For kids who are too young for the complex Harry Potter series, and yet interested in fantasy stories, then Bruce Coville’s Magic Shop books might be the thing to hook them up with. Each book is based on a basic premise: a young child with the usual kid problems (home trouble, bullies, crushes, angry teachers, etc) stumble across Mr Elives’ Magic Shop, and leave with an unusual purchase that creates more trouble for them, but ultimately teaches them important lessons.
In this case, Jeremy Thatcher escapes two bullies, the resentful nature of his art teacher and the unwanted affections of Mary Lou by ducking into the Magic Shop, where Mr Elives gruffly allows him to take home a strange glistening sphere with a sheet of mysterious instructions — it would seem Jeremy is about to hatch a dragon’s egg! With the tiny dragonlet Tiamat born, but growing steadily by the day, Jeremy gains more confidence against the problems in his life, as well as more creative flair with the inspiration that Tiamat magically places in his mind’s eye.
Obviously, a baby dragon in the house is not as easy as it sounds, and even though only Jeremy can see her, Tiamat is still able to manipulate circumstances around her with her fiery breath. But Tiamat must eventually return home to her own world, and along with the mysterious, beautiful Miss Priest and Mr Elives, Jeremy participates in the ritual to send her to the “dragon-world”. Despite the loss however, Jeremy has found a new outlook on life, had old friendships tested and new ones forged, and come to understand a spiteful teacher better.
With little dashes of real dragon lore mingled in with his own creative liberties, Coville makes the world natural enough for belief to be suspended, although as an older reader, I would dearly like to know more about the Shop, its owner and its associate Miss Priest. Who are they really? How do they pick the children they give gifts to? How does the Shop move around? If he wished, Coville could make these short but sweet stories into something much more deep and interesting.
As I said, the Magic Shop books are great for younger readers, with enough of the every-day troubles to relate to, and enough of the fantasy elements to fire their own imaginations. Its also worth mentioning that if you’re a part of a country that receives the Great Britain copies of these books, there are some wonderful new covers to behold by the artist Tony Diterlizzi, best know for his illustrations in the Spiderwick Chronicles, that beautifully capture the children’s personalities and their magical companions.
Outside the US, The Monster’s Ring may be published as Russell Troy, Monster Boy and The Skull of Truth may be published as Charlie Eggleston’s Talking Skull.