Children

Fantasy Literature for Children ages 9-12.

The Gauntlet: A celebration of family and culture

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The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

Karuna Riazi has already made a name for herself on social media; if you’ve seen or used the widely popular Twitter hashtag #yesallwomen, you have Riazi to thank for it, along with her many other meaningful contributions to conversations about diversity, inclusivity, and representation in media. This year, her debut middle-grade novel The Gauntlet (2017) was published, and it is every bit as positive, well-crafted, and insightful as her non-fiction.

Birthdays ought to be a big deal for any child, but twelve-year-old Farah Mirza spends hers playing games with her little brother, Ahmad, rather than spending time with her friends Alex and Essie, or the family members who have also gathered at her Upper East Side home to celebrate. It’s part of being a good big s... Read More

Journey Across the Hidden Islands: The lion swoops tonight

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Journey Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst

Seika and Ji-Lin are the twelve year old princesses of the Hidden Islands, a group of a hundred islands cut off from the rest of the world by a magical barrier created by an ancient volcano dragon. Seika is the heir to the throne, while Ji-Lin is being trained as an imperial guard, dedicated to protecting her sister from any danger. For the past year they’ve been separated while Ji-Lin is in training at a mountain temple, with the winged, talking lion Alejan as her partner and closest friend.

Ji-Lin’s training is unexpectedly cut short when she is called to return to the imperial city. The emperor, their father, tells Seika and Ji-Lin that the next day they will begin the ritual five-day-long Emperor’s Journey to visit the Dragon’s Shrine. There they will renew ... Read More

THE DESCENDANTS: The conflict between good and evil Disney characters shifts to the next generation

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The Isle of the Lost, Return to the Isle of the Lost Rise of the Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz

Disney’s THE DESCENDANTS series of interrelated middle grade books (fairly easy chapter books) and television musical movies follows the adventures of the children of all of your favorite Disney animated film characters ― both the ones you love and the ones you love to hate. In this series, all of the villains from the various animated films were banished years ago to an isolated island called the Isle of the Lost. The island was then enclosed in a magical force field, an impenetrable dome that keeps the villains locked inside and all magical power locked outside. The Isle of the Lost is a rundown, grimy and unhappy place, while the non-wicked Disney characters live it up in the lovely nearby kingdom of Auradon, ruled over by Beauty and a no-longer... Read More

The Sword of Summer: Rick Riordan goes Norse

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

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... Read More

The Girl of Ink and Stars: A pretty debut that cries out for a little more

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The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Girl of Ink and Stars (2016; published in the U.S. as The Cartographer’s Daughter) is Kiran Millwood Hargrave's debut novel. It tells the story of Isabella, a girl of 13, who lives with her father (Da) and her chicken (Miss La) on the island of Joya. Though Da was once a cartographer who travelled the globe making maps, Joya is now under the control of the despotic Governor Adori and all travel is forbidden. What's more, only part of the island is accessible while the "Forbidden Territories" are cut-off by forest and populated by the "banished". Isabella and her Da can only connect to the outside world through the exquisite maps for which they share a passion, passed down from father to daughter.

One day, Isabella's life is thrown into adventure when a girl in h... Read More

Dragon and Thief: The boy with the (living) dragon tattoo

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Dragon and Thief by Timothy Zahn

Dragon and Thief (2003, issued in trade paperback in 2016) blends dragons and space opera in an exciting middle grade science fictional adventure. The dragon in the title is Draycos, a warrior-poet of an alien species called the K’da, who are able to shift from a three-dimensional being to a two-dimensional tattoo that attaches to your skin, moving around your body at will. The K’da are also a symbiont species, requiring a host to attach themselves to at least every six hours, or they fade away and die. In return, they offer their host protection and companionship.

The K’da have been linked with the humanoid Shontine people for years, but recently both have been under attack from a vicious people called the Valahgua, who are doing their best to exterminate the K’da and the Shontine and gain control over their part of spac... Read More

The Evil Wizard Smallbone: Young readers will love this funny, exciting fantasy

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The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

What is it about Maine? Stephen King and John Connolly both write terrifying horror stories set there, and Delia Sherman places The Evil Wizard Smallbone, a middle-grade fantasy published in 2016, in Maine in the winter. That state must have a lot of magical juice.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone not only shares the horror of a Maine winter, it’s got an evil wizard, shape-shifting coyote-bikers, a small and somewhat magical town called Smallbone Cove whose residents have forgotten their own strange history to their peril, and a scrappy boy named Nick who stumb... Read More

Dragonwatch: Revolt of the Fablehaven dragons

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Dragonwatch by Brandon Mull

Fans of Brandon Mull’s FABLEHAVEN middle grade fantasy series now have a chance to revisit that world with Dragonwatch (2017), the first book in his new FABLEHAVEN ADVENTURE series. In the world of FABLEHAVEN, mythical beings like fairies, centaurs, dragons and demons actually exist, living in hidden, protected sanctuaries where most humans are unaware of their existence. Even if you enter a preserve, unless you drink the milk of a magical milch cow, fairies look like dragonflies or butterflies, nipsies seem to be mice, satyrs appear as goats, and so on.

In the original FABLEHAVEN series, Kendra and her younger brother Seth helped protect their grandparents’ estate, Fablehav... Read More

Skyborn: Fun MG series comes to a satisfying end

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Skyborn by Lou Anders

Lou Anders concludes his THRONES & BONES trilogy for middle graders with Skyborn, which follows Frostborn and Nightborn.

Skyborn begins as our three young heroes have just lost one of the Horns of Osius which are able to control wyverns and dragons. To free these creatures from the empire that controls them, they must travel to Thica to find and destroy the horn.

Our heroes couldn’t be more different from each other. Karn is the human son of a w... Read More

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

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Reposting to include Jason's new review.

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 P... Read More

Nightborn: Kids will love this fun warm-hearted fantasy quest

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Nightborn by Lou Anders

Nightborn is the second novel in Lou AndersTHRONES & BONES series for middle graders. I enjoyed the first novel, Frostborn, for its likeable protagonists, sense of adventure, touch of humor, and warm-heartedness. It’d be best to read it before beginning Nightborn.

The beginning of Nightborn finds Karn, our young gaming hero, back on the family farm. But not for long. Soon he is picked up by a wyvern and taken to the dragon in the coliseum who insists that Karn go find and solve a riddle that will lead him to another of... Read More

Love, Volume 4 The Dinosaur by Frederic Brremaud & Frederico Bertolucci

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Love, Volume 4 The Dinosaur written by Frederic Brremaud and illustrated by Frederico Bertolucci

Love, Volume 4 The Dinosaur (2017) is the newest in a series of wordless graphic novels written by Frederic Brremaud and illustrated by Frederico Bertolucci, each of them following an animal type (a tiger, a lion) through their days. Dinosaurs, thanks to their massive popularity would seem an obvious choice in the series, and they get prime treatment in a gritty, vividly illustrated adventure tale.

Interestingly enough, the story starts small, focusing on an insect and a small shrew-like mammal. They’re quickly disturbed though by the massive foot of a sauropod crashing down as it wanders by while munching the foliage. Just a few panels later, a smaller dinosaur (a bambiraptor I believe, though I’m not sure) enters the picture, an... Read More

Mixed Magics: A short story anthology for Chrestomanci fans

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Mixed Magics by Diana Wynne Jones

Mixed Magics (2000) is comprised of four short stories set in the fantasy worlds of Diana Wynne Jones's CHRESTOMANCI; an enchanter responsible for the proper use of magic wielded by the various witches, warlocks, sorcerers and enchanters prevalent throughout his world (and several others). Although the stories are readable enough by themselves, filled with Wynne Jones's trademark humour and originality, it's best if you're already familiar with her previous work in the series, these tales being filled with plenty of in-jokes and cameo appearances.

It starts off lightly with "Warlock at the Wheel", concerning a hapless warlock who inadvertently kidnaps a little girl and her dog after he steals a car. The most humorous ... Read More

Jennifer Murdley’s Toad: Perhaps the best of the Magic Shop books

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Jennifer Murdley's Toad by Bruce Coville

This may well be my favourite of the MAGIC SHOP books, a series of standalone stories that feature a young boy or girl entering Mr Elives' Magic Shop and leaving with a strange artefact of some kind — one which will have taught them an important life-lesson by the end of the book (though not before causing them a heap of trouble in the interim).

Perhaps the best thing about the series is that each book is surprisingly different in tone. For instance, Russell Troy, Monster Boy (published in the US as The Monster’s Ring) was a comedy/horror, whilst Read More

The Dark Talent: The penultimate ALCATRAZ book

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The Dark Talent by Brandon Sanderson

This review may contain mild spoilers for the previous books in the ALCATRAZ series.

Fans of Brandon Sanderson’s ALCATRAZ VS THE EVIL LIBRARIANS series have been waiting for six years for book five, The Dark Talent (2016), which was finally published a couple of months ago by Starscape (Tor’s children’s imprint). Recorded books brought back Ramon de Ocampo for the audio version that was released at the same time. As I mentioned in my review of the previous book, The Shattered Lens, it’s hard to know which one to recommend because Starscape’s hardback version has wonderful illustrations by... Read More

The Shattered Lens: Metafiction for middle graders

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The Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson

This review may contain mild spoilers for the previous books in the ALCATRAZ series.

The Shattered Lens (2010) is the fourth book in Brandon Sanderson’s hilarious middle-grade series called ALCATRAZ VS THE EVIL LIBRARIANS. The first four books were originally published by Scholastic but Starscape (Tor’s young readers imprint) has recently re-issued the series in lovely hardback editions illustrated by Hayley Lazo. The long-awaited fifth volume, The Dark Talent, has also just been published by Starscape. They sent me all the books and they are gorgeous. My daughters love them and I’ve been recommending them to friends looking for gifts for young readers.
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The Whizbang Machine: An original MG mystery with execution issues

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The Whizbang Machine by Danielle A. Vann

Fifteen year old Elizabeth Yale has been living alone with her mother for eight years, since her father suffered an untimely death and her beloved grandfather Jack, unable to cope with the tragedy, left town to travel around the world. Elizabeth has missed Jack terribly, so she’s delighted when she gets a letter from Jack announcing that he’s coming home, and even more excited when her mother agrees to let her take a trip to Morocco with Jack in a few days. But unexpected troubles postpone their Casablanca adventure.

Jack has brought an unusual gift home for Elizabeth, an antique typewriter. Elizabeth has an uneasy feeling about the typewriter, especially when Jack insists that she touch the keys. At first nothing happens, but then the typewriter bursts into life with a Pop-Whiz-BANG!, shooting streams of brightly colored sp... Read More

Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood

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Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas & Tamra Bonvillain

For a literary giant who is approached with a seriousness that borders on reverence, Margaret Atwood is perfectly willing to have fun and write whatever she wants. Sometimes that is clearly genre-tinged; sometimes it is darkly humorous, and sometimes it’s a graphic novel for children about a superhero who is part human, part cat and part owl. And that’s the premise of Angel Catbird, Volume 1.

Atwood’s story and words are illustrated by Johnnie Christmas and colored by Tamra Bonvillain. (I do wonder whether at least one of those surnames is a pseudonym.) Christmas’s images have a simple, comic-strip look to them. With a few exceptions, they reminded me of Kid Beowulf by Alexis Farjado. They’re at least in that style. Bonvillain nicely mixes color palettes... Read More

If the Magic Fits: A castle filled with magical dresses and adventure

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If the Magic Fits by Susan Maupin Schmid

In the kingdom of Eliora, eleven year old Darling Dimple is an orphaned servant in Princess Mariposa’s castle, a lowly pot scrubber in the under-cellar of the castle kitchens. She dreams of being a mighty sailor or a great enchantress ― and since she lives in a magic-filled castle built by dragons, surely adventures will come her way! But her daydreams lead to trouble with the castle’s Supreme Scrubstress, who doesn’t take kindly to being splashed with dirty brown dishwater when Darling and her friends are fooling around one day. So when the Wardrobe Mistress comes downstairs looking for a new girl to help press the Princess’s linens, and the Supreme Scrubstress finds out that it’s “hard work that requires close attention,” she gleefully volunteers Darling.

Darling’s new job as Under-presser turns out not to be such a punishment:... Read More

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill: finding magic and wings in dark times

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The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

Emmaline knows a secret: Briar Hill, a Shropshire mansion which has been turned into a children’s hospital during World War II, has beautiful winged horses that live in the mirrors of its elegant rooms. They move in and out of the mirror-rooms, walking through doorways, nosing half-finished cups of tea. But only Emmaline can see them, and she keeps the secret to herself. She knows the boys like Benny and Jack will tease her mercilessly if they knew. She doesn’t even tell her best friend Anna, who’s the most ill person at the hospital, for fear that she’ll distress Anna.

One day Benny steals a treasured piece of chocolate from Emmaline and eats it. Upset, Emmaline runs outside and (breaking the hospital rules) climbs over the ivy of a walled garden on the grounds. Inside the abandoned garden, a beautiful white horse with a soft gr... Read More

The Graveyard Book: Even the dead characters seem alive

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Reposting to include Skye's new review:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Ignore the YA label slapped on this one if that gives you pause. Though that won’t be hard to do because The Graveyard Book opens with a hand in the darkness holding a knife wet with the blood of almost an entire family: father, mother, and older child. The knife lacks only the blood of the toddler son to finish its job. Luckily for the reader (and the boy) he escapes into a nearby cemetery where a mothering ghost convinces the cemetery community to protect him. Another reason to ignore the YA label, or better yet, to revel in it, is that Neil Gaiman’s YA-listed material is stronger than his adult work: tighter, more focused, more intense all around. All that holds true here and The Graveyard Book’s clarity and brevity, often seen as constraints in ... Read More

Girls and Goddesses: Stories of Heroines from Around the World

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Girls and Goddesses: Stories of Heroines from Around the World by Lari Don & Francesca Greenwood

Girls and Goddesses: Stories of Heroines from Around the World, written by Lari Don and illustrated by Francesca Greenwood, is a collection of thirteen folktales in a wide range of time and place. While the language is a little flat, for the most part I found it an enjoyable read. And it’s yet another alternative to all those princess-rescued-by-the-boy-hero that used to be the norm.

The cultures/regions included are:



China
Sumeria
France
Greece
Cameroon
Native American
Venezuela
Scandinavia
Japan
Scotland
India
Russia



The tales are relatively short, ranging from six to twelve pages, with mo... Read More

Tom Swift and His Flying Lab: The series that introduced me to sci-fi

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Tom Swift and His Flying Lab by Victor Appleton II

What was the first science fiction novel that you ever read? For a long time, the answer to that question, for me, would have been Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 classic Childhood’s End, which Mr. Miller, back in high school, made us all read for English class. (A very hip teacher, that Mr. Miller!) Upon further reflection, however, it has struck me that I probably read Jules Verne’s 1864 classic A Journey to the Center of the Earth back in junior high school, and that, going back to late public school, there was the series of books featuring teenage inventor Tom Swift, Jr. Baby boomers may perhaps recall how very popular these books were back when... Read More

Song of the Deep: An engaging character placed into an intriguing world

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Song of the Deep by Brian Hastings

“Multi-platform” is one of those buzzwords you hear a lot, and Insomniac Games is taking the concept and running with it, with their most recent game, Song of the Deep, sharing a release with a same-titled Middle Grade book, written by Brian Hastings. I don’t know anything about the game itself, but one can see the pedigree of game elements in the story to, I’d say, both good and ill effect. But generally Song of the Deep is an engaging, quick-moving story with a determinedly likable character at its center.

Twelve-year-old Merryn lives with her fisherman father (her mother died a few years earlier) in a cliff house overlooking the sea. Every day she hopes to go out with her father on his one-man boat, but every day he tells her it’s too dangerous. So instead she’s relegated to standing ato... Read More

When the Tripods Came: A prequel to a popular classic children’s SF trilogy

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When the Tripods Came by John Christopher

When the Tripods Came is the fourth book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS science fiction series for children, but it’s actually a prequel, so you could read it first if you like. When the Tripods Came was published in 1988, 20 years after the original trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, The Pool of Fire), and after the airing in the UK of a BBC series based on the TRIPOD books.

Young readers of the TRIPODS trilogy may have been wondering how humans had been so stupid as to let the aliens subdue them by “capping” them with metal headgear that contro... Read More