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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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?
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?
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Rise of the Ragged Clover by Paul Durham (HarperCollins, March 2016)
What’s it like to see yourself as the protagonist of the story? I remember when I first cracked the cover on Tamora Pierce’s Alanna the First Adventure and plunged into a sword and sorcery tale where a girl disguised herself as a boy to become the hero of the story. The instant joy at finding characters that could be more than sidekicks and healers. More than damsels for rescuing. Paul Durham’s The Luck Uglies evokes that fierce joy in me, well over three decades later.
It’s still fairly difficult to find a lot of fantasy stories with female protagonists playing the action adventure hero. Three years ago, when Durham’s first book, The Luck Uglies, hit the shelves, it immediately caught my attention. (You can see my review here.) That first book is still one of my favorite new fantasy titles in middle-grade fiction. Rye O’Chanter was the kind of risk-taking, thoughtful but brave protagonist that I loved.The second book in the series, Fork-Tongued Charmers came out last year. In it we learn more about Rye’s world, her father’s back story and enemies, and see her progress along the path from child to young adult. Now we come to the third book, in the trilogy and it’s . . . well, I can’t call it better than the first book, because it is so significantly the anchor book of a series, but yes, maybe it is just a hair better. For those of you new to the series, go back and read the first two books if you can before diving into this one. There’s so much that’s been set up in the first two novels that allows readers to dive into this last one with such satisfaction.
In the first story you meet Rye and her friends and family as they match wits against the Earl Longchance and the Bog Noblins. In the second, Rye must confront the Fork-Tongued Charmers and their rift from the other Luck Uglies. In this final book, the ongoing power struggle between the Luck Uglies who ally themselves with Rye’s father and those called the Fork-Tongued Charmers who wish for a new leader has come to a head. As usual, Rye’s family is at the center of it all, as is the village Drowning. But as old friends and old enemies gather to witness a final, winner-take-all contest, still more enemies gather . . . Rye will need all her wits and determination, plus the wisdom she’s gained and the friends she’s made, to save the village. But can she possibly do that and save her father in the bargain?
This is fantasy action adventure with some beautiful world-building built into it. Paul Durham creates a world threaded with magic and adventure, but one that comes across as well grounded with its own histories, legends and family legacies. While character takes center stage, they move through a landscape that is markedly different from our own yet accessible for a reader to dive into and immerse themselves in. Paul Durham doesn’t just create the story you read, but hints at far more stories we never quite get to hear about but know are out there. The world Rye O’Chanter moves through is populated with fascinating characters and terrifying monsters–and very fierce little sisters. It’s not the epic fantasy of grand-scale good vs. evil, but a smaller stakes adventure set in a significant location that readers have become familiar with over the course of three stories.
The story is firmly middle grade, in all the best ways, but I do offer that designation with a note of caution. In terms of content, if you’ve read the first two books, you know something about how dark the narrative can get, but this third book does have a few scenes that are pretty grim. I’m giving a heads-up on it without saying what those scenes are, but there’s a definite seriousness and some stark violence in this book, and that tone is set early on. Not everyone makes it out of this story alive. While I personally would consider this book a great deal of fun to read, it’s a far cry from the innocence of the opening of the first book. We’re no longer dealing with a night time book robbery by a trio of curious kids. All three friends know the stakes are much higher now, and that means they are much more serious in what they are doing. They’re not little kids anymore. Watching that growth of our young protagonists–particularly Rye herself lead to some of the most stirring scenes in the entire story. I found myself quite teary-eyed more than once at the steps they were taking to becoming wise and heroic people in their own right. And I can’t tell you my favorite moment, but I will tell you that while reading my favorite bit I just felt like cheering.
There’s one thing that drives me a little crazy about reading a really good last book in a trilogy. And that is I can’t hand it to a new reader and say “read this!” (which is what I want to do). And grabbing a pile of three books and dropping it into someone’s stunned hands with a demand that they read them is usually met with stunned stares in my experience. (I’ve done it, and now have a few friends run in mortal terror if they see me with a stack of books in my hands) I’ve read a lot of fantasy in my time. It makes me a little bit . . . critical of works that tackle subjects and tropes I’ve seen and read a hundred to a thousand times before. I try to be fair when reviewing them, since a reader coming new to these themes and tropes will read it very differently from a veteran. But it is an absolute joy when I pick up a book and find myself tearing through the pages, not knowing where the story is going, not knowing how it will end and desperately hoping it doesn’t end the way I think it will . . . and having the author not only surprise me at the end, but delight me with how satisfied I was with the closure of this trilogy. It’s a magnificent job, in my opinion. Thank you, Paul Durham for giving me such a reading adventure, and for giving this generation of readers a great protagonist in the character of Rye.
I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future!
Publication Date: March 2016
Recommended for grades 4 and up.