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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.



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!

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.


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!

A Tuesday Ten: The Dark Side

Welcome to the dark side.  Here’s a list full of books that showcases a lot of different dark sides.  There’s dark magic.  There’s villainy.  And there are those trying to be dark and wicked and bad but maybe with mixed success. So I invite you to join me for a walk on the dark side.


Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan (Disney-Hyperion, April 2016)

Lilith Shadow is the young ruler of Gehenna, after the rest of her family is killed.  But to save her kingdom and keep it safe, she needs to rediscover the magic of House Shadow, the magic of the undead. That means in a kingdom where girls are forbidden the practice of magic, Lily and her new friend Thorne are going to have to break more than a few rules in order to solve a murder and keep Lily alive!


The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow, c1998)

Wizard Derk  is sick of Mr. Chesney and his Pilgrim Parties.  Every year  Mr. Chesney brings in visitors from another world for an exciting tourist vacation.  And the Wizard Derk must play dark lord, transforming his pleasant home and lands into something dark and awesomely awful in order to please the evil Mr. Chesney.   But this year things will be different, as  the wizard has a plan to deal with Chesney and the Pilgrim Parties permanently!


Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson (MacMillan, c1979)

Arriman the Awful, feared wizard of the North has announced an intent to marry.  He is looking for a witch of the darkest powers, and will decide his wife by a series of contests.  As the ambitious witches gather with hopes of being the bride, white witch Belladonna finds herself head over heels in love with Arriman.  But she’s a white witch, how can she perform a spell so  black and so evil that it will win the contest?  Perhaps with the help of an unusual familiar.


Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2005)

Cadel Piggott  is a super genius who as a child is already deeply in trouble for hacking the national computer system.  Now at  fourteen, he’s attending the Axis Institute, created  by the nefarious Dr. Phineas Darkkon (who is Cadel’s father and is currenly imprisoned for life). At the school, Cadel learns all sorts of villainy and criminal ways. But all is not as it seems and underneath the super genius exterior there still exists a lonely young boy in search of friends and connection.  Something he’ll find when a chance connection online spurs a secret friendship, will it be enough to break Cadel free of the manipulative  Darkkon? The Genius trilogy continues Cadel’s story in Genius Squad(2008) and Genius Wars (2009).


I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to be Your Class President by Josh Lieb (Razorbill, c2009)

A hilarious and wild  tale of 12 year old Oliver Watson.  Everyone knows Oliver is about as bright as a bag of hammers, but what they don’t know is that this is a carefully cultivated disguise for the made evil genius that lurks within.  For Oliver is brilliant and has pulled of amazing schemes and ploys that none of his oblivious classmates or clueless family could even imagine.   But he can’t help wanting to impress his father and when his dad makes a crack about him never being class president, Oliver decides he will take up the challenge.  But making your classmates like you and vote for you is a lot more difficult that commanding minions and criminal enterprises!


Little Miss Evil by Bryce Leung & Kriesty Shen (Spencer Hill, 2015)

‘‘Well, Fiona,’’ Dad says, putting a hand on my shoulder, ‘‘I think there’s an age in every young girl’s life where they need to be able to incinerate whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want.”  Fiona is the daughter of an evil villain mastermind.  She’d grown up inside a volcano hideout and while she’s not particularly crazy about the whole evil thing, he is her dad.  When her father is kidnapped by unknown forces, it’ll be up to Fiona to figure out who’s taken him and where.  And for the record, never annoy a girl with a flamethrower attached to her arm.


The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz (HarperCollins, c2012)

The Cloak Society is an organization of supervillains that is determined to defeat the Rangers of Justice and take over the city, bringing in new order and glory.  Alex Knight has been raised in the organization since birth and fully embraces their ideology and goals while working to develop his own special powers.  Then one day, during a battle with the Rangers of Justice, he saves one of the junior rangers.  And suddenly things are a lot more complicated.  The Cloak Society Trilogy continues with  Villains Rising (2013) and Fall of Heroes (2014).



Sabriel by Garth Nix (HarperCollins, c1995)

Sabriel’s magical talents and training make her an expert at necromancy, the magic of death and the undead.  But unlike most who practice this dark art, she has learned it in order to protect the living and send the dead back where they belong.  Still one of my favorites after all these years and books in between.  In working to control the dark magics and not become entangled in them herself, Sabriel must show a great deal of strength, restraint and courage against the dark forces of her world.


H.I.V.E.: The Higher Institute of Villainous Education by Mark Walden (Simon & Schuster, 2007)

Otto Malpense is an excellent candidate to be handpicked for the most exclusive school of villainy  in the world.  Only the best of the best come to the school.  Only a very few will make it to the top ranks.   Otto may be great villain material, but he isn’t willing to give up his defiant spirit and when he discovers the school has a six-year hold on his life whether he likes it or not, he decides  break out of school.  Just because no one has ever done doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  Together with a few of his talented classmates, Otto is going to go up against the school  and break out–one way or another.


Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon (Dial, c2015)

Castle Hangnail is in need of a new dark master or mistress to own it.  Without a proper owner, the castle will be decommissioned, and all the minions who call it home will have to find new places to live.  When young Molly shows up, she’s not quite anyone’s idea of a dark mistress.  Molly knows it.  She’s knows she’s too young and not talented enough, but she’s desperate for a chance –if only she can keep up the ruse long enough and act wickedly enough to satisfy the minions!

So there’s my ten, please add your own titles in the comments section!  And come to the dark side! We have cookies, after all!