I tend to recommend middle grade that falls in the 11-13 range, or “upper middle grade.” It’s a bit more issue-driven and appropriate for kids with a certain emotional maturity. For a great discussion of what this age group encompasses, check out the re-cap of the Middle School is Hell panel featuring Mariko Tamaki, Kate Milford, Rebecca Stead (SWOON) and Connie Hsu. But what about that 7-11 year old age group, those readers who are ready for chapter books but perhaps not ready for too much emotional drama or realism? Enter Canadian author Kallie George and her charming series, The Magical Animal Adoption Agency. Clover is a volunteer at a magical animal adoption agency where she helps Mr. Jams care for the creatures and find them their best possible forever-homes. In this second volume Mr. Jams leaves Clover in charge while he seeks out a magical animal expert to help solve the mystery of an enchanted egg.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am good friends with the author and have the pleasure of seeing these books from inception to publication. But I can say without bias that Kallie George’s two greatest gifts as an author are invention and turns of phrase. This is a series populated with fairy horses, magical eggs, grimalkins (aka magic kittens) and more. Clover’s job feels totally plausible (mucking out stalls, preparing food, looking after the adoption book), but is made delightful by a few clever, creative twists. George’s light but assured tone coupled with her imagination brings to mind Cynthia Rylant’s work, particularly The Van Gogh Cafe.
There is an assumption that all children love goofy, uproarious, gross-out humour and that this is the only way to hook a child on reading. This is a bit reductive, and I believe children also respond to invention. Who doesn’t love to be delighted? I can’t think of another series more winsome or delightful. There are definitely moments of humour in The Enchanted Egg, but it’s a gentler comedy, one based on word play (fairy-spitting fickle corns!) and classic fairy-tale charm. The fun extends to the official website, featuring activities, a cast of magical creatures, and many cute extras.
Magical creatures are always of interest, but I believe that we’re about to reach fever pitch next year with the film release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the next installment in the beloved Harry Potter franchise. This is a great family read-aloud or series for newly independent readers who can’t get enough of animals, magical creatures, or have enjoyed Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Jackson Pearce, illustrated by Maggie Stiefvater. The first book, Clover’s Luck, is a finalist for the 2016 Silver Birch Express and Kallie will be on tour in Ontario during Canadian Children’s Book Week in May 2016.
Magical Animal Adoption Agency #2: The Enchanted Egg is available now from Disney Hyperion (in the US) and Harper Collins Canada.