Archive for the ‘Children’s Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Mister Cleghorn’s Seal, by Judith Kerr

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

Mister Cleghorn’s Seal

by Judith Kerr

HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2016. First published in Great Britain in 2015. 94 pages.
Review written in 2016.

I’m going to list this book with Beginning Chapter Books, but there aren’t actually any chapters. However, the pace, length, and reading level are consistent with other Beginning Chapter Books. There are black-and-white drawings by Judith on every spread, keeping young readers interested.

The story opens with Mister Cleghorn sitting on his balcony watching the sunrise, wondering how he will get through the whole day.

I should never have sold the shop, thought Mr Cleghorn, even though the people who bought it had paid him a tidy sum. Whatever am I going to do with myself?

While he is watching passersby, he sees the janitor of his building scold a little middle-aged lady for bringing her sister’s canary into the apartment building. “No pets!” shouted the janitor. “You know the rules! No pets in the flats!”

Later that day, Mr Cleghorn gets an invitation to visit his cousin and his family. Cousin William is a fisherman, and William’s son Tommy has been watching a cute seal pup by the shore. Mr Cleghorn takes an interest in the pup as well.

Then one morning he found the little pup lying listlessly on its rock. It looked up for a moment at the sound of the oars, but turned its head away at once and lay down again. It seemed sad and thinner than before.

William tells him that some seals were shot the day before, and the pup’s mother must have been one of them. It can’t live without its mother, so they should put the pup out of its misery. But Mr Cleghorn can’t bear to let the pup be shot, so he decides to take it home with him. He plans to take it to the zoo right away.

Next comes the adventure of getting the pup home and figuring out what to feed it. Once there, he needs to hide it from the janitor.

When he accidentally leaves the water running with the pup in the tub – he meets his downstairs neighbor, the lady with the birdcage. She becomes his ally in hiding the pup from the janitor. Her father was a vet, and she even knows the keeper at the local zoo.

But when the two of them go to the zoo, it has a new owner and has fallen into disrepair. The rest of the book is about trying to find a permanent home for the seal pup, yet keep him hidden while they are looking. The eventual solution makes everyone happy.

This is a nice book for animal lovers. Unfortunately, the true story in the author’s note in the back about the seal Judith Kerr’s father kept doesn’t have a happy ending, so it dampened my enthusiasm a bit. But perhaps her way of finishing will appease young readers:

I always loved this story. I wished I could have known the little seal, and I wished more than anything that the story could have had a happy ending. Perhaps that is why, more than a hundred years later, I have made up a different story, which has one.

I’m thinking of this as a quieter version of Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Charming.

harpercollins.co.uk

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

The Seventh Wish

by Kate Messner

Bloomsbury, 2016. 228 pages.

This is a nice quiet middle grade story with a touch of fantasy. It reminds me of Edward Eager books – dealing with wishes – except that it’s only one kid figuring out the wishes instead of a family of brothers and sisters.

I like all the details in this book. Charlie (short for Charlotte) lives in a town where winters and long and cold and her neighbors like to go ice fishing. Charlie’s always been afraid to go far out on the ice – until one day at a hole in the ice at a shallow part of the lake, she catches a fish with sparkling green eyes. It promises her a wish if she releases it.

Charlie thinks she must be imagining it, so she makes a frivolous wish – that Roberto Sullivan (the cutest boy in her school) will fall in love with her and that she won’t be afraid to go on the ice.

Instantly, she is no longer afraid. She goes out on the ice with the others and catches more fish. She starts to forget about it – and then the next day at school Robert O’Sullivan – definitely not the cutest boy in the school – is crazy about her, embarrassing her with love notes.

It turns out that when Charlie fishes at that hole in the ice, she usually catches the fish again – and is promised a wish if she releases it. She tries to help her friends – but wishes don’t always turn out exactly like you hope they will. And when she makes a wish for herself, it especially backfires.

I love all the details in this book. Charlie competes in Irish dancing and wants to save money to get a solo dress for the competition. I knew nothing about Irish dancing or ice fishing.

But the central problem of the book is that Charlie’s older sister who’s off at college turns out to be addicted to heroin. This book reveals how that affects Charlie and how much it affects her whole family.

So what starts as a light-hearted book as Charlie is saving money for a dress and catching fish and having fun with friends – does delve into some heavier issues. But Kate Messner keeps things firmly from the 7th grade protagonist’s perspective.

There is a message, done with a very light touch, about how hard it is to get out of heroin use once you’ve started. And that your life will be much better if you never start. The Serenity Prayer comes up frequently – Charlie does have to learn that she can’t magically fix her sister. Not even with a magic fish.

But mostly it’s a playful story about a seventh grade girl who finds a magic wishing fish.

What would you say if a fish offered you a wish, and you had to come up with a good one in time to let it back in the water?

katemessner.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Bunjitsu Bunny Jumps to the Moon, by John Himmelman

Saturday, June 9th, 2018

Bunjitsu Bunny Jumps to the Moon

by John Himmelman

Henry Holt and Company, 2016. 120 pages.

Bunjitsu Bunny’s back! Isabel the Bunjitsu master is back in this third book of short stories about fighting well and knowing when not to fight.

As before, most of the short well-illustrated chapters have some kind of kicker to the story. My favorite is “The Floating Rabbit” where their teacher challenges them to get from one circle drawn on the floor to another on the other side of the room without touching the floor. Isabel figures out to ask her friends to carry her.

“Sometimes,” said Isabel, “friends can help us do things we cannot do on our own.”

There are 13 short chapters in this book. The print is large and there are pictures on each spread, so this is a perfect choice for kids ready to start chapter books.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Poppy Seed Cakes, by Margery Clark

Friday, June 1st, 2018

The Poppy Seed Cakes

by Margery Clark

with illustrations by Maud and Miska Petersham

Everyman’s Library Children’s Classics, 2013. First published 1924. 157 pages.
Starred Review

Last year I wrote Project 52 – each week reflecting on one year of my life. Which brought back memories. And one of the memories was about which chapter books I read when I was still small, before we moved away from Seattle.

One of those first chapter books was The Poppy Seed Cakes.

I hadn’t read The Poppy Seed Cakes in years. But remembering it made me want to get a copy and hold it in my hands and read it over again. So I looked on Amazon and was delighted to find an Everyman’s Classics edition.

Once the book arrived, I read it immediately. All the pictures and page decorations are there! And I remember every single one and greet them all as old friends. There are many full-page illustrations, alternating between color and black and white. But there are also decorative patterns on each page, with each chapter having its own theme, and the pattern enclosing the text. For example, the chapter “The White Goat,” has a stylized picture of a goat parading across the top of the page. “Erminka and the Crate of Chickens” has chickens across the top, and “The Picnic Basket” has a goose reaching for a picnic basket.

The only thing wrong with this book is its bright yellow cover. I’m pretty sure my grandma’s copy was red. And that’s another thing. I’m not so sure any more that I did read this book from the library in Seattle. But I specifically remember reading it at my grandma’s house in Salem, Oregon – and I think maybe my great-grandmother had a copy as well. (However, that means my mother had read it as a child, so there’s a very good chance she did check it out for me from the library. Which would explain my memory of it as one of the first chapter books I got from the library.)

I am very sad I didn’t think of ordering this book when my own children were small, because I find it’s a book that begs to be read aloud. In fact, I’ll admit that I read some of it aloud even when sitting in my own home all alone. The phrase “Andrewshek’s Auntie Katushka,” which appears over and over just doesn’t want to remain silent in your head.

The stories are old-fashioned and quaint – but do stand the test of time. And the language! First we have stories about Andrewshek and Andrewshek’s Auntie Katushka. Andrewshek’s Auntie Katushka asks him to do something while she is gone – and Andrewshek consistently chooses to do something else – with varying results. Though they usually manage to deal with said results.

Then we have stories about Erminka and her red topped boots. They are her brother’s, and they are too big, so wearing them gets Erminka in trouble more than once.

At the end of the book, the stories come together when Erminka comes for a tea-party at Andrewshek’s house. With poppy seed cakes.

All the animals can talk in this book. Each story is child-sized and matter of fact, and the animals are child-like in their responses. Here’s how the last story ends:

Andrewshek’s Auntie Katushka spread a clean white table cloth on the table under the apple tree in the garden. She brought out two plates of poppy seed cakes and five cups and saucers and five spoons and five napkins. Then she went back into the house to get some strawberry jam.

The white goat and the kitten and the dog and the two chickens came and sat down on the bench beside the table under the apple tree in the garden. They sat very quiet with their hands folded.

“If we behave nicely,” said the white goat, “perhaps Andrewshek’s Auntie Katushka will let us join the tea-party.”

Andrewshek’s Auntie Katushka came out on the porch with a bowl of strawberry jam in her hand. She saw the white goat and the kitten and the dog and the two chickens sitting quiet on the bench, with their hands folded.

“Well! Well!” said Auntie Katushka. “Some more friends have come to our tea-party. I hope they will like poppy seed cakes and strawberry jam, too.”

And they did.

Simple stories and simple concerns, with a happy ending. Though a modern child probably won’t hang out with geese and goats and chickens like Andrewshek and Erminka, they will understand how easy it is to be distracted, the lure of new boots, and the delight of eating poppy seed cakes.

randomhouse.com/everymans

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

The Wild Robot

by Peter Brown
read by Kate Atwater

Hachette Audio, 2016. 4 hours on 4 CDs.
Review written in 2016.

This is a simple story about a robot that survives a shipwreck and washes up on an island. There Roz learns to live among the animals, to act like them and speak their language.

After an accident kills a family of geese – except for one egg – Roz feels responsible and adopts the gosling, who imprints on Roz when he hatches. In order to bring up the gosling, Roz needs help from the animals of the island. She works even harder at adapting to their wild ways and making the island her home.

When I first checked out this book, I was impatient with the simple sentences and mistook it for a simplistic story. I had more patience with the audio book and found more depth than I had expected. This book is geared for kids just beginning to read chapter books, but for those, it asks some fascinating questions about what it means to be alive and what it means to feel emotions and how to make friends when you are seen as different from everybody else.

I enjoyed the audiobook so much, I think this would also make a good classroom readaloud for an early elementary classroom. There would be plenty to talk about. The language and story are simple, but they do make you think. This would also do well for a family bedtime story when a child is ready for a book with many chapters.

One odd thing about the audiobook is that there is accompanying music and sound effects at the beginning and at the end. It wasn’t clear to me why the sounds suddenly started up again on the last CD. I did think the sound effects enhanced the story, but was curious why they were only there for part of the story.

The audiobook includes a pdf of illustrations, but of course that’s not a real substitute for seeing the pictures as you read the story. Which brings me back to thinking this would be an even better readaloud than it is an audiobook.

Now, I have a lot of quibbles about a robot having emotions, or if things would really go this way, but for a simple chapter book with a lot of depth, The Wild Robot is a lovely offering.

peterbrownstudio.com
HachetteAudio.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Hello, Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Hello, Universe

by Erin Entrada Kelly
performed by Ramon de Ocampo and Amielynn Abellera

HarperAudio, 2017. 5 ¼ hours on 5 discs.
Starred Review
2018 Newbery Medal Winner

I was disappointed when I hadn’t read this year’s Newbery Medal Winner before it won – though not too disappointed, because now I had a good book to read! The only problem: When to read it? I need to be reading books eligible for the 2019 Newbery Medal.

However, our committee is trying to avoid listening to eligible books, since a good or bad narrator can influence your opinion of a book – so when the library purchased this book in audio format, I knew what my next commuting book would be.

It’s a quirky story. One thing I like about it is that it stands a writing rule on its head: Don’t use coincidences to move the plot. But in this case, coincidences are used repeatedly – and it’s perfect for this story. It reminds me of the old book by Edward Eager, Magic Or Not? — you aren’t sure if the things happening are coincidences or magic. In Hello, Universe you aren’t sure if events are coincidences or fate.

Among the characters, though, Kaori Tanaka is absolutely sure it’s a fateful day. She says over and over: “There are no coincidences.”

Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic. Her little sister follows her around and helps, in a gratifying and subservient way. Kaori has one client so far, Vergil Salinas. Vergil is very shy, and he feels like a complete failure because middle school ended, and he never said one word to that nice girl he saw in the resource room every Thursday, Valencia Somerset. Valencia is deaf, and she’s recently learned that the girls she thought were her best friends are tired of making the effort to communicate with her. She’s started having the same nightmare every night.

But after Kaori asks Vergil to post her card at the grocery store – with the line “no adults” – the one who picks it up and makes an appointment is Valencia. She hopes to get help with those bad dreams. But the day that Valencia makes an appointment to see Kaori is the same day that Vergil has not shown up for his appointment. What could have happened to him? And will the Universe help them find him?

I like the way the apparent coincidences combine to help each character make some changes.

It’s fun to get a peek when fate brings people together. But then, I was also pretty sure in the Edward Eager books that magic was involved.

harperaudio.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Phoebe and Her Unicorn, by Dana Simpson

Thursday, May 10th, 2018

Phoebe and Her Unicorn

A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle

by Dana Simpson

Andrews McNell Publishing, Kansas City, 2014. 222 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2016.

I was sent some later volumes about Phoebe and Her Unicorn and realized at last what I’d been missing. I’d even had this first volume checked out, but never cracked it open.

This time, I read the Introduction by Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn, and I knew I needed to read this. He mentions that in the early pages of his book, he wrote, “Unicorns are immortal. It is their nature to live alone in one place: usually a forest where there is a pool clear enough for them to see themselves – for they are a little vain, knowing themselves to be the most beautiful creatures in all the world, and magic besides . . .”

He continues:

A little vain . . . Marigold would be an appalling monster of ego, utterly self-concerned and completely unlikable, if it weren’t for her sense of humor and her occasional surprising capacity for compassion – both crucial attributes when bound by a wish granted to a nine-year-old girl in need of a Best Friend to play invented superhero games with, to introduce to slumber parties and girl-talk gossip and to ride through the wind after being called nerd and Princess Stupidbutt one time too many. For Phoebe is a remarkably real little girl, as bright and imaginative as Bill Watterson’s Calvin, as touchingly vulnerable as Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown. And if these strike you as big names to conjure with, I’ll go further and state for the record that in my opinion Heavenly Nostrils is nothing less than the best comic strip to come along since Calvin and Hobbes. Simpson is that good, and that original.

And yes, he’s right — Phoebe and her Unicorn is in the tradition of Calvin and Hobbes, this time with a nerdy and precocious little girl – so perhaps I related a little more than to Calvin.

However, Phoebe’s Unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, is not an imaginary friend. She’s real, and people can see her, but unicorns are protected by a SHIELD OF BORINGNESS. (This word should be printed in a fancy font.) As Marigold explains, “The SHIELD OF BORINGNESS is a bit of spellcraft that allows unicorns to remain a myth. Those humans who have seen us don’t find it important enough to mention.”

It helped me enjoy the book more once I realized this is a comic strip collection. There is an ongoing story, but most of the strips end with a joke. And they’re good jokes! (Okay, I like the unicorn puns about Phoebe being pointless.) It helped me enjoy reading them more when I realized what I was reading.

There is an ongoing story. But there are also comic-strip traditions in play. For example, Phoebe is a fourth grader at the start of the book. Then she has a lovely summer off and goes back to school – and starts fourth grade.

And like other great comic strips, there are profound observations behind the jokes. This is a lovely book about a nerdy little girl who wants to be awesome, about a unicorn she rescued (by hitting her with a rock and breaking her out of the cycle of gazing at her own reflection) who granted a wish by becoming her best friend, and about a unicorn who is well aware that she is the loveliest thing on the planet.

Tremendously fun!

ampkids.com
gocomics.com/phoebe-and-her-unicorn

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Brave Red, Smart Frog, by Emily Jenkins

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Brave Red, Smart Frog

A New Book of Old Tales

by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason

Candlewick Press, 2017. 94 pages.
Starred Review

I have always loved fairy tales. My grandma owned several of the various-colored fairy tale books by Andrew Lang, and I remember sitting in her big comfy chair and reading them when I was quite young.

This is a 2017 book, but our library purchased it in 2018. When my hold came in, I saw the copyright and was going to turn it right back in – I’m reading for the Newbery, and I don’t have time for anything else. However, intrigued by the title and the look of the book, I opened to a random page. The tone and spirit of the tales captivated me quickly. I brought them home, figuring that reading one little story each day wouldn’t hurt anything.

And I really did get it read that way (which is surprising right there). At the end I cheated a little and read two stories in one night.

These are mostly Grimm tales, and I’m very familiar with all of them – but I love these fresh retellings. I like the new names she gives to characters, the explanations of their motivations, and that frozen and cold forest that shows up in almost all the tales. There’s even a place where a character in one story shows up in another! (Hint: There’s a huntsman in both “Snow White” and “Red Riding Hood.”)

Here’s an example paragraph right at the start that gives you the friendly and refreshing tone used throughout the book:

On one side of this frozen forest stood a castle. In it lived a queen who was unhappy. She was a warm person, a bright person. Her husband was chilly and dull. It had been a mistake to marry him. When their first and only daughter was born, the king named the baby Snow White. The queen would have preferred a name like Tulip or Sunshine.

An Author’s Note at the back gives her philosophy of retelling these stories. She wasn’t trying to be accurate to originals or entirely reinvent the tales.

What I’m doing instead is telling these stories largely faithfully, but without adhering to versions made famous by Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and others. I wrote them simply as I myself want to tell them, using the storytelling techniques I have at my disposal. After all, before people began writing them down, these tales were passed down orally. They changed a bit with each new teller. I wrote to bring out what’s most meaningful to me in the stories, and in that way I believe I am part of a tradition that goes back to the earliest tellers of these tales.

The result is delightful. These would be fun to read aloud at bedtime to a child or after lunch to a classroom.

Now, some kisses break enchantments.

And other kisses begin them.

You’re going to find both kinds of kisses in these tales.

candlewick.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Raymie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo, read by Jenna Lamia

Friday, April 27th, 2018

Raymie Nightingale

by Kate DiCamillo
read by Jenna Lamia

Listening Library, 2016. 4 ½ hours on 4 compact discs.
Starred Review
(Review written in 2016.)

I already loved Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale. Now, having heard Raymie’s voice, and the voices of the others of the Three Rancheros, I love Raymie and her friends even more.

I already talked about the plot in my review of the print version. Now let me talk about the new things that struck me when I got to listen to the story.

The narrator of this book is wonderful, giving each of the girls a distinctive voice, and giving all voices a slight southern accent. Being a northerner myself, even though the book is set in Florida, I didn’t hear southern accents when I read it in my head. The accents definitely added to the charm.

Also, after listening, the characters and events are much more memorable. Maybe I read more quickly when it was in my mind. Now I feel more as if I’ve experienced the events of the book. And I now feel like I’ve met the characters, spent some time with them.

Again, the narrator’s characterizations of the girls are spot on. Raymie’s voice is tentative, figuring out the world. I just wanted to hug her and help her through. Louisiana is naïve and hopeful. Beverly Tapinski gives her tough-girl front. She’s not afraid of anything.

The story is a crazy yarn of good intentions that spin out of control. These girls can’t even attend a simple baton-twirling lesson without something going wrong. But we hear the girls tackle setbacks together. Even tough-girl Beverly can’t resist the sweet, innocent, and hungry Louisiana. And we understand how Raymie is pulled along.

This would make good family listening. I don’t remember them saying how old the girls are, but I would say upper elementary school age. There aren’t any boys in the story, but the antics are so amusing, I don’t think anyone in the family will get bored.

This beautiful story only gets better with re-listening. Kate DiCamillo just keeps winning Newbery Medals – and this new story is as great a book as any of them.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Door by the Staircase, by Katherine Marsh

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

The Door by the Staircase

by Katherine Marsh

Disney Hyperion, 2016. 272 pages.

Mary Hayes is a resourceful little girl who lives in an orphanage. One night, she manages to escape – but is stopped by a moving whirlwind. The very next morning, an old lady, Madame Z, comes to adopt Mary, first confirming that she has no family at all.

Madame Z takes Mary to a home outside the town of Iris, where all sorts of two-bit magic users live. She meets Jacob, a kid her age who also longs for a home. Jacob is the son of an Illusionist, and they move around a lot. Jacob’s good at pointing out how magicians do their tricks.

Then Mary thinks she’s spotted some real magic. And Madame Z turns out not to be the sweet old lady she pretends to be.

This book reminded me a little too much of Baba Yaga’s Assistant — but I liked the graphic novel a little better, for its conciseness and charm. Still, this book works in more elements of Russian folklore – including the firebird, rusalkas, and a domovoi.

Mary and Jacob must navigate various magical perils and prizes in order to escape a dangerous magical villain and win homes for themselves.

This is a light-hearted magical tale mixed with Russian folklore and cooking, and an orphan longing for a home.

katherinemarsh.com
DisneyBooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?