Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood; Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins; 368 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12.
A huge wall – called “The Seven Buttons” - is all that protects the Kingdom of Lightning Pass from destruction by Marauders outside. Or so the people of Lightning Pass – and the “magical maidens” in training at Miss Ellicott’s School “for surplus females” - have always been told. But then one day the sorceresses, including headmistress Miss Ellicott, disappear. And 13-year-old Chantel, the most promising sorceress-in-training at the school, decides she must do all she can to find Miss Ellicott, protect the young ones at the school and even figure out how to defend the wall itself. This extraordinary fantasy, from the author of acclaimed fantasy “Jinx,” has everything a reader might desire: thrilling suspense, a courageous and smart heroine, an elaborately constructed plot, a vivid setting and a moral grounding and nuance reminiscent of Kristen Cashore’s marvelous “Graceling” books for teen readers. (“Chantel had been taught in school that there were two sides to every issue, and that one of these sides was wrong.”) Chantel is a whiz at spells and summoning but a miserable failure at deportment; she is anything but the “shamefast and biddable” maiden the patriarchs and royals who run the kingdom demand. When she accidentally finds herself outside the wall, what she finds there makes her question all she has been told about the Kingdom of Lightning Pass and to think entirely differently about how she might best protect her people. This is a novel to be savored, with its evocative names (wise Queen Haywith, Frenetica the cook, dim Miss Flivver, cruel Mrs. Warthall, Bowser the “potscrubber and factotum,” Franklin, the Marauder boy), its delicious humor and lovely wordplay. (Chantel was left as a baby at the school in a basket with a hole in it, wrapped in “a very worn but reasonably clean dishrag.”) The action-packed finale is following by sobering reality and a useful lesson, appropriate for any time or place: “With any luck, Chantel thought, they would all meet people different from themselves.”
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes; Candlewick Press ($16.99).
This marvelous collection of original poems celebrates the life and work of a marvelous diversity of 20 poets, including Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda and Langston Hughes. The poems can be appreciated on their own and also as inspiration to seek out the poets whose work they so beautifully evoke. (The book’s title comes from Lucille Clifton: “Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.”) Alexander’s “Jazz Jive Jam,” of a family entertaining the neighbors with music and waffles and passing the hat to help pay the rent, celebrates Langston Hughes, Chris Colderley’s lovely “Contemporary Haiku” celebrates Basho, the 17th century Japanese poet and “A Field of Roses” celebrates Emily Dickinson. From Marjory Wentworth comes “The Music of the Earth” celebrating Pablo Neruda (“through years of war and exile and love, I always returned to the green silence of the Chilean forest”) and “In Every Season” for Robert Frost (“In every season I have wandered on paths that wind through fields and woods”). The oversize volume makes room for Holmes’ gorgeous, large collage illustrations.