The Player King

Dear Reader,

You have already enjoyed many stories about characters who set out to search for something. Perhaps you have also read or watched movie versions of these famous quests:  Homer’s Odyssey, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.  Many folktales and fantasy novels focus on a hero’s journey to find someone or something.

Here is another story that tells of a quest. But this one is not a fantasy novel. This novel is based on something that actually happened long ago in England.

Avi. The Player King. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017.

During the 1400s, two families fought to gain control of the English throne. In 1485, Henry proclaimed himself king and defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field. But Richard’s supporters did not want to give up the power they’d enjoyed. So they found a boy, Lambert Simnel, and convinced him to pretend that he was the true heir to the crown. All so they could keep their wealth and prestige. This really happened. This novel is a spell-binding tale that tells how a young penniless orphan might have been convinced that he was someone important, someone who was worthy of becoming the king. 

By the way, even though the topic is quite serious, this 195-page book isn’t difficult to read. The margins are generous. The lines of print are widely spaced. Many sentences and paragraphs are very short. There is also lots of conversation. You will undoubtedly race through this novel to find out what happens!

Ms. R.

P.S. Any story by Avi is well written. Later you might like to read Crispin, another story from the Middle Ages about a boy on a quest to discover his true worth.

More historical novels

Sweep

Dear Reader,

You asked for more stories about mythology. I know you are firmly attached to the Rick Riordan novels. That you would prefer to keep reading them on and on until there are no more left to read, so I’m gratified that you are willing to try some other authors. And I’m impressed that you so quickly read the four novels in Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark is Rising’ series. Would you be willing to try a different type of mythology?

You’ve already enjoyed Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse mythology in the Riordan stories. And you’ve explored the world of King Arthur in Cooper’s stories. Now could you try a novel about a mythological creature from Jewish folklore: a golem, a creature made from inanimate material and brought to life in order to serve as a protector?

Auxier, Jonathan. Sweep: the Story of a Girl and Her Monster. Toronto: Puffin Canada, 2018.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster is set in 1870s London. Nan Sparrow is a chimney sweep, forced to climb up chimneys and clean out soot. Remember that this is over a hundred years ago, before the age of electricity, and houses have fireplaces. And every fireplace has to be regularly cleaned. Clambering up those narrow chimneys is the job of young children forced into labour due to poverty. The golem in this novel is – of course – a mythological creature. But the setting is real. Life really was as difficult for some children as depicted in this story. So you’ll be learning more about what it felt like to live during Victorian times, as well as enjoying more of your favourite genre right now.

One more thing. Your faith – the Sikh faith – emphasizes that one’s life is to be of service to others. Several times in Sweep, you’ll see this sentence: “We save ourselves by saving others.” I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

By the way, I’ve requested more mythology books for you from the public library. Be watching. You should get a message very soon that they’re ready for pick up. Happy reading!

Ms. R.  

P.S. Always keep your eyes open for books published by Puffin. They tend to be extremely well written. 

A story of friendship

McCully, Emily Arnold. Clara: The (Mostly) True Story of the Rhinoceros Who Dazzled Kings, Inspired Artists, and Won the Hearts of Everyone…While She Ate Her Way Up and Down a Continent. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016.
If Emily McCully writes and illustrates a book, pick it up. Everything she creates is good. And this almost-true biography is no exception. Clara – an orphaned rhinoceros – was adopted by a sea captain in 1741. The two of them travelled throughout Europe for 17 years, amazing audiences and becoming fast friends. While now we would never dream of exhibiting an animal in such a manner, this story of affectionate friendship between a person and an animal is nonetheless intriguingly heart-warming. Included is a map of Clara’s journeys and an author’s note with further information. Highly recommended for curious readers of all ages. 

More historical stories

More picture books

True stories of animal intelligence

The great achievement…

Almond, David. Harry Miller’s Run. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick, 2017, c2008.
Eleven-year-old Liam wants to get outside and start training for the big race coming up. But his mother wants him to help an elderly neighbour move into a nursing home. What starts out as a frustrating day turns into an amazing adventure as Liam listens to Harry tell about the great race he ran from Newcastle to South Shields when he was a young lad himself.
This joyous novella – by a multiple award winning author – reads like a true story. I kept checking the flyleaf to find out more about the background. There was nothing.  But this heart-warming story by a masterful writer will live in readers’ memories as if it really happened to someone we ourselves must have met somewhere. Whimsical illustrations by Salvatore Rubbino – creator of picture books about London and Paris – add to the charm of this unpaged book highly recommended for readers 9 years old and up.  

A serious David Almond novel about refugees

A humorous David Almond novel about a runaway

Stories of summer

P.S. Always check out the books published by Candlewick. They’re reliably beautiful. 

Seeing goodness…

A multiple award-winner and New York Times bestseller!

Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. The War I Finally Won. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers 2017.
Do you need courage to have hope? Can you know something but not believe it? How do you learn to overcome fear? The story of Ada and Jamie, evacuated from London in The War That Saved My Life, continues in this 385-page novel recommended for readers 12 years old and up.
The story begins with surgery to repair Ada’s clubfoot. But surgery can’t repair the sense of rejection she still feels from years of abuse. And surgery can’t teach her how to trust anyone except herself. It is steadfast love from her new guardian and her own determination to learn that transforms Ada from a fearful 11-year-old to a confident 14-year-old ready to embrace the goodness of life.

More stories set in World War 2

More books about abuse

Stories about foster children

P.S. Part of the brilliance of this novel is its quiet complexity. While told from the limited point of view of Ada, the reader sees that we all have limited points of view. And sometimes our lack of knowledge limits our ability to see clearly. Lady Thorton is stand-offish due to limitations imposed by her childhood. People in the village mistrust Ruth – a Jewish refugee – due to ignorance of events in Germany. Susan assumes she will be rejected by a friend’s family, and Maggie thinks her mother doesn’t care about her. Over and over again, we see that life may have been terrible in the past but it can still be good in the future. And we are all lovable.

 

Finding a friend…

“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” 
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
 …
Neri, Greg. Tru and Nelle. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.
An unlikely friendship builds between a seven-year-old boy who likes to dress in fancy clothes and a six-year-old girl who dresses like a tomboy. But they both enjoy reading. They also like mysteries and set off together to discover who has stolen candy and a brooch from a local drugstore.  Set in Alabama in the summer of 1930, this 268-page novel is based on the real-life friendship between Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee. Readers don’t need that information, though, to enjoy the story. The writing flows like music and the large font and widely spaced lines make it easy to read. Several short stories – inspired by the real Truman’s fondness for short stories – and an historical note with black-and-white photographs round off the book. Highly recommended for readers 8 years old and up.
 …
 
 “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view….Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”  – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Escaping…

Cole, Tom Clohosy. Wall. Somerville, Mass.: Templar Books, 2014.
In 1961, families found themselves suddenly separated by the Berlin Wall. East Berlin was under Communist rule and people were not permitted to cross the wall and join their relatives in the West.  In this evocatively illustrated picture book, a young boy is determined to find a way for his family to be reunited. Told from the first person point of view and based on true stories, Wall is recommended for readers 8 years old and up. (Artists interested in seeing how to depict night-time scenes may appreciate analyzing the illustrations which were created digitally but provide ideas for working with pastels.)

More picture books for artists

More stories set in Europe

More stories about conflicts since 1945