Simple Kids’ Books

These are nice children’s books, but I wouldn’t say they’re interesting or complex enough to cross over and satisfy an adult reader. They feature female protagonists and good use of language. But their problems are either melodramatic or mundane, easily solved and not compelling. I’m not their intended reader, but a 10 year old girl might like them.

Esperanza Rising by Katie Munoz Ryan

This book is about a rich girl in Mexico in 1930, who has to move to California and work on a company farm after she loses her father. There is a  subplot about strikes and deportations. As a Spanish teacher, I liked the way that Spanish words and phrases are sprinkled throughout.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd.

This is a happy story about a girl whose migratory family comes back to its hometown, which she discovers is a magical place. Felicity Pickle makes a friend and they do good deeds and eat magic ice cream. Her talent is for words, and she’s always collecting odd ones, including cute made-up ones like “spindiddly.”

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The Runaway Princess and The Runaway Dragon

These two children’s books take a lot of fairy tale tropes and give them a feminist spin. I’d recommend them to any parent of a princess-obsessed girl.

The Runaway Princess by Kate Coombs

This story begins with a typical princess setup: the king and queen lock a princess in a tower and call for princes to compete for her hand in marriage. But this princess isn’t having it: she escapes and works to complete the tasks set by the king so that she can win her own hand. She befriends the witch and the bandits that the princes were told to defeat, and reveals the cheating committed by the princes. She finds a baby dragon, that becomes her pet. It’s a bright and happy story with a satisfying ending.

The Runaway Dragon by Kate Coombs

This sequel begins with the almost grown, somewhat neglected dragon running away, and Meg going off on a quest to find it. Her parents make her take a bunch of royal guards, and the party gets lost in an enchanted forest, where a dwarf who is knowledgeable of fairy tale tropes gives them lots of advice. Meg’s friends end up in a giant’s castle, while she and her magician outwit an evil sorceress. I like how a romantic subplot is a bit of an afterthought, rather than the main point. The focus is on Meg’s desire for adventure, her worry for her pet dragon, and solving the problems that she and her friends get themselves into.

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente

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This children’s fantasy book continues the adventures of September in Fairyland. This time she goes to the moon. Soft and gentle tone, sweetly empathetic narrator, The action is both nonsensical and logical in its own strange way. Valente makes it easy to suspend your disbelief and get swept up in the story and the big existential questions it raises, often explicitly. The musings of Valente’s characters feel wise with the wisdom of both children and adults. This book is concerned with time, fate, and memory. September learns about the yeti’s paw that fairies used to manipulate time into meaninglessness. September is wondering about growing up and what that means, about what her future can hold, (which, to a girl born in the 1930’s, is a question that’s both closed and newly open). In her most bad-ass move yet, September meets her fate and smashes it. Many of the images seem strangely and wonderfully 2D, like the paper circus, and the photographs into which September and her friends enter. I wonder what Pixar or another brilliant animation studio would do with those moments. There’s a cliffhanger ending, which makes it seem as if this adventure in fairyland will carry into the next book, rather than returning September to our world, and for the first time, her earthly absence will have consequences. There are two more books in the series, one focusing on September’s friend Saturday, and the other on her last adventure in Fairyland.

The Hidden Gallery

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Book 2: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood

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In this second book of the series, Miss Penelope Lumley and her charges, the three  children who had been raised by wolves, visit London and have another series of improbable adventures. The plot thickens with regard to the ongoing mystery of the origins of the children and Miss Lumley herself. That mystery is what’s keeping me reading. I like the style and humor and the way the story introduces vocabulary and historical information and cultural concepts in an interesting, seamless way that makes the stuff stick in a young head. The book makes all these obscure facts seem cool and fascinating, like secret knowledge that makes them part of a club, and that’s a great way to motivate kids to learn without making it seem like work. I’ll keep reading, but for my sake I hope the series gets to the bottom of the Incorrigibles’ identities pretty quickly.

Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian

Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer

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In this last book of the Artemis Fowl series, Artemis Fowl’s nemesis, Opal Koboi, escapes from fairy prison with the help of her clone, and begins orchestrating the destruction of humanity. She hopes to resurrect fairy Berserkers buried on the Fowl property. Of course, Artemis and his fairy, dwarf, centaur, and bodyguard friends have to stop her. As always in this series, the book is jam-packed with improbable action scenes and witty banter. Artemis’s twin brothers are major characters this time, adding both to the humor and the stakes for their brother. Artemis himself completes the growth process that began in the first novel, becoming a hero capable of real sacrifice and impressive planning. It’s a good ending to a good series.

The Mysterious Howling

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Book One: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

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This children’s book series is inspired by gothic novels and literature about governesses, books like Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw. It gently mocks that tradition while paying homage to it. The protagonist is Penelope Lumley, graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, in her first governess job at Ashton Place, in charge of three feral children. They’ve truly been raised by wolves. Of course, under her tutelage, they make remarkable progress, but not quite enough to avoid a crisis when the lady of the house wants to throw a big holiday party. The children’s antics and mischief are silly in a way that young readers will appreciate. The children’s origin is a mystery that will drive the entire series.

The best thing about this series might be that it teaches kids new words and concepts in a fun way. Ideas like hyperbole and irony are introduced in a way that’s funny, and words that will stretch the vocabulary of young readers are used in contexts that make their meanings crystal clear. The sense of humor driving the narration is somewhat dark, perhaps only a step to the sunny side of Lemony Snicket. Hopefully, familiarity with the gothic tropes found here will make readers eventually seek out the books that inspired this series.

The Little Prince

The Little Prince by Antione de Saint-Exupery

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This children’s book is about a boy who lived on a small planet all alone. He leaves his home planet, travels to a few others, then visits Earth, where he meets a pilot on a desert island. There are fantastical illustrations. It’s a sweet rendering of a child’s wide-eyed curiosity. At times it was almost too sweet for me, veering into the saccharine and sentimental, especially at the end. It romanticized the point of view of a child, a perspective that views all adult pursuits as strange and nonsensical. Adult characters are criticized for being materialistic, greedy, authoritarian, or not giving the child enough attention. Sometimes these critiques seemed very apt to me, and other times the book seemed naïve to side with the child protagonist’s view of reality.

I think I know many people who love this book and list it as an all-time favorite. I can see how it would appeal to a young reader who feels misunderstood by adults in her life, but understood by the little prince. Such a feeling generates huge affection for a book, and that can stick with a person. If that’s you, and you still read this book the way you did as a child, I don’t blame you one bit.