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A little light fantasy

With historical, contemporary, and folkloric set-ups, this selection of new light fantasies has something for every middle-grade fantasy fan.

cushman_grayling's songGrayling’s Song is a moral tale with a simple lesson: it’s not magic but rather “courage, cleverness, imagination, good judgment, and good sense” that make for a hero who can overcome evil. When her wise-woman mother begins to morph into a tree, Grayling sets out to find her mother’s missing book of spells to combat the evil force responsible for the nasty enchantment. Karen Cushman’s simple narrative line of one mishap after another is enlivened by her customary down-to-earth, comic language and medieval Europe–inspired setting. (Clarion, 8–11 years)

graff_clatter of jarsIn A Clatter of Jars, Lisa Graff returns to the magical world of A Tangle of Knots, where citizens are either Talented (gifts range from asparagus cooking to memory manipulation) or Fair. Children with Singular Talents attend Camp Atropos, “a haven for the most remarkable children in the world” outside Poughkeepsie, New York. Remarkable they are, but perfect they’re not, as campers jockey to show off their Singular abilities. When we least expect it, though, readers are reminded that it’s not the talents we’re given but what we make of them that creates happiness. (Philomel, 8–11 years)

yep_dragon's guide to making your human smarterIn A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter, Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder’s second Dragon’s Guide series entry, Winnie’s dragon-caretaker, Miss Drake, has enrolled Winnie at Spriggs Academy so she can learn magic. But Miss Drake’s “self-proclaimed rival,” sorceress Silana Voisin, has a niece, Nanette, who is attending Spriggs — and Nanette has decided to be Winnie’s self-proclaimed rival. Lighthearted episodes of unusual school lessons and field trips are illustrated by Mary GrandPré’s winsome spot art. (Crown, 8–11 years)

marsh_door by the staircaseIn Katherine Marsh’s The Door by the Staircase (illustrated by Kelly Murphy), twelve-year-old orphan Mary is adopted by Madame Zolotaya. With a new home, a doting caretaker, and plenty to eat, Mary can hardly believe her luck. Then Mary discovers that Madame Zolotaya is really Baba Yaga. Yet instead of fearing the old woman, plucky Mary asks Baba Yaga to teach her magic. Figures from Russian folklore pop up throughout the spirited story. (Disney-Hyperion, 8–11 years)

From the May 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katrina Hedeen About Katrina Hedeen

Katrina Hedeen is managing editor of The Horn Book Guide.

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