Category Archives: Kid’s Fiction

Darkbeast by Morgan Keyes

I read Darkbeast about two weeks ago and I’m still not quite sure what to think of it. It’s one of those ambivilant stories that I enjoyed enough to get through without a problem, but not enough to be all OMGICANNOTWAITFORTHESEQUEL. In fact, until the last few pages, I had no idea it was even part of a series as it wasn’t listed anywhere in the book. Darkbeast

In 11.9 year old Keara’s world, every child is designated a “darkbeast” at birth. They grow up with this magical pet and the animal takes all of their negative emotions (anger, jealousy, sadness, etc…) and absolves them away. On their 12th birthday–apparently the cusp of adulthood–the child must take their darkbeast to the temple and slaughter it, thus marking their passage into adulthood and away from the bad behavior of childhood.

Thing is, unlike most children, Keara actually loves her darkbeast–a crow named Caw. He advises her and makes her feel better for all the wrongs she’s done. So when the crucial moment comes, Keara finds that she can’t kill her pet, even at risk of the village’s wrath and her family’s disappointment. 

And there ya go! La dee da, adventure!

At first go, you can’t help but be SUPER reminded of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Material series, with the whole animal familiar thing. This book isn’t really like that at all, but some things still make me question Keyes’ logic. I mean, I get that it’s a middle grade novel, but the annoyingly childish cover  and darkbeast names were overkill. (Caw for a crow, Murk for a toad, etc…)

Not to mention, when it comes to killing the darkbeast…why at age 12? 

Are you really ready to become an awesome adult at that age? And, if you really think about it, wouldn’t all the adults be so much nicer and cooler and laid-back if their darkbeasts had actually done their jobs??

I don’t get why you would get rid of something that would make you a better person throughout your life. I understand that that was kind of Keara’s whole point, but still…

I’ll probably read the next in the series, but only because I’m really nosey–not because I can’t live without it…

3 dead snakes of 5  

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Robin Hood and His Merry Men by Arthur Malcolm

Robin Hood and Little John walking through the forest, OODALALEE OODALALEE GOLLY WHAT A DAY!

robinhood_content_coverSorry, I had to get that out of my system. I recently stumbled across the 1950’s Arthur Malcolm version of Robin Hood and His Merry Men. It was hiding amongst the hideous beautiful messy pile of books that is now covering the office of our new home. After taking a gloriously long sniff between the pages (you can’t beat the old book smell, seriously) I decided to give it a go.

Sometimes I really like the simplicity of old stories. You kind of know what to expect from the plot and the characters are like familiar old friends. The prose that authors used in the 50’s was so much more straightforward and to the point. There are no long dramatic sentences or chapters ending in heart-pounding cliff-hangers. Just a nice story without a lot of fuss, easy and entertaining. A story you could read to a small child before bed time.

That’s what Robin Hood was to me.

The novel was really more of a series of short chapters, with each division being a different anecdote about Robin that meshed into the greater scheme of things. You know how it goes: outlaw, Maid Marion, (not so) Little John, Friar Tuck, the evil Sheriff, etc… This time we got a little more backstory on Robin Hood–like how he got his name and why he got started on the “criminal” path. Haha.

I think Robin Hood may have been the first fictional character (at least that I’m aware of) that demonstrated that just because something was the law didn’t make it right. And just because you broke that law didn’t make you a bad person. In the story it was illegal to shoot the king’s deer. So it was either watch your family starve or break the law.

What would you do?

3 farthings of 5

(By the way, I totally pictured the animal characters from Disney’s cartoon Robin Hood the entire time. I couldn’t help it. The book made multiple allusions to Robin being “wily as a fox”–so I’m guessing that explains his animal form…)

Robins


Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver

Liesl & Po was a really cute book by Lauren Oliver. The author’s voice greatly reminded me of Kate DiCamillo’s in The Tale of Despereaux. Perfidy. Ineffable. Tee hee.

L&P told the story of Liesl, a recently orphaned little girl who had spent the last couple of years locked in the attic by her evil stepmother after her father’s untimely (and suspicious) demise. A ghost named Po and it’s (ghosts have no gender) ghost pet a cat/dog (animals forget what they were too), Bundle appear to Liesl one night. They help her escape the attic and embark on an incredible journey, involving an alchemist, a foreign princess, a thief, a dim-witted guard, her father’s ashes, and the greatest magic in the whole world. Not to mention her new friend Will (the alchemist’s much abused young apprentice), who has been admiring her from afar for months. 

This story was really adorable, and Oliver’s language was crisp and concise. She said that she wrote this book as a personal catharsis after the death of a close friend. I enjoyed her portrayal of the afterlife–how things seemed to just blur together, and how trivial tidbits, like one’s gender and species, are soon forgotten. This book, like Holes by Louis Sachar, introduce many different elements and characters, yet somehow ties them all together in the end.

I would recommend this book for any child dealing with the loss of a parent, or even as a teaching tool to give them a gentle perspective on death. Liesl & Po reminds us that death is nothing but a horizon, and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.

3.5 of 5 stars