Here are some short takes catching up on my reading during Cybils season.
The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones. Greenwillow Books 2001, 1980.
This is a relatively stand-alone volume in the Chrestomanci series, in which he appears (as my good friend Dr. M. says) as Deus ex machina in the middle of the book. You’ll have more background on Chrestomanci if you’ve read some of his earlier adventures, such as The Lives of Christopher Chant, but it’s not essential.
The city of Caprona has always been helped by two magical families, the Montanas and the Petrocchis, both of whom believe the other to be despicable. The weakening of magic must be because of the other family’s misuse of magic, though everyone is searching for the original words that go to the tune given to them by the Angel of Caprona – the most powerful magic of all. Young Tonino Montana is embarrassed by how little of the family talent he has – he can’t do any magic at all, although he is able to talk to the family cats. It isn’t surprising that two young Montana boys are find themselves in situations where they need to work with similarly aged Petrocchi girls. But these are mixed Jones’s trademark humor and a number of highly unexpected twists – involving Punch and Judy puppet shows, of all things – as once again, the children must save the day when the adults fail to grasp the depth of the problem. I read this aloud to my son (pushing my narration skills by trying desperately for a not-cartoonish Italian accent), before continuing on to more DWJ.
The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner. Bloomsbury, 2016.
A book that made some waves around censorship last year as it covers some sensitive but important issues. Charlie Brennan is terrified of ice fishing, but willing to try to earn enough money to buy herself a really beautiful Irish dancing dress for her first feis. When she catches a fish with emerald eyes, it’s willing to grant her a wish – but it proves harder than she realizes at first to make a wish that will really do what she wants. When she hopes that handsome Roberto Sullivan will return her crush, for example, she instead finds geeky Robert O’Sullivan following her around. All the normal she’s hanging on to comes crashing down as it turns out that her beautiful older sister Abby, newly gone to college, has an addiction problem. The family’s journey to recovery is moving, not preachy, and blended with the rest of Abby’s life, including her friendship with Dasha, a recent immigrant still learning English. I feel like the drug use in particular – is an issue that parents want very desperately to pretend will never happen if it’s not talked about and that kids want and need to know about in case it does. And I’d rather have a discussion over a sensitively written book like this than be blindsided by needing to explain it from real life. So while I won’t yet read this with my seven-year-old, to whom it would otherwise appeal, I’d have no qualms about listening to it with my middle schooler (though it’s a little more dance-focused and non-epic fantasy than he likes) and getting ready for some discussions.