Oh yeah. You want a book that hits the sweet spot for the nine-year old mythical creature lover? This is what you are looking for:
The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland (HarperCollins, March 2013, middle grade), is your basic ordinary boy meets a family who tends mythical creatures, and finds he has a knack for baby griffin wrangling. It's your basic new kid in town finds a niche and makes friends, with a bit of family dynamic stuff thrown in. And it's your basic scary government bad enforcement types and sinister sneakers off in the background threatening everything.
And the sum of these somewhat unremarkable plot points is an adventure with a generous dose of mystery that is eminently readable and very enjoyable, especially, I think, if you are nine years old. Even more especially if you are my own nine-year old, who turned right around after reading it in one day to begin it over again, and who can't wait for the sequel.
Things I especially appreciated:
1. Great baby griffins! The main story revolves around the escape of six young siblings, and their escapades all over town, which vary depending on their personality (one ends up in the library, because books are her favorite sort of treasure, another makes a hoard for himself with the pirate coins in a toy shop, etc.).
Logan, our central character, has the remarkable ability to converse telepathically with griffins, and here he is talking to baby Flurp (her thoughts are in bold) in the library:
"Flurp ready to write fabulous tales of grand adventure. Flurp ready to be most famous author of all time! From nice warm safe cave with much fish. She clacked her beak. Nothing to eat in here but BOOKS.
"Did you actually--?" Logan glanced through the play-house window. The floor was covered in Harry Potter books, as if Flurp had been been making a nest out of them.
Eat books?! Flurp would NEVER! Flurp would STARVE first!
The griffin cub let out a tiny burp that smelled of crayons." (p 105)
Plus Logan knows about griffins because he's seen one on a Diana Wynne Jones book, which made me, DWJ fan that I am, smile!
2. The fact that Logan is African American, and that this has nothing whatsoever to do with anything that happens. It's just who he is.
3. The nice balance of description (cool creatures!) with happenings, and an equally nice balance of the funny with the tense----it felt just right to my own internal nine-year old.
4. The fact that Logan has a cat named Purrsimmon.
And, as a small but worthwhile added bonus, "menagerie" is now in my son's vocabulary.
So give this to the kid who isn't ready for Fablehaven yet, who loves mythical creature fiction, and watch the pages turn...
One last thing regarding my own boy's experience with it--after taking it to school, and talking it up, he came home to report that at least ten kids, including ones he hadn't expected to be interested, all wanted to read it. But he was a good child, and brought it back home to his mama...