FABULISM: WHAT IS IT?
In fabulism, fantastical elements are placed in an everyday setting.
It’s called ‘fabulism’ because authors are playing with realism by making use of elements of fable.
For the definition of a fable, see here.
COMMON FEATURES OF FABULIST FICTION
- emphasis on idea or theme
- settings in other times, places, but not necessarily “historical”
- exoticism: the extraordinary over the ordinary, the unusual over the usual.
- doesn’t care about walls, and it doesn’t have constraints, whereas reality has rules, norms and codes of conduct.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter is a collection of fabulist stories.
COMMON FEATURES OF CHILDREN’S FABULIST FICTION
Looking at the marketing copy and reader descriptions of these books a few tropes are common to this category of books often called ‘magical realism’ or ‘fabulist’:
- The protagonist often has a super power, which as often as not is the flipside of a shortcoming. Sometimes it’s an original kind of superpower which hasn’t been used by Marvel and you haven’t seen it in fairytales. For example the ability to see words shining above people’s heads.
- It’s often the sort of magic that lives next door. Or in the kitchen. Or in the shed at the bottom of the garden (Skellig).
- Moving house is a common introduction to this kind of story. The child used to live in the ordinary world but now the parents have moved them to this island, this rickety house, this dilapidated mansion. In Skellig, Michael’s journey from the security of his early life on Random Road to the precarious and confusing removal to Falconer Road is essentially a maturation from a state of childhood innocence to pre-adolescent experience of self and other, bound together in the greater world of humankind. Random Road was a place of physical security for Michael. He was born there and took its existence for granted. He was the only child and so was the focus of his parents’ love. They provided for his needs, and he had no reason to discover that life could ever be different. It is a kind of Garden of Eden prior to the knowledge of good and evil. In the newly discovered Falconer Road Michael must increase his knowledge of the world. Significantly, this new house has to be remodelled before it becomes comfortable, mirroring Michael’s interior relationship with his environs.
- Witches/trolls/mermaids etc. exist alongside humans, perhaps living secretly. Their secret lives can be an allegory for some kind of exclusion which happens to groups of people in the real world.
- Fortune-telling is often a thing.
- Luck can be a reliable, real thing, influenced by charms and whatnot.
- Fate is also a thing, but can be thrown off-course by a savvy young protagonist. Related to fate, the moon features large in many fabulist stories.
- Some stories have an atavistic fable/folklore/legend quality to them, taking modern people back to a time when humans really did believe the world was made of magic. There might be some direct link to the ancient past emphasised in the story e.g. finding something ancient or learning something about history in school or perhaps it’s simply working out some family history. In Skellig we have Archaeopteryx and evoltuion as a way to make Skellig credible. We don’t know what he is or where he came from. But we are reminded that there once was a dinosaur that flew, and evolution can produce many different forms of strange beings. It just may be that Skellig is the last of an ancient species, something akin to an angel. It is also a way to connect his story to the much older story of the evolution of humans and the personal evolution of understanding the ephemeral nature of being.
- Wish fulfilment in these stories is often about getting a bully back using magical powers. Hence, the school or neighbourhood bully is often the villain of the story (rather than say, dragons, in a work of high fantasy). This is also the wish-fulfilment of a typical superhero story.
- There is sometimes time travel which affects individuals at the personal (friendship/family) level. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is an example of that. These kids aren’t out to save the world — they’re trying to subvert personal tragedies and relationship breakups.
- Serious issues such as drug-use and bullying can be made heartwarming by an injection of fabulism.
- Hence, there’s quite a bit of sickness. Recently dead parents, cancer, rashes, and other horrible life journeys which is made a little easier with magic.
- They’re quite often set in a real-world big city such as L.A., London or New York City, but can also be set in a realistic little town which mimics a real place. Or they might be set in a deliberately magical sounding place with a poetic name.
- A character may need to keep their magical powers secret, or magic might be a widely accepted part of the natural setting. Sometimes only the children know about the magic because the adults are too busy to notice it, or wouldn’t believe it even if they were told. Sometimes this can feel contrived. David Almond avoids any sense of contrivance by having Michael engage adults when he recognises his own ignorance. For example, he asks a doctor about arthritis and quizzes a teacher about evolution and shoulder blades, though significantly, he doesn’t talk to them about Skellig. He has Mina — another child — for that.
- The fabulism in children’s books often creates an atmosphere which feels cosy and snug and whimsical.
- There is often a ‘wise woman’ or a ‘wise man’ or sometimes a child character is wise beyond their years (e.g. Mina in Skellig, who might also be interpreted as simply mimicking her mother). Other fairytale archetypes can be mapped onto contemporary characters.
- Fabulism can be a part of any genre — sometimes it’s a mystery, sometimes it’s used to solve a crime, sometimes it’s a story about human relationships.
- Flying is pretty common.
- Fog is popular, too. You never know what lies inside the fog. Could be anything.
- Orphans are common too, though orphans are common right throughout children’s literature.
- In a small-town setting, fabulist stories are probably full of eccentric characters with strange powers, habits and hobbies. In a children’s book, these adults are probably quite childlike themselves, whereas ‘regular’ adults have forgotten how to be playful and observant.
- Perhaps the setting used to be far more magical than it is now, but something happened and now it’s up to the child character to break the curse or to bring full magic back.
- See this 2006 issue of Through The Looking Glass journal for an entire issue on magical realism.
A SHORT LIST OF FABULIST CHILDREN’S BOOKS
This isn’t a list that I’ve personally read. I’m just not this well-read. It’s a collection from various places across the web — books which have been designated ‘magical realism’ by others. I’m going with the word fabulism because it’s probably best if we leave the word ‘magical realism’ to work by Latin American authors writing about colonisation.
AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor — Born in New York, but living in Aba, Nigeria, twelve-year old Sunny is understandably a little lost. She is albino and thus, incredibly sensitive to the sun. All Sunny wants to do is be able to play football and get through another day of school without being bullied. But once she befriends Orlu and Chichi, Sunny is plunged in to the world of the Leopard People, where your worst defect becomes your greatest asset. At some point she sees the future in some flames. She has to work hard to avoid this future. Together, Sunny, Orlu, Chichi and Sasha form the youngest ever Oha Coven. Their mission is to track down Black Hat Otokoto, the man responsible for kidnapping and maiming children. Sunny has to overcome the killer with powers stronger than her own.
ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell — This allegory of a downtrodden society of overworked, mistreated animals, and their quest to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality is one of the most scathing satires ever published. As we witness the rise and bloody fall of the revolutionary animals, we begin to recognize the seeds of totalitarianism in the most idealistic organisation; and in our most charismatic leaders, the souls of our cruelest oppressors.
BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo — The summer Opal and her father, the preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket—and comes out with a dog. A big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humour. A dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. Winn-Dixie is better at making friends than anyone Opal has ever known, and together they meet the local librarian, Miss Franny Block, who once fought off a bear with a copy of WAR AND PEACE. They meet Gloria Dump, who is nearly blind but sees with her heart, and Otis, an ex-con who sets the animals in his pet shop loose after hours, then lulls them with his guitar. Opal spends all that sweet summer collecting stories about her new friends and thinking about her mother. But because of Winn-Dixie or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship—and forgiveness—can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm.
THE BFG by Roald Dahl — Captured by a giant! The BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant. He is far too nice and jumbly. It’s lucky for Sophie that he is. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bonecruncher, or any of the other giants – rather than the BFG – she would have soon become breakfast. When Sophie hears that they are flush-bunking off in England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!
BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX by Laurel Snyder — Perhaps a descendent of Five Children and It, A magical breadbox that delivers whatever you wish for—as long as it fits inside? It’s too good to be true! Twelve-year-old Rebecca is struggling with her parents’ separation, as well as a sudden move to her Gran’s house in another state. For a while, the magic bread box, discovered in the attic, makes life away from home a little easier. Then suddenly it starts to make things much, much more difficult, and Rebecca is forced to decide not just where, but who she really wants to be.
BOUNTY HUNTER by S.J. Hollis — What do you do when your magic makes you a target? Run. Fight. Die. 14-year-old Kai Koson had nothing to do with the apocalypse, thank you very much. He was just a baby the day a coven of blood witches ripped a hole in the universe and the demons fell screaming from the sky. Earth and its magic perished. Witchkind was hunted and annihilated. Now, because he was born a witch, Kai must spend his life running and fighting for survival. Even his own uncle seems determined to abandon him. With nothing left to lose, Kai runs away and joins a team of galactic bounty hunters. But instead of providing an escape, it sets Kai on a path that will destroy everything he believes about himself and the apocalypse, transforming him into the most wanted teenager in the galaxy.
BREADCRUMBS by Anne Ursu — Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn’t help it – Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn’t fit anywhere else. And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it’s never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack’s heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it’s up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she’s read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn’t the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.
THE BOY WHO CLIMBED INTO THE MOON by David Almond — There are some strange ideas floating around in Paul’s apartment block. There’s Mabel, who now calls herself Molly and whose brother hides under a paper bag. Then there’s Clarence, the poodle who thinks he can fly. But the strangest notion of all is Paul’s. You see, Paul believes that the moon is not the moon but a great hole in the sky. And he knows that sausages are better than war. How on earth (or not) will he find out if he is bonkers or a genius? With a few equally bonkers (or genius) helpers and a very long ladder, that’s how! From a master of magical realism and a celebrated artist comes another delightfully outrageous expedition.
CAVE OF JOURNEYS by Penny Ross — Join fourteen-year-old Sarah and her eleven-year-old brother Mattie as they journey one hundred years back in time. As they enter a magical cave Sarah, Mattie and their grandfather are mysteriously transported from Iceland in 2011. They arrive in New Iceland, near Gimli, Manitoba. The year is 1911. While exploring, they meet a fourteen-year-old Cree boy named Willow Walker and his First Nations family. The three adventurers stumble upon the CAVE OF JOURNEYS. This magical place records the chapters of humankind through picture writing. Sarah, Mattie and Willow Walker meet an ancient oak tree who recruits them to retrieve original stories of Canadian history. Their whirlwind adventure in a flying canoe takes them to four locations. The youth rush to visit Elders entrusted to guard rock paintings at sites throughout the Canadian Shield. They have four days to accomplish their goal in a race against time. CAVE OF JOURNEYS, a juvenile fiction novel, combines legend with fantasy. Similar to Alice in ALICE IN WONDERLAND the youth face real issues in a world that combines enchantment and fantasy with reality. Is this world, with oversized creatures, wise Elders and a talking tree real? Is Willow Walker real? Or is it all part of a world where legends abound? Join Sarah, Mattie and Willow Walker on their journey as they discover stories rich in the culture and traditions of Cree, Icelandic and Ojibwe people.
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY by Roald Dahl — Magic is uncovered in the real world after a reclusive chocolatier allows five lucky children into his factory in a sorting contest to find out who should inherit his wealth.
CULLOO by Murielle Cyr — Tough and resourceful Tala will be 13 soon, and no one will tell her what to do. On one fateful day in the forest, however, she has to find her endangered father and protect her young brother from a trio of murderous poachers. All the while, she and her brother may have to face the forest’s legendary keepers—the deceptively playful characters known as the Stone People, and a giant, black bird known and feared as Culloo.
FIVE CHILDREN AND IT by E. Nesbit — The five children find a cantankerous sand fairy, a psammead, in a gravel pit. Every day ‘It’ will grant each of them a wish that lasts until sunset, often with disastrous consequences.
THE GIVER by Lois Lowry — Perhaps the grandmother of A Tangle Of Knots (2013), this haunting story centers on Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he’s given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community.
THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman — After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own. Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family…
THE GREAT UNEXPECTED by Sharon Creech — This is a story of pairs-of young Naomi and Lizzie, both orphans in present-day Blackbird Tree, USA, and of Sybil and Nula, grown-up sisters from faraway Rooks Orchard, Ireland, who have become estranged. Young Naomi Deane is brimming with curiosity and her best friend, Lizzie Scatterding, could talk the ears off a cornfield. Naomi has a knack for being around when trouble happens. She knows all the peculiar people in town – like Crazy Cora and Witch Wiggins. But then, one day, a boy drops out of a tree. Just like that. A strangely charming Finn boy. And then the Dingle Dangle man appears, asking all kinds of questions. Curious surprises are revealed-three locked trunks, a pair of rooks, a crooked bridge, and that boy-and soon Naomi and Lizzie find their lives changed forever.
HILDAFOLK by Luke Pearson — This is Hilda’s ‘folktale‘.Hildafolk presents a terse tale of the precocious, blue-haired child, Hilda — and essentially just follows her around for a couple of days as she plays and explores and draws. Hilda lives in a mountainous hills-are-alive-with kind of setting and, as she is a child, has few responsibilities beyond staying out of Deep Trouble. Her current interests include reading about the different varieties of local trolls and scribbling in her sketchbook. Her companion is a blue-coated fox with adorable little antlers and her house is visited frequently and to her annoyance by a small man made of wood. Hildafolk‘s story, while slight, exhibits a sense of humour that keeps even the book’s darker moments from infringing too deeply on its sense of place.
HOLES by Louis Sachar — Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnatses. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the boys build character by spending all day, every day digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. But there are an awful lot of holes. It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. But what could be buried under a dried-up lake? Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption.
HOUR OF THE BEES by Lindsay Eager — While her friends are spending their summers having pool parties and sleepovers, twelve-year-old Carolina — Carol — is spending hers in the middle of the New Mexico desert, helping her parents move the grandfather she’s never met into a home for people with dementia. At first, Carol avoids prickly Grandpa Serge. But as the summer wears on and the heat bears down, Carol finds herself drawn to him, fascinated by the crazy stories he tells her about a healing tree, a green-glass lake, and the bees that will bring back the rain and end a hundred years of drought. As the thin line between magic and reality starts to blur, Carol must decide for herself what is possible — and what it means to be true to her roots. Readers who dream that there’s something more out there will be enchanted by this captivating novel of family, renewal, and discovering the wonder of the world.
THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD by Lynne Reid-Banks — At first, Omri is unimpressed with the plastic Indian toy he is given for his birthday. But when he puts it in his old cupboard and turns the key, something extraordinary happens that will change Omri’s life for ever. For Little Bull, the Iroquois Indian brave, comes to life…
JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH by Roald Dahl — When James accidentally drops some magic crystals by the old peach tree, strange things start to happen. The peach at the top of the tree begins to grow, and before long it’s as big as a house. When James discovers a secret entranceway into the fruit and crawls inside, he meets wonderful new friends—the Old-Green-Grasshopper, the dainty Ladybug, and the Centipede of the multiple boots. After years of feeling like an outsider in his aunts’ house, James finally found a place where he belongs. With a snip of the stem, the peach household starts rolling away—and the adventure begins!
JOPLIN, WISHING by Diane Stanley — Fifth grader Joplin Danforth discovers the broken pieces of a beautiful platter in her grandfather’s house and decides to fix it. Once repaired, the surface of the platter reveals the image of a young girl beside a lake. Joplin, who is quite lonely, wishes that she could be friends with the girl in the picture or at least have a friend at school. And to her surprise, her wishes come true. Joplin befriends a boy named Barrett and Sofie, the girl from the platter. Sofie reveals that she’s been trapped for hundreds of years, forced to grant wishes to whoever owns the magical platter. Joplin and Barrett agree to help Sofie escape her curse, and the three set off to find a way to take Sofie 400 years into the past back to her Dutch village.
KARLSSON-ON-THE ROOF by Astrid Lindgren — Imagine Smidge’s delight when, one day, a little man with a propeller on his back appears hovering at the window! It’s Karlson and he lives in a house on the roof. Soon Smidge and Karlson are sharing all sorts of adventures, from tackling thieves and playing tricks to looping the loop and running across the rooftops. Fun and chaos burst from these charming, classic stories.
KEEPER by Kathi Appelt — To ten-year-old Keeper the moon is her chance to fix all that has gone wrong … and so much has gone wrong. But she knows who can make things right again: Maggie Marie, her mermaid mother, who swam away when Keeper was just three. A blue moon calls the mermaids to gather at the sandbar, and that’s exactly where Keeper is headed – in a small boat. In the middle of the night, with only her dog, BD (Best Dog), and seagull named Captain. When the riptide pulls at the boat, tugging her away from the shore and deep into the rough waters of the Gulf of Mexico, panic sets in and the fairy tales that lured her out there go tumbling into the waves. Maybe the blue moon won’t sparkle with mermaids and maybe – Oh, no … “Maybe” is just too difficult to bear. Maggie has a porte-bonheur hanging around her neck (a lucky charm).
THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupery — Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.
THE LOST THING by Shaun Tan — a boy finds a lost machine walking around and escorts it home.
MATILDA by Roald Dahl — A child prodigy finds she has telekinetic powers. She uses these to overcome a monstrous teacher and escape from her horrible parents.
MIRROR MIRROR by Gregory Maguire — The year is 1502, and seven-year-old Bianca de Nevada lives perched high above the rolling hills and valleys of Tuscany and Umbria at Montefiore, the farm of her beloved father, Don Vicente. There she spends her days cosseted by Primavera Vecchia, the earthy cook, and Fra Ludovico, a priest who tends to their souls between bites of ham and sips of wine. But one day a noble entourage makes its way up the winding slopes to the farm – and the world comes to Montefiore. In the presence of Cesare Borgia and his sister, the lovely and vain Lucrezia – decadent children of a wicked pope – no one can claim innocence for very long. When Borgia sends Don Vicente on a years-long quest to reclaim a relic of the original Tree of Knowledge, he leaves Bianca under the care – so to speak – of Lucrezia. She plots a dire fate for the young girl in the woods below the farm, but in the dark forest there can be found salvation as well.
MY DAD’S A BIRDMAN by David Almond — Lizzie and Dad live in a rainy town in the north of England. Jackie Crow is Lizzie’s father, who sees himself as a ‘Birdman’, someone who can fly with man-made wings just like a bird. He eats bugs, makes wings, and doesn’t do normal adult things at all. Lizzie is a young girl who takes on the mother figure in the household, looking after her father (who is perhaps dealing with depression after the loss of his wife). It is an endearing story of unconditional love, juxtaposed with the humorous and larger than life characters of Mr Poop and Auntie Doreen. The novel follows their journey as things start to change while preparing their wings for ‘The Human Bird competition’ to be held at the River Tyne near where they live. This book is marketed to appeal to Roald Dahl fans but is nothing like the same kind of disturbed that Dahl’s books are.
NIGHTINGALE’S NEST by Nikki Loftin
NINTH WARD by Jewell Parker Rhodes — Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. She doesn’t have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya’s visions show a powerful hurricane—Katrina—fast approaching, it’s up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm.
THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman — Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy. Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett — When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle’s great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors. The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary’s only escape. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. One day, with the help of two unexpected companions, she discovers a way in. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life?
A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS by Lemony Snicket — “I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune. In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast. It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.” Fate follows these children like a real creature. That’s part of what makes it seem magical.
SKELLIG by David Almond — Unhappy about his baby sister’s illness and the chaos of moving into a dilapidated old house, Michael retreats to the garage and finds a mysterious stranger who is something like a bird and something like an angel.
A SNICKER OF MAGIC by Natalie Lloyd — Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart. But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck’s about to change. A “word collector,” Felicity sees words everywhere—-shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog’s floppy ears—-but Midnight Gulch is the first place she’s ever seen the word “home.” And then there’s Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity’s never seen before, words that make Felicity’s heart beat a little faster. Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she’ll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that’s been cast over the town . . . and her mother’s broken heart.
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury
THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER by Leslye Walton —
SUMMER OF THE MARIPOSAS by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
TANGLE OF KNOTS by Lisa Graff — In a slightly magical world where everyone has a Talent, eleven-year-old Cady is an orphan with a phenomenal Talent for cake baking. But little does she know that fate has set her on a journey from the moment she was born. And her destiny leads her to a mysterious address that houses a lost luggage emporium, an old recipe, a family of children searching for their own Talents, and a Talent Thief who will alter her life forever. However, these encounters hold the key to Cady’s past and how she became an orphan. If she’s lucky, fate may reunite her with her long-lost parent.
Lisa Graff adds a pinch of magic to a sharply crafted plot to create a novel that will have readers wondering about fate and the way we’re all connected.
TEETH by Hannah Moskowitz — Be careful what you believe in. In this allegorical, kafkaesque story, Rudy’s life is flipped upside-down when his family moves to a remote island in a last attempt to save his sick younger brother (cystic fibrosis). With nothing to do but worry, Rudy sinks deeper and deeper into loneliness and lies awake at night listening to the screams of the ocean beneath his family’s rickety house. Then he meets Diana, who makes him wonder what he even knows about love, and Teeth, who makes him question what he knows about anything. Rudy can’t remember the last time he felt so connected to someone, but being friends with Teeth is more than a little bit complicated. Teeth is a merman. He soon learns that Teeth has terrible secrets. Violent secrets (including sexual abuse). Secrets that will force Rudy to choose between his own happiness and his brother’s life. There are many parallels between this book and “The Metamorphosis”.
THROUGH THE WOODS by Emily Carroll — a graphic novel of short stories similar to Neil Gaiman and Grimms’ Fairytales. There are old stories with coaches, horses and corsets as well as more modern tales. Something is wrong in each of the stories and you can’t finish until you figure out exactly what it is. The effect is haunting.
THE TIGER RISING by Kate DiCamillo — Walking through the misty Florida woods one morning in that un-nameable book-time of before now and after World War II, twelve-year-old Rob Horton is stunned to encounter a tiger – a real-life, very large tiger – pacing back and forth in a cage. What’s more, on the same extraordinary day, he meets Sistine Bailey, a girl who shows her feelings as readily as Rob hides his. As they learn to trust each other, and ultimately, to be friends, Rob and Sistine prove that some things – like memories, and heartaches, and tigers – can’t be locked up forever.The Tiger Rising follows Rob, a sixth grade boy, whose mother has recently died of cancer, now living in a motel with his father, quietly paralysed by grief. Rob is an outcast at school, bullied by thugs, overlooked by adults, and teased for a skin condition that has resulted from his own suppressed grief. His misunderstood rash, however irritating, proves to be his saviour as he’s sent home from school indefinitely, for fear of spreading it to his fellow classmates, who are oh-so-deserving of something virulent. And then, inexplicably, there is a Tiger. In the woods behind the motel Rob finds the cage, the great orange beauty stalking back and forth in its tiny enclosure, alone and breathtakingly out of place. Rob is enthralled, a sense of wonderment and elation brought back to his life that was stuffed down into his “suitcase of not-thoughts” with the loss of his mother. Rob’s only friend, Sistine, a new girl in town, full of outrage and her own personal loss, is brought in on the secret of the Tiger. Sistine wants to set it free but Rob can’t bear to see it go.
TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGARMAN SWAMP by Kathi Appelt — Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah are the newest recruits of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The opportunity to serve the Sugar Man—the massive creature who delights in delicious sugar cane and magnanimously rules over the swamp—is an honor, and also a big responsibility, since the rest of the swamp critters rely heavily on the intel of these hardworking Scouts. Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn is not a member of any such organisation. But he loves the swamp something fierce, and he’ll do anything to help protect it. And help is surely needed, because world-class alligator wrestler Jaeger Stitch wants to turn Sugar Man swamp into an Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park, and the troubles don’t end there. There is also a gang of wild feral hogs on the march, headed straight toward them all. The Scouts are ready. All they have to do is wake up the Sugar Man. Problem is, no one’s been able to wake that fellow up in a decade or four…
TUCK EVERLASTING by Natalie Babbitt — Doomed to – or blessed with – eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune.
TUMBLE & BLUE by Cassie Beasley — There’s a legend about a golden alligator named Munch who appears every 100 years during the red moon and grants good luck to anyone brave enough to ask. One night in 1817, he’s found by two people at the same time and the luck splits down the middle. Good fortune seems to skip a generation for the descendants of the two: Some live out wonderful lives, while others are cursed. Tumble Wilson and Blue Montgomery, the youngest descendants of the original two, decide to take fate into their own hands and undo the terrible mistake their ancestors made.
UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld — Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun. But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world— and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all.
THE WITCHES by Roald Dahl — This is not a fairy-tale. This is about REAL WITCHES. Real witches don’t ride around on broomsticks. They don’t even wear black cloaks and hats. They are vile, cunning, detestable creatures who disguise themselves as nice, ordinary ladies. So how can you tell when you’re face to face with one? Well, if you don’t know yet you’d better find out quickly-because there’s nothing a witch loathes quite as much as children and she’ll wield all kinds of terrifying powers to get rid of them.
WEETZIE BAT by Francesca Lia Block — Set in L.A., Weetzie Bat, her best friend Dirk and their search across L.A. for the most dangerous angel of all …true love. There are sporadic tears in the gauze curtain through which we can glimpse the darker and seedier side: there are hints that a friend of a friend found out they had AIDS, someone’s close relative dies from a drug overdose. in Weetzie’s world, everyone finds their ideal matches, ready-made with the same cutesy nicknames that she and her best friend came up with when they were even younger and sillier, everyone lives together on their own without any trouble or financial worry, and even an impulsive and ill-devised baby-making scheme involving a threesome with a best friend and his significant other can turn out hunky-dory. Weetzie is quirky without depth. There’s no road map here for dealing with any of the problems she does encounter because she never deals with them. She denies her problems or ignores them until a convenient magical solution manifests itself or else she runs away from them, and the other characters aren’t really much more than pretty shiny accessories.
WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead — By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner. But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper. The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.
WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON by Grace Lin — A wondrous story of happiness, family, and friendship. A fantasy crossed with Chinese folklore, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a timeless adventure story in the classic tradition of The Wizard of Oz. In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.
A YEAR WITHOUT AUTUMN by Liz Kessler — On her way to visit her best friend, Autumn, Jenni Green suddenly finds she’s been transported exactly one year forward in time. Now she discovers that in the year that’s gone by, tragedy has struck and her friendship with Autumn will never be the same again. But what caused the tragedy?
YOU CAN’T SHATTER ME by Tahlia Newland — Sixteen-year-old, Carly, is set to become top of her art class until bully-boy, Justin, gives her a vicious payback for standing up for one of his victims. Her boyfriend, karate-trained nerd, Dylan, wants to smash the guys face in, but a fight at school means suspension, losing his chance at school honors and facing a furious father. Carly is determined to find a more creative solution to her problem, but will she sort it out before Dylan’s inner cave man hijacks him and all hell breaks lose? Justin might be a pain, but his harassment leads to a deepening of Dylan and Carly’s romance, and Carly finds an inner strength she didn’t know she had. The magical realism style provides a touch of fantasy in an otherwise very real story that offers heart-warming solutions to bullying. You Can’t Shatter Me is food for the soul.
ZERO by Christina Collins — about a girl who believes the answer to her problems lies in speaking zero words a day