Fantasy Literature for Children ages 9-12.

Curse of the Bane: Another scary adventure

Curse of the Bane (The Spook’s Curse in the UK) by Joseph Delaney

Curse of the Bane (2005) is the second book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE series. (The series is confusingly called THE WARDSTONE CHRONICLES in the UK and this book is titled The Spook’s Curse there.) The first book, Revenge of the Witch (The Spook’s Apprentice in the UK) was terrifying and though I really enjoyed it, I warned that it might be too scary for many kids in the target age range of 9-12.

Tom Ward is the thirteen year old apprentice of the regional Spook. Together they travel around the county banishing witches, ... Read More

Crystal Mask: Another enchanting addition to the ECHORIUM SEQUENCE

Crystal Mask by Katherine Roberts

Crystal Mask is the second book in Katherine Robert’s ECHORIUM SEQUENCE. Unlike Song Quest which I first read as a child, Crystal Mask was new to me. I can’t help wishing I had encountered it as a child because I would have been far less fussy about the plot. Adulthood has come with a propensity to pick holes as you will discover if you are minded to read on. Nevertheless, Crystal Mask is a worthy successor to a story I have always loved.

Crystal Mask is set 20 years after Song Quest’s finale. Kherron is now Second Singer at the Echorium. Rialle is also a singer but choses to live outside the Echorium walls in order to remain friends with ... Read More

The Girl Who Could Not Dream: Dreams come true… with rainbows and teeth

The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Monsters, glittery flying ponies, ninja bunnies and other fantastical creatures inhabit the pages of The Girl Who Could Not Dream, Sarah Beth Durst’s enchanting new middle grade fantasy adventure novel. Sophie’s parents own a secretive dream shop, where you can buy bottled dreams or ― if you prefer more frightening adventures ― nightmares. (It’s like reading a Stephen King novel, only more immersive.) Her family uses woven dreamcatchers to capture other peoples' dreams, and then her parents distill the dreams into liquid form, bottle them and sell them to customers.

Because Sophie has never had a dream of her own, when she was six years old her curiosity led her to swipe a dream b... Read More

The Tournament at Gorlan: A RANGER’S APPRENTICE prequel

The Tournament at Gorlan by John Flanagan

Well, I thought the RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, which I recently reviewed, was finished, but it’s not. The Tournament at Gorlan begins a prequel series which tells us what happened before we met Will on the day he became a Ranger’s apprentice. We already know some of the backstory — about how Morgarath became a traitor to the King of Araluen, destroyed the reputation of the Rangers, and tried to seize the throne. John Flanagan’s prequel series will fill in the details of those events and let us enjoy the youthful days of some of our favorite older RANGER’S APPRENTICE characters.

In The Tournament at Gorlan, Morgarath has kidnap... Read More

The Halloween Tree: The best history lesson you’ll ever have

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small part of a Midwest state. There wasn’t so much wilderness around you couldn’t see the town. But on the other hand there wasn’t so much town you couldn’t see and feel and touch and smell the wilderness. 

So reads the charming first sentence of Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree. A perfectly gothic yarn that seeks, through the hop skip and jump adventure of a group of young boys and their sinister guide, to convey the true meaning of Halloween.

It is Halloween night and Tom Skelton and his group of boys are dressed up and ready for adventure. Leaving their poorly friend Pipkin behind, they run, as boys will, out of the town to a great ravine where they find the house of Carapac... Read More

The Sword of Summer: Rick Riordan goes Norse

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan, who has enthralled millions of readers with exciting tales of teenagers and their interactions with Greek, Roman and Egyptian gods and goddesses, turns to Norse mythology in his latest book, The Sword of Summer, published October 6, 2015.

Magnus Chase is sixteen years old and has been homeless for two years, since his mother died. Magnus remembers the door of their apartment splintering and wolves with glowing blue eyes bursting in as his mother shooed him out the fire escape. His mother had always told him to avoid his uncles, especially Uncle Randolph ― but Magnus runs into Randolph, who somehow convinces him to accompany him to retrieve an ancient sword from the waters below Longfellow Bridge in Boston. Magnus magically calls the sword to himself. Unfortunately, it’s a corroded, slimy, barnacle-encrusted piece of metal with no hilt.... Read More

Song Quest: An old favourite you may not have heard of

Song Quest by Katherine Roberts

I read Katherine Roberts’ Song Quest (book one of the three-book ECHORIUM SEQUENCE) as a child when it was first published in 1999. A few years later it was the first book I ever cajoled an unsuspecting customer into buying during my Saturday stint at the local bookshop. It is one those books that has stayed with me and I indulged myself with a re-read partly for stroll down memory lane and partly because I do not think it has received the attention it deserves. As with most things revisited from childhood it did feel smaller and less exciting when viewed from the tarnished eyes of adulthood (which is why I will not be returning to Disneyland) but I still think it is an exciting and, most importantly, enchanting read for the young and young at heart.

Rialle, along with her friends Fren and Chissar and class bully Kherron, are all training... Read More

Clockwork: Bad things happen when you don’t finish a story

Clockwork: or All Wound Up by Philip Pullman

Clockwork: or All Wound Up (1996) is a very short (about 100 pages) children’s fairytale by Philip Pullman. It stars Karl and Fritz, two young Germans who have not finished a job that they were supposed to do and are worried about what will happen when the townspeople find out. Karl and Fritz meet one snowy evening in the local tavern. Karl, the clockmaker’s apprentice, is brooding because tomorrow is the day when he must unveil the mechanical project he’s supposed to have finished. For hundreds of years, each apprentice has contributed an exquisite clockwork figure to the town’s clock and everyone gathers on graduation day to admire it in the town square. Karl confesses to Fritz that he has not created anything.

Fritz, a writer, tells Karl that authors also ha... Read More

Alistair Grim’s Odditorium: The magical adventures of a chimney sweep

Alistair Grim’s Odditorium by Gregory Funaro

Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, is a charming middle grade fantasy that reminds me of Roald Dahl’s classic James and the Giant Peach, but with a Victorian steampunk flavor. Replace the giant peach with a large, bizarrely-shaped mansion with strange powers and even stranger inhabitants. Add one intrepid twelve year old ("or thereabouts") runaway chimney sweep named Grubb, and a doughty and stubborn magical pocket watch named McClintock with the heart of a Scottish warrior, along with assorted fairies (good and evil) and other magical beings, and you've got a great adventure for the younger set.

Grubb (no other name) is a young “chummy” or chimney sweep’s assistant, living in London in the 1800s. He doesn’t know who his ... Read More

Talking to Dragons: The first, fourth, and final ENCHANTED FOREST book

Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Talking to Dragons is the fourth and final book in Patricia C. Wrede’s ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES, though it was actually the first book in the series to be published (1985). Wrede wrote the later three books (Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons) as prequels and now the correct reading order is to start with those three prequels and read Talking to Dragons last. So, in this review, I’ll be spoiling a bit of the plot of the prequels.

The hero of Talking to Dragons is Daystar, son of Princess Cimorene and King Mendanbar. At the end of the previous book, Calling on Dragons, Mendanbar was tra... Read More

Calling on Dragons: Weakest book in the series

Calling on Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Warning: Contains spoilers for previous books in this series: Dealing with Dragons and Searching for Dragons.

Calling on Dragons is the third book in Patricia C. Wrede’s ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES series for young readers. I loved the first book, Dealing with Dragons, for its fun quirky plot, but mainly because of the way Wrede turned the princess and fantasy tropes on their heads. Princess Cimorene decides she does not want to do princess things such as etiquette and embroidery, and she doesn’t want to marry a silly handsome prince, so she runs away and becomes the right-hand man of the King of the Dragons (who happens to be female). I found this refreshing for a children... Read More

Searching for Dragons: Funny and entertaining

Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

It’s been more than 5 years since I read Dealing with Dragons, the first book in Patricia C. Wrede’s ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES. I loved the way the story, written in 1990, ridiculed and subverted the princess stereotype. It stars Cimorene, a teenage princess who runs away to avoid marrying a handsome but dull prince. She ends up working as a housekeeper and librarian for a dragon. (Housekeeper and Librarian seem like “female” roles, but at least these are the jobs Cimorene wants to do and she doesn’t shy away from “men’s” work.)

In my quest to finish all the series I’ve started, I read the rest of the ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES this week. Searching for Dragons, the second book, giv... Read More

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