Review of The Little Blue Bridge, by Brenda Maier, pictures by Sonia Sanchez

The Little Blue Bridge

by Brenda Maier
pictures by Sonia Sanchez

Scholastic Press, Spring 2021. 40 pages.
Review written March 8, 2021, from an advance reader copy sent by the publisher
Starred Review

The Little Blue Bridge takes the pattern from the Norwegian folk tale, The Billy Goats Gruff, and puts a maker twist on it.

Ruby is always full of ideas. When she sees blueberries across the creek, she suggests to her brothers that they go across to pick some and make blueberry pie. But they leave without her.

However, the only way across the creek is a plank bridge that a bully, Santiago built. He tells the brothers they can’t cross unless they give him a snack, but one by one they promise better snacks in the sibling to come.

Ruby doesn’t have any snacks, so Santiago won’t let her cross. But she’s prepared for that! Ruby competently builds a much better bridge with blue planks.

And the story ties up in a delightful way, with the small sister getting her due and showing up everyone with her ingenuity.

The pictures are full of exuberant action and it all adds up to an utterly delightful story I hope to get to use in story time some day.

brendamaier.com

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Review of Poisoned, by Jennifer Donnelly

Poisoned

by Jennifer Donnelly

Scholastic Press, 2020. 307 pages.
Review written March 6, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Like her earlier novel, Stepsister, in Poisoned, Jennifer Donnelly takes the basic skeleton from a fairy tale and goes far afield with it, ending up with a story that includes the main plot elements, but with very different applications.

Both stories begin with gore. In Stepsister, the stepsister cuts off her toes to try to fit her foot into the glass slipper. In Poisoned, a huntsman skillfully succeeds in cutting out Sophie’s heart and putting it into a box.

Fortunately, seven brothers living in the woods find her, and one of them is a skilled clockmaker. He makes her a clockwork heart. It happened on the morning of Sophie’s birthday, when she would have become queen. Everyone had told her that she was too soft-hearted to be a good ruler, but she had found a handsome prince to marry, who would be able to make the tough decisions.

It does turn out that Sophie’s stepmother, who ordered the killing, wasn’t entirely to blame. She was ordered to have Sophie’s heart put in the box by a sinister dark king, Corvus, the King of Crows, who comes to her in her magic mirror.

But clockwork doesn’t last forever. So after Sophie learns what the brothers did, she decides she will go find the prince she’d agreed to marry, the man who said he loved her, and ask him to use his army to attack the castle of the King of Crows. Never mind that he seems to have accepted the story of her death and doesn’t seem to be looking for her.

Both of Jennifer Donnelly’s fairy tale retellings also put a feminist spin on things. Yes, dear reader, it will turn out that Sophie can’t rely on a handsome prince to save her and must do so herself. In fact, it may turn out that her soft heart is exactly what she needs to defeat the dark king.

Another marvelously spun tale, making you look at a familiar story in a completely different way.

jenniferdonnelly.com
scholastic.com

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Review of Once Upon a Goat, by Dan Richards, illustrated by Eric Barclay

Once Upon a Goat

by Dan Richards
pictures by Eric Barclay

Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 10, 2019, from a library book

Here’s a silly twist on a fairy tale pulled off with just the right humorous touch.

The book opens with a king and queen who wish for a child.

“Yes, but where would we put it?” asked the king.
“Next to the vase on the hearth, naturally,” replied the queen.
“Or beside the roses in the garden,” the king added.
“Oh, yes. Perfect,” agreed the queen.

When their fairy godmother shows up, they tell her about their wishes.

“We’re not particular,” said the queen. “Glowing skin, bright eyes, and hair like ocean waves should do.”

“Hmm . . . ,” said their fairy godmother.
“A boy would be great,” added the king. “But any kid will do.”
“Of course,” answered their fairy godmother. “Look on your doorstep when the moon is full.”

At the next full moon, they eagerly look outside – and a little goat is sitting there! The king realizes he shouldn’t have said that any kid would do. They try to send the goat away, but it’s a blustery night, and they bring him in for just one night… and the night turns into many more.

The illustrations are a huge part of the fun as the little kid enjoys the run of the palace and the palace guards keep their faces stoic. And we’ve got more to the story when the fairy godmother comes back.

I can’t read this book without smiling.

danrichardsbooks.com
ericbarclay.com
rhcbooks.com

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Review of Damsel, by Elana K. Arnold

Damsel

by Elana K. Arnold
performed by Elizabeth Knowelden

HarperAudio, 2018. 7.75 hours on 7 discs.
Starred Review
2019 Printz Honor winner
Review written October 16, 2019, from a library audiobook.

First let me say that I have a new favorite audiobook narrator. Yes, Elizabeth Knowelden has a wonderful accent and her voice is a delight to listen to, but she also has the ability to pack every word with drama. When I raved about her reading this book and tried to imitate her, I simply sounded overdramatic, but when she does it, she makes every word seem important. She achieves exactly the right amount of emphasis and compels your attention.

The book itself is amazing.

Now, there’s a startling ending – but I had a strong clue what that ending would be from hearing the author’s Printz Honor speech. I had a feeling that Ama would not meekly succumb to the forces urging her to be a good little girl and submit. Let me say only that this book is perfect for the “Me Too” generation.

For generations, the prince of the kingdom of Harding, in order to become king after his father dies, must conquer a dragon and rescue a damsel. He will bring the damsel back to his castle and marry her at the Winter Solstice. They will have one child, a son, who will repeat this process after them.

Ama wakes up in Prince Emory’s arms, and he tells her that he rescued her from a dragon. She doesn’t remember anything from her life before. As they journey back to the castle, Emory kills a mother lynx that he thought was threatening Ama (she wasn’t), and Ama takes the baby with her to the castle. She names the baby lynx Sorrow.

At the castle, Ama must learn her place. There are still some months before midwinter, and she must learn her role in the scheme of things. But it’s almost as hard for Ama to fall into place as it is for Sorrow.

The reading of this story is outstanding, but this is not a family tale. There are many vulgar moments, and sexual things explicitly described. And Prince Emory is not a nice man.

Honestly, if I didn’t expect Ama to triumph, I would not have been able to listen to this story, so I think it’s safe to tell you that the horrible things that happen along the way make the ending of this audiobook all the more sweet.

elanakarnold.com
harperaudio.com

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Review of Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver

by Naomi Novik

Del Rey, 2018. 466 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Alex Award Winner
Review written April 11, 2019, from a library book

Ahhhh, such a lovely book! I love reworked fairy tales, and this one only had the beginnings of an idea from one, but spun an intricate tale with a mythic feel.

Here’s how the book begins:

The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard. The real story is, the miller’s daughter with her long golden hair wants to catch a lord, a prince, a rich man’s son, so she goes to the moneylender and borrows for a ring and a necklace and decks herself out for the festival. And she’s beautiful enough, so the lord, the prince, the rich man’s son notices her, and dances with her, and tumbles her in a quiet hayloft when the dancing is over, and afterwards he goes home and marries the rich woman his family has picked out for him. Then the miller’s despoiled daughter tells everyone that the moneylender’s in league with the devil, and the village runs him out or maybe even stones him, so at least she gets to keep the jewels for a dowry, and the blacksmith marries her before that firstborn child comes along a little early.

Because that’s what the story’s really about: getting out of paying your debts. That’s not how they tell it, but I knew. My father was a moneylender, you see.

He wasn’t very good at it. If someone didn’t pay him back on time, he never so much as mentioned it to them. Only if our cupboards were really bare, or our shoes were falling off our feet, and my mother spoke quietly with him after I was in bed, then he’d go, unhappy, and knock on a few doors, and make it sound like an apology when he asked for some of what they owed. And if there was money in the house and someone asked to borrow, he hated to say no, even if we didn’t really have enough ourselves. So all his money, most of which had been my mother’s money, her dowry, stayed in other people’s houses. And everyone else liked it that way, even though they knew they ought to be ashamed of themselves, so they told the story often, even or especially when I could hear it.

But when things get desperate and her mother gets sick, the narrator, Meryam, decides to take on the duties of moneylender herself. She gets out her father’s ledgers and demands what is owed. And people pay her.

In fact, she’s so good at it, she gloats a little that she can turn silver into gold. And the king of the Staryk people hears her. Three times, he leaves her silver that she must turn into gold. If she doesn’t, she knows she’ll be destroyed. If she does – he’s going to marry her. And that is only the beginning of her troubles.

That is one of the three main threads in this book. Another involves the recipient of the jewelry she has made with the silver from the Staryk – jewelry that attracts a fire demon who is inhabiting the tsar, the tsar who needs a wife. The other thread involves a poor family who owes money to the moneylender. When he can’t pay it, Meryam takes the services of his daughter Wanda to pay off the debt. Wanda likes spending her days at the home of the moneylender more than staying at home.

All three young women are thought to be powerless in their world, and all three discover their power and their usefulness.

There’s plenty of magic in this story, with the Staryk prolonging winter, so crops fail and people die, and magical bridges between the Staryk world of ice and the sunlit world. And the plot twists and turns and what we mostly want is for these resourceful women to discover their power and be able to help the people they love.

Naomi Novik spins a magical and mesmerizing tale with threads within threads.

naominovik.com
randomhousebooks.com

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Review of Stepsister, by Jennifer Donnelly

Stepsister

by Jennifer Donnelly

Scholastic Press, May 14, 2019. 342 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 13, 2019, from an advance reader copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting.

Stepsister was my airplane reading on my way back from ALA Midwinter Meeting and made the long flight a delight. It tells about Isabelle, one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters.

The story begins when Isabelle is ready to cut off her toes so they will fit into the glass slipper the prince has brought, after her sister Octavia was discovered to have cut off her heel.

“We should’ve heated the blade for Tavi,” Maman fretted now. “Why didn’t I think of it? Heat sears the vessels. It stops the bleeding. Ah, well. It will go better for you, Isabelle.”

It’s not easy, but Isabelle cuts off this part of herself, as she has cut off metaphorical parts of herself all during her life at Maman’s bidding.

And yet, when Maman demanded that she get up, Isabelle did. She opened her eyes, took a deep breath to steady herself, and stood.

Isabelle could do this impossible thing because she had a gift – a gift far more valuable than a pretty face or dainty feet.

Isabelle had a strong will.

She did not know that this was a good thing for a girl to have, because everyone had always told her it was a terrible thing. Everyone said a girl with a strong will would come to a bad end. Everyone said a girl’s will must be bent to the wishes of those who know what’s best for her.

Isabelle was young, only sixteen; she had not yet learned that Everyone is a fool.

Anyone who knows the fairy tale “Cinderella” knows that this didn’t go well for Isabelle. However, that’s only the beginning of this book.

There’s a Prologue that came before this, and we learn that the three Fates have a wager going wiith Chance, who appears as a bold and handsome young man.

He was dressed in a sky-blue frockcoat, leather britches, and tall boots. A gold ring dangled from one ear; a cutlass hung from his hip. His face was as beautiful as daybreak, his smile as bewitching as midnight. His eyes promised the world, and everything in it.

Isabelle is the very mortal whose life map (showing her fate) Chance has stolen. The Fates are not happy about it.

“All this trouble for a mere girl?” asked the crone, regarding Chance closely. “She’s nothing, a nobody. She possesses neither beauty nor wit. She’s selfish. Mean. Why her?”

“Because I can’t resist a challenge,” Chance replied. He rerolled the map with one hand, steadying it against his chest, then tucked it back inside his coat. “And what girl wouldn’t choose what I offer?” He gestured at himself, as if even he couldn’t believe how irresistible he was. “I’ll give her the chance to change the path she is on. The chance to make her own path.”

“Fool,” said the crone. “You understand nothing of mortals. We Fates map out their lives because they wish it. Mortals do not like uncertainty. They do not like change. Change is frightening. Change is painful.”

“Change is a kiss in the dark. A rose in the snow. A wild road on a windy night,” Chance countered.

“Monsters live in the dark. Roses die in the snow. Girls get lost on wild roads,” the crone shot back.

So there’s something at stake as Isabelle’s life plays out. The stepsisters’ story becomes known to the people around them, giving them contempt from the other villagers. Then war comes close to the region. Isabelle hears from a fairy queen a way to change her fate, but will she dare seize that? And meanwhile, neither Chance nor the crone of the Fates is shy about inserting themselves into Isabelle’s story to make sure they win the wager.

Yes, some may say you need to cut off pieces of yourself to make your way in the world. But this book suggests that it’s possible to recover those pieces again and take your fate in your own hands. A wonderful story about what happens after the fairy tale.

jenniferdonnelly.com
scholastic.com

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Review of The Flight of Swans, by Sarah McGuire

The Flight of Swans

by Sarah McGuire

Carolrhoda Books, 2018. 441 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 30, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
Mock Newbery winner at City of Fairfax Regional Library
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Children’s Fiction – Fantasy

Wow. Most of my readers know I love fairy tale retellings – this is a wonderful one, completely pulling me into the fantasy world, getting my very heart beating along with the protagonist, who tried to be silent for six years.

The fairy tale it’s retelling is the Grimm tale, “The Six Swans.” That was never my favorite fairy tale – but I think it’s interesting that my favorite fairy tale retelling for adults, Daughter of the Forest, is based on the same tale. This version is written for children, and doesn’t have quite as brutal things happen to the silent sister, but it’s equally powerful.

I reread the fairy tale after reading this book, and almost wish I hadn’t. The author retained the main elements – six older brothers turned into swans by the witch who enchanted and married the princess’s father, and she has to stay silent for six years, while knitting them shirts made out of nettles. But oh! The way she tells the story! I want to start reading it all over again. I’m actually a bit resentful that I need to keep reading other books. But the Newbery process being what it is – I know that I will read this book more times, and that’s a comfort to me.

Okay, I should tell about the book, not just rave about how good it is.

The book begins with Andaryn trying to fight her father’s enchantment:

The exile of the princes of Lacharra didn’t begin with swords or spells.

It began inside the castle kitchen with a quest for cloves.

It began with me.

Cooks mistrust anyone with empty hands, so I darted to the nearest table and snatched up a bowl of chopped leeks. Then I shouldered between scullery maids and undercooks as I moved toward the spice pantry.

Perhaps I was foolish. Maybe Father was just sick after being lost so many weeks in the forest. Maybe it was normal for a man newly married to hardly speak to the daughter he’d loved –

Then I remembered last night: Rees, the stable master, and the stable boy being beaten while Father looked on with empty eyes.

Something had happened to Father in the forest. He never would have allowed a beating for violating such a small edict, even if the woman he’d married had issued it.

Whatever she banned must be important – even if it was something as simple as cloves.

Andaryn secures some cloves and brings her father out of the enchantment – for a little while. But the Queen comes upon them together and quickly destroys Andaryn’s efforts. When Andaryn breaks the glamour her six older brothers feel for the Queen, her victory doesn’t last. The Queen locks them up, burning down the oldest brother’s castle with the brothers locked in the dungeon.

Andaryn bargains for their lives with her silence.

Finally, she spoke. “It would be a great sacrifice to release your brothers. I would expect something great in return: one year of silence for each of them. Not a word spoken,” she raised a finger, “and not a word written, either, for a word that’s written can be spoken. The moment you consent is the moment they are free.

Andaryn consents, and the Queen does set them free – but turns them into swans. They will take human form again only on the night of the full moon each month.

And so begins Andaryn’s journeys, in silence. It turns out it’s not enough to find a place to shelter, because the Queen sets otherworldly Huntsmen out after her.

The journeys aren’t as solitary as in the fairy tale, for her oldest brother’s wife accompanies Andaryn for some of the years. And there is a child to tend, as in the fairy tale – but the baby is her oldest brother’s son, the heir of the kingdom. And yes, the princess is discovered by the king of another country, but she still can’t speak.

Andaryn starts out as a 12-year-old determined princess. She ends the book as an 18-year-old young lady who has learned to be strong as steel through her suffering. A magnificent story.

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Review of West, by Edith Pattou

West

by Edith Pattou

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 514 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 13, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Speculative Teen Fiction

I was so excited when I found out West was coming out! I still remember, approximately 15 years ago when I was working at Sembach Library and a shipment of new books came in that included East, by Edith Pattou and The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale – two fairy tale retellings that ended up being my two favorite books of the year. I ordered my own personal copy of both of them, I liked them both so much. The Goose Girl has become the start of an entire series since then, but this is the very first follow-up to East.

Since this is my Newbery committee year, I didn’t get to reread East before reading West as I would have liked to do. But I remembered the basics, from the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” Rose went off with a white bear to save her family, but used a candle to try to see his face and then had to travel east of the sun, west of the moon. In the end, she had to defeat the Troll Queen in order to save him. They were supposed to live happily ever after.

But in this book, we learn that the Troll Queen is not dead. And she’s ready to get revenge, not only on Rose and Charles, but on the entire human race.

Like the fairy tale it all began with, this book is something of a saga. Rose and Charles now have a baby boy and an adopted daughter. As the book begins, Rose was visiting her family in Trondheim while Charles was performing as a court musician in Stockholm. But word comes that there has been a shipwreck of the ship Charles was taking home. There’s something off about the report.

In this book, it’s very much a case of one thing leading to another. Rose ends up taking a journey every bit as taxing as the one that took her east of the sun, west of the moon. Again her quest requires ingenuity, perseverance, and resourcefulness.

But it also requires help from others. Once she finds Charles (that’s the first difficult part), he helps. But so do her brother Neddy and her friend Sib, and so does Estelle, the little girl they adopted, who is kidnapped by the Troll Queen along with their son and watches over him. It turns out she also needs help from the Fates themselves.

The journey takes Rose in every direction on the compass in her quest to save her beloved husband, then her son, and even all humankind.

The Troll Queen is a formidable opponent and frightening in her power and her hatred. But Rose has something stronger in the power of love.

This is another gripping adventure saga with all the resonance of a fairy tale.

edithpattou.com
hmhco.com

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Review of Snow White, by Matt Phelan

Snow White

by Matt Phelan

Candlewick Press, 2016. 216 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s another amazing graphic novel by Matt Phelan. I’ve loved his art ever since I saw it in The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron.

This is a retelling of “Snow White,” set during the 1920s and 30s in New York City. Who knew you could fit Snow White into such a setting?

And it’s beautifully done. Samantha’s mother gets drops of blood on the snow not from pricking her finger on a needle, but from her cough with drops of blood. Ten years later, her father meets the “Queen” of the Ziegfeld Follies. Instead of running into the woods, Samantha runs into Hooverville, where she’s helped by seven boys who won’t tell her their real names.

The stepmother seems to have some sort of magic. And she’s very good with poison.

The story is told with very few words – in fact, at times I would have liked more to tell me exactly what was going on. It’s possible I was being lazy and not paying enough attention.

But whether or not I caught every detail – this story is striking and wonderful. Now here’s a twist on the fairy tale that I’ve never seen before.

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Review of Prince Ribbit, by Jonathan Emmett

Prince Ribbit

written by Jonathan Emmett
illustrated by Poly Bernatene

Peachtree, 2016. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a fun twist on the Frog Prince fairy tale. Three princesses live in a castle. The two older ones love fairy tales and argue about who would treat a frog prince better.

Princess Martha rolled her eyes. She liked facts more than fairy tales and real frogs more than enchanted ones.

But a clever frog has been listening to the princesses talk. He figures out a clever scheme for getting the princesses to let him sleep in a soft bed and eat fine foods. Just tell them he’s a prince!

The two older princesses fall for it! They treat the frog like the prince he claims to be.

Martha has more insight. And she brings the story to a surprising conclusion that left me with a big smile.

A very fun story. And remember: Just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean it’s true!

scribblestreet.co.uk
polybernatene.com

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