Children

Fantasy Literature for Children ages 9-12.

Scream and Scream Again!: Spooky Stories from Mystery Writers of America

Scream and Scream Again! edited by R.L. Stine

Scream and Scream Again!: Spooky Stories from Mystery Writers of America (2018) is a short-form horror anthology in which “every story begins or ends with a scream,” and its twenty contributors are all members of Mystery Writers of America, an organization “dedicated to promoting higher regard for crime writing and recognition and respect for those who write within the genre.” The anthology is edited by R.L. Stine, himself a contributing author, and the overall age range of its protagonists and general subject matter mark it firmly as suitable for the pre-teen and early-teen crowd.

Two of the authors may be familiar to Fantasy Literature readers — Beth Fantaskey and Read More

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster: Best MG book I’ve read in some time

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster (2018), by Jonathan Auxier, is a wonderfully, bittersweetly poignant MG/YA book that I highly recommend for its warmth and gentle eloquence.

Set in Victorian England, Auxier’s Dickensian story focuses on young chimneysweep Nan, who grew up mentored in the field by The Sweep. When he disappears one night though, all Nan has left from him are his hat, her skills, and on odd lump of charcoal. Nan spends the next few years in indentured employment to the cruel, abusive Wilkie Crudd, but a near-fatal flue fire changes her life forever as she finds herself free of Crudd and a mentor herself, albeit to a child-like golem named Charlie rather than another chimneysweep.

There’s so much to love about Sweep, beginning with the main character. Nan is sharp, lively, wise beyond h... Read More

The Storm Runner: An unfortunate misstep in this young imprint’s worthy mission


The Storm Runner
by J.C. Cervantes

The Storm Runner (2018) by J.C. Cervantes is the second book put out by Disney-Hyperion as part of their Rick Riordan Presents imprint. Aimed at Middle-Grade readers, the imprint’s goal is to “elevate the diversity of mythologies around the world” and publish “entertaining, mythology-based diverse fiction by debut, emerging, and under-represented authors.” The first, which focused on Indian mythology, was Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi. Here the underlying mythos is Mayan, and while I love that readers will be introduced to a new culture’s stories, which are absolutely fascinating, The Storm Runner is unfortunately a weaker entry for the imprint... Read More

Voyage of the Dogs: A book for dog lovers of all ages

Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout

Voyage of the Dogs (2018) by Greg van Eekhout is a middle-grade science fiction book. Young readers will certainly enjoy this action-packed book with dog main characters. Adult dog lovers can enjoy it too.

Lopside is part of a team of “Barkonauts,” specially trained uplifted dogs who are part of the first interstellar space voyage. The Laika is aimed at a planet nicknamed Stepping Stone. Along with the human crew, embryos of cattle and sheep, and fertilized chicken eggs, four dogs comprise the manifest of the ship. As he fulfills his other duties, Lopside searches the starship every day for rats, because he is part terrier. He never finds any, but he is diligent. Lopside feels a little uncomfortable among the other three dogs, all of whom are purebreds. Bug is ... Read More

The Five Sisters: A whimsical adventure from a master storyteller

The Five Sisters by Margaret Mahy

You always know you're in for a magical, whimsical treat when reading something by Margaret Mahy, one of New Zealand's most best-loved children's authors. The Five Sisters (1997) is no exception, recounting the marvellous adventures of five paper dolls with linked hands.

On a hot summer day Sally entreats her Nana for a story, but instead watches as she folds a piece of paper and draws a doll with a crooked smile and strong running shoes called Alpha. But before the rest of the sisters can be coloured in, a kingfisher swoops down and snatches them up while Sally and her Nana are fetching lemonade.

The adventures that follow involve a near run-in with a lawnmower, an evil magician in the guise of a china pig, a playful breeze, a career as a bookmark, and several attempts t... Read More

Mighty Jack: Exciting action and sensitive presentation of theme and character

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack (2016) is YA/MG graphic story by Ben Hatke, author of the ZITA THE SPACEGIRL trilogy (highly recommended. btw). Here Hatke has a lot of fun with the Jack and the Beanstalk fairytale, though fair to say you’ve probably not seen a version like this.

Mighty Jack is set in modern times, with Jack the young son of a hard-working single mother. His little sister Maddy doesn’t talk (she’s presented as on the autistic spectrum), at least, she didn’t until one day at the local flea market when she prods Jack to trade the family car for a box of seeds from a strange individual. As one might imagine, mom is none too thrilled when she hears about this, and after filling out a stolen car report with the police (their car is later found several count... Read More

Earth to Dad: A sweet story about loss, grief, and friendship

Earth to Dad by Krista Van Dolzer

Eleven-year-old Jameson O’Malley lives with his mother, Mina, at Base Ripley, in a version of Minnesota that would be unrecognizable to current-day residents: there are regular monsoons, category six tornadoes are commonplace, and spending more than a few moments outside without a protective solar-resistant jacket will lead directly to sun poisoning. A deeply introspective and solitary child, Jameson’s passion is his JICC (Jameson’s Interplanetary Communication Console), a device his astronaut father helped to build before embarking on the long voyage to Mars, and which they use to send short videos to one another on a regular basis.

As Earth to Dad (2018) begins, a new family has just moved into Jameson’s neighborhood, and he’s immediately drawn to the daughter, Astra Primm, who’s his age and is quite the little spitfire. Astra’s standoffishness and outrigh... Read More

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

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 to do the dirty work of changing his latest f... Read More

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

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 heart and mind, then hands over a talking wea... Read More

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

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 group of dragons rumored to have gone missi... Read More

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

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? It’s hot chocolate, which Aventurine has... Read More

The Stone Girl’s Story: A heart of stone

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 more ― her mark for speech accidentally chip... Read More

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

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 her own spin on a familiar structure, leadi... Read More

The Book of Dragons: Wonderful dragon stories for kids

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.

“Uncle James, or the Purple Stranger” —... Read More

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

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, two books I loved as a kid. ... Read More

Verdigris Deep: Be careful what you wish for

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. Turns out, the contract formed when someone... Read More

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

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 providing only five narrative points-of-view instead of the previous seven. It made for a cacophonous reading exp... Read More

The House of Hades: Percy and Annabeth traverse the Underworld

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

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 imaginary city of their make-believe games, wher... Read More

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

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 unites with the Morrigan, and foil her plans... Read More

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

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, the two siblings Max and Carter... Read More

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

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, triggering Ragnarok. Right now the ship is doc... Read More

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

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 scientist/explorer is lost to her family. The tale t... Read More

The Magician’s Key: An amenable Middle Grade fantasy

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 been split up: Carter is trapped on the Summe... Read More

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

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, perhaps, will come away from the story with... Read More