In Alice Hoffman’s The Red Garden, Hallie Brady arrives in the wilderness near Hightop Mountain in 1750. Nobody white had settled this part of Massachusetts before, and the native people who camped nearby vowed that no man would find happiness west of the mountain. Teenaged, English-born Hallie comes with her not-good-for-much husband and a couple of other families he has duped into following him in circles for days before winding up in the shadow of the mountain just as the November snows are settling in.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, is a touching blend of family drama and otherworldliness. He wrote it for his wife, who does not care so much for extreme fantasy, and so he decided to include many realistic details from his own childhood. But he enriched that beginning with dark and horrific drama, as well as beauty and wisdom, and ultimately gave it an elemental, magical grounding.
In Long Lankin, by Lindsey Barraclough, it’s 1958, and Cora and her small sister Mimi have been taken from their London home and dumped in the middle of the English marshes where something is waiting for them.
"In other worlds I used the imaginary kingdom not as a sentimentalized fairyland, but as an opening wedge to express what I hoped would be some very hard truths. I never saw fairy tales as an escape or a cop-out....On the contrary, speaking for myself, it is the way to understand reality."*
Lloyd Alexander wrote many adventure stories for young people, including the wonderful Chronicles of Prydain which follow the adventures of brave, young Taran, who proudly holds the title of assistant pig-keeper, the fiery, quick-witted Eilonwy, shambling man-beast Gurgi, and Fflewddur Fflam, a teller of tales, mostly tall ones. In The Book of Three, these unlikely heroes are on the run from dread forces that have more personality and are therefore more terrifying than Tolkien’s Sauron.
Mark Frost’s The Paladin Prophecy, Book 1, is the start of something good. It is not a good day for Will West, though.
When you’re thirteen, it seems as though everything will be the same always, especially if you live in a traditional culture. For John Bul Dau, life with his large family and many friends as cattle keepers in the Dinka tribe was wonderful. The elders were wise and taught them what they needed to know to become strong men and women. There was time for work and time for play. All of that changed the night the Northern soldiers destroyed their village, as told in John Bul Dau and Martha Arual Akech’s Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping the Civil War in Sudan.
Flavia de Luce, an eleven-year-old genius with a flair for chemistry, lives a lonely but intriguing life in the crumbling family mansion. Her lovely older sisters delight in tormenting her, and she returns the favor with diabolical brattiness. What one can do with certain itchy plant extracts and a tube of one’s sister’s favorite lipstick! The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by C. Alan Bradley, is set in post-World War II England. It’s a simpler time in many respects though things get rather more complicated when Father’s annoying visitor turns up dead in the garden by moonlight.
Sherlock Holmes once remarked to Watson that “the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”
Indeed, readers who enjoy suspense, strong characters, and immersing themselves in the deceptively quiet and sometimes lethal English countryside of Victoria’s reign should enjoy Anne Perry’s A Christmas Visitor. Though it does feature a character from her well-established William Monk series, it is not necessary at all to have read those books to appreciate this one.
Growing up with Books and Traveling the World
With a scientist/writer for a mother and a research physician for a father, it’s little wonder that Molly Bang grew up to be a writer and illustrator who would eventually make it her mission to create books that drawn children into the world of science. Her family kept a large library and would often give each other books illustrated by the famous Charles Rackham as gifts. Molly found these to be inspiring.
After she graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in French, Molly traveled to Japan to teach English at a university there for 18 months before returning to work on master’s degrees in Oriental studies. Then it was back overseas to illustrate health manuals for UNICEF, as well as Johns Hopkins and Harvard, working, among other places, in Calcutta and Bangladesh.
“Ye Toads and Vipers!”
Meggy Swann has reason to be angry. Her mother had finally succeeded in getting rid of her, having her dumped miles and miles from home at her father’s tiny house in London. She’s never met him before, and he clearly doesn’t want her. It’s not like she can run away somewhere else though. An accident at birth has left her legs crooked, and she is in constant pain.
Only able to walk with the help of two sticks, the world of 1573 can be an especially cruel place for such a one, but she has angrily adapted. Alchemy and Meggy Swann, by Karen Cushman, tells her story from the time she is dumped like a sack on her father’s narrow doorstep, frightened and seemingly helpless, to the brave things she must do to protect herself and others she has come to love.