Middle Grade Quests

By Alena Rivers and Hal Patnott

When we selected Grayling’s Song and The Inquisitor’s Tale for this week, we noticed a common theme of magical quests undertaken by ragtag teams that have to overcome their differences in order to work together. Each team of heroes relies on the special gifts of the individual members. The challenges they face help them grow, so that they can triumph over their personal struggles. What we didn’t expect was that in both stories rescuing books played a central role in the plot.

Stop by the Butler Center to take a look at our copy of Grayling’s Song and our advanced review edition of The Inquisitor’s Tale.

Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion, 2016)

Grayling’s mother, Hannah Strong is considered by their townspeople to be a wise woman and healer, but no one, not even Grayling, knows exactly from where Hannah Strong’s  powers to heal come. During a typical day of tending to their daily work, Grayling is summoned by her mother. When she arrives, Grayling finds their cottage home burning to the ground, and Grayling’s mother rooted to it as her body slowly takes the form of a tree. Neither Grayling nor her mother knows who committed these powerful acts, or why. When they discover that Hannah Strong’s grimoire, the book of spells and rituals, is missing,  Grayling is told to find “the others” who also possess various forms of magic and get help. This sets Grayling off on her quest with a gathering song to sing that will lead her to the others for help, locate the missing grimoire and restore her mother to her human form. These are no small tasks for someone who does not possess the same gifts as her mother and is otherwise unaware of the other healers and cunning folk that live among their kingdom. Grayling will have to summon her bravery, determination, intelligence, resourcefulness and her ability to care for and trust in the strangers who can support her on her journey. A small but motley crew is collected along the way with a unified goal of finding the source of what emerges to be a larger problem afflicting healers across the land.

Karen Cushman provides readers with an engaging story of a young girl’s progression from dependence and insecurity to self-reliance, confidence and the desire to develop her own self-awareness. The author’s note contains a brief explanation of cunning folk along with an overview of the history of herbal medicine, folk magic and divination.

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz, illuminated by Hatem Aly (Penguin/Dutton, 2016)

In 1242, King Louis IX rules over France. He hates peasants, Jewish people, and heretics. The latest enemies of his crown are three children and their holy greyhound. Rumors about these children have spread across the country. No one knows the whole story, but an unlikely group of travelers gathered at an inn share what they’ve witnessed. All of the travelers agree on one thing—the three children are saints with the powers to work miracles. Jeanne, a peasant girl, sees visions of the future—her dog Gwenforte came back to life. William, a monk with an appetite for knowledge, can shatter stone with his bare hands. Jacob, a Jewish boy, heals the sick and wounded with plants and prayer. They were outsiders even before they became outlaws. None of them chose their powers, but, in spite of their differences and danger, they choose to face their destinies together.

Adam Gidwitz skillfully weaves together medieval history and legend in The Inquisitor’s Tale. In the back matter he shares the historical inspiration for the characters and events as well as an annotated list of resources. A lighthearted, humorous tone and a central theme of overcoming personal prejudice against others make this medieval tale relevant for modern readers.