Category Archives: Lists

A Tuesday Ten: Magical Gateways

Between updating the stuff in the headings and a massive amount of running around last week, the blog fell behind a bit!  Here’s my Tuesday Ten on Magic Gateways/portals to other realms.  There was one main requisite with this list and that was that the portals/doorways etc.  were a fixed place or thing. Random doorways or gateways don’t count.

 

1.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (Collier Books, c1950)

Possibly the most classic portal fantasy object in literature, it’s even mentioned in the title and has inspired countless readers to search their own closets and wardrobes for a way into Narnia.  The wardrobe in the story intermittently becomes a gateway to the magical world of Narnia for the Pevensie children in this first story.  Lucy is the first who discovers that there’s no back to the wardrobe and how the coats become trees, and that leads onto a snowy landscape with a streetlamp glowing in the middle of the forest.  (If you read The Magician’s Nephew, you discover the origins of the wardrobe and the streetlamp both.

 

 

2.

The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop (Yearling c1985)

William’s toy castle he finds in the attic is magical.  When he picks up the tiny knight, it comes to life in his hands and starts telling him stories of the kingdom.  The castle itself becomes a portal through which William himself can travel back in time to the real-life world of the castle.  Time travel portals are probably the most common place sorts of magical portals you see in children’s literature.

 

3.

Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll (Books of Wonder, c1871)

While the rabbit hole is also a great example of a portal, who hasn’t seen a mirror and imagined there was a world on the other side?  Alice’s wild journey through the looking glass itself has captured the imagination in literature ever since with many mirrors acting as portals to elsewhere–often strange and dangerous elsewheres!

 

 

4.

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu (Katherine Tegen Books, 2015)

Priscilla and her three sisters have discovered that the closets in their home lead to fantastic places and things–secret sanctuaries from their increasingly uncertain life where they struggle to get through from day to day.  But though these portals offer hope and magic to the sisters–it may not be the answer to solving their problems and bringing the family closer together.

 

5.

Milo Speck, Accidental Agent by Linda Urban (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015)

In this humorous fantasy adventure, Milo goes to retrieve laundry from the dryer only to be snatched up and through a portal within the dryer!  He finds himself in the world of Ogregon, where boys are a tasty snack for hungry ogres.  Milo will have to use his wits to escape and find out how to put a stop to the whole operation!

6.

Time at the Top  by Edward Ormondroyd (Purple House Press, c1963)

Susan is a girl growing up in 1960s New York City, utterly dissatisfied with life as she knows it.  Then when she lends a mysterious woman a helping hand, she’s granted three magical journeys on an old elevator.  The elevator takes Susan back in time , to 1881 where Susan finds life much more what she wishes it could be.  But can she find a way to make it hers permanently?

7.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, c2002)

The 14th door in the rambling house where Coraline lives with her two distracted parents is indeed a magical gateway.  But the world beyond it isn’t necessarily one it’s good to go explore.  A twisted reflection of this world, what starts out being a marvelous adventure for Coraline soon turns dark indeed.  Can she escape home again?

8.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (Dutton Children’s Books, c1979)

The world over we know that books are portals into other worlds . . . but in the Neverending story the book truly is a portal.  The book leads Bastian on an amazing adventure with Atreyu in a quest to stop the Nothing from swallowing the land of Fantastica.  But it is Bastian who truly holds the key to saving their world, and to do so he must be brought into the story, through the book and into the world.  From there he will venture on his own quest . . . but will he make it home again?  This is a bit different from the movie version, so be prepared!

9.

The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson (Puffin, c1994)

We all know about the platform for wizards in the London subway that was popularized in Harry Potter, but there was an earlier one.  Platform 13 at King’s Cross Station has a magical portal that opens once every 9 years for 9 days.  Nine years ago the prince of a magical kingdom was kidnapped and taken through the portal as a babe into the human world.  Now denizens of the magical realm prepare to cross through the portal and find their missing prince before the nine days are up!

10.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow Books, c1986)

In this case the portal is one created by the Wizard Howl.  It’s attached to the door of his castle and is activated by turning a knob to different colors for different places.  Most of those places are other places in the same world.  But one leads to a version of Britain that seems to be close to our own, and appears to be the original world that Howl is from.

So there are my portals. Please share some of your own!

A Tuesday Ten: Science Fiction in Picture Books

Science fiction–it’s not just for chapter books!   They may only make up a sliver of picture book titles, but there are still a fair number of them.  A great way to share this genre with the younger audiences.  I’ve done lists of these before, but just for fun I want to revisit the topic.

1.

Alistair’s Time Machine by Marilyn Sadler (Simon and Schuster, 1986)

Marilyn Sadler’s Alistair series is sadly out of print, but these wild stories of a very ordered “boy of science” are charming and remembered fondly by many readers.  Two of the stories were featured on Reading Rainbow episodes.   Alistair is a very intelligent and pragmatic sort of boy to send on adventures.  He’s also a rare protagonist in glasses!

2.

June 29, 1999 by David Wiesner (Clarion 1992)

This author/illustrator is well known for the strange, the bizarre and the surreal.  But this particular story features a science project that may–or may not–have gone awry! Our young scientist has sent vegetable plants up in balloons to study the affect of higher atmosphere.  But are the giant plants that land back down on her town results of her experiment gone horribly wrong or something more extraterrestrial?

3.

Company’s Coming by Arthur Yorinks  (Knopf, 1988)

An utterly charming read about a suburban couple expecting company . . . who wind up with some outer space visitors they didn’t anticipate.  But kindness and spaghetti will win the day.  A great story for kids whether or not they love science fiction!  Don’t miss the author’s other SF books: Tomatoes from Mars, and  Company’s Going .  

4.

Robot Zot! by John Sciezka, illustrated by David Shannon  (Simon & Schuster, 2009)

Alien invades earth kitchen! There’s adventure, danger, romance–all the things Zot is looking for.  The illustrations magnify the hilarity of this over-the-top alien’s invasion.  A great read aloud for youngsters just beginning to learn about science fiction.

5.

Mars Needs Moms by Berkeley Breathed (Philomel, 2007)

A funny picture book that inspired a not so great movie. Breathed’s vocabulary rich story about a boy who has to rescue his mom from aliens who have kidnapped her is pretty fantastical–but still qualifies as science fiction.  And it’s rare enough we feature moms in SF at all!

6.

The Everything Machine by Matt Novak (Roaring Brook Press, 2009)

An apt fable of a planet where a  machine does everything for the people of the community . . . until the day it breaks down and people learn how to do for themselves.  Even when the repairman comes to fix the machine, the residents have learned a pointed lesson.  A great book to inspire discussion and debate.

7.

 

Jack and the Night Visitors by Pat Schories (Front Street, 2006)

A wordless story of a young boy and his dog (Jack) and an alien encounter.   The boy tries to capture the aliens to keep them, but the aliens are not interested in staying.  Nicely told through images, and a genuinely charming little book.

8.

Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Dan Santat (Hyperion, 2010)

Girl builds giant robot for science project.  Robot  promptly goes on a rampage!  This is a classic sort of science runs amok plot, with lots of action adventure styling for kids.  Great to see a girl scientist in this plot line.  There’s a second book featuring our science adventuress on another adventure: Oh No! Not Again! (Or How I Built a Time Machine To Save History) (Or at Least My History Grade).

9.

Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner (Clarion, 2013)

Yes, there are two Wiesner books on this list. I won’t apologize for that. This Newbery Honor is another wordless story by the author.  Aliens have come to earth–bug sized aliens.  And their spaceship has been damaged by a terrifying cat–the so titled Mr. Wuffles.  The aliens find friendship and forge alliances with the bugs of the household who help them repair their ship.  A charming case of close encounters that is classic Wiesner.

10.

What Faust Saw by Matt Ottley (Dutton Juvenile, 1995)

There sure are a lot of pets encountering aliens!  This poor dog witnesses aliens landing and skulking about everywhere, but his barking only angers the family into being annoyed with their pet.  The aliens play an elaborate game of hide and seek with Faust causing the beleaguered hound no end of trouble!

I’ve two other Tuesday Ten lists of SF picture books you can find here:

More Picture Book Science Fiction

Even More Science Fiction Picture Books!

Comments welcome!

 

A Tuesday Ten: Speculative Middle Grade Characters: Ten Girls Every Reader Should Meet

This list is purely subjective of course.  And it’s purely of the moment.  I invite all my readers to add their own titles to this list.  But I thought it’d be fun to introduce some of my favorite female protagonists over the years.

1.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, translated by Florence Lamborn (Puffin, c1945)

I’ll kick the list off with this red-haired gal from Sweden.  Pippi  is outrageous, wildly nonconformist and an affront to right thinking adults everywhere.  This super-strong little girl is not only capable of living on her own with her horse and monkey, she insists on it.  Watching Pippi interact with the more staid society around her leads to hilarious results.  She really is one of the first female superheroes of literature.   Re-reading this book with my son, as a parent I find myself wincing at many things in this story–but those are some of the very things that make the story so magical and delightful for children.

 

2.

Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede (HMH, c1990)

Cimorene is anything but a proper princess.  She wants to learn how to cook, and do magic, and fight with a sword.  But her parents simply want her to marry a very dull prince as a proper princess should.  So Cimorene runs away and makes a deal with a dragon.  She’ll be the dragon’s princess if the dragon will keep away the princes and let her do all the unproper stuff she wants.  I added the Trina Schart Hyman cover here because it so beautifully captures the Cimorene  (not sweet or elegant) and her relationship with the dragon.  Lots of fun with fairytales turned on their heads.  Check out the rest of the series if you enjoy this one!

 

3.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by W. W. Denslow (HarperCollins, c1900)

It’s easy to forget, given it’s age and weight as a classic that this story contains one of the more forthright and impressive adventurers who’s ever crossed into a fairyland.  Farm girl Dorothy mostly takes things in stride–from her quest to find the wizard, to her show down with the witch, and to her final journey home again.  Think about how rare this was at the time to have a girl in that role (and not a princess).   Then realize that unlike the movie, Dorothy’s journey was no dream, and she’ll return to Oz many more times throughout her life on other adventures.  Baum’s extended series of books set in Oz don’t always feature Dorothy, but she’s an enjoyable character when she does appear.

4.

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (Disney-Hyperion, c2007)

When the aliens invaded earth and Gratuity “Tip” Tucci’s mom is taken away aboard an alien ship, Tip is left on her own.  So she does what any self-reliant tween does heads out to steal a hovercar and find her mother–oh, and maybe save Earth from yet another alien invasion in the process.  A fun and funny narrator, Tip makes this story of aliens come to life with hilarious observations and crazy shenanigans.  In the end it’s a darned good SF story too.

5.

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (Atheneum, 1983)

Anyone who knows me by now probably has some notion that this series is bound to land on a list like this.  Seriously, Alanna changed my life.  This twin who disguised herself as a boy to become a knight, then  goes on to prove herself and become a champion to the kingdom, well, up until then I’d never seen a female character in a sword and sorcery story succeed as hero by being the warrior.  Alanna is a stubborn, hot-tempered gal who wants things her way–even if that way is a challenge.  Her struggles to both succeed as a fighter and to figure out how to accept herself formed the backbone of my fantasy reading as a tween.

6.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, c2009)

Minli is a poor girl who works hard to survive each day with her family, but she loves her father’s fantastic stories that he shares with her.  Stories of magic and adventure and strange places.  When she sets a goldfish free, she doesn’t imagine it will send her on a quest far from home.  Along the way she will meet and befriend different creatures, and have to use her wits to win.  Combining ancient Chinese myths with a girl’s magical adventure story, this is a fantastic read aloud to share with your family.

7.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow, c1986)

I could hardly have this list without including Sophie.  Poor, elder sister Sophie who is told her life will be the dullest since she is the eldest.  A girl who is quiet and has mostly accepted her lot in life, until she is cursed.  In a case of mistaken identity, Sophie is cursed by a witch and turned into an old woman.  Horrified by this, and not wanting to face her family,  Sophie decides to seek out the nefarious wizard Howl.  Being old gives Sophie a new latch on life, and she embraces the chance to be as stubborn and cantankerous as she wants.  Sophie has a magic all her own, and with it she might cause the wizard Howl to lose his life . . . or might be his one chance at saving it.

8.

Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall (HarperCollins,  2015)

Alice Dare is being sent to Mars with a shipload of other children so that they may be kept safe and train to one day fight the aliens that have invaded Earth.  When all the adults on Mars go missing, there’s soon trouble–and Alice and her friends find themselves on the run out in the not-so-friendly Martian terrain.  Alice is wry and funny  as she tells her story about how she and her friends wind up bringing about a peace with the alien invaders and saving both races from an even greater threat.  Hilarious SF adventure with several great female characters to cheer on!

9.

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Young Readers, Expected Publication April 2015)

Corinne La Mer is a fearless and strong-hearted girl living on an island in the Caribbean.  Unlike so many others, she’s not afraid to venture into the dark forest.  At least she wasn’t until a Jumbie followed her out!  Now that Jumbie has designs on her father and on the village, and Corinne must come to accept her own lineage and decide where her loyalties lie.  In the end that decision is not so simple.  This spooky fantasy tale won me over the first time I read it, I hope others will enjoy discovering Corinne much as I did.

10.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (HarperTrophy, c2003)

If you’ve never encountered Tiffany Aching, I hope you will soon at your next opportunity.  A girl of intelligence, determination and heart, Tiffany finds herself to be the hero of the story, even if others don’t want to acknowledge it.  This is just the first book in an ongoing series about Tiffany and her journey from girlhood to womanhood and becoming a witch.  Sir Terry handles it all brilliantly in my opinion. “Yes! I’m me! I am careful and logical and I look up things I don’t understand! When I hear people use the wrong words, I get edgy! I am good with cheese. I read books fast! I think! And I always have a piece of string! That’s the kind of person I am!”

So there you have it!  Please share your favorites in the comments!