The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Stiefvater, Maggie. 2011. The Scorpio Races. New York: Scholastic Inc. ISBN 9780545224918

 

The Scorpio Races is equal parts heartwarming and chilling.  Puck and Sean’s separate yet slowly converging tales allow the novel to easily appeal to both genders.  Both characters must define themselves, find bravery, and choose what truly matters in life.  They must do all of this on a rugged island with bloodthirsty, sea-mad horses. 

Rather than the more popular, and common, changeling story, Stiefvater chooses to use one of the many legends of the water horse as the basis for her fantasy.  While this may confuse younger readers, it creates an excellent draw for the older teen.  It would be a wonderful introduction to world myths.  This being said, it is not necessary for the reader to have any knowledge of the Irish or Scottish water horse myths.  Any reader who isn’t put off by blood in their books and who enjoys equestrian fiction would find this novel a gripping read.

The Scorpio Races is evenly balanced in terms of character development and plot.  One does not outweigh the other in importance or development.  In fact, the book seems to delight in crossing genres.  While its all encompassing genre is fantasy, it is also a story about family, coming of age, pets, love, and horse racing. 

One thing that could potentially bother readers is the alternating viewpoint.  While the two points of view are clearly marked, some readers do not like switching out of one character’s mind for another, no matter how smooth the author makes the transition. 

 

This novel could be used in many different ways.  It could be included in a selection of equestrian fiction.  It could be used to introduce Irish or Scottish myths.  It is a sport book.  An interesting potential project would be to encourage teens to make up their own land to fit a myth.  For example, Stiefvater created Thisby specifically for her breed of water horses.  They don’t exist anywhere else.  Assign each teen a myth and then have them create a land specifically for whatever mythical creature dominates the story.

 

Awards:

Michael L. Printz Honor book 2012

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award finalist 2012

 

Reviews:

BookList- “And in the water horses, based on mostly Celtic legends, she’s created scary yet compelling forces of nature. A book appealing to lovers of fantasy, horse stories, romance, and action-adventure alike, this seems to have a shot at being a YA blockbuster.”

 

The Bulletin Center for Children’s Books- “Though the plot arc unfolds slowly, Stiefvater does a masterful job in creating an immersive world with well-developed traditions, history, prejudices, and complex social relations. The book credibly depicts the subtle tensions of a developing romance between two stubborn and taciturn people with a multitude of concerns: their training for the races, Puck’s worries about money and the splintering of her family, and Sean’s love and care for his horses, among other things. Those willing to take it slowly will be richly rewarded with a story whose mythic dimensions stand easily with its more quotidian ones, thus embodying the tensions between the water horses and their humans.”

 

Coats, Karen. The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. December 2011. Vol. 65, No. 4.  Accessed via CLCD http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=0&isbn=978-0-545-22490-1

Cruze, Karen. Booklist. Sep. 1, 2011. Vol. 108, No. 1. Accessed via CLCD http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=0&isbn=978-0-545-22490-1

 

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale Illustrated by Nathan Hale

Hale, Dean and Hale, Shannon. 2008. Rapunzel’s Revenge. Ill. by Nathan Hale.  New York: Bloomsbury.  ISBN 978159992883

Rapunzel’s Revenge falls squarely into late elementary to early middle school age material.  The reader needs to be familiar with the major fairy tales mentioned, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White, but also old enough to appreciate the divergence from the normal tale.  For example, Rapunzel rescues herself.  The reader also must be willing to put up with the cliche western phrases and accents that Shannon and Dean Hale gave the characters.

That being said, for any fans of traditional American comics, the art style and setting in the Wild West is beautiful.  Nathan Hale uses the classic comic style that, for a long time comic reader, evokes images of the old Batman or Spiderman comics.  While there is a lot of negative space in the top third of most frames, the lower two thirds are busy enough to bring readers back for a second or third look.

Rapunzel’s Revenge centers around the Rapunzel fairy tale.  However, instead of growing up in a tower, she grows up in the villa and garden of Mother Gothel.  It is only after she meets her true mother and begins to act out against Mother Gothel that the tower appears.  After rescuing herself, and throwing an arrogant prince off of her trail, Rapunzel, through a misadventure meets Jack, who just so happens to have a goose who won’t lay an egg and a single magic bean.  Continuing on her quest to save her true mother, who Gothel is working as a slave like the majority of people in the land, Rapunzel and Jack get into some classic and classically western mischief.  They do things such as save a princess, rescue a town from coyotes, and avoid the predictably corrupt law.

While it was a decent read, I was rather disappointed by the weak and predictable plot.  I was excited to see a graphic novel by Shannon Hale.  I have read her novels before and they always have both strong characters and a strong plot.  While the characters were decent, the plot was weak.

That being said, this would be a great addition to a section on fairy tales.  Rapunzel’s Revenge would go great beside books like The Stinky Cheese Man.  It also lends itself to pairing with Disney’s Tangled, seeing as both have strong and active Rapunzel characters…who fight.  On the more creative side, it would probably work well if a group of children was given a group of fairy tales and encouraged to pick a setting, modern, ancient Greece, Arthurian, far east, Star Wars, and blend the fairy tales into the setting.  For example, what would happen if Jack was a Jedi…or if Sleeping Beauty lived in L.A.?

Award:

Cybil Award 2008

Reviews:

Children’s Book and Play Review- ” Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale has teamed up with her husband to create a delightfully whacky graphic novel version of Rapunzel…Nathan Hale’s illustrations are colorful, fun, and full of action. They clearly communicate not only what is happening, but also how the characters feel.”

Kirkus- “The Hales apply a new twist (or three) to the classic tale, creating a strong, sassy, braid-whipping character who waits for no prince. Nathan Hale’s art, stylistically reminiscent of a picture book, provides a snazzy counterpoint to the folksy text.”

Kirkus Reviews. August 1, 2008. Vol. 76, No. 15. Accessed via CLCD http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=1&isbn=0146622579842

Reynolds, Kate.  Childrens Book and Play Review. September/October 2008. Vol. 29, No. 1. Accessed via CLCD http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=1&isbn=0146622579842

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman, Neil. 2008. The Graveyard Book. Ill. By Dave McKean. New York:  Harper. ISBN 9780060530945

 

The Graveyard Book is a story about Nobody.  Nobody Owens that is.  When a strange man kills all of Bod’s family, the adventurous little one-year-old finds his way into the graveyard where the Owens protect him.  The majority of the graveyard believes that Bod should go back to the town because he is one of the living, not one of the dead.  However when the Lady on the Grey (Gaiman’s incarnation of death in The Graveyard Book) tells the dead to be charitable, the graveyard agrees to take Bod in.

In each chapter Nobody is a different age, growing up in fits and starts, not unlike childhood when viewed through the lens of adulthood. Like most children, Bod gets into trouble.  However, trouble in a graveyard looks very different than trouble in the town, for the most part.  While the Owens are Bod’s adoptive ghostly parents, they are not his guardian.  Silas, a dark mysterious being who lives in the chapel steeple, is Nobody’s guardian because he can leave the graveyard and get food (and eventually clothing, seeing as Bod runs around in a “grey winding sheet” for a while). 

One of the interesting aspects is the descriptions of the non-human elements of the graveyard.  At first glance, the ghouls are straightforward evil creatures.  To any child with a love of spooky stories, they have probably heard the word ghoul before and have an idea of what they are.  Gaiman forces the reader to approach his ghouls differently.  Instead of being malignant ghosts, which is sometimes how ghouls are portrayed, Gaimen’s ghouls are scavengers.  For example, a few times in the chapter “The Hounds of God” the city Ghulheim is mentioned.  However, as eerie as the name alone is, Bod’s description throws it into sharp relief.

                “Even from the path below Ghulheim, even from miles away, Bod could see that all the angels were wrong—that the walls sloped crazily, that it was every nightmare he had ever endured made into a place, like a huge mouth of jutting teeth.  It was a city that had been built just to be abandoned, in which all the fears and madnesses and revulsions of the creatures who built it were turned into stone.” (82)

The Hounds of God themselves are another example.  For the whole chapter they are called Hounds of God, and when Bod is rescued, he goes to find a list of magical creatures he had abandoned at the beginning of the chapter.  The only entry the reader is allowed to see is the entry for the Hounds of God, that states “Those that men call Werewolves.”  Then there’s Silas, but I’ll leave him a mystery for the reader.

The Graveyard Book moves along at a rather fast clip.  While there are slower sections, they never cause the story to lose momentum.  In fact, the novel reads more as a collection of short stories than a true novel.  Each chapter has its own fully completed plot.  There may be a few loose ends at the end of a chapter, but not so many that it becomes obviously a chapter as opposed to a complete story.

As far as setting is concerned, the dead are one of two clues about physical location.  Where would Celts, Romans, Catholics, poets, and farmers all live at some point?  The other telling remark is the fact that Scarlett moves to Glasgow, which while far, does not appear to be a completely impossible distance considering her family moved to town, then Glasgow and back.

At the end of the day, The Graveyard Book is a coming of age story.  It is about a boy growing up; the fact that it takes place in a graveyard full of ghosts doesn’t make it hard to relate to.  In fact, it offers a glimpse at life that most people forget children are aware of, death.  Several times, Silas points out that the dead are dead.  Their stories are told.  Bod can still write his story.  Mother Slaughter said something profound about growing up.  She said, “You’re always you, and that don’t change, and you’re always changing, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” (298)

This novel would be a great introduction to the short story.  It might be interesting for older kids to examine the double-plot, the individual plot of each chapter versus the over arching plot.   It might be fun to have younger kids write short stories about living with monsters (ghosts, vampires, bigfoot) then put them all together. 

 

Awards:

Newbery Medal Winner 2009

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award finalist 2009

Cybil Award 2008

 

Reviews:

BookList (starred review) – “This is an utterly captivating tale that is cleverly told through an entertaining cast of ghostly characters. There is plenty of darkness, but the novel’s ultimate message is strong and life affirming.”

Kirkus- “Wistful, witty, wise—and creepy. Gaiman’s riff on Kipling’s Mowgli stories never falters, from the truly spine-tingling opening, in which a toddler accidentally escapes his family’s murderer, to the melancholy, life-affirming ending.”

 

Booklist. Sep. 15, 2008 Vol. 105, No. 2. Accessed via CLCD. http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=2&isbn=0060530928

Kirkus Reviews. August 15, 2008 Vol. 76, No. 16. Accessed via CLCD. http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=2&isbn=0060530928