Cruella de Ville
In a tradition perpetuated by Cinderella and her ilk, little girls dreamed about being princesses, wearing beautiful clothes and being swept off their feet by charming princes. They prayed for fairy godmothers who would make wondrous magic and fulfill all desires, even ones that seem impossible. From pumpkins to coaches and from mice to footmen, the magic that fairy godmothers wielded was welcomed and accepted as miraculous. During the course of reading fairytale retellings authored by contemporary writers, I observed a definite shift in modern attitudes towards magic. An exploration of the evolution of fairy godmothers in Cinderella and its retellings reveals that modern contemporary society has cultivated a decidedly negative attitude where magic is concerned.
Read more over here….
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 21st 2012 by Razorbill
Spooky twists and soaring prose make this foodie update on Hansel and Gretel an unforgettable must-read
Lorelei is bowled over by Splendid Academy—Principal Trapp encourages the students to run in the hallways, the classrooms are stocked with candy dishes, and the cafeteria serves lavish meals featuring all Lorelei’s favorite foods. But the more time she spends at school, the more suspicious she becomes. Why are her classmates growing so chubby? And why do the teachers seem so sinister?
It’s up to Lorelei and her new friend Andrew to figure out what secret this supposedly splendid school is hiding. What they discover chills their bones—and might even pick them clean!
Mix one part magic, one part mystery, and just a dash of Grimm, and you’ve got the recipe for a cozy-creepy read that kids will gobble up like candy.
The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy is a middle grade novel which restructures fairy tale elements in a contemporary urban setting. When Lorelei, who has lost a mother and gained a stepmother, finds that a school has risen almost overnight in her neighborhood, she is intrigued. Then when her old school burns down under mysterious circumstances and she has a chance to go to the amazing school with its even more amazing playground, she is thrilled. Missing her mother and not understanding her father’s choice in a new wife, she cleaves almost immediately to the principal of her new school who seems to be everything Lorelei needs in a mother.
The novel very interestingly takes bits from the Grimm fairy tales and bits from other folk tales to talk about excesses, materialism, peer pressure and inner strength. Seems heavy for such a slim volume, huh? But rather than being deliberately didactic, the novel imparts its message through narration of the story and the message can be gleaned (or not) by readers. Friendship is another theme in this novel and I really like that Loftin took an overweight kid, showed his misery and then made him cooler than the rest of his so-called classmates who were willingly led like sheep to slaughter. I also thought the witch characters were nicely individualized and deliciously sinister. Then there were the wait staff. The delicate fierceness and anger displayed by them won me over.
Lorelei is a fantastic character. She is not flawless or preachy. She is spunky without being abrasive and she displays a lot of vulnerability which leads to some of her less than wise decisions. However, at the end of it all, she makes the right choice and that is all that is needed. The fairy tale bits are awesome and give the story a surreal sense that will alert younger readers to the fantastical nature of the novel and give them the distance they need to read this book without being scared of it. For older readers, this novel will be a treat; it will be a return to story-filled younger days where witches were evil and heroes saved many many lives. I recommend this book. Truly.
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published September 18th 2012 by Greenwillow Books
Don’t get yourself noticed and you won’t get yourself hanged.
In the faery slums of Bath, Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie live by these words. Bartholomew and Hettie are changelings–Peculiars–and neither faeries nor humans want anything to do with them.
One day a mysterious lady in a plum-colored dress comes gliding down Old Crow Alley. Bartholomew watches her through his window. Who is she? What does she want? And when Bartholomew witnesses the lady whisking away, in a whirling ring of feathers, the boy who lives across the alley–Bartholomew forgets the rules and gets himself noticed.
First he’s noticed by the lady in plum herself, then by something darkly magical and mysterious, by Jack Box and the Raggedy Man, by the powerful Mr. Lickerish . . . and by Arthur Jelliby, a young man trying to slip through the world unnoticed, too, and who, against all odds, offers Bartholomew friendship and a way to belong.
Part murder mystery, part gothic fantasy, part steampunk adventure, The Peculiar is Stefan Bachmann’s riveting, inventive, and unforgettable debut novel.
I kind of loved this book. For reasons that are completely my own and probably because I study books and analyze them and read into them far more than just the story. However before I get into those reasons, let’s discuss the book itself. The cover is gorgeous. It’s bright and interesting and sure to catch the eyes of the intended audience. And even though it does not say so in the cover or elsewhere in the synopsis (I don’t think) the book has steampunk elements that I like very much.
The beginning is slow and at first I wondered if I should give up but for some reason, I decided that I must persist and so I did. Bart and his sister have a sad life, having to live hidden as they do because being Peculiars, their lives are forfeit if they get caught. Their mother was fooled by a high fairy who loved her, abused her and then left her. The novel begins with the narration of how fairies crossed over from fairyland to Bath and the war that ensued as humans and fairies battled for supremacy with the humans finally retaining their superior status. That was the slow part – too much telling.
However, once the narrative takes off, it does so with a bang. Bart is a sympathetic character and it is easy to be completely on his side as he lives his half-life not understanding why he is hated for being something and someone he had no say in. Then there are the various other characters, some of them terrifying, others not so much. Arthur Jelliby is a very interesting character – he is dynamic and shows a lot of growth during the course of the narrative. He begins as a pampered, soft character and ends as someone who knows and is determined to do right and punish the wrong. The pacing is awesome, the tension works to keep the narrative flowing and the relationships between Arthur and Bart, and Bart and the rest of the world is intriguing. Even the relationship between the plum lady and the parasite who actually loves her is food for thought. I thought this was a splendid novel and offered substance as well as entertainment.
Now, the reason why this novel spoke so deeply to me is because even though it is couched in mythical and fairy tale terms in an alternate universe, the issues and themes of this novel are so very contemporary. I read this novel by George Bowering called Shoot! which dealt with the downward spiral of a gang of outlaws who were mostly half-English and half-First Nations. Both that novel and this one showed the stigma that is attached with being a mix of two races who are at odds with each other. Both show how unfairly the child is treated simply because he or she is a mix. You may think that this is an old fashioned concern but a look around at the “Happa” culture will soon show you otherwise. Old prejudices still exist and are difficult to break and The Peculiar is a very admirable way of letting children learn about different people and encourage them to accept these people.
I recommend this novel most strongly.
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 28th 2013 by HarperCollins
Tilda has never given much thought to dragons, attending instead to her endless duties and wishing herself free of a princess’s responsibilities.
When a greedy cousin steals Tilda’s lands, the young princess goes on the run with two would-be dragon slayers. Before long she is facing down the Wild Hunt, befriending magical horses, and battling flame-spouting dragons. On the adventure of a lifetime, and caught between dreams of freedom and the people who need her, Tilda learns more about dragons—and herself—than she ever imagined.
Merrie Haskell, author of The Princess Curse, presents a magical tale of transformation, danger, and duty, starring a remarkable princess as stubborn as she is brave.
Merrie Haskell’s The Princess Curse is one of my favourite MGs so when I managed to pick up her sophomore novel at ALA, I was beyond thrilled. Of course it languished in my reading pile for quite a long while until one of my cohort who had attended ALA with me told me how much she had loved it. And that was it. I knew I had to read the novel and I pounced on it as soon as I got home.
And I did love it. Oh I loved it in so many ways for so many reasons. First there was the world class world building. Then the characterizations and then, as is Haskell’s specialty, the twist in the perspective. Like in The Princess Curse the story is not told from the viewpoint of the character who would traditionally be the protagonist, in this case, the actual dragon slayer, but from the viewpoint of their scribe, the princess. Tilda, when we meet her, is not a very inspiring character. She has potential, of course, but due to her disability, a bad leg, she is almost drowned by insecurities. Even though she is the heir to a principality, responsible for the lives and livelihoods of so many people, she doesn’t want to take on the mantle of responsibility. For that reason, I wasn’t too sure I would jive with her initially but as the journey unfolded, she changed and her evolution as a person and a princess won me over.
There are many things going on in this novel and were it not handled with a fine hand, it would have felt overwhelming. However, Haskell manages to link each event and maintain a progression of the overarching plot despite the occasional segues. I love the horse characters as I do all animal characters and I love the dynamics between the three friends who are all very different people with different motivations and pasts and presented thusly. I especially loved how Tilda’s perception of dragons change and how her brief interlude wearing the skin of one is presented. Haskell portrays the non-human character really nicely.
The romance, what there is of it, is very light and totally suitable of a middle grade novel. It spices up the narrative but is very much a side plot that is hinted at but never delved into. For that reason, this book will be a success with younger readers and older ones who are weary of melodramatic he loves me and he loves me not stories.
In conclusion, this is a fantastic novel. Read it.
Hardcover, 305 pages
Published May 8th 2012 by Harcourt Children’s Books
It isn’t easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true.
When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises.
The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past – and hers?
Enchanted starts off well. The Woodcutter family is diverse and magical and each family member is sufficiently intriguing. The trouble with this book is that the author tried to do too many things all at once. I think she had enough material in this one novel alone for four books and if she had only focused on one story – the frog prince story, for instance – the readers would have had a chance to immerse themselves completely in the magical world she created instead of feeling like they are getting scrambled glimpses of many stories all at once.
I would have liked there to be a slower progression to the prince’s story because there is so much that could have been done with it. I would have rather the author extricated the prince and Sunday from the narrative and start with them again – developing their characters more, showing the prince in his original incarnation so we can see the man he was and we can compare it to the man he becomes after the spell is broken. We would have been able to see Sunday as her own person and not in the shadow of her sister. She seems almost objectified in the story as this paragon of virtue and beauty – maybe this is because we see her so often from the prince’s perspective but we rarely get a chance to be in her head. Why is she so angry with the prince for not telling her he was the frog? Or for that matter, why does the spell break then and not when Sunday is present to witness it breaking?
Back to Sunday’s anger, it seems unwarranted because no matter what the back story, which itself is confused and a hodgepodge, I would think that first and foremost, Sunday would be happy that the man she loves has been restored to his man-shape. Then there are the other sisters who all have their own stories going on – the most confusing one being Monday – is she a princess? Who is her husband? Why is he present only in name? What country do they rule? Or is she a princess only in name? Then again, where is her husband?
The two godmothers are their own stories and then you throw in Wednesday and her arc – argh. Then the king. Then the fae brother whom I actually really liked – another story there altogether. The book is kind of exhausting, to be honest. There are so many threads of so many potentially good separate stories. The novel is not even long enough to accommodate all the stories it is trying to tell. I don’t know you guys. I think I would like to read whatever Kontis reads next because while I don’t doubt her ability to spin a tale, I think Enchanted does not do too good of a job in giving us an accurate glimpse of her true skill.
Hardcover, 306 pages
Published April 1st 2013
With one wish made in Willow Forest, Soli and Lucy are pulled into Faerieground – and into the middle of an ancient battle. In the faerie kingdom, an evil queen searches for her daughter while the palace crumbles. To save her best friend, Soli must find her hidden strength. This is a story about friendship, growing up, and the power of wishes. This is a story about faeries and spells, queens and lost princesses, fireflies and four-leaf clovers. But mostly, this is a story about love.
Wish tells its story using the illustrations and rather simple prose. The plot itself is mostly straightforward though it does contain some twists that you may or may not be able to guess. It all depends on your level of familiarity with the fantasy genre. The book is beautiful. I was sent an ARC and it was full of full colour illustrations and photographs that depict an eerie forest and strange otherworldly beings.
The story itself is about two friends who are close enough to be sisters until a boy comes between them. There is a forest, a wish and then the story plays out as it was meant to. The book deals with themes of friendship and family. There are mommy issues though that is not addressed with as much depth as I would have liked it to be. As I said previously, the prose is simple and this makes it suitable for younger readers. I would say it could work for elementary school kids because it is just this side of a picture book. Middle graders will love this one as well.
I was enchanted by the fairytale and look forward to more installments in this series. Buy this one for the fledgling reader in your life. She or He will love it and you too.
Mass Market Paperback, 132 pages
Published October 13th 1998 by Laurel Leaf Books
Based on the well-known fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, and Hans Christian Andersen, these retellings will intrigue and disturb readers. From a futuristic “Little Red Riding Hood” in which giant clams and carnivorous beasts stalk humans, to the real reason why the giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk” needs to eat human bones, to a version of “Snow White” told from the wicked stepmother’s point of view, fans of fairy and folk tales will find much to interest them.
This little known anthology (I say little known because it is pretty old and I wasn’t even aware of it unless it appeared in a reading list of one of my LIBR classes) contains fantastic retellings of popular tales translated and made known to the world by the Grimm brothers. Galloway’s reimaginations are such that they give the stories in question a fresh look and make them a pleasure to read. Even though the anthology was published seventeen years ago, the retellings are still very pertinent and very much meets contemporary society’s need to revision folktales and shape them into answering our needs.
I loved the retelling of Red Riding Hood. As the synopsis mentions, it’s a futuristic setting and Galloway manages to give both the beasts and the humans new dimensions and new depths that give their actions a deeper and more substantial meaning than in the original (not that the original had much substance but you get my meaning). Worth a mention is Jack and the Beanstalk which tells the story from the perspective of the giant’s wife and the story becomes something entirely different. I also really liked The Little Mermaid because I must admit that the original is not one I am a fan of.
I really encourage fans of fairy tales to give this anthology a try. It brilliantly retells the stories using perspectives a reader would not usually consider as being suitable for the story. It gives each story a curious depth and a completeness that is very much different from the superficial frothiness that the original tales have with the happy ever after tagged on at the end.
Hardcover, 304 pages
Expected publication: March 5th 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: ARC from Publisher
The magic is all around you, if only you open your eyes….
Lillian Kindred spends her days exploring the Tanglewood Forest, a magical, rolling wilderness that she imagines to be full of fairies. The trouble is, Lillian has never seen a wisp of magic in her hills–until the day the cats of the forest save her life by transforming her into a kitten. Now Lillian must set out on a perilous adventure that will lead her through untamed lands of fabled creatures–from Old Mother Possum to the fearsome Bear People–to find a way to make things right.
In this whimsical, original folktale written and illustrated throughout in vibrant full color by two celebrated masters of modern fantasy, a young girl’s journey becomes an enchanting coming-of-age story about magic, friendship, and the courage to shape one’s own destiny.
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is the kind of folk fantasy that de Lint is most known for. At least, in my circles. His brand of fantasy is half fey, half wild, dealing in ephemeral phases, whimsical. Lillian is a fun character to follow around; she is spunky, adventurous and very opinionated. She will appeal to younger readers for her willingness to travel beyond what is comfortable and take chances where less braver souls would falter.
I particularly like the portion when Lillian first discovers that she has turned into a cat. Her gradual realization and acceptance of this fact feels authentic and funny. The fox is a fun character and makes for a perfect sidekick. The book is a pastiche of different mythologies colliding to create something that is distinct and yet, somehow, feels very Canadian. There is First Nations mythology, there are what seems like Sasquatches and there is transformation.
I like that it is not overtly didactic and though there are some morals, they are hidden within the narrative and not explicit. The illustrations will be amazing in the finished copy. The ARC has rough sketches but I am familiar enough with Charles Vess’s work to be quite confident in the final product without seeing it for myself.
The only thing I found a bit awkward was the twist. I found it rather strained and it had the effect of pulling me out of the narrative as I had to resituate myself in the story. Nevertheless, I found the novel to be interesting and fun. It will appeal to beginning readers with a penchant for fantasy. Recommended.