A blog for kids (and their parents) who love books, words, and dreaming big...
I'm so glad you stopped by! Welcome.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Magic and Royalty and Unusual Creatures, Oh My!

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

Strange lands, brave princesses, enchanted spells, mermaids, trolls, dragons, djinn.... Can you tell that I've been reading a lot of middle grade and young adult fantasy lately?  I've enjoyed them all and wanted to share them with you:

Tuck Everlasting,
written by Natalie Babbitt, 1975...

Ten-year-old Winnie discovers a hidden spring in the forest, then learns that it is the "fountain of youth" -- whoever drinks from it (as the Tuck family did many, many years before) will live forever.  Unfortunately, she's not the only one to learn the secret of the spring; a mysterious stranger wants to make his fortune by marketing the magical water.  Winnie and the Tucks must work together and make sure this does not happen.

Even though this book was first published when I was a young girl, I'd never even heard of it until the movie came out in 2002.  I never did see the movie, and it wasn't until this past winter that I finally got around to looking for the book at our library.  Beautifully written -- and a quick read -- this book poses questions that really make the reader think.  What would it really be like to live forever?


The Phantom Tollbooth,
written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer, 1961...

Milo is bored with life.  Then one day he comes home and finds a very unusual gift in his room -- a magical tollbooth.  He drives through it in his toy car and finds himself in a strange land, the Kingdom of Wisdom.  There he meets Tock the watchdog, who has a giant clock attached to his body.  Milo and Tock travel around the land, visiting places like Dictionopolis, Digitopolis, and the Mountains of Ignorance on their quest to rescue the Princesses Rhyme and Reason.  Along the way, they encounter the Whether Man, the Humbug, the Spelling Bee, and many other odd creatures.

This is another old classic that I'd never read till now.  I remember Emmalie reading it in elementary school and recommending it to me, but it wasn't until I spotted the book on the shelf at the library a few months back that I decided to give it a try.  I'm glad I did -- I was so charmed by this clever book that I'm planning to buy myself a copy.  I can't wait to reread it!  I love the book's humor, especially all the fun puns sprinkled liberally throughout.


The Tail of Emily Windsnap,
written by Liz Kessler, 2003...

Emily Windsnap is a 7th grader who's never gone swimming before.  She's never even taken a bath (only showers).  She has never been fully immersed in water.  When she finally convinces her mother to let her take swimming lessons, Emily discovers that she can swim better than any of her classmates -- until her legs start feeling very strange and she quickly gets out of the water.  Later, Emily attempts swimming in the ocean near her home. That same strange sensation creeps back into her legs, but she stays in the water this time.  Imagine her surprise when Emily's legs turn into a tail and she realizes that she is a real life mermaid! Her legs reappear when she gets back on shore, leaving Emily filled with questions and a longing to return to the sea.  Why is this happening and what will it mean for her life?

When my own Emmalie first read this back in elementary school, it quickly became her favorite book.  I remember her talking about it ALL the time, and wishing that she could be a mermaid herself.  Even now, when I borrowed her copy for this blog, Emmalie gushed, "Oh, I love that book!" After reading it myself, I decided that if I'd read it when I was 8 or 9, I would've loved it, too.  As an adult, I thought it was a cute story, but didn't like it as much as I liked the other books in this post.

For fans of this story who want to hear more, Kessler has written other Emily Windsnap books.  The series  includes Emily Windsnap and the Monster from the Deep (2004), Emily Windsnap and the Castle in the Mist (2006), and Emily Windsnap and the Siren's Secret (2010).


Once Upon a Marigold,
written by Jean Ferris, 2002...

As a young boy, Christian runs away from home.  While hiding in the forest, he meets Edric the troll, who unwillingly takes him in (but soon grows to care for Christian as a son).  Many years later, the boy uses a telescope to watch Princess Marigold in the castle yard, and adores her from afar.  At last he decides to leave home and go out into the world, hoping to find work at the castle where he can be nearer to his love.  Meanwhile, the evil Queen Olympia is making plans to become the sole ruler of the kingdom by getting rid of her daughter Marigold and the dotty King Swithbert.  

I laughed all throughout this silly story!  I loved the quirky characters, Edric's constant misuse of common sayings, and all the references to p-mail (messages sent by carrier pigeon).   While I found much of the plot to be predictable, I really didn't mind -- I was having too much fun reading it! 

Ferris has also written a sequel to this book, Twice Upon a Marigold.  I have not read it yet, but hope to soon!


Princess Ben,
written by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, 2008...

The idyllic life of Princess Benevolence (Ben, for short) changes in an instant when her uncle, King Ferdinand, and her mother are killed -- and her father goes missing.  Queen Sophia insists that Ben move from her home to the castle, where she can learn to be a "proper" princess, as the true heir to the throne of Montagne.  Miserable and stubborn, Ben refuses to act the way her aunt wishes.  The queen punishes her niece by locking her in the high tower, but Ben soon discovers magic hidden within the castle walls.  Can she use this magic to escape her prison and to keep Montagne's sworn enemy, the kingdom of Drachensbett, from invading her beloved land?

I was quickly drawn into this story, and read it all in one sitting.  I especially liked how Murdock took elements from familiar fairy tales and twisted them around to fit her strong heroine.  The book was written in a formal voice befitting a queen, which may put off some readers at first.  However, I found that after only a few pages, I didn't even notice it anymore -- I was too wrapped up in the story.


The Ring of Solomon,
(A Bartimaeus Novel)
written by Jonathan Stroud, 2010

This book is a prequel (actually, more like  a pre-pre-prequel) to The Bartimaeus Trilogy that I reviewed in an earlier post. The trilogy is set in the nineteenth century England while The Ring of Solomon is set in Jerusalem in 950 BC, during King Solomon's reign.  Like the trilogy, the trilogy features Bartimaeus, the cynical, sarcastic djinni with a heart.  

Solomon possesses an all-powerful ring, giving him vast influence over all the surrounding lands.  The Queen of Sheba, worried about what he will do to her land, sends her most trusted guard, the young girl Asmira, to kill Solomon and steal the ring.  Meanwhile, as punishment for his misbehavior, Bartimaeus is forced to work for Solomon's evil magician, Khaba.

I found this to be a fast-paced novel, filled with plot twists and laugh-out-loud humor.  Fans of the trilogy will love this prequel, and those who are not yet familiar with Bartimaeus are sure to enjoy it, too!


Have you read any of the books above?  If so, what did you think?  Do you have other fantasy favorites?  I'd love to hear about them!


  1. The Ring of Solomon is great. I was worried after loving the original trilogy so much that the prequel would diverge from Stroud's wondrously unique writing style. However, I was not disappointed! The book was just as fantastic as the first three. I haven't read Princess Ben, but your synopsis reminds me a bit of Dealing With Dragons, another great series about a princess who decides being a traditional princess is too boring, and decides that being captured by dragons would be more entertaining. I'd recommend them to middle grade readers, young adults, and those who like humorous fantasy. -Emmalie

  2. Guess I need to read Dealing With Dragons! :) Thanks for the suggestion, Emm!