Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

The Dark Crystal returns: Shadows of the Dark Crystal #1

dark crystalShadows of the Dark Crystal (#1), by J. M. Lee/Illustrated by Brian Froud & Cory Godbey, (June 2016, Grosset & Dunlap), $17.95, ISBN: 9780448482897

Recommended for ages 12+

Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal is back, in a big way. Comic and graphic novel publisher BOOM!’s Archaia imprint has had a Dark Crystal series since 2014, and now, we’re getting a series of YA novels, set in the years before the events of the original Dark Crystal movie, to appeal to new and established fans.

Set in the world of The Dark Crystal, Shadow of the Dark Crystal introduces us to Naia, a young Gelfling girl who leaves her home and travels to the Castle of the Crystal to find out what’s happened to her brother, Gurjin. He’s being sought after by the Skeksis Lords, who want to charge him with treason; Naia refuses to believe it. As she journeys to the Castle, she learns a great deal about the Skeksis and the crystal, setting things in motion for the rest of the series and leading into events taking place in The Dark Crystal.

The book cover is illustrated by Brian Froud, the conceptual designer on the original The Dark Crystal film, as well as  Labyrinth, which makes my ’80s heart sing. Froud is also considered the preeminent faerie artist in the world and an authority of faerie lore.  Cory Godbey’s beautiful black and white illustrations throughout the book bring the story to life.

I have a long-standing admiration for The Dark Crystal, but the book just didn’t set me on fire like I hoped it would. If you aren’t well-versed in the movie’s lore, you may find yourself lost. The narrative plodded at parts, and I never really connected to the characters. It did pick up toward the end, so I’m hopeful that the world-building and exposition taking place in Book One will lead to more interesting adventures in Book Two, especially since most readers will know where the Skeksis are heading at that point.
Fantasy fans, particularly Dark Crystal fans, will want to read this. It’s suggested as a young adult series, but I think it would appeal more to middle schoolers, so I’d encourage my 6th-8th graders to discover this; the cover and internal fantasy art will appeal more to tweens and early teens. I’d also suggest making the original DVD available, along with the BOOM! graphic novels; there is a lot of mythology to this universe and it’s a good thing to provide a well-rounded reading experience for fans. Here’s a peek at some of the artwork and interiors:
dark crystal_1
dark crystal_3
Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction

Aaron Becker’s Journey trilogy concludes with Return (and a giveaway!)

Aaron Becker’s beautiful series of wordless picture books reaches a conclusion with the release of Return. Beginning with 2014’s Caldecott Honor-winning book, Journey, readers follow a young girl who escapes into a magical land, courtesy of her red marker. In Quest, the girl and her friend encounter a king that they must rescue, armed with their imaginations and their markers. Now, it’s time for the girl to return home – what final adventure awaits her?

The adventure begins with Journey

journey_coverA 2014 Caldecott Honor Book

Follow a girl on an elaborate flight of fancy in a wondrously illustrated, wordless picture book about self-determination — and unexpected friendship.

A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world where wonder, adventure, and danger abound. Red marker in hand, she creates a boat, a balloon, and a flying carpet that carry her on a spectacular journey toward an uncertain destiny. When she is captured by a sinister emperor, only an act of tremendous courage and kindness can set her free. Can it also lead her home and to her heart’s desire? With supple line, luminous color, and nimble flights of fancy, author-illustrator Aaron Becker launches an ordinary child on an extraordinary journey toward her greatest and most exciting adventure of all.


…and continues with a Quest

questAaron Becker, creator of Journey, a Caldecott Honor book, presented the next chapter in his stunning, wordless fantasy.

A king emerges from a hidden door in a city park, startling two children sheltering from the rain. No sooner does he push a map and some strange objects into their hands than he is captured by hostile forces that whisk him back through the enchanted door. Just like that, the children are caught up in a quest to rescue the king and his kingdom from darkness, while illuminating the farthest reaches of their imagination. Colored markers in hand, they make their own way through the portal, under the sea, through a tropical paradise, over a perilous bridge, and high in the air with the help of a winged friend. Journey lovers will be thrilled to follow its characters on a new adventure threaded with familiar elements, while new fans will be swept into a visually captivating story that is even richer and more exhilarating than the first.


… and now, it’s time to Return.


Before Return is released on August 2nd, enter the Journey Giveaway from Candlewick Press for your chance at winning a prize pack, containing hardcover copies of Journey and Quest! One winner from the US or Canada will win. Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance!


Giveaway details

1 prize pack includes:

1 hardcover copy of Journey by Aaron Becker

1 hardcover copy of Quest by Aaron Becker


Parents and educators, there’s a great Journey Trilogy Activity Kit with activities to stimulate your children’s imaginations!

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Mutt’s Promise- Animal Fiction about family, journeys, and finding your home

mutt_1Mutt’s Promise, by Julie Salamon/Illus. by Jill Weber (March 2016, Dial Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780525427780

Recommended for ages 8-12

A tired dog wanders the woods and saves a cat from a weasel attack. She’s taken in by the cat’s human, an older man living on his own, and he christens the dog, “Mutt”. The son of the migrant family working for the man bonds with the dog, who gives birth to a little of four puppies. He names them, cares for them, but when the family has to move on and tells their employer that they won’t be back, he gives the puppies away, saying they’re too much to take care for. Two puppies are adopted by one loving family, but the other two – a female named Luna and a boy named Chief – end up living a nightmare in a horrific puppy mill. Will they be able to keep their spirits and their bodies healthy enough to survive and escape?

Mutt’s Promise is an unexpected book. It starts in a most idyllic setting, only to move pretty quickly into some heavy social issues. While the idea of migrant worker families is lightly touched on, it’s there, showing that this is not something that died out with The Grapes of Wrath. The heavier topic here is animal cruelty, most notably the kind of cruelty that takes place in puppy mills. Luna, a spunky little female pup, also deals with crushing depression and post-traumatic stress disorder from her time in the puppy mill. All of these topics are handled in an age-appropriate manner, framed within the animals’ story and using vocabulary that doesn’t try to sugar-coat what happens in these places, but makes the situation comprehensible to younger readers.

The writing and illustrations made me think of the animal fiction I read as a child; books like Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers series, and one of my all-time favorites, Rosemary Weir’s Pyewacket. Kids who love animal fiction will enjoy this book, and it provides a gentle introduction to hot-button social issues today. For kids who have experienced trauma in their own lives, reading a book like this may help facilitate a discussion; guidance counselors and therapists should give this a read and have available to talk over with parents and children.

Author has written nine books for both adults and children, including Cat in the City (also illustrated by Jill Weber).  Jill Weber is a children’s book illustrator and designer, and has worked on two other books by Julie Salamon.

Enjoy a glimpse at some of the art from the pages of Mutt’s Promise.


Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Tween Reads

Book Review: Villain School: Good Curses Evil, by Stephanie Sanders (Bloomsbury, 2011)

Recommended for ages 9-12

What do you do when your parents are some of the baddest bad guys in history, and you just don’t match up? You get sent to Master Dreadthorn’s School for Wayward Villains. Dracula’s daughter, Jezebel, is there – she prefers hot chocolate to blood. The Big Bad Wolf’s son, Wolf, is in there, too – he saved a human child from drowning. The Green Giant’s son was expelled when they realized that his dad was just some green guy trying to get kids to eat their vegetables.

Rune Drexler, Master Dreadthorn’s 12-year old son, is at villain school, too, but he’s not getting any preferred treatment – quite the opposite; he can’t seem to do anything right in his father’s eyes. When his father calls him to his office and gives him a Plot – a dangerous and evil test to achieve his next EVil (Educational Villain Levels) level, Rune sees his chance to be the villain his father wants him to be. But can he and his two friends carry out the Plot without ending up being heroes?
The story takes a little bit of time to get started; Sanders concentrates on exposition early on in the story. Once the Plot is under way, though, the story becomes a fun read with just enough of a twist to take the reader by surprise. I did not feel cheated by the book’s end – I wanted to know what Rune was going to do next. Middle grade readers will enjoy the good-natured jabs that the characters throw at one another, and the idea of being good while you’re trying to be evil will show younger readers that there is something good in even the baddest of villains.
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick Press, 2009)

Recommended for ages 9-12
I normally try to stay away from reading multiple books by the same author in a row, but after coming off of The Tale of Desperaux, I really wanted more, so I picked up The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

Edward Tulane is a stunning china rabbit with real fur ears and wires enabling movement in his arms and legs, and a fashionable silk wardrobe. He is the apple of his owner’s eye, 10-year old Abilene. Abilene changes his outfits daily annd dotes on him. He lives a comfortable life and knows it, but he’s cold and keeps Abilene at a distance, never allowing himself to love her as she loves him; her purpose in his life is to take care of him and coddle him.

Abilene and her family go on a cruise where Edward, as a cruel prank by two boys on the ship, is tossed overboard; thus begins a journey where he finds himself in the company of an old woman, a homeless man, and a dying little girl and her older brother. Each of these people teaches Edward a little more about love, loss and longing.
The reader journeys with Edward, experiencing his growth and heartache through each subsequent companion’s story. Despite the affection – even love – he feels with each new owner, his thoughts always stray back to Abilene, finally understanding what love is and he regrets not reciprocating her affection.
The them of second chances is a dominant theme in the book, leaving the reader with the message that there’s always a chance for redemption – it just make take some time. It is a powerful and relevant theme for middle grade children, who need to understand at this delicate age that their actions can and do have consequences, but that almost nothing is unforgiveable, and reconciliation is always down the road.