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Best Middle-Grade Fantasy of 2018

Heartbreaking, uplifting, and absolutely beautiful.


In this reimagining of Russian tales of Baba Yaga, Yagas act as benevolent Guardians of The Gate between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Orphan Marinka descends on both sides from the first Yaga, whose house plied the Russian steppes. Her grandmother Baba, who is also a Yaga, is training her to take over this important job when the time comes. But the 12-year-old doesn’t want to be a Yaga. A Yaga’s life is secret and lonely; her (or his) only friends are the dead who stop in nightly for a celebration of their lives before the Yaga guides them back to the stars from whence they came. Then two life-changing events happen in succession: Marinka learns a devastating truth about her life and Baba disappears. Marinka has to find a way to get Baba back, but her plan may change everything forever. Anderson has fully and lovingly developed her Yaga mythology. Although the Yaga story originates in Eastern Europe, these Yagas travel all over the world to guide the dead. Marinka’s story takes her to England’s Lake District, an unidentified desert, a marketplace in North Africa, and to the Russian steppes. Yagas are kind, and their chicken-legged houses aren’t merely a means to get from place to place. They are sentient creatures, expressing emotion and magically meeting their inhabitants’ needs. Some diversity is implied based on location, and Marinka’s Russian descent likewise implies that she is white.

Heartbreaking, uplifting, and absolutely beautiful. (Fantasy. 8-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-20996-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

Hope is ever the thing with feathers, and feathers abound here.


In a land where music belongs solely to Masters, a 12-year-old girl dares to sing.

Cloistered with the other turnaway girls, Delphernia Undersea knows her place is to be quiet and invisible and her role to obediently transform the Masters’ music into gold—a process called “making shimmer.” But somewhere between knowing her place and actually keeping it, Delphernia not only cannot make shimmer, but she flouts Mother Nine’s warnings that the sea swallows girls with singer throats and sings secretly at night, molding her voice’s bright notes into fluttering golden birds. When a strange Master chooses to take her with him as part of the Festival of Bells, Delphernia is suddenly thrust into a dangerous world of music, royalty, unearthed secrets, and freedom in the form of a pale, defiant trans girl named Linna. Music and secrets, in fact, are in the very bones of this debut novel. Chewins’ unhurried, first-person narration by a brown-skinned, curly-haired protagonist deftly reveals a tapestry of magic, power, and rebellion thread by ethereal thread. Questions of stratified gender roles, corruption, and what happens when a society stops asking questions fit with (and even enhance) Chewins’ tale of music, magic, and self-discovery. An abrupt conclusion is the only piece that feels out of place, distracting precisely because readers will have been utterly mesmerized by the rest of the narrative.

Hope is ever the thing with feathers, and feathers abound here. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9792-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

Chokshi comes into her own in this novel, reminding readers of the power of language and of stories.

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From the Pandava Quartet series , Vol. 1

Aru Shah of Atlanta, Georgia, is a seventh-grader and social misfit.

While her classmates jet set around the world, Aru spends her holidays at home with her curator mother in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture. But one day, three of Aru’s classmates show up at her doorstep and dare her to light the cursed Lamp of Bharata. When Aru lights the lamp, she releases the Sleeper from his slumber and must—with the help of her newly found soul sister, Mini, and their pigeon sidekick, Subala, or “Boo”—go on a quest to stop the Sleeper from awakening the Lord of Destruction, who will, in turn, end the world. Aru and Mini’s adventures range from discovering that they are the reincarnations of the Pandava brothers (demigods and the protagonists of the Hindu epic poem the Mahabharata) to slaying demons and shopping at the Night Bazaar (effectively disguised as Costco). In her middle-grade debut, Chokshi (The Star-Touched Queen, 2016, etc.) spins a fantastical narrative that seamlessly intertwines Hindu cosmology and folklore, feminism, and witty dialogue for an uproarious novel for young readers. For readers of Indian origin, especially, the novel presents a culture that is not often seen—or accurately represented—in mainstream children’s and young adult literature.

Chokshi comes into her own in this novel, reminding readers of the power of language and of stories. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-368-01235-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents/Disney

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

A series opener that’s proof that windows and mirrors can be magical ingredients


From the Love Sugar Magic series , Vol. 1

In the small town of Rose Hill, Texas, the Logroño family runs a truly magical bakery in Meriano’s debut.

Leo, short for Leonora, is the youngest of five sisters in a Mexican-American family. Leo feels left out as the older girls step up to help run the family bakery while she watches from the sidelines. Convinced that secrets are being kept from her, Leo skips school to do some reconnaissance and stumbles upon, first, the other women of the family participating in a mysterious ceremony and then, later, an old book titled Recetas de amor, azúcar, y magia, or Recipes of Love, Sugar, and Magic. When eldest sister Isabel discovers Leo with the book, she confirms Leo’s suspicions that something is being kept from her: the women of her family are brujas, or witches. Though Isabel warns her against it, Leo decides to pursue her magical training independently, guided by the enigmatic recipe book, and uses the recipes to help her friends out of sticky situations. When things inevitably misfire, Leo finds she is on her own to right her magical mistakes. In this weave of Mexican, Texan, and American cultures, readers are sure to find mirrors to their own experiences and windows onto others, all wrapped in a fantastical bow. Scrupulously avoiding tokenism, Meriano builds a wonderful contemporary world in small-town Texas, full of diverse characters, where magic feels right at home and muggles will feel equally welcome.

A series opener that’s proof that windows and mirrors can be magical ingredients . (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-249846-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

Extraordinary—not to be missed.


Set primarily in Vienna, this middle-grade novel explores themes of honor and courage as it tells the story of a friendship between a young girl and a dragon.

Grisha, a dragon, was born in the Black Forest in 1803, a time when magic was still commonplace. When a powerful sorcerer’s enchantment turns Grisha into a teapot, he can still see and hear, but he cannot move or speak. After many decades, which include the two human world wars, Grisha is freed and travels to Vienna, where he has heard that dragons are congregating—but soon after he arrives, many of the dragons mysteriously disappear. He meets 11-year-old Maggie, who lives in Vienna’s Sacher Hotel with her poet father. Grisha is pleased and gratified that Maggie can see him since, by now, humans have become so busy and preoccupied that they no longer see what they don’t wish to see, which includes dragons and magic in general—one of many equally graceful observations that amplify this delicate, original story into something much more than its plot. The two become friends and determine to find the missing dragons. Weyr’s deft, assured narrative is interwoven with dry humor and percipient observations as it explores the value of seeing magic in one’s life as well as the honor of sacrifice. Harnett’s evocative black-and-white illustrations add atmospheric richness, depicting its human cast as white Europeans.

Extraordinary—not to be missed. (Fantasy. 9-12)

Pub Date: June 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4521-5958-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Chronicle

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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