Today I’m bringing my Cybils TBR back to early chapter books, which as a Middle Grade writer are more my jam.
AMELIA FANG AND THE BARBARIC BALL (author/illustrator debut for seasoned author Laura Ellen Anderson) is like an all-the-feels Addams Family with a sneaky side of woke.
In a nice twist on the tomboyish-princess-who-wants-to-be-something-else* trope, preteen vampire countess Amelia Fang wants to be a pumpkinologist (vet to pet pumpkins), not hang around a group of boring grown-ups at her parents’ annual Barbaric Ball.
Her only hope is Prince Tangine, whose father, King of Nocturnia, is making his first appearance since The Fairy Incident that killed the Queen. Fairies are fearsome Day Creatures who spread cuteness and glitter like vile disease, and the two kingdoms have always stayed separate.
I kind of really can’t with Prince Tangine. He has tiny hands, poufy light hair, and is a manipulative brat for 85% of the book. He mocks Amelia’s rare Yeti BFF for being a “beast”. Someone mispronounces his name as Tanning Cream when presenting him at the Ball. “Controversial president depicted as a pompous kid vampire” is funny regardless your side of the aisle.
A guest in the Fang home for dinner, Tangine manipulates his position and the Countess’s pity for his mom’s death, to take Amelia’s pet pumpkin Squashy home with him. When Amelia and her besties Francine the Yeti and Grmialdi Reaperton sneak into Tangine’s palace the night of the Barbaric Ball to take pumpkin-nap Squashy, Amelia discovers the horrible truth (spoiler alert ahead):
Tangine is half-fairy.
Dun dun dunnnnnnnn!
- Rapid worldbuilding – Anyone would geek out about butt-biting sofas and scary angel-kittens, but this would be a great mentor text in this regard.
- Amelia is a well-rounded main character who veers into morally gray at times (she tricks Tangine, adding little wrongs to a big wrong to make a right. At the end of the day though, Amelia and her friends are able to win over Tangine with acceptance of who he really is.
- Tangine’s fairy tears dissolve the goblin slime that’s been mucking up the Fang’s castle; strength in his difference and suggesting that the two species just might coexist down the line one day. Imagine!
- This book is a badly-needed mirror/window for Stuff We Don’t Talk About™ regarding multi-racial human children.
There are multi-racial children where one side/certain relatives despise one parent for being Demographic Category X; or expects the child to “choose” a race and turn their back on their other parent/other half of their heritage; etc. Prince Tangine’s story will resonate with those kids big-time. It’s a dead-on allegory for a reality that isn’t discussed enough, and it was so refreshing to see that “mirror” present on the pages of a cute monster story in its own right.
*Steps down from soapbox*.
- At 205 pages, Chapter Book may be a stretch, but there’s visual detail or an illustration on every page. Also, Anderson puts a spread of characters within the first pages, just in case anyone can forget a bouncy pet pumpkin or a preteen Grim Reaper in charge of reptiles.
- To note, the book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so I suggest reading the series in order… the good news is as soon as I get through my Cybils TBR, I’ll be hunting down the sequel.
AMELIA FANG AND THE BARBARIC BALL is out now from Delacorte Books for young readers.
* PSA: You can have a girly-girl and still have a strong female protagonist, both in kids’ books and in life. Anderson nails a great example of that in Amelia.