The magical element doesn't add much to this story of a low-key labor heroine, but it may draw in fantasy readers

CIRCLE OF CRANES

The horror of sweatshop life is alleviated by a magical heritage.

Suyin doesn't want to go to America, but the people of her romanticized, 21st-century Chinese village want someone who can send American dollars back to fund schools and electricity. Almost immediately, it becomes clear that the smuggler bringing her to Gold Mountain is a liar. She's not traveling on a cruise ship with "first-class accommodations [and] twelve-course banquets" but on a "rickety rust bucket" too small for the passengers and unsafe for the open ocean. The perilous journey Suyin makes with her fellow passengers, mostly other girls, doesn't end with safety. When they arrive in New York City, the girls spend 14-hour-days in an overheated sweatshop. Meanwhile, Suyin tries to be worthy of her crane ancestors, who tell her in visions and dreams that she is the last crane princess; without her help, the magical crane women are doomed. Can she be worthy of both the cranes, who need a savior to rescue their queen from the netherworld, and her fellow laborers, who need a leader to demand eight months of unpaid wages? The confusing worldbuilding is a mashup of careful details about some of China's ethnic minorities combined willy-nilly with elements from other eras, other parts of China and vast oversimplifications. Inexplicably, Suyin's magical heritage comes from a Japanese folk tale.

The magical element doesn't add much to this story of a low-key labor heroine, but it may draw in fantasy readers . (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8037-3443-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child...

KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES

A San Diego preteen learns that she’s an elf, with a place in magic school if she moves to the elves’ hidden realm.

Having felt like an outsider since a knock on the head at age 5 left her able to read minds, Sophie is thrilled when hunky teen stranger Fitz convinces her that she’s not human at all and transports her to the land of Lumenaria, where the ageless elves live. Taken in by a loving couple who run a sanctuary for extinct and mythical animals, Sophie quickly gathers friends and rivals at Foxfire, a distinctly Hogwarts-style school. She also uncovers both clues to her mysterious origins and hints that a rash of strangely hard-to-quench wildfires back on Earth are signs of some dark scheme at work. Though Messenger introduces several characters with inner conflicts and ambiguous agendas, Sophie herself is more simply drawn as a smart, radiant newcomer who unwillingly becomes the center of attention while developing what turn out to be uncommonly powerful magical abilities—reminiscent of the younger Harry Potter, though lacking that streak of mischievousness that rescues Harry from seeming a little too perfect. The author puts her through a kidnapping and several close brushes with death before leaving her poised, amid hints of a higher destiny and still-anonymous enemies, for sequels.

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child who, while overly fond of screaming, rises to every challenge. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4593-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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