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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Grayling's Song, written by Karen Cushman. Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast, 2016. $23.99 ages 9 and up

"A fierce and menacing wind blew against them, buffering them as they struggled against it, heads down. The wind bit at Grayling's chin, clutched at her ankles, and crawled up the sleeves of her gown. Her heart grew cold, and she felt dark despair settling over her spirits again as she trudged on. Suddenly, with a last swirl of dust, the wind was gone. It was not a natural wind."

I was pretty excited to learn that Karen Cushman had a new book coming out. Having read it, it is a departure from her historical fiction; in this new fantasy she has remained true to her fondness for a strong female lead character, and for adventure.

Grayling is the daughter of a sage community healer, and seems happy to take a back seat by gathering the materials for her mother's potions and cures. She prefers her place in the background., allowing her mother to take the lead in conversations with visitors and quietly listening to what is being said. It is through such conversations that she learns about marauding warlords.

"Warlords are forming their own armies," she said with a frown. "The powerful want more power, the wealthy want more wealth, and heaven help those who get in their way."
"Aye," said Thomas Middleton. "Them what has, gets, and the rest of us do with turnips."

Returning home at her mother's frantic call one misty morning, she finds their house on fire and her mother's feet rooted to the earth ... literally. When the fire dies out, her mother asks Grayling to find her grimoire and bring it to her. That 'book of chants and spells and rituals, passed from mother to daughter to daughter to daughter over generations - nay, over centuries - would reveal some way to undo the magic rooting of her mother to the ground.'

The grimoire is gone! That is what sets Grayling on the adventure of a lifetime. Despite her misgivings and her abhorrence for leaving her mother alone, she knows that freeing her mother (and others) from the spell cast on them is her mission. The rest of Grayling's tale deals with her quest to save her mother from becoming one of the many trees of the forest.

Her journey is difficult. The store of food and potions meant to protect her is quickly consumed by a mouse that becomes her travelling companion. Using the songs her mother has taught her and those she creates on her own, she meets other magical people along the way. She hopes they will be able to use their magic to help find the grimoire. They work together fairly well. We grow to know them better - and like them, as well.

The setting is magical, full of mystery and wild in nature. As Grayling moves along an uncertain   path, she finds courage without magic and proves herself adept at problem solving while being a leader to her band of new friends. Humor is a welcome reprieve from their misfortunes, and
friendship is a welcome companion for all.  The focus is on character (as is Karen Cushman's storytelling prowess) and readers are sure to feel warmth and admiration for all.

This book would make a compelling read aloud for children in grade 4 and up.

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