Why do we love fantasies? Psychologists have all sorts of explanations about confronting our fears safely, etc., But sometimes it’s simply that a story comes along that just pulls us in and we escape into that world.
The ability to write such a story is a true gift, a form of magic itself. Charis Cotter has this gift. Her latest book, The Swallow: A Ghost Story (Tundra Books: 2014), is the story of two lonely girls, both of whom introduce themselves by saying they don’t fit in. Polly is eager to be friends with Rose, the new girl next door. Rose, on the other hand, is reluctant to get involved with “one of the dreadful Lacey children who live next door.”
Polly and Rose each narrate their own version of events, and as the book opens, their stories parallel each other. Polly hates having so many brothers and sisters and having to “share everything until there’s nothing left for me. Rose feels she’s “bewitched” because no one, not her parents, teachers or classmates, pays any attention to her. But as Polly and Rose’s friendship deepens, their stories, and their mysteries, become intertwined. Ultimately, they both learn that it’s much easier to face our fears with a friend at our side.
I don’t want to give anything away about the ghost in the title. What I do want to tell you is that this is a beautifully written testament to the power of love and friendship.
Love and friendship are also at the heart of Angelica Banks new book, Finding Serendipity. (Henry Holt, 2015; Review copy from NetGalley, available February 3, 2015) Summer vacation is just beginning, and Tuesday McGillicuddy is can’t wait for her mother, world-famous author Serendipity Smith, to finish the final adventure of Vivienne Small, a fairy-like creature who lives in the Peppermint Forest and plots “ingenious ways [to] outsmart her archrival, the monstrous Carsten Mothwood.”
Tuesday is worried, though when her mother doesn’t come home for dinner. When she wakes up late at night and realizes Serendipity still isn’t home, she resolves to find her mother. Sitting at her mother’s typewriter trying to find the end of Vivienne’s story, Tuesday begins to write. As she writes her story, a mysterious silver thread begins to spool itself out from the words and wraps itself around Tuesday. Soon, she and her dog, Baxterr, are swept out the window and up into the sky.
Middle grade readers will be swept right along with them. The adventure that follows includes a mysterious fog-filled land, a wise Librarian, near-drownings, and pirates. Along the way, Tuesday learns about being brave and staying true to her friends and herself.
Finding Serendipity is really a love letter to the magic of writing. Angelica Banks (aka Australian authors Heather Rose and Danielle Wood) has created a world where “stories have a power of their own” that take readers and writers on amazing adventures. Readers will discover that writing “might appear to be magical, but the magic comes from nowhere but within you.”
Both of these books do what fantasy does best: expand our horizons and help us see the world in a new way. Both are terrific choices for read-alouds or indpendent reading.