Children

Fantasy Literature for Children ages 9-12.

Sinbad the Sailor: Another fine installment in the MYTHS AND LEGENDS series

Sinbad the Sailor by Phil Masters

I’ve read a good numbers of titles in Osprey Publishing’s MYTHS AND LEGENDS series and while the individual books vary in quality, that variation runs between good and excellent, making the series as a whole top notch. My latest read, Sinbad the Sailor, by Phil Masters, continues the positive run, falling somewhere in the middle of its predecessors.

The bulk of the book is a retelling of Sinbad’s seven voyages (including an alternate seventh voyage), keeping the original frame of Sinbad the Sailor telling the story to Sinbad the Porter, his poorer namesake. The retellings are solid, if not particularly enthralling. I would have liked more of a sense of voice for Sinbad, but they move quickly and fluidly. You can’t fault Masters for some of the repetition in the tales; the... Read More

The Foundry’s Edge: A nice set up with potential

The Foundry’s Edge by Cam Baity & Benny Zelkowicz

The Foundry’s Edge, by Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz, is a solid MG/YA entry that, I’d say, had more potential than was met. In failing to fully take advantage of its possibilities, it never falls so far as to be a “bad” read, but it also rarely inspires or enthralls, though it picks up in the latter quarter of the novel, both in terms of action and emotion.

The story is set at first in the city of Meridian, a technologically advanced (well past any other regions) city thanks to being the home of the Foundry, a corporation that has been spitting out all sort of marvelous inventions/gadgets. Meridian is threatened, though, by surrounding regions, who are both jealous and leery of Meridian’s technical and scientific prowess. Years ago war raged between the two groups, and since that time, the Foundry has been keeping Meridian’s enemies at bay by giving them more and... Read More

The People of Sparks: Darkness cannot drive out darkness

The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

Lina and Doon have led their people out from the subterranean city of Ember. Now, they encounter a world full of dazzling new things like birds, sunlight, and trees. For all its wonder, Lina and Doon have not entered a world of plenty. The humans before largely destroyed the world with their weapons and their insatiable need for revenge. Doon and Lina lead the wandering Emberites in search of a new home.

Instead of a home, however, they find Sparks, a town that has finally begun to realize tentative prosperity after years of struggle. Reluctantly, Mary, Ben, and Wilbur, Sparks’ leaders, agree to provide shelter, food and training to the people of Ember. They do not want to repeat the mistakes of their ancestors that led them to destroy the world. Unfortunately, Sparks does not enjoy a large surplus of f... Read More

Atlantis Rising: Did Not Finish

Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron

I gave Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron a pretty fair shot I’d say—200 of its 370 pages, but eventually I just had to give it up. And I wasn’t alone in that, as my wife and 13-yr-old son gave up far, far quicker. As usual with books I didn’t care for, and especially for books I didn’t finish (a rarity for me), this will be a relatively short review, as I don’t like to belabor the point.

The problems began immediately, with the introduction of the main character (Promi), a sassy and spunky orphan street thief with a heart of gold who is good with a knife (though not good enough to avoid trouble with a corrupt and brutal priest), that ends up in a chase scene where Promi gets to toss off barbs at the chasing guards while performing acrobatic feats of derring do. Now, I’ve always been one to let... Read More

Charlemagne & the Paladins: Excellent mythistory for kids

Charlemagne & the Paladins by Julia Cresswell

Charlemagne & the Paladins is another in the generally excellent MYTHS AND LEGENDS series from Osprey Publishing, this one written by Julia Cresswell and illustrated by Miguel Coimbra. Charlemagne & the Paladins displays the usual strengths of the series: a nicely condensed version of the story, informative sidebars, an easy to read style, and a good collection of complementary artwork.

The introduction begins by describing the wide geographic and cultural reach of stories about Charlemagne and his paladins, gives a bit of historical detail about the real-life emperor and his heirs, describes the process of “mythistory,” “where fact and fiction feed into each other,” and finally explains how most of the text will be made up of the French tales.

More detail on both t... Read More

The Iron Trial: A mixed bag, but entertaining enough

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

I listened to The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare on audiobook, narrated by Paul Boehmer. It tells the story of Callum Hunt, or Cal, a boy who enrolls in a magical boarding school, makes friends, irritates teachers, and finds out he's been marked from birth by the greatest enemy the magical world knows. Sounds familiar, right?

I read a lot of complaining reviews about this Middle Grade book, all accusing The Iron Trial of being a Harry Potter rip-off. Cassandra Clare is, after all, the woman who got her start by writing Harry Potter fan-fic. This is not Harry Potter fan-fic, though, any more than Star Wars is Joseph Campbell fan-fic.

Th... Read More

An Acceptable Time: Metaphysics and religion for kids

An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The fifth and final book in Madeleine L’Engle’s TIME quintet is An Acceptable Time, a story about Polly, the daughter of Meg and Calvin, the kids we first met in that now-classic children’s science fiction novel A Wrinkle in Time. (Polly is also featured in a different L’Engle series about the O’Keefe family, and An Acceptable Time is the fourth and final book of that series. Slightly confusing, I know.)

One autumn while Polly is visiting her famous grandparents at their house in the country, Polly begins to see people who shouldn’t exist whenever she’s near that big rock where Meg and Charles Wallace used to go to think and watch the stars when they were kids. One of the people she sees is a girl who looks like a Native American and turns out to be a druid. There are also men carry... Read More

Many Waters: Children’s science fiction about Noah’s ark

Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle

Many Waters is the fourth book in Madeleine L’Engle’s TIME quintet. The previous three books, A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet have all focused on Meg Murray and her strange little brother Charles Wallace as they travel through time and space. Many Waters is completely different. In this story, Meg’s twin brothers Sandy and Dennis mess with a computer in their mother’s lab and get blasted back to the time of Noah before he built the ark. From there the story turns into a strange historical fantasy whose source text is Genesis 6.

In this well-known biblical story, God declares that humans are violent and corru... Read More

A Swiftly Tilting Planet: Fascinating feminist SF for kids

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle

A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978) is the third book in Madeleine L’Engle’s TIME quintet, a series of science fiction novels for children. The first book, the Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time, blew my mind when I was a kid and I’m just now getting around to reading the sequels.

In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Meg Murray is now an adult. She’s married to her childhood friend Calvin O’Keefe and is pregnant with their first child. It’s Thanksgiving time and Calvin is away at an academic conference overseas. Calvin’s mother, a strange reclusive woman who has never shown any interest in the Murray family, has unexpectedly accepted their invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. While she’s visiting, Mr Murray, a famous physicist, gets a call from the President of the United States. Th... Read More

Forest Born: A good choice for girls who struggle with confidence

Forest Born by Shannon Hale

Everyone thinks of Rin as her mother’s shadow. She belongs to a large extended family that all live near each other in the forest and, until recently, Rin has always been her hard-working mother’s helper. She cooks, cleans, fetches the water, helps take care of all the kids, etc. When she needs a little peace, she communes with the trees of the forest. She doesn’t really “speak” with them, but just feels their love and the constant harmony they provide.

But then Rin did something bad and the trees have withdrawn their love. She feels their disappointment and disgust with her. Now Rin feels unworthy and unloved and begins to sink into depression. In an attempt to help, her big brother Razo invites her to join him and his new wife at the Bayern court. There she meets Queen Isi and admires her strength and confidence. As Rin tries to find her place at court, she manages to tag along on a quest t... Read More

A Wind in the Door: Mind-expanding SF for kids

A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle

When I was a kid, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time blew my mind. I’m sure that’s why I remember it as one of my favorite childhood books. Reading it gave me the first inkling of the immenseness of the universe and that the concepts of space and time were much more complicated than I had realized. I think it was also the book that started my life-long love of science fiction. Before that, I had no idea that I loved having my mind blown! It’s surprising then that I never read the sequels to A Wrinkle in Time. I don’t think I was aware of them until years later and then I probably thought of them as children’s books and passed them by. That was a big mistake which I’ve now corrected.

The first sequel, published eleven years later (in 1973) is A Wind in the Door. Meg is now in high school and Mr.... Read More

River Secrets: Razo gets center stage

River Secrets by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale writes excellent children’s fantasy. River Secrets is the third book in her BAYERN series. It follows The Goose Girl and Enna Burning and focuses on one of readers’ (and the author’s) favorite characters from these books, Razo of the forest.

In the previous books, Razo’s friend Isi, who has wind magic, became queen of Bayern and his friend Enna, who has fire magic, helped Bayern win a battle with Tira. Now Bayern and Tira are swapping ambassadors and opening diplomatic relations. The people of Bayern are not popular in Tira because of what Enna, the fire mage, did to their army. Enna isn’t happy about her role in the battle, either, so she asks to go to Tira with the ambassador, hoping to redeem herself by doing something constructive instead of destructive with her magic.
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The City of Ember: Powered by a rich setting

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Long ago, the Builders created Ember, an underground city. The Builders only intended for the people of Ember to stay underground for two hundred years, but, due to a slight wrinkle in the Builders’ plans, the people of Ember have stayed underground far longer than two hundred years. Now, supplies are running out. In fact, there soon won’t even be light bulbs left, and the people will be left in darkness.

Jeanne DuPrau’s City of Ember is a children's post-apocalyptic novel that follows the adventures of Lina and Doon. Lina and Doon, at twelve years old, have finished their schooling. Lina, who loves running, manages to become a Messenger, while Doon, who wants to find a way to fix Ember’s flagging generator, draws work in the Pipeworks. Lina is an outgoing and cheerful girl, while Doon is more introspective and given to temperamental outbursts. However, they are... Read More

The Haunting: The beginning of Mahy’s illustrious career

The Haunting by Margaret Mahy

I first read The Haunting when I was about ten or eleven years old, and now — almost twenty years later — I was stunned by how much I remembered it. Usually good books leave an imprint of enjoyment on your memory, but such is the potency of Margaret Mahy's writing that I recalled almost every beat of her story. At the same time, there were parts of The Haunting that I could appreciate much more as an adult than as a child.

Barney Palmer is a sensitive but ordinary little boy, who is on his way from school one day when "the world tilted and ran downhill in all directions, and he knew he was about to be haunted again." Sure enough, the blurry vision of a ghost appears before him, a curly-haired boy wearing an old-fashioned velvet suit and lace collar, who cries: "Barnaby's dead! Barnaby's dead! And I'm going to be very lonely." Read More

Hello from 2030: Interesting speculations about future technology

Hello from 2030 by Jan Paul Schutten

I had some mixed feelings about Hello from 2030, a Middle Grade (grades 3-7) non-fiction book by Jan Paul Schutten that over the course of about 200 pages speculates on what the future might hold for human culture — driverless cars, robots, living houses, a changing environment — as well as explains how such “futurology” predictions are made. On the one hand, it is full of interesting moments of speculation about future technology, has a quick pace, is clear and easy to follow. On the other hand, I found a few choices a bit puzzling.

For instance, one segment talks about cameras in your home that can send images of an “intruder” to your watch or phone — “if it’s a stranger, you can warn the police with one push of a button.” Maybe this is my simple naiveté, but it seemed a bit strange to me for a kids’ book to worry them abou... Read More

The Secret of the Key: Premise is fabulous, execution falls short

The Secret of the Key by Marianne Malone

The Secret of the Key appears to be the final book in Marianne Malone’s SIXTY-EIGHT ROOMS adventures. This children’s series has been a bit of a disappointment for me and the only reason I have continued with it is that I requested a review copy of the audiobook edition of this final book and so I felt obligated to read it. As I have noted previously, and as Bill and Kelly have mentioned, the premise is fabulous, but the execution falls short.

The stories follow Ruthie and Jack, two sixth graders who find a way to shrink and explore the Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago. The two likable kids discover that the... Read More

Maddigan’s Fantasia: A futuristic steampunk adventure

Maddigan’s Fantasia by Margaret Mahy

Early in the 22nd century, the world underwent a vast and radical change, in which the tectonic plates of the Earth shifted and a series of devastating earthquakes changed the face of the planet. As a result of these events now known as the Great Chaos the population has severely dropped and most technology has been lost. What remains is a dangerous wilderness where communities are isolated and bandits roam the unmapped highways.

Yet out of the ashes of the old world comes Solis, the shining city. It is here that the circus troupe known as Maddigan's Fantasia spends each winter before heading out every year to explore new lands, collect lost knowledge and spread some colour and joy to those living in a post-apocalyptic world.

But this year things are different. Because Solis is powered by the sun, it is in desperate need of a new solar converter if the... Read More

The Pirate’s Coin: Slight improvement

The Pirate’s Coin by Marianne Malone

The Pirate’s Coin, the third book in Marianne Malone’s SIXTY-EIGHT ROOMS fantasy adventure series for children, is a slight improvement over the first two novels, The Sixty-Eight Rooms and Stealing Magic, which three of us here at FanLit agreed did not meet the potential of Malone’s excellent premise. Readers who haven’t dropped out yet, presumably because they have enjoyed the series so far, should also be pleased with this installment.

Ruthie and Jack just can’t stay away from the Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago. This time the plot involves two separate threads that (again) take place in the worlds of two of the Thorne Rooms. One involves a classmate that Ruthie and Jack discover is a descendant of... Read More

A Wonderlandiful World: A great series for preteen girls

A Wonderlandiful World by Shannon Hale

In A Wonderlandiful World, Shannon Hale’s story about the teenage children of famous fairytale characters shifts focus from the conflict between the Royals and the Rebels about their “happily ever after” destiny to the problems caused by one of the students’ previous misadventures. They had accidentally let the Jabberwock (from Wonderland) loose into their world. The Jabberwock is not happy about not being in Wonderland anymore, so he’s making life miserable for the students and faculty of Ever After High by making all the magic go wrong. Some of the students are turning into objects. The breakfast porridge is demanding hugs. Even the narrator goes all squonky and Maddie has to take over for her.

Three characters set out to fix the trouble and restore order (if you can call it order): Lizzie Heart (daughter of Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts) who is armed wi... Read More

Stealing Magic: Full of unmet potential

Stealing Magic by Marianne Malone

Stealing Magic is the second book in Marianne Malone’s SIXTY-EIGHT ROOMS adventure series for middle grade readers. When Bill and Kelly wrote about The Sixty-Eight Rooms, the first book in this series, four years ago, I was intrigued by the fascinating premise — two 6th grade kids find a way to explore the Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago and discover that they can use the rooms to get into the world of the time period the rooms depict. This sounded wonderful to me, but Bill and Kelly were disappointed because there was too little time spent actually exploring the fantasy worlds (which would be the ... Read More

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