Category Archives: middle grade
Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (by Catherynne Valente)
Catherynne Valente is a truly shining author, as The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland proves with each turn of the page. I can’t say that I’ve ever read anything like this book before. Valente’s creativity blows my mind – the places she goes with her characters, the images she conjures, the words she uses to work her spell.
This book is no quick and easy read – but that has nothing to do with its length, which is normal for a young adult book. It’s a book whose premise is undoubtedly attractive to children, but the story itself has such depth, such meat and heart, that’s it’s impossibly alluring for adults as well.
September is a “somewhat heartless” twelve-year-old girl who, when the Green Wind comes to her kitchen window in the form of a leopard and offers to accompany her to Fairyland, does not even bother waving goodbye to her mother. Her journey begins on the coast of Fairyland, where she must choose which direction to take. The path to lose her way, to lose her life, to lose her mind, or to lose her heart.
September meets with many adventures in Fairyland, some of them delightfully imaginative, some of them darkly troubling – all of them of a nature to keep your eyes pasted to the page, and all of them having the potential to make September’s heart grow just a little bit more. She becomes fast friends with a Wyvern who believes he is the son of a library. She makes the difficult and painful choice to part from her shadow in order to save someone’s life. She rides amidst a herd of wild bicycles and is sent by the child-like but formidable Marquess, ruler of Fairyland, to fetch a talisman.
‘There must be blood,’ the girl thought. ‘There must always be blood. The Green Wind said that, so it must be true. It will be all hard and bloody, but there will be wonders, too, or else why bring me here at all? And it’s the wonders I’m after, even if I have to bleed for them.’
Every page, every paragraph, every word of this book is placed with seamless intent, woven to spectacular advantage into a story that is so much bigger than it seems. It is truly a masterpiece.
Sometimes you know as you begin a book that you can sit back and relax because you are in expert hands. This was such a book; Valente is such an author.
For a free preview of this amazing book, go here.
- Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (sffbookreview.wordpress.com)
- Top Ten Tuesday (71): Sequels (pagesunbound.wordpress.com)
- Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (fyreflybooks.wordpress.com)
By now you will have heard plenty of news about J.K. Rowling’s latest project – a movie version of her book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The book itself, written by the fictional Newt Scamander, features more than 80 fantastical beasts and beings. Some of them, such as the pixie, the kelpie, the unicorn, the mer-people and the dragon, are well-known to even the most half-hearted fantasy fans. But there are quite a few exceptions. Here are a few fun ones.
- Puffskein: A sphere of soft ur that is fond of eating leftovers and even the occasional spider. It emits a humming sound when it is contented. Fred and George Weasley modified the Puffskein to make the Pygmy Puff.
- Jobberknoll: A speckled blue bird that never utters a peep until the moment before its death. And in that moment, it utters a long scream which consists of every sound it has ever heard – backward. Its feathers are used in Memory Charms and Truth Serums.
- Ashwinder: A thin, gray wisp with glowing red eyes that rises from embers to lay its eggs in a dark corner before it dies. It only lives about an hour.
- Bowtruckle: A twig-like creature, about the size of a person’s hand, which serves as the guardian for its home tree (which it looks very similar to!). A peaceful being, but can become violent when its tree is threatened.
- Chizpurfle: A crab-like, parasitic creature that is attracted to magic. It often attacks magical objects such as wands and cauldrons. When it can find no magic, it will resort to attacking Muggles’ electrical devices and wires.
- Glumbumble: This furry flying insect produces a treacle that induces melancholy, which can be used as an antidote to treat hysteria. It nests in dark places and feeds on nettles.
- Streeler: A giant snail which changes colors hourly. Streeler venom is one of the few things that can kill a Horklump.
- Diricawl: Muggles think of this plump, flightless bird as the extinct dodo bird. But the wizarding world knows it is not extinct – rather, it can disappear and reappear when needed as an escape method. Thus Muggles have not seen it for many years.
Many of the creatures in Rowling’s book (and upcoming movie) are ones she invented herself, although the classic fairytale beasts emerge here and there as well. If you could create a magical beast, what would it be?
The Frog Princess by E. D. Baker
Emma is an awkward princess who does not agree with her mother’s wishes to get her married off. When she visits her favorite haunt, the swamp, she meets a talking frog who claims to be a prince under a spell. Emma kindly consents to kiss him so he will return to his human form, but instead becomes a frog herself! She and her new “prince” frog friend must journey together to find a reversal to their spell.
A charming take on the original “frog prince” story, in my opinion. Baker takes us on Emma’s exciting journey and we get to watch as the princess goes from annoyed with her royal froggy companion to – well, quite fond! Emma’s voice is distinct, and her personality comes through in the story.
Baker does an excellent job of spinning an adorable fairytale that I would recommend to any child (girls most especially!) over the age of 8 or 9. If I had read this story as a middle grader, I know I’d have loved it. Oh, heck, what am I saying? I love it now! And if you read it and love it, too, don’t forget to check out all the exciting sequels!
Frogged by Vivian Vande Velde
This book was published after – and I read it after – Baker’s “The Frog Princess.” So when I discovered the basic premise to the book (girl-kisses-frog-and-turns-into-frog-herself) I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical.
All I can say is – what was wrong with me?! I should have had more faith in Vande Velde! She came through (as usual) with an original story, very far removed from Baker’s book. Another unhappy princess, yes (this one named Imogene). Another kiss that turns the princess green, yes. But that’s where the similarities ended. From searching for the witch who cast the spell to begin with, to joining a group of traveling players, this book is completely entertaining from start to finish. I barely put it down! Vande Velde’s main character has a wry and sarcastic sense of humor, wit, charm and personality, and I was drawn to her from the start.
So … yet another great book for middle-graders, middle-agers, and … well, you get the point.
Happy reading, friends!
The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler is a book I recommend to any lover of fairytales. It is a retelling of the classic story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. This has been one of my favorite fairytales for some years, although I’m also aware it’s not necessarily one of the best known ones. But if you’re like me, you love discovering those little gems that are not so mainstream – not so faddish – and all the more charming for it.
Zahler tells the story in first person, from the viewpoint of the heretofore unknown thirteenth princess – the youngest sister of the famous twelve princesses. Her father the king, bitter after the successive birth of twelve girls, banishes Zita, his thirteenth child, who is not the son he was hoping for. She is sent to live among the servants of the castle, not aware she is even the daughter of the king, sister to the beautiful princesses, until she is 12, which is when the story begins.
Zita has personality, she has depth, she has fears and longings – everything a heroine should have, in fact. Eventually, she finds she possesses bravery as well, which comes in handy as she follows her sisters into a deep and strong enchantment cast over them by a mysterious magic. She, her friend Breckin, his handsome older brother Milek (who just happens to have an eye for the oldest princess), and the friendly witch Babette, all embark together on a quest to disenchant the princesses, whose nightly forays into the world of magic are wearing them thin and even threatening their lives.
Zahler keeps all the old enchantment of the classic tale in her retelling while adding her own voice to the story, with a couple of thrilling twists – one heartbreaking, the other joyous. She reaches deeper into her main characters’ personalities than many middle grade and young adult books I have read of late, and on that basis alone I would recommend this book.
Head to the library and check it out – then let me know what you think! I dare you to dislike this one!
So, here I am again, cooking up a storm of fairytale recipe reviews! I decided, as I said in my last post, to do the fantasy cookbooks first. There were some that, sadly, I could not review, because unfortunately even the local library doesn’t have every book in creation! But I’ve reviewed the ones I could find and am also listing some of the fun ones I researched. If you have read or cooked from any of these (or any that you don’t see listed!), please let me know what you thought.
1. The Fairy Tale Cookbook
By Carol MacGregor
This book is perfect for any classic fairytale lover who also happens to like to cook. That includes children, as there are many recipes that are fairly simple within it. Each recipe starts with a short version of the fairytale. A couple of the stories I had never heard of before, and the teasers have now caused me to add them to my library list for my next visit. One of these was the Chinese tale “The Shady Tree,” and another was “A Story, A Story,” about an African Spider Man named Ananse. Don’t get me wrong –all the classics are there as well. You can make Cinderella’s wedding cake (with orange and lemon frosting – yum!), the Wicked Queen’s poisoned baked apples, the awakening celebration feast from Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb’s bread and butter pudding, and even, if you’re in a healthy mood, the Goats Gruff meadow salad. Altogether a creative and varied list of 25 recipes, from meals and sides, to snacks and sweets, complete with illustrations on almost every page (albeit black and white).
2. The Storybook Cookbook
By Carol MacGregor
An additional 22 recipes for the enjoyer of children’s classic stories, written by the same author, and in the same style as The Fairy Tale Cookbook (above). This cookbook features such recipes as The Swiss Family Robinson’s Lobster Bisque, Tom Sawyer’s Fried Fish, Captain Hook’s Poison Cake, Pinocchio’s Pannikin Poached Egg, and Heidi’s Toasted Cheese Sandwiches.
3. Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook for Young Readers and Eaters
Stories by Jane Yolen, recipes by Heidi E. Y. Stemple
Jane Yolen has retold these stories in her own words – a story told to get you in the mood for each recipe that follows. Also, as an extra bonus, the pages are delightfully (and in full color!) illustrated. Since I’m kind of a trivia geek, one of my favorite things about this one was the columns of facts along the side of each recipe. For instance, did you know that, in France, French Toast is called “pain perdu,” or “lost bread” because the bread is smothered or lost under many other ingredients? I’m betting you didn’t. Well, there’s dozens of them throughout the book, and I love ‘em. You will too. The recipes themselves are fairly simple, and the fairy tales are greatly varied. There are some of the ones we all know, but there are some that are a little less common as well, and even one or two I didn’t recognize, fairytale fan that I am. Some examples of the recipes found in this book are as follows: Brer Rabbit’s Carrot Soup, The Little Mermaid’s Seaweed Stuffed Shells (I made this one for supper tonight – yum!!), Little Red Riding Hood’s Picnic Basket of Goodies, Diamonds and Toads French Toast, and many others; 20 stories to be exact, with correlating recipes.
4. Mermaid Cookbook
By Barbara Beery
This delightful little cookbook is not based on any work of literature in particular, but as it was inspired by and named for a fairytale creature, I thought it merited mention! It’s a cookbook you will find in the juvenile section of your library, if that’s where you’re looking, so the recipes are not complicated, and I’ll tell you right now, they are all sweet or snack-ish! Extra yum. I promptly made a Sea Foam Float for my 6-year-old, and he liked it so much he then made one, all by himself, for his Dad (he’s so sweet!). Mermaid Bay Baked Bananas, Lemonade Lagoon Coolers, Water Fairy ice Pops, Rainbow Fish Fudge, Sea Turtle Cookies, and Hidden Treasure Cupcakes are among the few mouthwatering recipes you’ll find in this book. I just happened across this one while I was researching some other books, and I’m so glad I did. If you don’t hear from me for a while, though, it will be because I am recuperating from sugar shock …
5. Cooking with Herb the Vegetarian Dragon
By Jules Bass
As with the Mermaid Cookbook, this one is not based on any individual fantasy book or fairytale. It is, however, hosted by a charming dragon named Herb, and a slew of his dragon-friends, of whom there are very many bright and active illustrations throughout the entire cookbook. I like the variety this cookbook gives for children (like my own) who are vegetarians, whether by choice, or (like my own!) just happen to hate meat! Herb the Dragon “narrates” the cookbook as it goes along, giving fun excerpts about why each recipe came about and who he is cooking it for. Gives it such a great personal touch for children (ok, for me as well …). The 22 recipes include, to name a few, Rosie Rose’s Rosemary Pan Bread, Party Pasta for a Herd of Dragons, The King’s Favorite Veggie-Burger, Herb’s Original Rainbow Pizza (in which Herb claims for himself the honor of inventing pizza in the first place!), and the Cookie-Dragon’s Chocolate Chippers.
6. The Mother Goose Cookbook: Rhymes and Recipes for the Very Young
By Marianna Mayer
Illustrations galore, all of them adorable, a rhyme on every other page that corresponds with the recipe that follows. Pretty delightful cookbook, overall. My son enjoyed looking at it before we even had a chance to make anything from it! From Humpty Dumpty’s Dilly Egg Sandwich, to the Queen of Heart’s Fruit Tart, to Peter Piper’s Best-Ever Pickle Recipe, you’ll love all 14 of these recipes, whether you are very young or very … ahem, not young.
7. Pease Porridge Hot: A Mother Goose Cookbook
8. The Little Witch’s Black Magic Cookbook (Linda Glovach)
9. The 4Fairy Delights (Tina Marie Mayr)
10. What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank: A Fantasy Lover’s Food Guide (Krista D. Ball)
11. Fairytale Food (Lucie Cash)
So, here we come to the books that I could not find. And just let me say …. Urrrgghh! A couple of these looked sooo good, too. I feel that I am fairly safe in recommending all of them on their appeal just from researching them and peeking into a couple of them on Amazon.
My son and I have had a pretty good time testing the couple of recipes we decided on, and I’m certain we will test a couple more before our pile of books gets returned to the library. Next week I’ll post the final cookbook reviews, and yes – I’m planning on posting a regular book review as well! Please comment with any ideas, links, sites or books you have knowledge of that celebrate the food in the books we all love!
“You’re a wizard,” I snapped. “Can’t you just use magic to make your own food?”
“Ah, yes,” he retorted. “Because mud pies are so very delicious and the wind fills empty stomachs quite nicely.” — Alexandra Bracken (Brightly Woven)
Whether it’s a steaming pot of stone soup on the village square, Anne pouring you some raspberry cordial (or is it currant wine?!) on the front porch of Green Gables, a mug of butterbeer with your friends around a table at the Hog’s Head, or a very delicious-looking red apple handed to you by a old woman peddling on a forest road – let’s just admit it, we want to taste these things. After all, our minds are tasting the stories they come from, we see the places and people in our imaginations – why shouldn’t we take it a step forward and bridge the gap, make part of the story palpable and real and … delicious? What is it about these foods that draw us in and remain in our minds long after the story we have read is put back on the shelf, if not our desire to crawl into the stories themselves?
As I research cookbooks based on famous books and fairy tales, I have come across many different recipes and even series. It’s amazing how inspired readers can become, all because of the food or drinks they read about in a favorite book. And even more amazing is the sheer volume of these types of cookbooks there are to choose from, once you start to look. There are dishes that existed before the books were written, and have been made famous by being featured in a book. And then there are the dishes that the authors have created solely for the purpose of their story (some of which prove most definitely that the authors should stick to writing, and not cooking!). Either way, and however delectable (or occasionally disgusting) these dishes turn out to be, we, the addictive, obsessive readers, are most definitely going to try them.
I’m no cook myself, and I won’t be attempting to come up with my own special version of green eggs and ham anytime soon (my husband would shudder to imagine such a thing put into my hands) – but I’m not adverse to trying the recipes invented by others. I couldn’t decide whether to focus on fairytale and fantasy cookbooks (since, after all, that’s what I’m blogging about), but I got so excited when I visited the library and saw all the options out there, that I’ve decided to go a bit wider. Over the next week or two I will do brief reviews of the books and sites I come across, and even hope to post reports of how it goes in the kitchen when I (gulp!) try some of these recipes out. My 6-year-old has kindly volunteered to help me, and is, as I write this, on my bed pouring over stacks of cookbooks, looking very much like a miniature, somewhat harassed editor.
So stay tuned for my next blog post, later this week, of the fairytale cookbook reviews (I’ve decided to begin with the fairytale genre and proceed outward from there for the following reviews). And in the meantime, check out some of the following links and sites for some super-fun recipes to try!
Elven Lembas Bread (The Lord of the Rings)
Raspberry Cordial (Anne of Green Gables)
Cauldron Cakes and Butterbeer (Harry Potter)
Turkish Delight (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
Mr. McGregor’s Winter Garden Vegetable Pies (Peter Rabbit)
Miniature Castle Cakes
Which Witch? is for a younger audience than I generally read, but I loved it all the same. Nothing by Eva Ibbotson has ever disappointed me. She is entertaining, quirky, creative and witty. Which Witch? is no exception.
Arriman the Awful (the feared wizard of the North) has decided he needs to marry and produce an heir to take over as wizard for him when he is gone. And who else could a wizard possibly marry but a witch? But he doesn’t want just any witch, he wants a local one. And a powerful one. And a dark one.
There proceeds a contest between all the local witches to win his hand in marriage, wherein each witch must perform a piece of her darkest magic to be judged by Arriman himself and two others. There are witches with warts, a witch who can’t seem to stop turning herself into a coffee table, a white witch around whom flowers tend to spring up whenever she attempts black magic, and an evil enchantress. And each is determined she will be Arriman’s wife.
I read a review of this book before I read it myself, which showed some disappointment in Ibbotson’s lack of character depth and development. I myself find that it takes all kinds of books to make the world go ‘round. And with a children’s book that is meant, obviously, for pure entertainment (which it most definitely succeeds at!), I don’t honestly think character development is all that important. And while I agree that Ibbotson doesn’t delve far below the surface of any of her characters, it proves in the end to not be very important. This book is charming and hilarious (I frightened my husband several times by laughing out loud in bed one night) and thoroughly enjoyable to read. If for some reason you happen to have a rat phobia, I would steer clear of the chapter in which the enchantress works her spell – yikes!
The humor of the characters and their reactions to things and the situations they find themselves in is 80% of what charmed me. Ibbotson’s writing in this respect calls to mind some of Joan Aiken’s works for children, perhaps most especially what my sister and I grew up calling the “Dido Twite” books (in actuality I believe they are called The Wolves Chronicles). As an aside, let me say here that if you haven’t read Joan Aiken – you definitely need to! I can’t imagine my childhood without her books for children.
Conclusion: I couldn’t recommend Which Witch? more. I’ve had it on my reading list for so long … I only regret I didn’t read it sooner! If you like Which Witch?, check out the list of other books you may like as well, below.
- The Castle in the Attic (Elizabeth Winthrop)
- Fairest (Gail Carson Levine)
- Pure Dead Magic (Debi Gliori)
- Howl’s Moving Castle (Diana Wynne Jones)
- The Secret of Platform 13 (Eva Ibbotson)
- Bewitching Season (Marissa Doyle)
- Twice Upon a Time (James Riley)
- The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (Joan Aiken)
- No Such Thing as Dragons (Philip Reeve)
- The Shakespeare Stealer (Gary L. Blackwood)
If you caught my review of the first book of this series, Dragon Slippers (http://wp.me/p3BsOl-x), you’ll know already that I am a fan of Jessica Day George. I couldn’t recommend her Dragon series more for any fantasy-loving kid between the age of 12 and 16. Although honestly, books like this are appropriate for all ages beyond the recommendation bracket … I’m twice the recommended age and I enjoyed it tremendously.
Creel, our main character, has made it through the Dragon War as its hero (however unwilling), and is now running her own successful dress shop. She doesn’t spend much time there in this book, though, for trouble begins to brew pretty quickly. Word comes that a bordering country is training dragons and planning an attack, and Creel, as the one human in her country who is most familiar with the ways of dragons, is nominated to help. She leads a small troop of dragons to the bordering country with plans to become a spy. She meets up with the prince (insert *sigh*) and brings with her two of her own human friends to help.
Well, I’m a comparer (is that a word? Spell check isn’t picking it up, so it must be! Yes!) So of course I couldn’t help comparing the second book with the first. They both had the same charming style, mainly the same cast of characters (although we are introduced to quite a few new dragons in the second book). The plots both had action and intrigue, and even a hint of romance. Spoiler alert – the romance begins to bloom significantly more in the second book. Nothing more intense than a kiss or two and some hand-holding, mind, and definitely all G-rated; but feelings are most definitely in the open by the end of Dragon Flight, let’s just put it that way.
Did I like Dragon Flight better than Dragon Slippers? Well, yes, actually. Maybe because I felt I was getting to know the characters a little better in the second book and was more comfortable with them – but I think the real reason was because the plot moved along at a better (and more interesting) pace in Dragon Flight. Dragon Slippers had a lot of talking, a lot of planning and waiting and traveling and sewing. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for these things. I do most of them myself on a daily basis. But a fantasy book that features dragons needs to have actions. And Dragon Flight, while still having many of these same things, had a lot more action. I’m sure you are no different than other readers (and neither am I) in believing, whether consciously or not, that the writer should “make” you pay attention to the story they are telling. You shouldn’t have to force yourself to keep reading if you are simply not feelin’ it. Dragon Flight did this for me more than Dragon Slippers. Just my opinion – maybe for you it was different. If you’ve read either of the books, or even the books in the rest of the series (which I will be getting around to as soon as I can!), then let me know what you think!
When you begin to think about it, cats have played some crucial roles in literature, specifically sci-fi and fantasy. What is it that’s so alluring about a magical cat? A talking cat? Or even a goddess cat?
From ancient Egyptian times, when the Goddess Bastet (in the form of a cat) was worshipped, and even before, cats have always held a certain mystery and fascination for us humans. In medieval times, cats in general, and black cats specifically, were thought to be evil. Women who took them in to care for the poor mistreated or neglected animals were in turn labeled witches.
I myself love cats … I’ve owned probably over a hundred of them over the course of my life. And while my husband might argue with you as to whether I’m a witch or not … depending on the day … like any cat lover, I can tell you they are anything but evil. Spooky sometimes, yes. Spastic and quirky … yeah. Moody and uppity and picky – uh-huh. The one thing I know from my years of cat experiences is that, without a doubt, cats definitely have personality. And I suppose that’s why they so naturally fit into literature, whether as characters themselves, or as interesting sidekicks.
- The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
- Crookshanks in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
- Fritti Tailchaser in Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams
- Magicats! books (collection of cat stories) edited by Jack Dann
- The ThunderClan cats in the Warriors series by Erin Hunter
- Rhiow and the team of cat-wizards in the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane
- Gareth in Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander
- The cat with no name in Coraline by Neil Gaiman
- “The Cat” in The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce
- Thelma, Roger, James and Harriet in Catwings by Ursula Le Guin
- Goldeneyes in the Catmage Chronicles by Meryl Yourish
So you’re a young adult, or you’re an … older than young … adult like myself who happens to love YA fiction. You’d like to know what’s out there without going to too much trouble, and you want to know up front if it’s going to be worth the read before you even begin. Well, who doesn’t? Well, I’ve compiled a list of great sites to visit with some of the latest in YA fiction. One or two of the sites cater particularly to fantasy, I’ll warn you, but if you’re like me and you prefer fantasy anyway, that’s for the best. Do yourself a favor and check some of these sites out!
This one is one of my favorites. Just two chicks doing fantasy and sci-fi YA reviews. The best part for me is that they give each book a ranking, or grade, like in school. A through F (even pluses and minuses!). They rank the book for additional things as well: sexual content, language, violence, drug or alcohol use, etc. Lastly, they give their personal recommendation for the age the book is appropriate for. Neat, thorough, and trustworthy, especially if you are a parent who likes to screen what your teen is reading without having to sit and read every single book yourself!
Lots of different search options, including “top reader rated,” “most reviewed ya books” and “hottest books,” among many others. You’ll get access to a short description of the book you’re looking at, plus get to read all the reviews others have left for it. You can even sign up for an account and write your own reviews.
This blog, as the author states herself, is not strictly tied to the YA genre. She reviews all types of books. She’s witty and clever. Worth following.
Conservative, reliable content ratings for language, violence, sexual content and adult themes. Reviews are done by eight different mothers of multiples. Another great one for monitoring your teen’s reading.
Join their mailing list to get book reviews, or check out their site for thousands of reviewed books for teens. Become a student reviewer yourself through Flamingnet, or even start your own book club through their site. I also liked the link, under “resources” for author interviews.