Author: Ridley Pearson
Title: The Kingdom Keepers: Power Play
Publication Info: New York : Disney/Hyperion Books, c2011
I was disappointed in the previous installment of the Kingdom Keepers, but the series regains its footing in the fourth book. The narrative is less bloated and even when the Keepers hit a snag in one of their moonlight adventures in the Disney Parks, it feels plot-driven rather than a dead end.
There are five Kingdom Keepers, with Finn the leader getting most of the attention, and Philby growing to be the co-leader. The other Keepers and the two Fairlies, Amanda and Jess, have had a lot to do in previous books, but this is the first book in which Willa has a big part, and it’s really great to see her character grow.
Willa is also present for a new factor in this books when she meets (and is helped) by Ariel, the Little Mermaid. The villains – known as the Overtakers – have featured prominently in the series, but this is the first time a good Disney character plays a role with hints that more good characters are looking for a leader to drive them to action. Later, Minnie and Pluto play a big part. It’s very bold for Pearson to wait until the fourth book to introduce this game-changing factor to the novels!
Author: Ridley Pearson
Title: The Kingdom Keepers: Disney in Shadow
Publication Info: New York : Disney Editions, c2010.
In the third books of the Kingdom Keepers series, the story is starting to wear thin. This book is much longer than its predecessors and feels bloated. There are a number of false starts to getting the plot moving that don’t really add anything as far as character beats go. There’s also a love triangle crisis among Finn-Amanda-Charlene that comes out of nowhere and seems unnecessary.
Nevertheless, when the action gets going, the Kingdom Keepers stay up all night fighting the Overtakers in Epcot in attempt to rescue their mentor Wayne. The action culminates in a full-on tech rehearsal of Fantasmic! where they battle of good versus evil is very real. I think the final sequence stands well by itself and if the novel were trimmed down to simply support it, the novel would be a much better addition to the series.
Author: Ridley Pearson
Title: The Kingdom Keepers: Disney At Dawn
Publication Info: New York : Disney Editions, c2008.
Finn, Charlene, Maybeck, Willa, and Philby return for another adventure as the five young teenagers who defend Walt Disney World from the villainous Overtakers. The story begins with a parade celebrating the return of the kids’ DHIs (holographic hosts who work in the Magic Kingdom), but the appearance of their friends Amanda and Jez forebodes dark times ahead in the Most Magical Place on Earth.
Amanda and Jez are orphans with magical powers only just being revealed to the rest of the Kingdom Keepers, and the are known as Fairlies, as in “Fairly Humans.” When Jez is abducted the Kingdom Keepers not only need to find her but also avoid falling asleep and having their DHIs trapped in the Overtakers’ new server. They spend the day at the Animal Kingdom struggling to keep awake as they solve these mysteries. Charlene gets a particularly good boost in her character as she gets to disguise herself as DeVine, the camouflaged, stilt-walking performer, for reconnaissance purposes.
Aaaaaaaaand, the novel ends on a cliffhanger, meaning that my daughter and I will most certainly be reading the third book in the series.
Author: Ridley Pearson
Title: The Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark
Publication Info: New York : Disney Editions, c2005.
This book is the first in a series of adventure and mystery children’s novels set in the Walt Disney World theme parks that I’m reading to my Disney fan daughter. The basic gist is that five young teenagers have been used as models for holographic theme park guides in Disney’s Magic Kingdom known as Disney Host Interactive (DHI). A simple one-time acting gig unexpectedly leads the kids to start crossing over in their sleep and appearing in the Magic Kingdom in the form of their holograms. An old and mysterious Imagineer named Wayne tells them that they were created to counter the characters of Disney villains who are coming to life and trying to take over the parks (and thus known as the Overtakers).
The five teens kind of have a Scooby Doo crew crossed with a Disney Channel Original Movie vibe. Finn is the leader and the main protagonist of the book. Charlene is an athletic cheerleader who is often frightened about participating in the adventures. Maybeck, a tall African-American, is the sceptic of the group and typically responds with sarcasm. Willa, possibly of Native American background, is more positive and is good at working out clues. Philby is the redheaded tech genius of the group. Finn’s mysterious friend Amanda also helps out, although she is not a DHI.
They have to solve a mystery by finding clues on the rides. The Overtakers try to stop them by turning the rides against them. Which leads to the creepiest scene ever in It’s a Small World that will totally ruin the ride for you. They ultimately have to face down Malificent and her sidekick Jez.
It’s a fun and interesting story, and much more of a literary children’s book than you might expect from it’s commercial tie-in with a big theme park. In fact, since the Disney company is so image conscious, I’m surprised that they actually make the company look bad at some points in the narrative. My daughter enjoyed this book and I expect we’ll be reading the whole series.
Author: Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Title: The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare
Publication Info: Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press, 2018.
Previously Read by the Same Authors: The Princess in Black (I’ve read all of the Princess in Black books multiple times, but only reviewed the first one for some reason).
I received a free advanced reading copy of the 6th book in the Princess in Black series through the Library Thing Early Reviewer program.
My daughter and I enjoy reading the Princess in Black books which gently send up princess culture and superhero stories while be sweet and charming in their own way. In this adventure, Princess Magnolia leaves monster-fighting behind to attend a science fair. Or so she thinks, until a goo monster emerges from a volcano model!
Princess Magnolia changes costumes to become the Princess in Black, and the Princess in Blankets introduced in The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate is also there to help. But then, three undisguised princesses also help out. The book has a good message about working together to solve a problem. We also get the goo monster’s perspective, and he just wants somewhere where he can fit in. And the princesses (and monster) even use public transportation!
It’s a ripping good yarn and things end well for all involved. My 6 y.o. and I have read it multiple times already and she’s not yet tired of it.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Title: Fortunately, the Milk
Narrator: Neil Gaiman
Publication Info: HarperCollins (2013)
Previously Read by the Same Author:
We listened to this with the kids on a road trip this weekend, once in each direction. The narrator is a boy whose Dad goes out to buy milk at the corner store and after a long absence returns with an outlandish tale of where he’d been. His adventures include encounters with aliens in flying saucers, pirates, vampires, colorful ponies, and traveling as a companion to Professor Steg, a very wise stegosaurus. They travel through time, escape an erupting volcano, and never fail to hold on to the milk, all while on board a Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier (a.k.a. a hot air balloon). It’s all delightfully silly and a good follow-up to our previous favorite audio book for road trips, Gaiman’s The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, which very likely features the same family.
Author: Dav Pilkey
Title: Dog Man
Publication Info: New York, NY : Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, 2016.
From the creator of Captain Underpants, comes Dog Man, the adventures of a police officer with a dogs head (surgically joined together in the origin story). Dog Man is present as a comic written by George and Harold of the Captain Underpants‘ books, and is equally crude (as in the drawings and the potty humor) and subversive as the previous series. Dog Man fights against the evil cat Petey, and some of my favorite parts are when Petey erases all the books in the world and makes everyone dumb, as well as when he brings a crew of evil hot dogs to life. I read this to my six-year-old; she was delighted.
Author: T.H. White
Title: The Sword in the Stone
Narrator: Neville Jason
Publication Info: Naxos AudioBooks (2008), originally published in 1938
Summary/Review: For a long holiday road trip with my son, I thought he’d enjoy this introduction to Arthurian mythology. I did it with some hesitation, as The Once and Future King was one of my favorite books as a child and I feared it may not hold up to nostalgia. I’m pleased though that this first installment of the tetralogy is still an enjoyable, modernist spin on the story of King Arthur, filling in the story of Arthur’s childhood. Of course, I always thought the The Sword in the Stone was the best of the four parts. One thing I didn’t know is that White actually made major changes when he incorporated The Sword in the Stone into The Once and Future King, and while I can’t really remember enough to recognize most of the changes I was surprised that Disney didn’t actually make up the duel between Merlyn and Madame Mim. Another thing I didn’t notice is a kid was just how blatant the anachronisms are, with Meryln living backwards in time making them a running gag. Knowing how much White loved hunting, I also noticed that he puts a lot of detail into his descriptions of hunts throughout the book, something I must have glazed over as a child. What remains the same is that the book contains a lot of humor, adventure, animal lore, a cameo by Robin Hood (er, Robin Wood), and surreptitious pacifist social satire. And my son, well he covered his ears a lot during the scary party, but insisted we keep listening to the story and that we move on to The Witch in the Wood next.
Recommended Books: The Dragon Stone: A Tale of King Arthur, Merlin & Cabal by John Conlee, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, and The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
Author: Dan Gutman
Title: Ted & me: A Baseball Card Adventure
Publication Info: New York : Harper, c2012.
Joe Stoshack is a kid who can travel in time by touching baseball cards which take him to the time and place of the player in the photo. In this installment of the series, the FBI learns of his ability and send an agent to convince him to go back in time to warn Franklin Roosevelt of the Pearl Harbor attack and prevent the United States entry into World War II. The person to help Stosh on this mission is Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, an appropriately patriotic figure who gave up five seasons of his career to serve in WWII and the Korean War. The characterization of Williams is well done since it captures a person who could be alternately an abrasive jerk and good-humored and generous. Williams is also impulsive enough to take Stosh under his wing, and after finishing up the season in Philadelphia ensuring his .406 batting average, takes Stosh on a road trip. There are a few stops along the way which I won’t spoil, but add to the characterization of Williams and his bond with Stosh. Obviously, Stosh doesn’t prevent World War II, but it’s interesting to see some of the historic detail through his eyes, including a frightening encounter at an America First rally with supporters of Charles Lindbergh, something you wouldn’t expect to see in a children’s book. It’s a good adventure for kids who are fans of baseball and American history.
Author: Mark Twain
Title: The Prince and the Pauper
Narrator: Kenneth Jay
Publication Info: Naxos AudioBooks , 2001
I remember enjoying this book as a child (although I can’t remember what age) and since my son is interested in Mark Twain, we listened to the audiobook on a recent road trip. It was a little bit more complicated than I remembered, and frankly we both had trouble following parts of the story, but perhaps that is a challenge of audiobooks compared with print. The basic story is well-known in which the poor and abused Tom Canty meets Prince Edward and discovering they resemble one another, swap clothing. Through a comedy of errors, they are separated and end up with Tom unwillingly becoming king and the prince having to live life at the very bottom of society. All works out in the end, and Twain is probably too kind on Edward VI’s actual legacy as king, but the book delves into some of the gritty realities of impoverished masses and the court intrigues of the elites.