Archive for Fantasy

Mark of the Thief

Written by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Riding on the back of a griffin flying over ancient Rome, Nic escapes only to fight again. Without knowing it, the first time Nic saw, Caela, the griffin, deep in the gold mines, it scratched his back leaving the mark of the Divine Star. It gives Nic the powers of Diana, one being his ability to talk to animals. Magic travels through that mark, but even more magic strengthens Nic through the bulla of Julius Caesar that he found and kept for himself.

This is the first in a new series by the New York Times Bestselling author, Jennifer A. Nielsen.  Ancient Rome comes alive through its treatment of slaves in the mines to its treatment of the animals being put to death for entertainment in the arena.

There are factions of senators trying to overtake the emperor and sometimes it all becomes quite entangled, just as it does in real life. The poorest of the poor hide Nic in underground water tunnels to keep him safe from those chasing him. They want his power, his bulla and the precious jewels hidden within it. But at the end of book one, the last laugh belongs to Nic. Except, of course, that it isn’t really the last laugh as even he realizes his battle has just begun.

Fifth grade readers, sixth grade readers and those beyond will strengthen their literacy skills while also finding out what ancient Roman life and government was like. History standards can be met by discovering and discussing this new knowledge.

It is an exciting new series. Many teachers, librarians and parents will be looking forward to the publication of book #2.

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  • Mark of the ThiefTitle: Mark of the Thief
  • Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 339 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-56154-9
  • Genre: Fiction, fantasy, history
  • Grade level: 4 to 7


Fleabrain Loves Franny

Written by Joanne Rocklin

Pittsburgh, 1952. Recovering from polio, Franny Katzenback listens to the sounds of her friends playing outside as she lies in bed and wishes her legs would move. With only books for comfort, she falls in love with the newly published Charlotte’s Web. If only she had a Charlotte in her life, she thinks. Her wish comes true when she receives a mysterious letter written in blood-red ink. The author happens to be a highly intelligent flea named Fleabrain, who lives on her dog’s tail.

The two strike up a correspondence. Fleabrain shares with Franny a love of literature as well as music and languages. Not only can he talk, but his saliva contains superpowers, which allow him to take Franny on all kinds of fantastical adventures based on his extensive reading. He flies her around at night on a magical horseback ride, he miniaturizes her á la Alice in Wonderland, and he zooms her around the globe to tour the Seven Wonders of the World. Their relationship strains, however, when she learns he cannot use his powers to cure her of polio. Issues of social injustice are touched upon when Franny faces discrimination upon her return to school.

Sixth graders will likely find the historical elements of this story interesting as it paints a solid picture of the polio scare during the 1950’s and what it was like to be on the receiving end of that terrible disease. While there certainly is enough advanced vocabulary and thematic elements to enhance one’s comprehension and literacy skills, the overreaching plot and fantastical elements may leave readers scratching their heads just like the poor dog who hosts Fleabrain.

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  • FleabrainTitle: Fleabrain Loves Franny
  • Author: Joanne Rocklin
  • Publisher: Amulet Books / Abrams, 2014
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1068-0
  • Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction



Written by Kate A. Boorman

Part Divergent, part Giver, this story of an alternate reality follows some believable and loveable characters as another harsh winter approaches their community. Emmeline, just short of sixteen, tries to be a model citizen but doesn’t quite make the cut in a society where a series of seemingly minor infractions can land you in caged exile. Emmeline’s grandmother was punished years earlier for supposedly propositioning a married. This leaves the entire family in a precarious position. With some of her duties taking her outside the fortification, Emmeline is drawn to the woods by curiosity and by her vivid dreams. Are there really monsters in the woods that can snatch a person? If not, what is out there? What can harm you and what can help? The surprising answers lie in both the past and the future. No one is sure why the settlement’s leader chooses her as a life mate. Is it to keep her under control? Meanwhile, she is falling in love with someone else. Choosing the path between what is right and what is safe is nearly impossible.

Sixth graders can appreciate all the subtleties in Emmeline’s struggle to help her community, her father, and herself. Reading activities include many discussions of Emmeline’s decisions, as well as those of the other characters. Readers are also invited to speculate about the exact location and time of the story and the identity of the Lost People. The story is fast-paced and riveting.


  • WinterkillTitle: Winterkill
  • Author: Kate A. Boorman
  • Publisher: Amulet/Abrams, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
  • Genre: Dystopian, autocratic rule, survival
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1235-7
  • Release date: September 2014


The Stepsister’s Tale

Written by Tracy Barrett

Sixth graders and above will love this quirky re-take on the familiar story of Cinderella. Looking beyond the unambiguous version where Cinderella was the good little servant and the stepsisters were malevolent, Barrett wonders what might have happened if all the characters were well-developed. Maybe Cinderella was a spoiled brat who told lies to elicit sympathy. Maybe the family was destitute after years of trying to live without the men who had promised to take care of them. (High-born women, in fact, weren’t allowed to do men’s work.) Maybe the prince was also spoiled and not even worthy of further thought.

Young Jane Montjoy is doing her best to keep her family together. Mamma is ineffectual and Maude is much younger than she is. Both Jane and Maude work very hard making butter and cheese and taking care of the house. They share with the people who live in the forest. One day, Mamma goes to market and comes back with a new husband and a new stepsister. The man does not live long. He was in debt and his daughter has no skills. A harsh winter nearly kills them all, until Jane has the good sense to ask the forest people for help. When the prince tries to marry Ella, adventure ensues.

The many details the author uses to explain away Cinderella’s story make this extra delightful and also very funny. It’s the humor which will make many boys enjoy this book. The pumpkin coach and the glass slippers are items Ella’s father spoils her with before his death. Ella doesn’t even think the coach looks like a pumpkin. The beautiful dress was Ella’s mother’s, which hasn’t been touched in years. Ella plays in the ashes in order to be close to where the heat was. Of course, some details remain unexplainable. Fairies?

As I said, the characters are well-developed, making this great for extending literacy skills and comprehension. There is a lot in this book about not taking things at face value and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Wonderful new book worth a look.

  • Stepsisters TaleTitle: The Stepsister’s Tale
  • Author: Tracy Barrett
  • Publisher: Harlequin Teen, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
  • Genre: Retold fairy tale
  • ISBN: 978-0-373-21121-0
  • Extras: Discussion questions to keep the thinking going



Written by Bryan Davis

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In the last, twisting, turning, tense installment of the four-part series, Davis succeeds in keeping each character’s story tense until the end. We jump into this book in the middle of the war on the planet Starlight. Dragons fight humans, slaves are yet to be set free and many people are dying of disease. Starlighter Cassabrie holds a secret that may help, but her plan is risky. Moving to peace means not only finding a resolution with the dragons, but discovering a cure for the disease, and changing the attitudes of both slave holders and slaves. With the epic’s cast numbering in the tens, keeping up with all their perils is a bit of work, but worth it in the end. Jason, Elyssa, Koren, etc. all of them have their own personal troubles. These individual issues allow us to see their war as something that affects these people personally. And we know that the outcome of the war, good or evil, will not just be affecting a wash of humanity, but our “friends.”

As with most books from this publisher, the religious overtones are strong, though no particular religion is mentioned. Instead, as all technology and magic fall away, the war will be won or lost because of the young characters’ abilities to live up to high standards of truth, love, faith, courage and mercy. Sixth grade readers and above will enjoy this book, especially if they have read the earlier installments. However, some of the references to Christianity may be beyond their comprehension.

  • LiberatorTitle: Liberator
  • Author: Bryan Davis
  • Publisher: Zondervan, 2012
  • Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
  • Format: Paperback, 432 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-310-71839-0
  • Genre: FICTION/ religious/Christian/fantasy

The Enchanted Attic: Dueling with the Three Musketeers

Written by L.L. Samson

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A mysterious fire threatens a boarding school.  Heroic young people rescue the gruff and intimidating headmistress.  There is a secret passageway.  All this is in chapter one of an adventure story that combines classic literature with a modern mystery.  Linus and Ophelia are teen-agers who have been left with their elderly aunt and uncle who own a bookstore while their scientist parents are on a tropical island carrying out their research.  It is a miserably hot summer, the stuffy and academic narrator tells us.  Bartholomew Inkster cannot tell this story without injecting bits of literary devices, Linus and Ophelia’s history along with background on the literary works they explore.  Linus has discovered writings from an ancestor who tells how to bring literary characters to life.  In this episode, they bring D’Artagnan and the evil Lady DeWinter to life while trying to solve a real life mystery of who wants to destroy their best friend Walter’s school.  But D’Artagnan and Milady are more of a headache than a solution.  And Bartholomew keeps putting in his two cents.

Written with humor and a respect for the classics, Bartholomew manages to entertain and provide descriptions of literary devices.  The story could be a way to develop a guide for writing.  Because the voice is so strong – think a snarky Lemony Snicket – and the characters are so eccentric, this would make a good class read aloud for sixth graders.  Even better let them read it to a book buddy as a literacy activity.  The students could make several lists, any one of them would be a good reading worksheet: the literary devices, story details from The Three Musketeers, even the instructions on how to make literary characters come to life.  There is a great book trailer for the first book in the series on the author’s website:  With the commercially-made book trailer as a model, students could make their own trailer for this installment.  There is a lot of action, and the story problem is maintained throughout.  Not everything seems logical, and the real life villain escapes.  We never do meet the three Musketeers as promised on the cover.  Still the adventure is a lot of fun.

  • MusketeersTITLE: The Enchanted Attic: Dueling with the Three Musketeers
  • AUTHOR: L. L. Samson
  • PUBLISHER: Zonderkidz, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • FORMAT: Paperback, 166 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-310-72799-6
  • GENRE: Adventure
  • LEXILE: 1130, Reading level 6.2


Written by Monica S. Baker

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Freestyle may appeal to readers on the sixth grade reading level who enjoy historical fiction, especially the topic of slavery. This novel presents the story of thirteen-year-old Mitch, a modern-day kid who is fascinated by obituaries, and his fantastical dreams which occur in the 1800s.

During his nights, Mitch comes face-to-face with the Pirate Patty Cannon, a notorious kidnapper and murderer. The action is sustained as he works to evade her cunning games, escape her henchman and release a tortured slave boy. Meanwhile, Mitch’s days are filled with plenty of challenges, including concerns for his father who is a combat soldier, being shackled to a swim team named “Ladybugs” and a bratty little sister. Mitch discovers that he can solve his problems through historical research and prayer.

The chapters alternate irregularly between the modern world and the historical setting of Mitch’s dreams. In an attempt to ground the reader in the setting, background graphics are included on each chapter header page; some readers may find these repetitive graphics distracting. Because Freestyle includes a significant amount of dialog, it could be used as a read aloud or for development of a reader’s theater.

Although the sentence length and majority of the vocabulary in Freestyle could be read by younger students, parents should be aware that the conclusion includes the word “bastard” and makes reference to a sexual relationship between a slave and her owner. As a result of the violent nature of some scenes and the content, this book would fit best on a sixth grade or higher reading list.

  • FreestyleTitle: Freestyle
  • Author: Monica S. Baker
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, 2010
  • Reviewer: Heather L. Montgomery
  • Format: Paperback: 160 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7643-3538-9
  • Genre: Historical fiction, fantasy
  • Lexile Score: 560

Aldo’s Fantastical Movie Palace

Written by Jonathan Friesen

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Chloe is in her first year of secondary school and hates school with a passion. It’s not so much that she hates school, as that she hates the other kids. Chloe had been in an accident, which left her neck and face scarred, and that made her a target for bullying. The family’s Movie Palace had been a safe place to hide all summer, but now school was starting up again and so would the bullying. Chloe was hoping that because she was now starting secondary school, with new kids from all over the school district who wouldn’t know the dreaded name the kids called her, that this would be a better year. Then she spotted a new kid at school, a blind kid, complete with a seeing-eye dog, and she had real hope that he would replace her as the target. That hope didn’t last long.


Creativity ran in Chloe’s family. There was her inventor father, who Chloe hated, because the accident had been his fault. And grandpa, who painted just about anything he came in contact with, including windows and walls. Then there had been Aldo, Chloe’s great-grandpa, who built the Fantastical Movie Palace. Chloe and her mom struggled to keep the Movie Palace up and running, but it was out in the middle of nowhere, and was costing more to run than it made.

Nick was an angry young man, who took his blindness out on everyone. His safe place was to get lost in a screenplay he was writing. It was about another land, where things were different, and the blind man was the hero.

Chloe’s mom asked Nick and his family over for dinner, and that was where the adventure started. Chloe discovered Nick’s screenplay, and started making changes in it, without asking. When Nick confronted her about it while Chloe was working in the projection room, they somehow ended up going through the projector and the screen, landing in a very strange land; the very same land that was in the screenplay.

This is a coming-of-age book, about how Chloe and Nick struggle to come to grips with what they perceive as their deformities and how they must fight the evil that is taking over. Chloe must decide who the real blind person is, try to spot the lies, and reach beyond herself to save those around her.

There are some difficult subjects covered in this book, including death, so it may not be a good read for the younger crowd, unless they can get involved in a discussion group to work through some of the issues.

I would recommend this book for sixth grade and up as a good way to open up discussions on bullying, self-esteem and death.

View the Book Trailer on youtube:

  • Aldos Movie PalaceTitle: Aldo’s Fantastical Movie Palace
  • Author: Jonathan Friesen
  • Publisher: ZonderKidz, 2012
  • Reviewer: Carole Robishaw
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0310721105
  • ISBN-13: 978-0310721109
  • Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
  • Lexile Score: 810, Grades 5-8

Dreary & Naughty: Friday the 13th of February

Written by John LaFleur
Illustrated by Shawn Dubin

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Monsters and romance make an interesting combination for young people. It is not often one can find a rhyming picture book at the sixth grade reading level. Because it is a rhyming picture book for older children, many higher level words are used which might help to build vocabulary and comprehension skills. Since the book is so short, it is not likely to find its way onto many reading lists, but will be a good way to get reluctant readers engaged.

Dreary & Naughty: Friday the 13th of February is a most unusual book for older children. The two protagonists in the book are sophomores in Whispering Hills High School in a small, monster-filled town. Dreary is a skeleton boy and Naughty a beautiful devil girl. All the boys have a crush on Naughty, but it’s Dreary with whom she spends her time. The last day of school before Valentine’s Day, Friday the 13th of February, finds Dreary with nary a Valentine card while Naughty has received hundreds. They spend the evening with Greta Ghoul watching movies at Naughty’s house. Dreary spends the rest of the night working on a wonderful, handcrafted gift for Naughty. When he presents it to her on Valentine’s Day, Naughty realizes Dreary is the one for her. She has nothing for him, but it’s not too late.

The story is a sweet one for a book full of monsters, and young people will enjoy the story. The rhyming is often forced, there are several near rhymes, and the meter is uneven at best, but the artwork, the characters, and the story will find fans for this book and the others in the series. Reluctant readers will be enticed by this little book.

Shawn Dubin has a web site focusing on his art at and a blog at which students should find interesting.

There are two other picture books by the same authors in this series: Dreary and Naughty: The ABCs of Being Dead and The Misadventures of Dreary and Naughty.

  • Friday the 13thTitle: Dreary & Naughty: Friday the 13th of February
  • Author: John LaFleur
  • Illustrator: Shawn Dubin
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, 2013
  • Reviewer: Rosi Hollinbeck
  • Paperback: 64 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0764344954
  • Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Poetry, Graphic book
  • Grade Level: Six and up

Ravens of Solemano

Written by Eden Unger Bowditch
Illustrated by Mary Grace Corpus

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The brilliant children of the Young Inventors Guild are in danger again.  In the second installment of the Young Inventors Guild series, their relief at escaping from the evil Komar Romak and the joy of being reunited with their parents is short-lived.  The group travels in luxury aboard a train that is suddenly blown up.  They are not on the train but their parents appear to be.  In a haze of grief and pain, their teacher, Miss Brett, and the five children are swept away by the mysterious men in black, those men who barely speak English but manage to keep them one step ahead of death.  Jasper and his sister Lucy Modest are from England; Wallace Banneker is from New York, Noah Canto-Sagas is from Toronto and Faye Vigyanveta is from New Delhi.  They continue to build their relationship, learning one another’s strengths and weaknesses, and become a team in order to survive and do the work that each is drawn to do.  After a harrowing sea voyage and near discovery, they are taken to a lovely manor house in a small village in Italy.  There they are safe to work and explore the grounds.  They especially like the village baker, a warm, affectionate woman who bakes them all sorts of treats.  The house is a haven but they also discover that it is a vast library of all the brilliant inventors before them.  When Komar Romak attacks them once again, they barely escape and can only hope that the manuscripts in the subterranean library are still intact.  Because the children work together, their escape is especially satisfying.

There are new situations for the children to explore as they travel, when they are not in danger, that is.  Each part of the adventure is filled with amazing inventions and tantalizing mysteries that hint at the centuries-old Guild at the heart of the story.  Reading the first installment is recommended.  The girl characters are the most believable: Faye pushes everyone away so she deals with trust issues, and Lucy has a perfect memory but remains a babyish little girl.  The boy characters tend to be defined by their role in the group: Jasper takes care of Lucy, Noah is a clown and Wallace is painfully shy.  Much of the story is told through Miss Brett’s point of view although there is not a clear main character.  One literacy activity could be to write a description of each character and list their inventions as a way to predict how they will defeat Komar Romak.  The illustrations at the beginning of each chapter are enticing and other illustrations help explain how the inventions work.  The author’s website has a certificate for the Young Inventors Guild: (, which could be a prize for reading games.  There is an interesting YouTube video about the author being in Egypt during the revolution while trying to finish the first installment of the series, The Atomic Weight of Secrets: (  Each volume is very long.  Strong readers will take to this series.

  • Ravens of SolemanTITLE: The Ravens of Solemano: or The Order of the Mysterious Men in Black
  • AUTHOR: Eden Unger Bowditch
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Mary Grace Corpus
  • PUBLISHER: Bancroft, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • FORMAT: Hardcover, 465 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-61088-104-3
  • GENRE: Fantasy
  • Grade level: Sixth