Review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill

by Kelly Barnhill

Kelly Barnhill reminds us that updated fairy tales still have a place in Kelly Barnhillyoung adult literature.  She incorporates a plethora of iconic images and arctypes in forming the story. Stars, the moon, a  dragon, a tower prison, a witch in the forest who eats children, orphans, nuns, a mad women and helpless babies. Even a cloud of doom covering the village harkens back to fairytale imagery. A slight tweek to the iconography was a delightful dragon that didn’t grow up.

As with any good fairy tale or fable sprinkled within the story are words of wisdom such as forgiveness, fear of what others tell you, overprotecting those we love and the power of hope.  “It’s awfull to be cut off from your own memories.” “The answer is too easy, my friend. Look deeper.” I found Barhill’s messages about orphans and adoption, however, somewhat idealized.

Barhill sets the story between a village covered in the cloud of doom around a large bog and a forest. Her travels walking in Costa Rica influenced her choice of location and descriptions.

Kelly Barnhill Wins the 2017 John Newberry Medal

Review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly BarnhillThe Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
on August 9th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Magical Realism
Pages: 388

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule -- but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her -- even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The acclaimed author of The Witch’s Boy has created another epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic.

Book Review of Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson

A Fun Middle Grade Fantasy,

One of my children particularly enjoyed Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson. Upon re-reading Which Witch by Eva Ibbotsonit, I understood why. What fun characters and lively descriptions.

The dark warlock, Arriman the Awful, wants to retire, but he can’t until someone replaces him. When no one appears, he decides to marry and have children who will one day take his place. The choice of wife is critical, because she must be the darkest of dark witches herself.

Which Witch will Win

Arriman’s assistant, Mr. Leadbetter,  sets up a competition at Arriman’s estate. They invited witches from the coven of Todcaster who will compete each day for the grand prize of marrying Arriman. The witches’ magic runs the gamut of gruesome to farcical. Their familiars, magical animal pets, play a vital role in the story; from Mother Bloodwort’s cloud of flies and the twin’s chickens, to Belladonna’s worm. All is written with tongue-in-cheek fun, consequently the contests create hysterically funny results.

A twist at the end winds up the tale with eloquent success. Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson tickles the middle grade funny-bone, but we can all enjoy the laugh.

Eva Ibbotson castes her penchant for the humorous into plenty of other books you may want to read.

Book Review of Which Witch? by Eva IbbotsonWhich Witch? by Eva Ibbotson, Annabel Large
Published by Puffin Books on July 3rd 2000
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 272

When Arriman the Awful, the handsome wizard of the North, announces a contest to choose his bride, every witch in town is a flutter. The meanest, most powerful witch will wed the wizard. But little Belladonna is dismayed, because as hard as she tries, her spells conjure up begonias and baby birds, and not a single viper or bloodshot eyeball. She just has to do something seriously sinister in time for the contest....

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter Book Review

Humming Room by Ellen PotterEllen Potter starts The Humming Room with a young girl, Roo, hiding while state troopers search her parent’s trailer. The scene seemed foreboding and not what I expect in a middle grade book. By the end of the chapter I feared for Roo, either her parents died or committed a terrible crime. One imagines the mystery of what happened the challenge of the story, but that plot line evaporated more quickly then it arrived. The mystery remained unresolved, making it incongruous to the rest of the story.

In the next chapter Roo moves in with her uncle on the isolated Cough Island, where a new world introduces new mysteries. Two housekeepers attempt protecting Roo from something undefined, but with little effect. New mysteries appear everywhere.  A Faigne or phantom boy skirts around the river, stirring Roo’s imagination. Humming in the walls entice her, while rumors of her uncle killing his wife haunts her. Bottom line, there is no lack of mysteries in Potter’s novel. All, but the first mystery is resolved by the end. What happens to the parents is never addressed, only that Roo loved her father, who looked like her uncle.

Roo proves a confrontational personality, but one I grew to embrace. Each chapter of the story left me wondering what comes next. The plethora of mysteries drives the story, but its core revolves around Roo building relationships and establishing her equilibrium.

Ellen Potter Builds on Sounds

I like how Potter incorporates sounds in her story. She builds Roo’s character on the girl’s listening ability. From the opening scene, with Roo under the trailer listening to the state troupers’ boots above, to the end. Even the title, The Humming, reflects Potter’s obsession with sound. The story weaves what Roo hears into every scene. The sounds of the river and swishing of oars, flapping of a bat’s wing and swish of a crane overhead all serve to enliven the read. We question the squirrel’s chatter who befriends Roo, and the unidentifiable crying she hears. Neither do we miss the humming in the walls of her uncle’s mansion. Perhaps most distinctive is Roo’s ability to hear sounds in the earth when she puts her head to the ground, which is a thread at the beginning and end of the story, tying it together.

The World Listening Project announced the theme for World Listening Day which occurs annually–scheduled for July 18th, 2017 this year. The theme will be “Listening to the ground”

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter Book ReviewThe Humming Room by Ellen Potter
Published by Feiwel & Friends on February 28th 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Middle Grade, Mystery, Young Adult
Pages: 192

Hiding is Roo Fanshaw's special skill. Living in a frighteningly unstable family, she often needs to disappear at a moment's notice. When her parents are murdered, it's her special hiding place under the trailer that saves her life.
As it turns out, Roo, much to her surprise, has a wealthy if eccentric uncle, who has agreed to take her into his home on Cough Rock Island. Once a tuberculosis sanitarium for children of the rich, the strange house is teeming with ghost stories and secrets. Roo doesn't believe in ghosts or fairy stories, but what are those eerie noises she keeps hearing? And who is that strange wild boy who lives on the river? People are lying to her, and Roo becomes determined to find the truth.
Despite the best efforts of her uncle's assistants, Roo discovers the house's hidden room--a garden with a tragic secret.
Inspired by The Secret Garden, this tale full of unusual characters and mysterious secrets is a story that only Ellen Potter could write.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson Book Review

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline WoodsonMany people write memoirs, but few compare to Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. Woodson’s story of a girl growing up in a broken home during the turmoil of 1960s Black America is a compelling story told in bites to cherish. She captures the pain, confusion and compassion of youth caught in the middle. 

Woodson presents each incident and idea as a poem to savor. Some poems run a couple pages and provide scene as well as emotion. Other poems provide snippets of thought captured in haiku. The poetic style creates  a dreamy, dramatic and thought provoking read, yet the story moves along with personality and intent.

As a young African American during the political unrest of the ’60s, Woodson presents a unique perspective on racism. It’s a sensitive portrayal of black issues, as she moves from Ohio to Greenville, N.C., to Brooklyn, N.Y.. 

The story is not just about racism although that message is clear. Woodson’s childhood view of family, moving to new places and surviving the pain of a broken home are universal.

Awards for Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson received many awards for Brown Girl Dreaming. The John Newbery Medal in 2015. The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2014. And the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature in 2015.

Teachers may appreciate the Brown Girl Dreaming Lessons Plan Book.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson Book ReviewBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Published by Nancy Paulsen Books on August 28th 2014
Genres: Young Adult, Memoir, Coming of Age, Middle Grade, Non-fiction
Pages: 337

Jacqueline Woodson, one of today's finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

The Lightening Thief, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, by Rick Riordan

Redd Becker Book Review

Rick Riordan booksThe Lightening Thief is the first of Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympian’s series. The stories mix Greek Gods with youths in the modern world. Although I would classify this book a middle grade adventure,  high schoolers enjoy the series as well. As with many Rick Riordan books, the story moves fast with hardly a moment to reflect.

The Lightening Thief starts in New York City, then takes us on an adventure-filled ride across the country. Written in first person, Percy tells how he learned that he is a demigod, then shows us the consequences of his privileged position.

We call this type of book reader’s “candy” in our house, because it doesn’t have much depth, but is entertaining.

Rick Riordan Books

Riordan writes fast moving, action oriented stories that take the reader out of here and now—pure entertainment. He is a prolific writer and can be formulaic, but for the right young reader, he opens the door of imagination and entertainment. Like many of Riordan’s books, The Lightening Thief is easy to read and full of action.

Riordan uses mythology from European lore as a springboard for his stories. This provides a fun framework, although the references shouldn’t be interpreted as true to the myths, .

If your child enjoys reading The Lightening Thief, check out this list of Rick Riordan books.

For those interested in writing:  I think of Rick Riordan stories as full of action and conflicts, so when researching various ways writers handle ‘fight scenes’ I pulled out his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series as a reference. The fight scenes I found were so much shallower than I remembered. For wonderfully colorful fight scenes check out Brian Jacques’ Redwall series and Tad William’s science fiction books.

The Lightening Thief, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, by Rick RiordanThe Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1) by Rick Riordan
Series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1
Published by Disney Hyperion Books on March 1st 2006
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 377

Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can't seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse—Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy's mom finds out, she knows it's time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he'll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends—one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena—Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.

Hunt for the Horseman by Gita Reddy

Redd Becker Book Review

Hunt For The Horseman by Gita Reddy

Reddy created a clean middle grade story that emphasizes  family and  culture. Layer this on a mystery with a bit of a threat and the story keeps you reading. Hunt for the Horseman is written in a traditional style that carries the reader into Sandy’s world.

Sandy goes to a family reunion in India. They gather at the palace of her ancestors, where she meets many of her extended family for the first time. Her grandparents are tied up in a law suit. Unless they find a copy of a long lost document, they’ll lose their ancestral palace.

There’s plenty of adventure as Sandy connects with everyone. An engaging group of cousins, with their own agendas, take up the hunt for a toy horseman hidden in the palace over one hundred years ago.  Although some of the kids aren’t ready for adventure, they step up to circumstances when required.

Gita Reddy brings a new side of India to standard book fair

Reddy portrays a side of a contemporary Indian family we don’t often glimpse. Sandy is tossed into an extended family of over 100 that few white Americans know any more. Sandy is lucky enough to keep in touch with hers. Many middle grade readers will have fun living vicariously with Sandy on her journey.

My Rating four-stars

Hunt for the Horseman by Gita ReddyHunt For The Horseman by Gita V. Reddy
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform on May 4th 2015
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary, Historical Fiction
Pages: 192
Buy on Amazon

A young prince hides his ivory toy from his brother in one of the many secret compartments of the palace. The toy was never found and the search becomes a game called Hunt for the Horseman. One hundred and twenty-five years later, the land mafia is out to grab the palace. Members of the erstwhile royal family are fighting a losing battle in court to save what is rightfully theirs. They meet for, possibly, their last family gathering in the palace. Sandy, who has always lived in the U.S., and other children of the family are determined to find the horseman. One of them, a computer whiz, designs a software to help organize the search. Meanwhile, as the court hearing approaches, the thugs resort to very dangerous games. Will the horseman be found? More important, are the children safe? Will the palace be saved? Read for a roller coaster ride of fun, thrill, adventure, mystery and more…

The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood by Barb Bentler Ullman

Redd Becker Book Review

Fairies of Nutfolk Wood by Barb Bentler Ullman

The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood by Barb Bentler Ullman’s story  is an enchanted tale of the ‘little people’ of Nutfolk Wood. Are fairies real, or are they real because we need them to be–for whatever reason?  Middle grade readers may enjoy and learn something from Barb Bentler Ullman’s story. I enjoyed Ullman’s style and the easy way scenes and Willa’s first person narrative wove the tale.

Willa grapples with her parents divorce, so her mom moves them to the country. Consequently introducing Willa to the ‘little people’ of Nutfolk Wood. Willa questions her sanity, but local stories and an old neighbor woman, Hazel, who Willa stays with during the summer, seem to collaborate her ideas. Does it matter, if the ‘little people’ are there when you most need them?

The Irish Fairy Door Company provides information on a variety of fairies.

My Rating five-stars

The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood by Barb Bentler UllmanThe Fairies of Nutfolk Wood by Barb Bentler Ullman
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on February 26th 2008
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Pages: 256
Buy on Amazon

A Fter Willa's parents' divorce, Willa and her mom find themselves starting fresh in the country town of Plunkit. Catching a glimpse of a sparkle by the creek and in the old woods, Willa knows there's something unusual about her new surroundings. And her older-than-old neighbor, Hazel Wicket, has an amusing story about an imagined family of tiny people that inhabit a tree stump.
Willa knows there's no such thing as fairies, but when she spots more and more oddities, she can't stop wondering if there's some truth behind Hazel's curious tales of the fairies called Nutfolk. . . .