Children

Fantasy Literature for Children ages 9-12.

Snow & Rose: Into the woods… Who knows what may be lurking?

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

Snow & Rose (2017) is a charming middle grade level retelling of the Snow-White and Rose-Red fairy tale with illustrations by the author, Emily Winfield Martin. Rose and Snow are the beloved eleven and nine year old daughters of a nobleman and his commoner wife, a sculptor. Rose has black hair and rosy cheeks, and is patient and gentle; Snow has white-blonde hair and icy blue eyes, and has a wilder and more adventurous personality. They have a fat grey tabby cat called Earl Grey (I adore that name! I want to adopt a grey cat now and name him Earl Grey) and had a large house with servants, a library with shelves that reached the ceiling, and a spectacular garden, half white flow... Read More

The Little Broomstick: A strange and mysterious little story

The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart

Having recently watched Mary and the Witch's Flower, I was curious about how it measured up to its source material, particularly since I usually read the book before watching its filmic adaptation.

And The Little Broomstick (1971) is a strange little book in so many ways: beautifully written, with plenty of haunting passages, but with a story and setting that would have been served well with a lot more detail and background. Imagine Hogwarts School without any sense of its history — though Endor College predates Harry Potter by over two decades, there are so many unanswered questions about why it exists and who attends.

Mary Smith is a ten year old girl who's thoroughly unhappy with her current situation: bundled off to the Shropshire countryside, sep... Read More

Small Spaces: A delicious autumn read

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review:

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

I fell in love with Small Spaces (2018) from the first paragraph. Before I even realized this was the same Katherine Arden whose adult fiction I’ve been meaning to read for years, and before I got caught up in the richly drawn characters and the spooky plot, I was smitten by this:
October in East Evansburg, and the last warm sun of the year slanted red through the sugar maples. Olivia Adler sat nearest the big window in Mr. Easton’s math class, trying, catlike, to fit her entire body into a patch of light. She wished she were on the other side of the glass. You don’t waste October sunshine. Soon the old autumn sun would bed down in cloud blankets, and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to sno... Read More

City of Ghosts: A genial enough middle grade story

City of Ghosts by V.E. Schwab

City of Ghosts (2018) by V.E. Schwab is a Middle Grade book that, well, reads like a Middle Grade book.

In other words, it’s entertaining and engaging enough for that age group, but doesn’t have the depth or complexity in plot or characters to expand beyond that audience, which I’m clearly well, well outside of.

Ever since she almost drowned, young Cassidy Blake has been able to see ghosts, to “pull aside the veil” and step for a brief time into their world.

She’s also picked up a best friend — Jacob — a ghost of roughly her own age.

Cass is looking forward to a nice easy summer at the beach, but instead her author parents, who write about the paranormal (dad’s the skeptic, mom the believer), have been picked up for a TV... Read More

Grail of Stars: The fourth and final adventure

Grail of Stars by Katherine Roberts

Grail of Stars (2014), the fourth and final book in Katherine Roberts's PENDRAGON LEGACY, sees the daughter of King Arthur Pendragon go in search of the last of the Four Lights that can restore her father to life and banish her evil cousin Mordred once and for all: the Grail of Stars.

Princess Rhianna is joined by her best friend Elphin from the Island of Avalon, the newly knighted Sir Cai who wields the Lance of Truth, and Arianrhod, the former maidservant of Morgan le Fay, who still bears the marks of her cruelty. Rhianna herself is in possession of her father's sword Excalibur, the Sword of Light, as well as the Crown of Dreams, which holds all the wisdom of the land's former rulers. Now she must use these gifts to seek out the Grail, even as rumours grow... Read More

Frostfire: A good MG adventure with lots of derring-do

Frostfire by Jamie Smith

Frostfire (2019), by Jamie Smith, is a middle-grade fantasy set in the mountainous land of Adranna. Adranna lies in the shadow of the great peak of Aderast, and all of its magic comes from the shimmering glacier that flows from it. A handful of young people are chosen each year to climb to the glacier and claim a small piece of it, a frostsliver, which gives them special abilities and marks them as people of importance in Adranna’s society.

Sabira is a fourteen-year-old girl who has been chosen to receive a frostsliver. The novel opens as she is making her climb. The narrative then flashes back to the previous year, when Sabira’s brother Kyran was chosen. Tensions have been growing with the neighboring nation of Ignata, and after an Ignatian raiding party attacked Sabira’s family, everything started going wrong for Kyran. Now he is missing, and Sabira is det... Read More

Dead Voices: I’m hooked on this series

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden

I loved Small Spaces, Katherine Arden’s first foray into children’s horror, and so I jumped right into its sequel, Dead Voices (2019). A few months have passed since Ollie, Coco, and Brian outsmarted the Smiling Man who wanted to turn them, and all their classmates, into scarecrows. The ordeal left them with recurring nightmares, but also made them best friends. It’s December now, and Ollie’s dad has won a stay at Mount Hemlock, the new ski lodge a few hours outside of town. He’s taking all three kids, along with Coco’s mom.

I didn’t fall in love as immediately this time, and I think I’ve distilled that down to two reasons. One is that, from an adult perspective, it seemed... Read More

Crown of Dreams: Things get tough for Rhianna and her friends

Crown of Dreams by Katherine Roberts

Crown of Dreams (2013) is the third book in Katherine Roberts's four-part PENDRAGON LEGACY series, which details the quest undertaken by Princess Rhianna — daughter of Arthur Pendragon and his queen Guinevere — to find the Four Lights that might save the city of Camelot and restore her father back to life.

Already she has two of the four Lights in her possession: the Sword of Light and the Lance of Truth, the latter of which is now carried by her champion Sir Cai. Other allies include her fairy friend Elphin from the Isle of Avalon, her maid Arianrhod, who was once a servant to the witch Morgan le Fey, and the wizard Merlin, currently trapped in the body of a small hunting hawk. Then there are the Knights of the Round Table, including Sirs Bors, Bedieve... Read More

Lance of Truth: Rhianna’s adventure continues

Lance of Truth by Katherine Roberts

Lance of Truth (2012) is the second book in Katherine Roberts's four-part story about the daughter of King Arthur Pendragon, and her quest to find the Four Lights (Sword of Light, Lance of Truth, Crown of Dreams and Holy Grail) that might restore her father to life and bring peace to Britain.

Princess Rhianna has lived her whole life on the enchanted isle of Avalon, but after learning of her parentage upon the death of King Arthur, she journeys to the mainland with her friend Elphin in order to claim the throne of Camelot. Having already found Excalibur, the Sword of Light, she now plans to retrieve the Lance of Truth, currently in possession of the disgraced Sir Lancelot.

But Lancelot is himself missing, on a search for Queen Guinevere in the northern lands. ... Read More

Sword of Light: A new spin on Arthurian legend

Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts

Rhianna has lived her entire life on the idyllic island of Avalon, never knowing her parents or seeing anything of the world beyond the isle. But the truth comes out in Britain's darkest hour, when the wizard Merlin arrives on Avalon's shore with the body of King Arthur Pendragon, slain in battle by his nephew Mordred and missing his sword Excalibur.

Rhianna learns she is the secret daughter of Arthur and Guinevere, hidden from the world at birth and now rightful heir to Camelot's throne. It's a lot for a young girl to absorb, but when she realizes that hope for the future lies with her finding the Four Lights (the sword of light, the lance of truth, the crown of dreams and the holy grail) that could reunite the kingdom and restore her father to life, she can't wait to leave home and fulfil her rightful destiny.

Naturally it's easier said than done. She's lived a sheltered life, a... Read More

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

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

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 attendi... Read More

The House on Parchment Street: A ghost story from a developing fantasy writer

The House on Parchment Street by Patricia McKillip

I probably would never have known about The House on Parchment Street (1973) were I not such a huge fan of Patricia McKillip's fantasy stories, and while browsing her name on a library search engine, this title popped up. It was obviously one of her earliest published works, so I was willing to give it a go.

The House on Parchment Street is profoundly different from her later stories, which are not only told with dense poetic-prose, but focus more on fantasy worlds and creatures. This is a fairly straightforward ghost story, with equally straightforward prose, about a girl called Carol Christopher who travels from America to stay with her cousin Bruce, Aunt Catherine, and Uncle Harold in a small English village.

Carol a... Read More

Akata Witch: An exciting, imaginative, and heart-warming story

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny Nwazue, an albino who needs to stay out of the sun, has always been different from the other kids in her school. When her family returned to Nigeria after living in the United States for most of Sunny’s childhood, she never quite found her place. Her strangeness becomes even more obvious when she sees a vision showing what appears to be scenes from the end of the world.

When Sunny finally makes a few friends, she begins to realize there's a reason for her strangeness, and that she's not the only weird kid in town. She finds out that she belongs to the Leopard People, an ancient bloodline that endows its descendants with various magical abilities. As Sunny is initiated into this new family, she learns that she and her friends are part of a prophecy related to her frightening apocalyptic vision. Without much knowledge or skills, Su... Read More

Mary Poppins: Perhaps not what you were expecting

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Having recently seen Saving Mr. Banks, a film that purports to examine the strained relationship between author P.L. Travers and film-maker Walt Disney when it came to adapting Mary Poppins for the big screen, it was only natural that I finally got around to my long overdue reading of the classic children's story Mary Poppins.

Having grown up with the Disney film, it's quite shocking to realize how little one resembles the other. Of course, I knew there would be significant differences — the film is filled with animation and musical numbers, for a start. But I was surprised by how many of the most iconic elements of the Disney film are completely absent from the novel: there is no line of potential governesses being swept away by the East Wind, no "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," no dancing chimney s... Read More

The Little Prince: A thoughtful and timeless classic

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Nominated this year for a Best Novella within the 1944 Retrospective Hugo Awards category, The Little Prince is a slight, yet powerfully thought-provoking work. Originally published by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1943, who filled each page of his story with charming watercolor illustrations, it tells the story of a pilot who has crash-landed in the Sahara Desert with “only enough drinking water for eight days” and who, upon his very first night, is visited by an extraordinary child who asks for a drawing of a sheep.

As the pilot says, “In the face of an overpowering mystery, you don’t dare disobey,” and after many failed attempts he manages to come up with a drawing which pleases the child, whom he calls “the little prince.” As they come to know one another, the pilot learns about the little prince’s home planet and the other... Read More

Bonfires and Broomsticks: Time-traveling with the magic bed-knob

Bonfires and Broomsticks by Mary Norton

In Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947), part two of Mary Norton’s BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS duology, it's two years after events of the first book, The Magic Bed-Knob. The three young siblings, Carey, Charles and Paul, get the chance to leave London and spend the summer in Bedfordshire with their spinster friend, Miss Price, who was a witch in training. And they still have the magic bed-knob that enables them to fly through time and space on Paul's old bed, which is now in Miss Price's bedroom! Good magical times ahead!

Or maybe not: Miss Price, while pleased to see them, has decided that being a witch is a Bad Idea, and she's given up magic. But, the children argue, almost anything is fine in moderation, and they never did get the chan... Read More

The Magic Bed-Knob: Charming, old-fashioned, and not much like the Disney movie

The Magic Bed-Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons by Mary Norton

I was a child when I first saw Disney's 1971 movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks and have fond memories of it. So when I found out that the book that inspired the movie, Mary Norton’s The Magic Bed-Knob (1943), was nominated this year for a 1944 Retro Hugo award, I was excited to read it. It's charming and old-fashioned ... but not everything I had hoped for. Also, it's not much like the Disney movie, which is both a positive and a negative thing.

During the London Blitz, three siblings ― Carey ("about your age"), Charles ("a little younger") and Paul ("only six") ― are sent to Bedfordshire to stay with their Aunt Beatrice. (Tangentially, it’s worth noting that in recent editions of The Magic Bed-Knob, all references to the war have been redacted, perhaps in an effort to make the story le... Read More

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: The Serpent’s Heir: A fun adventure

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: The Serpent's Heir by Dean DeBlois, Richard Hamilton, & Doug Wheatley

This graphic novel takes place shortly after the events of the film How to Train Your Dragon 2, which finds Hiccup as the new chief of Berk in the wake of his father's death. Amidst the rebuilding of the village, the suspicious nature of Berk citizens at the presence of outsiders, and the ongoing training of new dragons, it's a struggle for Hiccup to adjust to his new role as leader.

So when an envoy named Calder arrives from the island of Nephenthe, Hiccup jumps at the chance to take some time off. Along with Toothless, Astrid, Fishlegs, Snotlout, Eret, the twins and his mother, he travels to Nephenthe at the behest of King Mikkel the Munificent to investigate strange tremors across his island.

If you're a fan of the How to Train Your Dragon films or animated television show, then there's nothing in... Read More

Over the Wall: A top-notch book for young readers

Over the Wall by Peter Wartman

Warned off by a demon not to enter the empty city, the girl from the country village persists in her desire to pass through the invisible barrier around the city that keeps the demons in. This young girl is the main character of Peter Wartman’s Over the Wall, a charming coming-of-age fantasy graphic novel for young readers. It is a quick read and is light on text to make room for the wonderful art that uses only purple in addition to the black and white drawings, a good choice in that it makes Over the Wall a visually unique graphic novel. Though it’s short, it’s a great read and one I recommend highly for young readers, though I certainly enjoyed reading it as an adult.

The story starts off with our young protagonist gathering together a few items in a backpack: It is nighttime, and we can see her parents asleep in bed in this one-room home... Read More

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword: Charming and quirky

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien

Peasprout Chen and her little brother Cricket have been chosen by the dowager empress to represent their province at the Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword in the famously beautiful city of Pearl. In exchange, the mayor of Pearl has sent two of his children to Shin, the poor rural area where Peasprout and Cricket grew up.

The Chen siblings were chosen because Peasprout is the best wu liu competitor in her entire province. She’s a celebrity there. But when Peasprout arrives at their new school, her classmates are not impressed. Right away, Peasprout and Cricket don’t fit in. They don’t have fashionable clothes or extra skates. Peasprout sets out to prove herself as the best in her class while she tries to protect her little brother, not nearly as accomplished in the martial art, from bullies.

Peasprout is a great skater, but she’s at a major ... Read More

Xander and the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns: Technicolor gross-out fun

XANDER AND THE RAINBOW-BARFING UNICORNS: Fairies Hate Ponies & Who Turned Off the Colors? by Matthew K. Manning & Joey Ellis

XANDER AND THE RAINBOW-BARFING UNICORNS is a sweet, silly children’s series written by Matthew K. Manning and illustrated by Joey Ellis; the two most recent entries are Fairies Hate Ponies (2019) and Who Turned Off the Colors? (2019). The series is marketed toward kids in the 8-to-10-year-old range, though some of that is going to be dependent upon the reading proficiency and intestinal fortitude of the kid in question. Be prepared for plenty of gross-out humor and copious amounts of technicolor vomit issued by unicorns afflicted with a zombie virus.

Fortunately, the unicorns themselves appear to be caught in a state of semi-decay, with various body p... Read More

Dragon Pearl: A young girl, chasing adventure, finds herself

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

The Rick Riordan Presents imprint’s mission statement is, in part, “to publish great middle grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to let them tell their own stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their own heritage,” leading to the publication of novels like Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and the End of Time and J.C. CervantesThe Storm Runner, and most recently joined by Yoon Ha Lees Dragon Pearl Read More

Watch Hollow: A nice blend of creepiness and charm

Watch Hollow by Gregory Funaro

Gregory Funaro’s just-published Watch Hollow (2019) is a charmingly spooky (or perhaps spookily charming) contemporary fantasy featuring an 11-year-old girl, Lucy Tinker, her 13-year-old brother Oliver, and their clockmaker father … and also a fearsome giant, a boy who mysteriously appears and disappears, and a full dozen magical talking animals sure to warm the hearts of middle grade readers.

After a brief prologue with a heart-stopping chase involving the giant, a traitorous crow, and a rat named Fennish Seven, the story shifts to our main characters, Lucy and her brother Oliver. Between their mother’s death from cancer two years earlier and their father’s lack of business acumen, the Tinker family is teetering on the brink of financial disaster. So it feels like a huge windfall when a str... Read More

The Girl with the Dragon Heart: Creating your own story

The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis follows up last year’s award-nominated middle grade fantasy The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart with The Girl with the Dragon Heart (2018), the second book in her TALES FROM THE CHOCOLATE HEART series. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart followed the escapades of Aventurine, a chocolate-loving young dragon enchanted into the shape of a young girl. The focus now shifts to Aventurine’s friend Silke, a dark-skinned girl with short black curly hair. More importantly, Silke is also brave, quick-thinking and fast-moving, and has a great talent for creating stories, including her own.

Silke, an ... Read More

La Belle Sauvage: Our different opinions

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

I always find it a little nerve-wracking when an author returns to a successful series after a long time away. There's always the fear, for me at least, that one of two things is going to happen: either the author will be nostalgic about the original work to the extent that s/he makes the new book into a fawning tribute without substance, or the author will have changed enough in the time between installments that the magic is just gone. I'm happy to say, though, that Philip Pullman's new novel dispels both of those fears. La Belle Sauvage (2017) is, though not quite as much a game-changer as The Golden Compass, still a fantastic novel in its own right and a great opener to THE BOOK OF ... Read More