Children, Fantasy, Fiction, Reviews, Young Adult

Here There Be Dragons

Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owen

An unusual murder brings together three strangers, John, Jack, and Charles, on a rainy night in London during the first World War. An eccentric little man called Bert tells them that they are now the caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica — an atlas of all the lands that have ever existed in myth and legend, fable and fairy tale. These lands, Bert claims, can be traveled to in his ship the Indigo Dragon, one of only seven vessels that is able to cross the Frontier between worlds into the Archipelago of Dreams.

Pursued by strange and terrifying creatures, the companions flee London aboard the Dragonship. Traveling to the very realm of the imagination itself, they must learn to overcome their fears and trust in one another if they are to defeat the dark forces that threaten the destiny of two worlds.

I met the author of this book (and the subsequent other titles in the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series) a few years ago at Superstars Writing Seminars in Colorado Springs. I’ve heard the story of this book’s publication a few times and it never fails to both impress and move me to tears. But only recently did I get around to reading the first book in the series.

It proved to be another perfect quarantine pick. Imaginative, fun, charming – the perfect antidote to long days of worry about the world, cabin fever, and growing wanderlust.

To me, Here, There Be Dragons is a wonderful nod to classic children’s fantasy by Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carrol, L. Frank Baum, and many others. I admit to not being super well-versed in all of the classic children’s fantasy titles – I’ve never read A Wrinkle in Time or A Wizard of Earthsea. But I’ve read enough to say that if you enjoyed the above authors and their stories, you will love this book. Even as an adult coming to this series for the first time, I found much to love here and knew I would have been obsessed with this series as a kid.

Growing up, we had a small, highly-stylized globe that bore the inscription “here, there be dragons.” I love that this series used this classic cartographic feature as a jumping off point – that “here, there be dragons” literally means, dragons, and also that sailing into uncharted waters brings you a world of myth and magic and fantasy – and also dragons.  I don’t want to reveal a few of the twists that occur in the story, but I will say they were all absolutely delightful and everything I could have hoped for and more.

Finally, it should be noted that the author is a supremely talented illustrator and both the cover and the artwork inside the book (there’s an illustration that heads each chapter) are the work of the author.

I am looking forward to acquiring the next volumes in the series and continuing on with the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica!

Children, Fiction, Middle Grade, Uncategorized


Frazzled by Booki Vivat

Meet Abbie Wu! She’s about to start middle school and she’s totally in crisis.

Abbie Wu is in crisis—and not just because she’s stuck in a family that doesn’t quite get her or because the lunch ladies at school are totally corrupt or because everyone seems to have a “Thing” except her. Abbie Wu is in crisis always.

Heavily illustrated and embarrassingly honest, Frazzled dives right into the mind of this hilariously neurotic middle school girl as she tries to figure out who she is, where she belongs, and how to survive the everyday disasters of growing up. With Abbie’s flair for the dramatic and natural tendency to freak out, middle school has never seemed so nerve-racking!

Packed with hilarious black-and-white illustrations and doodles throughout, Frazzled takes readers through Abbie Wu’s hysterical middle school adventures.


My sophomore year of college, I took a non-fiction writing workshop and Booki was a tutor for the class (basically a small group leader). When I saw that she had accomplished every creative writing student’s dream of publishing a book, I had to get it!

I haven’t read a middle-grade novel in a long time, so I don’t really have a frame of reference for Frazzled. But I thought the book was great! It took me back to being in middle school. I hope I wasn’t as neurotic as Abbie is…but I probably was! It was middle school after all.

The story was cute, Abbie’s issues real and convincing, and the illustrations were so, so good. But I think my favorite thing about this book had little to do with what actually happened in the book, but what the book was.

Abbie is not only a female protagonist, but she’s an Asian-American protagonist. Abbie also has a non-traditional family structure. Abbie’s Dad is never mentioned in the book. Whether that issue will be touched upon in a later book remains to be seen, but Abbie is being raised by her strong and tough Mom in the meantime. I love that Abbie is a character that kids can really relate to, whether because she’s a girl, she’s Asian-American, or she has a family that’s different from what a family is traditionally conceived to be.

I can’t find a reference to it online, but I believe I read that Frazzled is part of a 3-book deal. Regardless, I’m looking forward to reading more of Abbie Wu’s adventures!

Children, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Reviews, Uncategorized


Wildwood by Colin Meloy

Prue McKeel’s life is ordinary. At least until her brother is abducted by a murder of crows and taken to the Impassable Wilderness, a dense, tangled forest on the edge of Portland. No one’s ever gone in—or at least returned to tell of it.

So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval—a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much greater, as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.

The first book in the epic middle-grade fantasy series full of magic, wonder, and danger—nothing less than an American Narnia—from Colin Meloy, lead singer of the highly celebrated band the Decemberists, and Carson Ellis, the acclaimed illustrator of the New York Times bestselling The Mysterious Benedict Society.


I usually read a lot of reviews for books from a new author before actually buying the book, so I normally have a pretty good idea what the book is about and whether I will like it or not. This book was given to me and that I didn’t really know all that much about what kind of experience I could expect from it.

Wildwood is populated by an interesting cast of characters and overall, I quite enjoyed this book. It’s set in Oregan and feels very Oregonian, from the descriptions of the forest to the illustration of the people, who all looked like bearded, beer-drinking Portland hipsters. Honest. Just flip to a picture of the bandits.

At first, I thought this book was intended to be read to children. And then I decided that the book was a little too dark for that. I don’t read much middle grade so I’m not sure if this is a good entry for that particular genre or not. I was expecting to find the story a bit predictable, but it really wasn’t.

Wildwood is the first in a planned trilogy with Under Wildwood being the second book in the series and Wildwood Imperium is the third.


Children, Fiction, Reviews, Uncategorized

The Secret Garden

By Frances Hodgson Burnett


When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle’s great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors.

The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary’s only escape. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. One day, with the help of two unexpected companions, she discovers a way in. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life?

Though I’ve seen the cartoon version of this book, I haven’t read The Secret Garden until this year. Which is quite the tragedy because I really enjoyed this book!

Perhaps it’s a good thing I didn’t read it until now. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed or appreciated it as much if I’d read it as a child or at a younger age.

I loved the description of Mary as being this cross, horrible little child at the beginning who ends up in this dreary place. But as explores her new homes, discovers the secret garden, and makes new friends, Mary blossoms as well as any flower.

The thing I probably liked most about this book is something I wouldn’t have really appreciated when I was younger.

Slight Spoilers (but I think everyone already knows this book):


Mary and Dickon help Colin heal by encouraging him to think positive. And in the book, by thinking positively, Colin heals himself and is able to walk again.



I think you’ll agree that the following is a pretty deep thought for a children’s book:

“One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts—just mere thoughts—are as powerful as electric batteries—as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live… surprising things can happen to any one who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place.

“Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.”

Many, many adults struggle with this idea of a positivity. To find it stuck between the pages of a book from 1911 is quite remarkable.

I think I’m going to do a blog post soon with a sort of imaginary children’s bookshelf of what books are a must-read for children — The Secret Garden will definitely be included!

Children, Fiction, Reviews

The Jungle Book

By Rudyard Kipling

Run with them. Or fear them–

Bagheera the Panther: A silken shadow of boldness and cunning.

Kaa the Python: A thirty foot battering ram driven by a cool, hungry mind.

Baloo the Bear: who keeps the lore and the Law, and teaches the Secret Words.

Rikki the Mongoose: The young protector who sings as he slays.

Akela and Raksha the Wolves: Demon warriors of the Free People.

Shere Khan the Tiger: The dreaded enemy of all.

And Mowgli the Man-cub: The orphan baby raised by the wolves, taught by Baloo, trained by Bagheera and Kaa. The sorcerer who knows the ways of the jungle and speaks the language of the wild…


I’ve never read The Jungle Book until now, despite being a fan of the Disney movie as a kid.

This version of The Jungle Book had a total of seven stories:

Mowgli’s Brothers
Kaa’s Hunting
Tiger! Tiger!
The White Seal
Toomai of the Elephants
Her Majesty’s Servants

The stories were also interspersed with songs and poems.

As I read this book, I started to remember more of The Jungle Book movie that I’d forgotten… Now I want to watch it again.

Before I read the story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, I read an article by someone whose cat was called Rikki-Tikki-Tabby, so I appreciated learning that reference. This section also reminded me on the TV show, The Wild Thornberries, because there’s an episode where Eliza meets a crazy mongoose that fights cobras.

I thought Toomai of the Elephants was a great one. The elephant’s dance was so beautifully written. It reminded me of a ballet I once saw. Not a very well known one. But in the ballet, one of the dancers danced a feverish dance by night. Or something like that.

I liked all of the stories in The Jungle Book except I didn’t care for the last one, which was boring in comparison to the others.

Children, Fantasy, Fiction

The Little Prince

By Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.


The first time I ever read this book, I was a teenager in French class and we read en Francais of course. I really liked this book at the time, though I’m not sure if the version I read was simplified in the French, because this book has quite a lot of complex ideas in it!

I didn’t remember the story super well other than the Little Prince saying, “Design-moi un mouton!”. That’s “draw me a sheep” in English and that interaction touches off the whole story between the narrator and the Little Prince.

This is a lovely little book that I wish I had discovered at a younger age, though I love re-reading it as an adult. It has lots of wonderful, deep ideas about life that are essential to learn and remember.

Of course, the most-quoted line in this book has to be, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

I’m also excited to see the movie that’s coming out. When I started watching the trailer, I thought it was an ad for another movie at first and then I realized it was all the same movie!


Children, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror

The Creeps

By John Connolly (Samuel Johnson #3)

Samuel Johnson is not in a happy place.

He is dating the wrong girl, demons are occupying his spare room, and the town in which he lives appears to be cursed.

But there is some good news on the horizon. After years of neglect, the grand old building that once housed Wreckit & Sons is about to reopen as the greatest toy shop that Biddlecombe has ever seen, and Samuel and his faithful dachshund Boswell are to be the guests of honour at the big event. A splendid time will be had by all, as long as they can ignore the sinister statue that keeps moving around the town, the Shadows that are slowly blocking out the stars, the murderous Christmas elves, and the fact that somewhere in Biddlecombe a rotten black heart is beating a rhythm of revenge.

A trap has been set. The Earth is doomed. The last hope for humanity lies with one young boy and the girl who is secretly in love with him. Oh, and a dog, two demons, four dwarfs, and a very polite monster.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and a Happy End of the World.

I really loved the Samuel Johnson series and I’m a bit sad that now it’s done. All three books were pretty witty and page-turning, while making extensive use of footnotes.

The third book of the series features Samuel once again facing off against sinister forces that want to kill him and wipe his home off the map. This time though, he’s got a pair of not-so-evil demons and his best human friend, Maria, on his side.

The book is set right around the holidays making it a great alternative to the usual, happy Christmas story. Murderous elves and evil children’s toys for starters.

John Connolly’s dark children’s books are really just all-around showstoppers and if you haven’t read one yet, either pick up the Samuel Johnson stories or The Book of Lost Things.

Children, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Young Adult

The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family . . .

As far as the literary world is concerned, Neil Gaiman is a god among men. Does he deserve the title and the hype? Oh yeah. He’s that good.

I haven’t read many of Gaiman’s books for children, other than I suppose Stardust (but I don’t really think it’s for kids). I’ve been excited for this book since before it came out. I just loved the idea of it and it didn’t disappoint.

I was a bit surprised that it turned out to be a book of short stories, joined together by a common plot, setting, and cast of characters. An interesting way of doing things, but one I enjoyed. Gaiman is such a good writer and like good writers, can kind of get carried away with the sentence spinning and the plot turning. This book was much more manageable in that regard. Easy to follow and no less beautiful or artfully crafted.

The plot twist that comes in the second to last story (the chapter before the end) made me gasp out loud. I was not expecting that and just the way it was dropped into the turn of a simple sentence…genius. Between the period of one sentence and the capital letter of the next, the whole game changed.

I do wish the plot surrounding the death of Bod’s family and why the man Jack is still trying to kill Bod had been better explained. It was summed up rather quickly (in about a paragraph) and left me unsatisfied. I think there was so much room to go there that wasn’t really delved. Yes, I know it’s for kids, but still. Just one paragraph more.

If you’ve never read a Neil Gaiman book before, this is a great place to get your feet wet. Imaginative, beautiful, funny, bittersweet…without the density of the thicker books like American Gods.