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

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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

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“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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Diverse Book Night at Avid Bookshop

A group of parents approached us at Avid Bookshop, wanting suggestions for books that featured children of color that weren’t “issue” books–essentially, they wanted books for their children to read and enjoy and get lost in that just happened to star a kid who looks like them.  We ended up planning a little event at Avid, and it went so well, I can’t wait to do more! Below are a few of my favorites that I shared.


Little You

by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett

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This one’s a tiny board book, but it packs a big, beautiful, poignant punch. I actually just shared this one with a customer today, who began tearing up as she read it. (She bought it immediately). Van Camp’s loving lullaby is a celebration of joy and wonder babies inspire in their parents, and it remains well outside of the mawkish territory these paean-type books can venture into. Flett is one of my favorite illustrators working today–her art is stunningly spare yet sophisticated here, and allows the unique affection found in the parent-child bond to shine through with warmth and serenity. Both Van Camp and Flett are of Native/First Nations heritage–Van Camp is a member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation, and Flett is Cree-Métis.

Ages 0-3.

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One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree

by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

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This is one of my new favorite books to read aloud–I used it for storytime, and it was a HIT. A hilarious take on There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, this book features an upbeat, resourceful little boy who is swallowed by a snake (gasp!), and while inside the snake, convinces it to eat more and more creatures until, well, you know–out they go. The rhythm of Bernstrom’s text is infectious, and Wenzel’s illustrations are vibrant, playful, and spectacularly expressive.

Ages 4-8.

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Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle

by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin

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This remains one of my favorite informational picture books. I love Paul’s lyrical poem and how it streams seamlessly throughout the book and how the page turns are oh so perfectly timed. I love how Chin’s fine attention to detail creates a world and characters that seem so real they could jump out of the book. His watercolor illustrations hint at a deeper story about childhood and family and friendship that flows underneath the information about the water cycle. And the back matter is superb: clear, concise, and seriously engaging.

Ages 5 & up.

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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

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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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Teacup

by Rebecca Young, illustrated by Matt Ottley

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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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More…

  • 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.

 

Good Deeds, Good Friends

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If only we could all look at the world the way Kate DiCamillo does–she finds beauty and wonder in even the minutest and mundane of details, and her books resonate with readers for this very reason. I’m so, so glad that Raymie Nightingale, her latest middle grade novel, is out in the world for others to hold and read and love.


My Review

Friendship, like bravery, can make its appearance at the most unexpected times. Kate DiCamillo’s new yarn is one to treasure–light and jocular on the surface, RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE belies a deeper, truer, more aching heart than at first it might seem, beating its broken rhythm with absent parents, poverty, and loss. Raymie, our spunky heroine, finds friendship among two girls who are battling the familiar childhood foes of loneliness and powerlessness. These “Three Rancheros” together light the way through their individual struggles, their solidarity aglow like Florence Nightingale’s lamp or Mrs. Sylvester’s sunlit jar of candy corn, rescuing each other from the darkness. DiCamillo has a magic way of noticing all the little nuances who make us what we are, creating characters that are equal parts weird and relatable, and her skillful intertwinement of humorous and heavy weaves pure poetry out of the ordinary. This book is one huge good deed destined to become a classic.

Out now!

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More Raving about Raymie

Check out Matthew Winner’s wonderful conversation with Kate DiCamillo on his All The Wonders Podcast! It’s 38 minutes that I guarantee will improve your day.

I like that NPR spotlights children’s literature so often–and they interviewed Kate DiCamillo a couple of days ago on All Things Considered. “It takes a lot of bravery to be kind,” indeed.

Trips, Time Traveling

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Dan Santat gets kids. And his picture books tap into the fantastic magic that fuels kids’ brains in hilarious, genius ways. Beekle showed how loneliness and imagination, woven together, can unite two unlikely friends. Santat’s new book, Are We There Yet?, stirs together that marvelous combination of boredom and imagination into what might be the most innovative book of the year. See my review below for why I love this book so much!

Psst, for all of you kids or “kids” in Athens, GA (or within driving distance)–Dan Santat will be HERE tomorrow (April 12th)–the very day his new book arrives into the world! Avid Bookshop is doing a pajama storytime in the evening–it should be a perfect escape from the supposedly terrible weather we will be getting. I’m trying to play it cool, but let’s face it–I AM SO EXCITED!


My Review

Time, when you are a kid, seems to move at an extended pace. Especially when you are bored. Especially when you are bored on a road trip. Santat’s genius new book plays with this concept the least boring way possible. A boy is on a road trip with his parents to his grandmother’s birthday party, a trip that begins to feel “like a million years”…. into the past. The boy’s imagination takes his family car through pirate ships and knight jousts and roaming dinosaurs until… ZOOM, they’re in a futuristic city with QR-speaking, picture-taking robots (yes, the QR codes are scannable) and.. WHOOSH, back to the present day, where the message, “there’s no greater gift than the present” really takes on a new meaning.

But wait, was this really all just in the boy’s head?

This is such a fun read for all ages that really plays with the picture book format in crazy (and crazy fun) ways–there are orientation changes that help the reader feel the jolt of the time shifts, embedded technology, comic-style paneling, and of course, Santat’s glorious, playful, rich illustration style. I guarantee you will want to read this book over and over (while turning it over and over), enjoying the weird, wonderful ride each time.

Ages 4-8.

Out tomorrow (April 12th)!

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Choices, Intentions

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Sometimes you read a book, and you cannot get it out of your mind, even long after you have finished it. It stays with you. For me, it is usually a picture book that does this; all the more impressive for the punch it packs into a tiny, concise package.

On a whim, I read a copy of Choose Your Days by Paula Wallace. I paused on each page, breathing in the beauty. And then I read it again. And again. I’m still reading it. And you should, too.


My Review

“Choose your days, make them sunny or gray,” says Old Bear, “the keeper of time and keys,” to little Corky. The days fly by quickly, with Corky growing old over just a few pages. As she reaches the end of her time, she pleads for more of it, for the “work undone… play postponed… music unsung.” But like us all, Corky cannot evade death, which she meets willingly–opening the door and walking into the arms of her friend, Old Bear.

Choose Your Days is a spare yet achingly beautiful meditation on impermanence–we “hold the key[s]” to our time, and only we have the power to give it the attention and gratitude it deserves. Wallace’s illustrations have a timeless, homespun aura, lending a gentle grace to a tale that takes on serious themes. Her depiction of death as a cottage full of starry sky and old friends is one that is as comforting as it is stunning.

This is my new favorite picture book, one I will be turning to again and again for the quiet reminder it offers. Young readers will have a lot to explore and process here–but this book offers a safe space to wander and wonder about the magic in each moment.

I want to give this book every single star in the sky.

Ages 3 & up.

Out April 12th!

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Marvelous March Middle Grade

Recently, I have been hooked on wonderfully dark, twisty tales of unexpected magic and intrigue featuring heroines who are strong, uniquely bright, and wholly inspiring. These are perfect, empowering reads for Women’s History Month (or ANY month).

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The Keepers #2: The Harp and the Ravenvine

A fantastic follow-up to a near-perfect book–so good, in fact, that I loved it more than the first–how is that even possible? In The Harp and the Ravenvine we follow more (dangerous) adventures of Keepers Horace and Chloe, and we meet a new Keeper, April, whose Tan’ji holds a most spectacular power, even as it draws danger closer to the Warren and the rest of the Keepers. Sanders uses brilliant pacing and some of the strongest character building (and most delightfully terrible villains) I’ve met in a novel to masterfully construct a world where bright children form bonds with singular objects that are sought after (and fought for) by an ancient, merciless people.
This series is perfect for readers who love the depth and detail of Harry Potter and the off-kilter, dark fantasy of Neil Gaiman.

Ages 10 & up.

Out now!

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♀ Meet the Heroines: Chloe and April

I loved Chloe from the first moment she entered the first Keepers novel, The Box and the Dragonfly. She’s smart, witty, sarcastic, and braver than most superheroes. She’s fiercely loyal to her friends and family, and though she can be rough around the edges, she genuinely cares for those she brings into her inner circle. And her Tan’ji (the word for objects the Keepers are bonded to)? A dragonfly charm, which allows her to become incorporeal. Pretty cool, right?

New to the Keepers, April is what the Wardens call an empath, or “a Keeper whose Tan’ji can read the minds of nonhuman animals.” This means she can see (or hear, feel, taste) the world like a dog, a raven, or even the tiniest of insects. What a beautiful, subtly powerful ability–to understand the world the way another being does. Her Tan’ji is the Ravenvine, a beautiful but damaged instrument. She follows the call of the missing piece to join forces with Horace, Chloe, and the rest of the Wardens to fight the terrible Riven and their allies.


 

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The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle is a wonderfully spooky historical fantasy that will appeal to readers who love their stories cloaked in misty mystery and full of hidden passages and ghostly secrets. Fox’s skillfully builds tension as the chapters switch between the distant past and WWII-era present, twist and turn together, intertwining in a dance, revealing flashes of hints and clues to the puzzle that clever readers will relish putting together. Add in a protagonist who will warm your heart with her steadfast commitment to protect her family and friends, and an antagonist who will chill your core and haunt your dreams, and you have a fantastically eerie tale worthy of a place on the shelf next to Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Auxier’s The Night Gardener.

Ages 10 & up.

Out March 15th!

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♀ Meet the Heroine: Kat

Keep calm and carry on.” Not just the ubiquitous motivational poster (actually little-used during WWII), this phrase is a type of mantra for young Kat, who escapes the Blitz in London with her siblings to board in a Scottish castle that holds more secrets than doors to hide them behind. Not unlike Horace, the star of The Keepers series, Kat thinks scientifically and outright refuses to believe in magic–at first. A strong-minded, logical skeptic like Kat, however, does not let her disbelief blind her to the reality that something is very, very wrong at Rookskill Castle, and that something has quite a lot to do with Lady Eleanor, who rules over the castle with an iron fist. She knows that above all, she must keep her family together and make her father (a spy for MI6 overseas) proud.