GroundedGrounded by Megan Morrison. Scholastic, 2015.
Rapunzel has grown up in a tower filled with everything she could ever want – beautiful dresses, a harp, books filled with stories about her and her beloved Witch.  All the stories warn of the dangerousness of things on the ground, the evil of the princes who’d want to lure Rapunzel out of her tower.  Rapunzel has never wanted to leave. But when a boy named Jack climbs up into her tower and claims that he’s met her before – that they talked just recently – she is confused.  And when he says that the red fairies are trying to kill Witch, she decides she needs to investigate the situation on her own.  Why would anyone not love Witch as much as she does?

It turns out that the fairy headwoman, Glyph, is dangerously ill because of something Rapunzel unwittingly did.  Rapunzel doesn’t remember – but she has to admit that there’s a lot she doesn’t remember.  Glyph’s husband, Rune, is outraged, but Glyph is inclined to be more forgiving.  Rapunzel’s one chance to redeem herself to the fairies and earn a chance to save herself and Witch is to journey to the distant woods and meet the Woodmother.  Jack will accompany her to keep her safe, although he has his own hidden mission.  As Rapunzel sees more of life on the ground, she realizes that much of what Witch told her wasn’t true.  What will happen when Rapunzel learns the truth about Witch, and why did Witch work so hard to keep Rapunzel happy and not wanting to get out of the tower?

I wasn’t actually sure I needed another Rapunzel retelling – Zel by Donna Jo Napoli and Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale are both so good.  I should remember that there’s always room for another retelling of the classics. This started off feeling like a fun, light romp, but got much deeper along the way as Rapunzel herself went from a superficial to a much more nuanced understanding of the world.  The underlying message read to me as the importance of compassion over innocence.  Just beautiful – thoughtful without feeling weighed down.  There’s plenty to laugh at, too, including Rapunzel’s struggles with lugging her massive amounts of hair around. The world of Tyme, with its multiple countries named after colors, is also fun to explore.  At first, I thought it was an odd choice.  Then I looked more closely at the color names – more than a rainbow, including colors like Crimson, Brown and Lilac – and realized that the countries are named after Andrew and Leonora Lang’s groundbreaking Fairy Books, all named after colors and now available as free ebooks from Project Gutenberg. Rapunzel fans can also check out my Rapunzel Round-up post focused on picture book retellings.

This title has been nominated for the Cybils. This review is my own opinion, not that of the committee.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Continuing Epics – The Copper Gauntlet, The Hollow Boy, Nightborn

On with the Cybils reading… this time, I have three sequels, all books whose earlier entries were also Cybils nominees.

The Copper GauntletCopper Gauntlet. Magisterium Book 2.  by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Penguin Random House, 2015.
Callum Hunt is home for the summer following his first year at the Magesterium (described in The Iron Trial.)  But his father’s objections to him learning to use his magic have only grown stronger, and he’s especially unfond of Callum’s pet chaos wolf, Havoc. Things are awkward to start with, but when Callum discovers a secret hidden in the basement, he no longer trusts his father at all.   Even as he’s increasingly relying on his friends in a world where dangers are increasing on every side, he still isn’t able to tell them that he is himself the evil overlord.  This knowledge, delivered at the end of the last book, seemed like it was going to be crushing.  And it is – but it’s also fodder for humor through the story, as Call makes lists in his head of things that he does that are or aren’t evil overlord-worthy – mostly trying for not evil overlord, but occasionally deciding the situation calls for it.  I’d been somewhat ambivalent about the first book, because of the evil overlord business and because it felt so very derivative.  Now the story is coming into its own, both the characters and the world developing well.  I enjoyed this one lots.  And I’m happy to say that after I decided that it was far too gruesome for my 6-year-old to listen in on, my 11-year-old (who listened to the first with me), is now reading it on his own, making good progress and enjoying it.  That’s very high praise coming from a kid who never chooses to read prose fiction in print.

The Hollow BoyHollow Boy. Lockwood & Co. 3 by Jonathan Stroud. Read by Emily Bevan. Listening Library, 2015.
Back to the world where the spirits of the dead are back with a vengeance, and only kids can see them to defeat them.  In book 3 of the series, we start off knowing that something bad is going to happen to Lockwood & Co.  As Lucy describes a recent case where she, Lockwood, and George took on a house with multiple hauntings, she says that she didn’t know how good she had it until it was over. Certainly one negative factor is the addition of polished new employee Holly Munro, who sets Lucy on edge.  Lucy’s talent for listening to ghosts is also developing – sometimes helping her solve the case at hand, but also putting her in danger as she must lower her defense.  She wants to develop it more; Lockwood is against it.  Meanwhile, the hauntings Lockwood & Co. is called to work on get bigger and more dangerous than ever.  The Screaming Staircase won the Cybils award for Middle Grade Speculative Fiction in 2013, and The Whispering Skull was nominated last year.  I could see why that book won – but I fell in love with this one. (I’m sure Emily Bevan’s reading helped with this, her voice accented with just the right mix of London and English Country.) I cried at the end and am so looking forward to the next book.  Write faster, Jonathan Stroud!

nightbornNightborn. Thrones and Bones Book 2 by Lou Anders. Crown Books, 2015.
Board games come to life with dangerous results in this second Norse-inspired fantasy, following last year’s Frostborn.  Our hero, Karn, hasn’t seen his best friend, the half-giant Thianna, in months, when his peaceful farm life is turned upside-down.  There are dangerous-looking dark elves looking for him. When he runs away from them, he is snatched by a wyvern, who takes him back to the dragon Orm.  It turns out that the dangerous magical horn that Orm destroyed in the last book was not the only one.  Thianna went off looking for another one, to keep it from falling into the wrong hands, and hasn’t come back.  Karn is really full of pity for whoever might be trying to keep Thianna a captive – but he’s certainly not going to stand by without trying to help her.  Part of the story is told from the point of view of Desstra, one of the dark elves trying to find the horn.  She failed to graduate from the Dark Elf academy because she wasn’t ruthless enough, and struggles between her old dreams of graduating with honors and seeing first-hand some benefits of mercy and friendship as she watches Karn and Thianna.  Although I wish that Desstra wasn’t the sole sympathetic member of an entire species, I did appreciate both her journey and the fact that the Dark Elves, living in the dark, had milky pale skin, while the wood elves had skin a range of woody browns.  The board game behind this book is Charioteers, inspired by the race track of the Hippodrome.  This series is so much fun, with good characters, cinematic adventures, and sparkling wordplay.  I will keep reading this series, as well as recommending it to Rick Riordan fans in search of mythology-inspired adventure.

Posted in Books | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Two animal fantasies: Escape from Baxter’s Barn and Brilliant

This is the time of year when I’m reading much, much faster than I can write about all the books I’m reading. Here are two Cybils-nominated fantasies about animals.

Escape from Baxters' BarnEscape from Baxters’ Barn by Rebecca Bond. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.
When the animals of the Baxter brothers’ farm catch wind that the brothers are giving up on the farm, maybe even burning down the barn, there is panic. All the animals decide to work as a team to try to escape – including one-eyed Burdock, the barn cat, the only one of the crew who could leave on his own.  The barnyard setting and gentle plot make this a fit for younger readers, helped along with great line illustrations of the animals Nanny and Tick, Fluff, Mrs. Brown, Figgy, Tug and Pull.  It seems best to me for family read-alouds or advanced younger reader, as it has several potentially confusing elements including flashbacks and the idea of burning a building for insurance money, as well as some zesty vocabulary that might be confusing for young readers on their own.  This has a cozy, old-fashioned feel, and the distinct animal personalities and teamwork are appealing.

BrilliantBrilliant by Roddy Doyle. Illustrated by Emily Hughes. U.S. publication by Harry N. Abrams, 2015.
Here’s another book with an old-fashioned feel – in this case, also distinctively Irish.  Raymond “Rayzer” and his younger sister Gloria were thrilled when their Uncle Ben first came to live with them.  They quickly discover that the reason he’s there is not so good – he’s suffering from depression, too weighted down to joke and play with them as he used to. While hiding under the kitchen table listening their parents and grandmother talk, they learn that Dublin is under the influence of the black dog of depression, which has stolen Dublin’s funny bone.  While the adults mean it as a metaphor, the children believe it to be real and set out at night to find and defeat the black dog.  They are helped by their teenage neighbor Ernie, who admits that he has recently taken a job as a vampire.  (Why a vampire? Because vampires are cool, of course! Ernie jokes about drinking blood in a non-fatal to the drinkee way, but doesn’t do so at all during the story.) All the animals of the city are able to see the black dog and give clues to the children, and Raymond and Gloria are joined by crowds of other children whose family members have been affected by depression.  Their only weapons are their determination and the word “brilliant.”  This is a quirky book, including things like the random vampire and illustrations of the children’s imaginings such as a sleeping giant under the stairs that groans when they step on the wrong spot.  It’s one that I quite enjoyed, but is definitely for readers who are in the right place for an adventure that’s half metaphor and half real fantasy adventure.

As always, this is my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.

Posted in Books | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Wrinkled Crown

Anne Nesbet is another author I discovered through the Cybils, before I was a judge.  Her latest book is out this month and will be eligible for next year’s Cybils.

Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet. HarperCollins, 2015.

In the Wrinkled Hills is a town named Lourka, famous for a lute-like instrument also called a lourka.  The town is in the Wrinkled Hills, where things that seem straightforward will suddenly “wrinkle” and go magical. In that town lives 12-year-old Linny, tethered to another girl her age since she was tiny, because Linny’s personal wrinkly talents tend towards music, which is decidedly dangerous. Naturally they’re best friends by now – but when Linny’s impulsiveness and desire to have a forbidden lourka puts her friend in danger instead of herself, she sets out on a quest to save her friend.

What at first seemed straightforward if challenging gets more complicated.  Once out of the Wrinkled Hills, Linny discovers that she looks exactly like a girl of prophecy.  One side wants to lock her up and the other to make her be the girl of prophecy – either of which will prevent Linny from rescuing her friend.  She’s accompanied on the way by an annoying admirer – of the friend, not of Linny – and a cat which is part-living, part-machine.

The sweet cover might lead one to think that this is a sweet and straightforward tale.  Sweet it is, but underneath that, Nesbet is tackling a number of thorny issues touching balance – balance between science and magic, between honoring tradition and finding what really works in the present, as well as balance in gender and its roles.  As my son noted when looking at the cover, Linny is a very nice person to spend time with as well, and the deep thoughts are underlying an adventure with plenty of narrow and failed escapes, as well as mental and physical puzzles.  This is a delight through and through.

Thanks to the publisher for providing an eARC through Edelweiss.

Posted in Books | Tagged , | 2 Comments

School for Sidekicks

Can you have too many middle grade superhero novels? Not if they’re well done!

School for SidekicksSchool for Sidekicks. The Academy of Metahuman Operatives #1 by Kelly McCullough. Feiwel and Friends, 2015.

Years ago, the Hero Bomb went off in St.Paul/Minneapolis, killing many and giving others superpowers.  Now the Twin Cities are called just Heropolis, protected from the evil Hoods by the good Masks.  12-year-old Evan Quick is the biggest fan of the Mask’s most prominent hero, Captain Commanding.  He plays the video games, drinks the MaskerAde soda, and had his birthday in the 3-D Mask simulation.  But on one odd trip to the theme park, he experiences a strange tingling in costume-fitting machine and receives a real hero ring.  And on his next school trip to the Mask Museum, he ends up saving Captain Commanding from his arch-nemesis, Spartanicus.

Before he knows what’s happened – literally, he’s unconscious – Evan is whisked away to Academy of Metahuman Operatives, where he meets a bunch of other superpowered teens.  But as fast as he can decide he wants to be there, the life he’s always wanted loses its shine: his parents are completely opposed to him being there. Captain Commanding hates his guts.  The only mask who will accept him as a sidekick-in-training is the washed-up recovering alcoholic Foxman.  It’s also quite the downer to learn that Evan, like all the other recent students, only has sidekick level powers and will never be a full-fledged Mask.  There are a lot of secrets to discover, and all the students will have to work together if they want to get anything done.

Cybils season is when I’m reading as fast as I can.  So when I have a book that I’m still thinking about several books later, it’s a good sign. This is a book that in many ways follows the formula of being welcomed into the coveted secret organization, only to discover that many of the secrets aren’t happy ones.  But McCullough still made me believe in Evan and his school.  I appreciated the diversity of Evan’s team at school, even if, as Charlotte pointed out in her review, some of the diversity seems randomly assigned in “rainbow sprinkle” fashion, without backing it up with, say, related powers and background.  I also approved of Foxman trying to be a good mentor to Evan despite having mostly given up the Mask business years earlier.  The explanation for the constant battles between Masks and Hoods and the Hoods constant and easy escape from prison so often seen in comic books was quite clever. I really enjoyed seeing the teamwork between Evan and his new friends, though (perhaps going along with the complaint from earlier) I would have liked to have their characters fleshed out a little more.

This is a solid story, recommended to superhero fans middle grade and up.  Try also Sidekicked by John David Anderson and Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities by Mike Jung.

As always, this is my personal opinion, not the Official Cybils Opinion.

Posted in Books | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Scratch9: Cat of Nine Worlds

Taking a quick break from my own middle grade speculative fiction Cybils reading to talk about the book I nominated for the elementary/middle grade graphic novel category.

Scratch9: Cat of Nine WorldsScratch9: Cat of Nine Worlds by Rob M. Worley and Joshua Buchanan.    Hermes Press, 2015.
Scratch9 is a fun indy series that my family discovered at Kids Read Comics, the great little kids-and-teens con that’s in Ann Arbor every year.  I was really happy when a new volume appeared in our house this fall!  (Thanks, love!) In case you weren’t able to find volume one, The Pet Project, when I recommended it a couple of years ago, here’s a quick refresher: Scratch is a cat who has met all 8 of his other lives, very cool felines living in different times and places around the world.  The evil and of course nefarious Dr. Schrödinger would like nothing better than to harness Scratch’s power for himself, which usually involves great danger for both Scratch and his beloved owner, Penelope.

In this volume, Scratch has snuck himself into Penelope’s suitcase as she’s off to Camp Robo.  Penny is really smart and good with programming and robots, so this should be right up her alley – except that it turns out to be an elaborate trap set up by none other than Dr. Schrödinger. (Cue the scary music.)  This time he has even more on his side – bigger computers, smart robots, and Strick, a cat much like Scratch who is out to make Dr. Schrödinger’s evil dreams come true.  Scratch is blasted to the time of one of his other selves, and must make it through to all of his other lives, collecting the powerful 9-stones on the way, before he can get back to Penelope and stop Dr. S.  Penny, though, far from waiting helplessly for Scratch to come back for her, is doing everything she can to turn Dr. Schrödinger’s robots against him and lead the way for Scratch to get back to her.

This is still a super-fun adventure series with broad appeal.  The complication comes mostly from the time-travel, but even that is pretty straightforward.  Mostly this is just fun with a big helping of pet friendship and loyalty, as Scratch and Penelope overcome all obstacles to get back together.  The art is a classic crisp and clear cartoon style, full of energy and in full color.  Buy it now – or ask your library to buy it now – as I’m afraid it will go out of print as quickly as its predecessor.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The Fog Diver

A futuristic steampunky, piratical middle grade adventure?  Give it to me now! This is one I’d been looking forward to ever since Charlotte wrote about it, and was very happy to see it nominated for the Cybils.

The Fog Diver by Joel Ross. Harper, 2015.
In a far future, most of the Earth has been taken over by the Fog, composed of deadly nanites that turned against humans.  Now humans live high up on mountains – the richer, the higher up.  13-year-old Chess is one of a crew of young scavengers who make their living flying over the fog on patched-together airships, while Chess dives down through the fog looking for valuables left over from the old civilization to sell.

The ship’s crew is made up of other orphans like himself, headed by 15-year Hazel, described and shown on the cover as Black.  Big strong Swedish provides the muscle, while tiny, red-headed Bea is both the ship’s gearslinger and the darling of the crew. Chess has one eye that seems to be filled with the swirling fog, which his crew thinks is why he’s never come down with the fog sickness that everyone else gets if they spend too long near the ground.  Miss E., the adult who brought the crew of orphans together, is now badly sick with it, and the kids are determined to find enough to save her and for all of them to make it out of the junkyard.

Chess is on his way up from a particularly valuable find when their ship is attacked by adult pirates from a rival settlement.  Even though it’s the one they’re hoping to emigrate to, the ship’s captains don’t look on them kindly. Things go from bad to worse as they learn that the evil Lord Kodoc, ruler of their settlement, is looking for a child Chess’s age with a cloudy eye.  Can they escape? Will they be able to save Miss E.?

The basic plot is straightforward enough – kid with special ability trying to get away from the bad guy who wants to misuse it – but the result is fresh and so much fun.  The world is novel, with recognizable bits of our own culture warped so that they no longer make sense, like the talking cats called Hello Kitties.  Most of all, the ensemble cast is a perfect found family, each member contributing to the whole and supporting the rest with a believable amount of tension.  Ross fits in an impressive amount of character development given how much time characters spend treasure-hunting and escaping enemies.  With the nice blend of gears, humor, adventure and likeable characters, it felt as if it was custom-written for my son and I to enjoy together.  I haven’t read it to him yet, but read it in less than a day myself.  This would be a great choice for any adventure-loving kid.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


I confess, I have yet to read the classic Gulliver’s Tale, but I read and reread T.H. White’s take on it, Mistress Masham’s Repose, in childhood. Naturally I had to read this more recent take on Lilliputians.

LilliputLilliput by Sam Gayton, Alice Ratteree. Peachtree, 2015.
Lily is a young girl from Lilliput – about 11 months old, which translates to 11 human years. She’s tiny to humans, while humans are giant to her.  In this timeline, Gulliver has already published his famous book, but as the Lilliputian livestock he brought back all died off, everyone just thinks he’s crazy.  In desperation, he journeyed back to Lilliput and captured Lilly to prove the existence of Lilliput to everyone.

Now Lily’s life consists of one escape attempt after another.  Not only is she horrified at the idea of living her life on display, but she also knows that if people believed Gulliver, Lilliput itself would be overrun by humans and all of the Lilliputians would be driven to extinction.  Gulliver is not in fact quite sane anymore, but he is quite determined, and Lily’s multiple escape attempts have been met with increasingly harsh punishments, such as being put inside a stinky, itchy, flea-ridden wool sock hanging from the wall.  33 failed escape attempts, and Lily, with time running out as she ages so much more quickly than Gulliver, is still scheming.

Then, finally, a note she attached to a mouse is found by Finn, the abused servant boy downstairs. His master Mr. Plinker, is a cruelly inventive clockmaker, who makes clocks to tell time not accurately but as their designers wish – longer work hours and shorter play hours for workhouses, for example.  Finn himself is held captive by a wristwatch that digs ever more tightly into his wrist with every second he spends on something other than work.  Neither of them can escape alone, but together, they just might manage it.

Lily is just that kind of dauntless and plucky character that I couldn’t help but root for. This is one with appeal for almost everyone, the strong characters balancing the quick-moving plot. Alice Ratteree’s illustrations bring the coal- and clockwork-powered London to life. There were a few complaints from Amazon reviewers on the harshness of Gulliver’s fate, but I didn’t notice at the time and I am not sure that children would be bothered by the “bad guy” meeting a bad fate.  At any rate, this is one that both my mother and I heartily enjoyed (she liked it enough to nominate it for the Cybils herself).  It was short and fast enough for both of us to make it through in a day, which makes it also a good choice for slower readers or fantasy book assignments.

This book is nominated for the Cybils. This is my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.

Posted in Books | Tagged | 2 Comments

Guest Post: Cheryl Mahoney on The People the Fairies Forget

I have enjoyed the two previous books in my blogging friend Cheryl Mahoney’s Beyond the Tales series, The Wanderers and The Storyteller and Her Sisters.  This is part of the blog tour for her latest book, which I am very much looking forward to reading when I’m done with my Cybils reading.  In the meantime, I’m very pleased to have her here today with a guest post on the inspirations behind her new book. I’ll also second the recommendations for all of the books she talks about here – I have read them all myself, most of them more than once!

PFF Cover - SmallThe People the Fairies Forget 

Tarragon isn’t your typical fairy. He scoffs at gossamer wings and he never, ever sparkles. Plus, he’s much more interested in common folk than in anyone wearing a crown. All he wants to do is enjoy good food and good parties, but he can’t quite resist sparring with Marjoram, a typical Good Fairy if there ever was one. Against his better judgment, Tarry becomes the reluctant defender of the ordinary people Marj is trampling underfoot in her efforts to help the royalty.

That includes people like Jack, a goatherd stuck on the opposite side of a mass of thorns from his true love Emmy, a maid in Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Or Catherine, who has no desire to marry a very un-charming prince just because her shoe size matches some girl he danced with. Or Anthony, whose youngest sister Beauty got involved with a great and terrible Beast.

Tarry has to set down his supper, brush up on his magic and his arguments, and try for once to wrangle some kind of Happily Ever After out of the mess.

Cheryl Mahoney writes:

The inspiration behind The People the Fairies Forget is a very big question—because it’s really asking about the inspiration for the entire Beyond the Tales series.  Even though this is the third book to be published, I actually wrote this draft first.  So when I started it, I was still figuring out exactly what kind of retellings I wanted to do, and what fairy tale sources I wanted to draw from.

I began by going back to the classic versions: the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault especially.  Neither of them wrote “Beauty and the Beast” though, which brought me to the story by Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont.  I enjoyed reading those stories with an eye towards retelling—exploring the stranger aspects, and noticing just how villainous the Good Fairies could actually be!

When I set out to twist the tales, I wanted to twist elements readers would recognize, so I wanted to draw from a sort of broad cultural concept of the stories.  Not everyone will be influenced by the same version of Cinderella, of course, but as much as I could, I wanted to get the most widely-known aspects of the story…which brought me to the Disney movies.  For better or worse, those are probably the best-known versions!  They draw a lot from the same classics I was looking at, and were helpful as source material too for their own particular twists on the stories.

I’ve also read many other fairy tale retellings, and there are a handful that I especially consider to be literary ancestors of my own book.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine is a favorite Cinderella retelling.  Levine has a wonderful way of telling a fairy tale that has plenty of magic but still feels set in a very real world, with believable people who have ordinary problems.  Ella is cursed to be obedient, which causes her problems from eating too much to always losing races to not being able to run away from ogres.  I always try to make my own characters as real as possible, dealing with the problems that would logically follow from the ridiculous fairy tale situations—like what it would really mean for a community if an entire castle, not just a princess, was put to sleep.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede has some of the same practical bent, as when Princess Cimorene needs to cook dessert for five dragons (not enough time for cherries jubilee, so she makes chocolate mousse).  Wrede also does wonderfully funny things at times with fairy tale tropes, creating characters that are either extreme versions of fairy tale types, or extreme contrasts.  My Prince Roderick is the picture of the proper handsome fairy tale prince.  He has no idea how to handle it when confronted with Catherine, who accidentally fit into the glass slipper but is not remotely like sweet and helpless Ella.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde is a short story collection, with six (very different) versions of Rumpelstiltskin. My favorite part of the book, though, is the introduction, as she explores all the ways the original story really didn’t make much sense.  Similarly, I like to expand the stories to explain why people are going about doing such odd things—like trying to find a bride by trying a shoe on every girl in town.  Prince Roderick is a very handsome prince, but also hopelessly self-absorbed, so he doesn’t know anything about this girl he’s trying to find—and never manages to remember anyone’s name.

Beauty and Rose-Daughter by Robin McKinley both retell “Beauty and the Beast,” although in very different versions.  Both highlight Beauty’s family (larger than Disney would have you believe), which also became a big part of my version; Beauty herself only has a small role in my book, with much more focus on her three brothers.  McKinley is also a wonderful inspiration simply for how different she made two versions (three, if you count Chalice) of the same story.  It really shows how well these stories can be told, and stay interesting many, many times…as long as you have something new to do with them!

I hope readers will enjoy my new take on these stories…and recognize the twists on the stories that came before.

You can purchase The People the Fairies Forget here: Paperback, Kindle and Smashwords

Cheryl Mahoney is a book blogger at Tales of the Marvelous, and the author of three books based on fairy tales. The Wanderers, published in 2013, follows the journeys of a wandering adventurer, a talking cat and a witch’s daughter.  The Storyteller and Her Sisters, retells “The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces,” with twelve trapped princesses who decided to take control of their story. Her latest novel is The People the Fairies Forget.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible

Can you resist an invincible hamster princess? I certainly couldn’t, and was quite relieved to find this just as much fun as it looked.

Harriet the InvincibleHamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015
Here is a twist on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale perfect for middle and upper elementary students, and younger for read-alouds.  Princess Harriet (yes, she is a hamster) is thrilled when her parents tell her that an early encounter with an evil fairy has doomed her to prick her finger on a hamster wheel and fall asleep on her twelfth birthday.  She’s always had trouble being the quiet, indoor type of princess and this means she’s invincible – she can do anything she wants!  Much to her parents’ disapproval – they would much rather she stayed home and work on finding the right prince to kiss her awake after the fact – she sets out on a life of adventure and monster-battling on her faithful quail steed.

Like Vernon’s popular Dragonbreath series, the story alternates prose storytelling with comic book panels, often for the action scenes.  Vernon makes this style work very well, and it’s a great choice, especially for reluctant readers who are intimidated by large blocks of text.  The story is fun for everyone, though.  Vernon looks at the stereotypes as she’s upending them, so that even as we’re sympathetic towards Harriet’s reluctance to take romance seriously at her young age and cheering for her on her adventures – Harriet also has some lessons to learn about her unthinking targeting of creatures she considers monsters.  There’s a whole lot of fun and, yes, adventure with a very likeable new heroine and her brave yet adorable quail. Ms. Yingling had mentioned that the hamsters are not quite as expressive as the reptiles in the Dragonbreath books.  Unfortunately, I have to agree with her.  I did have some trouble telling some of the characters and expressions apart, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the book.  And it’s certainly not keeping this from flying off the shelves at my library.

Official disclaimer – this book is nominated for the Cybils award, but this is my personal opinion on the book, not the opinion of the Cybils committee.

Posted in Books | Tagged | Leave a comment