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

Vivian French creates fun fairy tales!

The Cherry Pie Princess, by Vivian French/Illustrated by Marta Kissi, (March 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677332

Recommended for readers 7-11

Peony is the youngest of her princess sisters. She’s also the one with manners, and who loves to read. When a baby brother is born, her parents are thrilled and demand a huge celebration, but Peony’s father – who may be a tyrant – only wants people who will give good gifts and who are the “right” kind of people at the party, which leaves out The Hag, a powerful witch who doesn’t take kindly to being ignored. It’s up to Peony to use her brains to save the town librarian and an aspiring court jester that her father locked in the dungeon, her baby brother, and the entire kingdom. No pressure!

Vivian French’s fairy tales are so much fun to read. They’ve got wonderful heroines and heroes, and a dramatis personae of dramatic foils that are generally (comically) awful people. In this case, Peony, who loves the library, borrows a cookbook and learns how to bake while her father has the librarian thrown in the dungeon for daring to speak directly to Peony. Who discovers this years later, when her own father locks her up for daring to talk back to him. It’s Peony’s book smarts and sense of decency that combine to help her take charge of the situation when The Hag shows up to cause trouble, and save the day. There’s humor, fun and diverse characters – the three good fairy godmothers appear to be African-American – and Marta Kissi’s entertaining black and white artwork make this a fun read for fantasy fans, princess fans, and readers who love a book with a message. Plus, there’s a talking cat and a librarian. So, bonus.

Props to Marta Kissi for nailing a picture of me at the end of a day at the library, without even knowing me:

 

The Adventures of Alfie Onion, by Vivian French/Illustrated by Marta Kissi, (March 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677325

Recommended for readers 7-11

Alfie Onion could really have had a chip on his shoulder, and no one would blame him. He’s the eighth son of a seventh son, an inconvenience to his mother, who lavishes all her attentions on her seventh son of a seventh son, Magnifico. You see, his mother grew up obsessed with fairy tales, and was convinced that the seventh son of a seventh son was destined for greatness; Magnifico is his mother’s long-tail get-rich scheme. The thing is, Magnifico is a spoiled brat who pretty much knows how to eat. And that’s that. So when his mother pushes him off to start his great adventures, Magnifico takes Alfie (and his dog, Bowser) along to carry his luggage. Guess who the real hero is going to be?

I am so happy to read that these two books are the beginning of a new stand-alone series; they are so much fun to read and address modern-day problems in a fairy tale setting. Like The Cherry Pie Princess, Alfie Onion has a positive hero with overwrought, melodramatic antagonist foils. Alfie is always respectful and kind, where Magnifico is selfish and rude; when danger lurks, Magnifico expects Alfie to protect him: some hero! The humor is light and fun, with all the fantasy dressing: forests, trolls, talking birds and mice, a lovelorn ogress, a faithful dog, and a hero’s quest. Marta Kissi’s illustrations just add to the fun here, especially when the adventure takes a turn into an ogrish rubbish pit.

Do you have readers who love Whatever After? Grimmtastic Girls? Hand them these, and tell them to enjoy. Have boys who think fairy tales are for girls? First, tell them they’re clearly not reading the right fairy tales, and hand them these, too.

 

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

Grab your passport! These picture books will take your imagination on an adventure!

An Atlas of Imaginary Places, by Mia Cassany/Illustrated by Ana de Lima, (March 2018, Prestel), $19.95, ISBN: 9783791373478

Recommended for readers 5-10

How do you not love a book that came together over coffee and carrot cake? An Atlas of Imaginary Places came together when author Mia Cassany and Ana de Lima did just that; talking about the places they pictured in their minds and dreams, they came up with “colors and languages for an atlas that would never exist… Or would it?” Bursting with color, islands, and mountains; with animals that change their coats every time someone sneezes, and volcanoes that spit lava made of bubble gum, the places in this atlas provide something new and exciting with each turn of the page.

This is the kind of book that begs for multiple readings. Every spread offers a new place with new wonders, and you’ll notice something new each time. There are cities, oceans, jungles, and islands waiting to be explored by readers who can get lost in their pages. Send your little ones to bed with a page or two, setting the stage for wonderful dreams, or ask your readers to add to the landscape and come up with their own exciting places and inhabitants. This is the kind of book that makes readers love reading; this is the kind of storytelling that sets the stage for creativity. Give this to your explorers and dreamers, and display with books like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Adele in Sandland, or Wallpaper. An Atlas of Imaginary Places was originally released in Spain in 2016.

 

The Dangerous Journey, by Tove Jansson, (Apr. 2018, Drawn & Quarterly), $16.95, ISBN: 9781770463202

Recommended for readers 6+

Originally published in 1977 in Finland and translated to English in 2010, this Moomin adventure was the last picture book completed by beloved artist and author Tove Jansson. A young girl named Susanna is bored and irritable; her cat, being a cat, is curled up on the grass, enjoying the beautiful day, which seems to annoy Susanna even more. When a new pair of glasses just appears next to her, she tries them on and is transported to a fantastic land, where, though frightened, she sets off on a new adventure. She meets a group of fellow travelers who seem to know who she is: Hemulen (who readers familiar with Moomin will recognize), and friends from Moomin Valley:  Bob and Thingummy, Sniff, and Snufkin. Together, the group treads through surreal, creepy landscapes, braving volcanoes, storms, and monsters, until they reach Moomin Valley and safety.

The Dangerous Journey is a surreal adventure fit for kids and adults alike. The Dangerous Journey‘s rhyming text begs for a read-aloud, and Tove Jansson’s watercolor artwork appeals to the eyes and the imagination. The book’s final message also makes this a good graduation gift á la  Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go!: “Whether things turned out okay/She’s never going to know./When adventure comes your way/Enjoy it. Let it go.” This is a picture book classic to add to your collections; introduce it to readers of all ages who haven’t yet met the Moomins. You can meet the characters in Moomin, and see which character you’d be at the Moomin website.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Aleks Mickelsen brings us back to Enchanted Norway!

Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven (Zaria Fierce #5), by Keira Gillett, (April 2018, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750093

Recommended for readers 10-14

The second Aleks Mickelsen adventure – and the fifth book in the Zaria Fierce series – is here! Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven continues the adventure started in last year’s Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well. Aleks, a changeling raised by his human family, has to work with his fae sister, Nori, and his best friends to stop the chaos dragon Fritjof from wreaking havoc on the fae and human worlds. This time, Aleks has to negotiate with his treacherous fae relations and undergo a series of tests – Harry Potter fans, you’ll love this – to save his friends. Thank goodness he’s getting better at working with Airi (pronounced eye-riii), his white raven.

Everything you love about the Zaria Fierce books is here: the strong friendships, the nonstop adventure, the magical creatures, and the hero’s quest are all here, waiting for fantasy lovers to join them. There are increasingly complex relationships to navigate, with a little love triangle brewing between Filip, Henrik the Stag Lord, and Zaria emerging as a continuing subplot; Aleks continues to have an up-and-down relationship with his fae family, particularly Nori, whose own quest to reunite the fae courts under her family puts the two at odds throughout the book.

Keira Gillett’s at the height of her storytelling here; she starts off the book with fun and friends, easing us back into the fantasy world of Niffleheim, where the group is camping on their quest to find and stop Fritjof. Don’t get too comfortable, though; the action starts quickly and takes you right along for the ride. Keira’s storytelling is rich in imagery and fully realized characters who have grown with each book in the series. She lets her characters retain the essence of who they are, while letting them be formed by their experiences. She understands that they’re now firmly in their teens, and takes that into account by navigating complex feelings and relationships with one another. Alex’s own stress about the potential loss of his unique changeling abilities is at war with his lifelong desire to be “normal”, and if that isn’t the story of being a teen right there in a nutshell, what is?

Eoghan Kerrigan’s illustrations are as breathtaking as ever, giving this series classic fantasy artwork to engage our imaginations; fantasy cartographer Kaitlin Statz’s maps guide us along a wonderfully secret tour of Enchanted Norway. Hmmm… it may be time to consider a scavenger hunt for my Summer Reading program… how about Find the Water Wyvern? (I could never get through a Keira Gillett review without mentioning my beloved Norwick in some form!)

Take your time, treat yourself, and enjoy Aleks Mickelson and the Call of the White Raven, and get ready for Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War, due later this year.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

You’ll want a Bob of your own!

Bob, by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead/Illustrations by Nicholas Gannon, (May 2018, Feiwel & Friends), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250166623

Recommended for readers 7-11

Livy is heading to Australia with her mother and new baby sister, BethAnn, to spend time with her grandmother. The last time she was in Australia was five years ago, so she’s a bit anxious about being back; she’s also anxious because her mother is going away for a few days to spend time with friends once she gets there. Once Livy arrives, she’s even more anxious when she doesn’t really remember much about Australia – and she certainly doesn’t remember Bob, the greenish, kinda zombie-looking thing she finds in the closet once she gets there. Bob remembers Livy, though; he’s been waiting for five years for her to come back. The two re-explore their friendship and try to remember how to get Bob back home in this celebration of friendship, the environment, and the magic of childhood.

When two award-winning authors like Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead collaborate on a book, you just know it’s going to be something amazing, and Bob is. Told in alternating first-person chapters, we get each characters’ point-of-view as the story progresses, which also fills in valuable backstory. Livy is a relatable character, dealing with anxiety: there’s a new baby in the family, she’s got separation anxiety about her mom, and her grandmother and neighbors are living through a five-year drought that’s killing their town and their livelihoods. Bob is sweet and funny, loyal to a fault, and gives his spark to Livy; to give her hope, to rekindle their friendship, to bring back the “old Livy”. I can’t get into too much without giving spoilers, and you don’t want that with this book. So let me just say that Bob is wonderful middle-grade storytelling that embraces imagination and joy. I can’t wait to see an illustrated version (my ARC didn’t have any). (Psst… would also make a good Earth Day reading assignment for next year.)

There’s been a lot of buzz about Bob lately: SLJ and Publisher’s Weekly gave it starred reviews, and you can read author interviews at The Horn Book and Publisher’s Weekly. You can download an excerpt see artwork that will melt your heart, and learn how to start a Bob book club at the Bob and Livy website.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA Fairy Tale creepiness: The Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert, (Jan. 2018, Flatiron Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250147905

Recommended for readers 13+

In this wonderfully dark fantasy, 17-year-old Alice and her mother have lived on the run from the bad luck that always seems to follow them. Her grandmother, Althea Proserpine, author of Tales from the Hinterland, a book of dark fairy tales that achieved cult status, has passed away, allowing Alice’s mother, Ella, to believe they’re finally free. Not likely. Ella is kidnapped and Alice turns to her friend, Finch, a Proserpine fan, to help her find her way into the very real Hinterland, to save her. But the Hinterland has plans for Alice, too; she’s yearned to know her grandmother for her whole life, but what she may find out will change her life and the lives of everyone around her forever.

This is an unputdownable book from the get-go. Alice lives in the shadow of her mythic grandmother, who she’s never had a relationship with; her mother, Ella, is her only attachment in life, as they run from the misfortune that dogs them. Ella will never talk about her mother, and information about Althea is scarce; her book is even more difficult to track down. Alice is a conflicted protagonist, with anger issues and a general disdain for the wealthy, vapid people around her at war with the desire for a stable family life and a relationship with her famous grandmother. As Alice starts unraveling secrets kept by her mother, shadowy figures start making their way into her world: our world. Melissa Albert brings two worlds together and has readers keeping a white-knuckled grip on her book as we try to hold them apart. Rich with world building and main character development, The Hazel Wood left me thoroughly unsettled and wishing that we’d get some more Stories wandering out of the Hinterland. Fantastic for anyone bulking up their summer reading collections, and perfect for anyone looking for a good, creeptastic read.

The Hazel Wood has SEVEN starred reviews: Kirkus; School Library Journal; Shelf Awareness; Publisher’s Weekly; Booklist; VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates), and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

What memories does YOUR door hold?

Beyond the Doors, by David Neilsen, (Aug. 2017, Crown), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-101-93582-8

Recommended for readers 8-13

Four siblings have the weirdest, worst day of their lives when they’re pulled out of class to learn that their father is in a coma after a fire consumed their home. As their mother disappeared years ago, there’s a sobbing social worker, ready to split them up to horrors unknown, until a mystery aunt is located. Janice, Zack, Sydney, and Alexa Rothbaum are quickly shuttled off to this mysterious, scatterbrained aunt. Once the kids start exploring and settling in, they learn the bizarre secret behind their aunt’s fortress home: she’s got a machine that allows her to use doors to access the memories contained within them, and she’s searching for her father: their grandfather.

Remember Monsters, Inc? How the Monsters would go through different doors to reach different kids’ rooms? Think of it like that, but instead of using the doors to get into kids’ rooms, you stepped into the memories of the person most identified with the door. If you stepped through the door to my room from 1986, for instance, you’d see me, sprawled on my bed reading a copy of Bop! Magazine, in a room papered with Duran Duran posters, and talking to my best friend on the phone. The memories are sepia-tinged, and while you can interact to a degree with the memories, too much interaction has… consequences.

It’s a madcap adventure, with a wacky aunt, an off-the-walls social worker with a penchant for the melodramatic, and loads of family secrets to discover, but character development and world-building aren’t as rich as I’d have enjoyed. There’s quite a bit of humor and a climactic battle that’s both gruesome and thrilling, and readers will never look at a bowl of Cheerios without groaning again. Black and white illustrations keep readers invested in the story. Beyond the Doors will appeal to Series of Unfortunate Events and Mysterious Benedict Society fans; display and booktalk with The Problim Children for some fun discussions about weird siblings and families. Ask kids what doors they would like to wander into – or what their doors would have to say. It’s a great creative writing or art exercise!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Aru Shah and the End of Time: Rick Riordan Presents with a strong debut!

Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi, (March 2018, Disney Book Group), $16.99, ISBN: 9781368012355

Recommended for readers 8-12

Rick Riordan introduces his new imprint with Aru Shah and the End of Time, author Roshani Chokshi’s adventure through Indian mythology.

Aru Shah is a 12-year-old Indian girl who has a hard time fitting in at school, so she… embellishes the truth… to keep up with her wealthy classmates. The thing is, they all know she lies, and she’s become a target of derision over it. She lives with her archaeologist mother in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, and tells her friends that there’s a cursed lamp in the exhibits. Naturally, they show up, demanding her to prove it. Ignoring her mother’s advice to never touch the lamp, Aru lights it and unwittingly releases The Sleeper – an ancient demon – who’s going to awaken the Shiva, the god of destruction, if Aru can’t make things right in time. After discovering that Aru is the reincarnation of one of the legendary heroes, the Pandava brothers, she sets off on a mythological adventure where she’ll learn more about herself and her mother than she could ever have imagined.

 

I was so excited to read Aru Shah, especially after finishing Sayantani Dasgupta’s brilliant The Serpent’s Secret a couple of weeks ago. Indian mythology is an area I’ve never read much about, and it’s time that was remedied. Aru is on a quest to save her family and friends, and she’s not alone: she’s got a Pandava sister she meets on the way, and a disgraced god-turned-pigeon to guide her as she seeks out the weapons that will stop the Seeker. There’s great world-building, with humor and a sense of wonder as Aru meets gods and goddesses she thought existed only in myth; the character development is great for people unfamiliar with Indian mythology, as each god, goddess, and demon gets enough of an explanation to keep readers in the story. There’s a glossary at the end to help readers with the origin tales of Indian myths featured in the book.

You know who to give this to: the Percy Jackson/Kane Chronicles/Magnus Chase/Riordan readers who love world mythology; the kids who read Serpent’s Secret and wanted more? Now you can give them Aru Shah and tell them that Rick Riordan Presents has Mayan and Korean mythology coming up next. Aru Shah and the End of Time has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and Kirkus.