Lerner has a handsome new middle-grade non-fiction series in their Fall list--the Fantasy Chronicles. I've read two--Fairies and Elves, and Fantastical Creatures and Magical Beasts, both by Shannon Knudsen (both on sale now, but published as 2010).
Fairies and Elves (48pp, with index, bibliography, and suggestions for further reading/watching) is a history of European fairies, from the middle ages to the present day (there's just one paragraph on fairies around the world), exploring their dual nature as helpful friend and tricksy foe. This history of the Good Neighbors is liberally leavened with fairy tales-- both classics, like The Elves and the Shoemaker, and more obscure stories (primarily from the British Isles), that illustrate the wide variety of fairies that have populated the pre-mental landscape. Knudsen, in a chatty, companionable way, discusses how beliefs in creatures like this might have helped explain the unexplainable, and how this way of thinking faded:
"A funny thing happened to fairies and elves during the late 1800s. The stories that people had told and believed in for hundreds of years no longer seemed true to most folks. Science and technology had changed the way they lived and viewed the world. Before, for example, parents might have blamed a child's sickness on fairy magic. But in this new era, they were more likely to listen to a doctor's medical explanation" (pages 28-29).
The book brings the history of fairies and elves right up to the present, with the final chapter ("Entertaining Elves") discussing their modern incarnations in icons of popular culture such as the Lord of the Rings movie, Harry Potter, and World of Warcraft. I think this is one of the great strengths of the book--kids who are familiar with these fairies/elves may well find their back story very relevant (so it's almost a pity this chapter wasn't put at the beginning, as a hook!).
Fantastical Creatures and Magical Beasts (48 pages, also with back matter), is also dominated by European monsters (10 pages all about Greece, 10 pages on all the rest of the world), which is a pity, because there's not that much out there on, say, the mythological creatures of Oceania (maybe, Lerner, you could do a whole region by region series on magical beasts? I promise I'd read them to my children...). But the monster stories in this book are told with zest, and, as is the case with Fairies and Elves, Knudsen adds interest, and food for further thought, in her discussion of the function stories of fantastical creatures might play in ways of making sense of the world. Being an anthropologist, I found the functionalist approach a bit of an over-simplification, but it was great to see the subject pushed beyond a simple cataloguing of the fantastical. This book also brings its topic into the present--the last picture shows two boys showing off their Pokemon cards.
Both books are written in a friendly, story-telling fashion (my nine-year old, who serves as my benchmark, read them both with ease and enjoyment), and both are copiously illustrated with (primarily) original material (such as Greek vases, Indian sculpture, and Disney's Tinkerbell).
The other books in the series are Giants, Trolls, and Ogres, Mermaids and Mermen, and Wizards and Witches, and later today I shall ask the children's librarian at our library if the Friends could perhaps buy them...*
Non-fiction Monday is at Simply Science today.
(review copies received from the publisher)
* random aside on fundraising: the Decorative Gourd Fundraiser, in which I sell decorative gourds that I have grown, will not bring in much this year, due to rotten weather, likewise the Zucchini Fundraiser (one zucchini to date, and how sad is that), but perhaps I will have enough corn for a Corn Fundraiser (the corn is almost ripe, and has done very well), unless my children decide they really like corn. Pity no-one wants to pay for crab grass.