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

Sleeping Beauty, reimagined: Spindle Fire

Spindle Fire (Spindle Fire #1), by Lexa Hillyer, (Apr. 2017, HarperTeen), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062440877

Recommended for ages 14+

This Sleeping Beauty reimagining gives us parallel narratives of two sisters: Aurora and Isabella, the princess and her bastard sister, and Belcoeur and Malfleur, fairies whose longstanding feud may bring down the kingdom. It starts like the familiar tale of Sleeping Beauty, with a twist: in this world, fairies may bestow gifts upon you, but it’s a tithe – ain’t nothing for free. Aurora’s parents, the king and queen, give up Aurora’s sense of touch and ability to speak in order to receive her gifts. Malfleur, like the fabulous Maleficent, storms in and puts the spinning needle curse on Aurora, but this time around, a fairy offers to mitigate the curse not out of the goodness and kindness of her heart, but for another tithe: sight. The queen offers up Isabella – called Isbe – bastard daughter of the king, as tithe. So we’ve got one sister who can’t speak or feel, another who can’t see, but they communicate with a language all their own.

There is a lot of story here: there’s turmoil in the kingdom; Isbe runs off while the Aurora falls victim to the spindle. Malfleur is getting an army ready to march and take over the kingdom as Isbe tries to wake her sister; Aurora wakes up in an enchanted world, meeting a woodsman that she eventually falls in love with. There are moments where Spindle Fire is really good storytelling, but there are moments where there’s almost too many threads; too much going on to get the proper gist of the story. I liked the interactions between Aurora and Isbe, and I really loved reading the backstory between the two faerie queens: more of that, please! The ending leaves readers with no question: there will be a sequel (and GoodReads has this listed as Book One).

If you have reimagined fairy tale readers, this is a good add; romance readers will enjoy the chemistry between each of the sisters and their paramours.

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

Middle Grade Mermaid Stories!

Mermaid stories are insanely popular. Debbie Dadey’s Mermaid Tales series is always out over here; I have early readers and middle graders constantly asking me where they can find more mermaid books, and YA has a whole category of mermaid books. If you’re of a certain age (or your parents are), like me, you remember the movie, Splash, which is getting a reboot with Channing Tatum as a mer-guy now. There’s something fascinating about the world under the sea.

The Little Mermaid, by Metaphrog, (Apr. 2017, Papercutz), $13.99, ISBN: 9781629917399

Award-winning graphic novelists and Eisner Award nominees Metaphrog – aka Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers –  are award-winning graphic novelists who have crafted a graphic novel retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.  For those of you who only know the Disney version, heads up: this is not that version. There’s no happy singing crab, Bette Midler is not a fabulous underwater witch with killer vocal cords, and the ending is very different than you may expect. The Mermaid – unnamed here – falls in love with a young prince whom she saves from drowning, and makes a bargain with a witch in order to grow legs and be with him, but the price is high.

Metaphrog create beautiful art to tell the mermaid’s tale. With shades of blues and greens, they weave magic, loneliness, and mystery into their story. The waves seem to lap off the cover, beckoning the reader to come in and read their tale. This adaptation beautifully translates this powerful tale. Pair this one with Metaphrog’s graphic adaptation of Anderson’s The Red Shoes and Other Tales.

Fish Girl, by Donna Jo Napoli/Illustrated by David Wiesner, (March 2017, Clarion), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0547483931

Another Little Mermaid retelling, Fish Girl tells a different, slightly darker tale. The Fish Girl is an attraction in a seaside exhibit; the proprietor refers to himself as Neptune, god of the oceans. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Neptune isn’t all that he claims to be, and the circumstances under which he keeps Fish Girl in captivity are unsettling, bordering on menacing. A girl visits the exhibit one day and catches a glimpse of the fish girl; the two strike up a secret friendship as Mia – the name Fish Girl’s friend bestows on her – wants more than life in a tank, and begins pushing her boundaries.

This is a more modern update of the classic fairy tale, with unsettling implications. Neptune is not a benevolent sea god; he’s not a loving father figure, and I found myself fighting a panicky feeling – most likely reacting as a parent – because I wanted Mia to get away from him. The story is intriguing, and will draw readers in, keeping them riveted until the last page is turned.

While I normally love David Wiesner’s artwork – Art & Max, Flotsam, Tuesday, you name it – this isn’t his usual artwork, where the colors blend and shade to provide depth and dimension. It’s still beautiful artwork, but it’s more flat here, really letting the story take center stage. His use of sea colors is lovely, and he creates a loving relationship between Mia and her guardian, the octopus.

I’d suggest these for higher middle graders – 5th and 6th graders – because the overall content may be upsetting to younger readers. Would I let my kids read them at that age? Yes, but that’s me. Read these first, and let that be your guide; make sure your younger readers know that these are different ways of telling the Disney story they may be familiar with.

Posted in Toddler Reads

First Stories bring toddlers into fairy tale fun!

Author Dan Taylor and publisher Silver Dolphin Books have debuted the cutest interactive board books to introduce toddlers to some of the most popular, beloved fairy tales:

Beauty and the Beast, $8.99, ISBN: 978-1626868977

Belle the Beauty becomes the Beast’s “guest” in place of her father, where she eventually sees past his beastly exterior (see what I did there?), he throws her a lovely feast, and they fall in love, breaking the curse and letting him because a handsome prince again.

 

Cinderella, $8.99, ISBN: 978-1626868984

Cinderella is treated horribly by her horrible stepsisters, but her Fairy Godmother steps in and declares that she shall go to the ball! She runs off at the stroke of midnight and forgets her shoe, but the handsome prince tracks her down. Try as her stepsisters might, they can’t get the shoe on, but it’s a perfect fit for Cinderella!

 

Rapunzel, $8.99, ISBN: 978-1626869004

A handsome prince sees poor Rapunzel trapped in a tower by a mean old witch who uses Rapunzel’s hair to get up and down the walls. When the prince tries to climb up to meet her, the witch snips Rapunzel’s hair, sending him flying over the edge! It’s okay, though – Rapunzel and the prince get their happily ever after at the end

Each book is only about 10 pages (and that includes front and back covers), and the pages are sturdy – they’ll hold up to multiple readings, which is a good thing, because each page has something fun for little hands to explore: slide Cinderella away to her pumpkin coach before midnight, scroll through the delightful food offerings Beast offers Beauty at dinner time, or help the prince and Rapunzel reunite at the end of the story! The art is very sweet and bright. The books are loaded with fun things to do and see, a perfect introduction to fairy tales for storytime for boys and girls alike.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

An overscheduled princess takes a day off: Princess Cora and the Crocodile

Princess Cora and the Crocodile, by Laura Amy Schlitz/Illustrated by Brian Floca, (March 2017, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-4822-0

Recommended for readers 4-8

A king and queen have a baby that they coo and marvel over – until they realize that she’s clearly not ready to run an entire kingdom. From that moment on, Princess Cora’s life is a nonstop schedule of lessons, physical training, and nonstop bathing (seriously, her nanny’s got a bit of a complex). Cora writes to her fairy godmother in desperation, and the response, while not necessarily what Cora expected, is exactly what she needs. A crocodile shows up to take Cora’s place for a day; while Cora takes a day off to enjoy being a kid, the crocodile sets to teaching the king, queen, and nanny a thing or two.

Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz and Caldecott Medalist Brian Floca have joined their considerable forces to create a book that parents need to read (cough, cough, and education administrators, cough, cough) as much as their children do. Princess Cora and the Crocodile is all about the stresses our kids face today: the lack of time to enjoy being a kid, doing kid things. The king and queen are so stressed out about what Cora’s not ready for, they strip the joy not only from Cora’s childhood, but rob themselves of the chance to enjoy watching Cora grow up; of playing on the floor with her as an infant, climbing trees and running around their considerable lands with her, of reveling in the carefree fun that parents should embrace.

When Cora’s fairy godmother sends a crocodile to her family, the croc immediately – if a bit roughly – sets to whipping Cora’s family into shape, with hilarious results. While the croc wreaks havoc at home, Cora spends the day picking strawberries, climbing trees, even stepping in a cow pie, and enjoying every moment of it. Every. Unscheduled. Moment. Brian Floca’s ink, watercoor, and gouache artwork is fun, hilarious, and every bit as free and joyful as the story’s text.

Image courtesy of Brian Floca

Parents, read this one. Please. It’s as much for us as it is for our kids. Schlitz and Floca created this fairy tale to let kids know that it’s okay to be a kid, but the message here is for us adults, because we’re the ones who can make the changes kids need to be happy – to be kids – again.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly.

Illustrator Brian Floca has a fantastic webpage, with lots of online extras, information about school visits, and upcoming events.

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

Fairy Tale Reform School’s seeing some changes in Tricked

Tricked, by Jen Calonita, (March 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $15.99, ISBN: 9781492637950

Recommended for ages 8-13

Gilly and friends return in Tricked, the third installment of Fairy Tale Reform School, but things are very, very different now. Gilly’s in school to be a cobbler, like her dad, but she really isn’t into it. Her sister, Anna, is falling in with a bad crowd: Hansel and Gretel are jerks, causing trouble all over town. They go too far with one prank that lands the three of them in – you guessed it – Fairy Tale Reform School, but the school has been through some big changes: Flora, Cinderella’s formerly wicked stepmother, is no longer headmistress; instead, the master dealmaker, Rumpelstiltskin, is in charge now, and the classes seem to encourage the kids to be more villain than hero. Gilly, Jax, and Maxine need to get back on the inside to find out what’s going on in those hallowed halls, get to the bottom of Rump’s treachery, and save Anna while Gilly’s at it: if Anna even wants to be saved.

I’ve been a Fairy Tale Reform School fan from the beginning, and Tricked is every bit as good as the first two. I love the way Jen also manages to address some of the very real things going on in the news today through FTRS, with a trickster who excels in the art of the deal (ahem) pulling the strings and making everyone in that school either blindly follow him or disappear. When things came together for me as I read, I realized how brilliant Tricked is in every respect, and I admire Jen Calonita for taking such a timely message on and communicating it to the kids who need to understand that when something doesn’t seem normal, it really isn’t.

There are strong subplots, addressing the frustration of being in a sibling’s shadow, making your own dreams happen versus living up to others’ expectations.

Tricked is all-around fun reading with big messages for young readers.

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

Who’s the newest and fairest of them all?

charmedCharmed, I’m Sure, by Sarah Darer Littman, (Sept. 2016, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481451277

Recommended for ages 8-12

What happens when you’re the daughter of the fairy tale world’s version of Brangelina – Snow White and Prince Charming – and you can’t get a date for the Fall Festive school dance? This is Rosie White Charming’s dilemma in Charmed, I’m Sure. She grits her teeth and asks her mom – now a lifestyle blogger for her hugely famous brand – for help, receiving a complete makeover and magic compact from Snow White. At first, it’s great – guys are noticing her! Her friends think she looks fabulous! – but things aren’t always what they seem. Rosie swears the compact is talking to her, and it’s sounding a heck of a lot like the magic mirror that her evil step-grandmother used; next thing she knows, her friends are mad at her, and so is the cute guy she was talking up at the coffee joint. Rosie isn’t giving up, though – she’s going to find a way to get her happily-ever-after.

Charmed, I’m Sure is another fun entry into the flipped/fractured fairy tale genre for middle graders. It’s fun, has some cameos from other famous fairy tale offspring, and the characters are light and silly. There’s a nice message about staying true to yourself, and Snow White gets her message across to her daughter in a very sly way that will make you realize that she knows a lot more than she lets on. (Like most parents, am I right?)

A fun addition to your fun fairy tales collection. Talk it up with Jen Calonita’s Fairy Tale Reform School series and The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper for extra fun reading!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade

Blog Tour and Giveaway: The Spell Thief

The Spell Thief
By Tom Percival
December 6, 2016; Hardcover, ISBN: 9781492646648

9781492641773-pr

Book Info:
Title: The Spell Thief
Author: Tom Percival
Release Date: December 6, 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Summary:

Join Red, Jack, Rapunzel, and Anansi in this fun fairy tale mash-up chapter book series!

Jack (of the beanstalk fame) and his magical talking chicken, Betsy, have always been great at making new friends, like their BFFs Red and Rapunzel. But when Jack spots Anansi, the new kid in town, talking to a troll in the Deep Dark Woods, he immediately becomes suspicious. Everyone knows that trolls mean trouble, and Jack will do anything to prove to the rest of his friends that Anansi is a troll spy. Even if that means using stolen magic!

Goodreads Link: http://ow.ly/rDgP3065Ww6

Buy Links:

Amazon: http://ow.ly/ud3O3065WD0

Barnes & Noble: http://ow.ly/o76x3065WMa

IndieBound: http://ow.ly/9sfN3065WPn

About the Author:
Tom Percival studied graphic design in South Wales and has illustrated several picture books. He lives with his family in Bristol, England.

Social Media Links:
Author Website: http://tom-percival.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AllAboutTomPercival
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TomPercivalsays
Pinterest: https://uk.pinterest.com/tomp/

1
A Ship Comes In

spellthief_1

Jack walked through the Deep Dark Woods with his pet hen Betsy tucked under one arm. He took a deep breath of the woodland air. It smelled fresh and exciting. Today was going to be a good day—he could just tell.

He walked toward a small, wooden cottage surrounded by a well-kept wooden fence. There was a fountain in the garden, also made of wood, but instead of water, it was blowing sawdust high into the air.

spellthief_whatsquawked Betsy.

 

 

“Don’t worry, Betsy. It’s only sawdust,” replied Jack. He wasn’t surprised that his hen had just spoken to him. After all, Betsy was a magical hen. Sadly, “What?” was the only thing she could say, which made most of their conversations rather one-sided.

spellthief_2Jack wiped his feet on the wooden doormat and knocked on the door. He heard booming footsteps from inside. The door swung open with a creak and a very woody smell.

A large man stood in the doorway, covered in wood shavings and holding a lopsided wooden cup.
“Well, look who it is!” he exclaimed with a smile, “Come on through, Jack! Red and the others are all out back.”

He ushered Jack inside, where every surface, and in fact everything, seemed to be made from wood…including the carpet and the curtains.

“So, how have you been, Jack?” asked Red’s dad.

“Good, thanks,” replied Jack politely. “How about you?”

“Oh, good, Jack, very good!” exclaimed Red’s dad. “In fact, I’ve just made a breakthrough!”

“A breakthrough?” asked Jack.

“With the wooden socks!” replied Red’s dad.

spellthief_3

“Don’t you mean woolen?” countered Jack.

“Woolen socks?” repeated Red’s father, as if it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard, “I’m a wood-cutter, Jack, not a wool cutter!”

“Er, right…” said Jack.

“Do you want to try them on?” asked Red’s father, holding out two very solid, very wooden–looking socks.

“Um, not right now,” replied Jack. “I’d better go and catch up with Red. But thanks for the offer.”

Jack raced through the house and into the garden. The tree house towered up in front of him. Red’s dad had carved it out of one giant tree.

Jack’s friends were all sitting in the main room when he climbed in.

“Morning, all!” he called out.

Red grinned, Rapunzel did her very best curtsy, and the twins waved enthusiastically.

“Hey,” started Hansel.

“Jack!” finished Gretel.

Hansel and Gretel often finished each other’s sentences. Sometimes it could be confusing.

“Hey, Jack!” called Red. “Do you want the good news or the bad news?”

“The good news?” asked Jack hesitantly.

“The good news,” said Rapunzel, leaving a long pause, “is that there’s a ship coming into town from Far Far Away!”

spellthief_whatsquawked Betsy.

 
Jack gasped. A boat from Far Far Away! His dad might have sent him a letter…

“Yep!” added Red. “It should be arriving any minute! We’re going to have a race up to Lookout Point to watch it come in—last one there is a smelly troll!”

“So what’s the bad news?” asked Jack.

“The bad news is that Hansel’s just tied your shoelaces together!” said Rapunzel, as she and everyone else scrambled excitedly from the tree house.

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Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance at one of 2 Copies of The Spell Thief!
Runs December 4-December 16 (US & Canada only)