BookPair: Fresh, Feminist Fairy Tales

I have a particular love for fairy tales–the way they reveal truths in the real world, the way they can be retold and rewritten to uncover new truths (see: Angela Carter, Helen Oyeyemi, Kelly Link): this is a particular magic that fairy tales hold.

Below are two new middle grade books (one due out this summer; one in the fall) that are doing fabulous things with the fairy tale genre for young readers–giving them fresh, feminist voices that are empowering, enriching reads for any reader!

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

by Kelly Barnhill


Once upon a time, there was a town. Over the town hung a heavy, pungent sorrow. Within the town were a people who sacrificed their youngest child each year to a supposed witch who would keep the town safe from the dangerous woods without in exchange. One year, as fate would have it, that child was Luna. Luna was a special girl–within her was a lineage of powerful magic that she spent most of her life unaware of. She was indeed taken by a witch, but that story is not what it might seem, nor is the witch what she might seem, or is anyone, really, what they might seem.

So much of Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon is not what it might seem, in the best possible way. Her deliciously deft prose is as light and delicate as starlight yet as deep with magic as moonlight. She weaves her unique fairy tale with a sturdily-built world, strange yet beautifully-rendered characters, and plot twists that will leave even the most clever of readers breathless. The story is firmly fantasy, but its heart beats with a very real longing for family, love, and hope. This book is a must-read for fans of J.A. White’s The Thickety and Margi Preus’ West of the Moon.

Available August 9th from Algonguin Young Readers!

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When the Sea Turned to Silver

by Grace Lin


“To be in prison with the Storyteller is to not be in a prison at all.”

In Lin’s newest addition to her beautiful series based on ancient Chinese folklore, Pinmei’s grandmother, a celebrated storyteller, is kidnapped by the power-hungry emperor. He demands the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night in exchange for her safe return. Little Pinmei, scared and painfully shy, goes off in search of this stone with the help of her friend Yishan. Along the way she encounters many unexpected friends (and discovers many unexpected things about her friends), and finds her voice and and strength through stories.

Stories have power–they give a voice to the silenced, and they reveal injustices committed by those in control.  When the Sea Turned to Silver is at its heart a celebration of storytellers and their ability to change the world. Beautifully complex characters (I love how Pinmei feels pangs of pity even for terrible emperor) and enchanting tales woven throughout give the book wings. There is so much to ponder here about the world we live in and how we can use our voices to speak up to authority, to change narratives, to reveal the truth.

Available October 4th from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers!

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BookPair: The Refugee’s Journey

It might be easy for us in the United States to ignore the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, but according to the UNHCR, there are almost 20 million refugees worldwide, with a total of almost 60 million people forcibly displaced from their homes. From Syria alone, there are nearly 5 million registered refugees–more than half of whom are children. And even right here in the United States, thousands of refugees (most of whom are women and children) are fleeing extreme violence in the “Northern Triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Honduras.

What does it feel like to have to leave everything behind? To know that you might never see the land or people you know and love again? It’s hard for most of us to imagine. The thought of anyone, especially children, being uprooted by the violence of war and unrest, is a harrowing one. But it is happening all around the world.

There are at least two picture books coming out this fall that address the dilemmas refugees face during their journeys in the most kid-perfect way. For many kids, these books will help them begin to understand what it means to be a refugee. Those kids who have experienced forced migration might find in these books the comfort that they are not alone; that someone is listening to their story.

The Journey

by Francesca Sanna


Oh, my. This book. What a beautiful, heartbreaking, hopeful, necessary book. A young refugee’s view of their world as it descends into the darkness and loss of war and then into a journey across unknown lands and waters to seek safety, The Journey is ultimately a superbly-done, empathic tale of the plights of too many people in our world right now. The fairy tale-like setting and touches of the fantastical makes a deeply serious story resonate at just the right tone for young readers, and Sanna’s richly detailed art is haunting and graceful, a perfect complement to her poetically moving text. Every child, every adult, should read this book, immediately.

Ages 4 & up.

Out September 13th!

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by Rebecca Young, illustrated by Matt Ottley


Teacup is a lyrical, diaphanous tale of the refugee’s journey–it evokes the loneliness, anxiety, and sadness of leaving everything you know behind to begin anew, tinged with a silver lining of hope for that “speck on the horizon.” Ottley’s textured, breathtaking oil paint illustrations are both incredibly realistic (those clouds!) and beautifully dreamlike, adding gentleness and whimsy to this subtly-told story. Young’s minimal text allows the reader’s imagination to run wild, and unfolds the drama at a perfect pace. Teacup is a book to linger over, appreciating the beauty to be found in the persistence and strength it takes to grow a new life in an unfamiliar place.

Ages 4 & up.

Out October 4th!

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  • If you’re looking for more ways to explore this topic with kids, check out The Guardian’s great teaching resource here.
  • If you’d like to donate to help refugee children, consider an organization like Save the Children or the International Rescue Committee.