Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Princesses, Fairies and Basilisks

Lechermeier, Philippe. The Secret Lives of Princesses.
Nominated for the Cybils by Danielle Smith.

Have to say first that I think this book is misplaced. It's a massive 14"x14" or so, heavily illustrated... it's a picture book. This is further evidenced by its lack of continuous narrative. The pictures and accompanying descriptions of different sorts of exotic princesses are interesting, but there's no plot, no character development, and I think putting it even in grades 2-4 is pushing it.

I really don't like picture books. I may be the only person who doesn't.

Iggulden, Conn. Tollins: Explosive Tales for Children.
Nominated for the Cybils by Matthew H.

This comes perilously close to being a picture book, but since it weighs in at 172 pages, I guess it's not. Tollins are small, fairy like creatures that live in a little village called Chorleywood that is experiencing growing pains due to the increase in factories. When one Tollins is accidentally put into a firework, with their kind are enslaved and used in more fireworks, which singes their wings off and relocates them, but seems not to kill them. In order to break this enslavement, one of the Tollins talks to humans, which is against their rules, and gets thrown in prison. Eventually, everything is worked out.

Strengths: The pictures are cute, and there's a vague early 1900s history being played out.
Weaknesses: I expected more from the author of The Dangerous Book for Boys. I thought more things would explode. Just wasn't what I thought it would be. Boys may be reluctant to read about fairies, even if they are scowling and devious.

LeFevers, R.L. The Basilisk's Lair (Nathaniel Flood: Beastologist)
Nominated for the Cybils by Nell Clark.

In this second book in the series (the third is also a nominee), Nathaniel and his Aunt Phil are called to investigate the escape of a basilisk. They must travel from Cairo to Bamako (in the Sudan), a trip which is complicated by the presence of Nathaniel's gremlin, Greasel, who incapacitates motors of all kinds in order to drain their oil. (This is set in 1928, so planes are involved as well.) Along the way, the pair learn more secrets of the basilisk, and also that someone else is following their trail and trying to get the creature as well.

Strengths: This is a tightly constructed story with pleasant, well-developed characters. While a little young for middle school, it's a great series for 3-4 graders, packed with history, adventure, and monsters.

Weaknesses: The pictures didn't add to this for me. I would have rather seen them done in Sean Ashby's wonderful woodcut style.

MANY, MANY thanks to Ohio LINK. My local library and libraries throughout Ohio have been keeping me well supplied with books.


  1. I have two library cards. Both have been getting a serious Cybils work out.

    Princesses, Fairies and Basilisks is a picture book. I am very surprised someone nominated it for MG fantasy.

  2. Actually, the Tollins book is a favorite of my ten year old son's...

  3. I think the Princess book is sort of like that Gnomes book (does anyone remember that one?). Definitely not what we would consider a middle grade novel, but it's not really a picture book either. Hmmm.

    I'm a big fan of the Beastologist books, though! The third one is even better, I think.