Children

Fantasy Literature for Children ages 9-12.

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 se... 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

Skraelings: Clashes in the Old Arctic: Has a winning charm

Skraelings: Clashes in the Old Arctic by Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley

Skraelings: Clashes in the Old Arctic
, by Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, is a Middle Grade book that despite some problems has a winning charm to it.

Set in, well, the old Arctic, at a time when the Inuit were just entering a land, the story is both a coming-of-age tale and a clash of cultures narrative. The coming-of-age belongs to a young Inuit hunter named Kannujaq. The culture clash involves the new-to-this-land Inuit, represented solely by Kannujaq; those who already lived in the land, the Tuniit — represented here by a single village; and the Norse; in this case a single ship of raiders.

Those raiders have just attacked the Tuniit village just as Kannujaq had the misfortune of mistaking the village for one of his people’s roving encampments. Before he can leave, the young shama... Read More

The Marvelous Land of Oz: Delightful sequel

The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Marvelous Land of Oz is the first of L. Frank Baum’s fourteen sequels to his much more famous novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Each of the sequels, which were published form 1904 to 1920, are illustrated by John R. Neill and are now in the public domain. My 11 year old daughter and I listened to a delightful audio version of The Marvelous Land of Oz which was read by Tara Sands. I purchased this version for free at Amazon and added Tara Sands’ wonderful narration for $2.99 with the Amazon/Audible Whispersync deal.

In The Marvelous Land of Oz, an orphan boy named Tip is being raised by an evil witch named Mombi. One day Tip tries to frighten Mombi by maki... Read More

Tale of a Tail: A final gift from a master storyteller

Tale of a Tail by Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy was one of New Zealand’s most beloved writers, the author of forty novels, over one hundred picture books, and a twice-winner of the Carnegie Medal. She passed away in 2012, and I’ll admit that I got a little tearful when I heard that there was still one last story of hers to be published posthumously.

As a final coda to Mahy’s prolific writing career, Tale of a Tail is a funny, magical little story about a boy called Tom who lives with his mother on Prodigy Street. Everything is ordinary enough until another Tom moves into the house at the end of the road. Tomasz Mirabilis is a strange-looking man with an even more extraordinary dog called Najki. Whenever Tom offers to take Najki out for a walk he finds that he has to be careful not to make any careless wishes, for with a wag of his tale, Najki has the... Read More

Sky Raiders: A new children’s fantasy series by Brandon Mull

Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull

Sky Raiders is the first book in Brandon Mull’s new FIVE KINGDOMS series for Middle Grade readers. It’s about a boy named Cole who takes his friends, including a girl he has a crush on, to a haunted house on Halloween Night. The occupants of the house lure the kids into the basement where they’re abducted, taken to another world called The Five Kingdoms, and sold into slavery.

As you might guess, Cole feels a little guilty about this. He’s determined to escape and free his friends. He outwits enemies and battles giant snakes, scorpions, and even a cyclops. Then he finds an ally in a girl named Mira, a girl from the Five Kindgoms who is also a slave. Can Cole and Mira free Cole’s friends? Can Cole get back to Earth? Well, he does make some progress toward that end in Sky Raiders, but there’s plenty more to accomplish in the next volume of THE FIVE KINGDOMS.
... Read More

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl is one of those perfect YA science fiction stories that you wish had been written years ago so you could have read it as a kid — which means that you’re gonna want to get this book in the hands of a child in your life. Just make sure you get a chance to read it first.

The story begins when Zita and her friend find a strange object that has fallen from space — a square, hand-held device with a big, red button on it. Just imagine what you’d do: Would you press that button? Guess what the young child Zita does? That’s right — she presses the button. Instantly, a door of light opens before her and the arms — tentacles? — of a strange creature reach into our... Read More

The Storybook of Legends: Sucked into Matel’s merchandising scheme

Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends by Shannon Hale

Okay, call me clueless, but I when I picked up Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends I had no idea it was a tie-in to a line of popular dolls, diaries and YouTube Webisodes produced by Mattel. All I knew was that it was a children’s story written by Shannon Hale and I happen to really like Shannon Hale’s children’s stories. I soon found out the truth and was disgruntled that I was sucked into Mattel’s merchandising scheme, but I must admit that Mattel made a brilliant move by asking a Newbery Award winning author to write their storie... Read More

The Seer of Shadows: A short but sweet period ghost story

The Seer of Shadows by Avi

Set in New York City, 1872, we are introduced to Horace Carpetine, a young man who works as an apprentice to a photographer. His employer Mr Middleditch is a rather unscrupulous man, eager to turn a penny whichever way he can, but Horace is captivated by the magic of early photographic techniques.

Told in first-person account, Horace describes meeting a young black servant girl called Pegg by the gates of Mr Middleditch’s house, who arranges a photography session with her mistress Mrs Von Macht. Sensing a wealthy woman, Mr Middleditch agrees to the woman’s request to take her picture so that she might leave it on her recently deceased daughter’s tomb.

Mr Middleditch has a better idea — to exercise his skills and manipulate the photograph so that it looks like her daughter Eleanor appears as a ghostly presence in the portrait. To do this he needs Horace to sneak around the Van Macht house and ... Read More

Sons of Destiny: Disappointing finale

Sons of Destiny by Darren Shan

Sons of Destiny is the twelfth and final (finally!) book in Darren Shan’s CIRQUE DU FREAK horror series for children. If you haven’t read the previous volumes, but you intend to, you have no business being here. Go away. If you have read them, you probably don’t care at all what I think about Sons of Destiny. It’s not like you’re NOT going to read it, right? But, since I’ve reviewed all the novels so far, I’ll talk about this one a bit, just for a sense of closure.

We know what needs to happen in this final volume: Darren must kill Steve, his former best friend but current archnemesis. One of them must die. The other will become the dreaded Lord of the Shadows who will bring chaos to the world and destroy it. Why must it be this way? Because that’s what Mr. Des Tiny (get it?) says.

At first, the plot begins to fall out like anyone would expect it ... Read More

The Mark of the Dragonfly: Enjoyable, misses chances to be better

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

The Mark of the Dragonfly, a Middle Grade novel by Jaleigh Johnson, starts off with a wonderfully evocative premise and setting: a world where at regular intervals over a particular region, “meteor storms” rain down artifacts from other worlds amidst a haze of poisonous green dust. After the impacts are over and the dust has settled, “scrappers” head out in a mad race to claim whatever odd (and usually broken) objects might be sold to traders. Entire towns have risen up at the edges of the storm region and it is one of these that we are introduced to our protagonist, Piper. A 13-year-old girl with a talent for fixing machines and the occasional artifact, Piper has been living on her own ever since her father died far off in a factory in Noveen, capital of the Dragonfly territories, a rival kingdom.

Trying to save a young friend desperate for a big strike, Pi... Read More

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