Category Archives: Fantasy

#365PictureBooks Day 14 The adventures of Beekle the unimaginary friend

This magical story begins on an island far away where an imaginary friend is born. He patiently waits his turn to be chosen by a real child, but when he is overlooked time and again, he sets off on an incredible journey to the bustling city, where he finally meets his perfect match and-at long last-is given his special name: Beekle”. Publisher Hachette

This such a sweet story about friendship and the twist on the friendship theme in this book is that the imaginary friend is waiting to be imagined and loved by a real child.

Every night he stood under the stars, hoping for his turn to be picked by a child and given a special name.

He waited for many nights.

But his turn never came.

When Beekle sails away to the real world and ventures into the city, it is a rather dark, dingy and unhappy place, very much like the scenes in Mike Curatos Little Elliot, big city. The adults seem preoccupied and disinterested in everything around them and the only creature that notices Beekle, is a small dog and the reader. When Beekle catches sight of one of his imaginary friends from the island, then we see a burst of colour on the right hand side of a dark page. The subsequent pages are filled with colour and activity when Beekle finds a playground. Just when we feel that Beekle is at his saddest and loneliest,  he finally meets his real friend. The reader can’t help but feel very happy for Beekle, especially when we finally see him smile..

I think this book would rather heartening to hear if you were a small person, perhaps at school without a special friend yet. And these lines might convince a child that becoming best friends with someone isn’t always instant or ‘love at first sight’.

At first they weren’t sure what to do.

Neither of them had made a friend before.

But…

….after a little while

the realised they were perfect together.

Bibliographic details:

The adventures of Beekle the unimaginary friend / Dan Santat

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2014

40 pages

ISBN:9780316199988

NZ RRP $34.99

Available from independent book stores, library suppliers and to borrow from Auckland Libraries.

Recommended for older readers….

 

The imaginary / Written by A.F. Harrold and Illustrated by Emily Gravett.

Published by Bloomsbury, 2014.

212 pages

ISBN:9781408852460

 

A story can be a dangerous thing….Song for a scarlet runner by Julie Hunt

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Song for a scarlet runner by Julie Hunt. Published by Allen & Unwin, 2013.  Paperback, 324 pp. ISBN: 9781743313589. rrp NZ$19.99 (Also available on Overdrive ebook platform for libraries).

From the publisher:

The fantastic story of a young girl who must run for her life because she has brought bad luck to her village…Classic adventure-fantasy by an author with a fabulous and original storytelling voice.

Once, long ago and far from here, there were endless marshes, and in the marshes lived a marsh auntie, and that marsh auntie wore a coat with a thousand pockets, and in the pocket of that coat was a pouch, and inside that pouch was a nail, and that nail had the power to open a treacherous story…

Peat is on the run – forced to flee for her life when she’s blamed for bringing bad luck to her village. She heads for the endless marshes, where she’s caught by an old healer-woman who makes Peat her apprentice and teaches her the skill of storytelling.
But a story can be a dangerous thing. It can take you out of one world and leave you stranded in another – and Peat finds herself trapped in an eerie place beyond the Silver River where time stands still. Her only friends are a 900-year-old boy and his ghost hound, plus a small and slippery sleek – a cunning creature that might sink his teeth into your leg one minute, and save your life the next.

‘A gripping tale…Both magical and superbly true, this new world draws us into universal struggles of survival, loyalty and freedom, as secrets build and break around us like weather.’ ANNA FIENBERG

Book trailer:

About the author:

Julie Hunt lives on a farm in southern Tasmania and is fascinated by landscapes and the stories they inspire. This interest has taken her from the rugged west coast of Ireland to the ice caves of Romania. She loves poetry, storytelling and traditional folktales, and her own stories combine other-worldly elements with down-to-earth humour. Her picture books include The Coat (ill. Ron Brooks) and Precious Little (ill. Gaye Chapman). She’s written a three-book series called Little Else about a plucky young cowgirl (ill. Beth Norling), and a graphic novel called KidGlovz (ill. by Dale Newman, who did the Scarlet Runner cover).
In Song for a Scarlet Runner, Julie explores an idea that occurs in many traditional stories throughout the world – the ‘external soul’. A person’s spirit is taken from their body and hidden away so they can never be killed, but eventually time and the laws of nature catch up with them.

What did I think about Song for a scarlet runner?

I found this a highly original tale – it is beautifully written and children that love fantasy where the reader is totally immersed in a different world will love this. In many ways it reads like historical fiction, the story could easily be describing life in the dark ages, the fantasy element is gradually introduced.

Peat and her older sister Marlie live in isolation at the Overhang, a barren desolate place where three roads meet but no one ever travels along them. The nearest village or collection of dwellings is Skerrick from where they were banished on the day of Peat’s birth. Peat was born with flaming red hair and one brown eye and one green. Her father disowned her and banished her mother and sister along with her. The two girls have lived very simply, tending cattle, making cheeses and the only thing they have to look forward to is the infrequent visits from their Aunt Wim. Wim brings supplies and takes the cheeses back to Skerrick.

One day a stranger comes along the road and tells them about his part of the world, and although it is close to Skerrick Peat and Marlie had no idea it existed. Peat is curious and asks lots of questions. Unfortunately the stranger is suffering from  a plague like illness and after traveling on further to Skerrick, he infects the residents. This causes the wrath of Peat’s father to fall upon her again. Even though she has always longed for an adventure she is forced to go on the run into the badlands, leaving her sister behind. Peat meets a strange creature that she calls a Sleek. Despite the Sleek sometimes biting and hurting her and stealing the little food she has, he also helps her and becomes her traveling companion. Peat meets people along the way but she is unable to stay anywhere and has to keep moving further on, eventually into the marshes.

Once in the marshes Peat is fortunate to meet the Marsh Aunties, a group of strange, gifted women.  Eadie is a larger than life character, wearing an organic living coat with 1000 pockets, all containing the herbs and other materials she needs for healing and making remedies. Eadie, rescues Peat and encourages her to be her apprentice and pass on to her, the skill of storytelling. While the reader is being coaxed lovingly into this story by the warm characters and delicious prose, the characters are telling us about the power and magic of oral storytelling. Unfortunately Peat is tricked and without spoiling the story, let me just say that Peat has to use the power of story telling herself in order to escape and rescue her friend Stiltboy.

The whole book is a very satisfying, rich fantasy read without the usual layers of props (dragons, wizards and the rest!). I believe that both girls and boys 9+ should love this book. It would be great read aloud.

My thanks to Allen & Unwin for sending an advance copy of this book for review.

New series : The Battles of Ben Kingdom by Andrew Beasley

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The claws of evil by Andrew Beasley. (The battles of Ben Kingdom; book 1). Published by Usborne, 2013. Paperback, 329 pages. ISBN: 9781409544005. Available in bookstores NZ rrp$20.95 now (also in Wheelers and Overdrive ebook platforms!)

From the publisher:

Welcome to Victorian London; the home of the Artful Dodger, Sherlock Holmes…and Ben Kingdom, cocky street urchin – and the saviour of mankind. Unknown to mere mortals, an ancient battle is being waged across the city. Below the streets lurk the Legion, an evil gang of miscreants and criminals in league with the monstrous Feathered Men – determined to unleash Hell on the streets of London. Above the city’s rooftops soar the Watchers, a ragtag band of orphans, mystics and spies, dedicated to protecting the vulnerable and guarding London against evil. Only Ben can put an end to this war – the only problem is, he doesn’t know which side to choose.

What did I think of this book?

I have loved Usborne publications for years – but I have been more familiar with their excellent non-fiction titles (these are wonderful resources for my students carrying out inquiry as the books are beautifully laid out and well supported by web and other up to date resources). This is the first of two new fiction titles I have read recently and I will be looking out for more from this publisher (watch out for a review of another excellent girls realistic fiction title which will be up on this blog soon…)

Back to the Claws of evil…Victorian setting. Check. Rip roaring adventure. Check. Excellent writing. Check. Appeal to voracious readers. Check. Good versus evil. Check. These are just some of the elements that make me want to tell my students about this book.This book was talked about a lot prior to publication and this one lives up to all the enthusiastic pre publicity excitement.

From lovereadingforkids.co.uk: Everybody at Usborne is incredibly excited to be publishing The Claws of Evil, the first book in a stunning new series The Battles of Ben Kingdom. I started reading this book on a plane journey from Italy but was quickly transported to the rooftops of Victorian London, where an age-long battle takes place between the mysterious Watchers and the brutal Legion. Only our hero, Ben Kingdom, can put an end to this war, and the dilemma at the heart of this brilliant novel is that he doesn’t know which side to choose.Imaginative, captivating and fast-paced, Andrew has created colourful characters with real heart. Blending steampunk invention with nail-biting adventure, we believe this is the sort of fiction that will get readers talking. We hope you love it as much as we do!

It is wonderful when the author has an interesting story of their own. I was fascinated to read about the things that influenced Andrew on his author page on the website of UK bookseller Foyles.

Blame Sherlock Holmes.

I have always had a fascination with the Victorian era, and London in particular. There is something so fascinating, so gloriously tantalising, about those murky cobblestones and the swirling fog. I was very young when I first read Conan Doyle and I remember my feelings when I found myself in that age of great invention and glorious adventure, and yet tinged with darkness too, in those dangerous alleyways and crime-ridden tenements. It proved an irresistible combination to my young mind, and the obvious choice of setting for my series – The Battles of Ben Kingdom.

Andrew goes on to talk about other things that have influenced him including his own experience of homelessness “Unfortunately, in many respects, the London of Ben Kingdom is a mirror of London today. Homelessness is on the rise. Estimates vary, but it is suggested that as many as 100,000 children become detached from their families each year in the UK and have to fend for themselves. 30,000 of those will be twelve years old or younger. One in six of them will sleep rough. Suddenly, the historical past collides with the present. I could rewrite The Claws of Evil with a contemporary setting and it would still ring true.” Click on the link at the end of this post to read this fascinating account in full.

The book is very much about choices; the choice between good and evil is not so easy when the main protagonist doesn’t have all the facts. It is interesting to be the reader watching from the sidelines, willing the character to take action based on the information that you the reader has from having read both the point of view of the good (the Watchers) and the Bad (the Legion) – never has that felt so apparent for me when reading a book as with this one. Even stranger, is that right from the start of the story Ben is convinced that the Winged Man is evil incarnate while the Evil Professor can help him. If this were a pantomime or stage show children would be yelling to the actors from the audience!

There are so many elements of great fantasy here; firstly the prophecy held by both sides who are waiting for the child that is destined to change the world by leading their side; the mystical coin that the legion needs to complete their plans (it also seems to possess everyone that comes into contact with it, including Ben); a subterranean community of “outsiders” living below London’s streets; people and creatures with amazing physical powers running along the rooftops; magical hideous monstrous creatures with murderous blood letting intent. Plenty for kids to get their teeth into and one that will appeal to many girls as well as boys because of the well developed secondary characters of both sexes.

The second book in the series is due out in September.

LINKS:

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Delightful series for the younger set: Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn & Nick Price

I have admired the covers of this delightful series for a long time, but have only recently taken the time to sit down and read one. These stories are delightful – I finished the first and then read the second and third adventures straight after. These are really great little adventure stories, yes the characters have a great deal of “cute” factor but the stories are rich and interesting and children 6-7+ will be delighted. So far there are seven books in the series. Reading them in order is not absolutely necessary, but the first book does explain the characters and the setting particularly well. Now that I have read them I know I will be a lot more confident about recommending them to both girls and boys. There is a connection for any children who enjoy playing with toys based on miniature worlds, for example Sylvanian Families.

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Tumtum and Nutmeg Written by Emily Bearn and illustrated by Nick Price. Published by Egmont, 2008.

From the Tumtum and Nutmeg website: In the broom cupboard of a small dwelling called Rose Cottage, stands a house fit for a mouse – well, two mice actually. A house made of pebblestone, with gables on the windows and turrets peeking out of the roof. A house with a ballroom, a billiard room, a banqueting room, a butler’s room and a drawing room. The house belongs to Mr and Mrs Nutmouse, or Tumtum and Nutmeg as they affectionately call each other.

Tumtum and Nutmeg have a wonderful life but the children who live in Rose Cottage, Arthur and Lucy, are less fortunate. So, one day Tumtum and Nutmeg decide to cheer them up …Tumtum repairs the electric heater in the attic where the children sleep and Nutmeg darns the children’s clothes. Arthur and Lucy are delighted and think a Fairy is looking after them.

But then Aunt Ivy with her green eyelids and long, elasticy arms arrives. She hates mice and hatches a plan to get rid of them. Soon Tumtum and Nutmeg are no longer safe to venture out. When Aunt Ivy uncovers the location of Nutmouse Hall it’s a race against time for Tumtum and Nutmeg – can they thwart her evil plans in time?

The books in series order:

  • Tumtum and Nutmeg
  • The Great Escape
  • The Pirates’ Treasure
  • A Christmas Adventure
  • A Seaside Adventure
  • A Circus Adventure
  • Trouble at Rose Cottage

REVIEWS: (Source Tumtum and Nutmeg website)

“There’s a delightfully twitchy quality to Tumtum and Nutmeg which, despite their clothes and their domesticity, makes them seem genuinely mousey, and the small-scale world they inhabit is full of just the right tiny details.” – Guardian Review section

“Told simply, with charming detail, this old-fashioned and well published story …will delight children who are of an age to relish secret friends and a cosy world in miniature.”- Sunday Times

“Good new books for children 5 to 8 are rare, and this is one of them. Bearn’s style is as crisp and warm as a home baked biscuit.”- The Times

“Bearn is a fine writer and her tale of how the Nutmouses thwart the vile Ivy is a gently humourous page-turner, full of little details that will appeal to children who enjoy small world play but are too young for the Borrowers.” –Financial Times magazine

“Perfect bedtime reading” – Angels and Urchins

Recommended reading after these (some more suitable as “read alouds”):

  • The borrowers by Mary Norton
  • Books by E.B. White (Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Webb)
  • The sheep pig (Babe) by Dick King-Smith
  • Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl
  • The wind in the willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • The miraculous journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
  • The rescuers by Margery Sharp

LINKS:

Series website: http://www.tumtumandnutmeg.co.uk/index.htm (lots of great material here including an interactive chapter sampler)

Sequel success: Ash Mistry and the City of Death by Sarwat Chadda

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Ash Mistry and the City of Death by Sarwat Chadda. (Ash Mistry Chronicles ; 2). Published by HarperCollins Childrens Books, 2013. Paperback, 320 pages. ISBN: 9780007447374

Publisher’s synopsis:

Ash Mistry is leading a pretty complicated life. There’s school, his unrequited crush on girl-next-door Gemma… and then there’s the fact that he’s the reincarnation of the great Indian hero Rama, not to mention the small detail that he died last year, and came back as an agent of the goddess of death.

So when the demon servants of the evil Lord Savage come after Gemma in order to get to Ash, you’d think he’d be ready to take them on.

But Lord Savage still has some tricks up his sleeve. And with Gemma out of the picture, the English villain is closer than ever to finding a magical aastra of his own, and the power to rule the world. It’s time for Ash to go up against his enemy once again. Luckily, as the human embodiment of the kali-aastra, Ash can find the weak points in any living thing and kill it. But the key word there is ‘living’. And little does Ash know that Lord Savage has mastered another branch of magic – one which allows him to create whole armies out of un-living stone…

What do I think about this sequel?

This book is fantastic – if anything I found this even better than the first – it’s tighter and expertly paced. Kids that love rip-roaring-seat of your pants adventure will LOVE this: it’s got villains trying to stay immortal but young again, the hindu version of Goloms, demon shark monsters, betrayal, redemption, loss, friendship – but mainly action. This would make a fantastic movie.

My only note of concern….once again publisher’s age recommendation is 9+. This is very violent with LOTS of killing – I recommend this for MATURE 10+  and I would be warning kids/parents/teachers as I talk about it with them. The violence didn’t worry any of my readers of the last book (Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress) as it does seem ‘in context’ with the Hindu myths and legends and also the belief in reincarnation (and Karma). Even so, I don’t want any of my students having nightmares. I loved this – it was awesome!

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Galloping galoshes it’s ‘The Great Galloon’ by Tom Banks

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The great galloon by Tom Banks. Published by Hot Key Books, 2013. Paperback, 166 pages.

(ISBN: 9781471400889)

What on earth is a Galloon?…why it’s half galleon and half balloon! (source: Scholastic Bookclub News UK)

From the publisher:

The Great Galloon is an enormous airship , manned by Captain Meredith Anstruther and his able crew. They might seem like a bit of a motley bunch, but they’re great at fighting off pirates and polishing the decks whilst drinking lots of tea! But disaster is about to strike… Captain Anstruther is preparing to marry the beautiful Lady Isabella. But on his wedding day, his evil younger brother boards the ship and steals Isabella away onto his underwater Sumbaroon! Soon the plucky crew of the Great Galloon – including a reluctant countess-to-be – are battling BeheMoths, dodging scary Seagles and trying to save the Galloon from sinking. But will they ever find the Captain’s bride?

THE GREAT GALLOON is a humorous CAPTAIN PUGWASH meets MONTY PYTHON adventure perfect for reading aloud and for growing readers looking for a silly, funny book…

(from the back cover):

Can the crew of the Great Galloon survive this impending disaster? And how many riotous adventures will come their way in this fabulously funny action packed tale?

What did I like about this book?

I didn’t hesitate to order this because it’s published by Hot Key Books and as I have mentioned often on this blog, they are publishing some of the hottest kidlit fiction coming out of Britain, and kids just seem to love the books. Secondly it had a glowing pre publication review on lovedreading4kids – another website I trust. Thirdly, I have a bit of a penchant for anything steampunkish and something with a steampunk flavor and lots of humor grabbed my interest. Look at the handy ‘Key’ provided by Hot Key on the back of the cover!

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I love the writing in this, it is playful and a bit mad. The reader is thrust straight into the action, and in a rather alarming way, without much of an introduction.  Accomplished readers will eat this up, but in my opinion this isn’t one for struggling readers or kids with English as a second language – it might be a little bewildering. Not a fault with the book – it is just different so something for some readers to work towards. I wasn’t surprised to read that the author has a background in the theatre, it has a ‘panto’ like riotous romping quality. The publisher has suggested Captain Pugwash meets Monty Python, I would throw in a little of the opium fuelled fantasy from Alice’s adventures, and the seagulls from James and the Giant peach to round that description out. There is an absolute Mad Hatterish feel about the story – and to get the humor you have to take things literally rather than figuratively or is that figuratively rather than literally?..maybe both!

e.g. “Another game of Backgammon?” said Stanley “I’ll bat this time”. [I thought this and plenty of other lines like this…frightfully clever!]

I loved it – hope some of my Year5 +  (9-10+) students do too!

Take a look at the first chapter available via Hot Key here:

There is a sequel on the way too…The Great Galloon : Voyage to the Volcano (August 2013)

Looking forward to: “House of Secrets” by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

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The House of Secrets by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini.
(House of Secrets – book one of an intended trilogy)
Hardcover, 496 pages
Expected publication: April 23rd 2013 by Balzer + Bray
ISBN: (ISBN13: 9780062192462)

From the publisher: From legendary Hollywood director Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Philiosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and bestselling author Ned Vizzini (It’s Kind of a Funny Story) comes this first book in an epic new fantasy series.

Brendan, Eleanor, and Cordelia Walker once had everything: two loving parents, a beautiful house in San Francisco, and all the portable electronic devices they could want. But everything changed when Dr. Walker lost his job in the wake of a mysterious incident. Now in dire straits, the family must relocate to an old Victorian house that used to be the home of occult novelist Denver Kristoff—a house that feels simultaneously creepy and too good to be true.

By the time the Walkers realize that one of their neighbors has sinister plans for them, they’re banished to a primeval forest way off the grid. Their parents? Gone. Their friends? A world away. And they aren’t alone. Bloodthirsty medieval warriors patrol the woods around them, supernatural pirates roam the neighboring seas, and a power-hungry queen rules the land. To survive, the siblings will have to be braver than they ever thought possible—and fight against their darkest impulses. The key may lie in their own connection to the secret Kristoff legacy. But as they unravel that legacy, they’ll discover it’s not just their family that’s in danger . . . it’s the entire world.

I’m looking forward to reading this forthcoming book because…I am interested to see if this lives up to the hype of all the pre publication announcements and excitement. I am always looking for great fantasy series to feed the constant demand of readers, and hope this is another one that students will love.

 

See the author interview and book trailer here: