My Diary from the Edge of the World

This is a very original story that combines fantasy and reality in a book about family, life, and death.

Chapter book, fiction, fantasy
Interest level: grades 4 through 7
YHBA 2017-2018 intermediate nominee
5 out of 5 stars

The strengths of this book lie in a very unique setting and a cast of characters who show a family in all of its good times and weaknesses.

The setting is a version of Earth with a twist. The world that the Lockwood family lives on has many of the features we know — towns, forests, Taco Bells, Maine, the Grand Canyon — but it’s a flat earth. And it is inhabited by every mythical, fantastical, or supernatural being you can think of. Dragons, sasquatch, mermaids, ghosts, giants, fairies, unicorns, and Medusa inhabit the US.

The story starts to unfold as we learn that Dark Clouds visit people and take them away when it is time for them to die. A Dark Cloud has come and is sitting outside the Lockwood home.

Gracie is the main character and narrator of the story. The story is told somewhat in diary form, but Gracie tells us near the beginning that she is going to try to make it sound more like a novel. so while each chapter begins with a new date, the text doesn’t read like stereotypical “Dear Diary” entries.

Gracie’s family consists of her older sister, younger brother, mother, and quirky father. The father is a meteorologist who loves science and physics, and often lives in his own brain. When the Dark Cloud shows up, the family knows that it has come for Sam, Gracie’s younger brother. Mr. Lockwood believes they can save Sam from the Dark Cloud by traveling to the edges of the world and then jumping off to the Extraordinary World, which we come to learn is the Earth we live in, without mythical creatures and Dark Clouds.

As the family undertakes this journey, they must learn a lot about themselves as individuals, but also who they are as a team. Is Mr. Lockwood crazy and grasping straw in his belief of an Extraordinary World? Will they be able to save Sam?

This is a longer novel, 419 pages, but it is full of suspense, action, and humor. Readers who enjoy fantasy might enjoy this book, but it is also about life, love and family, so reality fiction fans will enjoy it too.

A 4th grade student bought this book at the book fair, and then returned a few days later to buy an additional copy. She had enjoyed the book so much, consumed it in two days, and wanted an additional copy to share with her friends. I highly recommend My Diary from the Edge of the World.

My Diary from the Edge of the World
by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Scholastic, 2015
ISBN 978-1-338-04508-6

Little Fox in the Forest

A wordless story that is a fantastical adventure and teaches a lesson about empathy.

Wordless picture book, fantasy
Interest level: PreK through grade 2
5 out of 5 stars

For show and tell at school, a young girl takes her beloved stuffed fox. A series of photographs show the reader that she has had this stuffed animal since she was a baby, and has taken it many places. While she plays on the swings, a real fox sneaks out of the nearby forest and steals away the girl’s toy. A pursuit through the forest ensues.
The colors in the illustrations are a key piece in the telling of the story. The scenes that take place in the girl’s home and school are all a bluish-gray shade. The stuffed animal fox is the same bluish-gray. The fox that appears on the playground is the only splash of a different color on the page. The fox is copper, with a yellow shirt. Then, as the girl enters the forest, a greenish-gray hue takes over, broken only by the bright colors of small animals wearing clothes. A reddish bird with a green striped shirt is seen in many of the pages.

As the girl searches for the fox, she begins to encounter more little animals wearing clothes. They are all very friendly and try to give her directions to help in her search. Going through a doorway in a hedge, she suddenly enters a brightly colored village of small animals wearing clothes. They live in rustic homes and have smal shops.

The girl finally locates the young fox, who is heartbroken as he returns the stolen stuffed animal. In an unselfish gesture, the girl gives her stuffed animal to the fox. The fox realizes this is a special gift, and in return gives the girl a stuffed unicorn that sat on the shelf near his bed. The final scene shows the two characters, each going to bed with their new gifts.
The fantastical world that Graegin has created works very well in the format of a wordless book. There is so much for children to see on each page, and the different colors for different parts of the world, really help tell the story.

Children have often had a special toy from their childhood that would be difficult to part with. They will be able to identify with the girl who wants her beloved animal back, but they will also have a good lesson in kindness to ponder as she gives the animal to the young fox. The idea that a new friendship may be more important than the toy is a wonderful seed of empathy that Graegin plants.

All in all, this is a delightful adventure that children of all ages will enjoy.

Little Fox in the Forest
by Stephanie Graegin
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2017

The Widow’s Broom

This picture book for grades 2-5 would make a wonderful Halloween read-aloud.

Picture book, fiction
Interest level: grades 2 through 5; Reading level: 5.3
4 out of 5 stars

Witches’ brooms don’t last forever. They grow old, and even the best of them, one day, lose the power of flight.

This opening sentence sets up a story that is both suspenseful and unpredictable.

As readers can predict, the witch in the story is riding her broom when it loses power and she falls to ground. She lands in a vegetable garden where she is found the next day, bruised and battered, by the widow who lives there, Minna Shaw. Minna Shaw is a kind woman and takes the witch into her home to recover.

The witch recovers, but she leaves behind the powerless broom. Minna Shaw “began using it around the house and found that it was no better or worse than brooms she’d used before.” Until one morning, when Minna Shaw heard a noise and discovers the broom sweeping the floor all by itself.Untitled
Chris Van Allsburg’s illustrations are, as usual, absolutely stunning in their detail. The sepia-tone colors and style fit the eerie tone of the story perfectly. I have to admit that as the broom was sweeping and doing chores, I couldn’t help but think about the The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Disney.

The end of the story contains an interesting twist that will surprise most readers.

The Widow’s Broom
by Chris Van Allsburg
Houghton Mifflin, 1992
ISBN 0-395-64051-2

Book review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon; 5 out of 5 stars #bookaday

The Girl Who Drank the Moon book coverby Kelly Barnhill
Middle grade chapter book
Interest level: grades 5-8
5 out of 5 stars

This book is set to be released on Aug. 15, 2016.

This is an extremely well-written middle grade novel that has fairy tale qualities, and also tackles magic, love, and the creation of the world by a bog/beast/poet. Kelly Barnhill has created well-developed characters and a fully realized setting in a fairy tale type world. While a longer read at a little under 400 pages, the plot is well-paced and keeps the reader engaged and moving through the story.

The main character is Luna, a young girl about to turn 13. Luna’s birth parents live in a cursed village that is shrouded in gloom. Each year the village elders take the youngest child in the village and leave it in the forest for a witch. The village believes that the sacrifice will keep the witch from attacking the city. The witch does come to get Luna in the forest, but as she has done every year, the witch rescues the orphaned child.

Thus begins the story where the reader learns that all is not as it seems in the village, and the witch is actually a healer with magical abilities. As Luna gets older, the reader watches as the two worlds — the village and the witch’s — start to intersect, and the truth begins to be revealed.

The story is suspenseful and complex, so I would recommend this book to more mature readers in grades 4 and up.