Tag Archives: fantasy

Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

by Jonathan Auxier
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Nan Sparrow was raised by a chimney sweep in 1800s London. One day he leaves and she is on her own, finding her way to a master sweep with other child sweeps to manage. The Sweep had left her with a lump of coal that is somehow always warm, and is her prized possession and constant companion. But now Nan is big, almost too big to sweep, and one day something happens to waken the char who, it turns out, is a golem, a fabled Jewish monster. Nan must escape from the master sweep, Mister Crudd, and go underground with her beloved golem, whom she names Charlie. For a while this works, but then Nan and her fellow sweeps get involved in the labor reform that changes the landscape. Golems, it turns out, have a purpose in life, and once that purpose is fulfilled, they… expire. So too with Charlie.

I don’t know much about chimney sweeps, or this period of London’s history, so I was very grateful for Auxier’s note at the end about what was true and what wasn’t. Nan gains some guidance, especially about golems, from Miss Bloom, a teacher at a school where she swept the chimneys and where the incident that woke Charlie happened. There are many beautiful, lovely lines, especially about how saving someone else is what saves us. There were a couple of times where I thought the story would turn into something tidier, something happier, more akin to a rags-to-riches type story, but it didn’t. Nan remained resourceful and mature beyond her years, and grew and matured even more along the way. Her relationships with her sweep family deepened in ways I wasn’t expecting, and it was lovely. They learn from each other, and in particular she learns the truth about, and comes to terms with, what happened to the Sweep.

The Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee

by Helena Ku Rhee
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

A young boy goes with his parents to their night job cleaning an office when his usual babysitter can’t make it. He is skeptical at first but his parents make the experience magical by spinning a tale about how the office is a paper kingdom, complete with kings and queens and dragons. The drawings are as fantastic(al) as the story; overall a delightful read for bedtime or otherwise.

Savvy by Ingrid Law

9780803733060by Ingrid Law
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Mississippi “Mibs” Beaumont is approaching her 13th birthday, when all other members of her family (save her non-magically-endowed father, Poppa) come into their particular magical power, or savvy. Mibs’ brother can create storms with his temper; her mother is perfect at everything (including being imperfect). Mibs is excited, until her father is in a serious accident and hospitalized miles away, taking away her mother and eldest brother, leaving them unguarded and swept up into a pity birthday party thrown by the pastor’s wife (whose son Will, incidentally, Mibs has a bit of a crush on). But when her powers descend during the party, it’s time to grab her remaining two brothers and hit the road – literally. They stow away on the pink bus of a bible salesman visiting the church, along with Will and his 16-year-old sister, Bobbi, hoping that he’s heading toward Mibs’ parents.

This one was recommended to me by a new 9-year-old friend. It’s been on my to-read list for a while, but I love to take kids’ recommendations seriously so this time I actually picked it up (well, downloaded it to my e-reader; same diff). The story of the adventure they go on with Mibs’ savvy (telepathy, specifically if a person has ink on their skin) and the other characters they meet, is delightful and tidy and I loved watching them all grow and change. I especially liked how Mibs handled not being ready to kiss Will, and his response. Perfect. One spoiler note, on top of the burgeoning heterosexuality: Mibs’ Poppa doesn’t entirely recover from his head injury, and I did appreciate how it was handled very realistically.

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

tumblr_inline_ofks724dvj1qhh5ky_500by Francesca Zappia
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I loved this book so hard I had a book hangover while reading it. Wait, is that a thing? Maybe I was just book drunk? Anyway, the point is, even while hanging out with dear friends (and my god-dog, aka The Best Dog Ever), all I could think about was this book and the characters and how I was sad I wasn’t reading it at that very moment. I even swung by work on Saturday to yell at the coworker who recommended it because instead of my usual excitement at adulting, all I wanted to do was park myself on the couch and devour the thing whole. But I digress – synopsis?

High school senior Eliza is the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea, but in real life she has almost no friends (just two Monstrous Sea insiders who know her true identity) and school is torture because she’s considered so weird it’s contagious. Suddenly, there’s a new boy at school who’s also into Monstrous Sea and they become friends, and soon more than friends. Then she finds out that he’s really her biggest, most popular fanfiction writer, and also has a complicated home life that adds some interesting depth to the story and to their relationship (including stepparents/stepsiblings/half-siblings of different races, and a suicide). Eliza’s home life is a bit simpler, with the main issues being well-meaning athletic parents and younger brothers, but their family dynamic is complex and interesting (especially to me as someone closer to the parental side of the equation than the teen side). (Side note: when she starts dating Wallace, her mom insists on taking her to the doctor for birth control, which she puts up a bit of resistance to but it’s otherwise a nonissue. They do nothing more than a little kissing.) Spoiler alert: Eventually, as you might guess, Eliza gets doxed, her relationship with Wallace takes a major hit, and she is fearful of her safety, but her family rallies around her in unexpected ways and she realizes how much she’s been shutting them out in a very all-or-nothing attitude. It’s tidy and heartwarming, but in a believable way and I just loved it.

Secret identities like: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
First love like: Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
Fanfiction excerpts like: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Cam’s dad needs a birthday present for his son that doesn’t cost anything. A mysterious man gives him some cardboard and challenges him to use his imagination. The cardboard comes with specific, if odd, instructions: to return every scrap they don’t use, and they cannot ask for more. Cam’s dad lugs it home feeling despondent, but Cam is surprisingly game to try it and they make a man who then comes to life. Things quickly spiral out of control when the evil kid next door, Marcus, gets hold of the cardboard replicator they’ve also built (out of the magic cardboard) and starts building his own army of cardboard people. They build a whole world and then turn on the humans and it gets very dark, very fast. Marcus and Cam also have a moment of connection at one point, and Cam’s dad comes around and opens up to the woman next door who has expressed her interest in him, but he has previously been too absorbed in grieving his late wife. All in all, a surprisingly deep story full of adventure and suspense!

Secondhand Wishes by Anna Staniszewski

9781338280173by Anna Staniszewski
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Seventh-grader Lexi just wants to maintain order and balance in her world, which is usually frighteningly out of whack. Her 4-year-old brother is in and out of hospitals a lot and her parents are stressed, her mother even losing her job because of the time she has to devote to his care. Lexi buys four-leaf clovers from her classmate to help with her luck and is constantly making deals with the universe for added protection. She’s also struggling with her best friend abandoning her for a new friend, when all Lexi wants is for things to continue just as they were. So when she comes across a bag of wishing stones, she has a lot of wishes to make – if they even work. She tries one and it does seem to work – except not exactly how she imagined. By the time she gets to her fourth wish, things are really out of hand and she seems to be in a bit of a pickle. But her aunt saves the day in surprising ways and Lexi learns a lot. In the end, though things go back to how they were before, Lexi is changed.

This book is delightful. I can see kids with anxiety and a need for control really identifying with Lexi. I loved that Lexi breaks out of her comfort zone and tries out for the dance team, even after a really embarrassing first attempt. Her best friend, Cassa, reveals that she is moving to England, and by the end of the book, Lexi is okay with that (and even starts to make friends with the once-hated interloper, Marina). I especially like that Lexi’s aunt also comes out of her shell a bit and reconnects with her childhood best friend. There are lots of little details and hints planted masterfully here and there and it’s just a very sweet story.

Lost in the Library by Josh Funk


by Josh Funk
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

The two lions outside the New York Public Library come to life in this sweet tale. When Patience goes missing one morning, Fortitude finally ventures into the library to try and find him, going from room to room and interacting with the various famous features of the historic building. I loved that when Fortitude reunites with his pal Patience, he learns that Patience has been reading up stories to share with him. It’s a lovely homage to the NYPL, despite the fact that the layout may be different in the near future.

I loved Josh’s previous picture books, especially Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast and How to Code a Sandcastle, and this one did not disappoint. If anything, Josh’s rhyming has gotten even more impressive, with every stanza having an ABAB rhyming scheme (as opposed to ABCB in previous books). (In the interest of full disclosure, Josh is a friend, so I am especially aware of how hard he works on his rhymes, and how hard it is to get them right!) He makes them seem effortless, and the story is solid. A bit more grounded in reality than Lady Pancake, but no less creative for it.

Bolivar by Sean Rubin


by Sean Rubin
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Bolivar lives next to a kid named Sybil, who is apparently the only one who pays enough attention to him to notice that he’s a dinosaur. She has a devil of a time getting anyone to realize this, and Bolivar prefers to be undisturbed, so he’s not all that happy when she succeeds. It’s a wonderfully cute story and very well done. It echoes how I feel when I visit New York, and it’s on my list to get for my cousins (ages 4 and 8) who live in Brooklyn and would probably LOVE to live next door to Bolivar.

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell


by Chad Sell
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

This reads like a collection of short stories, but with interrelated characters. Sell wrote each one with a different collaborator (though the tone and style are so seamless you wouldn’t know it by reading) and each story focuses on a different kid in the neighborhood. Somehow they’re all interested in playing dress-up knights and dragons and queens – even the neighborhood bully. I especially liked that we got a glimpse into his life and why he’s unhappy (he lives with his grandmother because his mom can’t take care of him – details are sparse) but it wasn’t the focus of the whole book. Other kids have other issues – one boy’s parents are getting a divorce, and Dad keeps showing up at random times and upsetting everyone; one girl’s dad objects to her wearing a mustache as part of her costume (“What would people think?”); another boy wants to be a sorceress. Generally, it’s the grownups who have trouble with what the kids are doing, though some kids feel like misfits and have a hard time making friends and eventually find a pal among the crew. Conflicts are very minor and very easily resolved.

Good for fans of: Comics SquadAll’s Faire in Middle School, and also has some stretches of wordless panels that might appeal to reluctant readers! If you liked it, you might like the Awkward series.

Bob by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead


by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Ten-year-old Livy comes back to Australia to visit her grandmother. Her last visit was five years ago, which she doesn’t remember at all. She also doesn’t remember the friend she made then, and that is because he is partly magic. His name is Bob and he’s been waiting in Livy’s closet for five years, because she told him to. He is crushed that she doesn’t remember him, but it turns out there’s a reason for that. While solving the mystery of who Bob is and how to get him back home, Livy rekindles her friendship with Sarah, her grandmother’s neighbor and learns about memory and friendship and water.

I love these two writers and am always intrigued by collaborations, mostly because it involves a meshing of two processes, which generally authors get pretty used to doing very much on their own. I spend a lot of time wondering who wrote which lines or chapters, what their process ended up looking like, when they laughed or yelled at each other, and whether they were satisfied with the final product. This story is pretty seamless so I’d like to think that the process went pretty well for them! I did have trouble not picturing Bob as Roger the alien from American Dad, but that might just be me. Nicholas Gannon‘s sparse, sepia-toned illustrations definitely helped.

Spoiler: I loved the ending, and who Bob turns out to be, which is a well dweller, and his absence has caused a drought in Australia. When a well dweller gets too far away from the well, he forgets where he came from. A small detail I bet I’ll forget is that Livy has named her baby sister BethAnn, and it turns out that Bob has two sisters named Beth and Ann. Some small things do get lodged into her memory somehow, and these echoes make lovely little details for the story and even help it along. Most adults can’t see Bob at all, it seems, though Sarah’s little brother, Danny, can. I think he sees him as a chicken, because of 5-year-old Livy’s improvised chicken suit that he wears, which is a hilarious image. I loved that Bob reads the dictionary and rebuilds a Lego pirate ship and counts to 987,654,321 six times in the five years between Livy’s visits. But mostly I love that he forgives her and that they are friends again, easily.