Tag Archives: gecko press

The Queen and the Nobody Boy

26 Dec

Today’s book review is for The Queen and the Nobody Boy, by Barbara Else, published by Gecko Press. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy book cover

Hodie is an unpaid odd-jobs boy working at the royal palace of Fontania. One day, he decides that he’s finally had enough and strikes out to the south to start his new life. The problem is, he has a tag-along: 12-year old Queen Sibilla, who is tired of all the gossip about her magical abilities (or lack thereof). She decides that the two of them must reclaim the sack of junk taken from Hodie by visiting dignitaries from neighboring Um’Binnia, even though Hodie doesn’t really care about recovering it. He’d rather go off on his own. But no matter how hard he tries to go off to his new life in the south, Hodie can’t seem to shake the little Queen. Instead he’ll brave new dangers, discover secrets, eat bizarre food, and aid rebellion to save Fontania–and discover himself.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy is a lively modern adventure fairy tale for children ages 10 and up. Else’s narrative style reminds me a bit of Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket. There’s a real playfulness to her language. It’s not just that she’s produced a compelling story, but that she’s also managed to tell it in a style that sucks you in. In many middle grades and young adult novels, the narrative prose is secondary to the story. Typically the only time I really notice it is when it’s not terribly good. In this case, I noticed because it was so refreshingly fun to read.

I also loved the world-building in this book. There’s a lot that you’d expect–palaces and gowns and pouches of gold. But there is a lot that is unexpected and whimsical, as well. There are magical dragon eagles in Fontania, who can talk to a select group of people. Um’Binnia is full amazing inventions, most notably their windtrains–which are innovative and sometimes terrifying. There are strange places with deadly obstacles, such as bridges that can spike you or the caverns where the wind trains travel. There are elaborately moustached men. There’s even a royal swear word (but you’ll have to look in the end notes to discover what exactly it is.) In short, you’ve never visited a literary world quite like this before.

When I was about two thirds of the way through the book, I was looking up something about the author and discovered that this was the second book written about Fontania. If I hadn’t stumbled upon it, I never would have known from reading the book. Which, if you think about it, is pretty impressive. That’s because anything you need to know for the story to make sense is right there, in the book. There’s absolutely no assumption that the audience is familiar with the history of Fontania. So, don’t let that little bit of knowledge stop you from jumping in.

Do you ever get so caught up in a book that you feel compelled to tell your partner or other family members about new plot twists as you’re reading? That’s how I was with this book. I even paraphrased it for my 2-year old when she wanted me to tell her a story. Is it any wonder that I’m giving it 5 stars? I hope that other kids and kids-at-heart will share in my joy of journeying through this strange world with young Hodie and the rest.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.


My Happy Life

19 Dec

Today’s book review is for My Happy Life, written by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson, published by Gecko Press. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

My Happy Life book cover

Dani is starting her first year of school. She is one of the happiest people she knows. Lots of things make her happy. But what makes her happiest is when she makes a best friend, Ella. Ella and Dani do everything together. Then, one day, they find out that Ella is moving away. And Dani doesn’t feel so happy anymore. Slowly, though, things start to happen to bring a little happiness back into her life. My Happy Life is a great early chapter book about friendship, loss, and carrying on with life.

This book was originally published in Swedish, so the English version is a translation. Since I can’t read Swedish and have never seen the Swedish edition of the book, I can’t speak as to how faithful the translation is to the original. But I can say that I enjoyed the writing and the story as it was told. As an easy reader/early chapter book, the language in the text is fairly simple in style. There are words in there that may challenge young readers, but should ultimately be familiar. That’s not to say that the ideas explored are simple. Quite to the contrary–Dani not only confronts the pain of a friend moving away, she also reflects on the death of her mother. She’s able to relate the two experiences, while at the same time recognizing their differences. It struck me, because, although as adults we sometimes forget, children really can be quite sophisticated thinkers.

The black and white illustrations are full of personality. The depictions of Dani and Ella’s interactions capture so much emotion. They brought to mind my own childhood friendships and all of the joy that we found in the simplest of things. Most of all, though, I love the illustrations of the class–when all the kids are together. There is so much activity in these images. There’s also a great sense of humor. The style is perfect for children who are transitioning from picture books to chapter books.

My Happy Life is the sort of book that a child could read on their own, or that a parent could read to their child over several nights. It’s got so many positive messages. The best one being that it encourages kids to count the times they’ve been happy. I’m giving this charming book 4 stars. Parents and children alike will be able to connect with the story.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.