If there’s a book you should read now, it’s If We Were Giantsby Dave Matthewsand Clete Barrett Smith. You may recognize the first author’s name as that of the world-renowned musician, environmentalist, and humanitarian. He’s teamed up with children’s book author Smith to write this timely middle-grade novel. Its underlying messages are about pulling together as a community, remembering the past, and taking care of nature. Kids will root for Kirra to find her way, and love the fun elements (such as living in trees and using their collective skills to become gigantic).
Hidden inside the walls of a dormant volcano, ten-year-old Kirra’s life is idyllic. Her people, the Zedu, respect nature and collaborate with one another, having assigned tasks. Kirra’s father is the Storyteller, the only Zedu who goes Outside—until recently, when Kirra begins to travel with him and learn this vocation. Her curiosity, however, leads her to make a grave mistake instigating the demise of her village by a violent new group called the Takers who seek only to conquer and destroy.
Jump forward four years and fourteen-year-old Kirra now lives aloft with the Tree People, taken in when she was in dire circumstances and treated with kindness ever since. To get by, Kirra must suppress memories of the past—until those memories become a reality.
The images by Antonio Javier Caparoprovide glimpses into Kirra’s world. Framed by intertwining branches, the natural colors underscore the importance of working harmoniously with nature.
I appreciate how the book engages the reader with quick-moving, interesting scenes yet also tackles big issues affecting us today. This story delves into what family means and how you fit in. For Kirra, it’s also a coming-of-age tale as she finally faces her demons and finds her way. e
INTRO: Last month, my ten-year-old daughter and I attended an amazing event at the LA Zoo, hosted by DC Entertainment. A group of middle-grade graphic writers and illustrators wowed the crowd with their “superpowers” sharing the stories-behind-the-stories and demonstrating their lightning-fast art skills. VICTORIA YING caught our attention with her interpretation of Wonder Woman as a tween so I wanted to know more about the wonderful woman behind Wonder Woman.
CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT:Your new middle-grade graphic novel, Diana: Princess of the Amazons(DC Comics; $9.99, Ages 8-12) is about Wonder Woman as an eleven-year-old girl. As the only kid on Themyscira, the island of the Amazons, understandably, Diana’s a bit lonely. How did you go about envisioning the famous Princess Diana as a tween?
VICTORIA YING:We first looked at the original iconic design for Wonder Woman and then tried to imagine what she would look like as a kid! We wanted to have those shadows of the person she would become without being too obvious about it. She has her bracelets, a simple rope headband, and her pleated skirt. Things that would allude to her future, without showing our whole hand.
CVZ:You’ve illustrated pictures books before and are the author-illustrator of a wordless picture book, Meow! How was illustrating a graphic novel different?
VY:I was so lucky to be able to have Shannon and Dean Hale as collaborators for this project. It is my debut graphic novel project and they are industry veterans who really understand how to write for a visual medium. They left a lot of the decisions up to me, but would keep the important descriptions in the text.
CVZ:Tell us about your process.
VY:For comics, I first lay out my rough sketches with rough text in ComicDraw for the iPad. Then I submit this for approval. Once the sketches are approved, I take them and do a tracing paper style draw over of the rough sketches for a clean finished drawing in Procreate. Lark Pien was our colorist and she takes the work to its finish.
CVZ:Your middle-grade graphic novel, City of Secrets, is coming out in July (Viking, 2020). How does it feel to be both the writer and artist?
VY: I originally wrote City of Secrets as a NaNoWriMo project. I was so afraid to have to draw the city! When my friends commented that I had great story structure and good characters, but terrible description, I realized it was because I relied too much on my illustrator brain and decided to try it as a graphic novel instead. It turned out that I LOVED drawing the puzzle-box city!
CVZ:You’ve worked on films, picture books, middle grade novels—what’s next?
VY:City of Secrets has a sequel coming out in July of 2021, and I’ve just announced a new book with First Second Books called Hungry Ghost, a YA contemporary about an Asian-American girl struggling with an eating disorder. I have a wide range of interests and all kinds of stories I want to tell. I hope that my career will let me tell as many of them as I can handle!
CVZ:Thank you for taking time to talk with us. We look forward reading all your new stories!
BIO: Victoria Ying is an author and artist living in Los Angeles. She started her career in the arts by falling in love with comic books; this eventually turned into a career working in animation and graphic novels. She loves Japanese curry, putting things in her online-shopping cart then taking them out again, and hanging out with her dopey dog. Her film credits include Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Paperman, Big Hero 6, and Moana. She illustrated the DC graphic novel, Diana: Princess of the Amazons. Watch for her authored graphic novel, City of Secrets, out July 2020.
Perfect for fans of Dungeons and Dragons and Stranger Things, THE LAST DRAGON went on sale this past Monday, Oct. 8. This is the second novel, which can be read as a standalone, in New York Times bestselling author James Riley’s thrilling new series The Revenge of Magic.
When I read that this particular installment was “packed with mystery, magic, and mayhem sure to keep readers guessing until the very end,” I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to get started. In doing so I was rewarded with an action-packed story that introduced me to likeable and not-so-likeable characters, the Oppenheimer School for magical training, and an assortment of creatures and adventures that kept me turning the pages of this new middle grade fantasy. I don’t often read the second book in a series without having read the first, but was immediately swept into the main character Fort’s quest to rescue his father who had been taken by evil beings called the Old Ones in an attack on the National Mall in D.C.
Once I was eager to know what would happen to Fort and his friends Jia, Rachel, Cyrus and Sierra, I also became invested in the dangerous and risky journey being planned. When a new student, Gabriel, was introduced, I also had to know how he fit into the picture. Would he be a help or hindrance to his roommate, Fort? What did it mean that he too was haunted by nightmares similar to those that Fort kept having?
The novel has some clever scenes where telepathy plays a big role. If I say too much more it will spoil things. Teleporting also features largely in The Last Dragon and the descriptions are fantastic. I almost felt I could do it. And in some scenes, like those in London or New York, I could easily picture everything because of Riley’s deft writing. The way magic is used in this novel not only advances the plot, but feels believable and that matters when myriad novels include magic. There’s humor that tweens will appreciate too. I love how, for example, before Fort sets off to find his father, he makes sure to take a pee stop. A lot of the banter, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes funny, but mostly important, between the friends also feels real.
If your child is interested in an entertaining and super satisfying fantasy that delivers on all fronts, I’d recommend the The Last Dragon, book #2 in the The Revenge of Magic series. Now I just have to go back and read the first book!
Fort Fitzgerald can’t stop having nightmares about the day his father was taken from him in an attack on Washington, DC. In these dreams, an Old One, an evil beyond comprehension, demands the location of the last dragon. But other than some dragon skeletons dug up with the books of magic on Discovery Day, Fort has never seen a dragon before. Could there still be one left alive?
And weirdly, Fort’s not the only one at the Oppenheimer School having these nightmares. His new roommate, Gabriel, seems to know more than he’s letting on about this dragon as well. And why does everyone at the school seem to do whatever Gabriel says? What’s his secret?
Fort’s going to need the help of his friends Cyrus, Jia, and Rachel, if he’s going to have any chance of keeping the Old Ones from returning to Earth. Unless, the Old Ones offer something Fort could never turn down …
Buy the book from Once Upon A Time bookstore here to support a local independent retailer.
RIVERLAND Written by Fran Wilde (Amulet Books; $17.99, Ages 10-14)
★Starred Review – Booklist, Shelf Awareness
In Riverlanda debut (older) middle grade novel by Fran Wilde, Momma promises everything will be all right, but sisters Eleanor and Mike know better. Things aren’t OK, no matter how hard they try to be good. The girls weave stories about how “house magic” will fix whatever’s wrong this time. When Poppa breaks the family heirloom (a glass witch ball), a river appears in their secret hiding place and the girls venture to a place where dreams grow in reeds.
A heron made of metal, glass, and driftwood explains that nightmares are made of “failed dreams, smoke, and the river mist” and that “the same magic that kept dreams and reality apart also held back the nightmares.” Anassa, a snake-headed monster, upsets the balance. As the damage in one world seeps to the next, the sisters try to understand their family’s guardian’s agreement while facing new kinds of danger and the possibility of never returning home. Sisterly love fiercely connects them, yet Eleanor worries her temper dooms her to become like Poppa.
Lines between fantasy and reality blurred long before the enchanted river. The girls and their mother live fearfully in denial, unwilling to admit Poppa’s abusive nature. Though Eleanor’s new friend Pendra and Pendra’s mom (school guidance counselor) surmise something’s wrong, Eleanor keeps up the façade and her friend at arm’s length; without confirmation others are powerless to help.
Riverland depicts children trapped in a dysfunctional home and the ways in which they escape reality. This important book shows a family’s coping mechanisms for domestic violence. Older middle graders and YA readers may be best suited to recognize and process the nuances of this story.
Many children’s stories get the parents out of the way by killing them off. New middle-grade series, Henry & Eva and the Castle on the Cliff begins with the newspaper headline “Prominent Environmentalist and Oceanographer Die in Boating Accident.” However, Andrea Portes’s story surrounds this incident rather than pushing it out of the way and moving on. Siblings, Henry and Eva, suffer from this sudden shock but it’s the first of many in regard to their parents’ death.
Details make the story come alive such as Eva’s voice, “[the article in the paper] says that I am twelve and that Henry is ten but it doesn’t say that Henry will be eleven in three weeks and we were already starting to plan his birthday party.” Palpable grief engulfs the kids as they face a new life, one without their folks. Matters are complicated with caregivers, Uncle Claude “the Clod” and his girlfriend Terri “the Terrible,” seeming opposites from Henry and Eva’s parents.
Super-smart Henry has sunken inside himself; Eva tries to cajole him out with silly antics. The kids have a lot to deal with—then the mystery starts! Portes weaves in otherworldly elements in a fresh manner with dimensional and likeable characters. Even the “bad adults” have interesting traits. Levity and humor shine in clever lines of dialogue.
Portes is the best-selling author of two critically lauded adult novels: Hick, her debut, which was made into a feature film, and Bury This. She also writes popular YA novels.
WHERE THE WOODS END Written by Charlotte Salter (Dial BYR; $17. 99, Ages 10-14)
★Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Connection
Twelve-year-old Kestrel’s dark and mysterious world is literally defined by Where the Woods End. And she wants out. Since her mother’s the village witch and her father a lonesome wolf hunter, Kes doesn’t fit in with the other kids. Brushing off their taunting, Kes, instead, utilizes Granmos’s harsh training to destroy grabbers—these beings build bodies resembling their victim’s greatest fear; once they’re complete, your time is up.
With her weasel-like sidekick named Pippit and her tree-living friend, Finn, Kes studies Granmos’s notes, trying to discover a way to the world beyond before her grabber attacks. All the while, other fantastic ghouls (like treecreepers and face painters) loom dangerously.
Salter’s middle-grade horror fantasy novel’s imaginative world with twists and peril will keep you turning the pages. We feel Kes’s plight for redemption and freedom. She’s an outcast in her town and her home, yet bravely tries to make sense of the mysteries. In doing so, her friendships quiver and threaten to break as she becomes more entrenched in her quest. Where the Woods End will appeal to middle-grade readers seeking adventures in creepy worlds.
THE CHRISTMASAURUS Written by Tom Fletcher Illustrated by Shane Devries (Random House BYR; $13.99, Ages 8-12)
The Christmasaurus, a middle grade novel by singer-songwriter and YouTuber Tom Fletcher, brings us holiday magic in a new way. The Earth’s last dinosaur lives at the North Pole surrounded by a hubbub of activity and some awesome flying reindeer, but, he’s lonely. Around the world, young William Trundle, a dinosaur expert, wants Santa to bring him a dinosaur more than anything. The two are bound to meet, but their adventure isn’t what you’d expect.
I like that Tom Fletcher mashes together the struggles kids face at school and at home with our love and fascination for dinosaurs. Add in a bully, an evil villain, and some twists on tradition—and you thought the elves made the presents!—and you’ve got an exciting holiday story. Better still, you will care about William Trundle and the Christmasaurus; the characters have dimension and heart.
Shane Devries’s illustrations add humor and charm. The Christmasaurus is cute, beautiful, and spectacular all at once. Seeing him is heartwarming, but, “believing [in ourselves and in others] is the most powerful magic of all.”
THE WISHING WORLD By Todd Fahnestock – A Virtual Tour – (Starscape Books; $17.99, Ages 8-12)
Join Lorelei, the eleven year old heroine of The Wishing World, as she goes in search of her missing parents and brother and ends up in Veloran, a place made up of children’s dreams, fantastical creatures and adventure on every page. Tweens who love action, adventure and fantasy will find that Fahnestock’s new novel successfully combines all three elements, key ingredients of a page turning read.
Narolev’s Comet and a necklace made from comet stone are clever clues the author introduces early on following the abduction of Lorelei’s family by a mysterious monster. These clues, coupled with Lorelei’s indomitable spirit, lay the foundation for a quest that she will mount with the help of a Disney movie-like crew of magical creatures named Gruffy (a griffin), Squeak (a mouse), Pip (a toucan), and Ripple (a water breathing princess). Yes, this fast-paced story is packed with the most unusual characters, some human, others not. What stands out the the most is how imaginative the plot is. If wishes can come true, like they do in the Wishing World, are all wishes good ones? And if not, what conflicts will ensue when good wishes encounter bad ones? That’s exactly what Lorelei is up against as she must navigate the unpredictable world of Veloran. In fact, there’s never a dull moment making this a go-to read for those with short attention spans in need of instant gratification.
Lorelei learns from her devoted cohorts that she is a Doolivanti, one with magical powers that are soon realized when she writes imagined words and thoughts in the air that help save her and her friends more than once. As she traverses Veloran in pursuit of her family, Lorelei finds her wish to locate her parents and bring them home is thwarted by the wicked Ink King, another Doolivanti who has caused wanton suffering and death. Together with a brave army of assorted Veloranians (my terminology), Lorelei must face off against the Ink King in order to rescue her family and head home. In doing so, this plucky young heroine makes some important choices that will have far reaching and lasting consequences for her future and for the future of Veloran.
There’s good news at the conclusion of The Wishing World and that’s that a second volume is due out in 2018 for those like me who want to see where Fahnestock goes with this engaging premise and endearing cast of characters.
Review by Ronna Mandel
Bio: TODD FAHNESTOCK won the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age Award for one of his short stories, and is the author of the YA bestseller Fairmist as well as The Wishing World. Stories are his passion, but Todd’s greatest accomplishment is his quirky, fun-loving family. The Wishing World began as a series of bedtime stories for his children.
Synopsis: In the Wishing World, dreams are real. You can transform into your own hero, find wild and whimsical friends, and wield power as great as your imagination. But Lorelei doesn’t know about any of that. All she knows is that a monster took her family.
It happened during a camping trip one year ago. Hiding inside the tent, she saw shadows, tentacles and a strange creature. By the time she got up the courage to crawl outside, the monster–and Lorelei’s mom, dad, and brother–were gone.
Lorelei is determined to find her family. When she accidentally breaks into the Wishing World, she discovers a way. It’s a land more wonderful than she could have imagined, a land of talking griffons, water princesses, and cities made of sand, where Lorelei is a Doolivanti–a wish-maker–who can write her dreams into existence.
There’s only one problem: the monster is a Doolivanti, too. What he wishes also comes true, and he’s determined to shove Lorelei out, keep her family, and make the whole Wishing World his. To save them, Lorelei must find the courage to face him, or her next wish may be her last.
Take a bow, Polly Shulman! This latest and final installment in the New-York Circulating Materials Repository series had me turning pages late into the night. In The Poe EstateSukie O’Dare’s life has been turned upside down. After the death of her sister, Kitty, the O’Dare family finds that they have fallen on hard times. It makes financial sense to move in with elderly Cousin Hepzibah, a relative on her mother’s side on the family, the Thornes. What Sukie’s parents don’t know is that the ghost of Sukie’s sister, Kitty, is still a part of Sukie’s everyday life. Kitty was Sukie’s protector in life and Kitty is not going to go back on that promise anytime soon. However, the longer Kitty is around, the less likely it is that anyone will want to be Sukie’s friend. Kitty feels that she should have a say in who is Sukie’s friend and who is not. With financial troubles, a move to a new house, and an overly concerned ghostly sister, it’s a wonder how Sukie is going to reorient her life.
Lucky for Sukie, her gift of being able to sense the supernatural is now going to come in very handy. Ancestors who are missing family treasure haunt the Thorne home! It is up to Sukie to lay the past to rest for all her family, including Kitty. Sukie is a goodhearted heroine with a gift that the New-York Circulating Materials Repository (a lending library of magical objects) finds extremely useful. Sukie is able to tell if an acquisition is haunted enough to be included in the Poe Estate which is a collection of haunted houses and items. The Poe Estate has its own problems with a wily collector of antiques proving to be a worthy nemesis for Sukie. Moreover, the librarians at the repository are trying to find Sukie’s family treasure before the collector does.
Enchanted broom sticks ready for flying, a dip into the literary realm of supernatural tales, making a new friend, and a family treasure hunt all add up to page turning adventure. This reader was kept up past her bedtime because she had to find out what happened next. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy a good mystery that never gets too scary. Although it’s not necessary to read the first two books (The Grimm Legacy and The Wells Bequest) in the series, it is rewarding to find that some of the characters from the previous books make reappearances.
Fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society will find much to love in this latest and last book in the series. The Poe Estate is imaginative, daring and fun reading that suits the upcoming Halloween season perfectly!
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).
The Nethergrim, Book 1 of The Nethergrim Series by Matthew Jobin, is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.
In The Nethergrim, a middle grade fantasy novel by Matthew Jobin (Philomel/Penguin 2014, $17.99, Ages 10-14), when livestock go missing, and pig bones are found, people in the town of Moorvale are concerned. They have always believed in the legend of the defeat of the Nethergrim by the wizard Vithric and the knight Tristan. Could these incidents be signaling the return of the Nethergrim?
Fourteen-year-old Edmund has always loved books, especially books on magic. His parents own the only inn in Moorvale, and expect him to work there and carry on after they’re gone. They don’t approve of his reading habits, and his father goes so far as to burn his books in the fireplace. Geoffrey, Edmund’s pesky little brother, finds Edmund reading a book on magic which was left behind by a mysterious visitor. Geoffrey wants to sneak out to play with his friends one night, and says he’ll keep his brother’s book a secret if he won’t snitch on him for going out. Edmund reluctantly agrees.
When seven children go missing that night, Geoffrey is one of them. The people of Moorvale realize that the Nethergrim is still alive and has come back to finish what it had begun: the destruction of their world as they know it. Edmund’s magic studies come in handy as he and his friends, Tom and Katherine, along with Katherine’s father (the only survivor to come down the mountain after the original battle with the Nethergrim) set off to find the missing children, and hopefully destroy the Nethergrim once and for all.
In The Nethergrim, Jobin has created a very dark, intense and engaging world full of monsters both human and otherwise. Those who are past the nightlight stage might find themselves flipping on the switch once again.
Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly is reviewed by the newest member of our team, Mary Malhotra.
Deep Blue, (Disney Publishing Worldwide, $17.99, Ages 9-12), released May 6, 2014, is the first in a planned four-book fantasy series, The Waterfire Saga, about six gifted teen mermaids from different realms who come together to save the ocean from an ancient monster. The story takes readers on an adventure exploring diverse cultures under the sea (and inside mirrors, too — a shadow world that has always fascinated this reviewer!). The mermaids do magic by singing, a skill they call songcasting. In addition to enchanting Mer creatures, the book features ghosts, zombies, and other supernatural figures, and some explicit battle gore.
The world of Deep Blue, first envisaged by a creative team at Disney, is brought to life by New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Donnelly. Donnelly is the author of A Northern Light, a historical fiction YA set at the turn of the nineteenth century (winner of Britain’s Carnegie Medal and a Printz Honor), and Revolution, a story about a troubled present-day teen pulled into the world of a girl living in revolutionary France. Deep Blue will probably appeal most to a tween audience. Disney suggests the book for ages 9-12.
In the book’s prologue, water witches summon the six mermaids, warning that a four thousand-year-old monster capable of destroying entire civilizations has been awakened. As the story begins, we meet two Mer princesses, Serafina of Miromara and Neela of Matali. Sera and Neela are best friends, together for Sera’s betrothal to Neela’s brother Mahdi, the crown prince of Matali. Sera and Mahdi’s betrothal, intended to unite the two underwater kingdoms in peace, is interrupted by a brutal attack led by the cruel Captain Traho. Many at the party, including Sera’s parents, are injured or killed, but Sera and Neela escape.
The princesses soon discover they have both dreamt of the witches and the monster. Now they must find the four other mermaids described in the witches’ chant and join up to battle the monster. Captain Traho pursues Sera and Neela, so they have to use their wits and their growing special talents to stay a step ahead of him and figure out who or what is behind his evil ambitions. Destined to lead the other mermaids, Sera tightly holds on to the hope that her mother, the queen of Miromara, is still alive and will return to make everything all right. Will Sera grow to accept her role as leader? Can the six chosen mermaids gain the confidence and skill needed to battle the monster?
Deep Blue is a fun read, and a doorway to imagining a complex and magical world under the sea. Author Donnelly says Disney’s The Little Mermaid was a favorite at her house when her daughter was younger. Now her daughter is ten, an age Donnelly says is “fearless and full of wonder. Bemused by boys. Fierce about friendships. Standing at the borderlands of childhood, suitcases in hand.” Donnelly hopes her readers will find Sera and her fellow teen mages to be “worthy travel companions” as they embark on the soul-searching and increasing independence of their own teen years.
About Reviewer Mary Malhotra – After your typical career as a database designer/schoolteacher/small-business CFO, Mary Malhotra is focusing on the next obvious thing, short story and novel writing for the YA market. A member of SCBWI, she has participated in writing workshops at UCLA Extension and the Writer’s Center (Bethesda, MD). Her YA novel COMMON HOURS is on its first full revision (and fourth working title). She lives in La Canada, California with her husband and lots of pictures of her grown kids. Find her on Twitter @MCMalhotra or at www.Facebook.com/MCMalhotra.