Children

Fantasy Literature for Children ages 9-12.

Frogkisser!: A weighty quest in a fairy tale-mashup world

Readers’ average rating: 

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Anya is an orphaned young princess, about twelve or thirteen years old, and a bookworm (as many of the best princesses in literature seem to be). She and her fifteen year old sister Morven are orphans under the dubious care of their stepmother, a botanist who is enthusiastic about plants but completely uninterested in and uninvolved with the girls, and Duke Rikard, their stepstepfather (which is what you get when your stepmother remarries after your father dies). Morven is supposed to be crowned as the queen when she turns sixteen in three months, but she’s far more interested in handsome princes than in ruling. This suits Duke Rickard just fine: he’s a black-hearted sorcerer who’s intent on making his control of the Kingdom of Trallonia permanent.

Duke Rickard is also given to transforming unlucky servants and hapless princes into frogs. Morven asks Anya t... Read More

Summer in Orcus: A Narnia-type tale spiced with wry humor and insight

Readers’ average rating: 

Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher

Summer is a young girl whose overly protective, clingy mother tries to protect her from every possible danger, although Summer is allowed to read books about magic and shapechanging and such. (“Summer’s mother believed that books were safe things that kept you inside, which only shows how little she knew about it, because books are one of the least safe things in the world.”) But Summer’s mother is no match for Baba Yaga! One spring day Summer is found by Baba Yaga ― actually, she’s found by Baba Yaga’s chicken-footed house, which manages to convinces Baba Yaga that Summer is the girl they want for some unstated purpose.

When Baba Yaga offers Summer her heart’s desire, Summer really isn’t sure what to answer, though shapeshifting or being able to talk to animals do come to her mind. Instead, though, Baba Yaga looks deep into Summer’s h... Read More

The Language of Spells: Younger readers will probably find much to enjoy

Readers’ average rating:

The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr

The Language of Spells (2018), by Garret Weyr, has a certain whimsical charm to it at times, and the warm relationship at its core is a definite plus, but it has a good number of issues that mar the reading experience, though probably less so for a younger audience.

The dragon Grisha is born in the Black Forest in a world where magic is on the wane. After a few decades of maturation (though still young in dragon terms), he’s enchanted by a sorcerer who turns him into a teapot. He lives his life in that trapped stage for many more decades, through both World Wars. Eventually he ends up in Vienna, kept like the few other remaining dragons, under tight surveillance by the bureaucracy. It is there he meets and bonds with eleven-year-old Maggie. Together the two decided to go on a quest to find and free a large ... Read More

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart: A delicious blend of adventure and chocolate

Readers’ average rating: 

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

A young, golden-eyed dragon named Aventurine is chafing at the restrictions her family has placed on her: dragons aren't allowed outside of the caverns until they're 40 or 50 years old, when their wings are strong enough for flight and their scales have hardened enough to protect them against arrows and swords. Aventurine's mother encourages her to "find her passion" in studying history, math or philosophy, but Aventurine just wants to go explore and be free. How can she not, with a name like Aventurine?

So one day she sneaks out of their caverns. When she finds a stray human on their mountain she thinks she's in luck: bringing a delicious human back to the cavern will surely impress her family! The human is suitably terrified of her and Aventurine is about to pounce when … wait ... what's that delicious-smelling food he’s cooking... Read More

Akata Witch: An exciting, imaginative, and heart-warming story with a unique setting

Readers’ average rating:

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny Nwazue, an albino who needs to stay out of the sun, has always been different from the other kids in her school. When her family returned to Nigeria after living in the United States for most of Sunny’s childhood, she never quite found her place. Her strangeness becomes even more obvious when she sees a vision showing what appears to be scenes from the end of the world.

When Sunny finally makes a few friends, she begins to realize there's a reason for her strangeness, and that she's not the only weird kid in town. She finds out that she belongs to the Leopard People, an ancient bloodline that endows its descendants with various magical abilities. As Sunny is initiated into this new family, she learns that she and her friends are part of a prophecy related to her frightening apocalyptic vision. Without much knowledge or skills, Sunny and her friends mu... Read More

The Stone Girl’s Story: A heart of stone

Readers’ average rating: 

The Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst

High up in the mountains, in a marble house, live a stone girl and her animal friends, who are also carved from stone. In this world, magical symbols and marks carved into stone make the stone come alive, giving it the power to move above, see, speak and hear, think, and even fly. Mayka, the stone girl, and her family of living stone birds, rabbits, a cat, an owl and others, were all carved and brought to life by a kindly master stonemason. The marks tell their stories, and the stories give them life.

Mayka and her friends live an isolated and contented life. Any harm or danger is far away in the valleys below them … except the danger of time. Their beloved Father, the stonemason, died many years ago, and gradually the magical marks etched on Mayka and her stone friends are wearing away and breaking. Harlisona the rabbit can’t speak any mo... Read More

Aru Shah and the End of Time: Middle Grade mythology gets some diversity

Readers’ average rating:

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Aru Shah and the End of Time (2018), by Roshani Chokshi, is part of a new imprint by Disney-Hyperion aimed at middle grade readers and overseen by Rick Riordan in cohort with a senior editor to “elevate the diversity of mythologies around the world” and publish “entertaining, mythology-based diverse fiction by debut, emerging, and under-represented authors.” It should come as no surprise then that Chokshi’s novel, which has Hindu mythology at its core, bears more than a passing resemblance to Riordan’s own PERCY JACKSON series in form, content, and character. If its pedigree is obvious, though, Chokshi still manages to put ... Read More

La Belle Sauvage: A companion to HIS DARK MATERIALS

Readers’ average rating: 

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

I always find it a little nerve-wracking when an author returns to a successful series after a long time away. There's always the fear, for me at least, that one of two things is going to happen: either the author will be nostalgic about the original work to the extent that s/he makes the new book into a fawning tribute without substance, or the author will have changed enough in the time between installments that the magic is just gone. I'm happy to say, though, that Philip Pullman's new novel dispels both of those fears. La Belle Sauvage (2017) is, though not quite as much a game-changer as The Golden Compass, still a fantastic novel in its own righ... Read More

The Book of Dragons: Wonderful dragon stories for kids

Readers’ average rating:

The Book of Dragons by Edith Nesbit

Edith Nesbit writes the most clever and charming children's stories. I love them. The Book of Dragons is a collection of eight delightful tales about dragons:

“The Book of Beasts” — Lionel, a young boy, is summoned to be the king after his great-great-great-something-grandfather dies. In the library of his new castle, he discovers the Book of Beasts and opens it. Out flies a red dragon who eats a soccer team and an orphanage. King Lionel must outwit the dragon with some help from a hippogriff and a manticore. This story is pretty funny and it, as well as the narrator’s voice in the audio edition I listened to, reminded me a lot of Neil Gaiman.

... Read More

Redworld: Year One: Too many issues with plot, character, and setting

Readers’ average rating:

Redworld: Year One by A. L. Collins, illustrated by Tomislav Tikulin

I really wanted to like A.L. Collins’ MG sci-fi book Redworld (2018). An inventive and independent 13-year-old girl (Belle Song) in the year 2335 arriving on a terraformed Mars with her family and a “Home Helper” intelligent robot and having to adapt to a new world, a new (and unexpected) life farming, new neighbors (including several alien ones), and a host of dangers such as water raiders and feral animal hybrids? It sounded like nothing so much as a modern-day Heinlein juvenile, say Farmer in the Sky or (more obviously) Red Planet... Read More

Verdigris Deep: Be careful what you wish for

Readers’ average rating:

Verdigris Deep by Frances Hardinge

A glance back at former reviews of Frances Hardinge’s work reveals that I have overused the word “weird.” Hardly the nicest word, and yet I meant it as a compliment. It’s a testament to my struggle to pinpoint what it is that makes Hardinge’s books stand out. Nevertheless, stand out they do.

Verdigris Deep (2008) is a weird book and, once again, that’s meant as a compliment. Ryan, Josh and Chelle get stranded in a forbidden village when they miss their bus home. Finding they have no money for the next bus they resort to pinching coins from an old wishing well hidden in the wood. What they don’t know is that the well is inhabited by an angry well spirit who doesn't react well to having her coins stolen. ... Read More

The Blood of Olympus: The final battle between Olympus and Mother Earth

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

The fifth and final book in THE HEROES OF OLYMPUS pentalogy sees our seven demigods finally go up against the threat that's been brewing for the last four books: Gaia, the primordial goddess who's been deliberately pitting the Greeks and the Romans against one another. With the training camps of young half-blood youths preparing for war and many of the gods torn between their Greek and Roman personas, our young protagonists have only a prophecy to guide their quest for peace: one that suggests they're not all going to make it out alive.

After the previous book in the series, The House of Hades, Rick Riordan thankfully scales things back a bit by only prov... Read More

The House of Hades: Percy and Annabeth traverse the Underworld

Readers’ average rating:

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

It's been nearly two years since I read the last book in Rick Riordan's five-part THE HEROES OF OLYMPUS series — not because I wasn't enjoying it; I simply got swamped by my never-ending To Be Read pile. But I'm back, and eager to finish what I started!

The House of Hades is the fourth book in the series, following on with the overarching story of seven young heroes working together to combat the rising power of Gaia, the ancient and bloodthirsty Earth Goddess intent on releasing her giant offspring into the human world. They have a prophecy to guide them but deadline to meet — and at the conclusion of the last book, The Mark of Athena Read More

The Glass Town Game: A strange, unsettling and deeply personal project

Readers’ average rating:

The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente

Any book by Catherynne M. Valente contains both the unexpected and the unsurprising. You can always anticipate clever wordplay, a sense of whimsy, and prose that just stops short of purple, but in regards to content all bets are off. She can write anything, from a Wild-Western Snow White, to a brand new take on Arabian Nights, to a sci-fi, alt-history space opera mystery.

And in this case, the plot of The Glass Town Game (2017) almost defies description. Four children, who just happen to be Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë (yes, THOSE Brontës), are being sent away to boarding school when a mysterious train pulls up and whisks them away to Glass Town. Astonishment reigns since this is the imagi... Read More

The Hounds of the Morrigan: A lesser known children’s classic

Readers’ average rating:

We'd like to introduce new reviewer Taya Okerlund. Welcome, Taya!

The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea

The Hounds of the Morrigan (1985) is an overlooked classic in children’s fantasy. A gem of a book published before the children’s fantasy readership exploded. (The classics are sometimes underappreciated by a readership who discovered children’s fantasy with Harry Potter.)

Consider Pidge, the sober-minded boy who unwittingly frees the evil Olc-Glas serpent from his prison within the pages of an old manuscript. As a consequence, Pidge is charged to recover a stone — a stone stained red with the Morrigan’s own blood. With it, Pidge can destroy Olc-Glas before he u... Read More

Snow & Rose: Into the woods… Who knows what may be lurking?

Readers’ average rating: 

Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

Snow & Rose (2017) is a charming middle grade level retelling of the Snow-White and Rose-Red fairy tale with illustrations by the author, Emily Winfield Martin. Rose and Snow are the beloved eleven and nine year old daughters of a nobleman and his commoner wife, a sculptor. Rose has black hair and rosy cheeks, and is patient and gentle; Snow has white-blonde hair and icy blue eyes, and has a wilder and more adventurous personality. They have a fat grey tabby cat called Earl Grey (I adore that name! I want to adopt a grey cat now and name him Earl Grey) and had a large house with servants, a library with shelves that reached the ceiling, and a spectacular garden, half white flowers and half red, in honor of the ... Read More

The Piper’s Apprentice: A fast-moving MG fantasy

Readers’ average rating:

The Piper’s Apprentice by Matthew Cody

The Piper’s Apprentice concludes Matthew Cody’s THE SECRETS OF THE PIED PIPER series, which began with The Peddler’s Road, followed by The Magician’s Key. I haven’t read book one, but I found the second book to be an enjoyable enough story aimed squarely, and successfully I’d imagine, at its middle grade audience. Book three has its issues, but is mostly a solid and satisfying conclusion. Warning: there will be spoilers for the first two books, which I’ll assume one has read (and thus I won’t bother explaining characters or prior plots).

In The Magician’s Key Read More

The Ship of the Dead: Rough sailing for Magnus in the Nine Worlds

Readers’ average rating: 

The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan

When Naglfar ― a ship made out of the fingernails and toenails of the dead, eek! ― sets sail, carrying hordes of giants and zombies warriors to fight the gods of Asgard, Ragnarok and a world-ending battle aren’t far behind. Ragnarok can’t be entirely avoided (unfortunately, it’s an inevitable prophecy), but perhaps it can be delayed for a while longer?

As The Ship of the Dead (2017), the third and final book in Rick Riordan's MAGNUS CHASE AND THE GODS OF ASGARD series, begins, Loki has escaped from his imprisonment by the gods and is getting the dreaded ship Naglfar ready to sail against the gods, tr... Read More

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869: A beautiful story for young readers

Readers’ average rating: 

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869 by Alex Alice

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869 is a beautifully drawn graphic steampunk tale by author/illustrator Alex Alice, whose artwork alone makes the book worth picking up for a middle-grade reader (or relatively advanced younger reader). Luckily, the narrative/text half (translated from the original French by Anne and Owen Smith) has its own charm and strengths, even if it doesn’t quite match the quality of the illustrations.

The tale opens in 1868 with a young woman (Claire) preparing, to the inspiration of her young son (Seraphin) and the dismay of her worried husband (Archibald), to head aloft in a hydrogen-filled balloon to unprecedented heights in order to prove the existence of aether in hopes of turning it to an energy supply.

Unfortunately, the mission doesn’t fully succeed and our intrepid scientis... Read More

The Magician’s Key: An amenable Middle Grade fantasy

Readers’ average rating:

The Magician’s Key by Matthew Cody

I have to admit at the outset that I didn’t read Matthew Cody’s first book (The Peddler’s Road) in THE SECRETS OF THE PIED PIPER trilogy. But that turned out not to be much of an obstacle as Cody does a very efficient job early on of catching the returning reader up on the events of book one, so I never felt lost in what was happening. Obviously, I can’t comment on the quality of that first book, but book two is a solidly entertaining story in its own right, though not a complete one; readers will have to wait for the third book to conclude the tale. If you haven’t read book one either, fair warning that there will be some inevitable spoilers below.

Thanks to the concluding events of The Peddler’s Road, the brother-sister team at the story’s core have be... Read More

The Thief of Always: A delightful children’s horror story

Readers’ average rating:

The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

It’s summer and Harvey Swick, a ten year old with an active imagination, is bored. That’s how he gets lured into Mr. Hood’s Holiday House. It’s a wonderful place that’s fun and exciting, where Harvey gets everything his heart desires, and where he and the other kids who live there can play all day every day and eat delicious food whenever they want. As the seasons fly by, Harvey is happy at Mr. Hood’s house until things start to get a little spooky and it starts to dawn on Harvey that the place seems unnatural. When Harvey tries to leave, the Holiday House gets downright scary.

I was thoroughly entertained by Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always and I suspect that most children and teens will easily identify with Harvey and, ... Read More

Dinosaur Empire: Earth Before Us Volume 1: Dinosaur evolution for kids

Readers’ average rating: 

Dinosaur Empire: Earth Before Us Volume 1 by Abby Howard

Dinosaur Empire is a dense, fact-filled graphic exploration of the rise and fall of dinosaurs that conveys a lot of information for readers in the MG and YA range, though it could use a bit more spark in its storytelling.

Ronnie has just failed her test on dinosaurs horribly, though she has a chance to retake it the next day. Resigned to failing it yet again, and wondering “Who needs to learn about dinosaurs anyway,” she tosses her test into a nearby recycling bin. Lucky for her, a neighbor, Miss Lernin, happens to be hanging out inside the bin. Even better, the bin is a time machine and Miss Lernin is a former paleontologist, who after a quick lesson in general evolution theory quickly whisks Ronnie away to the Mesozoic Era to show her firsthand all she needs to know (and more) for tomorrow’s test. Read More

The Gauntlet: A celebration of family and culture

Readers’ average rating:

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

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

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

Readers’ average rating:

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