Arthur: The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland

The Seeing Stone coverArthur de Caldicot is surrounded by crossing places. There’s the year, 1199, which promises the mystery of a new century. There’s his home, perched on the border of England and Wales, and his family, which blends the traditions and sensibilities of both. There’s the death of Coeur de Lion, and the rise of King John. And there’s Arthur’s seeing stone, a gift from his mentor, Merlin, which give him glimpses into another life strangely parallel to his own.

This first book in Crossley-Holland’s Arthur trilogy introduces the Arthurian legends through the eyes of a medieval teen convinced that knighthood is everything he wants. Short chapters alternate between detailed images of life in a medieval manor, and vivid scenes from King Arthur’s beginnings, from his strange conception to the much-contested drawing of the sword from the stone. Between the two, the later Arthur’s story moves almost imperceptibly forward. Though there is a central conflict and, ultimately, a kind of resolution, there is a sense that for the most part, the reader is trusted to draw meaning out everyday life. Arthur asks questions and makes choices, observes and discovers, worries and determines who he can and will trust. Having experienced all of this with Arthur, the reader is ready to recognise the full weight of the conclusion — and to reach eagerly for the next book.

I highly recommend The Seeing Stone for readers who enjoy historical fiction that provides a faithful window into another culture, and for those interested in the Middle Ages more generally. The series is also a great place to start developing a deeper sense of the Arthurian legends, as the short, memorable scenes provide plenty of entry points for understanding a more advanced work like Le Morte d’Arthur down the road without conflicting with those more traditional tellings.

Continue the series with At the Crossing Places and The King of the Middle March.

Read other reviews from Publishers Weekly and, from a writer’s point of view, Miss Reading.

Visit the author’s website to find out how his Arthur trilogy came to be, or head over to The Guardian for an interview with Crossley-Holland on the occasion of his Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.

*Apologies for the delayed post!

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A Tale of Two Castles written by Gail Carson Levine and illustrated by Greg Call

A Tale of Two Castles coverWhen Elodie sets out on her own at twelve, she knows that it will be at least ten years before she sees home again. The only apprenticeship her family can afford is the kind that Elodie will purchase with ten years of service. It’s a long time, but Elodie has a plan to make it pass in a flash: though her parents believe that they are sending their daughter away for a weaving apprenticeship, Elodie intends to apprentice with an acting troupe, and fill her years with adventure.

Unfortunately, Elodie learns too late that the ten-year apprenticeships have been abolished. In order to find a home and work for herself, she’ll have to either convince a master to take her on for a much longer apprenticeship, or find a way to pay for a shorter one. Enter Meenore the dragon, who needs an apprentice to announce ITs detective skills in the market, and perform other sundry tasks around the lair. Their first big case comes from the unpopular owner of one of the story’s two castles, the ogre Count Jonty Um, whose dog has disappeared. Though Jonty Um is kind and hospitable, the villagers hate and fear him, and the Count worries that something terrible has happened. When Elodie movies into the castle under the guise of a servant, she discovers that there is far more going on than the loss of an animal. Between Elodie’s acting and observation skills, and Meenore’s detective savvy, the pair soon has a list of suspects, from the handsome cat trainer in the village to the dreadful king who owns the second castle. But they may already be too late.

A Tale of Two Castles is a clever and satisfying story recommended for readers who enjoy fantasy-laced mysteries and twisted fairy tales.

Read other reviews at Miss Print and The Reading Fever.

Revisit the fairy tale that inspired A Tale of Two Castles (it may surprise you!).

Watch the trailer:

Ten: For Young Writers Part 3 — Stories about Young Writers

This last For Young Writers post leaves advice (mostly) behind in favour of story. The writers described in these stories may approach the task with eagerness or doubt, teacher expectations, or a deep need of their own to write. What they have in common is a growing understanding of the potential of their own words.

Once Upon an Ordinary School Day written by Colin McNaughton and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura
On a perfectly ordinary, ho hum day, a new teacher arrives who challenges his students to open their imaginations to music and story. In bare handfuls of words, McNaughton captures a multitude of approaches to creativity, as well as the effects that creativity can have on those willing to give it a try. Continue reading

The Battle of the Sun by Jeanette Winterson

Battle of the Sun coverThe Battle of the Sun is Winterson’s second novel for younger readers, and although one of the characters from Tanglewreck shows up in the second half it is a completely stand-alone novel. I received this as a Christmas gift and read it before Tanglewreck — no temporal anomalies or cognitive dissonance occurred.

Unlike Tanglewreck, this tale takes place in the past, London 1601, and the hero is a boy named Jack Snap who lives with his mother and his beloved dog, Max. The Magnus, an alchemist who dreams of turning London to gold, is convinced that Jack is the prophesied Golden Boy, key to realizing his transmutative dreams. Jack soon finds himself a prisoner in the Dark House, where he is forced to work alongside several failed “Golden Boys” and under the watchful eyes of Mr. Wedge and Mistress Split who are each half of a once whole creature now split in two.

Jack is resourceful and determined to escape the Magnus and thwart his selfish plans. He is assisted by many: the other boys, Max, his mother, and a visitor from the future. To succeed he must rescue a drowned king and snatch the Cinnabar egg from a dragon disguised as a moat who likes to speak in riddles. Jack joins forces with historically real alchemist John Dee for the final battle against the Magnus and his allies. Battle of the Sun is highly entertaining with bizarre though believable characters and several truly frightening situations. I would not recommend it for kids under 10 but would recommend it for preteens and teens who enjoy adventure.

This review from writer Philip Ardagh in The Guardian provides more detailed plot and character description but (Spoiler Alert) reveals who visits from the future. A second review from Media Culture is much less glowing.