Fox by Kate Banks, illustrated by Georg Hallensleben.

The single-word title and the large fox on the cover of this book may make you think it is for very small children, toddlers even.  But that is not the case.  It is the story of a young fox who has to wait and wait until he is old enough to head out into the meadow and hunt on his own.  “No, Fox, no” is what he hears most from his parents as they try to keep him from wandering off and running into danger.  Finally, he is large enough to head out on his own after learning all about the many dangers that surround him.

The illustrations must be mentioned because they are done with such strong colors and almost tactile painting.  They beautifully capture the security of the den, the beauty of the natural world, and the vivid colors that surround us all.  Simply lovely.  Combine with that the language of the text, and you have a real winner for children.  I always enjoy a picture book that does not shy away from introducing small children to new words that open up their world.  Here readers will encounter “burnished leaves,” “a billowy gust,” and “a peaceable hum.”  All used to better explain and evoke the world that the fox live in. 

Share this with children of preschool and kindergarten age.  It is a treat to read aloud for the adult reader as well.

Dragon's Keep

Dragon’s Keep by Janet Lee Carey.

Ah what a joy!  I saw that this received several starred reviews and immediately put it on hold at the library. 

Merlin predicted 600 years ago that the 21st queen of Wilde Island would “redeem the name Pendragon.  End war with the wave of her hand.  And restore the glory of Wilde Island.”  Rosalind stands in line to be the 21st queen, but she has been born with a mark that disgraces her, one of her fingers is that of a dragon with scales and a talon.  She and her mother wear golden gloves to cover her mark, saying that a princess’ hands are only to be revealed to her husband.  Rosalind has to find a way to rid herself of her claw in time to be married to Prince Henry as her mother wishes.  But all of the healers try to cure her to no avail.  As time ticks away, people around Rosalind are killed by dragons and anyone who discovers her claw is found dead.  She must discover the strange connection between herself and the dragons and see if she can live to fulfill the prophecy.

Carey does the near impossible here and creates a unique and vibrant fantasy built upon Camelot and Merlin.  Rosie is a wonderful heroine, caught in a situation beyond her control but never turning away from her duty and destiny.  The writing is fluid and has an ease about it, allowing readers to become immersed in the tale.  There is a sudden twist in the middle of the book that lifts the story to new heights and changes the reader’s expectations entirely.  Rarely is that done with such skill and grace. 

Recommend to teens who enjoy fantasy as well as those who like princess tales.  There is no sexuality in the book, though plenty of gore, so many older elementary age children will enjoy it as well.  This one is certainly one of the best fantasies of the year.