JUNIOR EDITION: New Fiction for Younger Readers searches recent releases to discover the best kids' fiction out there. Given that the line between what makes a novel perfect for a teenager and just as compelling for an adult is anyone’s guess, Celia will sometimes review an “adult” novel that crosses that divide, as well as books for everyone from pre-schoolers to high-schoolers. We hope Celia's terrific choices help get kids reading, and help create the next generation of readers and writers!
I Wanna Be a Cowgirl
By Angela DiTerlizzi and Elizabet Vukovic
Published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster
There’s a notable sort of show-and-tell that manifests more ideas and giggles the more closely attention is applied. In I Wanna Be a Cowgirl, with its cantering rhyming and a wish-upon-a-stirrup refrain, the words spark the imagination while also playing out in the rollicking illustrations on each page. Because the little girl makes up her Western world as she goes along, her readers will be encouraged to let their minds roam similarly by her side. A spur isn’t a yarn pom-pom if you say and fantasize that it’s a spur, a snow globe can hold whatever you want to believe it does, and extra points can be won for the prediction that a jump rope becomes a lasso. Yet reality is never stretched too thin. A backyard for a range supports chickens, not horses (though a girl can dream), and a clothesline offers one of the rib-ticklingest ways to milk a cow, conveniently located near the “creek” of an inflatable swimming pool. Our booted star is resourceful in physical feats as well as imagination, and gets a good workout galloping around on her own two legs, with her hobbyhorse frisky as all get-out. Neither does this make-believable spread lack for a sheriff—a loyal dog, no matter how small, counts—a welcome addition, since a cowgirl’s life, like any child’s, has its travails to overcome. Nary a grownup is in sight in this near West, but somewhere off the page they can enjoy the ride, assured that when spacious dreams and sun-studded thoughts lay claim to a book, happy trails will be ahead.
Have Sword, Will Travel
By Garth Nix and Sean Williams
Published by Scholastic Press
Forgiveness must be asked for my having stolen the occasional moment in reading Have Sword, Will Travel to picture the movie. It’s hard to close your cinematic eyes to the vision of a tall, broad, big-hearted boy of thirteen, alive but only relatively well in a very old, myth-visited Scotland, getting vigorously tugged around by an enchanted sword that he extracts from the muddy bed of a local river running dangerously low. (The weapon’s speech is marvelously rendered in Gothic lettering.) Of course the weapon has a name: Hildebrand Shining Foebiter, Biter for short. And the boy is Odo, a miller’s son, unwillingly knighted by his new appendage. His best friend is Eleanor, who’s far more interested—like, desperate—in becoming a knight. Her late mother was one, of distinction. Where there’s a charmed sword, there must be a quest, and if the friends are to meet their rightful destinies, they better get on with it, since it seems a fearsome, fire-spewing dragon is behind their land’s deathly, lengthening dry spell. Her deadly flames and smoke have been spotted up north, and refugees are adding to the crisis. More is not well along the twosome’s—excuse me Biter, threesome’s—daunting trek, in the shape of Sir Saskia, a villainous rogue knight masquerading as a do-gooder. This only encourages them to forge ahead, each coming into their full, wow-look-at-me futures as their journey unfolds. Whatever their fears, their realizations teach them to “attend to your natures,” and “do what’s right,” a great boon in ricocheting from adventure to scrape and back again. It matters here that wickedness and sin are equal opportunity employers, and immutable curses not what they’ve traditionally been laid out to be. Going against hoary legend type, a recurring charm of this novel is how many women play parts, and in roles normally unheard of in this ilk of saga. There’s great humor, and insight, in the children relating psychologically to their companion sword: doubly so when Biter finds a long-lost sister. By dramatic hook and instructive crook, Have Sword, Will Travel tells a story that unsheathes a hope that this isn’t its end.2 .
By J.L. Powers and M.A. Powers
Published by Black Sheep/Akashic Books
Most any psychiatrist would probably diagnose Adam Jones as a fairly straightforward case of adolescent neuroses—nightmares so intense they seem real, insomnia from attempting to keep the chronic terrors at bay, general social anxiety, residual mourning for a dead mother, resentment of an often-absent father and a grandfather who’s just plain paranoid, grubby and weird. (It’s OK to notice the geezer lives in Hell’s Kitchen.) How wrong those knowing shrinks would be about the extraordinary, otherworldly legacy Adam is in the process of coming to terms with in Broken Circle, along with the-ancient-meets-the-modern universe that the Powerses construct for him. Tall and gawky, what’s standard-issue about Adam is that he lives in Brooklyn, crushes on a sweet, pretty school friend, and has run-ins with bullies. Not so much: through a series of bizarre encounters, breakdowns, and homegrown revelations, he must acclimate himself to the fact that, in accordance with the venerable line from which he’s descended, he’s a Soul Guide—and more—tasked by birth, itself a parallel narrative, with accompanying souls to Limbo. As what he judges an ill fate will have it, at the same time he’s packed off to a remote boarding school in Maine. But while the Powerses throw one strange character and circumstance after the next at him, Adam’s new environment, filled with a range of kids who share his birthright, gives him a sense of belonging. And exposes him to a range of beliefs. However where life, death, the afterlife, and the shifting ties between good and evil are entailed, safety is not what and where it appears to be. Navigating how to be true to a new self and to many unexpected, dizzying ethical distinctions is a tall order. Broken Circle’s exacting mix of myth, science and the paranormal discloses that the whole world’s destiny is at stake if powers and abilities like Adam’s fall into the wrong, crepuscular hands. The Powerses have placed a sympathetic kid and his crew bravely in the midst of some very big questions (it’s OK to think Harry Potter). What happens gives a different spin to everything on Earth and whatever may come after.
Devils & Thieves
By Jennifer Rush
Published by Little, Brown and Company
Age 15 and up
Here’s a salute to the all-American romance of the open road. But proving one’s self worthy of a spot in a familial motorcycle gang is actually really hard, especially with magic on the table in making the grade. A certain ambivalence about the whole deal doesn’t help. High school senior Jemmie Carmichael is in just such a fix in Jennifer Rush’s Devils & Thieves, where clans of Harley Davidson straddlers form a network around the country. Each tribe is “kindled,” or empowered, with a different species of magic. But it’s a new, restless age, and, in the wake of a group murder, the various “families” are verging on internecine warfare. Their chances of getting all-too-close-up-and-personal increase at the annual Kindled Festival, convened this year in Jemmie’s suburban hometown. That her father—once the peacekeeping head of the Devil’s League, who seemed to discard his family and position seven years before—may be entangled in some crime has made Jemmie reject him. Crowe Medici, the Devil’s young new leader (giving him also a complicated, muddy role in the Devils’ feud with the Death Stalkers from New Orleans) functions as the kind of love-hate object that Jemmie feels is exactly the last thing she needs as she struggles to come to terms with the progressively crippling difficulties presented by what should be her potent magic talent. Or is it talents? Rush effectively brings out an unhappy teenager’s attempts to self-medicate with alcohol and vague plans of escape (one solution would be to chuck her world for that of the unsuspecting “drecks,” or humans). The action consistently revs into high gear against a copiously envisioned background of historical biker lore, suspect morality, supernatural shenanigans, schemes threatening the world at large, and Jemmie’s own profound, gripping emotions. Both recognizable and super-strange, Jemmie embodies a story that won’t stop.4 .