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.

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Legacy by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Legacy, Volume 8

Shannon Messenger, Author

Aladdin, Fiction/Fantasy, Nov. 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Fantasy, Magic, Abilities, Magical Creatures, Evil, Relationships, Friendships

Synopsis:

Sophie Foster wants answers. But after a liftime of lies, sometimes the truth is the most dangerous discovery. Even the smallest secret comes with terrifying new responsibilities.

And Sophie’s not the only one with blank spots in her past or mysteries surrounding her family. She and her friends are part of something much bigger than they imagined — and their roles have already been schosen for them.

Every clue drags them deeper into the conspiracy. Every memory forces them to question everything — epecially one another. And the harder they fight, the more the lines blur between friend and enemy.

Illusions shatter — and Sophie and her friends face impossible choices — in this astonishing eighth book in the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

Why I like this book:

Shannon Messenger is a superb storyteller. Her writing is powerful and richly textured.  Her settings and magical world building in Legacy continue to be vividly creative and seductive. Her plots are thrilling and DANGEROUS.  Once you begin Legacy, you will be drawn into her magic until you have read the nearly 800 pages. And when you reach the last 100 pages, you’ll want to slow down because you don’t want the story to end.  Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, as does the book’s ending. And yes, adults enjoy her books too.

Like other reviewers, I don’t want to give away any spoilers for those who haven’t read their Christmas copy or are just beginning the series — like my great granddaughter who’s on Volume 6. So my review will focus on my observations.  I will say that the verdict is still out on Sophie’s relationship with Keefe and Fitz. And both relationships are very important and different, providing a certain amount of support and stability for Sophie.  However there is a lot of drama and adventure in Legacy, and more reveals to come in Unlocked, Volume 9, that may leave us all speechless.

Even though the books are known for their magic, there really is a lot of realism in Legacy and the series. I don’t know why it took me a while to realize it, but Legacy brought the realism more into focus. Yes Sophie is the Moonlark, who’s DNA is genetically engineered to give her certain powers. But she is also human and makes big mistakes. She has flaws, stumbles, misjudges, and disappoints, but she always picks herself up and doesn’t give up.

Sophie realizes some flaws in her abilities and she asks Mr. Forkle and the Black Swan team to reset her abilities, a huge risk to her life. The adjustments enhance her abilities. Another major character undergoes a resetting, but I won’t give that away.

We see Sophie and her friends, Bianca, Fitz, Keefe, and Dex, Tam and Lihn maturing and trusting in each other’s abilities — even though one member is forced to join the Neverseen enemy.  I was delighted to see characters we haven’t seen or heard a lot about in earlier books, take more prominent roles — like Stina and Maruca, who were once at odds with Sophie. Their confidence is growing and it has opened the door for strong teamwork to form. We also see the parents, the Black Swan, and the Councilors taking a huge step back and trusting Sophie and her friends. This may be a build-up for the finalé next year.

And, yes there is one HUGE reveal in Legacy that jolts Sophie and we won’t know how that works out until Unlocked is published November 17.  But there also is some happy news with a  birth.  So in Volume 8, we are beginning to learn some secrets that will have to find resolution at the end. Legacy did advance the story for me.

Shannon Messenger graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she learned — among other things — that she liked watching movies much better than make them. She studied art, screenwriting, and film production, but she realized her real passion was writing stories for children. She’s the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the award-winning middle grade series Keeper of the Lost Cities, as well as the Sky Fall series for young adults. Her books have been featured on multiple state reading lists, published in numerous countries, and translated into many different languages. She lives in Southern California with an embarrassing number of cats. Visit Shannon 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.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.