Children

Fantasy Literature for Children ages 9-12.

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

Frostborn: An exciting fantasy adventure

Frostborn by Lou Anders

Editor, publisher, and essayist Lou Anders’ debut novel is a sweet Middle Grade story inspired by Norse legends. Frostborn, the first in a series, has two likeable heroines. The first is Karn, the son of a prosperous farmer who’s head of their clan. Karn is his father’s heir, which secretly infuriates Karn’s uncle, a twin who is only a few seconds younger than Karn’s father. However, Karn isn’t interested in running the family farm and being clan chief. He spends his time playing a strategy board game called Thrones & Bones and he’d like to have some adventures before settling down. Karn’s uncle would be thrilled if Karn would leave home, but his father is determined to make Karn a worthy successor. When the uncle tries to take Karn out of the picture, Karn is forced to flee.

Our second hero is Thianna, the daughter of a frost giant and a human woman. Because of... Read More

The Dragon of Avalon: A return visit to the island of Avalon

The Dragon of Avalon by T.A. Barron

Recent republications of The Dragon of Avalon number it as the sixth instalment in T.A. Barron's MERLIN series. To be more accurate, it was published *after* the five-part LOST YEARS OF MERLIN and THE GREAT TREE OF AVALON trilogy, but is placed between them in the chronology of events. Confusing, right?

Although reading this in the newly designated order certainly doesn't give away any spoilers, there's a definite sense that Barron expects you to have some awareness of the Great Tree of Avalon (it's kind of like reading The Magician's Nephew before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the NARNIA books -- though it's a prequel, it'... Read More

The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man: A short sweet fairytale from a master storyteller

The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man by Lloyd Alexander

No one does it better than Lloyd Alexander. One of his early children’s chapter books, The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man contains all of his trademark wit, wisdom and warmth, as well as a valuable lesson and plenty of delightful characters.

After giving his cat the gift of speech, the magician Stephanus is now harangued by requests to turn him into a man. Lionel is desperately curious about the world of mankind, despite his master’s low opinion of the folk who live in the nearby town of Brightford -- according to him he once built a bridge for the whole townsfolk to share, only for the Mayor to seize control of it and place a toll over it. Stephanus left in disgust after that, and hasn’t returned since.

But Lionel won’t be deterred, and Stephanus grudgingly grants him his wish. Soon enough a tawny-haired, green-eyed you... Read More

The Unfairest of Them All: Cute and clever

The Unfairest of Them All by Shannon Hale

The Unfairest of Them All is the second book in Shannon Hale’s EVER AFTER HIGH series for children. These are tie-in novels for Matel’s line of EVER AFTER HIGH dolls, clothing, diaries, and sundry accessories. I feel like a real chump for obliviously falling into Matel’s greedy little trap, but I love Shannon Hale’s children’s books, so.... so THERE.

The first book in the series (The Storybook of Legends) was sweet and charming, so I went in to this one knowing exactly what I was doing and I found it just as original and adorable as the first one. In The Unfairest of Them All, Raven Queen, daughter of the evil queen, refuses to sign The Storybook of Legends, a contract that would require her to carry on in her mother’s evil role. Raven doesn’t want to be evil, but b... Read More

The Boundless: A thrilling and suspenseful MG adventure

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

A circus. A climactic battle atop a seven-mile long train. Automatons. Folklore-ic menace such as a hag who will drown you in her bog if you look into her eyes. Sasquatches. A train heist. An escape artist. A mesmerist. A plan to gain immortality. Rags to riches. Boy meets girl. Dreams to fight for. A villain willing to kill to get what he wants.

You have to hand it to Kenneth Oppel. In his newest Middle Grade (MG) novel, The Boundless, he throws around three or four novel's worth of plot elements. But thanks to his consummate skill as a plotter, the novel never feels cluttered. And thanks to his skill as a writer, the reader is rewarded with more than simple (or not so simple) plot; we also get some winning characters to root for, some troubling complexities of ... Read More

A Wizard’s Wings: A fitting end to a popular saga

A Wizard’s Wings by T.A. Barron

This is the fifth and final book of T.A. Barron’s THE LOST YEARS OF MERLIN cycle, one of the earliest literary explorations of the famous wizard’s childhood. Since then there have been a number of books (and one television show) about what this enigmatic sorcerer was like as a young boy, well before his mentoring of the famed King Arthur, but Barron’s take on the subject matter remains one of the most popular.

So popular that it’s warranted a recent re-publication, with new cover art and tweaked titles. What was originally published as The Wings of Merlin is now called A Wizard’s Wings and the entire MERLIN collection — including its two spin-off series — has been repackaged as a twelve-book series. Read More

ZITA THE SPACEGIRL by Ben Hatke

ZITA THE SPACEGIRL by Ben Hatke

If I were forced to choose one word to sum up Ben Hatke’s ZITA THE SPACEGIRL trilogy, it would be “delightful.” I could toss a lot more words into the mix — imaginative, whimsical, heartwarming, and so on, but really, all one need know is the entire series is a delight. And now I just wondered if our comic/graphic expert Brad had reviewed it and of course he has, and it turns out at the end he says Zita is “a delight.” So there you go.

The trilogy is made up of Zita the Spacegirl, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl. The books are aimed at YA, and it’s hard to imagine any child not enjoying every aspect of it — character, plot, visuals. While it lacks the rich depth or wholly original characters to make it a full crossover book, it’s equally h... Read More

Samurai Jack and the Threads of Time: A good comic for children

Samurai Jack and the Threads of Time by Jim Zub

Samurai Jack and the Threads of Time is a fun comic book for kids. It is an episodic battle adventure with better-than-average art and excellent coloring. Samurai Jack was created by Grenndy Tartakovsky, so apparently Threads of Time isn't the first Samurai Jack story. However, he's a new character to me. Author Jim Zub writes a good story for his primary audience of kids, but Andy Suriano's artwork is appealing to any reader. It's the part of the book I enjoyed the most.

From what I can tell, the background story of Samurai Jack is that he's stuck in the future and wants to get back to his own time period. He has an arch-nemesis named Aku who, I think, has caused him problems in both the past and the future, which is the present of the story. In this comic book, we follow Jack on a series of adventures that will lead to his final confrontation with this Demon Wizard ... Read More

Ben 10: Fun for younger kids who like the TV show

Ben 10 by Jason Henderson (author) and Gordon Purcell (artist)

Ben 10 by Jason Henderson is a fun comic book for younger kids who like the TV show, but it's not for older kids or adults, and I don't think it would be that interesting to any children who aren't already familiar with the show. This particular story takes place in the summer, while Ben and his fellow Plumbers are on a cruise ship for a vacation. The Plumbers, in case you don't know, are a group that defends the earth. Ben is the hero because he wears the Omnitrix, a watchband-like device that allows him to change into various alien forms. He works with a group of kids: Rook, Kevin, and Gwen. Max is the adult who looks over them.

Obviously, the vacation won't last long. Ben meets Lorelai, a cute girl who turns out to be a Princess Mermaid who is part of a group of Mermaids originally from an Alien world. They defend the seas on Earth, and in this story, they get h... Read More

The Search for WondLa: Sweet heroine, dull plot

The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi

Eva Nine has been living in an underground bunker for all of her twelve years of life. She’s being raised by a slightly humanoid robot named MUTHR (it’s an anagram), her omnipod (a personal hand-held device) and her computerized home called Sanctuary. Eva Nine is the only human she’s ever seen. What’s above ground? Why is she not allowed out? Are there any other humans on Earth? If not, where are they? Soon some of Eva’s questions will be answered because somebody is hunting her and to escape, she must leave Sanctuary by herself.

When Eva Nine gets outside, she finds that everything is unrecognizable and nothing is as she’s been taught. The flora and fauna are unknown to her omnipod which is usually able to identify anything. She encounters strange enemies and makes friends with creatures that seem impossible. Could it be that she’s not on Earth? Where is she? Why is somebody hunting her?... Read More

The Rolling Stones: A clever family’s space adventures

The Rolling Stones by Robert A. Heinlein

Castor and Pollux Stone are 15-year-old red-headed twin boys who live in Luna City (a moon colony). They are young entrepreneurs and are making plans to buy a spaceship so they can start a trading business. When their father Roger Stone, a retired engineer and former mayor of Luna City whose current job is to write cheesy sci-fi stories for a television show, finds out about their plans, he decides to buy a space yacht and take the whole family on a trip. That includes their baby brother, their mother Edith Stone (a doctor), and their Grandmother Hazel Stone (an engineer). You may recognize some of their names from later Heinlein novels in which they are mentioned or make cameo appearances.

The family names their yacht The Rolling Stones and Mr. Stone appoints himself ship captain while his wife is, of course, the ship doctor and his mother is, of course, ship engineer. The twins help with the n... Read More

Wizards: From Merlin to Faust

Wizards: From Merlin to Faust by David and Lesley McIntee

I’ve been a huge fan of just about all the MYTHS AND LEGENDS series from Osprey Publishing, having given four stars to Troy, Robin Hood, and Thor; and 4.5 to King Arthur, with only Jason and the Argonauts standing out as a weak entry in the roll. Until now. The most recent text in the series (for me at least) is called Wizards: From Merlin to Faust, an... Read More

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