Tag: fantasy (page 1 of 4)

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard | Jonathan Auxier

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes won me over quietly—I almost didn’t see it happening. Jonathan Auxier’s story of an orphaned thief who eyes were (eep!) pecked out by ravens has a wit and charm and enough unexpected quirks to make it unlike any other books I’ve read. I liked it. I passed it on to Lydia, who loved it. But for some reason (maybe it was the thieving? Or the crows?), I didn’t immediately review it for this blog.

But then I read Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard.

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

There was nothing subtle about the way this book won me over: affection for it roared over me like a semi truck, overtaking me so abruptly that, at one point, I thumped the cover at Mitch while I read and announced, “Oh my word, I love this book!” before diving back into the story. It was the sort of book I adored so much, so immediately, that I kept my fingers metaphorically crossed for the rest of the book in the hope that the ending wouldn’t fizzle.

It didn’t.

This book is glorious from start to finish.

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

Sophie Quire is a sequel to Peter Nimble, in that it happens after Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, Peter Nimble is in it, and it was written by the same author. But it might be more accurate to call it a companion book, I don’t know, because the main character here is Sophie Quire, a young bookmender in the city of Bustleburgh, which is currently banishing nonsense in all its forms. When she meets a certain blind thief and takes on an unlikely commission, everything in Sophie’s life changes.

Jonathan Auxier’s writing is as exhilarating in this book as it is in The Night Gardener and Peter Nimble. His characters are bizarre and loveable, and through their adventures, Auxier explores (among other things) the importance of stories and nonsense. Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard is a beautiful book, one that has a deeper layer of truth underneath the story, waiting for those willing to look for it.

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story


Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes
Jonathan Auxier (2012)

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard
Jonathan Auxier (2017)

Breadcrumbs | Anne Ursu

Some authors play with language in a showy way, a way that draws the reader’s eye away from the story and onto their clever wordplay, but not Anne Ursu. She shapes each scene with obvious enjoyment, but it’s the scene we see, not her masterful shaping of it. She plays with words in the quietest way, panning out suddenly from a scene until pieces we hadn’t noticed yet become vivid and living, or giving a word some unexpected tilt that brings a new facet of meaning to light.

The delight behind her writing drew me into Breadcrumbs—a thrift store findimmediately. But the story itself held me there.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

Breadcrumbs travels over familiar ground: it is a coming-of-age tale, and a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” It could feel tired, too familiar. But it doesn’t.

The world Ursu constructs to house both the recognizable lives of her main characters and the cold enchantments of The Snow Queen is bewitching. The way she moves us from one to the other seems just right. When the main character, Hazel, sets out to rescue her best friend Jack from an enchantment she doesn’t fully understand, she finds that the world around her becomes less and less clearit grows harder to tell who is trustworthy and who is not. Through Hazel’s adventure, Ursu depicts the realistic confusion of coming-of-age without blurring the lines between good and evil.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

One other thing I loved about Breadcrumbs, though, was Hazel. She’s inventive, brave, and the right kind of quirky. She’s loyal, kind, and bold. She is Indian, adopted at birth by American parents. Her struggle to place herself in her surroundings, to understand where she fitsas an adopted child, a child of recently divorced parents, a child who doesn’t look like those around heris a part of the story, but it isn’t what the story is about. The story is about a rescue, and the rescuer, in this case, is Hazel.

I loved Breadcrumbs. It is a beautiful book. But one of the things I loved best about it was that it introduced me not just to a new favorite story, but to a new favorite author. I can’t wait to see what else Anne Ursu has written.


Breadcrumbs
Anne Ursu (2013)

Wingfeather Tales | Andrew Peterson (Editor)

There’s a spot on our porch I check every time I come home—to the left of the door, on the girls’ stripey chair. If I’m going to get a package, that’s where it will be, and if there is a package there, then it is probably full of books. There have been a lot of packages there lately, because, as I write, it’s nearly Christmas and I loathe going to stores (I drank the online shopping Kool-Aid early and never looked back).

But a few weeks ago, I found a package on the stripey chair that said not “Amazon Fulfillment Center” on the return address but “The Rabbit Room,” and I knew that something very, very good was about to happen to me.

I was right. Stickers and posters and patches happened, as well as a signed paperback copy of The Warden and the Wolf King. Happy little girls with their hands full of stickers and posters and patches happened. But I dug into the package looking for one thing and one thing only: Wingfeather Tales.

Wingfeather Tales, ed. Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

When Andrew Peterson ran his most recent Kickstarter campaign, one of the stretch goals was this collection of short stories set in Anniera, but written by a handful of my favorite authors and illustrators (if you’ve read anything by them, then they’re probably your favorites, too): ND Wilson, Jennifer Trafton, John Hendrix, Justin Gerard, Jonathan Rogers, to name a few.

That, I thought, looking at the line-up, is going to be awesome. But even with “awesome” as my starting point, I still completely underestimated Wingfeather Tales.

The Wingfeather Saga & Wingfeather Tales | Little Book, Big Story

The stories the authors turned out differ wildly in tone and style: some are comic, some epic, one is a narrative poem, one is a novella so devastating that I still can’t think about it without feeling an uncomfortable tightness in my throat. At least two of the stories cleverly link Anniera up with the worlds of other beloved books; one tells a story we’ve all been wanting to hear. The authors clearly enjoyed being set loose in the world of the Wingfeather Saga.

The Wingfeather Saga & Wingfeather Tales | Little Book, Big Story

I think I expected this book to be a fun sort of honorary member of the series, maybe a collection of extra material that would be pleasant to read, if not as good as the saga itself—sort of what Chronicles of Avonlea is to the Anne of Green Gables series. But Wingfeather Tales is its own beautiful contribution to the Wingfeather canon, so vivid and enjoyable that I can’t imagine rereading the full saga without re-reading the Tales, too. And that is beyond awesome.


Wingfeather Tales
Ed. Andrew Peterson (2016)

Redwall | Brian Jacques

Redwall. Now she knew why creatures talked of it with such reverence; it appeared to blend with the surrounding Mossflower country as a haven of rest and tranquility, in harmony with all nature, like some gentle giant of a mother, sheltering and protecting her children.

– Mariel of Redwall 

I encountered Redwall Abbey in my early twenties. I was wandering then, in need of a refuge, and I found one within the grounds of Redwall. Evil was clear-cut there, easy to see and to fight—unlike the sin that seeps and simmers in our adult lives. Reading about the peaceful creatures of Redwall battling the rat Cluny, and feasting on good things like woodland salad and maple cordial fortified me for my own battle.

A good story can do that.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

But when I handed my battered copy over to Lydia a few weeks ago, I didn’t expect her to love it. I even cautioned her that she may not love it yet, and that if she didn’t fall for it immediately she should withhold judgement and try again in a few years. Cluny is really scary, and I wasn’t sure she was ready to meet him.

She was ready to meet him. She came downstairs a few hours later, shining-eyed and wondering if there were more books in the series.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

Lydia was in luck: Redwall is one of twenty-two books (meaty, full-length, well-written books) about the Abbey and its inhabitants. The inhabitants change from book to book, as the stories generally take place at different points along a timeline.

Think Chronicles of Narnia or Star Wars: you grow to love one batch of characters in a book, and then pick up the next book to find a batch of brand new characters to love, with, perhaps, a few cameos from old favorites in the new story. The mischievous Dibbun of one book may be the elderly Abbot of the next book. It’s great fun.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

Lydia was so taken with these books that she’s begun working industriously around the house, doing chores and setting up lemonade stands in order to fund her growing collection of Redwall books. She has out-paced me in the series, so I’ve been taking recommendations from her on what to read next. She is the true Redwall authority in our home now, so I asked her to share her thoughts on the series with you. Here is why Lydia thinks your family will love these books:

I love these books! I can’t believe that the first time I read Redwall, I wasn’t sure I would like it. Girls will like it because there are beautiful girls who are very brave, too, and boys will like it because there are lots of battles. There are hilarious hungry hares, beautiful young maidens, old abbots and abbesses, brave young warriors (who are sometimes girls!), cute little Dibbuns, strong badger lords (and a badger lady), very bad vermin, big brave Skippers, odd-speaking moles, argumentative Guosim shrews and much more! Dive into the world between the covers of a Redwall book!

I think she summed up the series quite nicely! I can really only add a few grown-up thoughts to that.

On Villains

The evil in these books is shocking, and I think it’s meant to be.

The villains in these stories war amongst themselves, kill innocent creatures, and go to terrible ends to achieve their goals. They are brutal, but they are rarely funny and never glorified. When the story transitions from the villain’s stronghold, where he slays his friends out of vengeance, pride, or boredom, to the Abbey orchard, where strangers and friends feast together, the reader can’t help but love the lovelier scene.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

As my daughter and I have discussed these books, I’ve been struck by how well they help shape her affections. She has been quick to notice the way that the creatures of Redwall serve one another, while the villains serve only themselves, or to notice how the Redwall soldiers honor their fallen while their enemies simply leave their dead behind. And that contrast is, I think, the point: there is no moral ambiguity to this story, no anti-hero. The bad guys are very bad; the heroes aren’t perfect, but they are still very good.

Jacques was a child in England during WWII, and I wonder how his experiences shaped the portrayal of evil in these stories. If your child is a sensitive reader, I will give you two warnings: Be ready for graphic battle scenes and very bad bad guys, but don’t let those turn you away from the story. Jacques does a great job of making the stories feel safe, even when they’re at their scariest.

On Dialect

Jacques was fond of writing in dialect. In the case of the hares, who sound like characters from a P.G. Wodehouse novel, this is delightful. But in the case of the moles, who are meant to sound (I think) like operating drills, the dialogue can be a bit trickier to decipher. If you’re reading aloud, you might familiarize yourself with the dialogue before reading to your kids so you don’t get sucked into a whirlpool of zzzs and rrrs.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

On Feasts

The food. Oh, the food.

Jacques has said that his lavish descriptions of Redwall feasts sprung from his memory of rationing during the war, when he fantasized about the dishes in his mother’s cookbook. His descriptions of food are so mouth-watering that they have inspired a whole cookbook and have inspired us to throw our own Redwall feast. There are so many dishes in there that sound wonderful, even if I have no idea what they are: meadowcream trifle, buttercup cordial, mushroom and leek pasty with gravy. I want comfort food—and a lot of it—when I’m reading these books.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

Sarah, my photography assistant

In fact, that was the second caution I offered Lydia when I gave her the book: you might not like it yet, and it will probably make you hungry. I am so glad I was wrong about the first one, and so glad I was right about the second.


Redwall
Brian Jacques (1986-2011)

10 Chapter Books to Read Aloud With Your Son

It will come as no surprise to you that I have a blind spot when it comes to writing book reviews. Have you guessed it?

Right.

I don’t have any sons.

I have no problem finding beautiful books for girls because I have four daughters, two of which are eager to snap up any book I bring home. But because I don’t have a son, it’s a little more difficult for me to find books to recommend here for boys.

I do, however, have a number of friends with sons who let their families serve as a sort of test audience for me. Did you like it? I ask their sons after they finish a book, resisting the urge to take notes as they answer. Then here, I say, and hand them another book. Try this one.

Ten Chapter Books To Read Aloud To Your Son | Little Book, Big Story

Of course, I’m learning that boys’ tastes vary as widely as girls’ do: one family of all boys adored The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic; one wanted nothing to do with it (there was a girl on the cover). One family loved the entire Little House series; another could stomach only Farmer Boy.

But because I’ve already done a few book lists for the girls, I wanted to compile a list for those of you with sons who are wondering what to read next. I left off some of the classics that you’ve seen again and again on book lists for boys—Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, The Jungle Books and such—and the classics that we all love already—The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit. You already know about those ones.

The books on this list have received rave reviews from my test readers (ages 2-11) and will, I hope, be new to some of you. Of course, these books don’t appeal exclusively to boys: I’ve read or intend to read all of these to my daughters at some point. But they’re heavy on adventure, light on pretty dresses and a whole lot of fun to read aloud.

And if you read them to your boys, well—I would love to hear what your boys think about them. (I may even take notes.)

THE WINGFEATHER SAGA, by Andrew Peterson

My new favorite series: The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

Andrew Peterson (yes, that Andrew Peterson) has written one of the finest examples of Christian fiction out there. Period. (Read the full review.)

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, by Robin Lancelyn Green

The Adventures of Robin Hood | Little Book, Big Story

A classic tale of chivalry, complete with archery contests, weddings at arrow-point, and plenty of bashing of crowns. There are many versions of Robin Hood’s adventures out there, but Green’s telling is my favorite (mostly because Maid Marian is awesome in this one). (Read the full review.)

THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN, by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald | Little Book, Big Story

If your sons are put off by the first half of this title, remind them gently of the second half: yes, this is a story about a princess. But it is also a story about goblins. And about a brave boy named Curdie, who wields his pickax to great effect. I’ve recommended this to at least three families of all boys and it’s gotten glowing reviews all around. (Read the full review.)

100 CUPBOARDS, by ND Wilson

100 Cupboards Trilogy | Little Book, Big Story

ND Wilson’s delightfully creepy trilogy about Henry York and the wall full of cupboards he discovers in his attic bedroom is full of adventure and powerful imagery. And good news: if your kids like this series, then they’ve just tapped the rich vein of Wilson’s books. He has plenty of other really excellent books out there. (Read the full review.)

HALF MAGIC, by Edward Eager

Half Magic, by Edward Eager | Little Book, Big Story

Four siblings discover a magic charm that grants wishes but only grants half wishes. This story had us laughing, sometimes uncontrollably and often unattractively, from start to finish. The rest of the series is equally funny. (Read the full review.)

THE GREEN EMBER, by SD Smith

The Green Ember, by SD Smith | Little Book, Big Story

SD Smith’s first novel is about Heather and Picket, two rabbits cut loose from everything familiar and sent on an adventure. It’s pretty intense in the opening scenes, but tells a story of such beauty and hope that I simply cannot wait for the sequel‘s release. (Read the full review.)

See also: THE BLACK STAR OF KINGSTON, by SD Smith

 

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, by E. Nesbit

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit | Little Book, Big Story

When their father is unexpectedly called away, Roberta, Peter and Phyllis move from London to the English countryside with their mother where they find adventure, daring rescues and quiet, sunny days. It may not sound like much, but this is one of my very favorite children’s books, for boys and girls alike. (Read the full review.)

LITTLE BRITCHES, by Ralph Moody

[Currently loaned out to a friend’s son and unavailable for a photo shoot. But good news: it’s getting great reviews!]

The author chronicles his youth working on his family’s ranch. A fun, lively story full of the sort of adventures that made me a little relieved that I have a house full of (so far) mild-mannered girls.

THE WILDERKING TRILOGYby Jonathan Rogers

The Wilderking Trilogy, by Jonathan Rogers | Little Book, Big Story

Rogers retells the story of King David’s early years, complete with guilded gators, crumbling canyons, and feechiefolk (did I mention that this is a fictionalized retelling?). (Read the full review.)

LITTLE PILGRIM’S PROGRESSby Helen L. Taylor

Little Pilgrim's Progress, by Helen L. Taylor | Little Book, Big Story

Like Pilgrim’s Progress, but about children. That might sound horribly cheesy to you (it did to me), but trust me: it’s not. Taylor’s retelling of Christian and Christiana’s adventures reminds kids that they don’t ride on their parents’ shoulders to the Celestial City, but are lovingly led there by their King. (Read the full review.)


Add to the List! Which books did I miss?

The Hobbit | JRR Tolkien

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

Reading that sentence is, for me, like stepping onto the welcome mat of a beloved but infrequently-visited friend. Good company is sure to follow, and good food (or, in this case, descriptions of food).

But that sentence did not always affect me this way, nor does it affect everyone that way. When my mom first handed me the book, I was in high school and hardly made it past the opening paragraphs before I dropped it in favor of something with more drama, something probably written by Joyce Carol Oates. I did not encounter it again until a few years later, when the man I was smitten with recommended it (and love, as I’m sure you know, makes one willing to plunge into the lamest of books on the recommendation of one’s beloved). This time, The Hobbit took: I was irrevocably drawn into the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and, a few weeks later, into those of Frodo.

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien | Little Book, Big Story

It’s fair to say that my taste in literature changed dramatically from that summer on.

(My life changed from that year on, actually, as I married that man the following winter. How much of his suit’s success can be attributed to The Hobbit? It’s hard to say. But introducing me to Tolkien certainly didn’t hurt his chances.)

I’m not sure how much I need to tell you about The Hobbit, really. If you’ve read it, you know all about it; if you haven’t read it, then you should. And if you’ve ever started to read it but lost interest within the first few chapters, try again. That’s the abridged review.

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien | Little Book, Big Story

Here is the slightly longer one:

Part of the appeal of reading The Hobbit is, to me, the joy of reading something that was the first of its kind: we’ve most likely grown up hearing references from Tolkien’s books, and we’ve probably seen some (or all) of Peter Jackson’s movies. Tolkien has influenced so many authors that in their work, we’ve encountered themes and images that build upon his foundation. But I wish, sometimes, that I could have read his books when they first came out, when that sentence “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” introduced a story the likes of which no one had heard before (I feel this way about the Sherlock Holmes stories, too).

The next best thing, though, is reading The Hobbit to our kids. My husband has called dibs on reading this one aloud, but I can’t wait to sit on the floor with my sketchbook and listen as our daughters meet Bilbo and Gandalf and Thorin & Co. for the very first time. These stories are well-worn and familiar to us—we both reread the series every few years—but to our daughters, they will be a new sort of adventure, one that takes them the first part of the way into Middle Earth and introduces them to characters that will, we hope, become friends that we’ll all have in common.

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien | Little Book, Big Story

And maybe, I hope, The Hobbit might have a hand in shaping the way they view literature from that season on. Maybe.


The Hobbit
JRR Tolkien (1937)

Ember Falls: a sequel to The Green Ember!

If you read The Green Ember, you probably a) loved it, and b) wanted more. If you answered yes to one or both of those, then, my friend, this post is for you:

SD Smith launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund Ember Falls, the highly-anticipated sequel to The Green Ember. There are all kinds of fun perks to supporting the campaign (t-shirts and stickers, yes, but also swords), but of course the best reward is the book itself and the joy of getting closure on some of the unanswered questions of The Green Ember.

You can join the cause here.