Here are two quarantine purchases that my daughter and I were both very excited for – both with strong but opposite seasonal settings. She’s been especially enthusiastic about Lucy Knisley ever since she saw her give a talk (for librarians!) at A2CAF last spring, and looking forward to something by Ms. Knisley written for her own age range. We’ve also been following the Witch Boy series since it came out.
Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley. Random House Graphic, 2020. ISBN 978-1984896841. Read from purchased copy.
At a presentation I saw this spring (SLJ’s DOD, probably?) Knisley joked that she was taking baby steps from her signature memoir to writing fiction, with this fictionalized story based on her own childhood. In it, a young girl named Jen moves from Chicago to a farm, where she not only has to adjust to country life but also to her mother’s annoying new boyfriend and his two daughters, who are there on weekends, all events from Knisley’s own childhood. Jen misses the city, struggles with doing math at the farm stand, and especially hates being expected to be cheerful and helpful in a situation she didn’t choose for herself. Her journey towards acceptance and feeling some sense of agency is slow and genuine, with plenty of funny moments along the way. The full color art is excellent at conveying emotions. My daughter really enjoys it, though it has if anything made her more enthusiastic about reading Knisley’s written-for-adults memoirs. This should appeal to a wide range of kids, especially fans of the Telgememoir style.
Midwinter Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag. Graphix, 2019. ISBN 978-1338540550. Read from purchased copy.
Ariel, the witch from The Hidden Witch who doesn’t know her family, is now learning with Aster’s family how to control her magic and use it for good. They encourage her to join the family for the annual Midwinter Festival, where multiple magical families will enjoy spending time together and young witches and shape-shifters will compete for the title of Midwinter Witch or Shape-Shifter. Even though he’s still shy about being a witch rather than a shape-shifter himself, and knows it will expose him to more teasing, Aster is determined to compete. Meanwhile, Ariel has to decide if she wants to compete as well, even though she wasn’t born into the family. And their friend But along with dealing with others in the family who aren’t happy with these breaks in tradition, Ariel is starting to have terrifying dreams, dreams that might not be just in her head…
This book is as much of a delight as the previous volumes, filled with relatable, diverse characters, as well as magical adventures, moral dilemmas and challenging the status quo, especially in regards to gender roles. The art ranges from the realistic to the magical as well, with scenes of impromptu kitchen dancing interposed with full-page spreads of magical fire or mirror shards reflecting different things. It is partly my own biases for things I love being so perfectly blended here, but I’d recommend this to any fantasy-loving kid as well.