Remember, it’s only a game . . .
To say I enjoy fantasy books is an understatement. I love them. But there has been so much wonderful literary fiction and historical fiction out lately that I haven’t read as much as I would like. When I saw that Caraval by Stephanie Garber was finally available on audio from Overdrive, I immediately checked it out. I’ve seen it all over bookstagram and was so ready to disappear into a creative, fantastical world. (If you love fantasy too, check out THIS blog post from Alisa at Worlds Within Pages-she’s reading ONLY fantasy in February!) Caraval falls on the side of very light YA fantasy, but I really enjoyed it, and I’m glad I listened to it.
Scarlett and Donatella Dragna have been stuck on an island their whole lives, living in isolation with their cruel, controlling father. All Scarlett has ever wanted is to escape her life and see the mysterious Caraval, a once-a year show that takes place in a new, secret location every year. Unless you have been to Caraval, you don’t really know what happens there, but she knows it has to be wonderful. This year, Scarlett receives a personal invitation to attend from the Caraval director himself, Legend. When she gets there, Scarlett realizes that Tella has been kidnapped and that Caraval is a game-this year the game is to find Tella. The winner gets a wish . . . and maybe Tella. Scarlett has to find her sister before the game ends, and before her father figures out what she’s done.
Do you remember those murder mystery dinner party games in the 80s and 90s? Where everyone at the party gets a character, and no one knows who did what, and everyone has to figure it out together? (I’m pretty sure there was even a Golden Girls episode about it.) That’s what Caraval reminds me of, in the most fun way. A mystery that guests are thrust right into. With a slightly higher creep factor, of course, since they’re actually trapped in an entirely different place. This book is truly pure fun, and I had a great time disappearing into this book on audio every chance I got. Some of the writing is a bit over the top, but I was there for the plot so I didn’t really mind.
If you want a quick, fun fantasy book, give Caraval a try. I think listening to it as an audiobook is perfect-the narrator narrated a portion of one of my favorite books of 2017, Echo, and she did a wonderful job here. She’s a great narrator and really gives each character their own personality, and I really hope she narrates the sequel, Legendary, which comes out in May!
Since we have been reading longer books together lately, my kids are still working on The Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this week. Instead of posting what my kids checked out at the school library, I thought I would write a quick post about a genre that’s really been working for us the past year, and why I think it works particularly well for a lot of kids.
A few people I’ve talked to about books automatically say, “Oh, I don’t read fantasy. I just can’t get into it.” But when I mention books like Harry Potter, they make an exception. Fantasy definitely includes books that are heavy with dragons, fairies, different realms, and a good dose of magic, and I can understand why people might not care for that specific category of fantasy. But when comes to a more realistic approach to fantasy, I think there are a few books that appeal to a pretty large group of people, and can help children understand and work through some big issues. These books feature regular humans who have special qualities, or animals who function as humans. They use regular characters and put them in extraordinary situations that just happen to include magic, but they are more easily relatable than characters in more hardcore fantasy novels.
As an adult, I enjoy reading books that are based in real life and deal with real issues. I like to see how different types of people react in tough situations. I love reading fantasy, but it’s more of a fun escape for me. For kids, however, while they may also like reading books about “real” people (The Baby-Sitter’s Club will always have my heart.), fantasy is a way to read about tough subjects while still keeping themselves a bit emotionally separated.
I’ll use Harry Potter as an example, since we’re all probably familiar with that story. The series covers some BIG topics, including the loss of parents, bullying, feeling weird or not like everyone else, being good (or not so good) in school, and the fact that there are evil people out there who seem to have no reason for it, and who don’t learn a lesson and reform themselves. Readers, those are major topics that could upset the toughest of adults. But in a fantasy setting, kids can identify with those characters, and see how they handle those difficult situations, but there is a bit of protection in place. Magic, other-worldly creatures, and invisibility cloaks all provide a bit of separation, and that allows kids to process those big ideas without becoming emotionally overwhelmed.
My 8-year-old and I have talked about how it isn’t magic that protects Harry from Voldemort, but his mother’s love, and how his mom is always providing whatever protection she can, even though she’s not there. That is a big, impactful subject, not necessarily easy to understand. But in the world of Harry Potter, it becomes a more manageable topic. My son couldn’t really be in Harry’s situation, because we aren’t wizards, but now he understands how a parent tries to protect a child, no matter what.
My 6-year-old has been loving The Wizard of Oz more than I thought, and he has made several insightful comments about Dorothy wanting to go home and why the scarecrow, tin woodman, and lion might want what they want from the wizard. It also illustrates the idea of good versus evil, and how terrible accidents can happen, even when you didn’t mean for them to. (Dorothy really didn’t mean to kill either witch!)
If you think your kids won’t like reading fantasy, or you’ve always viewed it as a fluffy genre, give some of these books a try! Especially if you have a highly sensitive, or more sensitive, child, it might be a nice way to read a fun book and have some great conversations at the same time. These books all feature characters who must overcome some kind of adversity and deal with big, important issues in a fantastical way that is way easier for kids to understand than a more straightforward book might be.
The Harry Potter series
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Matilda (I classify this as partial fantasy, because there is some magic involved, and the setting is certainly not in the real world.)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
James and the Giant Peach
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
The Land of Stories series
The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread
Thank you to Texas Reader Girl for loaning me her Advance Reading Copy of Girls Made of Snow and Glass!
Heartless. But that’s what I am, she thought. That’s what I’ll always be.
Let me start off by saying that I am an unabashed fan of fairy tales. I watched The Little Mermaid so many times as a kid that I wore out the VHS tape (Oh, yes. I had it on VHS. Twice.) and we had to wait until it came out of that precious Disney vault to replace it. I love fluffy fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm. All are fair game, including re-tellings. I really enjoy fantasy fairy tale re-tellings. (Is that a thing? Let’s make it a thing.) Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust is a re-telling of Snow White, and this is a perfect fit for that long-winded genre.
Mina, whose glass heart has never beat and who is convinced she is unable to love anyone, moves from the southern kingdom to Whitespring Castle in the north with her magician father at the age of sixteen. She hatches a plan to make the king fall in love with and marry her so that she can experience true love for the first time. Lynet, the king’s daughter, is the spitting image of her dead mother, and for good reason: the magician created her out of snow for the king after his wife died. Mina, the only mother Lynet has ever known, has been a strong, loving role model all of Lynet’s life. When the king makes the decision to pass the crown of the southern kingdom to Lynet, instead of to Mina as promised, Mina’s feelings about her step-daughter begin to change, and Lynet must decide what is more important: wearing the crown or keeping her relationship with Mina.
I loved this book! It was an excellent re-telling of Snow White, as well as a good story that was easy and fun to disappear into for awhile. Parts of it were a bit clunky and a little too simply written, but it was the perfect tone for a YA novel. The plot was well-developed, but so were the characters. I kept trying to guess what Mina and Lynet would do next because I felt like I knew them so well. The descriptions of the two kingdoms (Whitespring in the north and the southern kingdom) were beautiful, and I wish I could visit them both. I absolutely loved how Bashardoust took details from the original story (like the magic mirror) and twisted them to create a whole new perspective. The inner struggles of both women were well thought out, and it all leads up to a thrilling ending. If you enjoy fantasy, fairy tales, or stories about female relationships, this is THE book for you!
Girls Made of Snow and Glass will be published on September 5, 2017!
My one caveat is that this book is being marketed as a feminist fairy tale, and I didn’t find the story to be very feminist. The female characters were definitely strong, and represented roles not usually portrayed in fairy tales, including the palace surgeon being a woman. But all of the women were still reliant upon men to be successful. This didn’t alter my enjoyment of the story at all, I’m just not sure it should be marketed as full-on feminist.