She is here, she is here, she is here: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Barnhill, Kelly Regan. The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Narrated by Christina Moore. Algonquin Young Readers/Recorded Books, 2016. 388 pages, 9 hours and 37 minutes. Hardcover $15.41, ISBN 978-1-61620-567-6; PLB $18.56, ISBN 978-1-53791-113-7

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!!!!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

Each year, the Protectorate must sacrifice the youngest child to an evil witch who lurks in the woods. This sacrifice guarantees the Protectorate’s continued subsistence…a meager one, fed mainly by a mystical bog and often filled with suffering. The sacrifice is a necessary evil … or, at least, that’s what the Grand Elders want the people to think. There is no witch. Except, unbeknownst to the Elders, there is a witch, and she’s good. The witch, an old woman named Xan, rescues the baby every year and finds a new home for the child in the Free Cities, feeding the child starlight along the way. One year, a woman fights the Elders who come for her baby. The woman is imprisoned in the Sisters’ tower and diagnosed mad. The baby captures Xan’s heart, and one night by mistake, Xan feeds the child moonlight and enmagics her. Luna the baby is so magical that Xan must bind her magic until her thirteenth birthday. Will Luna learn how to use her magic? Is Fyrian a Perfectly Tiny dragon? Will the Protectorate ever be free of its sorrow? And why do Xan and her swamp monster Glerk remember only that “Sorrow is dangerous?”

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

UGH THIS BOOK. This book is pure magic. Christina Moore’s reading is delightful; as Barnhill has written a gem of a book that draws on oral tradition, Moore’s performance is a truly wonderful storytelling feat. Fyrian’s voice is a treat, and Glerk’s grumbling is great. This is absolutely a pick for readers who want to know more about defeating evil or coming of age. The story is extremely dark, but I think kids who already love dystopias are going to be fine with this one.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred, 07/01/16
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred, 09/01/16
Kirkus Reviews starred, 06/01/16

Newbery Medal, 2017
Publishers Weekly starred, 06/06/16
School Library Journal starred, 07/01/16
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred, 10/01/16


Keep Calm and Creep On: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

Fox, Janet S. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. Viking, 2016. 388 pages. Hardcover $14.59, ISBN 978-0-451-47633-3; PLB $13.86, ISBN 978-1-51818-650-9; TR $7.69, ISBN 978-0-14-751713-5

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes … ish

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Steampunk (?)

Part of a series? Not at this time.

Plot Summary:

London is in the grips of the Blitz — it is World War II, and children are being sent away from London in order to remain safe from constant bombings. Safety is the foremost concern for the Bateson family; Mr. Bateson is a spy on a mission for MI6 — but before leaving, he secures three places at Rookskill Castle in Scotland for his children. There, the Lady Eleanor has opened an academy for children displaced by the bombings. Kat, the eldest Bateson, feels responsible for her younger siblings and does her best to remind them to “Keep Calm and Carry On” as they must leave their mother and Great-Aunt Margaret behind in London. Before seeing the children off, once-sharp Great-Aunt Margaret passes a family heirloom on to Kat. She gives the girl a châtelaine and explains that it is an extremely magical item that will help keep her safe. Kat, a lover of math, logic, and puzzles, is disturbed by this explanation, particularly since it just goes to show that Great-Aunt Margaret really is losing her marbles. 

Rookskill Castle is creepy from go, and Kat finds herself facing mystery and weirdness galore. Why is there a shortwave radio hidden in a secret room? What is Lady Eleanor trying to hide? And — most disturbing of all — why are so many secrets in the castle unexplainable by logic and common sense? Is there a spy at Rookskill Castle … or is there something much worse at hand?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book had a lot of potential. Historical fiction plus fantasy? SOLD! The premise was amazing. World War II plus creepy age-old magic sounds delicious. Unfortunately, the execution of the novel was a tiny bit disappointing. (This caught me by surprise given the starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly.) The start of the novel is very strong, but not long after the Batesons arrive at Rookskill Castle, the story begins to meander. Quixotic episodes repeat with little impact on the plot, and major problems are set up that either fall by the wayside or are resolved in the blink of an eye. Every few pages we are reminded about how logical Kat is … to the point that you start to wonder when it will crop up again (hardly a mysterious thing can happen without the reader being reminded of Kat’s logic). Anachronisms also crop up throughout the text as well as dialectical issues that just don’t sound right. 

That said, however, the book does deliver on tone, so I would still recommend it to my readers looking for something creepy and set in a castle/past period. I also have to think that perhaps the book just didn’t speak to what I wanted from it, especially given its reception by major reviewing outlets.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

I would hand this book to anyone looking for a readalike for Coraline, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, or Elizabeth and Zenobia.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 01/01/16

Kirkus Reviews starred 12/15/15

Publishers Weekly starred 01/04/16


Creepy-Crawlies, Kids, and Cavendish: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand

LeGrand, Claire. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012. 352 pages. Hardcover $15.54 ISBN 978-1442442917

img_0141This creepy book is an excellent read for fans of Coraline. Victoria’s dearest ambition is to be the best; nothing short of perfection will do. In her quest for perfection, she has decided to live life without friends … until, of course, Lawrence “the Skunk” (so called for his stripe of gray hair) strikes her as so pathetic, so utterly unable to take care of himself, that she makes him her Special Project and hangs out with him in order to be a good influence. As Victoria struggles with her B in music — impossible! A B?! And here’s Lawrence, a veritable music prodigy! — she misses the fact that Lawrence looks very anxious, and his parents are acting very oddly. In fact, once Lawrence disappears mysteriously, Victoria notices everyone acting very oddly. The answer to all this weirdness lies in the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, run by the too-perfect Ms. Cavendish and her assistant, the unsettling gardener, Mr. Alice. As Victoria hunts for the truth, she finds herself sucked into the Home and learning far too much about why her town runs like a well-oiled machine.

This book has a definite gross-out factor — creepy creatures, slime, mystery meat, beetles, and cockroaches fill the pages. This book is also terrifying — much like how Coraline’s scary button-eyed Other People are too good to be true, so is Ms. Cavendish and her orphans’ home. This book is perfect for the student who wants to be scared, one who looks for disturbing stories where kids have to battle some pretty evil big bads. This would be a great Halloween book club book or display item, and it has definitely earned a spot in a Coraline book talk.

Readalike: Coraline by Neil Gaiman.