Grayling's song by Karen Cushman
Clarion Books, 2016. ISBN 9780544301801
(Age: 10-13) Recommended. Fantasy. Magic. Adventure. Self-confidence. Middle Ages. Grayling is horrified when her mother, wise woman Hannah Strong, starts turning into a tree, 'her feet rooted into the earth. What had been toes were now spreading roots, and what had been soft skin was as rough and brown as a tree trunk'. Her mother sends her off on a quest to find 'the others' who she says will help Grayling retrieve her grimoire and break the spell. Grayling is a shy girl, but is determined to rescue her mother and gradually finds the others, a motley assortment of minor witches, who were not strong enough to gain the attention of the evil being who is turning all wise people into trees and stealing their grimoires. Assisted by a talking, shape shifting mouse named Pook, Grayling becomes the leader of the group and faces kidnapping, imprisonment, tiredness, and the strain of travelling with strange companions.
A compelling coming of age story finds Grayling, away from the influence of her strong willed mother, taking charge and finding the strength of character and determination to follow her quest to regain the grimoires and rescue those turned into trees. Cushman, who won a Newbery Medal for her wonderful novel, The midwife's apprentice, brings the alternative medieval period to life with vivid and lyrical prose. As she recounts in her fascinating notes at the conclusion of the story, the Middle Ages were a time when wise women, wise men or those commonly known as hedge witches, used herbal potions and made prophecies.
As well as some exciting adventures, when Grayling must use all her wits and courage to keep going, there are many moments of humour as the companions learn to travel together. Each of the characters, from Auld Nancy to Pansy, are fully developed, with their own funny idiosyncrasies, and strengths and weaknesses while Pook, the little mouse, is a delightful creature that readers are sure to love. A slight hint of romance with the young paper maker is also a welcome touch.
This delightful coming of age story, with its themes of courage and determination, of gaining self confidence and finding ways to be a leader, will appeal to middle school students and all who enjoy historical fantasy.