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Flights of Fantasy Book Reviews

July 18, 2012

From fairy tales and myths, to dragons and dystopias, fantasy literature is a genre that has enjoyed a long history. It is often said readers must suspend disbelief to thoroughly enjoy fantasy but the best fantasy transports readers to worlds that seem real where animals can talk and trees can speak and supernatural powers are expected. Book reviews this week from the International Reading Association Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) explore some of the recent book releases into the world of fantasy.

ReadWriteThink.org offers several lessons involving fantasy literature including: “Let’s Build a Snowman” (K-2); “Enchanting Readers with Revisionist Fairy Tales” (grades 6-8); and “An Introduction to Graphic Novels” (grades 6-12). The International Reading Association partners with the National Council of Teachers of English and Verizon Thinkfinity to produce ReadWriteThink.org, a website devoted to providing literacy instruction and interactive resources for grades K–12.


GRADES K-3


Catalanotto, Peter. (2012) Question Boy meets Little Miss Know-It-All. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 

Question Boy Meets Little Miss Know-It-AllWith the current popularity of superheroes, masked crusader Question Boy and his caricature-drawn neighbors and local municipal workers give readers a look at everyday superheroes. With his never-ending questions, Question Boy pesters the likes of Wonder Waitress, Garbage Man, Mechanic Man, and Oil Man with his relentless queries. His constant barrage of questions wear down all his neighbors and they eventually escape from him, often in a daze. Enter chatty Little Miss Know-It-All from the park. She begins to spout answers and answers and answers and what she doesn't know, she makes up! Readers will have to watch carefully to decipher the fact from the fantasy comebacks she has for Question Boy. As they  get acquainted the question and answer battle is on – to the point of a real face off between the two contenders. Hilarious results ensue. Parents will enjoy this book as much as young readers as they recall the eternal questions of young children. Author/illustrator Catalanotto read that most five-year olds ask more than 400 questions every day and that reminded him of his daughter and so the idea for this book was born.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant 


Corderoy, Tracy. (2012). Hubble bubble, Granny trouble. Illus. by Joe Berger. Somerville, MA: Candlewick/Nosy Crow.

Hubble, Bubble, Granny TroubleNot all grandparents are alike, and in the case of the narrator, her grandmother is a pointy-hat wearing-witch whose long locks flow across her shoulders and whose witchy ambience attracts bats and black cats. Despite the granddaughter’s lack of fondness for some of the ingredients in the soups her ancestor concocts, she loves her Granny. Although she relishes how her witchy ways guarantee no waiting in line at the movies or dealing with crowds at the beach, try as she might, the girl wishes Granny were different than she is. After a makeover complete with new hairstyle and more matronly clothing, Granny looks just like everyone else. Clearly, life loses its savor and Granny is bored once she looks like everyone else. Deciding to embrace the things that make Granny unique, her would-be stylist accepts Granny exactly as she is. The pen, brush-pen, and digital illustrations are filled with pinks, purples, blacks, and grays, with some illustrations containing subtly amusing messages; for instance, the movie being advertised on the theater marquee is "Scary Poppins.”

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Dormer, Frank W. (2012). The obstinate pen. New York: Henry Holt.

The Obstinate PenThis clever picture book will make a fun read aloud and writing mentor text in elementary classrooms. Uncle Flood, nephew to Horace, is a writer and purchases a brand new pen. He sits down to write and composes: “The following story is all true” but the pen does not write this sentence. Instead the pen writes, “You have a BIG nose.” Everything Uncle Flood tries to write, the pen ignores and writes something different. In anger, Uncle Flood throws the pen out the window and a police officer finds it. Later, Officer Wonkle tires to write a woman a ticket, but the pen writes, “Kiss that girl!” The officer tries to write the ticket again but then decides to take the pen’s advice and kiss Miss Weeble’s cheek. The pen continues to travel from person to person and eventually ends up in Horace’s hands. Horace admires his new pen and uses it in a unique and different way. Children could be invited to think of a different inanimate object such as a car, eraser, chair or book that could come to life and write and illustrate their own picture book.

- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver


Joose, Barbara. (2012). Old Robert and the sea-silly cats. Illus. by Jan Jutte. New York: Penguin/Philomel.

Old Robert and the Sea-Silly CatsLife is quiet but good for Robert, a sailor. After all, he works hard on the water and enjoys navigating his boat along the waters.  He couldn't possibly need anything or anyone else. Or could he? Over the course of several nights, he encounters three unique cats, each with a special talent. One cat dances, another sings and plays a ukulele, and still another one deftly juggles objects. Despite his boat’s diminutive size, he manages to find a place for all three on his little vessel. When another cat with nothing special about her other than her essential felineness purrs her way into his heart, he takes her in too. Robert’s life is quiet no longer with his four cats along when he sails out of the harbor. The text describes how even a lonely sailor’s life can be improved with the addition of a cat or four while reminding readers that sometimes it's enough simply to be yourself to be loved. The soft-colored ink, watercolor, and acrylic illustrations show the cats' performances in cartoon-like fashion. This title is sure to tug at readers' hearts.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Joyce, William. (2012) The fantastic flying books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.  Illustrated by William Joyce and Joe Bluhm. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris LessmoreInterestingly this story started as an animated short film and later an interactive book app for eReaders and tablets, and has now evolved into a book; a book about books. Mr. Morris Lessmore (named after the late publisher and children’s literature devotee William Morris) loses his personal library to a terrible storm. From his gray-colored world he watches a woman fly past pulled by a powerful string of books. One of those books leads him to an abandoned library in need of care so he begins the task of arranging the books. Eventually he is drawn to write a book of his own. Throughout the tale, the lively books fly around him and share their stories as the task of maintaining this library and collection of books develops. Joyce’s rich illustrations provide a nostalgic background to the lasting concept of the quality of stories and books. Watch the 2011 Academy Award winning short film based on this book and check out the $.99 book app.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


McCaughrean, Geraldine. (2012). The nutcracker: A magic theater book. Illus. by Kristina Swarner. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

The NutcrackerIn this adaptation of the holiday ballet classic, The Nutcracker, the author imagines that Marie finds romance in the form of a nutcracker that comes to life as the result of Marie's actions in defending him from a band of mice. In gratitude, the nutcracker-turned-prince takes her to his royal home where she is celebrated for her heroic actions. When Marie awakens from her dream, she is sad that the prince is nowhere to be found until Professor Drosselmeier, who brought the nutcracker to her as a gift in the first place, introduces her to his nephew. With a smile on her lips, Marie realizes that he seems surprisingly familiar. The lovely mixed media illustrations in this pop-up book are created from linoleum prints, watercolor, and colored pencils. This frothy yet haunting concoction is the perfect introduction to the story behind the ballet.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Ormerod, Jan. (2012).  Maudie and Bear. Illus. by Freya Blackwood.  New York: Penguin/Putnam. 

Maudie and BearTemperamental Maudie is used to having her way. Luckily for her, her companion, Bear, is quite patient and quietly tolerates her detours, her rudeness, and her insecurities in a series of five different adventures. It's a good thing Maudie has Bear since not everyone would willingly leave a just-set table filled with all sorts of delicious breakfast items such as fruit and pancakes because Maudie has whimsically decided to take a walk instead of eating. When a misunderstanding leads to a fight, Bear is the one who soothes Maudie’s ruffled feathers. Even when the two settle together in a comfy chair to listen to a story, Maudie becomes annoyed since Bear, exhausted from a day trying to please her, keeps falling asleep. Despite Maudie’s annoying qualities, Bear loves her unconditionally. Perhaps someday Maudie will realize just how patient Bear has been with her and return the favor. Filled with soft, warm colors and reminiscent of images from a bygone era, the illustrations are lovely tributes to this relationship that often seems out of balance but, nevertheless, is filled with mutual affection.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Reynolds, Aaron. (2012). Creepy carrots! Illus. by Peter Brown. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Creepy CarrotsJasper Rabbit has a passion for carrots that grow in Crackenhopper Field because they are fat, crisp and free for the taking. Jasper can’t get enough of these carrots and eats them everyday. But one day the carrots begin to follow Jasper. At first, he thinks he is imagining things but then notices the carrots have followed him home. When he looks a little closer, he can’t find them though. Maybe the creepy carrots aren't following him? During the middle of the night Jasper hears terrible, carroty breathing and notices a carrot shadow on his wall. He screams for his dad and together they can’t find any creepy carrots. Maybe Jasper’s eyes are playing tricks on him? Jasper then decides to build a fence around the Crackenhopper Field so that none of the creepy carrots will leave the patch again. The final page shows the carrots cheering because Jasper Rabbit will never eat them again. Peter Brown, illustrator, successfully used black and gray tones to highlight the bright orange carrots. In addition, he viewed classic black and white television shows such as The Twilight Zone, to help him think about illustration layout and design. Learn more about Peter at www.peterbrownstudio.com.

- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver


Roberton, Fiona. (2012). The perfect present. New York: Penguin/Putnam Juvenile.

The Perfect PresentHenry and Spot are such good friends that Spot, a duck that first came into Henry’s life in Wanted: The Perfect Pet (2010), spends a great deal of time finding his friend the perfect birthday present. Unfortunately, though, it seems that another present captures Henry's attention, leaving Spot forlorn and lonely. Disaster occurs when Spot decides to leave. But Henry hasn't forgotten Spot and has only been distracted briefly, and bringing along both presents, he searches for his friend. This lovely tribute to friendship, loyalty and the ability to make room in the heart for another friend contains simple line drawings with bits of muted colors such as green and yellow-orange that set off the characters appealingly.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Rubin, Adam. (2012). Dragons love tacos. Illus. by Daniel Salmieri. Penguin/Dial. 

Dragons Love TacosIt turns out that dragons are exceptionally fond of tacos with all their yummy ingredients. But any youngster interested in feeding them tacos needs to heed the author’s warning not to use spicy salsa when preparing those tacos. Unfortunately, the youngster who plans a dragon taco party fails to read the fine print on the mild salsa container until it’s too late. Despite his attempts to stop them from chomping on the tacos, they have eaten salsa with spicy jalapeno peppers, leading to much fiery havoc. This funny fantasy tale and its watercolor, gouache, and color pencil illustrations provide a fresh perspective on dragons and on salsa.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


GRADES 3-6


Jones, Diana Wynne. (2012) Earwig and the witch. Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Earwig and the WitchUnlike most orphans, Earwig is a perfectly happy orphan at St. Moralds in this early chapter book fantasy. Dropped off mysteriously as a baby, Earwig has since figured out a way to make everyone around her do exactly as she wants them to do, including Mrs. Briggs the Matron and all the other orphans at St. Moralds. She purposely does everything she can to avoid being adopted. One day that situation changes when the ugly witch Bella Yaga and her 9-foot tall demon companion the Mandrake adopt Earwig and take her to their home with the intention of making her a servant. With the help and friendship of Bella’s familiar, her cat Thomas, Earwig decides she wants to learn magic and get this new home functioning the way she wants it to be run. This very quick and early chapter book entry into fantasy has some eccentric and oddball characters including our quick-witted heroine, Earwig. Paul Zelinsky’s line drawings add to the humorous tone of the story. Readers can also listen to a video book talk of Earwig and the Witch online.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


GRADES 5-8


Schlitz, Laura Amy. (2012) Splendors and glooms. Candlewick Press.

Splendors and GloomsNewbery-award winning author, Laura Amy Schlitz, brings another historical novel about England to middle grade readers. The year is 1860, and the setting is London. The daughter of wealthy Dr. Wintermute, twelve-year old Clara is the last surviving sibling in her family. For her birthday, Clara insists on having a party with the puppets of strange Professor Grisini as the entertainment. He brings his two waif-like assistants, LizzieRose and Presefal. When the party is over, Clara has disappeared, and so has Professor Grisini. The puppet master has secreted them all away to the haunts of his old girlfriend and witch, Cassandra Sagredo. Sagredo is dying and needs the children to help steal a needed item. The three children band together to fight off the witch and regain their freedom. With a very Dickensian style, the characters each have a turn at narrating the story. Schlitz has created a mysterious tale of evil with a first touch of horror for young readers.Read an interesting Q & A with the author online.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


GRADES 9-12/Young Adult (YA):


Carey, Janet Lee. (2012). Dragonswood. New York: Penguin/Dial Books.

DragonswoodUnexpectedly, Tess, the daughter of a blacksmith who wields his hand against his daughter quite often, is accused of witchcraft in her small village near Dragonswood in 1192. Tortured into revealing the names of the two friends who accompanied her in the woods, during her trial by drowning, Tess is aided by a dragon. She and her friends put on the clothing of lepers in order to hide from the villagers as they live off the land. Eventually, they are befriended by a huntsman who had appeared in Tess’s dreams. As Tess ponders whether he is friend or foe while fighting romantic feelings for someone who speaks with dragons, she also learns the truth about her father and her own lineage. Readers will enjoy following Tess’s own path of self-discovery and empowerment while also swooning at the romantic possibilities in the book’s pages.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Cashore, Kristin. (2012). Bitterblue. New York: Dial Books

Bitterblue(Companion to Graceling and Fire.) Eight years have passed since the story of Graceling ended and Bitterblue, now eighteen, is the queen of Monsea. The previous ruler, her father King Leck, had been a cruel leader and a sadistic mind controller. When Graceling Kasta killed Leck, few tears were shed at his death. Trying to heal the wounds from the former reign of terror, Bitterblue disguises herself as a peasant and goes out into the city at night to feel the pulse of the people and listen to their thoughts about how the kingdom is functioning now that Leck is dead and she is ruling the land. Interestingly, two thieves befriend her and their thoughts and opinions about the kingdom give Bitterblue insight into life within the realm. She learns that many leftover wounds and scars from her father’s horrific reign have not healed nor been corrected. Within the royal household she discovers she does not know whom she can trust and needs to rethink many of the things she has been told. Her life in the castle is fraught with lies, deception, ciphers, spies and thieves who make Bitterblue’s life as sovereign full of confusion and doubt. Like the previous novels, a touch of romance sparks the story and characters from the earlier novels are intertwined in this novel of palace intrigue. Bitterblue’s development as a queen and ruler is the basis of the story while sorting out the people she can trust to surround herself with as confidants. Her goal is to restore the Seven Kingdoms to its former respect and glory and find her niche as its queen. The strong plot makes this adventure fantasy a satisfying conclusion to the Graceling saga. Listen to the author read from Bitterblue or have fun with the Facebook page.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


McQuerry, Maureen Doyle. (2012). The peculiars. New York: Abrams/Amulet.

The PeculiarsWhen Lena Mattacascar turns eighteen, she uses a small inheritance to set off for a strange land called Scree where her father reputedly lives. With her abnormally large hands and feet, Lena has always felt different from those around her, and she suspects that she might be what others call a Peculiar, someone with physical attributes unlike those of others. As Lena sets out on the first leg of her journey by train, she finds friendship--and maybe more--in Jimson Quiggley, a young man on the way to his first librarian job, and possibly a touch of romance or something more sinister in Thomas Saltre, a marshal looking for revenge for his own father’s death. A blend of fantasy and steam punk, the title effectively describes fears and prejudices, rooted in ignorance, toward the Peculiars, reminding readers of the basis of many prejudices today. Visit the IRA Engage/Teacher to Teacher blog to read the "5 Questions with...Maureen McQuerry".

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman 


Marchetta, Melina. (2012). Froi of the exiles. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 

Froi of the ExilesIn the second title of the Lumatere Chronicles and follow-up to Finnikin of the Rock (2010), the story follows a character with misdeeds in his past. Haunted by his past, royal guard Froi seems to have found the place he belongs, and some of his rougher edges have been smoothed. The curse on Lumatere was lifted three years ago, but the Queen and Finnikin still need protection, and Froi is honored to provide that service to them. But a secret mission to the kingdom of Charyn where things are decidedly—and horrifyingly—awry in the royal court shakes Froi to his core. As Froi unravels the mystery in this kingdom whose princess seems to be mad, something stirs within him, and he awakens to the possibilities that lie in his own future. Fans of fantasy will relish every word of this well-written saga that describes humans at their best and at their worst. Not only is the world created by this author detailed and possible but her characters are complex and intriguing. This title is not for the faint-hearted, but it is highly recommended.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman




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