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Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded Hardcover – March 21, 2017
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4–8—Chantel is a powerful young sorceress, but she's had less luck with the deportment lessons that all magical maidens learn at Miss Ellicott's school. When Miss Ellicott mysteriously disappears, a lack of deportment may be the least of Chantel's problems. Marauders are besieging the city, and suddenly none of the adult sorceresses are around to perform the spells that strengthen the walls. Also, Chantel's snake familiar has crawled into her head, which doesn't help matters. As she takes responsibility for the school's younger students, questions the city's patriarchy and the old ways of thinking, and begins to find her way into her full powers, Chantel starts to learn when to be biddable and when to be bold. This imaginative story has it all: magic and adventure but also humor and relevant political undertones for savvy readers. Chantel is described as brown-skinned; the racial identity of other characters is not specified. This book features a strong plot and well-developed characters. Readers who enjoyed Blackwood's earlier works will not be disappointed. Hand this to fans of Diana Wynne Jones and Shannon Hale. VERDICT This clever fantasy is a strong purchase for most middle grade collections.—Misti Tidman, Mansfield/Richland County Public Library, OH
Praise for MISS ELLICOTT’S SCHOOL FOR THE MAGICALLY MINDED: “Chantel is a magical heroine to be celebrated, deportment notwithstanding.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“This fantastical adventure is a sheer delight, featuring a smart, kind, and brave heroine.” (Booklist (starred review))
“This book features a strong plot and well-developed characters. Readers who enjoyed Blackwood’s earlier works will not be disappointed. Hand this to fans of Diana Wynne Jones and Shannon Hale. This clever fantasy is a strong purchase for most middle grade collections.” (School Library Journal)
“This extraordinary fantasy...has everything a reader might desire: thrilling suspense, a courageous and smart heroine, an elaborately constructed plot, a vivid setting and a moral grounding and nuance reminiscent of Kristen Cashore’s marvelous “Graceling” books for teen readers.” (Buffalo News)
“’Magical maiden’ Chantel’s biggest challenge in her education to become a proper and correct sorceress is ‘deportment.’ A magical-school story with welcome diversity (Chantel is black), unexpected reveals, and thrilling surprises.” (The Horn Book)
Praise for JINX’S FIRE: “Blackwood offers a story of enchanting texture and depth, and series fans will be elated to have another outing with the sweetly sardonic hero, whose conscience is almost as troublesome as his grasp of spells. Fans of Cornelia Funke should add this to their stacks.” (ALA Booklist)
Praise for JINX’S FIRE: “A solid conclusion to a trilogy...threaded with proper amounts of heroism, humor and ingenious twists of character.” (Kirkus)
Praise for JINX’S MAGIC: “This series deserves a permanent place in the children’s fantasy pantheon, with Narnia and Earthsea.” (Booklist (starred review))
“The familiar premise—a magical school where girls train to become proper young ladies—gains some startlingly Dickensian elements in Blackwood’s deft hands...[The] shift in perspective opens up readers’ perspective as well—one more act of storytelling prestidigitation in a story rife with unexpected reveals and thrilling surprises.” (Horn Book Magazine)
Praise for JINX’S MAGIC: “The unique setting, smart pace, likable characters, and sprightly voice hold the narrative together while keeping Jinx’s fans eager for more.” (Horn Book Magazine)
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Chantel lives in the walled city of Lightning Pass, learning to be a good summoner sorceress at Miss Ellicott's school. The city is protected by magical wards on the wall called the Seven Buttons. Though Chantel is a bit cheeky for her own good, she has a bright future as a skilled summoner. That is, until the city's sorceresses disappear, marauders besiege the wall, food runs short, and she is forced to seek help from both the city's powerful Patriarchs and then the King himself. But they have their own distractions and a 13 year old girl who hasn't learned proper deportment or etiquette is just a nuisance. That is, until the dragon appears....
From the cover image as well as the description, this would seem to skew to the younger side of middle grade. But really, this is an intricate and layered story that should appeal to young and old. As with Alice in Wonderland, younger readers will enjoy Chantel's adventures and older readers can ponder the many themes brought up seamlessly through the plot and character interactions. Because like Alice, our heroine Chantel will continually come up against metaphors for the silliness of modern day politics, mores, and society as she attempts to save her City (especially from itself).
The theme here is "think bigger" and that runs throughout the book. Since this is a Blackwood novel, children have a clarity that the adults, in their petty machinations, always seem to lose. Indeed, our dragon is a metaphor for that clarity rather than a deus ex machina to fix Chantel's situation (especially since one of the adults 'lost' the dragon when she became of age and gave up childish things). As with the Jinx series, our protagonist is underestimated, rebuffed, ignored, and patronized despite her willingness and ability to see to the heart of the situation and what needs to be done. Similarly, Chantel (also like Jinx) will be continually frustrated and doubt her own instincts in the face of adult self confidence.
All the characters are wonderfully eccentric and distinct; from the adults who are acting with tunnel vision narrowness to Chantel's new and old friends, who each prove to be a unique resource in some way. Not everyone has Chantel's boldness and certainly many find it easier to just do as the adults say since 'they should know best, after all." But then again, Chantel isn't acting recklessly or blindly and does try to balance the advice given by others with that she feels instinctively. It doesn't always put her in the best situations and certainly the adults manage to frustrate her quite a bit.
Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded isn't a Lampoon of modern society but does create an interesting window that is almost prescient considering it was written pre-Trump. It is also an incredibly fun and quick read well worth the time investment by both kids and adults. Interestingly enough, I can't help but wonder if this book will become its own classic as a window on the America of 2017: walls to keep out neighbors, obsession over capitalism and taxes, and the return of conservative values and their implications for girls/women. Highly recommended. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher
When Miss Ellicott disappears and Marauders gather outside the walls in large numbers. Chantel and her friends need to find a way to locate their teacher and strengthen the wall. At least, that is what Chantel thinks they need to do.
But finding the missing sorceresses doesn't lead to the result Chantel wants and she needs to team with a young Maurader boy and her legendary dragon companion to make the city safe for all.
This was an enjoyable story with interesting world building. It reminded me a bit of Victorian times when manners were paramount and young women had very specific roles. Chantel is an intriguing character who finds her own strengths and purpose throughout this story.
Fans of fantasy will enjoy this story.
It's quite a wonderful book for girls/tweens/boys to read in this current political climate and draw inspiration that they, too, can save the world.