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, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Enjoy more Tales from Asgard with a new trilogy!

thorThor: Dueling with Giants (Tales from Asgard #1), by Keith R.A. DeCandido (Mar. 2016, Joe Books Inc.), $9.99, ISBN: 9781772751970

Recommended for ages 12+

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, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Zaria Fierce brings Norse myth to modern adventure!

Take a timid girl, put her in a seemingly impossible situation, and you’ll find out what she’s really made of. Zaria Fierce, a 13 year-old living with her adoptive family in Norway, finds herself up against trolls and magical creatures of all sorts when she heads to school one morning and is confronted by Olaf, a troll – you got it – from under a bridge. She thinks she’s outsmarted the big creep, but he gets the last laugh when he kidnaps her best friend, Christoffer. Now, it’s up to Zaria and her friends to save Christoffer, but Zaria’s in for a wild ride with some big revelations along the way!

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Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest, by Keira Gillet/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan, (2015, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750017

Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest lays the groundwork for a new series that brings elements of Norse myth to modern day. Neither Loki nor Odin are stirring up trouble here, though – we’ve got the trolls making trouble, some elves, and dwarves, enchanted forests, and magic items aplenty here. There are secrets revealed and some big decisions Zaria must make – and they’re not always the right ones. She’s a girl with a lot of heart and has friends who quibble with her and each other, but would do anything for her. 

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Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Swordby Keira Gillet/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan, (2015, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750031

The story continues in Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword. Armed with a better understand of who she and what she needs to do, Zaria and her friends are back and trying to fix a major mistake she made while trying to free Christoffer. We’ve got pirate ships and giants in this story, and a very creepy doppleganger making some trouble for Zaria. Can she get hold of the enchanted Drakeland sword and foil Olaf’s plans?

The stories are written and illustrated in a manner that recalls fantasy and adventure stories I read as a kid. The black and white fantasy sketches are beautiful and creepy – I love the white stag and the deliciously creepy Olaf – and brings a lot of imagination to the page.

Self-published by the author, the books can be purchased via Amazon (I’ve linked each title to its Amazon page below the cover shots). You can find a book trailer and Zaria Fierce coloring sheets on Keira Gillett’s website, sign up for her newsletter, and get a countdown to the next book in the Zaria Fierce trilogy. Keep an eye out for an author interview with Keira Gillett, right here, very soon!

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 Fantasy, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

Frostborn – Family Intrigue, Frost Giants, and Dragons!

frostbornFrostborn, by Lou Anders, (Aug. 2014, Random House Children’s). $16.99, ISBN: 978-0385387781

Recommended for ages 10-13

Take one firstborn son, heir to a large, multi-generational family farm. Add one half frost giant-half human girl, whose mother’s past is shrouded in mystery. Place in a backdrop of a Norse mythological world, and add dragons, and you have the potential for a fantastic adventure. This is the world of Lou Anders’ Frostborn.

Karn is the son of a landowner, expected to take over the family farm one day. He’d rather just play Thrones and Bones, a board game of strategy. Thianna is a half-human frost giant, an outcast of sorts, never quite belonging to their world; her human mother’s origins lay wreathed in mystery. When the frost giants and the humans in Karn’s father’s tribe gather for their annual trading meeting, Karn’s traitorous uncle sets plans into motion that send Karn and Thianna on the run for their lives.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book; fans of mythology-based fantasy will, too. Anders is a Hugo Award-winning editor; this is his first book, and kicks off a promising fantasy series that will appeal to boys and girls alike. I love that Karn is a “gamer” – and so are other characters in the book, which will appeal to gamer boys and girls out there, who try to explain to their disapproving parents that games help sharpen their mental acuity. The characters have rich backgrounds, with the promise of more to be revealed in future books, and Anders’ description of various terrain is so vivid, I could feel the chill of the frozen land of the frost giants.

If you’ve got middle graders looking for a fantasy series along the lines of Kelley Armstrong’s Blackwell Pages, this is a great place to steer them. The book hits stores today – go get your copy!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, mythology, Tween Reads

Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants: In which Thor, Loki and Odin get into trouble AGAIN.

odd and the frost giantsOdd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman/illustrated by Brett Helquist. HarperCollins (2008), $14.99, ISBN: 978-0061671739

Recommended for ages 8-12

Neil Gaiman takes on Norse mythology with his tale of a lame young Norse boy named Odd, who encounters a bear, a fox, and an eagle in the frozen woods one day, only to discover that they are Thor, Loki, and Odin, on the run after Asgard is overrun by Frost Giants. They need Odd’s help to regain the kingdom and end the forever winter that the Frost Giants have spread throughout Midgard (and possibly, all of the realms). Is Odd smart enough to outwit the Frost Giants?

Gaiman adapts his storytelling voice for this story (as opposed to his dark fantasy voice that you can read in works like Coraline and Graveyard Book). The book is filled with his wry humor, especially in the interactions between Thor, Loki, and Odin – he gives Loki a particularly amusing voice, being the God of Mischief in the guise of a wily fox. Gaiman also excels at writing quiet, mild characters that achieve greatness through intelligence – Odd is yet another quiet Gaiman hero. Quiet kids will love how Odd uses his wits to save the day, rather than charging around Asgard swinging a war hammer and screaming for blood.

Brett Helquist’s art enhances Gaiman’s story with beautiful black and white sketches. The artwork lends a real authenticity to the Norse tale; the work could hail from a hoary, old tome, found in an old castle, it has such a wise old sense of timeliness about it.

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I love Gaiman’s storytelling, and Odd is right there with his other work. This could enhance a unit on storytelling as easily as it could a unit on Norse mythology, and there are many activities to get kids writing that this book could inspire, including a Write Your Own Myth workshop, or asking the kids to put themselves in Odd’s place – how would they save Asgard? What would they do if they discovered three gods in the woods? Do you identify with Odd? What makes a hero heroic? There are many discussion topics that work for this book.