Thursday, December 13, 2012

Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander - exciting, imaginative fantasy (ages 9 - 13)

Children's books are full of orphans who set out on a hero's quest - and yet there is something fundamentally appealing about a young child who sets off on his or her own to battle unlikely odds. Rownie, a street urchin in Zombay, must outwit a tyrannical witch, the vigilant mechanical policemen and his own friends as he searches for his lost brother in Goblin Secrets, William Alexander's National Book Award winning fantasy for older middle grade readers.
Goblin Secrets
by William Alexander
Simon & Schuster, 2012
ages 9 - 13
2012 National Book Award Winner
Amazon and your local library
Rownie flees the custody of the tyrannical witch Graba to join a troupe of goblins who perform magical shows with masks, fire and giant puppets. In the fantasy world of Zombay, all performances by humans with masks have been outlawed, and so Rownie's decision carries tremendous risks. But he is determined to follow the footsteps of his older brother Rownan.

William Alexander's fantasy is both compelling, fast-paced and intricately layers. The setting is both unique and full of references to folklore. I loved the character of Graba, a Baba-Yaga inspired witch who is a "grandmother" for many orphans, with gear-work chicken legs. The writing was elegant and vivid - I was completely swept away by the story and the descriptions.

William Alexander narrates the audiobook version of Goblin Secrets, and he imbues the characters with specific, exciting voices. He brings his background as an actor and a folklorist to the writing and the narration of this story. Here is a video of Alexander reading a section from Goblin Secrets:

Goblin Secrets has many layers and themes that kept resonating with me, some successfully and others less so. I was intrigued by the sense that masks allow us to create a new personality but that they can also have power in and of themselves. I think children will really respond to the themes of choice, courage and the need to take action. I found that the end of the story whirled so quickly that I had trouble digesting and understanding all of the threads. This is definitely a book that I will want to come back to.

I look forward to sharing Goblin Secrets with students who like fast-paced but layered fantasies, like Jonathan Auxier's Peter Nimble or Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus.

William Alexander was awarded the National Book Award for Young People's Literature for Goblin Secrets - a tremendous honor for his debut novel. Find out more about him at this interview at The Nerdy Book Club blog.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers Simon & Schuster. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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