“The Girl Who Drank The Moon” by Kelly Barnhill

The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less:  Every year the members of the Proctectorate have taken an infant and left it in the woods as a sacrifice to the witch.  Unbeknownst to them, the witch, who name is Xan, has shepherded each baby to another town so that it can be raised by a loving family.  One year, however, Xan accidentally feeds a baby with moonlight, thereby enmagicking it.  She names the girl Luna and raises her by her side. As Luna’s powers develop, her past comes calling in the form of two women: one that has gone insane and another that feeds on sorrow and prowls with a tiger’s heart.

My Take:  This was an engrossing read and worthy of its winning the Newberry Medal.   Barnhill has the ability to create a fantasy world that is convincing but not indulgent.  Her writing moves the narrative along at a good clip while also taking the time to build the characters.  I particularly appreciated that so much of the story revolves around, in several forms, a mother’s attachment – or lack thereof -for her child.  You can tell that Barnhill enjoys exploring this subject from several different angles, ultimately arriving at a positive answer.

One Interesting Note About The Author:  On her website, Barnhill describes herself as a “former teacher, former bartender, former waitress, former activist, former park ranger, former secretary, former janitor and former church-guitar-player.”

“The Lost Track of Time” by Paige Britt

The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less:   The one thing that Penelope wants to be is a writer, but she has no time in her busy schedule to put her thoughts on paper.  But that’s all about to change, because one day, while looking at her schedule, she falls into the Realm of Possibility.  It’s a magical place filled with people who do nothing all day but moodle–sitting around thinking, daydreaming, letting your mind wander so you can come up with marvelous ideas.  But all is not well in this land because a man named Chronos has taken over with his army of Clockworkers and these guys make things run on time.  They don’t believe any time should be wasted and when they realize that Penelope is a threat, they vow to track her down and lock her in the great clock tower.

My Take:  If you like fantastical places, if you like the Wizard of Oz, if you like Alice in Wonderland, you will love The Lost Track of Time

One Interesting Note About the Author:  According to her website, Paige Britt’s favorite place to write is her local public library!

Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

The Plot In 5 Sentences:  After Emily and Navin’s dad perishes in a horrible accident, their mother moves them to a spooky, rural house once owned by their grandfather.  The children soon discover his old workshop as well as an amulet that Emily ties around her neck.   That night, when a creature kidnaps their mom, the children chase after them and stumble into a strange world.  There they learn that the amulet has magical powers and that they have been charged with using it to gain power over this weird place known as Alledia.  With this knowledge, Emily and Navin embark on a dangerous adventure to find their mother.

My Take:  This is a highly requested item in my library, so I felt compelled to read it.  I was not disappointed.  The plot is unencumbered and the pace is brisk.  Kibuishi’s art is eye catching when necessary, but shorn of detail when the narrative speeds forward.  Children will appreciate the fully realized fantasy world and the dangers that lurk there.   I think that I’ll be reading the second in the series.

One Interesting Note About the Author:  Kibuishi will design the covers for the rerelease of the Harry Potter series.

The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less:  Will, raised as a ward of the castle and having never known his parents, faces his destiny on his Choosing Day.  Hoping that he will go to fighting school, Will is surprised when the shadowy figure of Halt requests that Will join his team of Rangers, a stealthy band that polices and keeps watch over the realm.  Will takes to his training well, mastering such Ranger arts as camouflage, stealth, and of knife throwing.  As his skills mature, Will earns the respect of Halt and makes a name for himself by slaying a large wild boar in the forest.  But the a wild boar is nothing compared to the dreaded and evil Kalkara, whom the evil lord Morgarath has sent on a mission to kill the Rangers.

My Take:  I was suitably impressed by the opening shot of this now 12 part series.  Flanagan gets right the balance between character development and delivering a suitable level of excitement for younger readers.  I was expecting that the entire book would be spent on Will’s training and his efforts to please Halt, with the obvious attending disappointments until then end, when, through some personal breakthrough, Will finally earns the respect of his master.  I was pleased that this was not the narrative arc, or at least not the entirety of it, and that, by the final quarter of the book, Flanagan has ushered us to the larger stage where we are meeting the Kalkara of Morgarath.

One Interesting Note About the Author:  Flanagan conceived these books in a series of short stories that he wrote for his son to interest him in reading.

“The Sister’s Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives” by Michael Buckley

The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less:  Daphne and Sabrina have bounced among foster homes for the past few years ever since their parents passed away.  Their latest foster mother is an eccentric old woman calling herself Mrs. Grimm and claiming to be the girls’s grandmother.  She takes the girls to her old house stocked with eccentric items and, in time, strongly hints that the girls are part of an old family tradition of keeping fairy tale characters–known as everafters–in line and out of sight.  The girls are mostly skeptical until the grandmother and her chauffeur are kidnapped by a giant.  It’s up to Daphne and Sabrina to track down their grandmother, solve the mystery of why this giant is terrorizing the town, and live up to their family name of Grimm.

My Take:  This light hearted romp featuring a cast of characters from well known fairy tales and children’s literature is a good choice for children looking for a fun read.  Buckley manages to balance the right amount of realism and zaniness so that even when the book incorporates darker elements, it never takes itself too seriously.

One Interesting Note About the Author:  According to his website, Michael Buckley attempted to be a stand up comedian and lead singer of a punk rock band before going to college.

“Gregor the Overlander” by Suzanne Collins

The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less:  While mourning the disappearance of his father two years prior, Gregor and his younger sister Boots are sucked into an underworld through a grate in their apartment building’s laundry room. They soon discover thriving societies of crawlers (cockroaches), humans, spiders, and rats that live together through a fragile truce.  Unfortunately, war is brewing as the humans believe that Gregor is the one predicted by an ancient prophecy to bring aid to their kingdom in the face of their enemy the rats.  Not wanting to be entangled in the politics of the underworld, but desperate to find a way home, Gergor and Boots set out on a quest dangerous quest to fulfill the prophecy.

My Take:  This is one of those books/series that I have meant to tackle for a couple of years now.  I found it to be an immensely readable juvenile fantasy that kept the pace going.  I was impressed by Collin’s ability to immerse the reader in another world, provide adequate detail for the characters and setting, without losing the narrative momentum.  I also appreciate that the book works well as a stand alone or as a beginning to a delightful series.  Recommended ages 9+

One Interesting Note About the Author:   C’mon!  It’s Suzanne Collins!  You probably know all about her already.

“Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin” by Liesl Shurtliff

rumpThe Story in 5 Sentences Or Less:  Rump lives with his Gran in a village in the mountains where people pass their miserable days working the gold mines to receive their weekly food rations from the town Miller.  Rump’s life changes when he salvages a spinning wheel that was once his mothers and soon discovers that he has the power to spin straw into gold.  At first, the greedy Miller demands all of the gold that Rump spins, but soon the King wants his cut too and mistakenly kidnaps the Miller’s daughter, Opal, thinking that she is the one performing the magic alchemy.

My Take:  I found this book to be an interesting take on the old Grimm’s fairy tale.  Shurtliff presents Rump as an unlikely hero on a journey of adventure and self discovery.  Despite the use of well worn juvenile fantasy elements, (castles, trolls, witches, etc.), I found myself pulled along by the character of Rump.  I was with him all the way as he grappled to control his power and unearthed more secrets about his past.  I would recommend this book for kids grades 3 and above who like fairy tales and fantasy.

One Interesting Note About the Author:  According to her website, Shurtliff grew up in Utah with 7 brothers and sisters.  The license plate on the family van was “8SGREAT.”

 

 

Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo by Obert Skye

 

Leven_Thumps_and_the_Gateway_to_Foo_coverThe Plot (in 5 sentences or less):  Leven Thumps is a 14 year old boy in Oklahoma whose life changes when he meets Clover, a small fantastical furry creature.  Through his time with Clover, Leven finds that he has the power to summon lightning and also to see into the future.  They soon meet a girl named Winter, who is blessed with the ability to change anything into ice, and Geth, a shape shifting being that was once a king.

In time Clover and Geth reveal to them that their powers are to save a magical world named Foo which is being threatened by the evil Sabine.  The four set out to find the doorway to Foo before Sabine and his shadows can find and kill them.

My Take:  This is a YA fantasy that gets the job done.  It is paced quickly enough to keep the plot going without sacrificing character development.  Fans of Harry Potter and of that ilk will appreciate the first in this 5 book series.  Ages 11+

One Interesting Note About the Author:  According to his website, Obert Skye “currently lives indoors and near a thin, winding road.”  Now that IS interesting!

 

 

The Capture by Kathryn Lasky

thecaptureThe Plot:  Soren is a barn owlet born in the forest of Tyoto.  Living with his family in the hollow of a fir tree, he has many things to look forward to.  He has just had his “first fur “ceremony, in which he eats his first meal with fur in it, and it will soon be time for his “first bones,” in which he will be expected to regurgitate pellets, just like a healthy adult owl would.   After that he will begin to learn how to fly!

But there are also problems in Soren’s life.  His older brother Kludd is a bully and at times seems to possess an even darker side that goes beyond that.  Soren worries about Kludd’s influence on their younger sister Eglantine.  There are rumors as well of a egg snatchings.  Someone or something has been raiding owl nests and stealing the eggs.  Such a things has never been heard of in the forests of Tyoto before.

 Soren’s life abruptly changes when he falls (or was he pushed by Kludd?) out of the nest one evening.  He is soon snatched up and carried aloft by a powerful owl who takes him to a stony place with deep, narrow canyons.  Hundreds of other young owls are there as well, all of them having been kidnapped from their homes.  He discovers out that this is “St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls.”   During the first full moon, the owlets are marched together outside.     Soren makes friends with an elf owl named Gylfie and together they discover that the Academy is trying to “moon blink” them, a process in which an owl basks in the moonlight and is made crazy.  The two owls discover other areas of St. Aegolius as well and realize that the Academy has a sinister purpose.  Soren and Gylfie must escape from this place and make it back to their homes to warn the other owls.

Personal Reaction:  I have been wanting to read some of The Guardians of Ga’hoole series for some time and I was not disappointed.  Lasky keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace while managing to create a convincing fantasy world.  I appreciated that Lasky presents a great deal of factual information about owls, including some of the not so appealing topics of regurgitation and excretion.  These bathroom subjects are approached in such a way that the young readers will understand that these are important part of the owl’s lives and not just put in the book for comedic material.

Themes:  desire for power, orphans, bullies, kidnaping, creating new family,  enslavement,  searching for home.

The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum

I continue my Oz reading with this second installment of Baum’s fantastical world.  I know that I’ll read at least one more if not two in the series.

Plot:  Let’s get one thing out of the way: Dorothy is not in this one.  Our story opens in the Country of the Gillikins, the northern land of Oz, and follows a boy name Tip as he escapes from his cruel master, the witch Mombi.  Before leaving, Tip steals some magic powder which he uses to animate a pumpkinhead man that he has made.   Their plan is to travel to the Emerald City to meet the Scarecrow, who is now the ruler of that place.  Along the way, they animate a saw horse and ride him to the City.

They meet the scarecrow who unfortunately is not much help as his city is quickly overthrown by an army of girls with knitting needles.  They all escape to the land of the Winkies where they meet the Tin Woodsman who rules there.  They return to the Emerald City but are quickly surrounded by the girl army, escaping by creating a flying machine out of various items including the head of a gump.  Eventually they make it to the south country where they meet with Glinda the Good who accompanies them take back the Emerald City from both the girl army and Mombi.  There is an excellent plot twist at the end that I will not spoil for you.

Personal Reaction:  I felt that this book was different from the first in that L. Frank Baum seemed more sure of the tone that he wanted to strike.  In the Wizard of Oz, the story often overwhelmed a great deal of character development (“and then this happened…and then this happened…”).  But Baum allows The Marvelous Land to breathe a bit more and lets the characters have extended conversations that illuminate their personalities.  One dialogue that I found enjoyable was early on in the book when the Scarecrow and Jack Pumpkinhead are first meeting.  They talk themselves into the idea that, because they are from different lands of Oz, then they must need an interpreter to understand each other.  Of course, they are speaking the same language the entire time.

I also appreciated how each character was proud in their own way of their uniqueness, but also inclined towards sensitivity on this matter.  The Tin Woodsman, for example, has himself nickel plated and is careful to avoid scratches to preserve his lustre.  Jack Pumpkinhead is careful not to damage his head and is constantly worried about spoiling.  The Sawhorse is embarrassed when one of his legs is damaged and must be switched out with another piece of wood.  Baum’s characters wear their weirdness on the outside, but just like people, are inclined to be self conscious about it.

Taken all together, I believe that this book holds up (a bit of sexism concerning the girl army notwithstanding) over a hundred years later.  I can cheerfully recommend The Marvelous Land of Oz to 7 year olds and up.

Themes:  uniqueness, diversity, character identity, female empowerment, gender identity, the trials of teamwork,