There’s one thing that Max really wants to do, and that’s to become a wizard. He’s pretty sure he has what it takes, but first he has to convince his father. If Sir Bertram has his way, Max will become a sword-yielding knight instead.
Frogspell, a fun little read by C.J. Busby, takes young readers into the world of Camelot. The plot starts rolling right away, as Max plans to show his father that he’s meant to be a wizard. He’s going to come up with a brilliant spell and win the Young Novice’s Spell-Making Competition; and then his father will realize his true calling. But when Max accidentally turns himself, his sister and his pet rat into frogs, he’s not sure how it’s going to turn out.
If this isn’t entertaining enough, things get even more complicated when Max and his sister Olivia stumble into a villainous scheme to kidnap the prince and to topple King Arthur from power. Can Max help Merlin fight an evil sorceress and save the kingdom?
Frogspell is a lively potion of adventure, misadventure and humour. The characters are immensely likeable, the spells gone awry are funny, and who doesn’t love the satisfaction of foiling an evil plot?
We added Frogspell to our home library when my daughter was in second grade. She had been devouring the Rainbow Magic fairy books, and this was a perfect transition into a magic-filled series with a more complex story. There are three other books after the first installment, as Max commences his wizardry training and Olivia trains to be a squire. This was a favourite on our bookshelf for years.
My daughter discovered Jessica Day George’s magical world of dragons while on vacation one summer. We were driving through Portland, and stopped at Powell’s Books to pick up reading material for our road trip.
Kate chose George's novel Dragon Slippers, and by the time we’d made it to the Oregon coast, she was mesmerized by the story of young Creel and her dragon friends.
This middle-grade novel is brimming with all the good stuff: a brave heroine, really cool dragons, an evil villain, and a kingdom that needs saving.
The story begins when Creel’s aunt comes up with an unusual plan to improve their family’s fortunes. What if Creel is rescued by a knight in shining armour, who will whisk their family away to live in a castle? Thus, Creel finds herself abandoned in front of a dragon’s lair, as her aunt fervently hopes that a hero will save her niece from the fierce creature’s clutches.
From the moment that the dragon awakes with a rumble and a plume of smoke, it’s impossible to put the book down. Creel ends up befriending the dragon, who has no interest in her aunt's silly plot. “I am old and tired and bored with all the foolishness that humans cause,” he moans.
Clever young Creel uses the situation to her own benefit. She convinces the dragon to give her some treasure that she can use to escape into the city and start her own life. She's sent on her way with a pair of slippers, but little does she know she's about to stumble into an evil quest for power. As she fights to save her dragon friends and restore peace to the kingdom, we find out just how much foolishness humans can cause.
The adventure is made all the more enticing by the lovable characters. You can’t help but cheer on Creel as she heads to the city to pursue her dreams of being a seamstress. There’s also the unforgettable dragons—Theodradus, Shardas, Feniul, Amacarin, Niva and Velika—all beautiful, majestic, thinking and feeling creatures with their own personalities.
When Kate finished the book, I picked it up myself and immediately saw why she was so charmed. Dragon Slippers blends fantasy, adventure, humour, and romance, all into a well-woven page-turner. There was no question of what we would read on the trip home—we stopped at the same bookshop to get the sequels, Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear.
And, we negotiated who got to read them first.
One of the sweetest parts of childhood is the belief that magic exists—whether in the form of fairies, sorcerers, unicorns, or dragons. Kate adored these whimsical worlds when she was little, and ever since, her favourite genre has been fantasy.
Tuesdays at the Castle, a middle-grade novel by Jessica Day George, is one book that Kate returned to time and time again.
The magic in this story is embodied in Castle Glower, home to Princess Celie and her family. Castles can be old, lonely and draughty places, but not this particular palace. “Whenever Castle Glower became bored, it would grow a new room or two,” the book begins enticingly.
This sets the scene perfectly for enchantment and adventure, as Castle Glower adds rooms or takes them away, moves passageways, creates staircases, and reveals hidden chambers, seemingly randomly. But there’s a method to the madness. The castle acts as a royal adviser and protector, and Celie, in particular, has learned to interpret the meaning of the castle's transformations.
One day, the King and Queen are assumed dead during an ambush by bandits. A group of ambassadors from a nearby kingdom invite themselves to stay at Castle Glower. They claim to be there to help Celie and her siblings during this tragic time, but when the castle expresses displeasure by shrinking one gentleman's bedroom to the size of a prison cell, Celie knows which of the visitors not to trust.
Kate loved this novel. Celie is a smart, brave and resourceful heroine, and the castle is brimming with personality. It's helpful, mischievous, and wise, and a fantastic ally as the children work to save their kingdom.
There are as many twists in the story as there are in the castle's everchanging floorplan, and the adventure is delivered with a light-hearted touch. For example, the children’s attempt to remove the unwanted visitors involves a series of pranks which will have young readers smiling.
Tuesdays at the Castle is followed by the sequels Wednesdays in the Tower, Thursdays with The Crown, Fridays with the Wizards, and Saturdays at Sea. Jessica Day George has created a spellbinding world that will remind kids—and grown-ups—to imagine that anything is possible.
Books in series: 5
Tuesdays at the Castle
Wednesdays in the Tower
Thursdays with the Crown
Fridays with the Wizards
Saturdays at Sea
“It was the summer that Rosemary Bliss turned ten that she saw her mother fold a lightning bolt into a bowl of batter.” And so begins Kathryn Littlewood’s middle-grade novel, Bliss, which whisks readers into a world of magic and mayhem.
The story centres around 12-year-old Rose, whose mother is a kitchen magician. Her baking can cure all kinds of problems. She mixes lightning into a cake to help a boy who was electrocuted. She adds the yawn of a weasel to snickerdoodles to stop someone from sleepwalking. And, the tail of a cloud is baked into macaroons to lift a man out of a well in which he's been trapped.
This is a world where anything is possible, but to our heroine's chagrin, magic is strictly off-limits to her and her siblings. I won't give too much away, except to say that when her parents leave town for a week, Rose is instructed to keep the ancient family cookbook under lock and key. But, when a long-lost relative appears, Rose and her brother dig out the recipes and begin mixing up Love Muffins and Cookies of Truth. That's when chaos ensues in their small town.
Littlewood is exquisitely detailed in her writing: the opening scene in which Rose's parents catch lightning in a mason jar is spectacular. The magical recipes from the family cookbook—shared in their entirety with readers—makes one want to start baking right away. There's the wonder of discovering a hidden passageway of enchanted ingredients, with jars labelled 'Warlock’s Eye' and 'Dwarf of Perpetual Sleep'. And, readers will be brimming with anticipation at Rose's first attempt at magic. The batter in her mixing bowl trembles and shakes and sizzles and sparks. She realizes that, “these were no Betty Crocker zucchini muffins.”
Bliss is a delicious, lighthearted blend of magic and adventure. Rose is an entirely believable heroine who is trying to find her place in her family and the world. The results of her magic-gone-wrong are both humorous and harmless; there isn't anything to frighten young readers. It's a perfect read for ages 8 and up.
The book does end on a cliffhanger, setting up the storyline for two sequels. Kate started the trilogy when it was first published in 2012, and had an agonizingly long wait for the rest of the books to find out what happens. Luckily, readers today don't have to wait to follow up on Rose’s adventures in Dash of Magic and Bite-Sized Magic.
The interesting thing about tooth fairies is their different approaches to their work. Some fairies leave a coin, while others leave a $20 bill. Some write a note in fancy fairy script, and others magically change the colour of your bedside glass of water by dipping their dress into it.
(I had no idea that this latter fairy existed until she visited one of my daughter's friends. Kate was disappointed this fairy never visited us, but luckily, she did come the next time Kate lost a tooth.)
April and Esme Tooth Fairies, by Bob Graham, is a gorgeous picture book that updates the story of the tooth fairy for our modern world. Seven-year-old April gets a call on her cell phone for her very first tooth fairy mission. She comes from a long line of tooth fairies and is excited to finally be allowed to fly off and collect a tooth with her little sister Esme.
The illustrations are delightfully detailed. Look closely at one, and you’ll see a small house with a thatched roof, hidden off a busy highway. The sign on the house says, “J & F Underhill, Tooth Fairies, est. 1691.” It’s easy to imagine fairies such as these living among us, their tiny home tucked beside a tree stump as trucks go rambling past.
Both of my children loved the story of April convincing her parents that she’s ready to take on the responsibility of tooth-collecting. It’s a mission that almost goes awry, but April is able to text her mother for advice.
We read April and Esme Tooth Fairies every time we expected a tooth fairy visit, and sometimes when we weren’t. Now that the children are older, we haven’t talked about the tooth fairy in ages. Dylan lost a tooth last week (he's eleven), and he nonchalantly handed it to me to dispose of.
If the tooth fairy visits your house, this book will bring sweet smiles to your little ones. I have fond memories of our tooth fairy days. Enjoy the magic!
Like many little girls, my daughter fell into the princess craze around the time she was four-years-old. I tried to minimize how many princess-themed books and toys came into our house, but the phenomenon is difficult to avoid. Despite my best attempts, our home was soon taken over by all things pink and sparkly, from gowns and tiaras to toy castles and dolls in horse-drawn carriages.
Don’t Kiss the Frog: Princess Stories with Attitude, edited by Fiona Waters, is a sassy antidote to the stereotypical beautiful princess waiting for her prince. At first glance, it does look like a run-of the-mill collection of traditional tales, but each of the six stories has a twist.
Waters explains in the book’s introduction that the writers “have their tongues very firmly in their cheeks, and nothing is more delightful for young readers than a whiff of anarchy. Classic fairy tales…are central to a child’s literary heritage, but these princess tales take a different approach. A good helping of disrespect has produced a collection of terrific, lively stories.”
There is The Clumsy Princess, who struggles to be graceful, but learns her true strength is in jousting with knights. In The Princess Exchange, Princess Jane realizes it’s more fun to watch cartoons and eat ice cream than to be a conventional royal that smiles and waves. There is an athletic princess, and a princess who wants to choose her own Prince Charming. My personal favourite is Double Dragons: a king promises his daughter to whomever can slay a fire-breathing dragon, but Princess Greta takes care of the fierce dragon on her own.
There were many nights when Don’t Kiss the Frog was Kate's choice for bedtime reading, and she still has a fondness for it. “I remember this!" she exclaimed, picking it up off of my desk the other day. "It used to be my favourite book."
With its spunky tone, colourful illustrations, and playful fonts, this is a fun collection of stories to read aloud. It has enough princesses to entice any little girl obsessed with Aurora or Belle, and enough humour for parents that may be overwhelmed by all things princess. Pick up this book for a bit of a reprieve!
I picked up The Night Fairy, by Laura Amy Schlitz, as a 6th birthday gift for one of Kate's friends. With its gorgeous jacket, beautiful thick pages, and lovely colour illustrations by Angela Barrett, The Night Fairy feels as if it's brimming with magic.
There's no shortage of books about fairies, and I've read my share of them with Kate (I'm looking at you, Rainbow Magic Fairies). Most often, fairies in children's books are sweet and cheerful, and live in worlds full of glitter and sunshine.
Flora the Night Fairy, however, is not a typical fairy. She is feisty, ill-mannered, and bossy. There's a reason for this: she lost her wings after an encounter with a bat. Unable to fly, she is stranded in a garden and forced to fend for herself in a world of predators and danger.
In the book's notes, Schlitz explains her inspiration for writing The Night Fairy: "[Little girls] adore the prettiness of fairies...but they are also nature lovers and lovers of adventure...I couldn't help thinking that these little girls who love fairies deserve something lively."
Fairy-lovers will delight in the details of Flory's miniature world. She takes refuge in a birdhouse, and turns it into a cozy home. She weaves blades of grass into baskets, ties cobwebs into ladders, and knots flower petals into gowns.
She's also tough: a thorn becomes a dagger and a way of protecting herself from danger. "Fairies are magical creatures, but they can be hurt—even killed—when they are young and their magic is not strong," the book tells us. From the bat that accidentally bites off Flory's wings, to the raccoon that eats goldfish and the spider that catches prey in his web, Flory "recalled the thing that no animal and no fairy should ever forget: the world is full of predators." It's all part of nature and the cycle of life, and Flory realizes "every creature in the garden had to eat. That was the law."
We find out that had Flory lived with other fairies, she might have sang and danced, and been taught manners. Instead, her struggle for survival has made her self-centred. Eventually, she develops relationships with the creatures around her and realizes she can't force them to obey her. When she risks her life to save a hummingbird and her babies, she finally learns to consider others.
The Night Fairy is a lovely, timeless book. It combines the wonder of a fairy-tale world with a strong heroine and a good dose of adventure.
Two kids, two cats, and a house full of books. We share our favourite picks for young readers.