Children

Fantasy Literature for Children ages 9-12.

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

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” read by Katherine Kellgren
“Cinderel... Read More

Fridays with the Wizards: Wizard-hunting in the castle

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 queen of the griffins, and searched for the m... Read More

Rage of the Fallen: Tom et al go to Ireland

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 confrontation. Witches are trying to get revenge on Tom.... Read More

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

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 begin to explore the wild, forested land, t... Read More

Wednesdays in the Tower: Secrets of a magical castle

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 with anyone else in her family: the tower room... Read More

Mattimeo: Jacques perfects his formula

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.

During their annual feast ce... Read More

Rise of the Huntress: Bony Lizzy escapes

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 hearing about. Bony Lizzy, the evil witch that th... Read More

The Knights of Crystallia: Targeted at a YA audience

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 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,” the character who thinks curses in the Hushworld (our world) are phrases l... Read More

The Secret of Platform 13: Delightful, fantastical fun

The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson

Eva Ibbotson is a well-loved children’s author, and it is books like The Secret of Platform 13 that make me glad that I have no qualms about reading beyond the confines of suggested age groups. In fact, I find the experience particularly indulgent.

As a quick prologue, I note that some people have made much of the similarity between Ibbotson’s Platform 13 at Kings Cross Station and the one used by J.K. Rowling, Platform 9 3/4. I don’t have much to say on the subject, only that the books are very different in most other ways and honestly, it’s not worth getting excited about.

With that said, I can get on to the important things.

Once every nine years a secret door c... Read More

Clash of the Demons: Tom and Alice go to Greece

Clash of the Demons by Joseph Delaney

In Clash of the Demons, the sixth book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE series, expect more of the same: scary creatures, dark magic, dangerous quests, captures and rescues, Tom’s insecurities, questions about whether Alice is good or evil, the Spook’s insistence that they can’t compromise with the dark, foreshadowing of war, etc.

This time, the quest is to accompany Tom’s mother to Greece where they must fight an ancient witch called Ordeen who threatens a group of monks who for years have held her at bay and protected the world from her evil. The monks are growing weak, though, and they need some powerful help. They may be able to destroy Ordeen once and for all if Tom’s mother can unite the witches and spooks against her.

This... Read More

Mossflower: Woodland creatures rebel against a cruel tyrant

Mossflower by Brian Jacques

Martin, a traveling warrior mouse, is accidentally caught up in a war between the wildcat Tsarmina, who rules over Mossflower Wood, and the gentle woodland creatures starving under her rule. The creatures have formed a resistance group, but most of them are farmers or weavers who lack the experience needed to fight Tsarmina's army of stoats, weasels, and other assorted nasties. Once Martin joins the resistance, they may finally have a chance to win their freedom and drive Tsarmina out.

I loved Brian JacquesREDWALL series as a child, and re-reading Mossflower as an adult was a very nostalgic experience for me. It's been long enough since I last read the first few books of the series that I don't remember exactly which characters make it to the end of the novels and ... Read More

Wrath of the Bloodeye: Tom gets a new master

Wrath of the Bloodeye by Joseph Delaney

Wrath of the Bloodeye is the fifth book in Joseph Delaney’s very popular LAST APPRENTICE (or WARDSTONE CHRONICLES) series for middle graders. This book has also been released in other countries, such as those in the UK, under the title The Spook’s Mistake.

Tom has been John Gregory’s apprentice for a couple of years now. In the last book, Attack of the Fiend, three witch clans worked together to summon the Fiend (the Devil). Now he roams the earth and would like to kill Tom because the rumor is that Tom will be the most powerful spook in history. Or maybe it would be better for the Fiend if he befriends Tom...
Call me what you will, Tom. I have many names... But none adequately convey my true nature. I... Read More

The Scrivener’s Bones: Continues to entertain

The Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson

My 13 year old daughter Tali and I are enjoying reading Brandon Sanderson’s ALCATRAZ series together. We thought the first installment, Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians, was clever and funny and I particularly liked how Sanderson had his first-person narrator (Alcatraz) explaining the literary techniques he’s using as he writes his autobiography. This was amusing as well as instructive.

The second book, The Scrivener’s Bones (the book formerly known as Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones), picks up soon after the events of the first book (which you really need to read for maximum enjoyment, though Alcatraz quickly reca... Read More

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle: Kids will love this steampunk adventure

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, Janet Fox’s middle-grade fantasy adventure has a smart, feisty girl hero; it has clockwork steampunk, the London Blitz, spies, sinister rooks who seem to be speaking, and magic. And lots of atmosphere!

Katherine Bateson, who goes by Kat, is the oldest of three children and her watchmaker father’s favorite. It is World War II, and America hasn’t entered the war yet. The Blitz has made London unsafe and many families are sending their children out of town. In addition to fixing watches and clocks, Father also disappears into dangerous parts of Europe, and that “job” can only be discussed in hints and codes.

Kat, her brother Robbie and little sister Amelie are sent away to a private school in Scotland, called Rookskill Castle Academy. Kat is logical, mathematical, smart a... Read More

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians: Funny middle-grade fantasy

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz Smedry is a troubled boy. He has no parents and, because he breaks nearly everything he touches, he is regularly being kicked out of his foster homes and transferred to new ones. The only constant adult in his life is his case worker. The bag of sand that Alcatraz receives on his 13th birthday as an inheritance from his dead parents further highlights the fact that nobody ever loved him.

But then a strange man shows up, claims to be his grandfather, and announces that Alcatraz is actually the hero of a land called the Free Kingdoms. He further explains that the land that Alcatraz knows of as America is run by evil librarians who control all knowledge, squelch technological developments, and lie to people about reality. It turns out, also, that Alcatraz’s predilection for breaking things isn’t really a curse, but is a magical ability. Grandpa Smedry introduces Alcat... Read More

Snow in Summer: An Appalachian Snow White

Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen

Snow in Summer is Jane Yolen’s middle grade/young adult retelling of Snow White, set in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia in the 1940s. The main character is Snow in Summer, a girl named by her mother after the white Cerastium flowers that carpet their front yard. Her mother dies in childbirth when Summer is seven years old, and her father completely withdraws in his grief, neglecting Summer, who gets along with the help of her mother’s best friend Nancy. When Summer is eleven, her father is entranced by a sophisticated, cruel woman who married him to get her hands on the land he owns. Her father’s health begins to fail (helped along by Stepmama), but he barely hangs on, as does Summer. Her stepmother, who calls her “Snow,” treats her harshly and isolates her from Nancy and everyone else ... Read More

Attack of the Fiend: Getting a bit repetitive

Attack of the Fiend by Joseph Delaney

Attack of the Fiend is the fourth novel in Joseph Delaney’s THE LAST APPRENTICE / THE WARDSTONE CHRONICLES series for children. Interested readers will want to read the previous books before reading this one (and probably before even reading this review, since it may contain spoilers for previous books).

As I’ve noted in my previous reviews, this series is gruesome and scary and thus will be absolutely thrilling for some young readers. Children who are easily frightened should probably stay away unless they’re undergoing some sort of exposure therapy.

In this fourth inst... Read More

Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum: Fairy dust magic and steampunk mechanics

Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum by Gregory Funaro

The strange adventures of Grubb, a young boy and former chimney sweep swept away to hair-raising magical escapades in Gregory Funaro’s Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, continue in Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum, the second volume in the ODDITORIUM series set in Victorian-era England. Grubb is starting to feel at home in the Odditorium, a magically mechanical ― or perhaps mechanically magical ― flying mansion of wonders built by Alistair Grim, an inventor and sorcerer. Magical energies in this universe are color-based, a detail that is likely to enchant young readers. They include yellow fairy dust from Gwendolyn the Yellow Fairy, which enables the Oddi... Read More

A Necklace of Raindrops: Eight charming children’s bedtime stories

A Necklace of Raindrops by Joan Aiken

Joan Aiken’s sweet collection of eight short children’s bedtime stories, originally published in 1968, has just been released in audio format by Listening Library. The audiobook is just over 1.5 hours long and is excellently and lovingly narrated by the author’s daughter, Lizza Aiken. It contains these stories:

“A Necklace of Raindrops”  ̶  Every year on her birthday, the North Wind gives Laura Jones a new raindrop for her necklace. Each raindrop gives Laura a special power. When a jealous schoolmate steals the necklace, Laura has to find it. Fortunately, since she is such a nice girl, she has friends to help.

“The Cat Sat on the Mat”  ̶  Emma’s impoverished family lives on a broken-down bus. When a fairy gives Emma a cat that grants wishes, Emma has the chance to make... Read More

Libellus de Numeros: An admirable goal, but execution doesn’t deliver

Libellus de Numeros by Jim West

Libellus de Numeros by Jim West is a self-published well-intentioned earnest debut middle-grade novel that reads, well, like a self-published well-intentioned earnest debut middle-grade novel. One certainly can’t quibble with its goal, presenting young readers — especially girls — with an engaging fantasy tale that incorporates math into its plot so that the audience might become more interested in mathematics, as well as believe that they too can “do” math (and that they can also be the hero of their own lives). Unfortunately, good intentions do not a well-crafted book make, and though it pains me to say, while Libellus de Numeros might be engaging enough for very young audiences, there are so many more better written novels out there that it’s difficult to recommend.

The plot is relatively simple. The young female pro... Read More

The Cat Who Came In off the Roof: A Dutch treat for cat lovers

The Cat Who Came In off the Roof by Annie M.G. Schmidt

Annie M.G. Schmidt, who died in 1995, was a beloved and well-respected author in the Netherlands, her native land. In 1988 she won the Hans Christian Anderson Award, the most distinguished international award in children's literature, which is granted to authors and illustrators whose body of work has made a lasting contribution to children's literature. Unfortunately, until now Schmidt’s work has not been published in the English language, so she is not well known in the U.S. That may change with the 2016 publication of her 1970 book, The Cat Who Came In off the Roof (Dutch title: “Minoes”), recently translated by David Colmer.

Tibble, a painfully shy reporter, is on the verge of losing his job with the Killenthorn Courier newspaper: his editor is tired of his articles about cats (“there’s... Read More

Ruffleclaw: Silly children’s story narrated by the author

Ruffleclaw by Cornelia Funke

Ruffleclaw is a chapter book (114 pages) recently written and illustrated by Cornelia Funke, the German author and artist whose books (e.g., Inkheart, The Thief Lord, Dragon Rider) are loved by children and adults around the world. Ruffleclaw is translated into English by Oliver Latsch. I listened to the audio version which is read by the author and is just over 1.5 hours long.

Ruffleclaw is a furry red monster who lives under the toolshed in Tommy’s back yard. He thinks humans are icky (he calls them “slimy slugs”) but he loves their food, their cozy beds, and the music that he hears coming from Tommy’s mother’s piano. That’s why, against the advice of his monster friends, he decides to... Read More

The Screaming Staircase: Spooky and fun (but no Bartimaeus)

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathon Stroud

LOCKWOOD & CO. is Jonathan Stroud’s second four-part outing. It follows on from the success of his BARTIMAEUS sequence (which comes highly recommended here at FanLit). Stroud specialises in alternate versions of London for children. In BARTIMAEUS it was a London of djinn-conjuring wizards. This time London is troubled by deadly ghosts. The Screaming Staircase is a pacey, exciting introduction to Stroud's new London, but it lacks the sense of magic and humour that made BARTIMAEUS such a winner.

The story’s narrator is Lucy Carlyle, a young girl from the north of England who makes her way to London, seeking employment at a ghost-hunting agency. London’s ghosts are extremely dangerous, able to ki... Read More

The Mark of Athena: A bit of middle book syndrome, but still action-packed

Heroes of Olympus: The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

This is the third book in the five-part HEROES OF OLYMPUS series by Rick Riordan, and as the title would imply, it focuses on Annabeth Chase: daughter of Athena. Though it suffers a little from middle book syndrome, with nothing started and nothing finished, Riordan makes sure that Annabeth's quest remains the key focus of the book, letting it drive the course of the otherwise sprawling narrative.

The seven heroes of the prophecy have been assembled: Percy, Annabeth, Leo, Hazel, Frank, Piper and Jason; all of whom have a vital part to play in the defeat of the goddess Gaea, who has been awakening both giants and the dead in her bid to destroy the Olympian gods.

As it happens, the Roman gods are also at risk thanks to the meddling of Hera/Juno, with the var... Read More

Night of the Soul Stealer: For kids who like being scared

Night of the Soul Stealer by Joseph Delaney

Night of the Soul Stealer, the third book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE (or WARDSTONE CHRONICLES) series is another intense scary story for children. Fans of the first two books, Revenge of the Witch and Curse of the Bane, which readers should finish first, will be pleased. I’m listening to Christopher Evan narrate HarperAudio’s version of the series.

The weather is getting colder, so it’s time to travel to the Spook’s winter residence, a solitary little house set in a harsh and desolate landscape. On the way, Alice, Tom’s only friend, is dropped off at a distant neighbors’ house. There’s some reason why the Spook doesn’t want her at his depressing winter estate... Read More