And now for some Cybils listening, in hopes of catching you up to the many great books I’ve been listening to.
The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz. Read by the author and a full cast. Features Medieval Music performed by Benjamin Bagby of Sequentia. Listening Library, 2016.
Travelers meeting at an inn share stories with an unnamed narrator, who wants to know why it is that King Louis of France has declared war on three children and their dog. Every one of the guest at the inn has some connection to at least one of the children – Jeanne, a peasant girl who sees visions of future; William, an enormous part-Moorish novice monk with super strength; and Jacob, a small Jewish boy with the gift of healing. Also Gwynfort, a magical greyhound. Many of the guests are convinced the children, and perhaps even the dog, are saints. Either that or possessed by demons.
It’s set in the 13th century, with multiple narrators, yet the characters of the children (and the narrators) come through loud and clear. Even the king isn’t given the simple black-and-white treatment he could have been. The tale is full of gore and humor and plenty of slapstick action despite the kingdom-level forces arrayed against them. The thirteenth century is one of which I’m particularly fond, and this book does a wonderful job illustrating the glory and prejudice of that time, so different and yet not different from our own. The multiple narrators keep the setting vivid, though the illustrations I peeked at in the print version are great, too, so take your pick there. This was so fabulous I nominated it for the Cybils before I even finished it, in case I didn’t finish it before the deadline.
Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters by Margaret Dilloway. Read by Chris Patton. Dreamscape Media, 2016.
Xander Miyamoto has never taken much notice of the Japanese legends his father researches. He’s more into trying to stay out of the way of a teacher who has it in for him, playing video games with his best friend Peyton, and wondering why his mother left him four years ago. Then, that climate change he was ignoring in class hits hard – there’s water all around his house and his father has vanished. It turns out that Xander is a Momotaro, the Peach Boy hero of Japanese legend. The oni monsters have taken his father, and it’s up to Xander, Peyton, and Xander’s dog to rescue him. Is a comic book story that Xander doesn’t remember drawing really enough of a guide to the Island of Monsters? And is being only half Japanese weakness or strength?
The comparisons to Percy Jackson here are easy and apt – the story is full of action and humor in a story that feels like an authentic companion to Rick Riordan’s books. In addition to being a very welcome mixed-race hero, Xander struggles at school, where he is labelled as AD/HD. Chris Patton reads in a voice that brings out the rollercoaster plot – maybe a little too dramatic for me, but I bet I know quite a few adventure-loving kids who would eat it up.