The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Imagine Harry Potter as told by Professor McGonagall, Petunia Dursley, Hedwig, and Neville Longbottom’s grandmother…

Barnhill, Kelly. The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Young Readers, 2016. Print.

Summary: A doddering witch rescues the sacrificial babies abandoned in the woods. Normally, she feeds them starlight before adopting them out to new families. But on one occasion, she feeds a child moonlight, thereby creating a new witch and consequently kicking off an avalanche of other troubles.

Critique: Even though this is a middle grade text (and the 2017 Newbery winner to boot), the narrative primarily shares the parental perspective. That is to say, rather than tell yet another story of a young child coming of age with magic powers, this story examines what it is to be a step-mother…er eh, a step-witch to an adopted and accidentally enmagicked child. Also, what it is to be the godparent…uh er, god-swamp monster to that child. And what it is to be the mother who went mad when her child was taken for sacrifice. And finally, what it is to be the boy who sees the mother go mad and then grow up to have his own sacrificial child.

I guess imagine Harry Potter as told by Professor McGonagall, Petunia Dursley, Hedwig, and Neville Longbottom’s grandmother with Harry getting his own say somewhere in the last quarter of the story.

Ultimately, any budding Terry Pratchett fans will appreciate Barnhill’s wink-and-nod magic rules and fantasy world building. Nascent Patrick Rothfuss or Lev Grossman fans will find the convenient inconsistencies and glaring contradictions frustrating.

Most consistent throughout is that inspiring and unyielding sense of familial love.


Wild Boy by Mary Losure

Losure-wildboyLosure, Mary. Wild Boy: The Real LIfe of the Savage of Aveyron. Illus. Timothy Basil Ering. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2013. Print.

Genre: middle grade nonfiction

Summary: In the late 1700s, French villagers discover a wild boy in the woods. Maybe only nine years old, the child is naked as a jaybird and grubbing for food. He has scars from old burns smattering his skin and one long scar slicing across his throat. Miraculously, he is alive and self-sufficient. The boy is captured, studied, and the entire trajectory of his life changes forever. So too are some of the lives that come in contact with him.

Critique: Losure’s style is concise. Rather than feeling like skin and bones prose, hers feels more deft. She does a lot with very little — like the best bikini designers. She leaves many questions unanswered, and not just because sources are sparse or do not provide answers. Rather, Losure gives readers a lot of subtext to chew on. Without directly stating it, she presents the possibility that trying to civilize the wild boy may have done more harm than good. The story quietly confronts the supposed supremacy of civilization. The text confronts the efficacy of certain teaching methods that run like a one-way street. It ponders whether dialogues between teachers and students might work better. The pencil/charcoal sketches are full of free, thin lines contained by lots of hard scribbling, jagged outlines. The result is an emotional mirror of the content: a small, free spirit trapped by a rigid society. My favorite (the most memorable) drawing is on page 123. The Wild Boy, named Victor, peers curiously into the benevolent face of his life-long teacher and guardian, Dr. Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard. Losure’s writing fuses with Basil Ering’s illustrations forming a wonderful bridge text for readers working their way out of chap books and into the realm of nonfiction (which, with Common Core, is just about every kid in school right now).