Introducing classics such as William Shakespeare’s The Tempest to young kids seems both important and, well, hard. Let’s face it, adults sometimes need a synopsis when seeing one of his plays. However, this lovely picture book by Georghia Ellinas successfully conveys the heart of the story without overwhelming young kids. Told from Ariel’s viewpoint, the book opens with the irresistible line, “Can you do magic?” The androgynous Ariel goes on to explain that they are a spirit of the air and made of magic—how awesome is that?!
Boosted by Jane Ray’s lovely watercolor images, this retelling comes to life. We feel for Ariel when they are imprisoned in a tree and crying out for help. The scene with Miranda and Caliban delights me the most. Monstrous Caliban’s moping darkness is offset by Miranda as a young girl, brightly dressed and playing in a tree.
Though full of lively images and fantasy, The Tempest’s key message remains “forgiveness is greater than revenge,” an important reminder for an audience this age who may struggle with conflict resolution. I’m happy to see Candlewick is continuing with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, another favorite, out in April 2021 by this same talented writer and illustrator duo. Available for pre-order now.
TOTO: THE DOG-GONE AMAZING STORY OF THE WIZARD OF OZ Written by Michael Morpurgo Illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (HarperCollins Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 8-12)
The beautifully illustrated middle-grade chapter book, Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Ozgives voice to Toto, providing an interesting and refreshing viewpoint. Each chapter orients the reader to current day as Papa Toto recounts his adventures to seven sleepy puppies; only Tiny Toto always stays awake until the tale’s end. Kids will enjoy Papa Toto’s sausage cravings—delicious food is scarce on that long yellow brick road.
More than 250 full-color drawings by Emma Chichester Clark create vivid, engaging scenes; Papa Toto is Chichester Clark’s recognizable black scruffy dog. Both artist and writer are masters at their craft. A former Children’s Laureate, Morpurgo has published over 130 books. His novel, War Horse, was successfully adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway play and a Golden Globe-nominated film by Steven Spielberg.
Morpurgo, an expert storyteller, introduces new generations to the timeless Wizard of Oz. Whenever Dorothy says, “Home is home, and home is best,” Toto woofs, “You’re so dog-gone right.” A gentle reminder to appreciate life before a twister strikes.
As the story progresses it becomes clear that Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion possess what they seek; they just don’t know it. The surprise, of course, is believing in an all-powerful wizard who proves to be “nothing but a humbug, a low-down trickster, a miserable fraudster.” However, with some “upside-down thinking,” the way home is within reach.
When my daughter was 7 or 8 she became infatuated with fairy and witch stories. But that was 13 years ago and the selection wasn’t very exciting. I’m happy to say that now there are so many more interesting books featuring assorted magical creatures and Mary Losure’sBackwards Moon (Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 7-10) is one of them. This recently published middle grade novel is perfectly suited for tweens who want action, adventure, fantasy and a satisfying conclusion, all in just 134 pages.
Cousins Nettle and Bracken are the two youngest witches in a coven made up of mostly older witches (“They were not just old, they were very old. Some were hundreds of years old.”) who live in a hidden valley being encroached upon by humans. The book opens on the very day that the girls discover something has gone terribly wrong with the magic Veil, originally spun to shelter their community from the outside world.
Suddenly it’s looking like the carefree days of playing Catapult are over. Things are about to change forever, thrusting Nettle and Bracken into a mission to save their coven by traveling to the human world. There the witchlings will attempt to find untainted Wellspring Water, crucial for the damaged Veil spell. They’ll also eventually seek out the Door leading to a safer world for all witches, far from the menacing presence of humankind. Even though the older, more experienced witches would seem like the natural choice to make this dangerous journey, the fear of Fading, or loss of magical powers caused by the proximity to humans, stops them from trying. The cousins’ youth, while providing them with increased protection from the Fading, does not guarantee immunity putting them at considerable risk as well.
Losure has created a believable world where only young humans can see the witches, initially complicating matters, but ultimately helping the girls on their quest. I found it fascinating how the author was able to convincingly convey the collision of the witch world with that of humans, in fact she had me at Seeking Stones. (magical rocks that will assist the witchlings). There are several engaging characters who help Nettle and Bracken including a young human girl named Elizabeth, a Witchfriend named Ben and a caring raccoon. Losure has included a nemesis for the cousins to evade, as well as many close calls that will keep tweens entranced. In 21 short chapters, we’re whisked away to a wonderfully imagined world where wishes can be used up and time is not necessarily on the side of the plucky main characters. All that makes for a more layered read and a desire to follow Nettle and Bracken into the safety they seek behind the Door, perhaps in a second book? I can wish, too!
Click here to read an excerpt from Backwards Moon.
This giveaway will be a bound book giveaway, sent to the winner from Holiday House. The winner must be a U.S. resident and over 18 years of age (parents/guardians can enter for children if they’re interested).