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, Teen, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

Egg and Spoon – Gregory Maguire spins a rich Russian fairytale

egg and spoonEgg and Spoon, by Gregory Maguire (Candlewick, Sept. 2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9780763672201

Recommended for ages 12+

Gregory Maguire is renowned for creating his alternate versions of fairy tales, most notably, Wicked. In Egg and Spoon, he creates a sweeping Russian fairy tale, encompassing historical figures such as Tsar Nikolai Romanov and Rasputin, and fantasy favorites like Baba Yaga, the Phoenix/Firebird, and the Slavic Dragon, to create a sweeping tale that goes from the impoverished Russian countryside all the way to Saint Petersburg and beyond.

At its heart is a tale reminiscent of The Prince and the Pauper: a young peasant girl named Elena meets a spoiled rich girl named Ekaterina, when Ekaterina’s train breaks down in Elena’s village. Elena’s mother is dying, her brothers have been called off either to military service or employment, and her father is dead. She wants to go to St. Petersburg to ask the tsar to send her brother home to help care for their mother. Fate intervenes, and the two girls swap places, where each learns about the other girl’s life by living her life. Baba Yaga shows up, because the chaotic seasons are causing her distress, and she ends up becoming Ekaterina’s guardian as they proceed to St. Petersburg to ask the tsar what’s going on in the world.

The tale, narrated by a prisoner in the tsar’s tower, looks at magic in the everyday world, and what a stabilizing force it is. There are themes of family, friendship, and morality all at play, with a lot of humor – Baba Yaga is hilarious here – and conflict.

My only concern here is that at almost 500 pages, middle graders may balk at reading this. Teens will enjoy the story, and it’s a book that really should be on every library shelf. This one will win awards, there’s no question. The writing is beautiful and there are some incredible themes explored. A semester-long unit on fairy tales for older students would really be enhanced by using this book, and book groups for all ages will never run out of material to talk about.