Ivy and the Meanstalk, by Dawn Lairamore (Holiday House, 2011, mg, 227 pages), was one of the books I received for Cybils review (I'm trying to get all these reviewed, or at least mentioned, before the end of January!). It's the sequel to Ivy's Every After, but I think it can be read just fine as a stand-alone.
Ivy is the princess, and heir, of a small kingdom of little international importance. She cares little for learning her responsibilities--she's much rather be off flying with her dragon friend, Elridge, or spending time with her other best friend, the stableboy Owen.
Then disaster strikes, in the form of an angry giantess whose magic harp was stolen long ago. The giantess holds Ivy's kingdom responsible (even though it was a guy named Jack who actually took it) and vows to rain giant boulders on it until she gets her harp back! It's up to Ivy to face her duty to her kingdom, and to go to the island nation Jack established after his adventures up the beanstalk, and get the harp....
So Ivey, Elridge, and Owen set off, in a hopeful spirit--surely Jack's heirs wouldn't mind returning stolen property? Turns out, they would, very much indeed. The cult of Jack, and the love of gold, are the only two important things to the king of the volcanic island nation Jack established. And although the king is bound to offer Ivy sanctuary (since her own kingdom is being destroyed by boulders), he's not about to give up the harp. It's up to Ivy and her friends to use their wits to make off with the harp themselves...breaking through all the layers of protection that have been placed around it.
It's a book that's fun on the surface--the high jinks of the mean-stalk and the giant's realm in the sky, the golden improbability of Jack's island, and such like--but there are also themes within it that make for interesting pondering. Who, for instance, gets to make history--is Jack a great hero or a selfish thief? Is it ethical to steal something, when by doing so you save lives? Why shouldn't a princess be friends with a stable-boy? And if you are a fun loving girl with a dragon friend, who is also the heir to a kingdom, when is it time to start growing up and become responsible?
Because of these questions, I enjoyed Ivy and the Meanstalk more than I did Ivy's Ever After (my review) although that is a perfectly fine, fun book. This one is more directly a fairy-tale reimagining, and so interested me more on that count as well--I had never really thought about what happened to Jack after the whole beanstalk business, and I enjoyed seeing where he ended up!
I probably won't be re-reading them for my own pleasure, but I'd happily recommend them to eight to ten year olds. There's nothing particularly violent or disturbing--just good fantasy fun.