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plan a visit

Just go have a look at this picture book. Charming isn’t the only word, but it’ll do.

the visitor coverThe Visitor by Antje Damm

Der Besuch was originally published in 2015.

Translated from German by Sally-Ann Spencer for Gecko Press, 2018

You’re first hope after seeing that opening endpaper, is that that the story will live up to that fantastic setting. And it does.

the visitor interior 3
interior of The Visitor by Antje Damm

Elise is terrified of everything and it is best to just stay indoors. The trouble comes when she lets in fresh air, and a paper plane. A boy comes to ask after it the next day, and has an urgent request for the bathroom. And the visitor just stays, tracking color everywhere he goes and upon whatever he sees. He even brings color to Elise’s cheeks.

The Visitor interior 1
interior of The Visitor by Antje Damm

Elise is awkward with her young guest, but his sense of ease is contagious. The liveliness he brings is contagious and it lingers after he’s gone. And it isn’t only Elise that hopes he’ll visit again.

The Visitor interior 2
interior of The Visitor by Antje Damm

You can bet I am going to pursue more of Antje Damm’s work.

 

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a girl and her monster

I borrowed this from the library, but Sweep is one I will eventually own. I very much enjoy Auxier’s books. If you enjoy Landy, Gaiman, Hardinge, Priestley, or Dickens…you’ll enjoy Auxier.

sweepSweep : The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

Abrams, 2018. Hardcover, 368 pages.

Historical Fantasy. Ages 8-12.

Nan has lived among rooftops and chimneys since birth, raised by the Sweep, and eventually left by him when she was only six. In order to survive, she entered indentured service to “The Clean Sweep” aka Crudd, a cruel master who would see to her demise in one fashion or another. Even if it were not Victorian England, climbing flues is dangerous work, and any number of things could harm, maim, or kill a climber. Then there is the problem of shelter, starvation, and Roger.

Auxier infuses his historical fiction with the fantastic. We first encounter the Sweep, the dreaming, and her singing, but soon there is the monster, a golem. Auxier’s golem is the most marvelous creation. Really, Auxier creates many marvelous characters, even the villainous ones. Nan, Charlie, and Toby are particular favorites, and the Sweep, of course, ugh, I love the Sweep.

Sweep will break your heart in multiple ways, and you’ll feel grateful. You’ll also laugh, I hope—certainly smile. Sweep is humorous and charming.

A glimpse:

“Who is Mary Christmas?”

Charlie asked this one morning during breakfast. He had heard people calling this woman’s name on the street all week and had become quite worried. “I hope they find her.”

Nan was eating cabbage stew—her favorite breakfast—from a cracked teacup. “Not Mary Christmas,” she said through slurpy mouthfuls. “Merry Christmas. ‘Merry’ means happy. It’s what folks say to each other when the baby Jesus is born every year—that’s Christmas.”

“Every year? I thought born only happens once?” This was all too confusing for Charlie.

So Nan told Charlie about the whole thing. How the baby Jesus was born in a basket and how a wicked king tried to kidnap him but then a big bearded angel named Father Christmas fought the king. “And then he tossed the baby Jesus down the chimney of a girl named Mary, and that was the first Christmas present.” Nan had never set foot in a church, so you can forgive her for not knowing better. “Now, every year in winter, Father Christmas spends one night bringing presents down the chimneys of all the good boys and girls in the world.”

“Is that true or a story?”

“It’s in the Bible,” Nan said, wiping stew from her chin.

Truthfully, Nan had her doubts. If there were a fat giant hopping down chimneys once a year, she would probably have spotted him…or at least heard him stomping on the roof. Chimneys were her business, after all. (166-7)

Sweep is also deadly serious. “We save ourselves by saving others,” is not a quaint idea to letter in cursive on a blank wall or t-shirt. The gift of life is negotiated in the harshest of circumstances, as is the loss of it. Neither Sweep or Nan can afford to romanticize any of it; nor does such a romantic lens suit them.

Nan is gloriously practical, and playful; loving and inventive. She’s eleven going on twelve and all the changes physically and societally. Nan doesn’t want to “bloom.” She is already made vulnerable as an orphan child slave surviving by climbing, but soon she will no longer be able to earn a living that way and her prospects seem grim. Vulnerable doesn’t seem to be a choice, but for lives to become better, something beyond survival, Nan has to choose to become more vulnerable (e.g. Charlie, Christmas, Toby, Newt, etc); where vulnerable isn’t a default or situation, but a choice or desirable way to live. And this is where change happens, and her life takes on growth and life, begins to “bloom” in another way. I appreciate how we see this in Sweep, Toby, and Esther’s stories.

The narrative arc Auxier lays for Nan is fascinating, in part because of the structure he upon which he lays the book: “Part One: Innocence” and “Part Two: Experience.” I don’t want to spoil anything mentioning Auxier’s use of William Blake, but damn, that was smart. I didn’t see that second poem coming even though I knew it existed. I appreciate Nan’s rage and the conversation it produces. We can and do construct narratives that make one group comfortable, [willfully] ignorant of the harm that that narrative causes/perpetuates for another group. Auxier’s books tend to make my feminist heart happy, but he talks activism and protest in Sweep as well. Victorian England had ‘friendly societies,’ constraints, and questions of responsibility that will feel relevant to our own time, and in this story, courageous children incite change.

“Is It a magic chessman?” The girl ran her thumb over the cracked base. It did not seem very magical. “Will the brave knight fight the charity men in my dreams?”

“It’s not magic. It’s a reminder.” The Sweep mussed her hair. “The brave knight is YOU. And YOU can fight them for yourself.” (296)

In Sweep, Nan’s dreams and voice have a magical quality, and the message resonates. Dreams and voices, resourcefulness, courage and determination…young people have these things, both inside the book and out. Given that spark of purpose/meaning, what can’t/won’t they do? Whose lives may be saved in the process.

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Recommended for those who enjoy friendship stories, historical fiction, and/or adventure; those who enjoy grit, horror and/or the macabre. For those interested in fem-friendly reads and/or Jewish characters. For readers of Derek Landy, Neil Gaiman, Frances Hardinge, or Christopher Priestly. If they are a sensitive reader, read this one aloud with them, you’ll both enjoy it.

If you have not read any of Auxier’s earlier books, do. You’ll appreciate the little shout-out to them in Sweep.

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Meet Yasmin!

There is a lot of buzz surrounding the new early chapter book written by Saadia Faruqi and illustrated by Hatem Aly. And Meet Yasmin! lives up to the hype. It’s first and foremost entertaining. It’s also educational and inspiring.

Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi, Illus. by Hatem Aly

Picture Window Books, 2018. Paperback, 96 pages. ages 5-9.

parents & educators: check out CapstoneKids’ Meet Yasmin! page.

yasmin covers x5

Inquisitive and imaginative, Yasmin takes on different roles in the four stories collected in Meet Yasmin! She’s an Explorer, Builder, Painter, and Fashionista. Common throughout is the presence of a nurturing adult: parents, grandparents, and teacher. She’s given the resources she needs, including the space and confidence to think things through and try.

yasmin interior 3
interior pages from “Yasmin the Fashionista” by Saadia Faruqi, illus. Hatem Aly.

The book has colorful illustrations and good margins, font size, and word spacing. The illustrations are perfect accompaniments: appealing, warm and energetic. I was so pleased to see that poster of Malala on Yasmin’s wall. The cast, whether in the school or community, is diverse, to say nothing of the delightfulness in having a Pakistani American family front and center.

At the back of the book is a page of “Pakistan Facts;” a page featuring a recipe “Mango lassi,” and a page to “Learn Urdu with Yasmin!” If you are reading aloud and are unfamiliar with the pronunciations, you may want to start with that page. Or you can demonstrate how looking up words works cause we are all of us learning. There are also pages with an art project and questions/discussion topic for each story.

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image from “Yasmin the Fashionista,” illus. Hatem Aly.

Have some time and your craft supplies on hand before introducing your new/young reader to Yasmin, she’s fun and inspiring.

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Recommended all earlier readers (ages 5-9); for the earlier end of chapter books due to the picture book feel of this one (think Mercy Watson/Princess in Black) and the lengths of story–and you’ll have it around for a good span. A good read-aloud.

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geeks & ghosts

After reading A Darker Shade of Magic and Vicious, Schwab is an author I keep tabs on. I was super geeked to discover this new middle-grade novel of hers–and I was so not disappointed.

city of ghostsCity of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Scholastic, 2018

Middle-grade.

City of Ghosts opens with a classic realist fiction scene of a middle-school girl in her classroom awaiting the bell, Summer Break nearing. She introduces you to her best friend, Jacob, and the strange things that have been occurring since that incident in the river.

“If we were in a comic book, this would be our origin story. Some people get a spider bite, or a vat of acid. We got a river.”

Cassidy is a delightful member of geek culture: disinterested in being a “popular kid,” loves comic books, is a certifiable Potterhead. She has a sharp wit and a sharp mind, and may be on the impulsive side. Cassidy is pretty awesome. I was really hoping this was going to be Book One before the first hint was planted.

Cassidy Blake is the daughter of The Inspecters, co-authors of history books with ghost stories mixed in, and they have landed the opportunity to take their successful book series to screen. They are going to tour the world famous haunts. First stop: Edinburgh, Scotland, City of Ghosts.

First Stop. All Cassidy has to do is survive the adventure—and do not think that is a given. Really, who knows what condition she’ll be in by the end. [well, those of us who read it do…] Maybe not everyone will make it either.

Indian-Scottish Londoner, Lara Jayne Chowdhury adds all kinds of troubling intrigue; and amusement.  A note for after you read this book: but anyone else think Lara Croft: when introduced to character Lara Jayne Chowdhury, with her impeccable braid, gaze, and poise; whose parents are off at a dig? I love this.

Schwab writes some fantastic characters, sets, action, and even the ordinary narrative shines.

“It’ll still be here when we get back,” says Mom, reading my face. “This is just a change of setting, a new storyline, a fresh chapter. We have a whole book to write,” she says, squeezing me around the shoulders, “and how do we write it?”

“One page at a time,” I say automatically.

It’s Mom’s favorite saying, and ever since my dip in the river, I’ve tried to hold on to it like a rope. Every time I get nervous or scared, I remind myself that every good story needs twists and turns. Every heroine needs an adventure.

So we pile into the cab, two parents, one girl, a ghost, and a ticked-off cat, and we head for the airport.”

I love Cassidy Blake’s parents.

Perfect for the audience, middle-grade (and adult) readers, Cassidy is trying to figure herself out and what the changes mean for her and the ones she cares about. City of Ghosts is a story of friendships and secrets and uncertainty. It’s an adventure story, with ghosts. It really has some nice tingling horror.

The ghosts, their context, the big-bad—they can get intense.* Cassidy is resourceful and has some awesome company—not just for the sake of humor, but as help. No one in this story is perfect (or overpowered), and this produces a nice tension in the novel. Too, we’re still figuring out how the whole ghost-thing works, uncertain what will or will not work–what can and will Cassidy do?

Schwab has captured the kind of voice many a middle-grade author should envy. City of Ghosts will have broad appeal. Not everything is revealed, questions have been left unanswered, anxieties set on just enough of an edge. But what will really have us coming back is Cassidy Blake. I hope we will not have to wait too long.

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Shelve this between Harry Potter and Skulduggery Pleasant, alongside Holly Black, Neil Gaiman, and Jonathan Auxier.

*There are plenty of disturbing images and ideas to make some think twice about handing this to an early grade-schooler, but the beauty of the Harry Potter references is that if a young reader has read the entire series, this isn’t any darker.

 

 

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hope

on the other side of freedomOn the Other Side of Freedom: A Case for Hope by DeRay Mckesson

Viking, 2018. Hardcover, 212 pages

“Honest, courageous, and imaginative, On the Other Side of Freedom is a work brimming with hope. Drawing from his own experiences as an activist, organizer, educator, and public official, Mckesson exhorts all Americans to work to dismantle the legacy of racism and to imagine the best of what is possible. Honoring the voices of a new generation of activists, On the Other Side of Freedom is a visionary’s call to take responsibility for imagining, and then building, the world we want to live in.”–jacket copy

“By turns lyrical reflection and practical handbook, On the Other Side of Freedom reveals the mind and motivations of a young man who has risen to the fore of millennial activism through study, discipline, and conviction. His belief in a world that can be made better, one act at a time, powers his narratives and opens up a view on the costs, consequences, and rewards of leading a movement.” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“welcome to your next read, my beloved friends. I would buy you each a copy if I could. @iamderay has given us a gift with #ontheothersideoffreedom none of us deserve. #lifegiving.” Me, on instagram, having just finished reading this book.

There are so many things I want to say about DeRay Mckesson’s The Other Side of Freedom, I’d have to do a read-along.  I’m just going to cut to my recommended for section and extend it. I provide a link to an opportunity to listen to the first chapter at the end of the post.

dedication
dedication in The Other Side of Freedom

Recommended for everyone.  Mckesson’s vulnerability and eloquence is remarkable. He is a storyteller and an educator. He will provide you data with the means [to begin] to process it. He’ll provide a story with the permission to sit with it, but only for a time. DeRay Mckesson is about the work, “Hope is not magic. Hope is work. Let’s get to the work.”

>>for those who are already engaging in social justice, this is one to own. McKesson is inspiring, informative, and real. The lyricism is perfectly balanced with the pragmatic. He offers insight and good advice. He reminds us of our faith, our hope, our power.

>>for those engaged and are looking for more intersectionality: Mckesson is a gay black man and he talks about what that means within the different spaces he moves.

“Sometimes, when you don’t see yourself in the world, you start to think that you don’t exist. ” (179)

>>for those newer to conversations on race* and/or activism. The first step is always to open yourselves up to listen. DeRay Mckesson has a compelling voice. Read an essay through; on the second or third pass: underline, note-take, or pen questions.

>>for those ignorant about protests, or think they do know, but in the quiet know that they aren’t being intellectually honest about that.

“We the protesters have never been the voiceless. we have been the unheard. Our storytelling has has been key to our survival, as we have spoken about our pain and our joy, even if we were talking to ourselves.” (23)

>>for those fiction-only readers looking to include more non-fiction, Mckesson is an engaging storyteller, even when interpreting data or socio-cultural phenomena.

>>for those with religious or spiritual backgrounds. I was moved to think about how Mckesson speaks about Faith and Hope and how my tradition(s) speak about it. I was challenged by the way he talks about churches and activism, the changes, the absences, the refuge, the pastors. I was moved by how Mckesson talks about Storm in “I Was Raised By Magic.”

“So much of what trauma does for us is trap us in the present; it traps us in its constraints. we often see the limitations all around us because we need to see them in order to survive. Not to see them would be deadly. We become gifted at knowing how far to push before the world pushes back on us. But Storm? Storm didn’t live in a world with those constraints. And for thirty minutes each weekend, neither did I.” (107)

>>for those who love great choices in quotes/epigraphs.

>>for my fellow white friends and family.  “I had to learn that white people could be wrong,” opens the essay “The Choreography of Whiteness.” We need to learn that, too.

“Whiteness is an idea and a choice. we can choose differently. We can introduce new ideas to replace it. We have the tools to build something altogether new.” (102)

>>for readers of Brene Brown,** or Austin Channing Brown’s I’m Still Here, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.

>>for those interested in histories, mythologies, storytelling and narrative gatekeeping.

>>for those who’ve been bullied.

>>for those who may be despairing.

“Make no mistake, our world, our experience, is changing constantly. When we surrender, we leave it to others to define what that  change looks like. History has shown us the consequences of inaction. we can and should acknowledge the trauma that we face, but we should not accept it. Indeed, we cannot fight what we do not name, so name it we must, but we can never accept it. We will never get to the other side of freedom if we accept the trauma as a feature and not a flaw of this world.” (28)

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pstp logoI listen to his podcast Pod Save the People with Brittany Packnett, Sam Sinyangwe, and Clint Smith III. I highly recommend it. You learn a great deal, especially the art of listening. I also recommend following them all on twitter and Packnett on instagram.

**Mckesson and Brene Brown held public conversations. a recording.

You can hear DeRay talk a bit about the book and then read the first chapter in this Crooked Conversation with Jon Lovett

*I like I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown as an early entrance into reading on raceA fiction option is the YA novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

 

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a find.

You know how, in the course of a read, a character becomes precious to you? Langston is one of those characters. He kind of reminds me of  India Opal or Jess Aarons* in that way.

finding langston coverFinding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Holiday House, 2018.

Hardcover, 112 pages.

9-13.

It’s 1946, and Langston is grieving the recent loss of his mother, as well as the loss of his home in Alabama. He’s had to leave his Grandma behind, the comforting familiarity of the land, food, people and its rhythms.

Langston’s father is seeking a better life (and distance) in Bronzeville Chicago. And the differences between the Northern City and the Rural South is not only startling, but haunting. Langston is bullied for being too country and its in avoiding a tormenter that he stumbles across something crucially different between where he is from and where he has come.

The George Cleveland Hall Library is for all Chicago Residents—not just white people. Here, Langston discovers a safe haven and a soul-mate. It’s a place Daddy would express concern over but his Mama would love. It becomes a secret that threatens a troubling distance with his father, but one that binds him closer to his mother. Langston’s discovery of Hughes reveals his Mama to him in new ways.

The first book he pulls from the shelf shares his name. And is Langston Hughes his namesake like the Librarian wonders? The little mystery the question of naming inspires allows Langston to find a way to think about his mother in this new city.

Any of lover of poetry (or storytelling) will respond to how Cline-Ransome writes Langston’s reaction to Hughes, “Feels like reading words from my heart” (22); “I have to stop. I can feel the choking in my throat that always starts right before the tears” (30); “This lady said the Langston who wrote these words is a poet. Seems more like a magician to me, pulling words from my heart I never knew I had” (32). There is more, and more poets.

You feel you learn more about both Langstons through the way Cline-Ransome writes their relationship. You are invited to imagine Hughes as a boy like Langston (possibly in Alabama, though we are reminded later that he is from Missouri and Kansas). Likewise, you can better understand some of Langston’s longings, culture and context in the language of the poet. Langston begins to adopt Hughes words to express his feelings in a moment when the concrete/setting description of that moment seems inadequate: “Sometimes when I’m lonely,/Don’t know why,/Keep thinkin’ I won’t be lonely/By and by.”

Cline-Ransome realizes even the most distant characters for the reader. You mourn the loss of a mother and Grandma and their home because you’ve developed a second-hand fondness. You feel the struggle of Langston’s father. You engage in the shift of perception of the neighbor Miss Fulton alongside (because of) our narrator’s shift. Even the quick sketch (time-wise) of the setting, the teacher and librarians, are marvelously effective. All this in 104 pages of storytelling (smallish margins, long paragraphing).

Cline-Ransome also packs a lot of the historical into those 104 pages, and just as smoothly as her characterization. I do not pity any young person who would have to write a paper inspired by this book. Cline-Ransome includes an “Author’s Note” to expand on the historical and cultural context and settings of the novel. I know she has written a number of picture books, but I hope Cline-Ransome writes more historical novels for young people, Finding Langston is so rich and compelling. The voices she writes and settings she describes are engaging.

His discovery of Langston Hughes and the George Cleveland Hall Library finds Langston (re)connecting with a number of people and places, learning new things about himself, his history, and a possible new future. This discovery, too, leads to an unexpected new turn for Langston and his father. Their distance was present from even before Chicago—Langston always shown to be closer to his mother in time-spent and interests—but their present circumstances create a greater strain. The question is whether Hughes or the Library will close the gap like it does for other relationships in the book. Because one of the most beautiful struggles in this book is the longing and effort both father and son bring to their relationship. You learn and understand where each of them are coming from, so much informed by the culture of the time and their difference. You never doubt they love each other, and damn, but that scene to close the book. Maybe a poet and a library will bring them closer together.

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*Opal is from DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie and Jess Aarons is from Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia.

You know, there are decent film-versions of Because of Winn-Dixie (2005) and Bridge to Terabithia (2007)…I wouldn’t mind seeing Finding Langston on screen. We need to talk to Oprah. In the meantime, you can find it in your library, and if you the young reader in your life cannot find it in their school library, I’d recommend its purchase (or just buy it for them).

Recommended for all the readers, not just the historical fiction reader; this is a good choice for the reluctant reader. Obviously this is a good one for April/National Poetry Month, and the classroom.

 

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(un)locked wardrobes

A House Without Mirrors  house without mirrorsor Ett hus utan speglar by Mårten Sandén

Illustrations by Moa Schulman

Rabén & Sjögren, 2012

Translated from Swedish by Karin Altenberg

Pushkin Children’s Books, 2013 & 2016

Trade paper, 176 pages.

Ages 9-12

{Astrid Lindgren Award 2015}

Of the many rooms of great-great-Aunt Henrietta’s house, there is not one mirror. They’ve all been stored in a locked wardrobe where young, mute Signe goes to hide during a game. This wardrobe doesn’t take her to meet a faun in Narnia; it takes her to a mirror of the house itself, through the passage of time, to an experience that depends very much upon the person who enters it.

Sandén has written a beautiful, atmospheric novel whose undertones are not always that of horror or melancholy, but always something dark and sad. The family that gathers to await Henrietta’s passing are all suffering in some way, and the house with mirrors has a way of transforming them all.

the House of Mirrors interior
interior page. Illustrations by Moa Schulman

Thomas, the caretaker, and his daughter, our protagonist, have lost a son/brother in, what you come to discover, a tragic way. Thomas is an unemployed novelist and separated from his wife and they’ve been living in this large house.  Uncle Daniel who is bitterly divorced and hoping for a good price on the house, brings his children Erland and Signe to stay. Thomas and Daniel’s self-driven sister Kajsa leaves a family business to her (troubled) husband Kjell and brings her daughter Wilma to wait.

The adults aren’t the only ones troubled. Thomasine is full-on depressed and her contemplations run dark. Her cousins are a pleasant distraction and ease her isolation and loneliness; well, two of them are pleasant. The eldest cousin Wilma is a close friend—the bookish and out-spoken Wilma who struggles with her appearance. She envies her attractive mother and sees herself as fat and ugly. Signe is the youngest at 5 and slight and abnormally quiet and still. She is often left to the care of Thomasine and Wilma. Signe’s elder brother Erland is horrible. He has a sly smile and creeps about and spies and engages in all kinds of threatening behavior. Uncle Daniel is of little use there. Actually, none of the adults are all that functional.

“Life is always there around us. So many human lives that they are impossible to count, and yet we can always perceive the unfathomable space in each one of them.”

Henrietta’s is an old house with upwards 20 rooms, Thomasine has counted as she’s the most familiar with the place. But it is Signe who discovers the magic of the wardrobe. One by one, the inhabitants of the house find their way into the wardrobe, while one by one they confront that which keeps them from being themselves or living more fully. The results may be happier, but they aren’t all easier.

Sandén uses the idea of mirror’s ability to reveal and to provide reflection beautifully and with complete subtlety. There is no discussion in the novel about mirrors, other than they are weirdly absent and Wilma is left using a compact to awkwardly apply her cosmetics. The novel does not engage in much, um, reflection. It’s refreshing.

“I had repeated what Hetty had told me, almost word for word. That our lives are shards in which only a piece of something larger is reflected. That there are parts of every human being that are hidden to themselves. And that we need each other to have the courage to see.”

The house with mirrors shows what life in the other house could look like—did look like. Sandén does not model an alternate reality by way of an imaginative play or fantasy, only maybe nostalgia? (which, yes, I know can have its own problems). I applaud the use of another time, rather than an another realm. The house thrived once, it can again; people who lived before you, have stories to tell, wisdom to dispense. As for providing another space to venture into, the space is an interior one and does offer projection and fantastical representations—just not the sort traditional to the fantasy genre. If any genre other than contemporary or historical fiction, Sandén delves into horror.

the house of mirrors interior 2
interior page. Illustrations by Moa Schulman

As Thomasine would reveal, and eventually tell you, A House Without Mirrors is not a novel filled with “any magnificent adventures about princesses and wars and magic, just stories about being born and living and dying.” If you look at life as adventure, like she does, you’d agree that “adventures get no greater than that.” If you do like the escapist, mediating quality of a fantasy adventure, I think a novel like this is a necessary inclusion for your library.  Sandén’s wardrobe and its house of mirrors removes and shields the character (reader) and provides a space to work through the issues characters (readers) are set to explore. But perhaps for some readers, the resource for such resilience requires something more tangible, possibly more available than a prophecy handed down by a wizard—maybe they need an insight handed down from a mysterious great-great-aunt.

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Recommended for 9-13; reader’s who’ve read everything; a serious kids’ book club. For readers of Un Lun Dun; Coraline; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Girl Who Circumnavigated…; Museum of Thieves; The Humming Room; or The Secret Garden.

Notes: the novel is translated to English (ala UK); sh*t is used thrice, and perfectly. Sandén is deft with the issues, and uses a light hand–most of the time; just know that there is little softening or sentimentalizing like US writers tend to do in children’s books.