Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood, by Liesl Shurtliff

Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood, by Liesl Shurtliff
ARC provided by Random House Children’s through NetGalley
in exchange for a fair and honest review

In this fun adventure story, Red goes on a journey to find a magical healing potion for her Granny, who’s sick. On the way, she unwillingly adopts a friend and fellow-traveler named Goldie, finds out the secrets of the Big Bad Wolf, and generally learns a lot of lessons about the value of life. This is a cute fairy tale retelling, appropriate for ages 8-12 years. It’s a bite-sized snack for those of us who gobble up fairy tale retellings – except this story is more like fairy tale fan-fic than an actual retelling. The plot is nothing like that of Little Red Riding Hood or of Goldilocks. It uses the characters and their basic personality traits to make a whole new story. This approach to the tale makes it refreshing because you really don’t know what’s going to happen next. 


This book is the third in Shurtliff’s fairy tale universe and apparently pick up where her book Rump leaves off. I haven’t read Jack or Rump, and I’d say this is pretty much a stand-alone book. 

Hero’s Lot, by Patrick W. Carr

The Hero’s Lot, by Patrick W. Carr 

Genre: Young Reader Christian Fantasy

Reason for Reading: This is the second book in a series I began last year. The first was quite interesting – reviewed here – and I’m eager for the third to come out later this year. 

Synopsis: In this second book of The Staff and the Sword series, Errol is compelled by powerful members of the conclave to go to a dangerous land and kill the traitor Sarin Valon. With a mixture of stubbornness and bravery, the princess follows Errol on his dangerous journey.



My thoughts: This book didn’t have quite the flare of the first in the series, but it was nevertheless quite enjoyable. The adventure was much more clearly laid out in this book, which made it less mysterious than the first, but the plot was thicker as a result. The story emphasizes the importance of forgiveness, and raises interesting questions about whether Church authority is “good” just because it follows conservative values that have worked for centuries. I tend to believe that Carr’s church is symbolic for the Catholic Church, and the hints of church-shattering philosophical changes that will come in the next book symbolize the conversion to Protestantism or perhaps simply the disgust many people have these days about the sex scandals in the Catholic Church. However, that’s a message intended for adults, I suspect, and the target audience – ages 12-15 will probably mostly miss it. The dangerous foreign land that Errol traveled to clearly symbolized Egypt / Muslims – Carr included some rather direct hints to that effect. I felt a little sad that the people of that land were generalized as evil, except for those that had been converted by God’s Christian word. Those few characters who weren’t pure evil seemed rather weak and a little selfish. Messages like this always make me sad – especially in children’s books – but I understand that it’s difficult to write an epic fantasy without having a hint of xenophobia. Someone has to be “evil” right? I’m not sure how this problem can be gracefully avoided. At the very least, there were “bad” people and “good” people on both sides of the border, which is as much as I can rightfully wish for, I suppose. 🙂

Spirit Animals: Wild Born, by Brandon Mull


Spirit Animals: Wild Born, by Brandon Mull

Genre: Children’s Fantasy, appropriate age range 8-10.

Reason for Reading: Brandon Mull is one of my favorite authors, and so of course I had to read this book as soon as it came out. 

Review
In children’s eleventh year, they undertake a ceremonial transformation into adults by calling their “spirit animals.” Most children fail to call any animal at all, but none in history have ever called one of the Great Beasts. So when four children call the spirits of the four Great Beasts who died years ago in a brutal war to save humanity, the kids are quickly swept up into an adult world of conspiracies and danger. 

This is an adorable first book in a series. It is appropriate, both in maturity and reading level, for an 8-10 year old – and it would be equally enjoyable to boys and girls. The children’s adventures are exciting, but not violent or scary. Some interesting questions of ethics are brought up: for instance, should we support the people who have always been in power and who appear to fight for “good,” even when they haven’t ever helped us? 

I look forward to the rest of the books in the series. 

Thoughts
Although this book was in no way overtly religious, it definitely has the savior vs. super-powerful-creature-of-evil allegory which is common in epic fantasy. I doubt there is any explicit religious intent with this allegory, and I think it’s fascinating how this allegory slips into our literature so smoothly. It seems that our minds are programmed to search the world for saviors and for physical manifestations of evil. One could as easily interpret such naturally occurring patterns either as the cause or the effect of religious beliefs. I mean, it’s as easy to say that we search for a savior because in our hearts we know He is out there as it is to say that we believe in a Savior because that’s the mechanism our brains have developed to cope with life’s difficulties. But whichever way you believe (and most people have an opinion on the subject), it is undeniable that we crave such stories. 

How to Train Your Dragon, Cressida Cowell

How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell

Reason for Reading: Trying to keep up with my nephew’s reading. 🙂

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Review
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock, the famous Dragon-whisperer of lore, had to learn about dragons somehow – and this book chronicles his growing pains. He and a team of similarly-aged kids must capture and train baby dragons in order to be accepted into their Viking clans as adults. They face expulsion if they fail! But Hiccup’s dragon simply isn’t cooperating. First of all, it’s tiny and toothless – which is humiliating for the dragon of the son of the Chief. Second, it has an attitude problem: it refuses to be trained. It looks like Hiccup might be expelled from his Viking clan! But then some sea-dragons emerge from the depths of the ocean – and only Hiccup (well, with help from his dragon and his friends) can save his people. 

This was a hilarious book. My nephew, who isn’t a fan of reading, just gobbled this one up. He even sounds excited to read the next one. 🙂 There are funny pictures drawn throughout the story, and the narration itself is laugh-out-loud funny it a childish way. I really enjoyed this book. 

I also loved the 2010 movie which was VERY loosely based on the book. The basic setting was the same – a Viking boy named Hiccup must save his clan from destruction at the teeth of hungry dragons – but that’s about all that’s the same. In the movie, dragons are creatures to be hunted. They aren’t kept as pets. Both the book and the movie are very cute and very funny. But in order to enjoy both, you need to be the type of person who is willing to accept that just because the plot is different, doesn’t mean the story is bad. (This is difficult for many people to admit!)

My new Teacher and Me!, by Al Yankovic

My New Teacher and Me!

Written by Al Yankovic, Illustrated by Wes Hargis


Reason for Reading: I met Weird Al Yankovic when he was at Barnes and Noble for the signing of his new book My New Teacher and Me! I was impressed at what a nice person he seemed to be – he smiled and laughed and joked for 4 hours straight as hundreds of people flocked up to him to get his signature, babies pulled his hair, teens pressed phones to his ear so he could talk to someone not present, and so on. I loved watching his facial expressions – his face is so animate! And, clearly, I had to get his signature on a few copies of his book – for the children of friends. 🙂

Genre: Children’s Picture Book

Review
Billy is excited to meet his new teacher Mr. Booth – but Mr. Booth isn’t too excited to meet Billy. Mr. Booth questions Billy about why the boy is covered in dirt, and Billy launches into an imaginative story about how he was digging in his backyard and found a dinosaur. When Mr. Booth expresses skepticism, Billy’s story gets wilder and wilder. Finally, Billy teaches Mr. Booth a lesson that the most inventive people in the world were also the most creative thinkers – they were people who didn’t yield to hard-set rules set by color-within-the-line leaders. This is a fun story, with great illustrations, and something to think about. Perfect for little kids. 🙂

The Stonekeeper’s Curse, by Kazu Kibuishi

The Stonekeeper’s Curse, by Kazu Kibuishi

Reason for Reading: My nephew loved this series 🙂

Genre: Children’s Fantasy Graphic Novel

Review
In this second book of the widely popular children’s graphic novel series Amulet (see the review for the first book here), Emily and Navin’s mother is still in a poison-induced coma, and the kids must journey to a dangerous forest to find the cure. They are led by a fox-man Leon Redbeard, who says that it is his job to bring them safely to a lost city of guardians. They are chased by the Elf King’s son Trellis, whose loyalties are questionable. This was a cute second book in the series – though the plot is still very childish and light. The kids (especially boys!) love it. 🙂



James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl

Reason for Reading: To keep up with my nephew’s book reports

Genre: Children’s Adventure / Fantasy

Review
After the tragic death of his parents, James has been living with his horrible neglectful, hateful aunts Sponge and Spiker. One day James is given a magical bag by a mysterious stranger – and in his excitement he trips on the root of a peach tree and dumps all the magic on the tree. Soon a peach larger than a house has grown out of the tree. James crawls into the peach and begins the adventure of a life-time. 

This is another classic kids story that I read as a child and haven’t picked up since. I’m glad I had a reason to pick it up again, because it was really funny and silly and it had a lot of nostalgia for me. Dahl has just the right amount of humor and whimsy in his books. 🙂



After reading the book, my nephew and I watched the 1996 stop-action movie. It was a cute movie that followed the basic story-line well enough. But it was a bit too sentimental and it lacked the dark humor of Roald Dahl’s story. Cute for an hour’s entertainment, but nothing I’m going to watch again and again.