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)
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!
Are you ready for the third and final fairytale food post? I’ve split the group of recommendations into two – the first group is for the kiddos, the second is for us older ones. These were so fun, just let me say. You don’t even have to be a cook (and I’m not!) to get some prime enjoyment out of these books. The illustrations, the accompanying stories and rhymes, and even the names of the recipes themselves are enough to keep you turning the pages, though you may have no intention at all of stepping a toe into your kitchen!
A list for the little kiddos:
1. Teddy Bears’ Picnic Cookbook (Abigail Darling)
2. The Boxcar Children Cookbook (Diane Blain)
3. Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook (Georgeanne Brennan)
4. Winnie-the-Pooh Teatime Cookbook
5. Winnie-the-Pooh Picnic Cookbook
6. The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook (Kate Macdonald)
7. Cooking with Anne of Green Gables (Sullivan Entertainment)
8. Peter Rabbit’s Natural Foods Cookbook (Arnold Dobrin)
9. The Wind in the Willows Country Cookbook (Arabella Boxer)
10. The Secret Garden Cookbook (Amy Cotler)
11. Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes (Josie Fison and Felicity Dahl)
12. The Beatrix Potter Country Cookery Book (Margaret Lane)
13. Book Cooks: 26 Recipes from A-Z Inspired by Favorite Children’s Books (Cheryl Apgar)
And now a list for the big kids!
1. Wookiee Cookies: A Star Wars Cookbook (Robin Davis)
2. A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook (Chelsea Monroe-Cassel)
3. The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook (Alan Kistler)
4. The Official Narnia Cookbook (Douglas Gresham)
5. The Unofficial Narnia Cookbook (Dinah Bucholz)
6. Regional Cooking from Middle Earth: Recipes of the Third Age (Emerald Took)
7. The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook (Dinah Bucholz)
8. The Book Club Cook Book (Judy Gelman)
9. The Book Lover’s Cookbook: Recipes Inspired by Celebrated Works of Literature (Shaunda Kennedy Wenger)
Now it’s your turn to cook up some whimsical, fantastical recipes on your own! Here is a list of links to some fun and interesting things to make. Comment below with your own ideas or links to more recipes!
Marilla’s Plum Pudding (Anne of Green Gables)
Star Wars recipes (including Wookiee Pies, Ice Cream Clones, and Death Star Popcorn Balls)
Buzz-Worthy Bee Cupcakes and Hive (Winnie the Pooh)
The Boxcar Children Beef Stew RecipeThree-Finger Hobb’s Breakfast (A Game of Thrones)
Licorice Wands (Harry Potter)
Tea with Mr. Tumnus (The Chronicles of Narnia)
Beatrix Potter’s Recipe for Gingerbread (Peter Rabbit)
Bag End Apple Bread (The Lord of the Rings)
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!
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)
First of all, just let me say … I loved this book. That’s really all I need to say, although I’m betting you are going to want a few more details before you’re willing to take my word for it.
I’ll start by giving you what I call the “jacket flap” description. If you happen to have already read the actual jacket flap or back of the book, then just skip the next three paragraphs.
Rosalind is a princess, but she has a terrible, un-princess-like secret. (I’m struggling here to know whether I should let you in on the secret or not. As you’ll find out anyway by looking at the book cover art or even just by reading the first few paragraphs of the book, I guess I’ll tell you. If you’d rather not know, just skip to the next paragraph!). Rosalind was born beautiful in all but one respect – she has a dragon’s claw as her left ring finger, and has been forced by her mother to hide it, wearing gloves, all her life.
Rosalind also happens to be a part of a famous prophecy made by Merlin 600 years before her birth – a prophecy that promises to restore the throne to her banished royal family. Dragons plague her home, Wilde Island, and though she feels a fear and loathing of the beasts and their hunger for human flesh, Rosalind can’t deny that she also sees their beauty, and feels a strange link to them.
When a dragon comes and carries Rosalind off to its keep, she believes she is as good as dead. And though many hardships lie in wait for her and the ones she loves, she comes to view what she has always thought of as a curse in a different light – and it just may change the fate of her whole kingdom.
Ok, then – now that THAT part is over … why do I like this book so much? Isn’t it just another dragon book, just like the plethora of other dragon books on the market right now? Yes, sort of. But then again, not really. To me, anyway, there seemed to be two main differences that caught my attention and drew me in. Number one: The writing and character development. (Is that two reasons in one?? Maybe. Who cares.) The plot of this book flowed so wonderfully, and the writing style of the author was so originally her own, that – when coupled with the excitement of the story itself – I couldn’t seem to put the book down. I have a pretty late bedtime … and believe me, I stayed up with this book way past it.
So, yeah, the plot – awesome. The writing style – beautiful. The character development – completely believable. I have a peeve in young adult books, and it’s superficial characters. I’m always amazed at the books that make top seller lists. People can throw in a couple of quirky characteristics and suddenly their hero or heroine is supposed to have depth. Doesn’t work for me. Dragon’s Keep, however, had a main character (and indeed, all of its central characters) who had a wealth of traits, fears and qualities that made her unique and realistic. There was background – there was history – there were reasons she was the person she was.
Number two: The dragons. They are mean, and bitter, and hard-headed, and man-eating, and deadly, and tragic, and deep, and feeling, and passionate. Need I say more? I could. In short, they are what dragons are supposed to be. Not that I have anything against friendly, emotional, human-helping dragons. But I’ve seen too many of them. I loved that these dragons were different – that they were hard-core (does anyone use that phrase anymore? Well, I do).
Some books are exhausting to read. They feel like homework. And I’m one of those people who feel the need to finish something I’ve begun, even if it’s torture. It’s rare I stop a book that I’ve started. So you’ll believe me when I say I was hoping for a really good read – something that I wouldn’t have to work at, and that would grab me and draw me in whether I wanted it or not. That is exactly what Dragon’s Keep did.
SHORT SYNOPSIS: Ok, so I won’t tell you the end or any of the really important bits, since the joy of that is in reading it yourself. But I’ll fill you in enough to make you want to go check out this adorable book at your local library … how about that?
Creel is our main character. She’s an orphan who lives with her aunt and uncle … and she feels she’s a bit of a burden to them. Her aunt comes up with the not-so-bright idea of sacrificing her to the local dragon rumored to live in the hills outside of their village. Why? So a handsome knight will come rescue Creel, who will then be one less mouth to feed – of course! Creel just happens to be a fast talker, though, and has no need of a knight or a rescue. She ends up negotiating her freedom with the dragon, and also gets some lovely slippers in with the bargain … but the slippers are much more than they seem. Exactly what the slippers are – and what they do – is information that seems to always lie just beyond Creel’s reach as she journeys to another village with hopes of beginning her own dressmaking shop.
Making friends with another dragon along the way, not to mention a prince, and making a couple of enemies besides, Creel ends up having quite the adventure. Things begin to unravel until at last the very kingdom’s safety is in jeopardy, hanging on the edge of war with a neighboring country … and only Creel can save the day.
WHY I LIKED THIS BOOK, AND WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Well, if the synopsis didn’t convince you to read Dragon Slippers, then I’ll try to give you another reason or two. Number one: the writing. It’s fresh, it’s easy-flowing, and it felt so relaxing to read a book that moved along at a pace that kept things interesting but not overly complex. Number two: the characters. They are funny and witty, but each has enough of the light and dark to make them realistic. Excepting for Princess Amalia, who is perhaps a bit stereotypically nasty, playing the part of the selfish princess a little too well. In my opinion, every villain should have his or her good points. But to each her own! Finally, number three: there is nothing over-the-top for the juvenile audience the book is intended for – and by that, I mean violence, sexuality or anything too graphic. I’m pretty conservative, and I have a peeve about finding books marketed for juvenile or even young adult, when they are clearly written with an adult audience in mind.
Altogether a great read, and if you are a fan of juvenile and young adult fantasy (basically a 100% chance as you are reading this blog!) – then I think you’ll find Dragon Slippers as adorable as did I. I’ve got the next one of the series, Dragon Flight, on my list!