Posts from the ‘Children’s Fantasy’ Category

Kingdom of Fantasy

Kingdom of FantasyTitle: The Kingdom of Fantasy
Author: Geronimo Stilton
ISBN: 9780545980258
Pages: 314 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic, c2003. (English translation c2009.)

The Kingdom of Fantasy? I gulped. It sounded like a horrible scary place. Oh, how I missed my safe, cozy mouse hole. I took off my glasses so I could cry freely. Scribblehopper didn’t notice. But he did notice the music box in my backpack.
“Great jumping tadpoles!” he croaked. “That belongs to Blossom, Queen of the Fairies!”
In a flash, Scribblehopper had pulled the rose-colored scroll out of the music box. “This message is written in the Fantasian Alphabet,” he went on. Suddenly his eyes bulged out. “Leaping lizards!” he cried. “Queen Blossom is in terrible danger. She says that only you can help her!’I twirled my tail nervously. I wasn’t a hero. I was just an ordinary mouse. (29-30)

Geronimo Stilton has found a music box in his attic that transports him to the Kingdom of Fantasy, where a talking frog informs him he has been called to save the queen. He travels through lands populated by witches, mermaids, dragons, pixies, gnomes, giants, fairies, and trolls. Along the way he makes friends throughout the realms, but the true question he’s asking himself if he will ever make it back home.

This is my first Geronimo Stilton book, and I was hoping that it would interest me because it was longer than the typical paperback novels in the series. But it didn’t. I can only imagine that adults must have felt the same way about the Baby-Sitters Club series that I read when I was younger. The writing felt like a fourth grader wrote it, with no build-up of plot, characters, setting, or suspense. I really don’t know what to say, except that I really wasn’t impressed. That obviously doesn’t mean that I won’t keep recommending or purchasing them for the library since kids gobble them up like potato chips, but I do think there are better books out there.

The Lost Heir

Lost HeirTitle: The Lost Heir
Series: Wings of Fire #2 (Sequel to The Dragonet Prophecy)
Author: Tui T. Sutherland
Illustrators: Dragon illustrations by Joy Ang, Map and border design by Mike Schley
ISBN: 978054534919
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, c2012.

“Why did you do that?”
“Oh you’re welcome,” Tsunami said. “Just saving your life, as usual.”
“By attacking random dragons?” Glory cried. “In another moment they would have been gone! And what are you doing?” She jabbed Clay in the side with one of her wings.
“Uh,” Clay mumbled. “Fixing him.” He kept thumping the SkyWing’s chest.
“What?” Glory yelped. “You can’t let him live!” She tried to grab one of Clay’s forearms, but Tsunami shoved her away.
“We don’t have to kill him,” Tsunami said. “We’ll tie him up and leave him here.”
“Great,” Glory said. “How about a trail of cow parts, too? And a map of where we’re going? Or perhaps we could set this part of the forest on fire, just to make sure everyone knows how to find us. Would you like me to spell out ‘DRAGONETS WUZ HERE’ in giant rocks?”
“Fine!” Tsunami said. “Here he is. You kill him.” (16)

Tsunami has always imagined her homecoming like a fairy tale, and once she discovers that she actually is a SeaWing princess, she is even more determined to meet her family and see her kingdom. Maybe her own kind would appreciate her more than the dragonets, who seem to be questioning her leadership skills after the recent events and fighting with the Skywings. Upon arriving home though, Tsunami realizes that home is not a safe place, as the heirs to the throne continue to be killed by an unknown assassin. When her own life is threatened and she faces growing distrust towards her mother’s advisors and allies, Tsunami begins to wonder if maybe she is better off with her fellow dragonets of prophecy, but will she figure out who to trust in time to save her friends and family.

Fans of the first book in the series will find much of the same. Now that we’ve been introduced and readers are getting to know the dragons individually, it’s marginally easier to tell them apart. That doesn’t mean I still didn’t find myself flipping back and forth between the guide, the prophecy, and the part I was actually reading to keep the alliances straight. It was just being reintroduced instead of being revealed for the first time. It’s like getting introduced to a friend’s family at an event. The first time you meet the whole crowd, your head is spinning, but by the second or third time you start making connections–about who’s a cousin and an aunt or a grandparent or siblings–and saying to yourself “I remember that.” Hopefully, by the end of the series the characters will become more familiar to readers in that same way.

I enjoy how the author is featuring each dragon in their own book. We get to focus on more insular events instead of trying to grasp a nationwide war. I have a feeling each dragon is going to get their own book, and I’m especially interested to see how each dragon’s opinions differ from each other as we come to distinguish them from one another. There’s no denying that Tsunami is bossy, and discovering she’s royalty only augments her feelings of entitlement. But she’s also conflicted, especially when it comes to her own behavior and actions and how she is seen by others. She rationalizes her feelings in order to try to gain and keep her relationships, but her people pleasing, especially when it comes to her mother, just leaves her feeling out of sorts. It’s a story about not just who you can trust but whether or not you can trust yourself.

The mystery is intriguing and Sutherland sends up several red herrings before revealing the cause of the dragonet deaths. We also get little glimpses of what is going on with the resistance, and hints of a “back up plan” if the dragonets don’t succeed. What exactly Tsunami and her group are supposed to do, readers are still as clueless as the dragons. I’ll be continuing the series to see what happens and how events develop.

Iron Hearted Violet

Iron Hearted VioletTitle: Iron Hearted Violet
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Illustrator: Iacopo Bruno
ISBN: 9780316056731
Pages: 424 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2012.

Violet didn’t notice that there was something…odd about her reflection in the mirror. If she had been paying attention, she might have seen that her reflection did not–as reflections typically do–mirror her movements and vanish into the limit of the mirrored space.
No. Her reflection remained.
It remained.
And as Violet–the real Violet–reached the end of the hall, wiping her tears away as she did, the reflection in the mirror–the wrong Violet–spread its lips into a cruel yellow grin. (63

There are whispers in the castle. Whispers of a thirteenth Old God, when only twelve are taught and talked about. There are whispers of war between the neighboring kingdoms, but especially from the Mountain King of the North. There are whispers that real princesses are beautiful, just like in the stories. Everyone, including Princess Violet, knows that Violet, the only child of the King and Queen to survive childbirth, is not beautiful. And there are whispers of a dragon, the first one to be seen in a century. All these whispers culminate into a deafening roar of war as forces beyond Violet’s control begin to influence her, her family, her friends, and even the castle itself. Will the ancient entity locked away all those years ago finally break free?

The book starts off slowly, intentionally building suspense as readers are privy to events that Violet, her friend Demetrius, and the rest of the characters are not aware. Reader’s will have a much more complete picture before the characters piece it together. The other odd point is that the castle’s story-teller is telling the story, but we so rarely get input from him that it’s almost jarring when asides get thrown in at random moments to contribute even more foreshadowing. The foreshadowing we do receive from the story could not have been known by the story-teller. Does that make sense? It almost would have worked better without the story teller’s asides or input.

That small quibble aside, I liked that Violet was NOT a pretty princess. Readers get to see a princess, of all people, have insecurities about her looks, and the very obvious message that looks don’t matter gets nailed home at the end. Fans of the movie Brave might see similarities between Violet and Disney’s frizzy-haired princess. The dragon isn’t your stereotypical dragon, although there are so few books now showing fierce, fire-breathing dragons that I wonder how stereotypical that idea is anymore. The slow seep of evil that begins to permeate the story, setting, and characters was probably my favorite part, as characters in the story didn’t notice the changes and affects until it was “almost” too late. I’d recommend this for the patient reader who is willing to let the story develop and isn’t put off by the lack of whiz-bang battles.

2 The Point Tuesdays The Menagerie

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

MenagerieTitle: The Menagerie
Series: Menagerie #1
Authors: Tui T. and Kari Sutherland
ISBN: 9780060780647
Pages: 272 pages
Publisher/Date: Harper, and imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, c2013.
Published: March 12, 2013.

“What the . . . ,” Logan muttered. “Guys, who ate all your food?” And then put the lid back on?
“SQUUUUUUUUUUUOOOOOOOOOOOOOORP!”
Logan froze. That was a noise he had definitely never heard before. And it had come from somewhere in his room.
He turned around slowly, his heart pounding.
That’s when he saw the tail stretched out along his carpet, sticking out from the trailing edge of his comforter. A long, golden, furry lion’s tail.
There was a monster under his bed. (17-18)

Logan has just moved from Chicago to a small town in Wyoming with his dad, following the only clue in his mother’s sudden disappearance. Logan literally runs into Zoe and Blue, the weirdest girl and most popular boy in school, who claim to be searching for a lost dog. Discovering it’s not a dog they’re searching for but a griffin, Logan returns the cub to Zoe’s home and enters a world of mythical creatures. Everything’s in danger of exposure if the three teens can’t track down the rest of the missing griffins. Was it an accident, or is someone attempting to sabotage the Menagerie and shut it down? A light fantasy mixed with realism, sisters Tui and Kari Sutherland have created a fast read. Readers will enjoy this first book in an obvious series, which sets up a satisfying ending while still leaving enough unanswered questions for the upcoming sequels.

Spirit Fighter

Spirit FighterTitle: Spirit Fighter
Series: Son of Angels: Jonah Stone #1
Author: Jerel Law
ISBN: 9781400318438
Pages: 243 pages
Publisher/Date: Thomas Nelson, Inc. c2011.

“Investigators?” Jonah repeated. “Like. . . police? Dad, what’s wrong?”
Benjamin glanced at the woman, who nodded. He sighed loudly, pulling the glasses off his face. “Mom’s been taken. Someone’s kidnapped her.”
Jonah froze, trying to understand the words his father had just said.
“What do you mean, kidnapped?” he said, and then crossed his arms. “How do you know?”
[...]
Jonah stared at the two strangers. “Who are you? Are you really police? Where’s your patrol car? If it’s true, shouldn’t there be a dozen cops scouring this place by now? Where are they?” [...] “You aren’t police, are you?” (65)

Seventh-grader Jonah has no idea what is happening to him when he acquires abilities like super-strength and speed. But instead of finding out he’s a superhero in disguise his parents explain that he is one-quarter angel. His grandfather (who no one has seen for years) was one of the fallen angels that revolted against God all those years ago. When he comes home from school to discover his mother has been kidnapped by those same evil angels, it’s up to Jonah and his sister Eliza to rescue her due to their unique position between the two worlds. Relying on evolving powers, their guardian angel, and a lot of prayer, Jonah and Eliza search New York City. Will their faith be strong enough to rescue their mother before she’s turned to the wrong side?

I didn’t realize that this was Christian fantasy until this book came in for me from another library. I honestly don’t read a lot of explicitly Christian fiction, although I do occasionally read some “gentler” books that might appeal to moms trying to avoid the “drama” that fiction sometimes contains. So I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably not the “target audience”. Upon reading this though, I immediately thought of a patron from my previous library whose parents were very guarded about what she could or couldn’t read, and considering her favorite genre was fantasy but it couldn’t have magic in almost any form (witches, spells, etc.), it placed a lot of limitations on what she could check out of the library. This would more than likely have pleased her parents, so if you’re looking for that kind of thing, this would be a good starting point. That being said, it’s not perfect.

The book’s description on the back cover states that it is based on the book of Genesis. That’s not the only thing that gets quoted though, as each part is introduced with a Biblical passage. The kids spout scripture like they are in a seminary, along with just about every other character in the story. Any time they are in a tight spot, or need extra assistance, they pray to God (or Elohim as he’s called in the book) and they receive help. Yes, I understand that’s one of the very obvious morals to the story that Jerel Law makes very apparent over and over again, and yes Jonah and Eliza’s father is a Methodist pastor, but it still struck me as unrealistic. I wish the kids could have struggled a little bit more to solve their own problems, instead of relying so heavily on the assistance of others. Weren’t they sent on this quest for a reason?

Because the morals are laid down so heavily, the dialogue and action comes across as stilted. While it was a fast read, the plot didn’t make sense to me. For some reason, the fallen angels wait all this time to capture Jonah’s mom and others like her in order to essentially brain wash them for their cause. Why wait all this time? Why not recruit them to the cause when they were younger and more easily influenced by their fallen angel parent? And why make Jonah and Eliza “quarterlings,” or one-quarter angel? It would have led more urgency to the plot if they were the half angels (called nephilims) and their younger brother had been captured instead of their adult mother. If the author hadn’t wanted an evil parent situation, then maybe the mother defected from the group upon having kids, and they’ve been in hiding ever since. That would have lent to some intrigue and suspense, and also character development to the story. In terms of super powers, I think Eliza drew the short end of the stick since she doesn’t have nearly as many as Jonah (although hers is still cool).

This being the first in a projected series, I’m assuming we haven’t seen the last of these angels, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to get rid of them that will aid Jonah and Eliza in their continuing conflict. So if you like to get beat over the head with how prayer is powerful and faith in God will guide you, this fantasy will do it for you. Otherwise, I’d pick up Chronicles of Narnia over this “Christian fantasy” any day.

The One and Only Ivan

One and Only IvanTitle: The One and Only Ivan
Author: Katherine Applegate
ISBN: 9780061992254
Pages: 305 pages
Publisher/Date: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2012.

“I just thought of a story,” I say.
“Is it a made-up story or a true one?” Ruby asks.
“True,” I say. “I hope.”
Ruby leans against the bars. Her eyes hold the pale moon in them, the way a still pond holds stars.
“Once upon a time, I say, “there was a baby elephant. She was smart and brave, and she needed to go to a place called a zoo.”
“What’s a zoo?” Ruby asks.
“A zoo, Ruby, is a place where humans make amends. A good zoo is a place where humans care for animals and keep them safe.”
“Did the baby elephant get to the zoo?” Ruby asks softly.
I didn’t answer right away. “Yes,” I say at last.
“How did the get there?” Ruby asks.
“She had a friend,” I say. “A friend who made a promise.” (166-167)

Ivan the gorilla and Stella the elephant were both born in the wild, but they now live next to each other in a mall circus where they serve as the main attractions. The circus is failing, and Ivan and Stella feel changes in the air. Their caretaker Mack has plans to save the failing circus from bankruptcy, and brings in a baby elephant named Ruby to add to the show. While they were resigned to their own fates, Ruby’s arrival forces Ivan and Stella to reexamine their surroundings. This is not the ideal space for a baby elephant to grow up. With old wounds causing Stella’s health to decline, Ivan must come up with a plan on his own to get them out of their cages and into a better life. But will all his hard work be for nothing?

I thought this was an interesting way to present a memorable animal rights story. Rather than suffer from outright abuse, Ivan and Stella, and eventually Ruby too, suffer more from neglect. Readers witness Ivan’s early years when he was a small but pampered primate, and then his size slowly restricted him to his cage. Mack recognizes that Ivan needs stimulation, allowing him a television and crayons, but has no real idea on how to care for the animals. The lack of funds occasionally leads to lack of proper nutrition for the animals, Stella’s health fails frequently without the veterinary support, and there is one instant of elephant abuse that anyone who saw Water for Elephants might know what is coming.

Grown accustomed to his life, Ivan rarely considers his time before captivity because he knows this is his new normal. He’s even taken to calling his cage his “domain”, even when corrected by a stray dog named Bob who hangs around the circus looking for scraps. This mind over matter philosophical look on life is intriguing, and fits his seemingly easy-going nature and artistic outlook, as he draws what he sees and isn’t particularly driven to create outside those limitations. It’s the appearance of Ruby that changes things. This curious, inquisitive, but scared little elephant brings to light the problems with their situation. I seem to recall a quote about this very idea (which of course I can’t find now) that amounted to not wishing your life or hardships on others, and that’s exactly what Ivan and Stella are feeling. They have some internalized drive to protect and shield her from the hardships of the world.

The author note admits the tale is loosely inspired by a true story of a real gorilla named Ivan who was kept at a circus themed mall in Washington. The timing of this story is ironic, since in August the real Ivan passed away, just seven months after this book was published. The full story of Ivan can be found here: http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2018964123_ivan23m.html with many more sites coming up through Google searches. An interesting “look back” is provided by an article in the New York Times from the 1980s when the fight to transfer Ivan to a zoo was in full steam. http://www.nytimes.com/1993/10/17/us/a-gorilla-sulks-in-a-mall-as-his-future-is-debated.html If that irony wasn’t enough for you, the Atlantic Journal-Constitution did an article about Ivan just one day before his death: http://www.ajc.com/news/lifestyles/gorillas-cruise-into-golden-years-at-zoo-atlanta/nRMLm/

While the story itself is interesting, it lacks immediacy that might have otherwise added to the plot progression. Truthfully, the fight for the real Ivan’s release from confined captivity took much longer than the implied timeline that Applegate portrays in her novel. The primary efforts of getting Ivan and his friends released occurs “off-screen”, and Ivan’s limited viewpoint prevents readers from witnessing it first-hand, although I’m not sure how interesting delayed and drawn-out political wrangling would have been to the intended audience. While this lack of first-hand knowledge of events is frustrating at times, it may have been done intentionally to give readers a sense of how the actions of others (actions that Ivan doesn’t completely understand) have influence on Ivan’s situation. Also unrealistically is the instigation that Ivan in the story provides for his release, which I guess is why so many people see this as fantasy. Yes, we do have communication across species, but it’s I think true fantasy fans would be severely disappointed by this novel, as there is no magic, fantastical creatures, or spells. I think the appeal here is the animal story, especially because it is influenced by actual events. You can’t help but root for Ivan and readers will be satisfied with the conclusion.

Freakling

FreaklingTitle: Freakling
Author: Lana Krumwiede
ISBN: 9780763659370
Pages: 309 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2012.

“You might as well accept it,” Taemon said to Da. “I have no psi. None.”
“Shh!” The door slammed shut with Mam’s psi. “If someone heard that, you’d be carted off before first light.”
Taemon frowned. “Don’t worry: no one will know. I’ve faked it this far, haven’t I?” [...]
“Still, I’m not sure you can pull this off,” Da said. “We should work on finding your psi.”
“It’s not like I’ve misplaced it,” Taemon said, frustrated. “It’s gone.” Completely. (56-58)

Everyone in the city of Deliverence has a form of telekinesis known as psi. If you don’t, then you are sent to the Powerless Colony where everything has to be done by hand. Taemon has never felt lucky to have psi, just normal, until an accident caused by his brother Yens results in him loosing his psi. Now simple things like eating and getting dressed are incredible difficult and dangerous as he must learn to do things without controlling objects with his mind. But a very public mistake forces him to the Powerless Colony, where he learns that the people there aren’t so powerless after all. In fact, they might have more power than they think when Yens is granted a position of power and will stop at nothing to get more.

I’m sensing a theme here. I read Island of Silence just before this one. Both have one gifted brother and one not so gifted brother. Both have the brothers fighting each other. Both stories ultimately involve the different worlds that the brothers inhabit. Neither war escalates like gang warfare would where an increasing radius of people are affected, but instead the wars escalate quickly and involve the whole community. And again, a lot of the political maneuverings that happen to facilitate this conflict are glossed over so quickly, you’re left with a confused idea of what exactly they’re fighting over. This time around, we’re cheering on the non-magical brother, as opposed to Island of Silence where the magical one was the hero. I feel like there’s a fascinating discussion just waiting for whoever wants to tackle the comparisons and fantasy tropes/archetypes.

Looking at this book specifically though, it feels like the lessons are laid on a little thick. Taemon’s inner dialogue doesn’t sound like a scared, confused kid, but more like a philosophy or religion professor’s lecture. “…Anyone else who had a mind to do evil. But he’d need a way to distinguish the good people from the bad ones. How would he do that? And did he really have a right [...]? That sounded awfully like something the priests would do.” (303) But I thought the idea of people using only telekinesis to do everything, basically rendering their arms and hands useless, was unique and well thought out. The details were definitely there for Taemon’s life, and the humor was in the little things, like when Taemon’s mom actually yells at him for picking up his dirty socks with his hands.

I thought the cover was really cool, with allusions to events in the book with the clockwork and water intermingling, but the clockwork on the cover made me think that it would have steam punk elements, which it really doesn’t. I think overall this book was just so similar to Island of Silence that it was hard for me to really dive in and enjoy the book to the fullest. I think other readers will find the concept unique and enjoy it because the idea of not lifting a finger to do chores is just so tempting. The possibly too-tidy ending will definitely give readers something to talk about, although apparently there’s also a sequel scheduled for this book in 2013, so maybe the ending wasn’t as final as I thought it was.

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