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!

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Posted in Fantasy, mythology, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Myth of the Minotaur? That’s BULL.

Bull, by David Elliott, (March 2017, HMH Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544610606

Recommended for ages 13+

You may know the myth of Theseus, the Minotaur, and the Labryinth, but I guarantee you’ve never read it like this. Told in verse, with each character’s voice using its own poetric form, from sonnets and stanzas to split couplets.  Poseidon acts as a kind of narrator, boastful and smug, laying out the lay of the land for readers: how Minos wouldn’t sacrifice a bull to him, so he decided to take it out on his wife and son. We have Minos, who’s not winning any father of the year awards; poor, insane Queen Pasiphae, who loves her baby boy and loses her mind when he’s taken from her; Ariadne, Minos’ daughter who just wants to take her brother, Asterion – the Minotaur – away from the hell he’s living, Daedalus, the engineer of the labyrinth, and last but never least, Asterion, the voice of the Minotaur himself.

There are inevitable Hamilton comparisons to be made, and this is a good thing: it’s a modern, compulsively readable, update of the classic myth, full of dark humor, angst, and betrayal. Elliott fleshes out the story by giving his take on the characters’ internal dialogue; most notably, Asterion’s growing despair and rage, also depicted by the progressively darker pages on which his dialogue runs. I’d love to see this staged, and I’m sure many, many high school and college students will, too.

Bull received (well-deserved) starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus. Language and situations may give some more conservative readers pause, but it is a Greek myth, after all.

Author David Elliott’s webpage has more information about the author and his books, plus information about author visits. There is also a link to Mr. Elliott’s Pinterest page, where readers can find more links to information about the players in Bull and their mythology.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, mythology, Tween Reads

The story of Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt

artemis_1Artemis, by George O’Connor, (Olympians #9), (Jan. 2017, First Second), $9.99, ISBN: 9781626725225

Recommended for ages 8-12

The latest in George O’Connor’s graphic novel series on the Olympians gives readers the origin of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, nature, archery, wild animals, young women, and sudden death (yes, you read that right). Like a lot of gods and goddesses, Artemis and her twin brother, Apollo, were born when Zeus introduced himself to Leto, daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe. Artemis assisted with her brother’s birth, despite being only 9 days old, and when the family was invited to live on Mount Olympus, was protective of her mother, who, for obvious reasons, wasn’t really in Hera’s favor.

 

I love this series because it really utilizes the graphic novel format to bring these myths back to life. When I was a kid, I had history and mythological comics that breathed life into their stories, splashing the pages with the color and action that infused them. O’Connor’s Olympians series is good, solid story-telling that brings mythology back to kids and adults alike. Put these books out with your Rick Riordan books; your Greek mythology nonfiction books (D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths is brilliant and often used in schools), and, for readers who are ready for them, Gillian Cross and Neil Packer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, mythology, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

Zaria Fierce returns in the Dragon Keeper’s Golden Shoes!

zariaprologue-360x570Zaria Fierce and the Dragon Keeper’s Golden Shoes, by Keira Gillett, (Jul. 2016, Keira Gillet Books), $14.99, ISBN: TK

Recommended for ages 10-13

Keira Gillet’s Zaria Fierce trilogy comes to a huge conclusion with the final book in her adventure, Zaria Fierce and the Dragon Keeper’s Golden Shoes. Picking up where Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword left off, Zaria and her friends need to rescue the Stag King’s son, Hart, stop Koll and his fellow dragons, and save Zaria’s birth mother, Queen Helena. No pressure, Zaria.

Zaria also feels the crushing weight of these responsibilities – and the part she played in them, when tricked by the dragon, Koll – and it’s taking its toll on her. Thankfully, her friends aren’t going to let her confidence flag; they’re there for an adventure, and they’re not going to let anyone, be it a dragon that personifies fear, or a fierce water-wyvern, stop them.

That’s the great thing about the Zaria Fierce trilogy: adventure is fast, furious, and loaded with Norse mythology, but the friendship between Zaria and her group of friends is the heart that drives this story. They won’t give up on Zaria, even when she’s ready to give up on herself; in turn, she will do anything to keep her friends safe. Even fight a dragon.

There are so many wonderful moments in this book, but to start talking about them would lead to spoilers. Suffice to say that Keira Gillett takes us on a hero’s journey, in the guise of a young girl whose entire life is upended one morning as she crosses a bridge to get to school. Zaria Fierce and the Dragon Keeper’s Golden Shoes brings us to the end of one story, and a wish to return to this universe soon.

Recommended for middle grade collections where fantasy is popular. I’d book talk this with other hero’s journey tales like CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson/Magnus Chase series; they’ll have a firmer frame of reference when you present the series with these popular fantasy tales. Talk up Zaria as a strong female character who overcomes her fears and self-doubts to outwit monsters, and save herself and her friends!

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

Who will save you from The Last Monster?

last monsterThe Last Monster, by Ginger Garrett/Illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova (Apr. 2016, Delacorte Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780553535242

Recommended for ages 10-13

Sofia was never the type of kid to stand out. Not before the cancer, anyway. Now, with her shaved head and prosthetic leg, she really doesn’t want to stand out, but the mean girl group at school is determined to make Sofia their project. And then, there’s The Book. The Book that ended up in her closet. The Book that’s writing to her. Xeno, one of Aristotle’s lost students, has gotten in touch with Sofia through the book, telling her that’s she’s been chosen to be the next Guardian. Guardian of all the mythical monsters in the world. The thing is, someone else wants that book – wants to do away with the monsters, and she’ll do anything to get her hands on it, including unleashing the Last Monster. Now, Sofia has to learn her Guardian duties, deal with middle school, and navigate a relationship with her mother, who has a hard time letting go after almost losing her daughter.

This is a wild book, and I mean that in the best sense. I thought I was getting a story about a girl beating cancer – and I was – and then, this fantastic world opened up within that story. Who else to be chosen to be a hero, right? A kid who fought cancer and won, a kid who just wants to concentrate on getting through each day, now bestowed with this responsibility, this guardianship – it’s so much bigger than she is, but she’s clearly the one for the job. I loved Sofia because she’s not a victim. She doesn’t want to be with the cool girls, she doesn’t even know what the heck to do with a crush, it’s so confusing to navigate, and she’s really not sure what the heck to do when a monster shows up at her window for the first time, but she’s going to figure it all out. The monsters are going to teach her a few things, too, and so is Xeno.

This is a brilliant fantasy to put into the hands of middle schoolers. It brings kids realistic fiction and infuses it with an amazing fantasy that will keep the pages turning. This one is going on my library shelves, without question. Give this to your Fablehaven and Spiderwick fans and let them blend their own bestiaries together.

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

Loki’s stirring up trouble in Secrets of Valhalla…

valhallaSecrets of Valhalla, by Jasmine Richards (Dec. 2015, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062010094

Recommended for ages 9-13

Buzz doesn’t have the easiest home life. His mother disappeared six months ago, his scholarly father is distant and cold, and a kid at school is a jerk who happens to be on the opposing soccer team at school. He meets up with Mary, the new girl at school who happens to be a little… different, and the two discover that Sunna, the Norse goddess of the sun, is taking up residence in a local weatherwoman’s body – just before she’s kidnapped by Loki, the infamous Norse god of mischief. Since Sunna is also the goddess in charge of Sunday, Saturday’s now on a repeating loop, and Buzz and Mary need to go on a quest to find the Runes of Valhalla, which will lead them to the day guardians – seven gods and goddesses who keep time in order – before Loki gets to them. It’s a race against time to save the world!

I know mythology books get a lot of play, and I love it. I can’t get enough of the new takes on these mythic tales, and considering that I still can’t find a library copy of Rick Riordan’s Sword of Summer, not to mention the fact that the Percy Jackson series still flies off my shelves, neither can middle grade readers. Secrets of Valhalla is a fun spin on the Norse myths that incorporate the Greek and Roman pantheon, too. It’s a quest novel, it’s a friendship novel, and it’s a family novel. While kids are waiting for their copy of Magnus Chase to come in, give them this book. Display with K.L. Armstrong’s Blackwell Pages and Kate O’Hearn’s Pegasus series (and she’s got her own Norse book, Valkyrie, coming out in February), have a mythological read-aloud, and ask the kids to choose which day guardian they’d like to be (I’m thinking Sigyn should have been a day guardian, but that’s just me). The ending is tied up nicely, so I’m not sure if we’ll see a sequel, but never say never…

Jasmine Richards’s first novel, The Book of Wonders, is also full of fantasy and magic. Her author webpage has a bio and contact info, plus reviews on her first book.

Posted in Humor, mythology, Tween Reads

Take a tour of the Underworld with Hades in Hades Speaks

hades speaksHades Speaks! by Vicky Alvear Schecter/illus. by J.E. Larson, (Boyds Mill Press, Sept. 2014). $16.95, ISBN: 9781620915981

Recommended for ages 10-14

Greek mythology fans, Myth-O-Mania and Percy Jackson fans, this one is for your collection. Take a walk through the Underworld, with the man himself, Hades, as your guide. Learn all about the Fields of Elysim, the Hall of Judgement, and a lot of ancient Greek history, with some very tongue-in-cheek commentary (Romans – you may be a little put out).

Hades is the rock star of the Greek myths. He’s Poseidon and Zeus’ big brother, but he’s managed to find himself the black sheep – is it because of the dead thing? The final judgment thing? Whatever it is, Zeus isn’t thrilled, and he lets readers know all about it.

The book is written in a style that tweens will appreciate – written from Hades’ point of view, the god of the Underworld is full of snark as he takes the reader on a guided tour of his realm, and loaded with information that he imparts while always making sure the reader knows that he or she isn’t safe there. Not just about the Underworld, Hades gives details about “his people” – the Ancient Greeks – including the Greeks’ funeral rites, differences between Roman and Greek myths, various curses throughout ancient Greece, and famous ancient Greeks (who dwell in various areas of the realm), including Plato, and Aristotle, the guy responsible for homework.

The art, running throughout the book, is gorgeous, rendered in stark black and white with sharp angles (lest you find yourself relaxing!). There’s a map to guide you on your journey, complete with locations of the Titan’s Pit in Tartaros, Charon’s boat on the River Styx, and Persephone’s Grove. There are chapter heads and full-page illustrations of Hades, his black cape menacing and yet, drawing your eye to him. It adds a great vibe to the book: think Edward Gorey meets Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

The book rounds out with a glossary, a bibliography, and an index. This is a solid addition to any library – personal, school, or public – with a population that’s interested in Greek myths. And fans of Rick Riordan’s Red Pyramid series, rejoice – Anubis, Egyptian God of the Dead, is writing a book next.