Reviews

Once upon a time … The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Chainani, Soman. The School for Good and Evil. Read by Polly Lee. Harper, 2013. 488 pages. Hardcover $15.44, ISBN 978-0-06-210489-2; PLB $13.86, ISBN 978-1-48982-456-1; TR $6.84, ISBN 978-0-06-210490-8

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Fantasy, fairytales

Part of a series? Yes — The School for Good and Evil series

Plot Summary:

Sophie of Gavaldon knows that when the mysterious schoolmaster comes to steal children (one for the princess school, one for the witch school), she’s a shoe-in for the role of the princess. She’s given her life to good deeds — just look at her best friend Agatha. Nobody likes Agatha!

Imagine Sophie’s shock when the schoolmaster does come for her … and drops her off in the School for Evil, sending Agatha into the hallowed halls of the School for Good! Is this a terrible mistake, or do the girls have more to learn about what makes “good” and “evil” so?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

While this book does not probe as deeply into “good” versus “evil” as I would have liked, this is still a delicious fairytale. Well, as an older reader, I struggled with some issues that felt a bit straw-feminist like to me? (Agatha’s early loathing of Tedros was fun, but it does not sustain itself over the course of the fairy tale. It feels like something she must grow out of…)  As well as some spoilers [Chainani plays with heteronormativity in ways that uphold heteronormativity, so I am not fully comfortable with that], but over all, I would hand this one off to a student who enjoys fantasy and stories about schools of magic.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

Readalikes?

If you love Sophie’s need to be the BEST, pick up The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand. There’s a similar “pity best friend” plot line where the best friend (much like Agatha) is the better of the two kids. (Victoria of Cavendish does turn nicer a bit faster than Sophie does, but still — the plot is similar.)

Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series delivers on fairytale retelling and having ordinary children fall into a storybook world. Colfer’s series is contemporary fiction whereas the girls of Gavaldon appear to live in a more rustic era, but the “brave new world” feeling is similar.

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Reviews

ARC Alert! Elizabeth and Zenobia

Miller, Jessica. Elizabeth and Zenobia. Amulet Books. 208 pages, 2017. Hardcover $14.60, ISBN 978-1-41972-724-5

Elizabeth and ZenobiaTL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

Anticipated Publication: September 2017

Genre: Horror

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

When her father decides it is time to move back to his childhood home, Elizabeth and her friend Zenobia have no other choice but to go along. (Father isn’t so pleased that Zenobia is coming along since she is, after all, imaginary — well, maybe not quite imaginary, but not quite real, either.) Elizabeth is afraid of everything — ghosts, the dark, gloves without hands in them — and Zenobia loves EVERYTHING creepy or disturbing. Poisons? Check. Ghosts — oh, excuse me, Spirit Presences? Check. Edgar Allan Poe? Check. Something is … off in Witheringe House, and to Zenobia’s delight, the conditions are PERFECT for a haunting. Add to that the fact that the East Wing of the house is forbidden to the girls, the eeriness increases the longer the girls are there. As more secrets are revealed, more seances are performed, and more bizarre midnight happenings occur, it becomes clear that something is truly and deeply wrong at Witheringe House. Will Elizabeth be brave enough to uncover the truth, and will she be strong enough to vanquish the evil that lurks in the house?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

The book’s description refers to it as “middle grade gothic horror,” and that is a perfect description. That creeping weirdness so critical in a good gothic novel is here in full force. Plants that seem a little too alive, a house with many secrets, silent and seemingly ubiquitous housekeepers, and a governess contending with mysterious forces all feature here. The book moves quickly, but it’s a page-turner, meaning that readers are going to enjoy this scary story enough not to want to put it down.

It’s a great read-alike for fans of Coraline, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. (Doll Bones is also similar with regards to creepy ghost factors!) Edgar Allan Poe is mentioned several times as he has the honor of being Zenobia’s favorite author. The book also draws upon gothic classics; Witheringe House of course reminds us of the title of Wuthering Heights; the governess plot smacks of Jane Eyre; the nursery’s walls are reminiscent of “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” and the whole “don’t go in the East Wing” situation is VERY Bluebeard. There’s something here for every gothic fan!

 

Grade Level: 4-8

 

Reviews

Once Upon a Time: The Wishing Spell; The Land of Stories, Book 1

Colfer, Chris. Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell. Little, Brown, and Company, 2012. 438 pages. Hardcover $16.20, ISBN 978-0-316-20157-5; Tr. $8.54, ISBN 978-0-316-20156-8; PLB $13.71, ISBN 978-1-48985-276-2

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Fantasy/Fairytale Retellings

 

Part of a series? Yes — The Land of Stories series

 

Plot Summary:

Twins Alex and Conner Bailey couldn’t be more different. Alex loves school and homework, and Conner struggles with classwork, accidentally napping instead of listening when his teacher talks. To make matters worse, life at home continues to drag the twins down. After losing their father the year before in a car accident, the kids have had to move out of their beloved home and into a rental down the street. Their mother has to work long hours to pay bills, and their grandmother cannot spend as much time with them as they would like. To their surprise, they get a real birthday treat when their grandmother comes to visit. She gives them her beloved copy of The Land of Stories, a book filled with the fairy tales that had united the family when they visited her at her home. Within the week, however, the book begins glowing and vibrating, and the twins find themselves literally pulled into the book! Will Conner and Alex ever get back home, or will they live in the Land of Stories forever? Furthermore, will the characters in the book be just like they’ve always imagined, or will they be more complicated?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

An engaging read, The Wishing Spell is the first in a series that I literally cannot keep on my shelves. Kids are always checking out a volume, and I am peppered with questions during library time about whether or not I have certain books (and when they’ll get back!). With such enthusiasm for the series in my own library, I knew I had to give it a shot. Colfer’s use of familiar fairy tale figures is inventive, and readers with any familiarity with these characters will enjoy new interpretations. Conner has a smart mouth that provides comedic relief as well as getting them out of tough spots, and Alex’s cleverness helps them escape risky moments, too. The text could be clunky at times, and events were either much more complicated or resolved far too quickly for the story’s demands, but overall, it was an enjoyable read.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a super fun book club book, especially since so many readers at varying levels have read the books. Rewriting our own fairy tales would be a great activity, especially if we could connect them or have the same protagonists moving through each story on their own question. It wouldn’t be quite an “exquisite corpse” game, but rather, we could assign the group the names and basic qualities of our protagonists, and use those characters in each of our retellings. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 3-6

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

 

Review referenced:

Eisenhart, M. (n. d.). The wishing spell: The Land of Stories, Book 1 (Review of the book The Wishing Spell). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-wishing-spell-the-land-of-stories-book-1#

 

Reviews

Catch-up Post: Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

I read this book earlier this summer. As I wrote on my main blog,

I loved this book! Its style was very reminiscent of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, a major favorite of mine. While this book was a lot bigger than I expected a MG book to be, I never felt like it dragged (even if my hands got tired holding it up!). Otto, Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy had me captivated. I had to know more about this harmonica with the letter “M,” and the cliffhangers made me keep going. I remember finishing the Mike section late one night and thinking, “Just one more chapter!” — but I knew that if I did try to do “just one more chapter,” I’d be up all night until I finished the book! So I had to put it aside.🙂

I definitely would recommend this book to young readers.

Swoon! I loved Echo so much. Framing anything in a fairy tale is a surefire way to get me hooked, and this book was no exception. Ivy, Mike, Friedrich, and Otto all captured my interest, and I would be happy to recommend this to any young reader.

Warnings:

  • Death
  • Racism
  • Prejudice

Major Plot Points/Themes/Etc.:

  • Racism
  • Prejudice
  • Historical Fiction
  • Music
  • Harmonicas
  • Fairy tales
  • Perseverance