Discussion: Light vs. Dark Trend in Fantasy Literature

It seems to me that a common trend throughout Science Fiction and Fantasy literature is the war between the Light and the Dark, or  Good vs. Evil. No matter what world the story takes place in, or what species or race the characters are, the discussion of good and bad is something that is constantly stressed in stories in our society. It has been for as long as we’ve had stories: religious parables and myths, fairy tales, today’s science fiction all share this theme. It comes as no surprise to me that it would also be prevalent in fiction for middle grade readers. The idea of there being good in the world as well as evil is a lesson we’ve been trying to teach to our youth throughout history. A warning, almost, to try and make sure that we instill morals in our children so that they can be positive contributors to our societies.

The Tale of Despereaux delivers this same message, this time using mice and rats and the physical difference of light and darkness. In the world that DiCamillo has created, mice are creatures of the world of the light and are only sent to the dungeon (a world of complete darkness) when they are being exiled from their own society. They are sent there to die a terrible death by the hand of the rats, who are creatures of that darkness and despised by humans as creatures of disease and ugliness and death. It was, in fact, a rat who had unintentionally caused the death of the humans’ queen, who was frightened to death by the accidental appearance of a rat in her soup- a rat who had left the darkness of the dungeon for the light of the world above only to be shunned and sent back to the dark world from which he came. He had wanted to witness beauty and goodness, and leave the evil that the other rats held in their hearts behind, but because of the prejudice of the humans in the castle was forced to go back. While in that darkness, his plan for revenge was conceived and developed and put into action. A plan to steal away the Princess Pea from the world of light and make her remain in the darkness of the dungeon forever as punishment for sending that rat, Chiaroscuro, back to his home and showing him that humans would never accept rats in the world of beauty and light.

But then DiCamillo takes a turn. In the end, she allows the rats to partake of the world of the light. Princess Pea, moved by Despereaux’s devotion and gift of forgiveness, extends a sort of olive branch to the rats inviting them out of the darkness to partake in the beauty and enjoyment of the world of light for a taste of soup. Princess Pea’s invitation serves to showcase the idea that even when people are born in or come from that world of darkness we should still give them the chance to experience light and beauty and good, not shun them from it and ban them to their darkness and sadness and potentially evil ways. This reminds me of countless parables from new testament Christian texts (as well as many other religions’ writings and teachings): ideas of “love your neighbor” and forgiveness and being good to your fellow man. It’s no secret that humans do have an aversion to rats. Throughout history they’ve carried diseases that have been very detrimental to our societies (the plague in medieval times, etc.), and the word itself has quite the negative connotation. But mice can be cute. Especially very tiny ones with giant ears who can read and fall in love with princesses. I think that DiCamillo’s use of mice and rats, two very closely related animals that are thought of very differently, to show prejudice and good vs. evil was interesting and something on a level that children in this age group could latch onto and learn from.


The Tale of Despereaux


Author: Kate DiCamillo

Age Range: 7-12 (Kirkus Reviews)

Interest Range: 7-12

Genre: Fantasy

Plot: This is the story of a very tiny mouse who was a disappointment to his family. He was smaller than he should have been, and terrible at everything a mouse should be good at. He was strange, and the other mice did not understand his ways. But Despereaux was special: he could read! And his ability introduced him to the importance of story, and the idea of knights and princesses and duty and honor. So when he finally met a real life princess, it makes perfect sense that he fell in love with the human girl and knew he would do everything it took to honor her. This is also the story of how other people wished to take revenge on the princess, and ultimately how Despereaux was tested to see how far his love for the princess could carry him. Will a tiny little mouse be able to brave the dungeon and ultimately save the princess from her terrible fate?

Review: This book was incredibly sweet. I loved the approach, telling the story from each of the main characters’ points of view  (Despereaux, Chiaroscuro, and Miggery Sow) and allowing you to see each of their personal pasts before telling you how they all three were wound together. I also enjoyed the sense of humor and repeating tendency to directly address the reader and invite them to make the story more personal (check your dictionary for definitions, relate the story to your own experience, etc.). The main character might be a mouse, but he is very much humanized and I think very easy for children to relate to. It is common to feel like you don’t fit in with your family, to feel different from your own kind and sometimes not realize that those differences are alright (even good), and can be used to your advantage or as strengths. And the emphasis of the importance and value of “story” and “light” is ultimately uplifting and encouraging.

Themes: Being Different, Light vs. Dark, Coming of Age, Prejudice (species, in this case)

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery Medal Winner in 2004

Adaptations: This book was made into an animated film in 2008.

Main Characters:

Despereaux: A mouse, smaller than normal and very different form all of the other mice in the castle. After letting himself be seen by the King and even be touched by the Princess Pea, Despereaux is turned in by his own brother and father and exiled to the dungeon by the Council of Mice (basically a death sentence). But when meeting the princess, Despereaux fell in love with her and will fight to get back to the light and keep her safe from harm.

Chiaroscuro: A rat, born in darkness but desiring a life filled with light. When he finally gets to experience it, he is shunned and sent back to the darkness where he begins to plot his revenge on the Princess. He is forever obsessed with the brilliance and beauty of the light, and ultimately will try to capture the Princess and teach her a lesson.

Miggery Sow: An unlucky girl who was sold into slavery by her father after her own mother’s death. Miggery is often beaten, to the point of losing her hearing. Unfortunately, she is also not very smart and quite lazy. After seeing the Princess Pea on her seventh birthday, her only wish is to also be a princess.  Instead, she ends up working in the castle and is eventually tricked into helping Chiaroscuro take his revenge on the Princess Pea.

Princess Pea: The Princess of the castle, still dealing with the passing of her mother. Princess Pea is fond of Despereaux and becomes angry with her father for not allowing her to befriend the mouse. She becomes the object of Despereaux’s affection, Miggery Sow’s dreams, and Chiaroscuro’s revenge.

Bibliographic Info:

DiCamillo, K. (2003). The Tale of Despereaux. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.


Despereaux is a very different mouse. But often being different just means you’re destined for adventure.

The Sisters Grimm

Author: Michael Buckley

Age Range: 10-12 (Kirkus)

Interest Range: 8-12

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery

Plot: Sabrina and Daphne are pros at breaking out of foster homes. Ever since their parents disappeared, they’ve been escaping from each bad situation and getting back to the orphanage as quick as possible. But this time it’s different. This time, the woman they’re going to be living with claims to be their real grandmother. But that can’t be true, because Sabrina and Daphne have known for years that their grandmother is dead. That’s what their parents said. And this lady also seems to believe that fairy tales are real. Not only real, but that she’s surrounded by them. Granny Relda believes that the town of Ferry Port Landing is crawling with fairy tales, and that it is her job to sort out all of these Everafters’ mysteries. Is she really their grandmother? Will she be able to help the girls find their parents? And just WHAT is going on with all these fairy tale reminiscent characters? Is anyone in this town sane?

Review: Being a huge fan of fairy tales, I absolutely loved this book and the others in the series that I have read so far (at this point I’m on #4). Sabrina and Daphne are two very different girls, and both very set in their ways. Sabrina is skeptical, often so much that it can blind her to the truth. Daphne is trusting, and wants very much to settle into this amazing new existence that she has found. As the books progress, they begin to deal with the issue of prejudice. Sabrina believes that all of the Everafters are horrible and not to be trusted. This often comes back to bite her and is a big part of the third book. I’m curious to see how this plays out over the course of the series. They also deal a lot with the idea of right and wrong with respect to the use of magic, which is interesting since magic is such a popular topic in much middle grade fiction right now. Lovers of fairy tales will have more fun with this series than those who are not as familiar with folklore. Many references will go over readers’ heads if they don’t already have a working knowledge of the best known fairy tale stories.

Themes: Changes at Home, Homelessness, Building New Relationships,

Additional Info:

Series Info: This is book 1 in a 9-book series, which has been completely published at this writing.

Main Characters:

Sabrina Grimm: The older of the two sisters, Sabrina is focused on finding their parents and interested in nothing else. She refuses to believe that this new woman is their grandmother and cannot believe that she would be silly enough to believe that fairy tales are real.

Daphne Grimm: Daphne wants very much to believe that Granny Relda is really their relative and that Ferry Port Landing is really full of Everafters. She delves into the detective work and wants very much to take on the family job of keeping the Everafters in line.

Granny Relda: The mother of the girls’ father, she really is their grandmother. Relda wants to convince the girls to believe her and have them help her with her detective work. She is slightly odd, but who wouldn’t be when they’ve spent their life surrounded by real-life fairy tales? She also wants to find her son and his wife, but is taking a more careful approach, which is not enough for Sabrina.

Bibliographic Info:

Buckley, M. (2007). The Fairy-Tale Detectives. New York: Amulet Books.


The Grimm sisters are about to realize that their family history is not as simple as they thought. When faced with real-life fairy tales, what would you do?

The Red Pyramid

Author: Rick Riordan

Age Range: 10-18 (Kirkus)

Interest Range: 10-14

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Plot: Carter and Sadie have grown up as practically strangers. When their mother died, their father continued traveling the world and studying Egyptian history with Carter in tow while Sadie stayed with their grandparents in England. On Christmas eve, the only time of the year when the three of them are together, their father manages to let lose an ancient Egyptian god who wants him dead. Carter and Sadie are amazed to find that the Egyptian gods are not only real, but after their own family. And now, with the disappearance of their dad they have to learn to work together for the first time in their lives if they have any hope of saving him. As their adventure advances, the brother and sister realize their own powers and unlock the history of their family that goes all the way back to the time of the pharaohs. Can they learn to work together in time to save their dad and the world as we know it?

Review: Riordan seems to have cornered the niche of Greek and Egyptian mythology at the middle grade level. His writing moves quickly, and he throws in lots of history and facts about the different gods and the history and culture of these regions. It’s easy to see why readers enjoy his multiple series, but I can also see how they might get old quickly. Since I have a love for mythology, these books appeal to me and my excitement at seeing young kids excited about reading in this genre. These books could be a good starting place for teaching mythology: a fast paced story to draw them into the topic, and then other materials could be introduced for more depth with different myths or gods.

Themes: Changes at Home, Building New Relationships, Magic, Coming of Age

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Carter Kane: 14 years old, and often called “Wikipedia brain” by his sister, Carter is smart. He also happens to be a very strong magician, although he doesn’t know it at the beginning of this story. Carter’s main concern is finding and saving their father. Of note: Carter (and Sadie) have parents of two different races. His father was black and his mother was white. Carter’s skin color makes this fact much more obvious than his sister’s. People often don’t understand them to be related.

Sadie Kane: 12 years old, Sadie was born and raised for most of her life in Los Angeles but has been living with her grandparents for the past few years in England. She does not see her father often, and does not get along well with her brother because of a fight at her sixth birthday party.

Muffin/Bast: The cat that Sadie’s father gave to her when he lost custody of her, Muffin is actually the goddess Bast in housecat form. She eventually makes her presence known and helps Carter and Sadie in their adventures.

Bibliographic Info:

Riordan, R. (2010). The Red Pyramid. New York: Hyperion Books.


What if one day you found out that your dad was an Egyptian magician? What if all of a sudden you were one too?

Movie Review: Coraline

Written and Directed by: Henry Selick

MPAA Rating: PG

Interest Range: 10-adult

Genre: Fantasy, Horror

Plot: Coraline’s family has recently moved to a new house. It’s boring, and always raining, and Coraline’s parents are prone to ignore her while they both work from home. Her only form of entertainment is exploring- and watching out for Wybie, the grandson of the landlord who has taken to following Coraline around. One day Wybie drops off a surprise for Coraline, a doll he found in his Grandmother’s house that looks just like her: blue hair, yellow raincoat and boots, the only difference is a pair of button eyes. Coraline carries the doll around with her out of boredom, but assures everyone that she’s far too old to play with dolls…and then she finds the door. In the daytime, the tiny secret door opens onto nothing but a bricked up wall, but at night it’s a gateway into a whole separate world just like this one but better. Coraline’s other mother and father adore her and cook her delicious food and give her all of their attention, but now they want her to stay with them. Forever. Coraline must decide which world she wants to live in before it goes too far.

Review: I remember being struck by this movie when I saw it in the theater. It was done in 3D, and seamlessly so. Upon entering the other world, everything seemed to become interactive and beautiful, helping the viewer understand why this world was so much more appealing to a bored 11-year-old girl. It loses some of that when viewed in only 3D, but the story is still intense. While the book features a lot of Coraline’s inner struggles and monologues, allowing for the story to be mainly about her journey with bravery, the movie cannot do that. So the writer created Wybie, an odd little boy who stalks Coraline and eventually becomes her friend after helping to save her from the Belle Dame. Now, having read the book and seen the movie in close succession, I definitely appreciate the book more. But I can see how the movie would hook some children in a way the book could not. The design of the movie also creates some images that could be rather disturbing for some children, whereas the book leaves more to be interpreted in your own imagination. I included two different promotional images for the film in this post that show the juxtaposition of this film. I think that younger children will be interested in this because of the animation aspect, but may be scared off by the intensity of the underlying message and the last 30 minutes. Maybe this film is a good introduction to scary movies?

Themes: Changes at Home, Importance of Family, Building New Relationships

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Coraline Jones: An 11-year-old girl who wants to stand out. She enjoys exploring, asking questions, and looking different from everyone else. When she discovers the door and the other world, Coraline is tired of being ignored. She gladly accepts the gifts and warmth of her other family, but quickly realizes the danger she’s placed herself in.

Wybie: The grandson of the Pink Palace’s landlord, and roughly the same age as Coraline. He’s not quite used to having other kids around, since his grandmother usually doesn’t allow for tenants with children. But Coraline intrigues both him and the feral cat he keeps as a kind of pet, so he follows her to keep an eye on her.

The Belle Dame: Coraline’s other mother. A being that exists by feeding off of the lives of young children. She creates fantastic worlds to lure them into loving her, then ensnares them and uses their life up to maintain her power. She then traps the ghosts in her world, never to be released again.

Bibliographic Info:

Selick, H.(Producer and Director), & Jennings, C. (Producer). (2009). Coraline [Motion picture]. United States: Laika, Pandemonium.


“Be careful what you wish for.”

Dark Lord: The Early Years


Author: Jamie Thomson

Age Range: 9-14 (Kirkus reviews)

Interest Range: 9-14

Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Humor

Plot: Dirk Lloyd has been hit by a car and lapsed into some kind of amnesia- at least that’s what he was told after waking up in a supermarket parking lot and being rushed to a hospital. But Dirk knows exactly who he is: The Dark Lord from the Iron Tower of Despair at the Gates of Doom, from the Dark Lands. The white wizard has sent him here to earth and trapped him in the body of a 12-year-old boy because it was the only way to defeat him, and now no one believes him. The child psychologists think he’s created some elaborate fantasy to deal with a traumatic event- they even try hypnotizing him to find out the real story! But after months of living in a foster home and learning how to navigate the seventh grade as a puny human boy, Dirk isn’t changing his tune. But he is managing to learn how to show affection and gain ::gasp:: friends instead of minions. Is Dirk faking, or is he really from another world, full of orcs and goblins?

Review: I loved this book! Between the humor and the references to movies and role playing games, there were very well done discussions on bullying, going to therapy, navigating inter-group relations at school, dealing with the powerless feeling of being a kid. It’s hard to be the nerd, especially when you’re so lost in your world that you can’t help but let it come out sometimes. Dirk lets his flag fly high, and gains friends in the process. His closest friends end up spanning three very different groups: a goth girl, a very normal boy, and the most attractive and popular jock in the seventh grade. His unwillingness to back down in the face of bullies is inspiring, and his interactions with the child psychologists are frustrating and (I would imagine) pretty spot-on for most kids. This book might appeal to a very different kind of kid- or at the very least let those who are always focused on the good guys take a walk on the dark side. Like Dirk always says “Why is it always for goodness’ sake? Why can’t it be for evil’s sake? For evil’s sake!”

Themes: Bullying, Illness, Changes at Home, Building New Relationships

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Dirk Lloyd: The Dark Lord, or so he believes. The adults are trying to tell him he’s been hit by a car and just cannot remember his real name, parents, or anything about his past. But Dirk is convinced he was fighting a war in his home, the Dark Lands, and was banished by a white wizard. Now he’s been placed in a foster home and must start attending school like any other normal kid. But Dirk is anything but normal, and his teachers and fellow students don’t quite know what to think.

Christopher Purejoie: The son of Dirk’s new foster parents. Chris and Dirk eventually manage to become friends. Chris even earns the title “Mouth of Dirk” for his wonderful ability to act as translator between Dirk and his surroundings.

Susan Black: Upon first meeting her, Dirk mistakes Sooz for a vampire- even addressing her loudly as “Child of the Night” and disrupting class. But Sooz is a goth, not a vampire, and really likes Dirk. I mean, really likes him. She even decides to take the heat when the three of them (Sooz, Dirk, and Chris) get in some major trouble.

Sal Malik: The most popular jock in the seventh grade. His interests lie mostly in Baseball and Soccer, and Dirk only manages to earn his friendship when he displays his strength in tactics. Soon the two are meeting secretly to come up with plans on how to crush the competition. Dirk even promises Sal the position of Lord High Overseer of the Armies of Darkness, due to his physical prowess.

All three sidekicks are certain that Dirk is crazy and just coming up with stories. They know he believes every word he says, but none of them actually thinks he’s telling the truth.

Bibliographic Info:

Thomson, J. (2012). Dark Lord: The Early Years. New York: Walker Publishing Company, Inc.


Dirk Lloyd is from another plane of existence, but for now he’s trapped on Earth in the body of a puny 12-year-old boy. How’s a real Dark Lord supposed to take over anything when his magic stops working and he’s reduced to a child?

The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate


Author: Scott Nash

Age Range: 10-12 (Kirkus reviews)

Interest Range: 9-12

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure Story

Plot: Welcome to the world of avian pirates! The fearsome Captain Blue Jay has been leading his air ship, the Grosbeak, and crew on a very successful run of pillaging and plundering. But everything changes when he decides to keep an egg that they’ve found as a prize for his collection. The presence of the egg throws the crew into disarray- loyal Junco, the navigator,  has been leaving her post to try and hatch it! She convinces Jay that this egg is truly special and will bring them adventure, so the entire crew is enlisted to keep the egg safe. When the egg finally hatches, they find the Junco was right- this adventure will be like nothing they’ve ever dreamed. Along the way, learn a few new pirate songs and let the Jolly Robin fly!

Review: This book was definitely great for pirate lovers. A true pirate story all the way, complete with legends , and sword fights, and death, but made more kid-friendly because the characters are all birds (and a few other animals). This story will capture the mind of any child fascinated by pirates or birds, and the author has done a great job of describing details like how their ship flies through the air. Pirate-obsessed younger readers with strong abilities will enjoy this story too, and won’t need much help from parents to get through it. A unique option for the reader who wants nothing but adventure, this might help them bridge the gap into the fantasy world.

Themes: Coming of Age, Changes at Home, Bullying, Loss, Death

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Blue Jay: The captain of the Grosbeak, and infamous pirate. There are many legends about his ferocity, but those who know him best know otherwise. He’s survived six mutinies, and piloted multiple ships, but this next adventure will go down in the books as his biggest achievement yet.

Junco: The navigator for the Grosbeak. It is her instinct that tells them the new egg is important and should be hatched. More loyal than any other shipmate, everyone is surprised by her crazed behavior surrounding the egg. Junco becomes a kind of surrogate mother to the hatchling.

Gabriel: The hatchling, who turns out to be a gosling. Blue Jay refers to him often as a godling, since in their world geese are often thought of as gods.

Bibliographic Info:

Nash, S. (2012). The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.


Pirates can sail the high seas, why not the high skies? Join Captain Blue Jay and his crew on the greatest adventure a bunch of pirate birds has ever seen!

Invisible Inkling

Author: Emily Jenkins

Age Range: 7-10 (Kirkus Review)

Interest Range: 7-10

Genre: Fantasy,  Magical Realism

Plot: Hank Wolowitz is not looking forward to the fourth grade. His best friend Alexander has moved away and he is facing the year without any real friends to share it with. But one day, he feels something. It’s fur, under the counter. And then again when the neighbor’s dog just won’t stop barking at an empty corner. Eventually he discovers Inkling, an invisible bandapat who has traveled to Brooklyn in search of the Big R0und Pumpkin, because he really loves squash. But the Big Round Pumpkin isn’t a vegetable at all, it’s Hank’s parent’s ice cream shop. Despite the disappointment, Inkling sticks around to help Hank- since he owes him for having saved his life. Hank’s got problems at school. And when Bruno Gillicut decides that Hank is the perfect person to push around, Inkling comes to the rescue. Will an invisible creature really be able to stand up to a big bully? Or will Hank be forced to pay the sprinkle tax for the rest of eternity?

Review: This was a very cute story about a very real problem. Hank is a lonely kid who is floundering because his best friend is gone. Before he has time to bounce back and find himself with other kids, in comes Bruno. Hank even does what he is supposed to: he talks to the lunch aides, he talks to his teacher. But the lunch aides never see Bruno at work, and Hank’s teacher is too concerned with the fact that Bruno’s family is having problems at home. And maybe Hank should try to befriend Bruno, but Bruno isn’t making it easy. Hank even realizes it when he goes too far, insulting Bruno in a fit of anger by saying something that hits a little to close to that sore spot at home. He feels horrible, and not just because of the beating he knows is coming his way, but because he sunk to Bruno’s level. Eventually, it is Hank that gets in trouble with the school, not Bruno. But Bruno decides to leave Hank alone. Was it the invisible creature that bit the bully, or did Hank really act out enough to scare the boy off? I guess we’ll never know.

Themes: Bullying, Making new Friends

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Hank Wolowitz: A 9-year-old boy who finds an invisible creature and decides to keep him as a kind of pet. This comes with great timing, since Hank’s best friend has recently moved away. But when Inkling decides he needs to move on in search of more squash, Hank has to face the possibility of losing a friend all over again.

Inkling: An invisible bandapat, we’re unsure of where he comes from since every time he tells a story it’s a new lie. But he makes Hank’s life interesting and Hank appreciates the company.

Nadia: Hank’s older sister, she works sometimes at the ice cream shop and also walks the neighbors’ dogs for extra cash.

Bruno Gilligcut: The fourth-grade bully. The teachers are convinced that he’s just having a rough time at home (his parents have recently split-up) and are looking the other way.

Ms. Cherry: Hank’s 4th grade teacher, who is convinced that no one is your enemy, but only a friend waiting to happen. Ms. Cherry never happens to see when Bruno is exacting his sprinkle tax on Hank or generally stealing his lunch and making his life miserable. She eventually sites Hank as the source of the problem and gets him in trouble. But it’s not entirely her fault, she couldn’t see that the real biter was an invisible creature who was standing up for Hank.

Bibliographic Info:

Jenkins, E. (2011). Invisible Inkling. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.


Not everybody is lucky enough to know an invisible bandapat, but Hank is. And this one owes him a debt- big time.

The Graveyard Book

Author: Neil Gaiman

Age Range: 10-18 (Kirkus Reviews)

Interest Range: 10-adult

Genre: Fantasy

Plot: A young boy’s life is changed when his parents are murdered one night in their sleep. Although he is only a toddler, the boy manages to escape his house unnoticed by the killer and find safety in the local graveyard. There, the ghosts gather to decide his fate: feeling pity on him, they decide to raise him as one of their own. Bod, as he is eventually named (short for Nobody), grows up happily in his adopted home and loves the spirits like family. But there comes a time when he wants to know about the outside world. As he attends school and tries to learn the ways of the living, there are many dangers that threaten him.  All this time, on the outside of the wall, the terrible Jack has still been hunting him and trying to finish the job he started on that fateful night.Will Bod ever be able to live among the living, or will he be forced to remain in the graveyard spending the rest of his days already among the dead?

Review: This story is Gaiman’s modern day retelling of the Jungle Book, with the added twist of the supernatural. In reality quite a frightening story, involving murder, ghosts, and very tricky evil men, Gaiman manages to pull this off as a story very accessible to younger readers. The ghosts are kind, sympathetic and nurturing, and in all really the most comforting characters in the book- whereas the humans are the ones to look out for. Bod is an orphan, growing up in a place where he does not fit it, and then trying to reshape himself to fit into the world from which he came. This story will resonate with middle grade readers who also feel that they don’t quite fit the norms of their surroundings. Great for lovers of fantasy or horror.

Themes: Coming of Age, Building New Relationships, Trying to Fit In

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Nobody Owens: Bod manages to escape certain death as a toddler, only to find refuge in a graveyard and be raised by the spirits who call it home. His curiosity regarding his real home, the human world, ends up creating some real danger- since the murderer of his parents is still out there lurking and trying to finish the job.

Every Man Jack: The man who murdered Bod’s parents, and who is now hunting him.

The Owenses: The ghost couple who decide to “adopt” Bod and take responsibility for his upbringing.

Silas: A mysterious being who seems to navigate both the human and spirit worlds. He is Bod’s protector.

Scarlett Amber Perkins: A young girl, roughly Bod’s age, who becomes his friend when her family begins frequenting the beautiful graveyard. She eventually leaves him because her family decides to move to Scotland for her father’s work. She returns to England with her mother when she is 15, and befriends a scholar who frequents the old graveyard.

Mr. Frost: a friendly scholar who is deeply interested in the old graveyard. He befriends Scarlett and her mother upon their return to England. But Mr. Frost is eventually discovered to be much more than what he seems.

Bibliographic Info:

Gaiman, N. (2008). The Graveyard Book. New York: HarperCollins Children’s Books.


What would it be like to grow up in a graveyard? Living and breathing, but only among spirits and ghosts?

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Author: Catherynne M. Valente

Age Range: 10-14 (Kirkus Reviews)

Interest Range: 10-adult

Genre: Fantasy

Plot: September is a very normal girl whose father has gone off to fight in World War II and whose mother is now working a lot to help with the war effort. On the night of her twelfth birthday, the Green Wind and his Leopard decide to surprise September with a trip to Fairyland. Before she knows it, September is off on a greater adventure than she could ever have imagined. Fairyland is in turmoil, ruled by a Marquess that has forbidden dragons and fairies to fly and imposed all other sorts of demanding rules on the inhabitants of this fantastic world. Along the way, September makes many new friends, including a Dragon who was raised by a Library and a blue boy from the sea who can grant wishes. But will this terribly normal girl be strong enough to stand up to the evil Marquess? Can she find a way to follow her ever-growing heart and restore Fairyland to what it once was?

Review: One of my top ten books that I have read in 2012, this story is absolutely amazing. For any lover of fairy tales, adventure stories, or fans of Lewis Carroll, this book is a must read. Valente manages to create a Victorian-style story that is truly on a middle grade level, even if it will expand the vocabulary of readers of any age. A wonderful example of a coming-of-age tale, this story follows September’s progression from being Heartless (as all children are) to someone who’s Heart is Growing (what happens to everyone as they begin to grow up). She makes new relationships with very diverse characters and must make very important decisions about who to trust and who to move against. I’ve already given this book as a gift to a few of my friends who have embarked on major life changes this year, and it has struck a chord with each of them. Enjoyable to read for adventurers of all ages.

Themes: Coming of Age, Building New Relationships, Making Decisions

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

September: A twelve-year-old girl from Nebraska whose parents are both rather absent because of war-time activities (World War II). She is taken to Fairyland by the Green Wind and left there to have adventures, which ultimately involve the dethroning of the evil Marquess.

A-Through-L: A Wyverary, or a wyvern (like a dragon) whose father was a Library. He has extensive knowledge of everything beginning with the letters A-L. He has no forepaws (so think of a shape like the letter S) and wings, but those wings are chained due to one of the Marquess’s laws. A-Through-L befriends September early in her adventures and travels with her throughout Fairyland.

Saturday: Saturday looks very much like a young boy with blue skin, but he is a Marid. He comes from the sea and lives his life quite out of order. But if you defeat him in legitimate combat, Saturday can and must grant you a wish.

The Marquess: The ruler of Fairyland. She took her place when there was a vacancy from the previous queen, who simply left one day never to return. The Marquess learns of September’s adventures in Fairyland and sets her with the quest of obtaining a very special sword from the depths of a dangerous forest. September must then decide if she will use the sword herself or hand it over to save her friends.

Bibliographic Info:

Valente, C. M. (2011). The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. New York: Macmillan.


A very normal girl goes on very abnormal adventures in Fairyland. Can she make the right choices to save both this magical world and herself?