Archive for Fantasy

To Catch a Mermaid by Suzanne Selfors

To Catch a MermaidA boy, a girl, a Viking babysitter, and a vicious (but still kinda cute) merbaby – To Catch a Mermaid has it all! When Halvor (aforementioned Viking babysitter) sends young Boom Broom down to the docks to pick up fresh fish for dinner, Boom finds himself with only enough money to choose from the reject seafood bucket. What he brings home turns out to be a growling, sharp-toothed merbaby. Naturally, Boom’s sister falls in love with the merbaby and they decide to keep her instead of returning her to the sea. Danger, hilarity, and fantastical adventures ensue!

To Catch a Mermaid is a favorite of mine, by the hilarious and imaginative author Suzanne Selfors (click here to read a review of her book Fortune’s Magic Farm). This is a great read for kids 8 and up (or even younger as a read-aloud or for a strong reader).

Posted by: Parry

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The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

Rump: The True Story of RumpelstiltskinWhat would you do if your name decided your destiny? Some might be thrilled with the potential of a powerful name. On the other hand, being named after a cow’s rear end would make me feel rather blue. That is the case for Rump who lives in The Kingdom where names mean everything. Rump is constantly picked on due to his name. Rump knows in his heart that his mother gave him a wonderful name, but she died before she was able to communicate it fully.

On his twelfth birthday, Rump discovers an old spinning wheel in his woodpile. The wheel belonged to his mother and he desperately wants to keep the item since it was once hers. Rump tries spinning the wheel against his Gran’s wishes and learns there is a magical outcome. In this land magic can be dangerous and Rump quickly gets himself into a heap of trouble. Rump has to find a way to make things right while he also attempts to learn his whole name.

Many children know the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, but Shurtliff has created a marvelous story that will keep readers engaged as they learn Rump’s side of the classic fairy tale. What really makes this story magical is how the author is able to get readers to root for a normally disliked character.

Posted by: Katie

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The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove

The Glass SentenceWe all know that different countries have different customs that make it an adjustment to travel across borders, and that there’s a famous saying trying to explain how disconcerting it can be to adjust to those different customs: “the past is a foreign country.” But what if each foreign country was in the past? Or more specifically, what if by traveling across borders, you could travel to different times?

In The Glass Sentence, the Great Disruption happened in 1799–the world’s countries came unstuck in time and each settled in a different era. Boston remained in the 18th (and then 19th) centuries, but Canada and northern Europe reverted to the Ice Age, the Italy and western Europe returned to the middle ages, and the western part of America and Mexico has settled in a mixture of many ages, including the distant past and parts of the future!

Sophia lives in Boston with her uncle Shadrack, a famous cartologer–he maps not only the way to get to different countries and eras, but can map sights, smells, and even memories from certain places. Soon after Shadrack shows Sophia his secret map room, filled with maps that seem almost magic, he is kidnapped by thugs working for a terrifying creature who will do anything to find the one map that Shadrack says he doesn’t have. Sophia teams up with a boy escaped from a traveling show to track down Shadrack’s captors, and as she travels into the Baldlands, finds herself farther from Boston–both physically and mentally–than she could have ever imagined.

This book is wholly original and utterly amazing. The imagery and descriptive language is such that I could perfectly see every landscape, every character, every object, no matter how fantastical. The book stood alone perfectly well, but I was thrilled to discover later that it is the first book in a series! I look forward to the continuing adventures of Sophia and Shadrack, and I can’t wait to see what countries and eras they visit next.

Posted by: Sarah

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The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula Jones

The Islands of ChaldeaThe books of Diana Wynne Jones were a constant throughout my childhood and teen years. Of the nearly 100 books by her listed in our library system’s catalog, there isn’t a single one that I haven’t read at least once, if not repeatedly.

After Jones passed away in 2011, I naturally thought that I would never again read a new book by her. But first there was the posthumously published Earwig and the Witch, a short, snappy book about an orphan and her curious adoptive ‘family.’ It was definitely appealing, but it had that abrupt, unpolished quality that posthumously published books often have. I would recommend it to a reader, but it didn’t capture my imagination the way so many of Jones’ books had. Yet again, I thought that was that.

Fully three years after her death, though, a full-length novel by Jones has appeared–it was discovered amongst her papers, and polished and completed by Jones’ sister, Ursula Jones, already an author in her own right. This was the final (?) Diana Wynne Jones novel that I had been waiting for–it has a story that sucks a reader in almost instantly, characters who are defined simply but indelibly, and a setting so well-described that one can see it.

Aileen is an apprentice Wise-Woman, cared for by her Aunt Beck, the Wise Woman of Skarr, one of the group of sovereign islands known collectively as the Islands of Chaldea. Aileen has only just attempted her first initiation when she and her aunt–and a prince, and a castle servant–are sent off on a whirlwind quest that requires them to visit every island.

As is typical for Jones, our heroine has more reserves than she believes (but is never a wet blanket about her insecurities), there are wonderful animal companions, and adult authority figures are often Very Cranky.

I hope that it is taken as a compliment when I say that I cannot tell at all where Ursula Jones’ contributions come in–the book hangs together perfectly as a whole, with no disjointed transitions or developments that ring false. I highly recommend the book, both on its own merits, and as a satisfying send-off to Diana Wynne Jones’ magical oeuvre.

Posted by: Sarah

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Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Ophelia and the Marvelous BoySome books are special. They have a plot description that sounds like many another book (girl finds herself in a fantastical situation and discovers that she must save the world), but are written in such a otherwordly, atmospheric way that even the adjectives that one might use to describe them aren’t magical enough.

Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard finds herself in a foreign city. Her father is an international expert on swords, and has been called upon to organize a gala Christmas Eve exhibition at the city’s museum. Miss Kaminski, the museum director, is very beautiful, but cold and strange, and Ophelia feels uneasy. She spends her days exploring the museum — from Culture of the Cossacks to Mesopotamian Mysteries and everything (everything) in between. In one room, though, she finds a door. That door hides a boy — a marvelous boy — who says that he has been imprisoned by the Snow Queen, and that he’s waiting for the One Other who will be able to use his sword to defeat her. He needs Ophelia to free him — an act much more complicated than just finding the key to the door.

Foxlee’s book is spellbinding; the world she creates is so compelling that I could see every detail, and what is more, believe every detail. I could see the frozen city, feel the cold in my bones, and believe in the uncanny museum, where wolves might roam the dollhouse exhibit.

Any reader would be enchanted to discover this wonderful book, and many of them might find themselves exploring the museum map on the endpapers. For all the eeriness of the museum, I would like to visit and wander its Gallery of Time, among others. Who knows what I might discover?

Posted by: Sarah

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How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks

How to Catch a BogleHave you ever felt like something was lurking in the darkness just waiting for a chance to slurp you up into its slimy cavernous mouth? Certainly it was just your imagination…right? Not if you ask Birdie McAdam. She’s a bogler’s apprentice and she knows all-too-well that bogles (monsters to you and me) definitely do exist, and they are devouring children all over London. Working with her mentor Alfred Bunce, Birdie uses her lilting voice to lure the heinous creatures out of their hiding places so that Alfred can destroy them with the help of the legendary Finn McCool’s sword. Birdie is proud to be a bogler’s girl, but a series of curious events is pointing Birdie’s life in a new direction, no matter how hard she tries to fight the change.

How to Catch a Bogle is a delightfully fast paced and fantastical story filled with interesting characters sure to capture the attention of even the most reluctant of readers. The characters, even the bogles, are well-developed and readers will likely find themselves drawn into this surreal version of London in the late 19th century. Jinks does a great job of bringing the ubiquitous imaginary monster-in-the-closet to life without being overly terrifying. Each of the bogles that Birdie and Alfred encounters is unique and grotesque both while alive and in its death. This book would make for a great classroom read aloud for grades 4 through 6. Or, if you have a struggling or reluctant reader in your midst, grab the superbly done audio version, pair it with the text and set him or her off to discover how much fun a book can be.

Posted by: Staci

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Constable and Toop by Gareth P. Jones

Constable and ToopA few hundred years ago, “everybody” knew that winter was the best time for reading scary stories. We think of Halloween as perfect for a ghost story, but back then they thought that CHRISTMAS was the best time for it! We’ve passed Christmas, and the days are getting a LITTLE longer, but I still think it’s dark and gloomy enough–and certainly COLD enough–for a good scare.

Constable and Toop is the name over the door of an undertaker’s shop in 19th century London, but the undertakers are not the point of this story. The undertaker’s son, Sam, is: he can see and talk to ghosts, and because of this, he has become aware of a big problem. Certain ghosts in London have been disappearing, leaving their old haunting places infected with a terrible Black Rot. Mr. Lapsewood, a timid clerk from the Ghost Bureau, has begun investigating the problem (though he doesn’t know it), asking the help of a young ghost named Tanner, who, in search of someone with Sam’s abilities, finds himself working with Sam’s uncle Jack, who is not someone you’d want to meet in a dark alley. And we haven’t even mentioned Clara Tiltman, who has begun to notice the strange behavior of her drapes, or the terrifying actions of an exorcist priest.

Though the description makes the plot sound overly complex, let me reassure you: any reader will be caught up in this compelling story, both by the gripping action of the chase to save London’s ghosts, and by Sam’s almost philosophical, contemplative inner thoughts. And because there ARE so many (well-integrated) characters, any reader can be sure to find one to root for and relate to.

It cannot be denied that the book is frightening–and even sometimes gruesome–so it is probably best read by those of 10 years and up. Those who do read it, though, will be amply rewarded with a wonderful story, perfect for a cold, dark day.

Posted by: Sarah

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The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the SpotAre you looking for a rollicking adventure? If you are, the of COURSE you’re looking for a book about pirates. And wouldn’t it be better if the book were full of fun characters, subtle humor, and almost Lewis Caroll-esque absurdism? If you agree with me, this is the book you want.

Hilary has only ever wanted one thing: to be a pirate. But when she sends in her application to The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, not only do they reject her because she’s a girl, but they recommend her for Miss Pimm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies! The horror! Hilary won’t stand for that, and, with her trusty gargoyle at her side, she sets off to make her name working for a “freelance” pirate, who is looking for a treasure that he, rather frustratingly, won’t describe.

But what’s this? Hilary’s governess is after her? And what’s that? Her father, the Admiral of the royal navy, is hunting her down? And worst of all, even Miss Pimm is acting bizarre? Hilary has her work cut out for her in this delightful, semi-epistolary novel, where letters between ship and shore are faithfully delivered, gargoyles want hats, and magic can be located in table spoons.

Even better than the satisfying conclusion is the revelation that this is just the first book in a series. Avast, me hearties! Is that a second book on the horizon?

Posted by: Sarah

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The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy

The Worst WitchIf you’re looking for a charming, fun, early chapter book for Halloween without the spook factor, you might consider conjuring up Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch. The story takes place at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches, a boarding school where young witches learn to ride a broomstick, make potions, and craft spells. Mildred is a witch in her first term, and she is at the bottom of her class: the worst witch. But, as the reader learns, Mildred is kind and honorable and resourceful. And she also has a loyal best friend, Maud. So even though Mildred’s spells turn out all wrong, and even though her smug classmate Ethel seems out to get her, and the severe Miss Hardbroom has no patience for her mistakes, and everyone thinks Mildred singlehandedly ruined the school’s Hallowe’en performance, it all turns out alright in the end.

This is a sweet school story that just happens to take place at an academy for witches. It is a good choice for readers transitioning into chapter books, or for older readers just looking for a quick read. The Worst Witch is the first in a series of books that take place at Miss Cackle’s. And, if the premise sounds a bit familiar, please do note that The Worst Witch was published in 1974!

Posted by: Parry

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The Hunt for the Seventh by Christine Morton-Shaw

The Hunt for the SeventhWhat would you do if you heard voices that no one else hears and saw ghosts? I’d be leaving immediately but it isn’t that easy for Jim.

Jim, his younger sister, Sal, and his father have come to live in a great manor where his father will be the head gardener. Some areas of the manor are open to the public for touring but Jim’s family will live in a small turret and the children are warned by the mean owner, Lord Louis Minerva III, not to roam the grounds. There are security cameras everywhere and Lord Minerva will see them if they are trespassing.

From the beginning Jim hears voices and starts to see ghosts who talk to him, demand that he solve a mystery they have given him, and leave him clues. He gets no help from his father who doesn’t believe him and is still exhausted and depressed because his wife died recently. Jim decides he will have to solve the mystery himself. The manor is large with gardens, woods, bogs, a lake, various types of buildings and many frightening statues including memorial statues of the children who have died on the estate since 1826. His sister soon gets involved and also the autistic son of the Lord of the manor who is supposed to be away at school but skulks about the property unseen by the adults and guides Tom in gathering information.

This is a scary ghost story set in a very atmospheric location and is also an intriguing mystery. Recommended for children in grades 5 through 7.

Posted by: Fran W.

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