The Monster in the Lake by Louie Stowell

The Monster in the Lake, Vol. 2

Louie Stowell, Author

Davide Ortu, Illustrator

Walker Books US, Fiction, Feb. 8, 2022

Pages: 197

Suitable for ages: 7-9

Themes: Wizards, Spells, Libraries, Dragons, Magical creatures, Evil curses, Diversity

Opening: “In the Book Wood beneath the library, Kit Spencer was practicing spells. She was a stock girl, with red hair, pale skin, and more mud than you’d usually see on a person who wasn’t a professional pig wrestler…Her goal was to raise the fireball above her head, the lower it to the ground. Faith was guiding her through the spell.” 

Book Jacket Synopsis

Kit Spencer may be the youngest wizard ever, but she sure doesn’t feel like the best wizard. Her magic keeps going wrong, and other weird stuff is happening: talking animals, exploding fireballs, and a very strange new arrival in the local park pond.

She sets off with her two best friends, Alita and Josh and Faith the librarian to investigate with wild magic that’s causing so much commotion. Joining them is a half dragon, half dog named Dogon who breathes fire and loves to be petted. But something is effecting Dogon too. 

Their journey takes them to Scotland, where they meet a loch-full of cranky mermaids, but the danger is greater than they imagined. Will they be able to set things right before the wild and dangerous magic spreads further?

Why I like The Monster in the Lake:

What fun it is introducing this wizarding series to emerging readers who aren’t ready for Harry Potter and other MG fantasy books. In the Monster in the Lake, (Book 2), Louie Stowell creates an exciting and appealing adventure-packed story with magical creatures, diverse characters, and an engaging and suspenseful plot with unexpected twists. The storytelling is straightforward and the pacing is fast and humorous. 

The three diverse friends are lovable characters, but have very different personalities. Kit is a spirited character who is reckless and makes a lot of mistakes. She’d rather play outdoors than read a book. Josh and Alita aren’t wizards, but they both have their own unique talents and are smart, and avid readers. Josh is always taking notes and keeping things straight. This book begins with a letter he writes to his “future self,” which gives a readers a a peek into the first book, A Dragon in the Library. Alita is good at organizing and has a special way with animals. An unlikely group of friends, they do support each other and work well together. Faith, the wizard librarian, is believable and grounds the story. There are many laughable moments. 

I really like this charming and humorous chapter book series. There is a quiz at the end of the book that can be used to launch a discussion about the story. There is a third book in the works and the author leaves room for adventure and Kit’s character growth as she slowly learns to control her magic. I think Kit’s going to be an amazing wizard. This is the perfect summer adventure for young readers looking to escape into a world of magic, libraries, spells, a dragon-dog, and an unseen ancient evil presence trying to regain it’s power!

David Ortu’s pen and ink illustrations are playful. They capture the characters personalities, their reactions to stepping into the pages of a book to transport themselves to far off places, and their encounters with magical creatures. Ortu shares just enough art to spark readers imaginations! 

Louie Stowell started her career writing carefully researched books about space, ancient Egypt, politics and science, but eventually lapsed into making things up. She likes writing about dragons, wizards, vampires, fairies, monsters and parallel worlds. Stowell lives in London with her wife, Karen; her dog, Buffy; and a creepy puppet that is probably cursed. Visit Stowell at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Walker Books US in exchange for a review. 

The Ickabog by J. K Rowling

The Ickabog

J.K. Rowling

Scholastic Inc., Fiction, Nov. 10, 2020

Pages: 304

Suitable for ages: 8 and up

Themes: Fairy Tale, King, Rumors, Lies, Evil, Monster

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Once upon a time there was a tiny kingdom called Cornucopia, as rich in happiness as it was in gold, and famous for its food. From the delicate cream cheeses of Kurdsburg to the Hopes-of-Heaven pastries of Chouxville, each was so delicious that people wept with joy as they ate them.

But even in this happy kingdom, a monster lurks. Legend tells of a fearsome creature living far to the north in the Marshlands… the Ickabog. Some say it breathes fire, spits poison, and roars through the mist as it carries off wayward sheep and children alike. Some say it’s just a myth…

And when that myth takes on a life of its own, casting a shadow over the kingdom, two children — best friends Bert and Daisy — embark on a great adventure to untangle the truth and find out where the real monster lies, bringing hope and happiness to Cornucopia once more.

Why I like this book:

J.K. Rowling has written a magical story for readers with big imaginations. It’s packed with silly humor, fun wordplay and a grand adventure. Cornucopia appears to be a happy kingdom ruled by King Fred the Fearless, who really is harmless and quite vain. Instead of caring about his people, he’s more interested in the lavish silk clothing he wears. If there is a problem, he’d rather leave ruling to his chief advisors and the evil Lord Spittleworth and his side-kick Flapoon.

There are many loving and honest young characters in the story like Daisy Dovetail and Bert Beamish, who are best friends until a dark cloud begins to move over the kingdom. Daisy’s mother’s is King Fred’s seamstress and dies suddenly finishing a new outfit for the demanding king. Not wanting to be reminded of her death, the king moves Daisy and her father to the outskirts of the kingdom. Then Bert’s father, a Major in the Royal Guard, loses his life in a suspicious accident. The evil Lord Spittleworth says Major Beamish is killed by the monstrous Ickabog. This is where the story takes a turn towards darkness.  Lies are told by Spittleworth, each grander than the first. Imaginations soar and the king and kingdom plummet into fear of the legendary monster living in the Marshlands. But brave Daisy and Bert are suspicious and decide to get to the bottom of things, so they journey to the Marshlands. (No spoilers beyond this paragraph.)

The plot is simple, but filled with twists and turns that will keep readers engaged and guessing what will happen next. There is a narrator that guides the story and gives insight from time to time. The chapters are very short, 4-5 pages, making this fairy tale a perfect bedtime read for children.

The Ickabog reminds me a bit of the fairy tales I read as a child in the late 50s. So it was fun to escape into the happy little kingdom of Cornucopia. Like the stories I read, there is good and evil, and cruel characters.  But I appreciated the strong theme about how rumors start and quickly get out of hand. Lies are told to cover up other lies, and chaos is unleashed. Rowling brilliantly shows how powerful fear and misinformation can be when perpetuated by the rulers of the kingdom. But in the end, the children lead the way.

Make sure you read Rowling’s Forward.  She began writing The Ickabod over 10 years ago. She read chapters to her children, who loved the story. But she set it aside and never finished the book.  When the lockdown hit last year, she completed the book and published chapters online for families to enjoy. She also invited children to participate in a competition and submit full-color illustrations of their favorite scenes from the book. The North American edition contains 34 illustrations from children in the U.S. and Canada.  I listened to a virtual program where the children talked about their delightful artwork and asked Rowling questions.  Make sure you check out the back of the book, where there is are thumbnail pictures along with information about the young artists, who range from 7 to 12.

J.K. Rowling is the author of the seven Harry Potter books, which have sold over 500 million copies, been translated into over 80 languages, and made into eight blockbuster films. She has also written three short companion volumes for charity, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which later became the inspiration for a new series of films, also written by J. K. Rowling. She then continued Harry’s story as a grown-up in a stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which she wrote with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany. She’s received many awards and honors for her writing. She also supports a number of causes through her charitable trust, Volant, and is the founder of the children’s charity Lumos. She lives in Scotland with her family.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.