Here’s one of the books I was very excited to see coming out this year, from the author of Jinx. I was even more excited to see a galley in my kids’ school’s March is Reading month temporary Little Free Library, though my library also has it on order. And I might need to buy my own copy, too.
Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood. Katherine Tegen Books, 2017.
Chantel (pronounced shahn-TELL, not CHANtl) has grown up at Miss Ellicott’s school, which is populated by Surplus Females with Magical Ability. There are a lot of surplus females in their little walled kingdom of Lightning Pass, and those lucky enough to be at Miss Ellicott’s are taught reading and magic as well as deportment:
“The fact was, Chantel did not like to deport… Good deportment… meant being shamefast and biddable.”
Chantel is anything but shamefast and biddable. She has a Look and a snake for a familiar, and even Miss Ellicott telling her that she is the Chosen One (while mispronouncing her name) doesn’t make Chantel any more willing to give up thinking for herself. In a twist on the trope of describing darker-skinned characters using food words that made me laugh out loud, Chantel is described as having brown skin, while her best friend Anna has “skin the color of raw chicken.” Also included in their initial group is Bowser the pot boy, even though it’s generally agreed that boys are not magical.
The status quo is abruptly upturned when Miss Ellicott disappears. Further search by our heroes reveals that all of the Sorceresses who keep Lightning Pass safe are missing. The Patriarchs who are in charge of the Sorceresses are mostly incapable of hearing girls talk, asking Bowser to repeat whatever Chantel tries to say.
Then things get very much more exciting. I will not get too much into the details in the interests of avoiding spoilers. But I will say that there are chases, battles, a Marauder boy from outside the walls who insists that he is a Sunbiter, and most wonderful dragon. Chantel never does learn to be either shamefast or biddable, but she does learn to use deportment as a weapon, as well as being put in some quite tricky situations regarding figuring out what the Right Thing to Do might be.
The only criticism came from my mother, who wished that the magical protections from the outside world had been called something more mystical sounding than the Buttons. I myself am trying and failing to find anything that I didn’t like about it and look forward to reading it again.
Chantel is a much younger character than Princess Cimorene, but their mutual disregard for convention and friendliness towards dragons is calling Dealing with Dragons by Patricia Wrede to mind, while A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Lawrence Yep has a dragon’s point of view on a girl-and-dragon friendship for younger readers.
Oh! I had seen this cover and title but somehow the fact that it was Sage Blackwood totally escaped me. Now I’m excited to read it! (Also, it sounds just a little bit like Sorcerer to the Crown—at least, Chantel sounds a bit like Prunella.)
She’s like Prunella in not being willing to play by other people’s rules, but race is a huge issue in that book, where it seems more incidental here. Gender and class are the big obstacles.
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