Apologies for the silence, friends. My daughter just spent the week in the hospital – something that goes along with being a transplant recipient. Fortunately, her liver was not affected and the doctors think she’s on the mend. Also, a very happy birthday to my son, celebrating his first decade.
Here, for your enjoyment, are three Cybils nominees. Often, I’m looking for fast-paced action in immersive fantasy worlds for my son, but recently had a friend looking for gentle books for her advanced youngerreader. Here are three small-town contemporary fantasy stories that won’t shock sensitive readers, as long as they’re not too bothered by parents dying before the start of the book.
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. Scholastic Press, 2014.
Mama, Felicity and Frannie Jo Pickle have wandered from place to place in their old van, the Pickle Jalapeño, for almost as long as Felicity can remember. Now they’re coming back to Midnight Gulch, the small southern town where Mama grew up. Mama seems to think they won’t be staying with Aunt Cleo for long, but Felicity is longing for a place to call home. Now, she and her new friend Jonah try to find out the secrets from the past that took away Midnight Gulch’s magic. Felicity herself is a word collector – she sees fancy colored words floating around people, and writes them down to save them. The words she sees around the quirky residents of Midnight Gulch tell her that magic is not as lost as everyone thinks…
This is a gentle, funny and super-sweet story perfect for word lovers and fans of small-town Southern stories.
Dreamer, Wisher, Liar by Charise Mericle Harper. Balzer and Bray, 2014.
Ashley is heartbroken – her best friend Lucy is about to move to a different state. They were supposed to spend the last month in camp together, but now Ashley’s mother has volunteered her to take care of seven-year-old Claire for three weeks instead, followed by only one week at camp with Lucy. Poking through their over-crowded basement, Ashley finds a jar labeled “Wishes” and filled with tiny scraps of paper. When she reads the wishes, she finds herself whisked back in time, witnessing events from a long-ago summer of two girls about her age – Shue and Ash. Unlike the Magic Tree House, though, Ashley can’t interact with the friends, and she seems to be present but checked out in her own world. But while Ashley would like to spend all her time writing Lucy and exploring the wish jar, Claire has her own list of things she wants to do over the summer, including helping at the local old folks’ home and travelling to Hawaii. Ashley has face blindness, and normally doesn’t talk to people without Lucy telling her who she’s friends with, but without Lucy, she finds herself making new friends, including the owner of the nearby Value Send store and a boy from her class, Sam, whom she and Claire run into at the nursing home.
This is a lovely, nuanced story with lots of well-rounded characters. Girls who enjoy reading about other girls building friendships and gaining self-confidence will enjoy it best.
School of Charm by Lisa Ann Scott. Harper Collins Children’s, 2014.
It’s 1977, and Chip – more formally known as Brenda – and her family are moving in with Chip’s grandmother in Georgia following the death of her father. Both her mother and grandmother were beauty queens, and grandmother immediately gets excited about Chip’s teenaged sister Charlene following in their footsteps. Chip is more of an outdoor tomboy type herself, but without her father and her best friend Billy, she feels left out of the family. While exploring around the property, she finds an overgrown sign that says it’s for a School of Charm. Laid-back Miss Vernie is much more Chip’s style, giving Chip and the other two unlikely beauty pageant girls at the school, overweight Karen and African-American Dana lessons in gardening and being true themselves. The possible magic comes into the story as Miss Vernie gives all the girls charm bracelets, telling them that each charm will fall off as they learn important lessons about themselves. Whether it’s magic or positive thinking, Chip gets to be more comfortable with herself and her family the more time she spends at Miss Vernie’s.