T’was the Season of Reading. Everyone got a book or three. My oldest daughter, who’s 16, bought me Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. I bought her two Diana Wynne Jones novels and got my husband Laurie R. King’s new Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes book, The Language of Bees. But the biggest coup was finding not one, but three fantastic youth series for my seven-year-old.
Last year her big brother introduced her to the Ridley Pearson, Dave Barry Starcatcher series. This began with Peter and the Starcatchers and before we were done reading that, we had already decided we must have more Peter. So, we followed that up with Peter and the Shadow Thieves. This year we got her Peter and the Secret of Rundoon and just to show how serious this is, the hardback edition of Peter and the Sword of Mercy.
The Barry-Pearson books (for readers 9-12) undertake to explain what happened before we met Peter in James Matthew Barrie’s novel, The Adventures of Peter Pan. They do so in engaging and humorous fashion (I mean, seriously, how could Dave Barry write something and not have it be side-splittingly funny in places?) Through the first two books, they’ve accounted for why Peter can fly and why he doesn’t age, where Tinkerbell came from (forget the Disney version, kids, this is the real deal), who the Lost Boys are, and how the pirate Black Stache becomes Captain Hook. These are wonderful books, full of discovery for any reader who’s familiar with the ageless boy. James Barrie himself makes an appearance in one of the volumes in which he meets the title character, thus suggesting a story within a story.
Due to her love of all things dragon and a chance purchase at a school book fair, we also met and fell madly in love with the characters in Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers. This meant that Dragon Flight (book two in the series) was on our shopping list this year. My daughter devoured Dragon Slippers, reading ahead of me and then insisting that I reprise the chapters she’d already read at bedtime. (Twice told tales, indeed.)
Dragon Slippers is also responsible for getting her to learn how to use search tools to find books online. She not only discovered the sequel to George’s book (not knowing that her sister had already bought it for her), but she found her way to the author’s website on her own and gleefully scoured every page for information. Her fave find? That the author’s little dog Pippin is featured in the book. She was tickled to find a photo of the real Pippin on George’s web page.
As to the books (which are for readers 9-12)—they deal with dragons, of course. And why, on this fictional world, the relationship between humans and dragons has gone seriously downhill. It is revived by a smart, fearless and engaging young artisan named Creel, whose aunt, in an attempt to marry her niece off to a local prince, sends her to a cave said to be inhabited by a fearsome dragon. The dragon is more curmudgeonly than fearsome, but he kindly allows Creel to choose a pair of slippers from his hoard of shoes (hence the title) and begins her grand adventure. Each dragon in the book hoards something different. Creel’s original dragon friend hoards shoes, another dragon hoards dogs and a third hoards stained glass windows—which inspire Creel’s art. I loved that Creel had a driving passion for her embroidery, and that it played an important role in the story. I also loved Creel herself—as I said, she’s smart and fearless. She’s also stubborn and big-hearted and has no trouble with self-expression.
Our third new treasure was the Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas—also a book fair find for readers 10 and up. The hero of the Magic Thief series is Connwaer, a young street urchin with a mysterious past who picks the pocket of a wizard and becomes his apprentice. The way George writes Conn reminds me subtly of one of my own favorite protagonists, Taco Del (of Taco Del and the Fabled Tree of Destiny) and the author has Conn breezily coining words and phrases that are vivid and evocative of his life and world. The most fascinating part of all this for me is her take on what magic is. It’s a fresh and engaging slant on an ancient subject. My only issue with the stories is that Conn sometimes seems absurdly secretive and fails to trust the people he should or divulge information that he knows is important to them. This serves the plot, but makes characterization an issue. He’s also a little slow on the uptake about some things and my little girl occasionally asks, “Why didn’t he get that, mommy?” So while there’s a little more overt author manipulation than I’m completely happy with, heck, the stories are great and the writing is vivid, clear and lovely. My daughter’s already wondering what the next book will reveal.
My daughter and I are finishing up Magic Thief: Lost right now and will likely soar into Dragon Flight when we’re done. After that it will either be the next Starcatcher book or my son’s most recent gift to his littlest sister: The Lightning Thief, Book One in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. I’ll let you know how that goes…
Browse Maya’s fiction on her Bookshelf page.