The finalists have been announced for the 2021 Governor General Awards, given by The Canada Council for the Arts. The awards recognize Canada’s best English-language and French-language books in seven categories. Two of those categories are specifically for young people’s literature. Below are the finalists in those categories.
Autumn and her family are servants at the Inglenook School, a magical boarding school for wizards. Her family cares for the magical monsters in the menagerie, including plant-loving gardening dragons, wisps who need to be clubbed before they are gathered up, and a grumpy Boggart who loves Autumn more than anyone. But Autumn has a mystery to solve, her twin brother Winter disappeared almost a year ago, and she is certain that he isn’t dead. The Boggart spotted him in the school kitchens, but she is not allowed to venture much into the school itself. Meanwhile, Cai Morrigan, the boy prophesized to one day kill the Hollow Dragon, needs Autumn’s help. It turns out that he is terrified of dragons to the point that he can’t stay conscious around them. The deal is that he must help her find Winter while she helps him stop fainting dead away. Now the two of them must search the school and discover hidden parts while also entering the dangerous forest and dealing with dragons big and small.
It is inevitable that people will compare this to Harry Potter due to the magical boarding school at its center, but this middle-grade fantasy novel is something quite different. With a broad sense of humor about monsters, posh wizards, and older brothers, the book also takes on serious subjects like discrimination against different magics, the treatment of those who are different, and one girl’s determination to find her brother no matter what.
The characters are marvelously written. From the powerful and gruff Gran who raises Autumn and her siblings to the brothers who are both heroic and terrible to the family dog who just knows everyone loves him to the dark Boggart who loves deeply and hates to use his full powers. There are monstrous delights throughout the book, the creatures beautifully detailed and fascinating.
A grand fantasy full of twists, magic and mucking out stalls. Appropriate for ages 9-12.