it opulent), the story is centered on a sudden rash of disappearances amongst the children at the Estate. Serafina, is the young daughter of the mechanic at the Estate, and the two of them, for reasons that are a mystery to Serafina, live secretly in the basement of the mansion. While her father is well known to Vanderbilt (her dad is responsible for maintaining the dynamo that provides the home with the then new-fangled electricity), Serafina's existence is known to none. Their secret, ho... Read More

Red Planet: A children’s adventure on Mars

Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein

I’ve mentioned several times how much I loved Robert A. Heinlein’s “Juveniles” when I was a kid. I found them on my dad’s bookshelves (I don’t think he’s ever gotten rid of a book) and I read some of them several times. If you had asked me last week which was my favorite, I would have said “Red Planet.” I remember loving this book, though all I could recall about it was a cute fuzzy round alien named Willis who bounces around like a basketball, and a couple of boys crossing the desolate landscape of Mars.

Last week, with much anticipation, I downloaded Red Planet (1949) from Audible so that I could listen to it with my 12 year old daughter, Tali. I was so excited to share this story with her. In the opening scene we met Willis, and Tali loved him as mu... Read More

The Thief Lord: My kids love this fantasy set in Venice

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

One thing I love about summer vacation is that my 12 year old daughter Tali and I have time to read together. Our first book for the summer was Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord which, as Tali was thrilled to learn, takes place in Venice, a city she visited a couple of summers ago with my parents.

The story is about Boniface (Bo) and his big brother Prosper(o). Their parents are dead and their aunt wants to adopt only Bo because he’s cute and sweet. She plans to send Prospero to boarding school. So the boys run away to Venice, a city their mother loved. There they fall in with a small group of orphans who live in an abandoned theater and claim that a boy named The Thief Lord is their leader. He brings them the loot he steals and they sell it to Barbarosa, a corrupt red-haired shopkeeper. When Barbarosa offers the kids a lucrative job, they decide to take it. But they nee... Read More

The Graveyard Book: Raised by ghosts in a London graveyard

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s 2008 novel The Graveyard Book really racked up the awards, winning the British Carnegie Medal and American Newbery Medal for the best children’s book of the year, and then more surprisingly, the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Novel and Locus Award for Best YA Book. For years I have heard Gaiman’s name for various books like Stardust (which was a great film), Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, and American Gods (2002 winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, BSFA, World Fantasy, British Fantasy awards), not to mention the legendary Sandman series of graphic novels. So I figured I really needed to get with the times and read his work.

The story itself i... Read More

The Arctic Code:  A fast-paced middle-grade novel with some issues

The Arctic Code by Matthew Kirby

Matthew Kirby’s newest release, The Arctic Code, is the first book in a new MG/YA science fiction series entitled THE DARK GRAVITY SEQUENCE. Unlike some of his prior books, like The Clockwork Three and Icefall (two of my favorite reads those respective years), this one is more fully an MG work, in that it lacks that adult crossover appeal and even older, more sophisticated younger readers will find themselves questioning some of the logic of events or wishing for some more depth of character. Its target audience, however, will mostly (I guess) respond well to its fast pace, frequent tension, and especially Eleanor, the impulsive hero at the heart of the story.

The setting is a near-future Earth undergoing the b... Read More

The Lost Hero: A fresh new adventure from the world of Percy Jackson

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

It seemed only a matter of time before Rick Riordan returned to the world he created in the PERCY JACKSON series, one in which the Greek gods dwell in contemporary America, and their demigod offspring are sent to Camp Half Blood to train as heroes and fulfil their destinies. It was a winning concept that allowed for updated versions of Greek myths to be integrated into the present day, as well as one that introduced a range of young heroes struggling with their own powers and propensity to land in trouble.

Combining many of the familiar components of Greek mythology — monsters, prophecies, mysterious parents, quests — the Percy Jackson books proved popular enough for a sequel series, in which a brand new trio of heroes reach Camp Half Blood and accept the mission set before them.
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