Children

Fantasy Literature for Children ages 9-12.

Mixed Magics: A short story anthology for Chrestomanci fans

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Mixed Magics by Diana Wynne Jones

Mixed Magics (2000) is comprised of four short stories set in the fantasy worlds of Diana Wynne Jones's CHRESTOMANCI; an enchanter responsible for the proper use of magic wielded by the various witches, warlocks, sorcerers and enchanters prevalent throughout his world (and several others). Although the stories are readable enough by themselves, filled with Wynne Jones's trademark humour and originality, it's best if you're already familiar with her previous work in the series, these tales being filled with plenty of in-jokes and cameo appearances.

It starts off lightly with "Warlock at the Wheel", concerning a hapless warlock who inadvertently kidnaps a little girl and her dog after he steals a car. The most humorous ... Read More

Jennifer Murdley’s Toad: Perhaps the best of the Magic Shop books

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Jennifer Murdley's Toad by Bruce Coville

This may well be my favourite of the MAGIC SHOP books, a series of standalone stories that feature a young boy or girl entering Mr Elives' Magic Shop and leaving with a strange artefact of some kind — one which will have taught them an important life-lesson by the end of the book (though not before causing them a heap of trouble in the interim).

Perhaps the best thing about the series is that each book is surprisingly different in tone. For instance, Russell Troy, Monster Boy (published in the US as The Monster’s Ring) was a comedy/horror, whilst Read More

The Dark Talent: The penultimate ALCATRAZ book

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The Dark Talent by Brandon Sanderson

This review may contain mild spoilers for the previous books in the ALCATRAZ series.

Fans of Brandon Sanderson’s ALCATRAZ VS THE EVIL LIBRARIANS series have been waiting for six years for book five, The Dark Talent (2016), which was finally published a couple of months ago by Starscape (Tor’s children’s imprint). Recorded books brought back Ramon de Ocampo for the audio version that was released at the same time. As I mentioned in my review of the previous book, The Shattered Lens, it’s hard to know which one to recommend because Starscape’s hardback version has wonderful illustrations by... Read More

The Shattered Lens: Metafiction for middle graders

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The Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson

This review may contain mild spoilers for the previous books in the ALCATRAZ series.

The Shattered Lens (2010) is the fourth book in Brandon Sanderson’s hilarious middle-grade series called ALCATRAZ VS THE EVIL LIBRARIANS. The first four books were originally published by Scholastic but Starscape (Tor’s young readers imprint) has recently re-issued the series in lovely hardback editions illustrated by Hayley Lazo. The long-awaited fifth volume, The Dark Talent, has also just been published by Starscape. They sent me all the books and they are gorgeous. My daughters love them and I’ve been recommending them to friends looking for gifts for young readers.
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The Whizbang Machine: An original MG mystery with execution issues

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The Whizbang Machine by Danielle A. Vann

Fifteen year old Elizabeth Yale has been living alone with her mother for eight years, since her father suffered an untimely death and her beloved grandfather Jack, unable to cope with the tragedy, left town to travel around the world. Elizabeth has missed Jack terribly, so she’s delighted when she gets a letter from Jack announcing that he’s coming home, and even more excited when her mother agrees to let her take a trip to Morocco with Jack in a few days. But unexpected troubles postpone their Casablanca adventure.

Jack has brought an unusual gift home for Elizabeth, an antique typewriter. Elizabeth has an uneasy feeling about the typewriter, especially when Jack insists that she touch the keys. At first nothing happens, but then the typewriter bursts into life with a Pop-Whiz-BANG!, shooting streams of brightly colored sp... Read More

Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood

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Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas & Tamra Bonvillain

For a literary giant who is approached with a seriousness that borders on reverence, Margaret Atwood is perfectly willing to have fun and write whatever she wants. Sometimes that is clearly genre-tinged; sometimes it is darkly humorous, and sometimes it’s a graphic novel for children about a superhero who is part human, part cat and part owl. And that’s the premise of Angel Catbird, Volume 1.

Atwood’s story and words are illustrated by Johnnie Christmas and colored by Tamra Bonvillain. (I do wonder whether at least one of those surnames is a pseudonym.) Christmas’s images have a simple, comic-strip look to them. With a few exceptions, they reminded me of Kid Beowulf by Alexis Farjado. They’re at least in that style. Bonvillain nicely mixes color palettes... Read More

If the Magic Fits: A castle filled with magical dresses and adventure

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If the Magic Fits by Susan Maupin Schmid

In the kingdom of Eliora, eleven year old Darling Dimple is an orphaned servant in Princess Mariposa’s castle, a lowly pot scrubber in the under-cellar of the castle kitchens. She dreams of being a mighty sailor or a great enchantress ― and since she lives in a magic-filled castle built by dragons, surely adventures will come her way! But her daydreams lead to trouble with the castle’s Supreme Scrubstress, who doesn’t take kindly to being splashed with dirty brown dishwater when Darling and her friends are fooling around one day. So when the Wardrobe Mistress comes downstairs looking for a new girl to help press the Princess’s linens, and the Supreme Scrubstress finds out that it’s “hard work that requires close attention,” she gleefully volunteers Darling.

Darling’s new job as Under-presser turns out not to be such a punishment:... Read More

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill: finding magic and wings in dark times

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The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

Emmaline knows a secret: Briar Hill, a Shropshire mansion which has been turned into a children’s hospital during World War II, has beautiful winged horses that live in the mirrors of its elegant rooms. They move in and out of the mirror-rooms, walking through doorways, nosing half-finished cups of tea. But only Emmaline can see them, and she keeps the secret to herself. She knows the boys like Benny and Jack will tease her mercilessly if they knew. She doesn’t even tell her best friend Anna, who’s the most ill person at the hospital, for fear that she’ll distress Anna.

One day Benny steals a treasured piece of chocolate from Emmaline and eats it. Upset, Emmaline runs outside and (breaking the hospital rules) climbs over the ivy of a walled garden on the grounds. Inside the abandoned garden, a beautiful white horse with a soft gr... Read More

The Graveyard Book: Even the dead characters seem alive

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Reposting to include Skye's new review:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Ignore the YA label slapped on this one if that gives you pause. Though that won’t be hard to do because The Graveyard Book opens with a hand in the darkness holding a knife wet with the blood of almost an entire family: father, mother, and older child. The knife lacks only the blood of the toddler son to finish its job. Luckily for the reader (and the boy) he escapes into a nearby cemetery where a mothering ghost convinces the cemetery community to protect him. Another reason to ignore the YA label, or better yet, to revel in it, is that Neil Gaiman’s YA-listed material is stronger than his adult work: tighter, more focused, more intense all around. All that holds true here and The Graveyard Book’s clarity and brevity, often seen as constraints in ... Read More

Girls and Goddesses: Stories of Heroines from Around the World

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Girls and Goddesses: Stories of Heroines from Around the World by Lari Don & Francesca Greenwood

Girls and Goddesses: Stories of Heroines from Around the World, written by Lari Don and illustrated by Francesca Greenwood, is a collection of thirteen folktales in a wide range of time and place. While the language is a little flat, for the most part I found it an enjoyable read. And it’s yet another alternative to all those princess-rescued-by-the-boy-hero that used to be the norm.

The cultures/regions included are:



China
Sumeria
France
Greece
Cameroon
Native American
Venezuela
Scandinavia
Japan
Scotland
India
Russia



The tales are relatively short, ranging from six to twelve pages, with mo... Read More

Tom Swift and His Flying Lab: The series that introduced me to sci-fi

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Tom Swift and His Flying Lab by Victor Appleton II

What was the first science fiction novel that you ever read? For a long time, the answer to that question, for me, would have been Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 classic Childhood’s End, which Mr. Miller, back in high school, made us all read for English class. (A very hip teacher, that Mr. Miller!) Upon further reflection, however, it has struck me that I probably read Jules Verne’s 1864 classic A Journey to the Center of the Earth back in junior high school, and that, going back to late public school, there was the series of books featuring teenage inventor Tom Swift, Jr. Baby boomers may perhaps recall how very popular these books were back when... Read More

Song of the Deep: An engaging character placed into an intriguing world

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Song of the Deep by Brian Hastings

“Multi-platform” is one of those buzzwords you hear a lot, and Insomniac Games is taking the concept and running with it, with their most recent game, Song of the Deep, sharing a release with a same-titled Middle Grade book, written by Brian Hastings. I don’t know anything about the game itself, but one can see the pedigree of game elements in the story to, I’d say, both good and ill effect. But generally Song of the Deep is an engaging, quick-moving story with a determinedly likable character at its center.

Twelve-year-old Merryn lives with her fisherman father (her mother died a few years earlier) in a cliff house overlooking the sea. Every day she hopes to go out with her father on his one-man boat, but every day he tells her it’s too dangerous. So instead she’s relegated to standing ato... Read More

When the Tripods Came: A prequel to a popular classic children’s SF trilogy

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When the Tripods Came by John Christopher

When the Tripods Came is the fourth book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS science fiction series for children, but it’s actually a prequel, so you could read it first if you like. When the Tripods Came was published in 1988, 20 years after the original trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, The Pool of Fire), and after the airing in the UK of a BBC series based on the TRIPOD books.

Young readers of the TRIPODS trilogy may have been wondering how humans had been so stupid as to let the aliens subdue them by “capping” them with metal headgear that contro... Read More

The Pool of Fire: Wraps up the TRIPODS trilogy

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The Pool of Fire by John Christopher

The Pool of Fire is the third book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS dystopian series for children. If you haven’t yet read The White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead, you need to go back and read those first. (And expect mild spoilers for those previous books in this review.)

At the end of The City of Gold and Lead, Will had escaped from the Masters and was heading back to the rebels in the White Mountains with the important knowledge he gained while he was a slave. In The Pool of Fire, the rebels are using Will’s intelligence to plan a way to defeat the Masters. The scientists and engineers, who are st... Read More

The City of Gold and Lead: Will infiltrates the Tripod city

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The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher

This is the second book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS series, one of (if not THE) first dystopian series for children. If you haven’t read The White Mountains yet, you should start there first, though there is a short recap in this instalment.

At the end of The White Mountains, the boys Will, Henry, and Beanpole had fled their towns because they didn’t want to be “capped” by the alien Tripods who had conquered Earth and turned humanity into docile sheep. After much adventure, the boys finally arrived at the rebel base in the White Mountains where they’ve been learning and training for a year. The rebels are not content to just hide out. They hope to overthrow the Tripods and restore humanity to its rightful place as Earth’s ruler.

... Read More

The White Mountains: One of the first dystopian novels for kids

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The White Mountains by John Christopher

The White Mountains, the first book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS series for children, has been sitting on my TBR list (and in my Audible library) forever. I was finally inspired to pick it up when Gary K. Wolfe, in his series of lectures entitled How Great Science Fiction Works, mentioned the book as probably the first YA dystopian novel (though Middle Grade is more accurate, I’d say).

The White Mountains was published in 1967 and takes place in an alternate version of our world where aliens called Tripods have conquered Earth and enslaved humans. (These tripods were inspired by the Martians in H.G. Wells’ Read More

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter: Another wonderful tale for children

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The Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter is a short children’s book written by Phillip Pullman and it’s a little gem. Pullman pulls off a perfect recipe of magic, adventure and pure fun in this sparkling little fairy tale.

Lila is the daughter of the talented firework maker Lachland. All Lila wants is to become a true firework maker herself, but to do so she must make the perilous journey to the fire-fiend Razvani and bring back some Royal Sulphur. What’s worse, she sets off before her father can tell her the one thing she’ll need to survive Razvani’s flames. Luckily Lila has good friends in the form of Hamlet, the talking white elephant, and his special minder Chaluk, who follow Lila in hot pursuit, bumping into goddes... Read More

Grimm’s Fairy Tales: An all-star cast narrates a new audio version

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Grimm’s Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, popularly knows as The Brothers Grimm, were German academics who, in the early 19th century, studied, compiled and published hundreds of folklore tales that have become an integral part of Western culture. They published their first edition of tales, titled Children's and Household Tales, or just Grimm's Fairy Tales, in 1812 and many editions have been published since.

Listening Library has just released a new audio version of 21 of the Grimm Brothers’ original fairy tales (not to be confused with the cleaned-up versions they later published as more suitable for civilized children). It’s narrated by a full-cast that includes some of the best and most popular readers in the business.

Here are the stories and narrators:

“Rapunzel” r... Read More

Fridays with the Wizards: Wizard-hunting in the castle

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Fridays with the Wizards by Jessica Day George

Fridays with the Wizards is the fourth and most recent book in Jessica Day George’s CASTLE GLOWER series about twelve year old Princess Celie and the magical, semi-sentient castle where she lives. Celie and her brother and sister and friends have just returned from an unexpected adventure in another land, as related in the previous two books in the series, Wednesdays in the Tower and Thursdays with the Crown, where they tangled with the local wizards, befriended the king and q... Read More

Rage of the Fallen: Tom et al go to Ireland

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Rage of the Fallen by Joseph Delaney

In Rage of the Fallen, the eighth book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE / WARDSTONE CHRONICLES horror series for children, Tom flees with Alice and the Spook to Ireland to avoid the war that has engulfed their county. The evil creatures who live in Ireland are different from those they’re used to, so Tom gets to learn about, and attempt to defeat, these new threats to the world. Basically it’s the same sort of trouble he’s always been dealing with, just more Celtic-inspired. There are Irish gods, Irish witches, Irish mages, Irish ghosts, Irish blood-suckers, etc.

In addition to these new challenges, the old ones remain. The Fiend continues to dog him as we wait for their final confrontatio... Read More

Thursdays with the Crown: The magical Castle Glower, now with teleporting feature

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Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George

Thursdays with the Crown is the delightful concluding half of a two-part story begun in Wednesdays in the Tower, which is necessary to read first. Hence, this review will necessarily contain some spoilers for Wednesdays.

In this third installment in Jessica Day George’s middle grade CASTLE GLOWER series, Princess Celie, her brother Rolf, sister Lilah, and friends Pogue and Prince Lulath, have been magically transported by their capricious castle to an unfamiliar land where the castle was originally built, along with two towers of the castle and Celie’s griffin Rufus. After spending a cold night sleeping on the floor of one of the towers, the friends... Read More

Wednesdays in the Tower: Secrets of a magical castle

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Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George

The adventures of Princess Celie, who lives in a magical castle where rooms appear, shift around and disappear again, continue in Wednesdays in the Tower, Jessica Day George’s lively sequel to Tuesdays at the Castle. Normally Castle Glower only moves its rooms around on Tuesdays, but one Wednesday Celie, heading up the stairs to go to the schoolroom for lessons, finds herself in a passageway leading to a tower room she has never seen before. And in the middle of the tower room is a huge, flame-colored egg, as large and orange as a pumpkin.

Mysteriously, the castle prevents Celie from sharing her exciting discovery wi... Read More

Mattimeo: Jacques perfects his formula

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Mattimeo by Brian Jacques

Mattimeo is the third REDWALL novel written by Brian Jacques, and contains all of the elements which have come to define the series in the minds of fans: noble heroes, dastardly villains, young animals who mature into budding heroes, lengthy descriptions of food, mysterious riddles, and dual plots which see the residents of Redwall Abbey defending its red sandstone walls against invaders while the principal hero-characters journey far afield. Subsequent books do jump around quite a bit within the series’ chronology, but Mattimeo takes place “eight seasons” after the events of Redwall and features Matthias the Warrior Mouse, his wife Cornflower, and their son Mattimeo in prominent roles.... Read More

Rise of the Huntress: Bony Lizzy escapes

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Rise of the Huntress by Joseph Delaney

Rise of the Huntress is the seventh of Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE / WARDSTONE CHRONICLES popular horror series for children. The series deservedly has legions of young fans and it’s likely that nothing I, a jaded adult, has to say about a seventh book will mean anything to anybody, so I’ll make this short.

Rise of the Huntress delivers exactly what we expect. The formula has become clear by now. Each book is a scary little adventure which gives Tom and his friends an evil foe to fight while advancing the overall plot slightly. This time Tom, the Spook, and Alice flee the Spook’s house because it has been overrun by soldiers involved in the war we keep heari... Read More

The Knights of Crystallia: Targeted at an MG audience

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The Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson

The Knights of Crystallia (formerly published as Alcatraz Versus The Knights of Crystallia) is Brandon Sanderson’s third book in this Middle Grade (MG) / Young Adult (YA) series and I have several confessions to make. One is that I haven’t read the first two Alcatraz books. The second is that I am not Y. Not even close. Usually, I don’t feel that hinders my reviews of YA books. But as I read much of The Knights of Crystallia, I started to wonder if I’d become the old guy in a bathrobe yelling “Get off my lawn ya lousy kids!” while waving a hairy-knuckled fist in the offenders’ general direction. Maybe, gasp, I just didn’t get the “Y” in YA anymore.

What tipped me off? Maybe the occasional reference to farts or “potty breaks,... Read More