Author Interview: Cheryl Mahoney on The Lioness and the Spellspinners

My blogging friend Cheryl Mahoney over at Tales of the Marvelous has been writing a delightful fairy tale-inspired series for young adults since 2013.  I’m very pleased to have her back on my blog as part of the tour for her fourth book, The Lioness and the Spellspinners, which came out October 14.  I’m interviewing her today and will review this book as soon as I finish reading it!

lioness-cover-small Continue reading

Posted in Books | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

4 Mostly Fantasy Children’s Classics

Here are four classic children’s books that I explored recently – the first two on audio with my children.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMHMrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien. Narrated by Barbara Caruso.  Print Atheneum, 1971. Audio Recorded Books, 1993.
I read and reread this book as a child, and Stephanie at Views from the Tesseract has mentioned it more than once as a rare fantasy book where a mother plays an active role.  Mrs. Frisby, a mouse, is a widowed mother of four.  When her youngest, Timothy, gets too sick to move from their winter home in a farmer’s field, she is willing to do anything to save him.  Her own kindly nature helps her, as she saves young Jeremy the crow from their mutual enemy, the cat who killed her husband.  Through him, she meets first the wise owl of the forest and then the mysterious Rats of NIMH. While Mrs. Frisby is herself courageous and daring, the book shows its age somewhat in the second half of the book, where all of the active rat characters both in the present and in the history that Mrs. Frisby hears are males.  The story is still an exciting one, and Barbara Caruso’s slightly old-fashioned narration fits it perfectly.

BFGThe BFG by Roald Dahl. Read by David Williams. Penguin Audio, 2013. (Print Jonathan Cape, 1982.)
This was me playing classics catch-up – though I owned and read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a child, I’ve read very little other Dahl.  My then six-year-old was very proud to be the only one of us already familiar with this book.  Our heroine here is orphaned, bespectacled Sophie (see the great list on Speculating on Spectacles again at Views from the Tesseract ). For anyone else under the rock with me, Sophie meets the Big Friendly Giant one night, journeys with him to giant land, and eventually plans with him a way to stop the nine other child-eating giants who live in giant land with him forever.  The plot, though, might be secondary to the sheer fun of exploring another one of Dahl’s fantastic worlds, this one filled with bottled dreams which the BFG mixes to delight children.  There is a short moment of sexism where he says that boys wouldn’t like girl dreams, but overall, the book is great fun.  David Williams narrates beautifully, and the production is enhanced with sound effects.

Misstress Masham's Repose by T.H. WhiteMistress Masham’s Repose by T.H. White. NYRB Kids, 2016. Originally published 1946.
This book and the next one were sent to me for review purposes by the New York Review of Books Children’s Collection, which is issuing new, brightly colored paperback editions of some of their favorites.  Mistress Masham’s Repose was again a childhood favorite.  It’s a delightful mix of language, action and ethics.  Orphaned Maria lives on a crumbling British estate, cared for by a cruel governess and vicar, Miss Brown and Mr. Hater, but helped by the Faithful Cook and the absent-minded Professor who comes to tutor her.  When she discovers a colony of Lilliputians on a small island on the estate, she must first find out how to treat them ethically herself, and then save both them and herself from the vicar and her governess.  It’s especially funny if you take time to read through everything – things like the manor having 365 ¼ rooms, the names of the hallways, or nearby towns called Monk’s Unmentionable Cum-Mumble.  I know I missed some of that humor as a child – but this could make a great family read-aloud, with an adult nearby to explain some of the more obscure humor.  (There were a couple of metaphors involving Native Americans which I’d consider mildly inappropriate these days, but it was overall much better in terms of racism and gender roles than one might expect of a book of its age.) I enjoyed it, if possible, even more than I did as a child.

episode_of_sparrowsAn Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden. NYRB Kids, 2016. Originally published 1955.
This was the second book which the NYRB sent me for review, one with which I was previously unfamiliar.  It’s the only realistic fiction of this group, set in post-World War II London, where the struggling neighborhood of Catford Street meets up against an upper-class courtyard desperately trying to preserve their territory separate from the lower classes nearby.  The opening was rather difficult, told from the point of view of middle-aged Olivia, unhappy with her life, in pain, not standing up to her sister.  It also didn’t keep a steady flow of time going, so that it was hard for me to tell what was happening when.  This difficulty cleared up as the story shifts to watching the children who are causing a ruckus in the courtyard and the story of how and why 10-year-old Lovejoy Mason convinced 12-year-old Tip Malone and 5-year-old Sparkey to steal earth from the courtyard.  Lovejoy is an angry, neglected girl, who like Mary Lennox some 50 years earlier, finds meaning and redemption in creating a forbidden garden. That’s putting it very simply – there is a whole lot going on.  (It says early on that people of all colors live in Catford Street, but the most colorful we see close up are Tip’s Irish Catholic family.)  Though it’s a good story, I’m still not sure after finishing it if it is a story for children, or a story about children for adults, and my library keeps a copy in both places.  I also didn’t agree that the ending was happy, though it was presented as such. I’d definitely recommend it to adult fans of British children’s literature, and perhaps to children who enjoy challenging themselves.  Both of these editions look sturdily bound and make one appreciate the feel of a physical book in the hand.

More of my favorite classics are in my Top 10 Classics for Kids list.  What are some of yours?

Posted in Books, reviews | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Nominate these Audiobooks for Cybils!

The Cybils Nominations are now open!   And while I’m still pondering what I want to nominate in most of the categories, I’m noticing that the brand-new audiobooks category needs some love.  I need lots more books to listen to, friends!  I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time going through my library catalog, Overdrive, and Hoopla to find eligible middle grade titles.  (I left out a lot of later books in long series, though these are also eligible.) Have you listened to and loved any of these?  Or have time to listen to something that looks intriguing before October 15?  Take a look at the list below, or let me know what I’ve missed!  Cybils 2016

Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larson

Extra Yard by Mike Lupica

Fast Break by Mike Lupia

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

Jacky Ha-Ha by James Patterson

Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki

Jubilee by Patricia Reilly Giff

Last Man Out by Mike Lupica

Lost Heir by Tui T. Sutherland

Making Friends with Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood

Moo by Sharon Creech

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein

Red by Liesl Shurtliff

School Ship Tobermory by Alexander McCall Smith

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhardt

Spring According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney

Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman

Trilogy of Two by Juman Malouf

True and Nelle by G. Neri


Posted in Books | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

September Diversity on the Shelf Update

I am participating in the Diversity on the Shelf Challenge hosted by Akilah at The Englishist. 

Books by Authors of Color

  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi (YA)
  • Lola Levine is Not Mean! By Monica Brown (Early Chapter)
  • President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston (Middle Grade)
  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Adieh (YA)
  • Brand-new School, Brave New Ruby by Derrick Barnes (Early Chapter)


White authors, main characters of color:


  • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Adult)


Bonus: diverse team:


The Lost Compass by Joel Ross (Middle Grade)

So far, I’m at 24 books by white authors with main characters of color and 41 books by authors of color so far this year – a little behind to meet my goal of 60 by the end of the year.  I had enough books to meet this month’s catch-up goal at home, and just didn’t make it through them all in time!  New goal: diverse middle grade audiobooks, for an upcoming post on audiobooks that could be nominated for a Cybils award !  (link to category description.)

Posted in Books, Challenges | Tagged , | Leave a comment

4 Adorable Picture Books

Now that my youngest is in second grade, I’m often told that she’s too old for picture books.  That doesn’t stop me from bringing them home – I firmly believe in the magic of a good picture book to capture people of all ages.

nobodylikesagoblinNobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke. First Second, 2016.
You might have noticed that I really like Ben Hatke’s work.  This picture book is about a small green goblin whose best friend is a skeleton.  The poor goblin is forced out of his home when a band of treasure-seeking adventurers arrives and drives him out.  It’s clear how very unpopular goblins are when he’s chased all over the countryside before finding his own place.  The cartoon-style drawings, ink filled with watercolors, show the goblin in such a sympathetic light that readers will root for him all the way.  This could be great for introducing younger kids to the idea of prejudice – goblin hadn’t done anything but be a goblin to offend people.  It’s also a fun, satisfying story, especially fun for fantasy-loving adults.  We gave it to our 4-year-old nephew, and there’s enough detail in the pictures to keep his 6-year-old brother entertained through multiple readings as well.  Continue reading

Posted in Books, reviews | Tagged | 2 Comments

Sorcerer to the Crown and Shades of Milk and Honey

Cybils 2016First – hooray, I was selected to be on a Cybils panel again this year!  After two years of doing Round 1 Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, this year I’ll be doing the Cybils Round 1 Audiobooks – click through to see the other judges!  This is the first year the Cybils have had an audiobook category, and I’m very excited be helping out with it! Start thinking of your favorite middle grade audiobooks published between October 16 2015 and October 15 2016 – nominations will open October 1!

Here are two very different takes on magic in Regency England.  Both are published for adults, though in keeping with the period, neither has anything that would make it inappropriate for middle or high school students.

sorcerertothecrownSorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. ACE, 2015.
The story opens from the point of view of Zacharias Wythe, the youngest man ever to be Britain’s Sorcerer Royal.  He’s also the first Black man in such a position – adopted, manumitted, and raised by Sir Stephen Wythe, the previous Sorcerer Royal, whose ghost still advises Zacharias.  But while Sir Stephen and his wife were always supportive of Zacharias, the other sorcerers of England are largely horrified.  Zacharias is trying to find out why the magic in England has been diminishing to a point where hardly any sorcerers can still work magic.  This, naturally, is becoming a concern of national security.  Continue reading

Posted in Books, reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Recently, Maureen at By Singing Light had a post called Not the Chosen One.  This is one of the books she talked about, which I just happen to have finished recently. It’s also one I considered putting on my Top 10 Audiobooks, except that I’ve only listened to it once so far.

restofusjustlivehereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. Performed by James Fouhey. Blackstone Audio/ Harper, 2015.
Mikey is about to finish his senior year of high school, and he and his circle of friends are all hoping that things will go OK.  He’ll (hopefully) be graduating with his older sister Mel, and his friends Henna and Jared.  It all seems like a perfectly ordinary kind of set-up with a cast nicely sprinkled with mental and physical diversity – Mel is recovering from eating disorders, Henna is half Finnish, half African-American, Jared is overweight and gay, Mikey struggles with anxiety and OCD.  All of them have parents who are incompetent in various ways.  Mikey’s long-term silent crush on Henna is disturbed by the arrival of a handsome new boy to whom Henna is instantly attracted.  But Jared is also part divine, a minor cat god who’s followed by cats wherever he goes.  He even more than the others works hard to avoid becoming an Indie Kid, and they all know their hopes of a calm senior year are doomed when they see a column of blue light coming from the woods by their school and one of the Indie Kids runs past.

Because the Indie Kids are the ones things happen to.  What happens depends on the year – beautiful vampires, ghosts, or the Indie Kids dying beautifully of cancer.  (Those who follow trends in teen entertainment will recognize many of these.) Some things, though, stay the same.  The Indie Kids will usually save the day, some of them will die, some regular kids might get caught up in it, the high school will likely be destroyed in the big final battle.  And the adults will not notice anything unusual happening.

In a delightful twist, the chapter headings tell the story of what’s happening to the Indie Kids, while the main story continues with Mikey’s point of view, trying desperately to keep out of things, stay sane, keep the people he loves safe, and find the courage to ask Henna to the prom.  His voice is both snarky and serious and a delight to listen to.  Narrator James Fouhey does a great job transitioning between epic movie announcer voice for the chapter descriptions and Mikey’s not-quite-settled into his adult voice.  My love and I both very much enjoyed the audiobook.  Recommended for fans of Buffy, snark, and subversive storytelling.

Posted in Books, reviews | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Top 10 Audiobooks for Top 10 Tuesday

As my regular readers know, I always have at least one audiobook going for each member of the family.  I had to accept the challenge to come up with 10 favorites for Top 10 Tuesday, hosted as always by the bold readers at the Broke and the Bookish.  It’s rare for me to relisten to books now that I have so many waiting, so these are ones I’ve found myself going back to.

Top Ten Tuesday

Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer. Read by Katherine Kellgren. – This is the story of a London orphan who decided her future would be better if she dressed as a boy and joined the navy.  It’s the series that really turned me on to Katherine Kellgren as a narrator – her accents are impeccable, her enthusiasm contagious, and her singing spot-on.   Decidedly raunchy in spots, it’s for teens and up.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale. Full Cast Audio.  – A dreamy fairy tale retelling with a fantasy Mongolian setting.

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. Read by James Avery. – It may be the Depression, but Bud is irrepressible, and he captivated everyone in the family.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell.  Read by Euan Morton – it’s like Harry Potter, but not.  I listened to it twice in a row.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Read by Jim Dale. – I have lost track of how many times I’ve listened to these – they are comfort listening for sure.

Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefvater. Read by Will Patton. 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Read by Wil Wheaton. – this virtual reality adventure is a favorite of my husband’s, and my middle school son’s teacher says that it’s a hit with her students, too, though it’s published for adults.

True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. Read by Bahni Turpin. – A story of aliens invading, as experienced by a whip-smart girl – this comes up on a lot of my lists because it’s hard to match the levels of humor and depth of thought here.

Wee Free Men and the rest of the Tiffany Aching series by Sir Terry Pratchett, read by Stephen Briggs. – I was saying depth and humor?  Sir Terry is the master of this.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Read by Janet Song.  – Back to poetry, an epic quest mixed with folk tales in a jewel-like story.  You’ll want the print edition on hand, too, for the illustrations.

Honorable mention: the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld is the one my son turns to any time I’ve left him without a back-up audio book.  I may have listened to it more than once myself.

What are your favorites?

Posted in Books, lists | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Inside Out & Back Again

There’s been a lot of buzz about Thanhha Lai’s beautiful novels-in-verse, which I finally got around to reading.

insideoutandbackagainInside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai. Harper, 2011.
It’s the middle of the Vietnam War.  10-year-old Hà lives with her mother and four older brothers in beautiful Saigon, where the tree in their back yard grows delicious papaya.  Hà’s father, a soldier, has not been heard from in some time.  But when Saigon falls, they must escape, taking only what they can carry, even knowing that he might come to their house looking for them and not be able to find them.  The boat ride to America is crowded, stinky, and hungry.  They find that they must say they are Christians to find a sponsor and be allowed to stay.  Once they try to settle in near their host family, things are still difficult – there is plenty of bullying and misunderstanding, both between Hà and her new classmates, and among the family as they all find different ways to fit in.  It’s based on the author’s own experience as a child, told in lyrical poems that describe the small details but convey the big picture all the more effectively.

Is the Vietnam War taught in schools these days?  I remember commenting on how little was said about it in my own high school days.  While the United States may not have reached the consensus on it that makes for easy inclusion in textbooks, this is a really important period of history.  Lai’s story bypasses the politics from the American side, focusing instead on her very personal story with its rare and valuable perspective.  And for all that it is her own story, the experience of leaving home, of missing loved ones, and struggling to fit into a new place is one that will resonate with readers.  Because the content is somewhat difficult, I’d recommend it for upper elementary kids and up.

Posted in Books, reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

I first became acquainted with Calpurnia Tate back in 2009 with The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, which it looks like I never reviewed.  Nevertheless, I was eager to read more about her.

curiousworldofcalpurniatateThe Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. Read by Natalie Ross. Macmillan, 2015.
It is 1900 in rural Texas.  As the story opens, 13-year-old budding naturalist Calpurnia and her grandfather spot a sign that points surely to horrible weather in coastal Galveston, Texas.  Unfortunately, no one believes their warning.  The (very real) hurricane is devastating. In its wake, Calpurnia is forced to share her bedroom with her teenaged cousin Aggie, who has very different priorities as well as a treasured Underwood typewriter.  As Calpurnia gets older, her family’s demands that she try to be more ladylike only increase, as she begins a campaign to be allowed to attend college.  Life surrounded by brothers continues, as she tries to keep her favorite younger brother Travis from getting into trouble with all the stray animals he attracts, and plots revenge against her mean, misogynistic older brother.  She also continues her nature studies with her grandfather, undertaking increasingly complicated dissections, and takes a job assisting the new vet in town, who fled Galveston with Cousin Aggie.

So often, historical fiction can focus on just one aspect of the history at the time – women’s issues OR race relations OR a particular event.  One of the things I love about these books – besides Calpurnia’s stubborn personality – is how many different things come together.  We see lots about society’s expectations for women and girls, as well as the scientific thinking of the day and how it conflicts or doesn’t with religious thinking.  It’s 1900, but the Civil War lives on in memory and objects. Race relations aren’t something Calpurnia gives a great deal of thought to, but her interactions with their African-American cook (a force to be reckoned with) and Cousin’s Aggie’s very low opinion of the vet from Galveston, who is Jewish, are clearly on display.   Even though the issues are heavy, Calpurnia’s strong sense of self and her passion for science and nature keep this from being a depressing book, and the focus on science and animals rather than clothes keep this from feeling like a girls-only book.  She remains a great character to introduce kids to the many things going on in this time period, as well as being fascinating reading for historical fiction fans.

Watch for more middle grade historical fiction coming on Friday this week!

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