Maggie and the Flying Horse (Magic Animal Rescue book 1) by E. D. Baker

Published by Bloomsbury USA

Summary:  Maggie is a kind-hearted girl who lives in the Enchanted Forest with her father, stepmother, and many step-siblings.  Her father has to be away a lot for his job as a woodcutter, leaving Maggie at the mercy of her wicked stepmother.  Maggie’s greatest joy is finding magical animals in the forest.  When she accidentally injures the wing of a tiny horse-fly, she decides to go in search of the legendary Bob the Stableman, whom her grandmother has told her lives outside the castle and cares for magical creatures.  Defying her stepmother’s orders, she sets off to find Bob.  Along the way, she encounters a griffin, some goblins, and a nasty troll.  She makes it to Bob’s, though, and gets help for the horse as well as for herself.  Stay tuned for more adventures in book #2, Maggie and the Wish Fish.  128 pages, grades 1-3.

Pros:  Don’t be fooled by the page count–the font is large and there are lots of pictures.  Fans of Rainbow Magic and other fairy tales will be eager to read about Maggie and her magical animal friends, and the reading level is manageable for those just moving into chapter books.

Cons:  Maggie occasionally comes across as a bit of a goody-two-shoes.

Fish Girl by Donna Jo Napoli and David Wiesner, pictures by David Wiesner

Published by Clarion Books

Summary:  Neptune welcomes you to Ocean Wonders, a three-story building that houses a giant aquarium.  Along with the octopus, shark, and fish, there lives a mermaid whom you just might catch a glimpse of if you are patient.  After hours, Neptune tells the fish girl the story of how he rescued her when fishermen and sharks killed off all the other mermaids.  Now he protects her, and in return she hides among the sea flora and fauna, revealing just enough of herself to lure humans into Ocean Wonders.  One day, though, she makes a connection with a girl her own age, who names the fish girl Mira.  The two become friends, and Mira’s world begins to change.  She learns that Neptune is really just an ex-fisherman, who creates his “magic” world with machines.  One night she manages to leave the tank, and learns that her tail becomes legs on dry land of water.  Mira sees her chance to escape, but will she be able to leave behind the aquarium world she has known all her life?  192 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Triple Caldecott medalist David Wiesner creates a fairy-tale world reminiscent of his book Flotsam.  Middle school readers will relate to Mira’s struggle to figure out who she is and where her place in the world is.

Cons:  The relationship between Neptune and Mira borders on creepy.

Ivy by Katherine Coville

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Ivy and her grandmother live in the messiest cottage in Broomsweep…messy, because her grandmother is Meg the Healer, whose large garden and knowledge of plant medicines have made her a famous doctor of humans and animals.  Rumor has it that the new queen is traveling through her kingdom to find the best town.  Ivy and Grandmother are under pressure from the mayor’s wife to get their property up to the standards of the rest of Broomsweep.  When an injured griffin, a dragon with a severe head cold, and a flock of pixies arrive, cleaning up seems like an impossible task.  But Grandmother assures Ivy it will all work out.  And when four trolls invade the village at the same time the queen shows up unexpectedly, it all (eventually) does.  144 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  A cozy fantasy with a fairy-tale feel and a happily-ever-after ending.  A large font and plenty of illustrations make this a good choice for early chapter book readers who are ready to move on from the Magic Tree House.

Cons:  Not too many surprises in this fairly predictable tale.

The Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron

Published by Philomel Boks

Summary:  Tess and her brother Max have just finished up a year at a Swiss boarding school, and are spending the summer with their Aunt Evie in the English countryside.  They were sent abroad because their father is a journalist on assignment in Afghanistan and their mother is being treated for an undisclosed but life-threatening illness.  Tess accidentally stumbles into the neighbor’s backyard, and meets William, a charming but seemingly otherworldly boy about her own age.  She brings Max along to their next meeting, and William invites them for dinner.  Aunt Evie is baffled by the invitation, certain that the house has long been abandoned.  During their visit, Max accidentally falls into some hawthorn trees that William has warned them to stay away from, and all three children find themselves in grave danger.  Tess is able to find courage and strength within herself to help them.  By the end of the story, Dad has returned, William and his servants and family have disappeared, and the mystery of who he was is cleared up with a visit to the castle, now turned into a secluded museum.  167 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  A quick read for fans of magic realism.  The story unfolds at a good pace, dropping clues about William that reveal just enough to keep things interesting.

Cons:  The book is too brief to really create an interesting magical story.  Reviews have compared it to E. Nesbit and Edward Eager.  Please.

The Rat Prince by Bridget Hodder

Published by Farrar Straus Giroux


Summary:  In this twist of the traditional Cinderella tale, Prince Char is the rat prince of all those rodents who live in Lancastyr Manor.  Tough times have arrived at the manor, in the person of the wicked stepmother, and Lady Rose has been reduced to little more than a house servant nicknamed Cinderella.  Prince Char is determined to defeat the evil Wilhemina, and when an ancient goddess is released from an heirloom Lancastyr ring, it looks like it may be possible.  Char is transformed into Charming, one of Rose’s footmen, and it doesn’t take long for him and Rose to fall in love, despite their knowledge that he will turn back into a rat at midnight.  Together, they travel to the great ball, where they must deal with both Wilhemina and the evil prince Geoffrey, who is seeking to make Rose his queen.  Told in the alternating voices of Char and Rose, the night progresses with plenty of twists and turns until the two of them are able to arrive at happily ever after.  272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  In this unusual take on Cinderella, Hodder manages to pull off what would seem impossible to believe.  Both Char and Rose are strong, likeable characters, and there is plenty of action to keep the pages turning.

Cons:  The somewhat sticky-sweet romance may turn a few young stomachs.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Published by Algonquin Young Readers 

Summary:  Each year, the youngest child in the Protectorate must be sacrificed to the witch to keep the people safe.  One year, the mother goes mad when her daughter is taken away.  Antain is just a boy when he witnesses this, but he never forgets it, nor can he forget what it was like to walk away, leaving the baby girl in the forest to die.  Little does he know that she is rescued by Xan, the witch who has rescued all the babies.  Usually Xan takes the children to another city to be adopted, but she accidentally feeds this one moonlight, filling her with magic, and decides to name her Luna and raise her herself.  And so the story goes, for almost 13 years, following Antain, Xan, Luna, a monster named Glerk, a tiny dragon named Fyrian, the madwoman, and the evil Sister Ignatia, until they all meet one fateful day in the forest.  The magic in Luna finally comes to fruition, and allows the power of love to overcome the power of evil.  386 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Beautifully written and crafted, this is one of those books that weaves many different strands through the entire story until they all come together at the end.  Look for this as a Newbery consideration.

Cons:  While I admire and appreciate this book, the story never really grabbed me.  I had to assign myself nightly readings to get through it in a timely fashion.

Fairy World: Enter the Magical and Mysterious Realm by Stella A. Caldwell, illustrated by Ryan Forshaw

Published by Barron’s 

Summary:  Stella Caldwell presents herself as an expert on fairies who has traveled extensively to study these magical creatures.  Her definition of “fairy” extends to a variety of creatures including pixies, boggarts, elves, and many others.  She has included several “case studies”, relating stories in which she was called upon to investigate a human interaction with a fairy.  The oversized book is set up almost like a scrapbook, lavishly illustrated with labeled pictures of items associated with magical folk, such as wings and flowers.  There’s more than a hint of danger in associating with these creatures; many will help humans but can play tricks or worse if the people aren’t properly grateful.  The final two pages tell of fairies stealing children and replacing them with changelings who can eventually be trained to fit in to the human world.  80 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fantasy fans will want to spend lots of time poring over this book.  There is so much information, presented in a variety of ways, as well as gorgeous artwork.  In each chapter, there’s at least one wordless two-page spread illustration, suitable for framing.

Cons:  Definitely for older kids…the fairies here are far more “Spiderwick Chronicles” than “Rainbow Magic”.