Children

Fantasy Literature for Children ages 9-12.

The Graveyard Book: Even Gaiman’s dead characters seem alive

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Reposting to include Stuart'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 i... 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

The Pool of Fire: Wraps up the TRIPODS trilogy

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The Pool of Fire by John Christopher

The Pool of Fire is the third book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS dystopian series for children. If you haven’t yet read The White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead, you need to go back and read those first. (And expect mild spoilers for those previous books in this review.)

At the end of The City of Gold and Lead, Will had escaped from the Masters and was heading back to the rebels in the White Mountains with the important knowledge he gained while he was a slave. In The Pool of Fire, the rebels are using Will’s intelligence to plan a way to defeat the Masters. The scientists and engineers, who are st... Read More

The City of Gold and Lead: Will infiltrates the Tripod city

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The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher

This is the second book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS series, one of (if not THE) first dystopian series for children. If you haven’t read The White Mountains yet, you should start there first, though there is a short recap in this instalment.

At the end of The White Mountains, the boys Will, Henry, and Beanpole had fled their towns because they didn’t want to be “capped” by the alien Tripods who had conquered Earth and turned humanity into docile sheep. After much adventure, the boys finally arrived at the rebel base in the White Mountains where they’ve been learning and training for a year. The rebels are not content to just hide out. They hope to overthrow the Tripods and restore humanity to its rightful place as Earth’s ruler.

... Read More

The White Mountains: One of the first dystopian novels for kids

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The White Mountains by John Christopher

The White Mountains, the first book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS series for children, has been sitting on my TBR list (and in my Audible library) forever. I was finally inspired to pick it up when Gary K. Wolfe, in his series of lectures entitled How Great Science Fiction Works, mentioned the book as probably the first YA dystopian novel (though Middle Grade is more accurate, I’d say).

The White Mountains was published in 1967 and takes place in an alternate version of our world where aliens called Tripods have conquered Earth and enslaved humans. (These tripods were inspired by the Martians in H.G. Wells’ Read More

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter: Another wonderful tale for children

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The Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter is a short children’s book written by Phillip Pullman and it’s a little gem. Pullman pulls off a perfect recipe of magic, adventure and pure fun in this sparkling little fairy tale.

Lila is the daughter of the talented firework maker Lachland. All Lila wants is to become a true firework maker herself, but to do so she must make the perilous journey to the fire-fiend Razvani and bring back some Royal Sulphur. What’s worse, she sets off before her father can tell her the one thing she’ll need to survive Razvani’s flames. Luckily Lila has good friends in the form of Hamlet, the talking white elephant, and his special minder Chaluk, who follow Lila in hot pursuit, bumping into goddes... Read More

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

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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” r... Read More

Fridays with the Wizards: Wizard-hunting in the castle

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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 q... Read More

Rage of the Fallen: Tom et al go to Ireland

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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 confrontatio... Read More

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

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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... Read More

Wednesdays in the Tower: Secrets of a magical castle

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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 wi... Read More

Mattimeo: Jacques perfects his formula

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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.... Read More

Rise of the Huntress: Bony Lizzy escapes

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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 heari... Read More

The Knights of Crystallia: Targeted at a YA audience

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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 curse... Read More

The Secret of Platform 13: Delightful, fantastical fun

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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.
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Clash of the Demons: Tom and Alice go to Greece

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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... Read More

Mossflower: Woodland creatures rebel against a cruel tyrant

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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 char... Read More

Wrath of the Bloodeye: Tom gets a new master

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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... ... Read More

The Scrivener’s Bones: Continues to entertain

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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 max... Read More

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

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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 Ac... Read More

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

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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 magi... Read More

Snow in Summer: An Appalachian Snow White

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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 an... Read More

Attack of the Fiend: Getting a bit repetitive

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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 the... Read More

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

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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 Gwendo... Read More