Enchanted Stories

I’m guilty of having a very, very long list of books that I’d like to read. Most of the great middle-grade books that I write about are books I did not read as a kid. I found them first as an adult. I missed so many great books as a kid that I’m forever trying to catch up now. Ella Enchanted has been on my list for years, but for varying reasons, I’ve just never gotten to it. But this week I knew I had to read it.

The reason? In the process of choosing books to present in What’s New In Children’s Literature, I discovered that Gail Carson Levine is releasing a new book, a prequel to Ella Enchanted.

Ella Enchanted is about Ella, a young teen who has lived her life cursed to be obedient. Ella must do what she is ordered, but being spirited, she finds ways to outwit the curse without breaking it. Her curse was a gift from a meddling fairy named Lucinda. Lucinda likes to give these gifts at proposals, weddings, births and funerals.

Ella Enchanted is actually a retelling of Cinderella, though how I missed this escapes me. (If ever there was a moment to slap my forehead and say “duh!”, it’s now.) Ella’s enchantment has been a secret all of her life, but because of her father’s greed, she must face life with evil stepsisters and an awful stepmother.

Ella is a fabulous character. She has strength, resilience and courage that allow her to befriend Prince Char. Her adventures teach her how much she is capable of, and the question comes to her: is she strong enough to break her own curse?

Ogre Enchanted is a prequel, taking place one generation before Ella’s story. In this story, we meet Evie, a teenaged healer who says “no” to her best friend Wormy’s marriage proposal. Unfortunately, Lucinda is present and decides to turn Evie into an ogress unless she can find love and accept a proposal within 62 days.

This is a monumental task, ogres eat people. Ogres stink. Ogres are not accepted in human company. Sounds a lot like a Beauty and the Beast retelling to me! Evie realizes that while she only wants to heal others, she can’t help people without learning how to be an ogre first.

Her adventures take her to the marshy Fens to live among the ogres. While there she meets a young man that she is sure loves her. Master Peter is perfect! But he disappears on a day that she chooses to stop the other ogres from killing a giantess. While looking for Peter, Evie finds friends at a manor house and eventually within the capital city where she saves the king and his subjects from a killer plague.

I don’t want to give too much away, because I want you to read the book! What I can tell you is that Evie’s true friends stand by her despite her outer appearance and we learn a lot from this generation. (If you hated Ella’s father in Ella Enchanted, you’ll know why when you read this!)

I am not quite finished with the series though. Goodreads lists another book in the set:

I’m going to read it (or listen as I crochet, like I did with Ella Enchanted) and I’ll let you know. I’m betting it’s a Snow White retelling.


Unexpected Authors – George A. Romero

I am an unapologetic fan of zombie movies. I know, I’m a librarian so I should love film adaptations of Jane Austen books, and pine over Shakespeare’s plays, but I don’t. I love bad movies–movies so bad, that they’re good. If you know anything about the modern zombie genre (it encompasses movies, video games, graphic novels and books,) then you probably know the name George A. Romero.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Romero essentially created the modern zombie. Most writers, game developers and screenwriters follow the rules Romero created with his iconic classic, Night of the Living Dead. In the Newsflesh series by Mira Grant, an entire generation of children are named for him: Georges, Georgias and Georgettes are the norm.

But what does any of this have to do with books?? Well, have I got a surprise for you! Twenty years ago a publisher from Belgium asked Romero to write a children’s book. Romero jumped at the chance — after being typecast as “the zombie guy” in Hollywood.

The Little World if Humongo Bongo is an illustrated story about a humongous creature named Bongo. Bongo is tired of waiting for something to happen and so he decides to travel to the edge of the woods he lives in with his friend, Pongo. Bongo meets a new type of creature, tiny as ants called the Peanuts. They are scared of him, and then they worship him and eventually, they resent and attack him.

We find out in the story that Pongo, had a similar experience with the Peanuts before Bongo hatched from his egg. Bongo faces the grim choice of destroying the Peanuts or allowing them to take whatever they want. In the end, he realizes that Pongo was right, they should stay within their own Wood and wait for the next thing to happen.

I loved this book. I’m ecstatic that it is finally being published in English. Romero’s story and illustrations — he studied art in college — make his themes of tolerance and intolerance easily understood. He also brings to mind the issue of overpopulation. These seem like complex issues for children, but they understand a lot more than we give them credit for.

I found the book making me think of our own overuse and abuse of our home planet. Bongo’s explorations of the three parts of his planet made me think of mankind’s aspirations to colonize space. I hope we take tolerance with us and find it in return as we explore the vastness of space.

So, before you pass a book by because of who the author is or because of their latest scandal, think twice and hopefully grow as a reader and a fan.

Other unexpected authors of children’s books:

  • Madonna – I really loved Mr. Peabody’s Apples
  • Jason Siegel – I have his Nightmares series at school
  • Neil Patrick Harris – besides being an actor, he’s a magician and has started writing a middle grade magic-themed series
  • Sarah Ferguson – I have quite a few picture books by the former Duchess of York
  • Rob Reiner – love his book Tell Me a Scary Story…but not too scary
  • Steve Martin
  • Brooke Shields
  • Keith Richards
  • Derek Jeter
  • John Travolta
  • Tori Spelling
  • Whoopie Goldberg

I could go on for ages! But I’ll stop, ’cause I want you to read a book instead.

Time Travel Guides

Though I don’t think I have Norse in my ancestry, my daughters do.  I married into a family that it primarily Norwegian and Danish.  We live in a part of the country that was settled by a lot of Scandinavian immigrants, and so I find Vikings very interesting.  Today I want to share a new book by Linda Bailey in her Time Travel Guides series: Stowing Away With the Vikings.

9781771389877_fda41 The Time Travel Guides isn’t a new series.  I looked online and some of them were published back in the early 2000s, but it looks like she’s writing new books and re-releasing some of the older titles.

These books are great! They are written in Graphic Novel format, with a fictional storyline about the three Binkerton children.  The children manage to get sucked into a Time Travel Guide in the travel agency run by Julien T. Pettigrew.  The kids travel through time and experience life in that particular time period– in this case, the Viking Age.  The Guide’s pages appear at the bottom of each page in the graphic novel giving nonfiction information in a fun and interesting format.  The kids are able to return home only by reading the entire guide.  After the Binkertons’ story is finished, the book finishes out with even more nonfiction information.  All of the writing is done in a way that kids will love.  I think that students who want to read graphic novels could easily be taught to love nonfiction with this combo style.  I’d compare them to the You Wouldn’t Want To Be series.

There are more titles in the series:


Hot On the Trail in Ancient Egypt is listed as new on my purchasing site, and some of the older titles are still available.  I’m hoping they all re-release or that I can find them on Thriftbooks.com.

Bailey has quite a few titles in picture books, like the Stanley series, and middle grade chapters as well.  I’m excited about another upcoming title she has:


I’m sure you all remember that Frankenstein  is one of my all-time favorite books.  I can’t wait to read this!  I wasn’t able to get a review copy so I’ll have to wait until August like everyone else.

A Drop of the Sea

The book I’m sharing today is not yet published. I’ve been reading advance copies of books because later this summer I’ll be presenting two classes on What’s New in Children’s Literature (primary & intermediate).

A Drop of the Sea by Ingrid Chabbert is about Ali, who lives in a desert with his great grandmother.

Ali knows that they have a good life and he is happy, but he wonders about his great grandmother, and if she has any regrets.

She is also happy but wishes she had taken the opportunity to visit the sea. So Ali decided to go for her. He will go and bring the sea to her. Ali’s trip is long and somewhat scary, but he gathers the sea in a bucket for her.

He carries the sea all the way home, but the trip and the heat of the desert take most of the water before he reaches home. All he has left when he gets home is a drop of the sea.

Great-Grandmother is content with this beautiful thing Ali has done for her. He has fulfilled all of her wishes.

I was really touched by this story. I think most of us have a wish or two that we let pass us by in life. The idea that such a simple act can be so profound speaks to our capacity for kindness and love.

You’ve probably heard a lot about kindness lately. I have. This sweet story helps us to remember that there are many wonderful qualities within all of us. If we remember that, it will be easier to spread the good in our hearts.

Fairytale Basics: The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Actually, I think The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a fable, but we’re grouping it under fairytales for now. Although most of the students know the story, and the meaning of the phrase ‘to cry wolf’, I only own one version of the story.


This retelling by B.G. Hennessy is just the basic story where the shepherd boy repeatedly calls for help when a wolf threatens his flock. Except of course, it’s a lie, a ruse to drum up excitement and eventually it comes back to haunt him when a real wolf comes to call. The kids liked the pictures in this version a lot! The bored shepherd is drawn picking his nose and try to teach his sheep to play blind man’s bluff.  There is also an odd bird-thing with a human-like face and a Pinocchio nose.  That stumped us. We loved the surprise at the end where the boy is search for his sheep, and we assume that they have been eaten by the wolves, but in reality, they have climbed a tree and are safe and sound.

The funny version I read with the first grade to reinforce the story’s message is The Wolf Who Cried Boy by Bob Hartman.


This little wolf, with a jaunty cap that makes me think of Jughead, is sick of eating the same old thing.  He wants something better, something like boy! Little Wolf cries boy to get his parents to come running, hoping to catch the boy for a gourmet meal.  As. expected, this backfires when a troop of Boy Scouts actually comes into the woods. One even wanders into the wolves’ cave and makes himself comfortable, but Mama and Papa Wolf are so frustrated with their son that they won’t even look.

There are quite a few versions out that look like they would be worth buying for the school collection.

I have the Gail Carson Levine Betsy books on my list, and I like Alex Latimer’s books. I’m super frustrated because I know that I own The Fish Who Cried Boy but I can’t find it on my shelves.

Just to make you giggle, I found a Garfield and Friends version here.


I also discovered that Pinkfong has some fable videos out.  I need to dig deeper into their YouTube channel.  We love their phonics videos and dinosaur stories in kindergarten.

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And just cause, I find this sort of thing amusing:



Telling Tall Tales: John Henry

The most important thing I need in order to do my job is have a voice.  Well, I’ve caught a cold and I’m worried about my voice making it through a busy day tomorrow (7 classes before noon with 15 minutes of reading each.)  I’m honestly worried about letting my students down.  I really want to read John Henry to my second grade students, but for me to survive the rest of the week, I’m going to need to go to Plan B.


I own these great versions of John’s story, I like that the Julius Lester retelling has Jerry Pinkney’s artwork, and I didn’t realize that Ezra Jack Keats did illustrations too.  I did decide to order a DVD with Disney’s animated short of John Henry.


It’s not here yet, and the full version of John’s story isn’t on YouTube — the videos on there cut it off about a minute before the ending!

Well, thanks to my inability to just give up, I stumbled on a great article about John Henry and the article mentioned that there is a Disney Short Film collection available on Netflix with John Henry in it.  I logged in to Netflix, checked the collection, and now I’m the happiest librarian in town!!


If you haven’t seen the film, you really should, this is one story Disney got right.  It’s introduced by James Earl Jones, and narrated by Alfre Woodard.  The quilt theme makes me think of the of the the freedom quilts made by slaves. The singing style is like listening to a gospel choir, which makes me think of southern churches. I don’t want to sound like I’m making stereotypes, but both make me think of the African American culture and everything that culture has added to the American culture. It’s a story I can read, but I don’t know if I could give the overall feeling like the animation does.

Honestly, I don’t think I have enough books about John Henry.  The kids are intrigued by the idea that he could have been a real man.  There are multiple theories about who he was, but no matter what the truth is, the folklore that has grown around John Henry’s name has surpassed the need for a real person to fill his shoes. I’d like to get a few more titles for my collection, and these look like the type the kids would want: