Princess Pulverizer: Grilled Cheese and Dragons by Nancy Krulik, art by Ben Balistrer

Published by Penguin Workshop

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Summary:  Princess Serena is struggling at princess school, so she decides to change her name to Princess Pulverizer and convince her father, the king, to send her to knight school.  He agrees, on one condition: she has to go on a Quest of Kindness, performing eight good deeds, and bringing back proof of each one.  So the princess sets off, and almost immediately hears about some stolen jewels that she is sure must have been taken by an ogre.  She succeeds in getting herself get captured by the monster, and does in fact find the jewels, but is unable to figure out how to escape the locked tower to return them to their rightful owner.  A knight school dropout named Lucas and his gassy dragon Dribble try to come to her rescue, but they have problems of their own.  In the end, the three of them combine their talents to pull off the good deed, and the princess is ready to move on to her next adventure as part of a team.  144 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Fans of The Princess in Black, the Hamster Princess, and Princess Pink will be happy to find a new princess series with some fun twists to the traditional genre.

Cons:  The Princess in Black is still my favorite.

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Granted by John David Anderson

Published by Walden Pond Press

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Summary:  Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a fairy who has been trained to grant wishes.  Problem is, the sense of wonder in the human world is dropping off, creating a shortage of the fairy dust required to make wishes come true.  So Ophelia’s been biding her time since her training ended, fastidiously keeping up her skills until it’s her turn to visit the human world.  Her chance comes at last, and she ventures forth to retrieve a nickel a girl tossed into a fountain, wishing for a purple bicycle.  Sounds easy enough, but Ophelia’s best-laid plans are foiled at every turn, and she has to deal with airplanes, fire extinguishers, birds of prey, and a not-too-bright dog named Sam who thinks he’s her new best friend.  Ophelia’s also distracted by a boy named Gabe whose path keeps crossing hers and who seems to have a wish far more compelling than a purple bicycle.  When Ophelia is forced to choose between her original mission and Gabe’s wish, she shakes the fairy world to its very core.  Can there be a happily-ever-after ending for both fairies and humans?  336 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  John David Anderson moves away from realistic fiction to create a detailed imaginary fairy world and a funny, slightly neurotic fairy heroine.  Readers will find themselves thinking twice before pulling on a wishbone or tossing a coin into a fountain.

Cons:  The story didn’t really pick up for me until Ophelia left her fairy home and ventured into the human world.

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The Quest of the Cubs (Bears of the Ice, book 1) by Kathryn Lasky

Published by Scholastic Press

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Summary:  Svenna, mother of two polar bear cubs, is dismayed to find Roguers at her den one day, demanding that she hand over her children to them to be taken to an unknown destination.  She refuses, saying she will go in their place.  She’s given a few days’ reprieve, during which time she desperately tries to find them a new home and teach them to hunt.  After leaving them with a distant cousin, she is taken away.  The cousin proves to be evil, and the two cubs, known only as First and Second, escape to try to find either their mother or the father they have only heard about in stories.  Plenty of adventure awaits them, and various animals help them, including a fox, a seal, and a snow leopard.  Chapters about Svenna show her to be in a bizarre city where polar bears worship a large ice clock and sacrifice cubs to keep it running.  First and Second (who name themselves Stellan and Jytte halfway through the book) manage to survive on their own to the end of the book, but it’s clear they’re not free of danger and many more adventures await.  240 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Fans of Warriors and Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’hoole will enjoy her latest series, which seems to tie in to the world of Ga’hoole (this connection seems like it will become clearer in book 2).  Plenty of animal adventure and a touch of the supernatural will leave readers anxiously awaiting the rest of the series.

Cons:  The anthropomorphizing occasionally goes a little too far, e.g. when the bears are sitting around drinking hot chocolate with a snow leopard.

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Black Panther: The Young Prince by Roland L. Smith

Published by Marvel Press

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Summary:  T’Challa is the prince of Wakanda, the most technologically advanced nation in the world, and will one day follow in the footsteps of his father, the Black Panther.  When danger threatens their country, the king sends T’Challa and his friend M’Baku to safety in the United States. At their new middle school in Chicago, the two African boys find friends–and danger.  When M’Baku is lured to the dark side, T’Challa must decide whether or not he can confide in his new friends Zeke and Sheila about his true identity to try to save M’Baku. Armed with a Black Panther suit and a ring containing Vibranium, the secret substance that is the key to Wakanda’s power and success, T’Challa finds himself on a dangerous mission involving voodoo as he struggles to do the right thing and make his father proud.  Sheila’s final question, “When’s the next mission?” leaves open the possibility of a sequel. 272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Just in time for the Black Panther movie, this action-packed story will appeal to Marvel fans as well as anyone who enjoys a middle school story about an outsider making good.

Cons:  There could have been more interesting commentary on the two African boys’ first experience with American life and culture.

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Mez’s Magic (The Lost Rainforest, book 1) by Eliot Schrefer

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Summary:  Young panther Mez knows she is different from the rest of her family.  Unable to sleep during the day, she eventually sneaks out of her cave, triggering a series of events that lead to her family’s discovery of her as a daywalker.  This revelation makes her too dangerous to stay with the family, and she is cast out.  She is rescued by Auriel, a huge boa constrictor, who tells her that her birth during an eclipse has given her unusual powers.  Auriel is traveling through the magical rainforest of Caldera, collecting other eclipse-born animals who have been giving the task of defeating the evil Ant Queen, who is about to emerge from a long period of dormancy.  The animals gather at the stone ziggurat, where billions of ants are preparing for their Queen’s arrival.  Danger and betrayal await them as they try to discover their magical powers and save Caldera.  The enemy is temporarily defeated at the end of the story, but danger still lurks.  The animals go their separate ways, agreeing to gather information and reunite in a year’s time.  Includes a lengthy Q & A with the author about his adventures in the rainforest.  357 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Packed with adventure and interesting, funny characters, this book will appeal to fans of animal fantasy like Warriors and Guardians of Ga’hoole.  This is the first book in a planned series in which each installment is from the point of view of a different eclipse-born animal.

Cons:  There were a lot of characters to keep track of, including some unusual animal species that I wasn’t familiar with.

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The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  Aster lives in a magical community where boys are expected to become shapeshifters, and girls, witches.  He is fascinated with witchcraft and has no interest or ability in shapeshifting, much to his family’s chagrin.  Spying on the witches’ classes, he learns as much as he can, practicing spells on Charlie, a non-magical girl who lives nearby.  When a monster begins stealing kids from Aster’s community, he realizes he is the only one who can help rescue them.  Assisted by Charlie, he makes a daring journey, and is able to reveal to his community the monster’s true–and surprising–identity.  This revelation uncovers some family secrets about some who have also not always conformed to the gender roles of magic, and gives Aster the permission to be himself and explore the magical powers he possesses. 224 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This highly engaging graphic novel creates a magical world that will draw readers in immediately, and conveys messages about gender roles and being yourself that will resonate with kids.

Cons:  The messages about gender were a little heavy-handed.

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The Ember Stone (The Last Firehawk book 1) by Katarina Charman, illustrated by Jeremy Norton

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  Although Tag is small, he is determined to become one of the Owls of Valor, practicing fighting with a dagger and shield until he is exhausted.  When he and his friend Skyla the squirrel rescue a mysterious egg, they inadvertently get the chance to prove their courage.  The egg hatches with a fiery bang, and produces a baby firehawk, an animal thought to be extinct.  Firehawks were once the guardians of the Ember Stone, which protected the animals from the evil magic of Thorn, a vulture who controls the dark magic of the forest.  Tag, Skyla, and the firebird are sent by Grey, leader of the Owls of Valor, to try to find the missing stone.  They recover a piece of it, but their journey to find other pieces will continue in the next book.  89 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Readers too young for animal fantasy series like Warriors will enjoy this latest entry in the Scholastic Branches imprint.  It’s a surprisingly interesting, somewhat complex tale, told in 89 illustrated pages, and written at a level appropriate for primary-level reader.

Cons:  A dagger and shield seem like inefficient weapons for an animal with talons, a beak, and wings.

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