Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

How many words will stay on The List?

The List, by Patricia Forde, (Aug. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492647966

Recommended for readers 10-13

A post-cataclysmic society called Ark is led by a fanatic who believes words are at the heart of the problem. After all, words can stretch the truth, can bend, can lie, just like the politicians did before The Great Melting. Letta is apprenticed to Ark’s wordsmith, Benjamin; the community is allowed only 500 words, which Benjamin and Letta curate. Benjamin saves words for a time when man will be able to handle more – or so Letta believes. When Benjamin disappears on a word-finding mission, and Letta meets a boy from a neighboring community of free-thinkers and artists, she discovers that their leader, the leader she put her trust in, is working on a way to rob the people of Ark of language forever.

The List is similar on many levels to The Giver: an enclosed, guarded society, quiet removals of dissidents, and hidden truths waiting to be revealed. As an apprentice wordsmith, Letta sees more than the average Ark citizen; saving the life of a Desecrator – a member of a neighboring group of artists and musicians – opens her eyes to even more goings-on within Ark and its surroundings. It’s up to her to act on the information she receives, and she struggles with the burden of responsibility. There are strong themes for discussion here: the power of words, free thought and speech, and art as resistance. This is a great book to give readers who are ready for something beyond The Giver, but not yet ready for Fahrenheit 451. This novel can easily stand on its own, but readers may want to see what lies in Ark’s future.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen

Gork the Teenage Dragon serves up scaly green goodness

Gork the Teenage Dragon, by Gabe Hudson, (July 2017, Knopf), $24.95, ISBN: 9780375413964

Recommended for readers 14+

Gork’s a dragon, but don’t even think about mentioning Smaug to him. He’s not happy at all with the way dragons are portrayed in Earth fiction, and he’s here to set the record straight. So begins the story of Gork: teenage dragon, student at WarWings Academy, orphaned on Earth during his parents’ mating mission and raised by his scientist grandfather, Dr. Terrible.

Starting off on Crown Day – the day dragon and dragonette cadets at the Academy agree to be mating partners – Gork has one goal in mind: to get the luscious Runcita Floop to wear his crown and agree to be his queen. The problem? His nickname is Weak Sauce, his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious (if you’re a gamer, think of Will to Power as a CON/DEX/overall attractiveness level) and he’s got a bad habit of fainting when he’s scared. If Runcita says yes, she and Gork will go off in his spaceship and find a planet to conquer together. If Gork can’t sea the deal, he’s doomed to be a slave.

Gork has a heck of a day ahead of him: Dean Floop – his intended’s father – hates him; his sadistic grandfather is on the run from the Dean, he’s being hunted down by a group of WarWings cadets that have murder on their minds, and the Trenx, a fellow cadet who had similarly low ratings, has seemingly blossomed overnight. Before the day is out, Gork will have to survive and learn some hard truths about his family. He’d better keep his best friend – a robot dragon named Fribby – by his side.

Gork is an out-there novel. It’s a page-turner, and Gork is an endearing first-person narrator, if a bit single-minded in focus. He’s obsessed with mating, but he is a teenager, after all. He refers a lot to his “scaly green ass” a lot, which gets tedious. Gork’s story uses fantasy to tackle some very real points: bullying, friendship, self-esteem, and falling in love. It’s a much deeper novel than the title “teenage dragon”encompasses; it’s a fantasy, a YA romance, and a coming of age story.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

Lint Boy – a graphic tale

Lint Boy, by Aileen Leitjen, (June 2017, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544528604

Recommended for readers 8-12

A little lint boy is born in the back of a dryer. Shortly after, a lint bear joins him. The two are happy, living in the warmth of the dryer, when two scary hands reach in and snatch out Lint Bear! Lint Boy goes on an adventure to save his brother, which puts him in the hands of a mean old woman, Mrs. Pinchnsqueeze; formerly a young girl named Tortura, who has tortured and ruined dolls since she was a child. Lint Boy manages to rally the other imprisoned toys and fight for their freedom.

Told with washed-out colors and nonlinear storytelling, Lint Boy is a rousing tale of friendship. Lint Boy is willing to risk venturing into a scary, unknown world – and put himself at personal risk – to save his friend, to whom he refers to as his brother, Lint Bear. There are some scary moments for younger readers, particularly when readers see the hanging cages of imprisoned toys for the first time, and when readers witness Mrs. Pinchnsqueeze cutting up Lint Boy’s hair. He refuses to give up hope or give in to despair, and inspires his fellow prisoners to revolt and overthrow their tormentor.

Perfect for every reader who loves Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, and David Walliams, with its macabre-yet-adorable storytelling, Lint Boy is a good addition to graphic novel collections that enjoy a little dark fantasy. Booktalk this one with Coraline for extra fun.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade

Magic, madness, and a cow-ostrich romance!

The Emperor’s Ostrich, by Julie Berry, (June 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781596439580

Recommended for readers 8-12

A zany fantasy romp with a dairy maid in search of her lost cow puts readers on the path to an adventure that will introduce them to a self-described romantic hero, a spoiled emperor on the run, and his ostrich, who forms a bond with the runaway cow. Begonia, the dairy maid, is a responsible young woman who helps her mother care for the family farm and her younger sister; when her cow, Alfalfa, meanders away, Begonia sets out to find her and ends up on a magical quest that will put the responsibility for saving the emperor and the kingdom squarely on her shoulders. Thank goodness she has help from Key, a wandering young man who describes himself as a romantic hero; and two magical beings, who oversee the adventure from a distance.

The story is a fun fantasy adventure with nods to magic, corruption, feminism, and commentary on overindulged wealth. Readers will enjoy the lovestruck cow and ostrich, the banter between Key and Begonia, and the host of characters they encounter on their adventure. Booktalk this with Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy novels: author Julie Berry calls The Emperor’s Ostrich her love letter to his books.

Julie Berry’s book, The Passion of Dolssa, is a 2017 Printz Honor title. The Emperor’s Ostrich received starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal.

Posted in Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Preschool Reads

Surreal graphic novel fun for little ones: Adele in Sandland

Adele in Sandland, by Claude Ponti, (June 2017, TOON Books), $12.95, ISBN: 978-1-943145-16-4

Recommended for readers 3-7

Little Adele’s mother takes her to the park. While Mama chats with a friend, Adele begins to dig and sets off on an adventure with her doll, Stuffy, and Sandy – a creature from her sand pail – where they’re eaten by a sand dragon, she meets a tree of hot dogs, a king who likes to walk, barefoot, on his subjects’ heads, and ventures forth to a tasty dessert island.

Adele in Sand Land is surreal fun for readers who’ve become more comfortable with slightly longer sentences than those introduced in early readers. The book is TOON Level 1, which is about a Kindergarten reading level and corresponds to Guided Reading Levels E-J. TOON includes all of this information in the back of each book, and on their website, which is a great resources for parents and educators alike. The story is a fun storytime selection for younger audiences, too: kids will easily envision themselves on a magical adventure while playing at the park.

The surreal art makes this a great choice when introducing young readers to graphic novels, too. While the overall story is sequential, the dreamlike quality of the art allows kids to let their imaginations run wild. Let your kids draw their own surreal adventure for a fun accompanying activity, or introduce stories like Alice in Wonderland or Harold and the Purple Crayon for more adventures with a touch of the surrealistic. Teacher’s Resources are forthcoming for this title.

Adele in Sand Land received a starred review from Kirkus. An early Adele story, Adele’s Album (1988), is out of print but can be found for varying prices through third party sellers online.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

New fantasy YA brings a together a group of Royal Bastards

Royal Bastards (Royal Bastards #1), by Andrew Shvarts, (Jun 2017, Hyperion), $18.99, ISBN: 9781484767658

Recommended for ages 14+

This new fantasy series follows a group of Royal Bastards – illegitimate children of royals – as they try to save a royal princess’ life and prevent a war. Sixteen year-old Tilla is the bastard daughter of Lord Kent of the Western Province; she lives in comfortable accommodations, but her father has held her at arm’s distance ever since his legitimate wife bore him two daughters. Tilla’s half brother, Jax, from a different father, lives on Kent’s lands as a stablehand. While Jax is happy with life as it is, Tilla longs for legitimacy and a better relationship with her father; two things he’s withheld from her thus far. She’s invited to her father’s banquet honoring the visiting royal princess Lyriana, and sits at the bastard table with Miles, a bastard from neighboring House Hampsted, and Zell, a trueborn son-turned-bastard from the warrior Zitochi clan of the North. Lyriana insists on sitting with them and getting to know them, and ends up tagging along on what was supposed to be an evening out between just Jax and Tilla. While out at the shore, the group stumbles upon a horrific and treasonous episode that puts every one of their lives in danger: in Miles’ and Tilla’s cases, even from their own parents.

The group of teens is on the run, hoping to make it back to Lyriana’s kingdom before the combined forces of Lord Kent, Lady Hampsted, and the Zitochi clan can catch them. The bastards have to stay alive, prevent a mage slaughter, and a civil war that will claim thousands of lives – can they get along long enough to survive the journey?

There’s a lot of story to unpack in this first book. The biggest stumbling block for me was the contemporary language used in the high fantasy setting. It’s off-putting and took me out of the flow of the novel. Vernacular aside, Royal Bastards is a fast-paced adventure, loaded with intrigue, betrayal, and teen romance. I like the world-building: a fantasy world where bastards are recognized and can gain legitimacy if their parents choose to bestow it upon them; a major coup in the works, and plenty of intrigue and betrayal to keep things interesting. There’s rich character development, particularly in the relationship between Jax and Tilla and Tilla’s growth throughout the novel. There’s some diversity in the characters, although some fantasy tropes pop up here; most notably, the clueless royal who wants to meet “the little people” and the brooding, fur-wearing savage.

YA fantasy fans will dig in and enjoy this one. I’d booktalk Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules as an interesting counterpart that looks at the relationship between royals and their children and war. Talk up the Game of Thrones books to readers that may be familiar with the HBO series. Give a copy of Joshua Khan’s Shadow Magic and Dream Magic books to younger siblings who aren’t ready for this one yet.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle School, mythology, Tween Reads

Loki’s daughter has her say in The Monstrous Child

The Monstrous Child, by Francesca Simon, (June 2017, Faber & Faber), $11.95, ISBN: 9780571330270

Recommended for ages 12+

Being the daughter of a giantess and the god of mischief is hard enough, but being born as a half-corpse on top of it? No wonder Hel, daughter of Loki and Angrboda, has a chip on her shoulder. Her older brothers are a snake and a wolf, her half-brothers are human – but they’re jerks, and her father’s no prize, whether or not he’s a Marvel and Tumblr heartthrob in another universe.

So goes the story of Francesca Simon’s The Monstrous Child. Narrated by Hel herself, it’s Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology for the middle school set. We read about her anger at Odin’s casting her into Niffelheim to rule over the dead, and the pain of her unrequited love for Baldr, the most beautiful of the Norse gods. We discover her friendship with a frost giant, condemned to oversee the bridge to Hel’s realm, and the despair that leads her to consider a role in Ragnarok: The Twilight of the Gods.

I loved this book. As a fan of Norse myth and YA, I enjoyed seeing the myths from Hel’s perspective: an outcast, literally cast away from her family; forced to make her way on her own. She suffers loneliness, the pain of loving someone unavailable, and the desire for revenge. This is a perfect addition to middle school libraries, and a great way to connect ancient myths to contemporary YA. Hel’s voice is clear and strong; supporting characters also have defined personalities and the dialogue – both Hel’s internal dialogue and the dialogue between characters, particularly between Hel and Loki, is delicious.

Francesca Simon has delved into Greek and Norse myth in the past. While I’m not sure if her books The Sleeping Army and The Lost Gods are part of The Monstrous Child‘s Universe, as they take place on Midgard (Earth), I’m still going to add them to my collection to stand next to Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series, because the kids at my library read any and all things fictional myth. The Monstrous Child stands on its own as a solid work of Norse myth and middle school-level fiction. Younger readers will be familiar with Ms. Simon’s Horrid Henry intermediate series.

Originally released in hardcover in May 2016, The Monstrous Child‘s paperback release is due out in a few short weeks. You can grab a copy from your library right now!