Looking for kids of color in the middle grade sci fi/fantasy books of 2012

For a number of reasons, I want there to be lots of sci fi/fantasy books for middle grade kids (ages 9-12) that star kids who aren't white, and I want these kids to be shown on the book covers.   I do not think I will at any point in the near future be thinking that there are enough of these books.

Here are 2012's middle grade sci fi/fantasy books published in the US starring kids of color (and please please please let me know of any I missed!).   Do not worry if you are pressed for time.  It is not a long list; it consistes of 13 traditionally published, and 4 small press/ independently published, books.

First up are the books where the kids are shown on the covers.  I am being very generous with my definition of "shown."  In many, the ethnicity of the non-white characters is obscured or outright occluded.  Then come the books where the text or interior illustrations are descriptive, including one where you have to read the book before it in the series to know that the kids have an indigenous Brazilian mother.  The title links go to my reviews if applicable, or to some other informative page if I haven't reviewed the book.

I've also included the breakdown by publisher at the end.

The Cover Books:

The Book of Wonders, Jasmine Richards   (The girl on the right is from a fantasy Persian Gulf-esqe area, ala Shaherezade.  You can tell by her clothes.)  HarperCollins.

Bridge of Time, by Lewis Buzbee  (Jean, on the right, is from a Chinese-American family, something important to the plot.  The back of her head looks plausibly Chinese American.  So does the back of the boy's head.  He isn't.)  Macmillan.

Claws, by Mike and Rachel Grinti (the hardcover shows the cat, but the cover shown is the paperack sold through Scholastic school book fairs, which shows the Vietnamese American heroine front and center). Chicken House/Scholastic.

The Diary of B. B. Bright, Possible Princess, by Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams (Speaks for itself.  A beautiful girl shown with no obfuscation). Turner.

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities, by Mike Jung (that kid in the middle there, on top of the title--that's Vincent Wu, the hero, small but with all his face showing! The two white kids are sidekicks.  The awesome girl isn't shown.) Scholastic.

Dragon of Seas, by Pierdomenico Baccalario (four main characters, one of whom is Chinese.  I don't think the cover makes his ethnicity obvious, but neither does it make it dis-obvious, and the dragon is awful cool and multicultural looking)  Random House.

The River of No Return, by J & P Voelkel (I do not think that anyone could guess that Lola, the one on the left with the ponytail, is Mayan). Egmont.

  Look Ahead, Look Back (2012)  by Annette Laing  (One of the dark shapes is an African American boy).  Confusion Press.

The Savage Fortress, by Sarwat Chadda.  (The brother and sister shown on the cover are Anglo Indians.  Less clear is the fact that the dinosaur is actually an Indian demon).  Scholastic.

 Shade and Sorceress, by Catherine Egan (as Sherry pointed out in her comment, the heroine as shown on the cover looks to be of African descent.  I must go back to this one and look more closely to see how she is described!) Coteau Books.

Ship of Souls, Zetta Elliott  (I think it's reasonably clear that this kid's hands aren't white, but it felt like a stretch to call this a book showing a kid of color.  Are hands enough????). Amazon Encore.

The Stones of Ravenglass, by Jenny Nimmo (a very rare thing in mg sff--the hero is African.  Nothing about the way he's shown contradicts this (he has both hand and hair of non-whiteness)...but it would be very possible not to register it either). Scholastic.

The Serpent's Shadow  by Rick Riordan.  (The silhouettes siblings are half black, half white). Hyperion.

Starry River of the Sky, by Grace Lin (I don't think I need to say anything about this one--Chinese boy clearly shown as Chinese boy).  Little, Brown.

The Interior Description Books:

Above World, by Jenn Reese (It had been a long time since I'd read this one, and I was glad to be reminded by the author that "Aluna, the main character of two PoV characters, has dark skin. Dash, another of the main characters, is also not white.") Candlewick.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, by Frank Cotrell Boyce (The illustrations clearly show that one parent is dark-skinned, and one parent is light-skinned.  Thank you, all involved). Candlewick.

The Drowned Vault: Ashtown Burials #2, N. D. Wilson  (You would not know from either the cover, or from the text, that the mother of the two main characters in this book is an indigenous Brazilian, so that by extension that they, with their dark hair and skin, aren't purely European.   You would know this from page 234 of book 1, which I quote in my review of it).  Random House.

 The Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus, Book 3), Rick Riordan (a smorgasbord of non-white characters.  I'm a bit doubtful about including this, as the mainest of the main characters are white.   And, unrelatedly, why are they all American?). Hyperion.

So.  There you are.   If you want to give a kid a just-published fantasy or sci fi book, whose hero or heroine isn't white, you can chose from 13 books from big publishers, 4 from independent/self-published.  If you want the cover to clearly and unequivocally show that kid with no silhouetting or other ambiguity, you can pick from maybe 6, depending on how you call it.   If you want one that clearly shows a Hispanic boy or girl, or an Asian girl, you are out of luck.

And of course, if you want choice (!), if you want to browse a selection of fantasy books to give a black girl, say, that all star brave and beautiful girls like herself, so that you can find one that you really love and which is just right for her, you are out of luck.  I am glad my local Barnes and Nobel sells Diary of B.B. Bright, but it wasn't the book I wanted to buy for my own niece.

The number of multicultural sci fi/fantasy books for kids is increasing, but not, you know, enough so as to be a dramatic sea change.  By way of comparison, in 2011 I reviewed 13 mg sff books starring kids of color.  And in looking through the 2010 Cybils nominees, I was able to find 8.

Breakdown by publisher:  

Scholastic:  4 (you'll have to trust me on Claws until I get hold of a picture)
Hyperion: 2
Random House: 2
Candlewick: 2
Egmont: 1
Little Brown: 1
HarperCollins: 1
AmazonEncore: 1
Confusion Press: 1
 Coteau Books: 1

And do please let me know if I missed any books!!!!  I want to have missed lots of books!

ps There was only one book that I remember in all 151 mg sff Cybils books that featured non-white supporting characters-- 13 Hangmen, byArt Corriveau.  Surly there must be more?)

pps  The game version of Infinity Ring: Mutiny in Time, by James Dashner (Scholastic) shows images of the characters--Dak as white, Sera as Asian (she's describe in the book as having long dark hair, but that's it), and Rak, a supporting character, as clearly black (he is described in the book as dark of hair and skin.  I am about to read the second book in the series, and will pay close attention to descriptions!

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi/fantasy from around the blogs (12/30/12)

The last round-up of 2012!  And the last before the Cybils are announced on Jan.1, and I can finally talk openly about which mg sff books are my favorites of the year!  Which leads me to a call for help--I stopped reading new mg sff books as of October (since I was busy as a first round panelist reading the 151 books nominated), so I'm wondering what I missed in November and December.  I've already put in a library request for Here Where the Sunbeams are Green--what else should I read from those two lost months?

And now, the round-up--please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews:

The Cup and the Crown, by Diane Stanley, at Charlotte's Library

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, at Fuse #8

In a Glass Grimmly, by Adam Gidwitz, at One Librarian's Book Reviews

Iron Hearted Violet, by Kelly Barnhill, at Book Nut and Ex Libris

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at Book Nut

Killer App, by Michael Dahl, at Secrets and Sharing Soda

Ordinary Magic, by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, at Book Nut

The Paladin Prophecy, by Mark Frost, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Seeds of Rebellion, by Brandon Mull, at Karissa's Reading Review

The Storm Makers, by Jennifer E. Smith, at Book Nut

Super, by Matthew Cody, at In Bed With Books

Return to the Willows, by Jacqueline Kelly, at Educting Alice

and Stephanie Burgis recommends Above World, by Jenn Reese, and Ordinary Magic, by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, as her contribution to Smugglivus.

More Good Stuff:

For those of us who love Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George, and can't wait for the sequel (Wednesdays in the Tower, coming in May), here is a treat--a free short story, Holidays at the Castle!   Just click here-- http://bit.ly/V6NBV8

Did you like the Hobbit movie?  Or did you, like Monica,  find it "Another Children's Book Turned into Young Adult" ?


The Cup and the Crown, by Diane Stanley

Though my co-panelists for the middle grade sci fi/fantasy Cybils have finished our work, and turned in rather a nice shortlist yesterday, I am not quite done with the Cybils yet--there are a number that I want to review.  So today I offer a quick look at a book that made me gently squee with pleasure when it got nominated, one I wanted to read rather badly.

The Cup and the Crown, by Diane Stanley (HarperCollins, October 2012) is the sequel to The Silver Bowl, in which a young castle kitchen maid named Molly discovered gifts of magic that enabled her to save the royal family.   In this second book, Molly, now a lady of the realm, is asked by the young king Alaric to seek out a magical goblet that will ensure he wins the heart of the beautiful princess of the neighboring country (a necessary alliance).   These loving cups were made by Molly's own grandfather long ago, and Molly has been seeing one in her dreams...

So off go Molly, her ex-stable boy/now lordly friend Tobias, and three other companions.   And soon it seems as though a raven wishes to accompany them...which indeed it does (with great import later in the story).

The journey takes them past the town where Molly's grandfather had had his workshop, and into the hidden mountain kingdom where he had been born.  There the companions find a place where magical abilities, such as the grandfather's skill at mixing magic and metal, are common, a place ruled by those with the greatest powers. And there Molly finds that her own gifts are much more powerful than she had realized, and because of that, she is welcomed.  

Catch number one--none off them are ever going to be allowed to leave.  Catch number two-- the current most powerful of the rulers is a nasty piece of work.

It's the sort of slow but steady fantasy that makes for a good, engrossing comfort read.  No slashings and crashings, but rather journeying and discovering,  and lots details and magics, and enough character development to content me.   It's possible that some might feel that not enough Happens, but there was plenty for my taste, especially once it becomes clear that the hidden kingdom is a dangerous trap and Escape (with magical ravenly help, and practical help from a man who may well be my favorite fictional rat-catcher) must be masterminded.  For what it's worth, I read it in a single sitting.

And it's possible that some might feel frustrated with the romantic side of things--in a young adult novel, Molly would be actively caught in a love triangle (King Alaric, who possibly feels something for her, vs old friend Tobias, who is most certainly falling in love with her), and she would be fretting about her own feelings.  Here in middle grade, the reader is left to wonder...and must, perforce, let Molly continue to be young and not yet ready for love.  (I can't decide who I think she should end up with, and hope that Diane Stanley will write a third book and tell me!).

In short--a really nice fantasy for the nine to ten year old girl.

Though it's a sequel, The Cup and the Crown can be quite easily read as a stand-alone.  The author manages to avoided awkwardly dumping in the story of The Silver Bowl, instead referencing those events enough so as to provide solid ground for a new reader.

Interesting aside:  Of course ravens seem to be popping up everywhere, but I couldn't help but notice that this was one of two recent mg sff books (the other being The Brixen Witch) in which a rat catcher plays an important role.  Is Rat Catching the new big thing???? (probably not). 


Merry Christmas books

Although of course it was a pleasure to Give yesterday, it was also a pleasure to Receive, which I did--in the form of 12 books, 1 dining-room lamp, and my younger son agreeing to let me cut his hair.  Here are my books:

Magicalamity, by Kate Saunders
Snowfall, by K.M. Peyton
Wonders of the Invisible World, by Patricia McKillip
Crocuses Were Over, Hitler Was Dead, by Geraldine Symons
The Conjuror's Box, by Ann Lawrence
Oggy at Home, by Ann Lawrence
The Double Shadow, by Sally Gardner
 Reflections on the Magic of Writing, by Diana Wynne Jones
Magic and the Magician: E. Nesbit and Her Children's Books, by Noel Streatfeild
Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks
The Unreal and the Real, vols. 1 and 2, by Ursula Le Guin

And, mostly for my own personal record, here is my husband's stack:

London's Overthrow, by China Mieville
Mortality, by Christopher Hitchens
Two Pints, by Rody Doyle
It All Turns on Affection, by Wendell Barry
The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood
Boneland, by Alan Garner
Bento's Sketchbook, by John Berger
The Ingenious Edgar Jones, by Elizabeth Garner
A Place in Time, by Wendell Berry
The Annotated Hunting of the Snark
The Holistic Orchard, by Michael Phillips

Merry Christmas!


This week's middle grade sci fi/fantasy roundup (12/23/12)

The fierce struggle that happens when eight computer users must share one computer is one reason why I didn't get this done yesterday....the other, more interesting, reason is that us MG sff Cybils panelists talked on online for several hours as we struggled to formulate our shortlist.   Only one book was agreed on yesterday...though several still have seats at the table, and many more were allowed to stay in the room, and given cookies.   Some even got cookies with sprinkles.

There not much from me in this week's round-up--I've been mostly re-reading for the Cybils some books I read over a year ago, so as to see if what I think about them is really what I think about them....which has been a treat, because I really do like rereading, and don't do enough of it!  But here's what other people posted about!  Do let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews:

Above World, by Jenn Reese, at The Book Smugglers

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, by Claire Legrand, at Slatebreakers

Chase Tinker and the House of Magic, by Maila Ann Haberman, at Read 'n'Write

Darkbeast, by Morgan Keyes, at Book Nut 

Deadweather and Sunrise, by Geoff Rodkey, at Semicolon 

Fire Prophet, by Jarel Law, at The Write Path

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities, by Mike Jung, at Charlotte's Library

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, by Catherynne M. Valente, at alibrarymama 

In a Glass Grimmly, by Adam Gidwitz, at Semicolon

Iron Hearted Violet, by Kelly Barnhill, at Semicolon

The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, at Semicolon

The Memory Bank, by Carolyn Coman, at Confessions of a Bibliovore

The Peculiar,by Stefan Bachmann, at Emily's Reading Room (audio book review)

The Prairie Thief, by Melissa Wiley, at Book Nut

The Prince Who Fell From the Sky, by John Claude Bemis, at Book Nut

The Seven Tales of Trinket, by Shelley Moore Thomas, at Book Nut

Tilly's Moonlight Garden, by Julia Green, at Charlotte's Library

What Came From the Stars, by Gary Schmidt, at One Librarian's Book Reviews

Authors and Interviews

Mrs. Bunny (as in, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny: Detectives Extraordinaire)  at Random Acts of Reading

Katherine Catmull (Summer and Bird) at The Enchanted Inkpot

 Ilana Waters (The Adventures of Stanley Delacourt), at Geo Librarian

Other Good Stuff....I don't really have anything this week, just a gingerbread library:

And the hope that lots of kids will get books they love tomorrow!  I'm going to do on last bit of Christmas shopping, by making a donation to Reading is Fundamental.  Through Dec. 31, donations will be matched dollar for dollar. 


A book I'm looking forward to--The Emerald Ring

So I'm down at my mother's house, and the tree is decorated (five broken ornaments later--mostly broken by us grown ups), and already the nicely wrapped books are piled beneath it (so space saving, to give each other books instead of bulky things)....and so I have lots of reading to look forward to.

But always there are more books coming down the pipeline, and although I generally save this sort of post for the  "Waiting on Wednesday" meme  (or, as I like to think of it, Waiting, on a Wednesday, because I wait for things, not on things), I was asked by a blogger I know, Dorine White of The Write Path, to take part on her cover revel.  Congratulations, Dorine!  It's a lovely cover!

The Emerald Ring, by Dorine White (Cedar Fort, Inc., May 2013) "Sara Bogus's life turns upside down when she discovers an emerald ring that once belonged to Cleopatra. The fun of discovering the ring's unique abilities turns to fear when she finds out a dangerous cult bent on restoring Rome to power is after the ring. Forced to choose between keeping the ring and saving her friends, Sara learns the price of bravery in this electrifying read!"


Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities, by Mike Jung

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities, by Mike Jung (Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2012) is a worthy addition to the superhero sub-genre of middle grade science fiction.  It's a fun, fast read,with an interesting twist--a girl gets to be the one who ends up with superhero powers.

When  Stupendous Alert sounds in Copperplate City, urging its residents to protect themselves as Captain Stupendous battles yet another bad guy, the streets fill with his eager fans.  Young Vincent Wu is part of a small and exclusive fan club (himself and his best friends), and so he's thrilled to get the chance to see the brave Captain battling Professor Mayhem's giant monster robot.  But something seems off about the great superhero....

And indeed, there is.  Polly Winnicott-Lee, the very girl Vincent has a crush on, has unwillingly assumed the superhero mantle.  She isn't interested in fighting bad guys, doesn't know how to use her new abilities to their best advantages, and finds the idea of slipping into the role of muscular, male superhero rather distasteful.

But when Vincent discovers her secret, he and his friends decide they can help Polly be the Captain Stupendous she was meant to be, and the hero their city needs.  Because the giant robot is still out there, threatening ultimate destruction!

This is one I can enthusiastically recommend to any younger middle-school kid, boy or girl.  It's told from Vincent's point of view, and he's an engaging, sympathetic narrator--he and the other boys in his circle have a fun dynamic going on.  But though I liked him just fine, and enjoyed the superhero shenanigans, my greatest pleasure was watching Polly adjusting to her superhero status, claiming the role for her own (yay girl power!). 

Plus it has a genuine sci fi twist, which should please the geeks drawn in by the title.

Further plus--Asian American kid Vincent (shown as such on the cover) makes this a nice one for my list of multicultural sci-fi/fantasy!


Tilly's Moonlight Garden, by Julia Green, for Timeslip Tuesday

Tilly's Moonlight Garden (originally Tilly's Moonlight Fox in the UK), by Julia Green (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2012, middle grade), is a lovely little gentle, old-fashioned timeslipish story.  

Tilly is somewhat daunted by her new home--it's old, and big and strange.  And even stranger, and more scary, is the fact that her mother isn't well.  A new baby is on its way, and Tilly's mom must spend almost all of her time in bed...with little energy to spare for Tilly.    But in the night garden Tilly finds the perfect distraction.

There is the fox, waiting to have her own cubs in a safe, moonlight den.  And there in the moonlight, Tilly meets Helen, a mysterious girl who joins her in making a den of their own, a secret hiding place.  Tilly only sees Helen at night...and though once she watches Helen go home to her own house, in the daylight she can't find it again.

In the meantime, worry about her mother grows, and though her father tries his best, it's not the same, and there's the horrid shyness of a new school.   But Tilly's grandma comes, which is a comfort, and Tilly makes a new daylight friend, who shares her appreciation of the old dollhouse found up in the attic, a relic of the girl who lived in Tilly's house long ago.  And at last it is Christmas, and the new baby comes, and the fox has her kits...and Tilly has no need for the moonlight garden anymore.

It is a book full of lovely little bits of detail and description, and the moonlight garden in particular was a joy to read about (although the dollhouse was a close second).  Tilly's inner turmoil and anxiety are rendered beautifully too--it's clear just how anxious she is, but the reader isn't beaten over the head with it!

I would have liked a bit more of the timeslip part of things--the magic is definitely there, but it is more a background to Tilly's reality than it is the center of the story.  I wanted more about Helen!  Till never has a Moment of Realization about her night-time friend, and it's never explicitly Explined just who she is, and though this is just fine, as sometimes a bit of mystery is a nice thing, and there are plent of clues, I did want a bit more.  I wondered whether she was actually a ghost, but since Tilly does actually see her house, it felt more timeslipish too me--a rather particularly British type of timeslip-ness, I think, in which the connection between people in the past and present is more important than any adventures that might result.  

In any event, this is a perfect one to give to a sensitive young reader, appreciative of books in which mood and description trump plot! I would have loved it when I was eight or so, and managed to enjoy it very much indeed even as a cynical grown up.

Here's the UK cover (Tilly's Moonlight Fox):

And here are some other blog reviews:

Books Beside My Bed

Sharon the Librarian

Jean Little Library

(review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Award consideration)


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi/fantasy from around the blogs (December 16, 2012))

This is the last round-up before the world ends, so I hope you enjoy it.  Please let me know if I missed your post.  I follow about 400 of you in google reader (which is why I don't comment much--I'm too busy skimming), but there are so many blogs out there a girl just can't find everyone.

The Reviews

Beauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run Away, by Wendy Mass, at Semicolon

Bliss, by Kathryn Littlewood, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Cabinet of Earths, by Anne Nesbet, at Book Nut

Chance Fortune and the Outlaws, by Shane Berryhill, at Madigan Reads

The Cup and the Crown, by Diane Stanley, at Semicolon

Deadly Pink, by Vivien Vande Velde, at Semicolon

The Emerald Atlas and The Fire Chronicle, by John Stephens, at Kid Lik Geek

The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon, by S.S Taylor, at In Bed With Books and Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Fire Chronicle, by John Stephens, at The Write Path and Charlotte's Library

Freakling, by Lana Krumwiede, at Challenging the Bookworm

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities, by Mike Jung, at Semicolon

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Book Nut

Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander, at Great Kid Books and alibrarymama

The Grimm Legacy, by Polly Shulman, at Sharon the Librarian 

In the Nick of Time, by J. Lee Graham, at Time Travel Times Two

The Icarus Project, by Laura Quimby, at Book Nut

Iron Hearted Violet, by Kelly Barnhill, at The Book Smugglers

Island of Silence, by Lisa McMann, at Challenging the Bookworm

The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, at Charlotte's Library and Finding Wonderland

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, at Barbara Ann Watson

Princess of the Silver Woods, by Jessica Day George, at The Book Smugglers and A Backwards Story

Princess of the Wild Swans, by Diane Zahlerat Kid Lit Geek

Shiverton Hall, by Emerald Fennell, at Bart's Bookshelf

The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver, at The Irish Banana

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schiltz, at Fuse #8

Tilly's Moonlight Garden, by Julia Green, at Jean Little Library 

Wildwood, by Colin Meloy, at Shelf Elf

Zoe & Zak and the Ghost Leopard, by Lars Guignard, at Sharon the Librarian

At Random Musings of a Bibliophile, quick looks at four mg fantasies: The Graverobber's Apprentice, by Allan Stratton, Ordinary Magic, by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, The Sea of Trolls, by Nancy Farmer, and The Star Shard, by Frederic S. Durbin.

And more quick reviews at Candace's Book Blog:  The Flame of Olympus, by Kate O'Hearn, The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo, and Once Upon a Merigold, by Jean Ferris. 

Author and Interviews:

Mike Jung (Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities) at Cynsations
Sarwat Chadda (Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress) at The Book Smugglers

Other Good Stuff:

I missed this list in November--School Library Journal's compilation of Middle Grade Fantasy you should have in your library.

(and I made my own little list of fantasy books to give a nine-year old boy)

Jenn Reese reminds us of middle grade books that have been honored by the Norton Award, and urges nominators to keep this age group in mind this year.

What's with all the dead parents in middle grade fantasy? at KimberlyLynKane

We went to see The Hobbit last night, and were pretty happy with it (though some of us, ie me, felt there was too much fighting, felt that Rivendell looks too much like a Thomas Kincade painting, and thought Galadriel's dress was silly).  But in any event, it would be very helpful to have studied this dwarf identification flowchart in advance, and perhaps even to have it printed out, with a little pen light on hand, to consult during the movie.  My younger son and I like Kili best (which makes me sad in advance about the ultimate ending....).


The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde

The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, is one of the few books that made it onto my list of favorite books read in 2012.   In large part this is due to the presence of  a utterly awesome magical creature, the Quarkbeast, but even Quarkbeast aside, it's a fun one.

It's set in an alternate UK--the Un-united Kingdoms, where all the little bits of the British Isles are separate kingdoms, engaged in fierce struggles against each other (it helps to have a decent grip of the geography of England and Wales in particular to make sense of this--it could be confusing if you don't know where Hereford and Brecon are, for instance).

In this world there is magic, and once there was a lot more of it.  The magicians, much less powerful than they once were, have come down in the world,  using carpets to make routine delivers, and magic to unclog drains.  Jennifer, the 15-year-old indentured foundling who runs Kazam Mystical Arts Management,  a place full of eccentric magic users, struggles to find enough work for everyone to keep things going.

But then the level of magic begins to surge, and soothsayers across the divided lands begin predicting the death of the last dragon.   Jennifer finds herself in the right place and the right time to assume, much to her surprise, the role of Dragonslayer, inheriting a super-cool dragon slaying mobile, super sharp dragonslaying sword, and the ability to pass unharmed into the vast area of wilderness that is home to the dragon.    When the dragon dies, it will trigger a land rush, and not only are thousands of people camping out by the boarder, eager to stake their claims, but the Kingdom of Hereford and the duchy of Brecon are preparing for all out war over this opportunity for territorial expansion.

There's just one problem in the King of Hereford's plans, however.  Jennifer, far from being eager to fulfil the premonitions and slay the dragon at 12 on Sunday, finds her sympathies firmly on the side of the ancient creature.   And Big Magic is coming...

It's the sort of book that's filled with amusing minor characters, somewhat over the top world building, and sly pokes at modern society.    And I Loved her ferocious pet Quarkbeast (lots of fangs, but a heart of gold).  I also appreciated the digs at greedy consumer culture, and shared Jennifer's distaste at the thought of development despoiling the dragon's wilderness.  And though some may feel all this sort of thing distracts from the central story of Jennifer and the dragon, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

I really liked Jennifer--the story is written in a distant 1st person, but I thought her character came through loud and clear from her actions and words.   Insufficient Jennifer-characteriztion is a critism I noticed in  my glance at the Goodreads reviews--I think if you approach this one as a book for kids, this becomes less of an issue.

It's mostly labled Young Adult, but it has much more of a middle grade feel--adventure fun, with lots of magical rushings around.  I'd recommend in in particular to fans of Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones--humor verging on over-the-top-ness, high expectations that the reader will be able to figure out what's happening without a whole lot of underlined exposition, and a sense of things on the edge (both for the reader, and within the world of the book) of becoming utterly chaotic!

I thought the story hung together rather well, with no desperate need for a sequel; however, there is one--  Song of the Quarkbeast--already out in the UK.  Had I but known how much I'd like this one, I would have asked for it for Christmas!

Other reviews:  Finding Wonderland, The Bookwyrm's Hold, and oh goodness lots of others and I have to go to work now sorry.


Fantasy books for a nine-year old boy

Here are some great fantasy books that a nine year old boy might well enjoy!

For those in need of books for their own nine year old who's burned through Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, and needs more, here are some sure-fire winners.  I've organized them roughly in reading level, from Dragonbreath, which is fine for seven year olds, to Runemarks, labeled 12 and up on Amazon.  As an added bonus, many of them have heroines--it's my experience that boys don't need, want, or expect to read about boys!

The Dragonbreath books, by Ursula Vernon.  The easy to read adventures of a young dragon and his reptilian pals, with lots of illustrations that verge on graphic novel-ness, funny as all get out, and in general just utterly top-notch.

The Nathaniel Flood, Beastologist series, by R. L. LaFevers, beginning with book 1, The Flight of the Phoenix.  This is the story of a plucky lad and his gremlin friend travelling the world to come to the aid of mythical creatures. Easy, but substantial, reading, full of humor and mystery.

Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman, is the best Norse mythology fantasy for young readers that I know of.  A magical wintery tale, in which a young boy must save transformed Norse gods from a giant who's conquered Valhalla.

Wings of Fire: the Dragonet Prophecy, by Tui T. Sutherland, exudes kid appeal--it's one of the most popular books in my son's fourth grade. Five young dragons must find their destiny and survive the dangers in their path.

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, isn't one for the adult reader (I found it somewhat derivative, and full of rather unsubstantial description).  But for the kid who desperatly wants to be an elf with tremendous magical powers, this is utterly satisfying wish-fulfillment.  My own son read it cover to cover, and appreciated the fact that there was no big bad guy involved in the plot.  He also liked the magical pet very much.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin.  A Chinese fairy tale-filled story, with gorgeous illustrations, about a girl and a dragon and a talking fish on a mission to bring happiness to her family.   It might not seem like one "for boys," but both of mine love it.

Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George.  Best Fantasy Castle Ever.  Brave girl who saves the day.  Fun for all ages.  (This was the book my son did his first 4th grade report on--he spent ages drawing the transformation of the stuffed animal into a griffin in four steps, only to be told by his teacher he needed to use color, which then ruined everything.  Sigh.)

Runemarks, by Joanne Harris, is another with Norse Mythology.  Full of tremendously interesting magic, with an appealing heroine who has a Destiny, this is one that I've always thought deserved more attention.

And here are the books I'll be offering my own nine-year old son in the coming year, all books I've read that I think he'll enjoy:  Raider's Ransom, by Emily Diamand, Mistress of the Storm, by M. L. Welsh,  The Shadows, by Jacqueline West, Troll Fell, by Katherine Langrish, and Blackbringer, by Laini Taylor...and so many others, as well whatever else takes his fancy from my review pile!  It's so nice to have another inveterate reader of middle grade fantasy around to share the pleasure of book opening with!


The Fire Chronicle, by John Stephens, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Fire Chronicle, by John Stephens, the second of The Books of Beginning.   This post contains spoilers for the first book, The Emerald Atlas, which really needs to be read first for a reader to make sense of this one!

In The Emerald Atlas (my review) we met three siblings, Kate, Michael, and Emma, whose parents had mysteriously abandoned them to a series of orphanages.  Their destiny led them to the home of an ancient wizard, Dr. Pym, and they embarked on a perilous journey through time that ended in the defeat of an evil witch and the recovery of the Emerald Atlas, one of a mysterious trio of ancient texts.

The Emerald Atlas gave Kate the power of travelling through time.  When The Fire Chronicle begins, Kate and her siblings have been sent by the wizard back to an orphanage, where they come under attack by evil minions.  Kate uses her time travelling powers to save her siblings, and finds herself trapped in New York city at the very end of the 19th century.   There the magical world is preparing to sunder itself from the mortal world, the persecution of magic users having become intolerable.   Though a group of magical kids, led by the charismatic Rafe, shelters her, she's still in danger from the most evilly powerful magician of them all, who wants the Emerald Atlas for himself. 

Michael and Emma find themselves in dangerous circumstances of their own, as Dr. Pym sets them on a path that will, if all goes well, lead them to the second book--the Fire Chronicle.  Michael must find it in himself to be truly brave (and to overcome his distaste for elves) as he braves the lair of a dragon in a hidden antarctic Elven paradise...now besieged by the forces of evil.

It's to Stephens' credit that that all this busyness gels into two coherent story lines that come together nicely at the end.  There is much excitement, mystery, and mayhem, but though my tolerance for unbridled adventure is not as great as it might be, I still enjoyed The Fire Chronicle very much, mainly because I was genuinely interested in the characters.  As Jen Robinson rightly points out in her review of this book, the fact that this trio are siblings, with only themselves to count on, rather than friends, adds to the emotional weight of their story.

That being said, I much preferred Kate's story arc of a magical 19th century New York, full of lovely details and twistiness.  It's a lovely addition to the "magical New York" sub-genre of juvenile fantasy.  My enjoyment was enhanced by the enigmatic and attractive Rafe,  an appealingly nuanced addition to the cast of characters--will he turn out to be a hero or a traitor?  Though The Emerald Atlas left me interested in its sequel, this particular twist of the second book left me right on the edge of my seat, wanting more.

And I'm also looking forward to seeing feisty, frightened Emma come into her own in the third book!

Stephens perhaps overwrites his story at times, using two adjectives where one would do, and such like, but the book as a whole works well. That being said, this series is a solid entry into the field of "children of destiny" fantasy, managing to make that basic plot fresh and interesting.  The series is not my own personal favorite (because of my own distaste for pages of non-stop action), but I enjoyed this second book lots more than the first, galloping through it at break-neck speed.

It's not as much a wish-fulfilment story as some (like Harry Potter, for instance)--though the children are special, it's not because they themselves have untapped cool magic talents that are cooler than everybody elses, and there are no cute magical pets.   Instead, the characters are faced with serious responsibilities, and must find the emotional maturity to make the right decisions.  So I'd not rush to give this to a nine year old looking for escapist fun--it's a better fit, I think, for older kids.

Disclaimer:  review copy received from the publisher, and read for the Cybils.


Oh No, Little Dragon! by Jim Averbeck

Last week my blog was a stop on the Dragon and Dangerous Princess blog tour, in which Jim Averbeck, writer and illustrator of Oh No, Little Dragon! (Atheneum Books, 2012) and Dangerously Ever After, by Dashka Slater (my review).  At that time I hadn't actually had the pleasure of reading Jim's new book, but that has now been remedied!

Oh No, Little Dragon (Atheneum, 2012) is a picture book for the 2 to 4 year old set, a perfect offering for the small child who loves his little fire-breathing colleagues in childhood!  Little Dragon loves ot huff and puff and PHOOSH out fire, but there's a side-effect--sootiness.  Which means bathtime, complete with a toy Viking ship to incinerate.  But when Little Dragon decides to play the part of the Fire Department, the spark inside him goes out!  How will he find his flame again?  And without his flame, will his mama dragon still love him?  Of course she will, and the warmth of her love is just what he's been looking for.

Totally charming.   The pictures are simple, and so is the story, but in a most excellent way.

Along with Oh No,  Little Dragon!  I also received one of Jim Averbeck's earlier books, Except If (Atheneum, 2011).  This one's more sophisticated--in a series of possibilities, the reader/viewer is taken from an egg to a snake to a lizard to a fossilized dinosaur (!), and back again to an egg.   Mind expanding for the young, and one a grown-up can enjoy reading too.

If you didn't get a chance to read Jim Averbeck and Dashka Slater's chat about fantasy books here at my blog tour stop, here's the link again.


This Week's Round-Up of Middle Grade Sci Fi and Fantasy (Dec. 9, 2012)

I found a rather nice bunch of reviews and other good stuff this week--please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews:

Artemis Fowl and the Arctic Incident, by Eoin Colfer, at So Many Books, So Little Time

The Aviary, by Kathleen O'Dell,  at Good Books and Good Wine

The Burning Bridge, by John Flanagan, at Sonderbooks

The Castle in the Attic, by Elizabeth Winthrop, at Time Travel Times Two 

Chase Tinker and the House of Magic, by Malia Ann Haberman, at YA Book Season

The Cloak Society, by Jeramey Kraatz, at Maria's Melange

Deadly Pink, by Vivien Vande Velde, at Semicolon

Deadweather and Sunrise, by Geoff Rodkey, at Sonderbooks

Divide and Conquer (Infinity Ring 2), by Carrie Ryan, at Cracking the Cover

Eye of the Storm, by Kate Messner, at That's Another Story

The Fire Chronicle, by John Stephens, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Freakling, by Lara Krumwiede, at Semicolon

In a Glass Grimmly, by Adam Gidwitz, at The Book Smugglers

Ivy and the Meanstalk, by Dawn Lairamore, at 300 Pages

Liesl and Po, by Lauren Oliver, at Challenging the Bookworm

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny: Detectives Extraordinaire, by Polly Horvath, at Crunchings and Munchings

Nanny Piggins and the Wicked Plan, by R. A. Spratt, at Book Nut 

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, at Heavy Medal

The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan, at Fyrefly's Book Blog

The Savage Fortress, by Sarwat Chadda, at Semicolon

Small Medium at Large, by Joanne Levy, at Book Nut

The Tale of Timewarp Tuesday, by Leslie A. Susskind, at Nayu's Reading Corner

The Time-Travelling Fashionista at the Palace of Marie Antoinette, by Bianca Turetsky, at Charlotte's Library

Under My Hat, edited by Jonathan Strahan, at Book Nut 

Under Wildwood, by Colin Meloy, at Guys Lit Wire 

Unlocking the Spell, by E.D. Baker, at Geo Librarian

The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons, by Barbara Mariconda, at Semicolon

Who Could That Be At This Hour? by Lemony Snicket, at Charlotte's LibraryKid Lit Geek and Crunchings and Munchings

Wings of Fire-The Dragonet Prophecy, by Tui T. Sutherland, at Book Nut and Challenging the Bookworm

Winter of Enchantment, by Victoria Walker, at Tor  

A look at the Tunnels series, by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams,  at Guys Lit Wire

Authors and Inverviews:

Rick Riordan talks about myths at The Guardian

Other Good Stuff:

If you want to try Diana Wynne Jones, here's a great guide from Andrea K. Höst at The Book Smugglers

I did not know that Harrison Ford has a major role in the Ender's Game movie!  My already considerable interest now much greater.

For those tired of stew, other foods in children's fantasy, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Overlapping onto YA territory, the Andre Norton Award (which includes middle grade books) is being promoted in a blog tour during which great authors talk about their favorite boos of the year (and other good stuff)

 At The Mary Sue, the cast of the Hobbit meet their lego selves:

and in the random but almost sci fi category--catfish = pigeon killers


The books my loved ones are getting for Christmas

I buy books for my family at Christmas, and they buy books for me.  It all works out very nicely.  Here's what I'm getting them this year (which of them would you want?)

For my 9 year old son:

Warriors Super Edition: Yellowfang's Secret, and Warriors: Battles of the Clans  Erin Hunter

Mal and Chad: Food Fight! Stephen McCranie

Simon's Dream (Fog Mound)  Susan Schade

For my 12 year old son:

August Moon, Diana Thung

Baffling and Bizarre Inventions, Jim Murphy (currently hidden so well for Christmas that I can't find it.  Sigh.)

Faradawn (Fog Mound), Susan Schade

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad

The Darwin Awards Next Evolution: Chlorinating the Gene Pool Wendy Northcutt (another one I hid really, really well.  whah.)

For my husband:

Three of these he asked for, the rest were picked up over the course of the year, and miraculously I didn't hide any of them too well (although it's possible there are more little mouse nests of book presents somewhere that I've forgotten all about...)

The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood

The Ingenious Edgar Jones, Elizabeth Garner (Alan Garner's daughter; he's a huge fan of his, so I thought he'd find it interesting.  I think I'll find it interesting too--have any of you all read it?  It is a YA/adult fantasy that came out in 2010)

It All Turns on Affection (Paperback), Wendell Berry

London's Overthrow, China Mieville

The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way, Michael Phillips

Bento's Sketchbook, John Berger

A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership, Wendell Berry

The annotated Hunting of the Snark

For my mother: 

Birds of Melanesia: Bismarcks, Solomons, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia (Princeton Field Guides), Guy Dutson (her request)

Existence, by David Brin (it's nice to have a mama whose reading taste overlaps with one's own--although I'm not looking forward to dipping into the Birds of Melanesia, I'm am excited about reading this one!)

For my sister: 

The Moomins and the Great Flood, by Tove Jansson (again, it's nice to give books that one wants to read--it save on having to pack books for oneself.   I'm pretty sure this one is still at work....I hope)

and one secret one that she doesn't know about (if you aren't Emily, feel free to highlight to see what it is)
Bright Island, by Mabel L. Robinson


My son's first sestina, for Poetry Friday

My blogging time was severely constrained this week by the amount of homework my son had (and many other things as well)...sigh. So since I have nothing else to offer, here is one of the products of this past week of business--his first sestina.

Balloon show
By B. H.

Balloons navigate by hot air.
Our balloon hangar is infested with monkeys!
The biggest balloons are called zeppelins.
But if it rains,
water soaks the balloon cloth,
and we have to stop the show.

We try not to stop the show,
but some of our pilots have heads of air.
Luckily our balloons are reinforced with cloth,
and we stitched on pictures of good-luck monkeys.
Oh good, it will not rain.
There go the racing zeppelins!

Oh no! a crashing zeppelin!
This will surely ruin the show.
Please please please don’t rain.
Smoke is billowing in the air!
That pilot that crashed is such a monkey.
Know what’s burning? Balloon cloth!

We got  the shipment of balloon cloth
today. Now we can repair the zeppelin!
What are those monkeys
doing in the balloon that starts the show?
Help! That balloon is filling with hot air!
Catch it before it rains!

We caught the rogue balloon before it rained,
So there was no damage to its cloth.
Though clouds are billowing in the air,
Now we can repair the zeppelin!
Now we can perform our show!
Now, where are those mischievous monkeys?

The zoo people came and took away the monkeys
and it will not rain
today. This is going to be a great show!
Good thing we got that new cloth.
We spent weeks on that zeppelin.
Now let us float on a sea of air.

No more monkeys so we aren’t buying more cloth.
The rain is really bad for the zeppelins.
We had a great show in the air.

The Poetry Friday round-up is at Robyn Hood Black's blog today!


Waiting on Wednesday--Wings of Fire #2: The Lost Heir

The book I'm waiting for today (The Lost Heir, by Tui T. Sutherland, the second book of the Wings of Fire series) is actually one that I've already received a review copy off.  However, such is the kid appeal of this series about a band of young dragons, trying to bring about the prophecy that they were hand-picked to fulfil, that it might be a while before I get to read it.

The review copy arrived, and within minutes my younger son was on the phone with his book loving friends--"This is the best day ever!" he said.   And The Lost Heir went to school with him the next day, so he could finish it...and then it went to Will, and then to Marshall....and there's a rather long list of other fans of the first book, all desperately wanting it.

My son had read the first book (The Dragonet Prophecy) as a review copy, and I think hand sold the entire stock of it at the school's book fair.   It's gratifying to have my own opinion (here's my review) of the extreme kid appeal of this series recognized!  But I am a little anxious about getting The Lost Heir back safely--not only do I feel an obligation to the publisher, but I want to read it myself.  Even though I'm a hardened, cynical adult, I really liked book 1.

And am looking forward to book 2:

"The WINGS OF FIRE saga continues with a thrilling underwater adventure--and a mystery that will change everything!

Tsunami the SeaWing is overjoyed to be reunited with her fellow ocean-dwelling dragons. For the first time in her life, she actually fits in.

But not everything is as perfect as it seems underwater. Tsunami and the other "dragonets of destiny" aren't any closer to ending the war for Pyrrhia . . . and someone in the SeaWing kingdom wants them dead before they can even try. Tsunami wants to stay with her fellow SeaWings, but can she keep her friends safe at the same time?"

The Lost Heir comes out January 1 from Scholastic.

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine


The Time-Travelling Fashionista at the Palace of Marie Antoinette, by Bianca Turetsky

The Time-Travelling Fashionista at the Palace of Marie Antoinette, by Bianca Turetsky, is the second adventure of Louise--12 years old, connoisseur of vintage fashion, and survivor of the Titanic on her first trip back to the past.   The two strange ladies who sold her the dress that took her through time are having another open house, and Louise is once again invited. 

This time it's a blue mid-18th century dress that catches Louise's eye...and she surreptitiously tries it on.   It transports her back to Versailles, where young Marie Antoinette is the center of a giddy whirl of beautiful clothes, lavish food, and sumptuous surroundings (plus a few nasty smells).   Louise (now a lady-in-waiting) is, naturally, charmed by the clothes, but once her wonder fades a bit, she begins to fear for the princess.  Louise knows the Revolution is coming, and she can see first hand the grave injustices that will set it off.   And, like so many time travellers, she's worried about getting home safely again....

This is first and foremost a book to give to girls who love beautiful dresses.  Turetsky does not skip on her descriptions, and there are many beautiful illustrations by Sandra Suy.   There's also a lot of designer name dropping--Louise is nothing if not knowledgeable about her obsession.   Even though I don't share her passion, I do appreciate a heroine who's focused, and don't object to learning new things!  And the dresses do sound lovely. 

The plot is somewhat thin, mainly involving descriptions of what Louise sees, and what she thinks about it.    She remains an outsider, observing rather than interacting all that much with those around her.  There's a smidge of (somewhat improbable) romance, and a whiff of danger to come, but apart from the central fact that she's gone back in time, nothing much happens.  

Turetsky does give a hint that there is more backstory to the whole business of time travelling fashionistas than was apparent at first, which stirred my interest.  The fact that there are others who time travel via clothes opens up all sorts of possibilities that could lift Louise's adventures to a new level.   

Although Louise's second adventure didn't work as well for me as her first, it's still a pleasantly readable and somewhat educational excursion to the past that should find many fans in its target audience of middle school girls.  They will probably appreciate the actual glitter on the cover more than I did, too! 

(Thanks in part to the glitter, and to the lovely pictures, this is the sort of book that has "present" written all over it.  It would work beautifully paired with any number of fashion designing kits and crafts).

(review copy received from the publishers for Cybils consideration)


"Who Could That Be at This Hour?" by Lemony Snicket

All the Wrong Questions is a new series from Lemony Snicket, and the first wrong question is "Who Could That Be at this Hour?"  I shall not summarize the plot (much), because to do so would keep anyone who hasn't read it yet from asking their own questions.  I myself had many questions, mostly along the lines of "What the heck is happening?" (in a good, intrigued way, as opposed to an "I am confused and cross" way). 

My first question (as a reader)--who is this almost 13 year old boy named Lemony Snicket, whom I have just met, and why is he exiting this distasteful cafe by way of the bathroom window?  What secrets does he hide from me?  Already I sense that he is an unreliable narrator.  Why does he tease me so?

The boy and his new companion, a teacher and mentor of uncertain credentials, journey to Stain'd by the Sea. There they must solve the mystery of a stolen statue. 

My second question (asked as a person planning to review the books)--are the many peculiarities of Stain'd by the Sea and its environs sufficiently peculiar to make this "fantasy"?  Answer: yes, if one must label it something, and doesn't it stink to have fallen into a pigeon-holing mindset.

Not only is Stain'd by the Sea a geographical enigma, it holds dark secrets.....! 

My third question:  ??????  Which is to say, there are mysteries piled on mysteries, and the breadcrumbs marking the path through the woods have been eaten (as it were, or else I'm dense.  Or both).  It does not help to know who anybody is at any particular hour, because there are Secrets and Lies......

As I read, my mind kept conjuring Edward Gorey to illustrate the surreal scenes unfolding.    The surreal landscape, the enigmatic characters, all playing their parts but communicating very little--coming and going on and off stage, and doing bizarre things--, the mystery of it all, and an sense that this was not the present (whether that's justified I'm not sure), made it fell very Gorey-esque to me.  So strong were these images that it was something of a surprise to go back after reading it to see that it was actually illustrated, and very nicely too, by an artist named Seth.

In any event, my own mental images added considerably to my enjoyment.  But added to that was a growing emotional investment in young Snicket--I knew nothing, yet still I cared.  

Here's what the NY Times said, rather more articulately than me!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

Free Blog Counter

Button styles