Many Saturdays ago I promised a look at two middle grade fantasy books featuring moths, and (mostly for my own sake, because books that have been reviewed can be shelved or passed on to the library), I am determined to follow through, though the hour is late.
Margaret and the Moth Tree, by Brit Trogan and Kari Trogan, (Kids Can Press, 2009), is a rather fetching tale. Poor Margaret has ended up at a horrible orphanage, run by an egotistical maniac who has the art of deception down to a science. When visitors come, the orphanage seems a paradise, but it is really a nightmare for the poor inmates, all of whom must serve the twisted doyen who rules their lives. Fortunately for Margret, she learned during her solitary childhood to listen with a focused intensity to sounds most people can't hear, and this gift enables her to make friends with a moth.
Although that last statement may sound odd, out in the uncontextualized cold, within the world of the story it makes sense. With the help of the moth and his kin, Margaret brings about the downfall of the dastardly mistress of the orphanage, and all is well.
If only this book had a different cover it would doubtless charm many a young reader, for it is a charming story! A cover with a flowering tree under the moonlight, studded with star-like moths, and an appealing, perhaps even fairy-like, girl beneath it....which is how I imagine Margaret. But the actual cover is so drab that this book might be a very hard sell.
If you get past the cover, you get a very nice indeed orphan story, one I myself enjoyed quite a bit.
The Grey Ghost, by Julie Hahnke (PublishingWorks, 2009), is a historical fantasy, set in 16th-century Scotland. It's the story of eleven-year-old Angus, who finds himself the sole survivor of his clan--all his kin have been massacred by Black Duncan Campbell.
It falls to Angus to unravel the secrets of his clan, and claim its ancient treasure...while bringing down Black Duncan. It's a lot for one boy on his own to accomplish, but fortunately Angus has help, of an unlikely kind. A luna moth, a spirit of the earth, appears to him, setting him along his way, and sends to friends to help him--a pine martin and a goshawk.
Yes, it sounds unlikely, and those who flinch from talking animals may well find it hard to suspend their disbelief, but it actually does work (although I have to confess it took a lot for me to accept a spiritual advisor in the form of a luna moth, especially in Scotland!). And the whole ensemble is a fast-paced, exciting story. Angus' situation is a sad and desperate one--the stakes are rather high, and there is some grim fighting, but the animal friends lighten things up, leavening the grimness with their fantasy.
By way of warning, though, the animal friends don't show up until a considerable ways into the book, by which point the more sensitive young reader looking for fantasy escapism might have decided the book isn't for them (which is why I've not offered this to my own 9 year old yet). The generous number of appealing black and white illustrations, however, might counter-balance this, keeping said reader's interest....
(disclaimer: both of these were received from their publishers for Cybils review purposes)