Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

The Newbery Medal winner for The Midwife’s Apprentice returns with a book set in Elizabethan London.  Meggy has been summoned for by a father she has never met.  When she arrives at his doorstep with only clothes and her lone friend, a goose, she is met with disdain and dismissal.  It could be that she is a girl, but it probably also that Meggy can’t walk without using two crutches.  She calls her gait “wabbling” and has spent her life hidden from sight at her mother’s inn.  Now Meggy doesn’t have any choice but to head out into the streets of London to find food since her father has more important things to do than feed her.  He is an alchemist searching for the secrets of transformation and perfection.  When Meggy heads out into the streets, she makes more friends than she ever has had before, finds a young man who could be more than a friend, and allows readers to experience the colors, smells, and noises of life in England at this time.

Cushman has created a marvel here.  It is a short novel filled with entrancing details about Meggy and her surroundings that never bogs down and moves along without any “wabbling.”  Meggy is a great character.  She is far from perfect which makes her very interesting.  She is sharp-tongued and says her mind.  She is brave but often frightened.  She is scorned but also makes lasting friends.  She is a wonderful, realistic enigma whose wide eyes make a great lens to see Elizabethan England through.  Her growth throughout this book is truthful and lovely to experience.  It is especially noteworthy in such a short book.

Beautifully written with a strong female heroine, Cushman is at the top of her game with this title.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Clarion Books.

Also reviewed by Book Aunt, BooksforKidsBlog, Children’s Books Too Cool for School, Rebecca’s Book Blog, and Reading It All.

A Beach Tail

A Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

When Gregory drew a Sandy Lion in the sand on the beach, his father suggested that Sandy needs a tail.  He also told Gregory not to go in the water and not to leave Sandy.  Gregory drew a tail with his drawing stick.  When he came to a jellyfish on shore, he draw a loop around it.  He went up and over an old sandcastle.  He zigzagged around a horseshoe crab.  He swirled around the hole of a ghost crab.  He wrote his name.  Then he turned around and realized how far he was from his father!  How could be find him on the huge beach?  Gregory followed Sandy’s tail back to the beginning all on his own.

This is a story of a beautiful day at the beach combined with a boy’s imagination.  The words use some repetition of the father’s instructions not to go into the water or leave Sandy.  I also appreciate a book where a child moves some distance away from a parent with no fear and uses his own ingenuity to return safely. 

It is the pastel illustrations by Cooper that really bring this book to life and raise it to another level.  The entire book is done with the detail you see on the cover image above.  Gregory’s face reflects his moods, his intentness, his creativity so clearly.  The use of a fairly limited tan and brown palette really works here, uniting the boy and the beach without losing either one of them.  The soft grainy illustrations capture the gritty feel of a sandy beach.

You will almost be able to smell the salt air with these illustrations.  A vacation in a book, it is appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Check out Karen Lynn Williams’ blog and Floyd Cooper’s website.