Graci Kim is the author of The Last Fallen Star, an instant New York Times bestseller and the first book in the Gifted Clans trilogy. The sequel, The Last Fallen Moon, will come out this June. We loved her first novel for its awesome protagonist, constantly surprising plot, and vivid world--we can't wait for book two! We were thrilled to get the chance to interview Graci Kim for this month's feature.
Rapunzel Reads: Who is your favorite character in The Last Fallen Star, and why?
Graci Kim: My favorite character has got to be Emmett Harrison. I love him because he claims to be allergic to emotions and pretends to be all snarky, but really deep down, he's this baking-obsessed, uber loyal dude who loves dressing dogs up in funny costumes. I wish I could meet him in real life!
RR: Hattie and Riley's relationship feels extraordinarily real, and is one of the strongest I've come across in fantasy novels. What inspired it?
GK: I have two younger sisters and they were my inspirations for the sisterhood between Hattie and Riley. They are four years and five years younger than me, and I love them with
Author photo credit: Joyce Kim
By Piranha T.
Serafina lives in the basement of Biltmore Estate with her pa, staying out of the sight of the rich folk who live upstairs, and heeding her pa's warning to always stay out of the encircling forest. Her pa does maintenance work for the rich Vanderbilts who own the estate, but they don't know Serafina exists. She spends her time prowling the basement and systematically catching the estate's rats. Only occasionally does she venture upstairs to stare around, unnoticed, at the opulence of the Vanderbilts and their guests, or borrow an unattended book from their vast library.
But when Serafina sees a stranger in the basement--a stranger who wraps his slithering black cloak around a girl from upstairs and subsumes her--Serafina knows she must tell someone what she saw. And when her pa doesn't believe her, Serafina has no choice but to break the rules she's followed all her life and venture upstairs to find someone who will. And she does: she finds Braeden, the Vanderbilts' nephew.
Serafina knows she has to find the Man in the Black Cloak before he takes more children, and as she gets to know Braeden she discovers he feels the same. Their search will take them out of Biltmore and into the forbidden forest, full of strange, dark magic and whispering secrets. Can Serafina and Braeden discover the Man in the Black Cloak's identity before more children are taken--or will one of them be his next victim?
Serafina and the Black Cloak is an atmospheric novel full of mystery, secrets, and dark magic. Set in the late 1800s at Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, where the Vanderbilts really lived, this book feels as though it captures both the historical and regional setting in a really cool way. I loved Serafina's determination and personality, and she constantly surprised me in the best possible ways. This book is part-fantasy and part-mystery, as Braeden and Serafina are searching for the identity of the Man in the Black Cloak, but it also shares its touch of creepiness/horror with books such as The Sisters of Straygarden Place and A Path Begins, so if you've liked either of those, I think this could also be enjoyable. I recommend Serafina and the Black Cloak to readers ages ten and up who enjoy dark historical fantasy full of questions and mysteriousness.
By Piranha T.
Twelve-year-old Coyote and her dad, Rodeo, have been on the road for five years, ever since her mom and sisters died in a car crash in her Washington State hometown. They’ve never gone back there, but they’ve been lots of other places, crisscrossing the country in their beat-up school bus-turned-mobile home named Yager. Coyote’s good with this life—with the passengers they pick up throughout their travels, with fruit punch slushies at gas stations, with the rock of the bus as she’s falling asleep. But when she hears the town she grew up in is destroying a childhood park—one where she and her sisters and mom buried a memory box only weeks before they died—she knows she has to get back there and rescue it before it’s destroyed.
The catch: Rodeo won’t go back there for anything. So Coyote has to get him to drive from Florida to Washington, in less than four days, without him realizing what she’s doing.
Along the way, they pick up a motley crew of travelers. They’re all running away, but they’re running towards something, too. And Coyote is going to need all of their help if she wants to rescue the memory box in time.
I read The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise in one sitting, which I think accurately represents how engrossing it is. Coyote is one of the most distinct protagonists I’ve met in realistic fiction novels, full of quirky details and a powerfully unique narrative which reflects her lifestyle and her personality. Each of the characters in this story has their own struggles and challenges, but Gemeinhart writes it in a way that makes it filled with hope for all of their futures, making this novel enjoyable, thought-provoking, and uplifting all at the same time. Coyote’s story feels new and different, and I love it. I highly recommend The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise to readers ages nine and up.
By Piranha T.
Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch is the sequel to Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe, and is the second book in the duology.
[Look out--there are spoilers for the first book!]
Eva Evergreen, Novice Witch, has finally found the source of the Culling--a mysterious and powerful magic storm which sweeps through Rivelle Realm every year and wreaks destruction in its wake. Ever since it began, all the realm's magic-users have been searching for its source, and how to stop it. No one ever would have expected it came from Grand Master Hayato Grottel's tower, the leader of the Council of Witches and Wizards.
Eva thinks that discovering this will end the Culling for good, but when Grottel escapes, everything goes wrong. The Culling begins striking with increasing frequency, and the efforts of the country's best witches and wizards are barely working as they attempt to reach Grottel's tower. Eva finally gets placed in the group trying to penetrate the tower--and what she discovers there will change everything.
Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch continues the fun, quirky narrative of Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch to a satisfying series conclusion. Eva remains a realistic, awesome character who is determined to save her friends and family as much as the whole realm, and in this way, her fight to save Rivelle Realm always feels personal and close to home. I recommend the Eva Evergreen series to readers ages nine and up who like lighthearted, engrossing fantasy stories which feel driven by character as much as plot.
By Piranha T.
For Tess de Sousa, inventing a way to create electricity using seaweed in the basement of Ackerbee’s Home for Lost and Foundlings is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s normal for her to conduct scientific experiments with her best friend Wilf and her pet tarantula, Violet, by her side. But what certainly isn’t ordinary is the arrival of the mysterious, unlikable Mr. Cleat, who claims he’s Tess’s only family.
Tess doesn’t want to leave her beloved home, and certainly not with a man who seems more interested in the peculiar metal object she was found with than her. But she doesn’t have a choice. She finds herself whisked away to Mr. Cleat’s dismal home, where her only relief is covertly discovering the secrets of the object, which she learns is called the Star-spinner—and enables her to travel into alternate realities.
But it seems Tess isn’t the only one who knows the Star-spinner’s secret. And as she learns more about Mr. Cleat, the Star-spinner, and herself, she uncovers a plot which she is at the center of—a plot could affect overlapping realities, which she must stop at all costs.
The Starspun Web is a fast-paced, well-plotted historical fantasy novel with an interesting world. Tess is a quirky, determined protagonist (I particularly like Violet!), and her ties to a really nice orphanage made this book about friendship and home as well as fantasy adventures and interdimensional travel. It’s also cool how Sinéad O’Hart incorporated the historical backdrop of World War II into this story. Overall, I recommend The Starspun Web to fantasy lovers ages nine and up.
Sixth grader Ellie loves swimming in her pool, poetry, and Latin music. She's at the top of her class, and adores animals, especially her pug, Gigi. But ever since she was five years old, Ellie's biggest focus has been on not standing out to avoid giving the people who torment her about her weight any more reason to target her. And with her best friend moving away, her parents arguing constantly, and her mom pushing for weight loss surgery if the latest diet she's found doesn't work, Ellie's even more determined to stick to the list of Fat Girl Rules she's created to help her blend in.
But not everything goes according to plan. A cheerful, guitar-playing new girl moves in next door. Her parents bring Ellie to a therapist who she hates at first, but who turns out to be highly perceptive (and quite quirky). And Ellie begins to realize that maybe, just maybe, she doesn't need to be fixed or changed at all to be worthy of respect and love.
A wonderful, sometimes heartbreaking story about loving yourself and standing up to your detractors, I thoroughly enjoyed Starfish. Ellie is a deeply compelling character--amusing, caring, and increasingly brave--and it's a joy to watch her progression throughout the book as she learns to take up space, stand up to her bullies, and love herself. Bullying has become a common theme in middle grade books--and the cruelty of some characters makes parts of the book hard to read--but the nuance Fipps brings to her exploration of the topic, and especially the challenge of finding a way to stand up to your detractors while not becoming a bully yourself, set Starfish apart. And this is the first book I can recall reading that openly and honestly called out body-shaming and fatphobia, issues which a huge number of people, including kids and teens, face, yet gets very little attention from storytellers. Yet the characters aren't preachy, one-dimensional, or simply vehicles for making a point--they're human. The story is written in compelling free verse, making it a fast, engaging read that mirrors Ellie's love of poetry. Honest, unflinching, and warm, I would highly recommend Starfish to readers ages ten and up, and also for book groups or discussions.
By Piranha T.
Alex Mosher knows he’s never been like other kids. When he sees a dog on the street, instead of playing with it, he dreams up tales of it as a harbinger of death. And while other kids try to forget their nightmares, he writes them down in journals he calls his nightbooks, crafting horror stories just like the ones he loves to watch and read. The kids at school tease him for his obsession with creepy things. At last, Alex decides he’s done with being different, and descends to the basement of his apartment building to burn his nightbooks.
But on the way down, he gets captured by a witch named Natacha, and becomes caught up in a story much more terrifying than the ones he’s always written. Natacha only keeps him alive for his stories, one each night—creepy stories from the nightbooks Alex intended to destroy.
But Alex knows he isn’t the first kid to get lured into Natacha’s apartment. And now he’s only one of two left. Natacha will keep him alive for his stories, but for how long? And more importantly—can he escape first?
I’m not usually a fan of creepy stories, but after reading J. A. White’s Thickety quartet, I decided to give Nightbooks a try. I’m glad I did. Nightbooks is an interesting and multilayered novel, somewhere between Hansel and Gretel and The Arabian Nights, full of quirks and interesting characters. There were a few twists which took me completely by surprise, in a good way! I like Alex and the supporting cast, from the witch Natacha to her ornery cat, Lenore. Although there were certainly creepier elements in Nightbooks, I think this is definitely a book which can be enjoyed by readers who don’t always like horror as well as those who do. I recommend Nightbooks to readers ages ten and up who like books about stories and unique twists on fairy tales.
By Piranha T.
Rowan writes letters and sets them free on balloons.
This way, no one he knows will be able to read the secrets he records in his balloon letters. Not his parents, who are determined for him to be the girl he knows he isn’t on the inside—and especially not his dad, who’s hurt him in even more ways than that. Not the girls who used to be his friends but abandoned him last summer, leaving him marooned alone at the beginning of fifth grade. It’s a way of coping with all the hurt and confusion and tangles in Rowan’s life.
Told in the form of these balloon letters, The Ship We Built tells the story of a year where Rowan finds friendship, struggles, and ultimately who he is.
The Ship We Built is a moving, complicated, and utterly beautiful novel. Rowan is one of the most true protagonists I’ve encountered in fiction; I can clearly imagine speaking to him, meeting him. This book is sometimes hard but more powerful for it, and it truly swept me away. I highly recommend The Ship We Built to readers ages eleven and up.
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrations by Kelly Kath (2015)
By Piranha T.
Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown has never owned a chicken in her life. But after moving to Great-Uncle Jim’s old farm, she decides it might be cool to have some. After all, she likes eggs. But then she begins to find Great Uncle Jim’s chickens around the farm, and it soon becomes clear that these are no ordinary birds.
They’re chickens with superpowers.
At first, Sophie doesn’t believe it’s possible. Great-Uncle Jim’s chickens might be unusual, but not that unusual. But when someone comes to steal her chickens, it’s up to Sophie to protect her flock—including those she hasn’t even found yet. Because in the wrong hands, unusual chickens aren’t just unusual. They’re dangerous.
Told in a series of letters, notes, and other correspondences, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer is a book about friendship, adventure, and—most of all—chickens. Sophie and the supporting characters are funny, giving this book, despite its more unusual format, a fast pace and humorous inclinations. Kelly Kath’s illustrations, interspersed with the text, add another layer to this novel as well. Although this story may be enjoyed more by those familiar with chickens, it’s a fun book whether or not you have poultry. I recommend Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer to readers ages eight and up who like books about normal kids having unusual adventures with a touch of magic, particularly those involving chickens.
By Piranha T.
Eighth grader Nicki Ames knows that Ava is her best friend. That's how it's been since third grade: Nicki and Ava sleeping over at each other's houses, partnering up in classes, and hanging out after school. When their gym teacher tells everyone to pair up with their best friend, Nicki doesn't have to consider.
Only Ava walks over to Britney--one of the popular girls--instead.
Maybe Nicki's been abandoned in front of her whole class. Or maybe Ava is just branching out, right? Maybe Nicki is reading into it too much. Ava will just explain everything soon, and the world will be normal again.
But she doesn't, and it isn't. Ava barely talks to Nicki, leaving her confused and unsure. If Ava is being a bad best friend, does that mean Nicki should just wait for her to come around? Or is this her opportunity to strike out on her own?
Bad Best Friend is one of the most realistic, relatable novels I've read in a long time. Everything from conversations to characters to events feels spot-on and complicated in all the right ways. Nicki's struggle to decide who she is beyond Ava--and whether she wants to find out--never felt forced, and I like her as a character for her many layers and feelings which often conflicted with one another. Her family dynamic was also extremely well-drawn. I highly recommend Bad Best Friend to readers ages ten and up looking for an incredibly authentic and engrossing realistic fiction novel.
By Piranha T.
In Middle-Earth, a world full of wizards and humans, dwarves and elves, and many darker creatures who dwell in the shadows where none but evil dare to tread, there is one race not troubled with light and dark or terrible wars. The hobbits of the Shire live peacefully in their round-doored hobbit-holes, enjoying uneventful serenity, with an emphasis on frequent, delicious meals. They are not the types to go on adventures or gallivant about with dwarves or wizards. And especially not hobbits from a family so respectable, so down-to-earth, as the Bagginses.
Yet when the wizard Gandalf and thirteen dwarves appear at Bilbo Baggins’ front door one afternoon, he finds himself caught up in a strange business which can only be described as an adventure. Long ago, the dragon Smaug descended from the north and destroyed the halls ruled by the dwarf Thorin’s forefathers, Lonely Mountain, a place once full of numberless riches and excellent craftmanship. Now, it is a tomb to the dead, and Smaug sits atop the dwarves’ ancestral gold. The dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, have planned a dangerous quest: to slay the dragon and, at last, win back what once was theirs. And they wish for Bilbo Baggins to be the final member of their company.
Despite his initial misgivings, Bilbo accompanies the dwarves and Gandalf on the journey to Lonely Mountain. The path is long and perilous, crossing dangerous mountains, vast plains, a forest darkened by shadowy beasts, and at last the desolation of Smaug which surrounds the mountain itself.
Hobbits have never been a people for adventuring. But perhaps Bilbo will be the crucial piece in the journey to Lonely Mountain.
I find myself now rereading The Hobbit, and I can see quite clearly why it is such a fantasy classic. J. R. R. Tolkien’s story is not only full of danger and adventure, but also spots of humor, interesting characters, and excellent writing. Although this book is more sedately paced than more modern fantasy novels, it isn’t less engaging, as it is often seen as; instead, it is simply written in a different style.
As someone who loves excellent worldbuilding, Middle-Earth is high on my list. The lands this book travels through are distinct and multilayered, as are the creatures who dwell there. Each race—mainly humans, hobbits, dwarves, and elves—is distinct and well-defined. Tolkien clearly knew this universe very well, including its history; to those who love distinct fantasy worlds, I also highly recommend The Silmarillion, a prequel Tolkien wrote concerning the history of Middle-Earth. Tolkien’s novels of Middle-Earth are some of my favorites. I highly recommend The Hobbit to readers ages ten and up.
Former best friends Cora Hamed and Quinn McCauley haven't talked in almost a year. That's how long it has been since Cora's older sister Mabel was killed in a school shooting, a tragedy made even worse by the fact that the shooter was Quinn's older brother.
What sort of traitorous sister would talk to Quinn after that? Cora ignores Quinn completely, throwing herself into school and Quiz Bowl practice--and trying not to think about Mabel's lip gloss and stuffed animals in their shared bedroom which she can't bring herself to pack up.
No one at school talks to Quinn, and no one in Quinn's family talks about what Parker did. Her mom blames her dad for owning guns in the first place, her dad blames the terrible things Parker read online, and secretly, Quinn is certain that it was her all own fault for not preventing the shooting when she had the chance. It's been almost a year since it happened, and when she thinks of her brother, Quinn is still torn between horror and fury and treacherous threads of love for the boy Parker used to be.
But soon, none of that will matter. Because Quinn has a plan to fix everything. The only problem is that she needs help from someone else to execute it, someone she trusts who is smart and imaginative and would understand just how important this is. And there's only one person who fits that description.
Cora is a very smart, very logical person who is very sure that she will never be friends with Quinn ever again, and at first she ignores Quinn's attempts to reach out. Besides--time travel? Changing the past to fix the future? It seems impossible--but maybe only the impossible can make things right. And working with Quinn on her plan isn't betraying Mabel, since they're trying to save her, right?
As Cora and Quinn brainstorm, research, and experiment, flickers of their old friendship begin to resurface, and their growing closeness seems like less and less of a problem--after all, soon enough they'll have fixed the past, and there'll be no reason for them not be be best friends anymore. But wormholes are considerably harder to come by than they expected, as is overcoming the grief, anger, and blame which is still between them.
Time travel itself might not fix everything. But trying to figure it out might just be the key to finally beginning to heal.
The Shape of Thunder both exceeded my high expectations, and was completely different from what I was expecting, and its exploration of loss, friendship, grief, and healing is original, timely, and ultimately hopeful. The plot is relatively straightforward, yet the story has striking depth, and is written with compassion, eloquence, and a laudable willingness to explore complexity. I really loved Cora and Quinn, each of whom are flawed and struggling, but also full of love, loyalty, and determination, and are distinct both from each other and from the protagonists in the many other books I've read. The supporting characters are also excellent, and Mabel and Parker (or rather, the other characters' memories of them) are particularly skillfully portrayed and interestingly layered. The Shape of Thunder is an excellent selection for book groups or discussion, and the Author's Note includes resources for how to get involved in ending gun violence. A heartbreaking, beautiful story about friendship, tragedy, the love which can tear us apart, and the love which puts us back together again, I would highly recommend The Shape of Thunder to readers ages ten and up.
Note: Jasmine Warga is also the author of Other Words for Home.
Book Reviews By & For Kids
Everyone knows that Rapunzel spent her early years locked up in a tower. We’d like to think she had plenty of books to while away the time, and that she’d appreciate our own favorites.
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