Teen Read: The Diviners, by Libba Bray

Horror and magic are sometimes seen as strange bedfellows. While magic in fiction often evokes thoughts of Hobbits, wizards and magical kingdoms, horror is another genre that often features mystical characters and stories. The Diviners by Libba Bray combines these elements along with 1920s glamour, small town alienation and an exciting murder mystery aimed at an older teen audience (16+).

The Diviners follows the initially separate stories of Evie O’Neill and Memphis as they navigate very different perspectives of 1920s New York. Evie moves to New York to escape a small town scandalized by her unusual abilities and fearless attitude. Memphis struggles against poverty and racism while being haunted by prophetic dreams of a coming danger. But both of them will come together to combat a supernatural danger that most people don’t even believe exists.

Evie and Memphis both deal with different sides of the outsider coin. Evie is quite attractive and confident at first glance, with her flapper style and quick wit making her a standout among her peers. But her unusual psychic gifts and confrontational attitude often makes an outsider of her in her small town. Misunderstood by her peers and unsupported by her parents, Evie moves to New York with her uncle to avoid her recent scandal. Here she enjoys a newfound sense of freedom and support that she has always dreamed of, but also begins to discover that the city of New York is home to more than just speak easies and glamourous shopping.

Memphis, by contrast, is a native New Yorker who lost his mother to illness and his father who moved away. Working as a small time bookie to help make ends meet, Memphis deals with the open racism of 1920s America while also struggling with his internal problems of having lost his parents. As Memphis begins to experience haunting visions of an impending threat, Memphis has to come to terms with his abilities and responsibilities in a world that doesn’t appreciate him.

The thematic and appeal hooks of The Diviners are very clear and skillfully executed. 1920s glamour is beautifully illustrated, and serves to contrast the frightening and sometimes gory plot excellently. The adult plot and difficulty of the novel means that it will be appreciated by older teens, especially ones that have an appreciation for historical mysteries, low fantasy or the occult.

The other large appeal of the book is both of the main protagonists experiencing various forms of alienation and discrimination. Evie is largely viewed by her peers as troublesome and weird because of her bravery and unusual gifts while Memphis deals with sometimes open racism. Younger readers will often not have much experience with these problems, but older teens will be better able to identify and experience the difficulty of alienation and isolation.

Teens who enjoy The Diviners may also enjoy another series by Libba Bray, A Great and Terrible Beauty. Similar thematic hooks are used: female protagonist, historical fiction, and dark fantasy. There are many differences however, namely that it takes place in a female boarding schools in England and puts more of a focus on the female friendship dynamic. The Diviners is also part of a continuing series, so the sequel Lair of Dreams could also be used as a follow-up read.5-flashlight-rating

3 Ninja Pigs

Fairy tale modernization is not a new concept. Whether done in movie form by DisneyPixar, print form by Marissa Meyer or theatrical productions like Wicked or Into the Woods; modern re-imaginings of classic fairy tales are a very popular trend in recent years. 3 Ninja Pigs continues this popular trend with the delightful writings of Corey Rosen Schwartz and wonderful illustrations by Dan Santat. 

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The setting is a fictional ancient China, where the two younger pig brothers and their elder sister are living in an area terrorized by the predatory wolf. Tired of living in fear of the wolf, the three pig siblings decide to enroll in the new ninja school. What follows is a clever re-imaging of the plot of the original story: the two pig brothers put in varying degrees of work into their ninja studies only to be defeated by the wolf, fleeing to the safety of their eldest sister. The sister, in contrast to the brothers, has studied long and hard at perfecting her karate and is able to frighten the wolf away with a display of her skill.

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More than just a humorous book that is fantastically illustrated, 3 Ninja Pigs is an excellent learning tool and conversation piece for children and parents. The sister is a successful heroine not because of wandering lumberjacks or enchanted swords, instead she demonstrates the importance of hard work and perseverance to children. In addition, the detailed illustrations of ancient China and martial arts culture are supported in the back page with a glossary of terms used throughout the story. This helps parents to quiz their readers on various terms used during the story, or to help parents answer questions that young readers may have during the course of the reading.

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All-in-all, 3 Ninja Pigs is an excellent and educational book. Rich illustrations and delightful, rhythmic story come together to form a book that is as fun as it is accessible to young readers. The book is a re-telling of a familiar classic, features a strong introduction to the importance of self-discipline, and offers parents a number of fun learning activities based around martial arts, ancient times or classical tales.

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My Very First Book of Colors

My Very First Book of Colors is written and illustrated by the famous Eric Carle. It is a core concept board book focusing on colour identification concepts while being a tactile experience for young readers and parents.

Like so many Eric Carle books, the illustrations are rich and colourful with his distinct style and heavy brush strokes. The pictures and wording is clear and draws the eyes in all the correct places without adding distracting background images or filler details. There’s no story component so this book is accessible to early ages and supports 3 of the important parts of Every Child Ready to Read: talking, reading and playing.

My Very First Book of Colors lends itself to talking and reading at the very early stages of literacy and pre-literacy. Single word pages like green, blue or pink make for an easy introduction to reading and talking with children while using the book. The book truly comes alive, however, at the play stages thanks to the unique design of the book itself.

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The split design is the highlight of this book allowing parents to read to the child while turning multiple pages, and allowing children to either play with multiple pages at an early stage or turn the pages themselves once more confident. As readers slowly develop reading and identification skills, parents will be able to use the book to ask questions like “what colour is the lemon?” or “is the butterfly green?” and children will be able to turn the secondary page and find the appropriate word or image.

An ideal pickup as an early concept book, My Very First Book of Colors by Eric Carle is an excellent board book for young readers and the split page design will surely keep young hands busy and young faces smiling.

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