A Series of Magical Events

As a school librarian, for years I have encouraged young chapter book fantasy readers to jump into a series by E.D. Baker. Released originally in 2002, the first book, The Frog Princess, kept me (an admittedly reluctant fantasy reader) entertained from first page to last. That book was followed up with many more, including Dragon’s Breath, Once Upon a Curse and many more, right up to the 2017 release, Return of the Frog Princess.

Today, I’m highlighting the prequel to The Frog Princess, The Salamander Spell. Grassina is the red-headed younger sister who lacks all the graces of Chartreuse, her lovely, blond, perfect older sister. What’s more,  the oldest daughter inherit the magical abilities in the family. Grassina watches her sister for signs of  blossoming magic, but seeing none, hopes it will skip her sister and be bestowed upon her. The interest of her mother, Queen Oliviene, lies with Chartreuse and Grassina finds herself left out.

However, events cause changes when the queen is inadvertently cursed, turned into a hag and the kingdom placed in danger, Grassina finds herself on a mission to save her land.  Readers who have read other books in the series will find lots of characters better understood after connecting the dots provided in this prequel.

These fantasy tales are  full of magic, potions, spells, quests, and, to be honest,some romance. The engrossing fantasy world that Baker creates, combined with witty characters and humor, will inspire readers to collect each and every gem in the series.

Written by E.D. Baker

Copyright 2002-2018

Accelerated Reader Levels: range approximately 4.8-5.3

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Magic, Dragons and One Mean Witch!

 

Jax is a nine-year old boy living in Brooklyn with his mother. He is a compliant kid. But when his mother drops him off at Ma’s place for the day while she goes to court to deal with their possible eviction, he is in for an adventure that will require him to assert himself, take unprecedented risks and show cunning and bravery.  Ma, who is not a relative but did raise his mama, is about as friendly as an angry rattlesnake  Initially, Jax is afraid of Ma, which gives way to anger, then couriosity. She reluctantly allows him to stay for the day, but hisses orders at him, trys to keep him away from her things and berates him for his potential eviction.  A box sitting on a table is covered in postage from Madagascar and Jax observes it moving.  Ma guards it carefully, but Jax spies her transferring its contents to a small mints container. Eventually, through sleuthing and disobeying Ma, Jax finds that, shockingly, there are lizard-like creatures in the tin, three of them. Ma reacts strongly to his snooping and Jax decides to bail, running out of Ma’s apartment only to have her follow him.

Their discussion becomes a turning point in their relationship. Ma takes some responsibility for her gruffness and confesses that she is a witch. Jax insists that she be more respectful and gains some insight into her actions. From here, the fantasy element of the story takes off. Ma lets Jax know that she has been assigned transport of the lizards, which are really dragons, to their magical destination. Jax, who now knows that his mother was offered the chance to be Ma’s applrentice when she was young but chose not to enter the magical life, decides to embrace the adventure. With the help of magical characters and a couple of friends, Jax enters the magical world of witchcraft to discover if it’s his destiny to be part of the magical realm.

Jax’s relationship with Ma evolves from rocky to loving through their adventures: transporting to a magical world, losing Ma, losing one of the dragons, finding them both and, in the process, finding his passion.

This is a great book for new fantasy readers as they wade into the genre, and would be a fun  general fantasy story for third and fourth grade chapter book readers and reluctant readers in higher grades.

What I liked about this book:

Ma is the quintessential “hard on the outside, soft on the inside” character. It’s entertaining to witness the way in which Zetta Elliott artfully engineers Ma’s transformation through her relationship with Jax, a mere mortal and a young one, at that.

Variety makes this book spicy through these ingredients:  a variety of cultures, characters that span a wide range of ages and even one character that is invisible!

Written by Zetta Elliott

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level: No test yet written, Reading level approx. 5.0

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A Fantasy Book with Chocolate…Yum!

A dragon who turns into a girl and becomes an apprentice to a chocolatier? Well, if that’s not the makings of a delicious fantasy story, I don’t know what is! Aventurine is a young dragon with a restless spirit and an over-protective family. They keep her close and away from danger. Aventurine has other plans. She leaves her family to show them she can care for herself. Unfortunately, her first encounter with a human ends badly. She accepts a sip of enticing-smelling cocoa and POOF! She is transformed into a human girl. Aventurine makes her way to the village where she encounters a motley crew of characters, including an intensely disgruntled chocolatier, with whom Aventurine apprentices and finds a passion for chocolate. Not only is being human foreign to Aventurine, but dealing with them is as well! She learns imperative lessons along the way, evolving into a truly strong and independent person. The dragon attack on the village is so full of suspense and action that readers may feel compelled to duck and hide!

By Stephanie Burgis

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level 5.8

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No Ordinary Story!

There are authors whose writing is ordinary and those whose ability to tell a story is simply extraordinary. I am happy to say that Natalie Lloyd’s offering, The Key to Extraordinary, is an example of the latter. From the first page to the last, readers will love the community and scenery Lloyd has created for her multilayered, entertaining protagonist, Emma. She lives with her Granny Blue, a gruff-on-the-outside character with ties to country music and boxing, and her kind and talented baking brother, Topher. Their home, with living space on top, has their bakery, the Boneyard Cafe, on the bottom, named fittingly.  Behind it is the town cemetery, where the backs of necks are often lightly touched and etherial songs can be heard.

Emma is a girl struggling with her “big empty”, a hole inside her left by the death of her mother. Before her passing, mama tells Emma that she will soon have her Destiny Dream. As with each previous girl in the family, the dream will reveal the dreamer’s special talent. Mama also gives her a well-worn book, a diary of sorts, with entries from each female relative. Reading the tellings of suffragettes to folktale singers, Emma is amazed and inspired by their extraordinary abilities and contributions. When her own dream happens, Emma, together with her old friend Cody Belle and her new non-verbal friend, Earl,  begins a quest that she believes will fulfill her destiny: to save the Boneyard Cafe and cemetery from a greedy developer by finding a long-missing treasure. It is Emma’s chance to be extraordinary. The tale is complex yet easily followed, with colorful characters full of strong voice, settings that come vibrantly to life and a story line packed with twists and turns. Part adventure, part mystery with a smattering of magic and tie-ins to History, this unique and satisfying tale will entice readers to become part of Emma’s extraordinary world and, maybe, develop a whole new appreciation for both flowers and hot cocoa!

By Natalie Lloyd

Copyright 2016

Accelerated Reader, Level 4.7

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October is Meant for Magic (chapter books, that is!)

As soon as the first few leaves spiral down from the trees, pumpkins appear on porches and costumes arrive in stores,  I start to get a hankering for chapter books in the fantasy realm. The one I recently scouted, Upside Down Magic, combines the struggles of a girl, Nory, with starting school and fitting in. So what’s magical? Pretty much everything. Nory’s father can make things invisible, her sister can direct the actions of animals and her brother can conjure fire. Nory has powers, too. Problem is, as a Fluxer, she should be able to transform herself into an animal at will. Sadly, those abilities seem to short circuit more often than not and Nory ends up changing into two animals at once. This off-kilter magic lands Nory in the Dunwiddle Magic School, specifically, the Upside-down Magic Class. Nory, finding the class full of kids with oddball powers, only wants her magic and her life to be normal. Attempts to manage her situation result in engrossing adventures and Nory learning life lessons about herself and others.

The story, a collaboration of three expert authors, is wonderfully penned. The characters of varying cultures and the challenges of Nory and her classmates are artfully woven to make a story with wide appeal. Readers in grades 3-5 who love fantasy as well as those who fancy stories with strong-willed main characters will want to dive into this book like a dog into a pile of leaves. This book is the first in a series.

Written by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins

Accelerated Reader Level ranges from 3.7-4.2

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Chapter Book Medicine with a Side Effect of Laughter!

Once again, it is Flashback Friday! Today’s scouted book suggestion is Roald Dahl’s underrated tale, George’s Marvelous Medicine. Originally written in 1981, it is a short, intense chapter book with a wacky story line that will enthrall readers. When Mr. and Mrs. Kranky, George’s parents, leave George to care for his grandmother, she treats him with rudeness, bullies him and is demanding. Since George must prepare and deliver daily medicine to grandma, he hatches a plan. Using everything and anything he can find around the farm, George creates his own medicine, one he’s sure will cure grandma’s gruff and grouchy ways.  Readers will revel, groan and giggle at the ingredients that George uses to concoct his medicine. Grandma slurps up George’s mixture and the hilarity begins. She transforms, twists and grows in response to the medicine. George then serves up the medicine to the farm animals and the outcome is giant chickens and sheep. When the Krankys return home, they are more impressed with the over sized animals than with grandma’s alteration, which frustrates and annoys her. Dad, seeing an opportunity, wants George to make more of his marvelous medicine. George can’t recall all the ingredients or amounts he used and George’s medicine 2.0 has a much different, yet funny, effect. There is nothing socially correct about this story, including the ending and the resolution of George’s “grandma problem”. Still, as long as we adults emphasize that it is a work of pure FICTION, it will tap into the limitless imaginations of most 3rd -6th grade chapter book readers and they will find it a side-splitting riot!

Written by Roald Dahl, Illustrated by Quentin Blake

Accelerated Reader Level 4.0

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book

Audio CD or Kindle

A poignant tale of the perils of plants and people

Katherine Applegate is an amazing writer, having produced picture books, intermediate-level books and young adult books. Her characters have included a gorilla, an imaginary cat and now…..a tree! Who knew that a tree, an oak named Red, who can neither talk to humans nor physically move, could be the main character of a book for 4th-6th grade readers? Yet, indeed, this old oak tells a powerful story about problems, both human and plant, and how kindness is the answer to them both. Red’s spent 200 plus years rooted near the elementary school, watching over the neighborhood and it’s residents while graciously providing a home for the area’s small animals. Red’s closest friend, Bongo, a bird, nests in his branches and adds a sometimes snarky perspective in contrast to Red’s philosophical ways. Each May, residents write a wish on a piece of cloth and tie it to Red’s branches. Over time, Red becomes known as the Wishtree. Red has seen human’s wishes come true, but has also witnessed the cruel treatment of newcomers to America who’ve settled in the neighborhood. These acts of prejudice started decades earlier when an Irish immigrant girl was the target of the spiteful behavior of others. Unfortunately, they continued to the present with the word “leave”  carved in Red’s bark as a threatening message to Samar, a Muslim immigrant girl. The story intensifies as Red and Bongo concoct a plan to help Samar. Additionally, the friends must deal with the reality that Red’s roots, which have enabled growth and strength, are now interfering with the plumbing on a neighborhood woman’s property. As a result, she intends to cut Red down. The resolution of plant and human problems is satisfying and, by books’ end, having the tale told by a tree makes uniquely perfect sense.

Wishtree is written in short chapters and is Accelerated Reader level 4.2

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