How could a girl keep an ogre safe?
IT circled above me. "You can shout. A person half your size can shout. Act!"
In this new book from Gail Carson Levine (the author of the Newberry-Honor-winning Ella Enchanted), Elodie is on an unpredictable adventure. An assistant to a dragon, a spy in disguise, cupbearer for an ogre? Only A Tale of Two Castles (from Harper Collins on May 10, 2011) can allow Elodie to do all of those.
Elodie wants to be a mansioner, but the master rejects her as an apprentice. All alone in a foreign city, what will she do to survive? This city of Two Castles is full to the rim with strange things, including a form-shifting ogre who changes into a crazy monkey or a mouse or a lion, trained cats that steal and stalk, and someone who keeps stealing and poisoning people. Can Elodie discover who is in the wrong and who she can trust?
A Tale of Two Castles does an excellent job illustrating that a person's looks or prestige are not what makes them trustworthy, kind, or great. Character is a matter of the heart. Elodie also gives great insight into what it means to act a certain way versus to BE a certain way. Elodie also learns that it's not right to be quick to judge and throw blame on others; you must study facts and induce and deduce only from truth and common sense (younger readers may need a definition of the difference between these two words). Greed is troublesome and being a giver is joy-bearing. The ending comes as a surprise but holds a lot of truth. You have to stick with those who you know to be true, honorable, and warmhearted even if the less-noble way tries to draw you in.
There was one negative element, which is why I'm giving this book a four out of five Elodie's parents send her to Two Castles with instructions to apprentice herself to a weaver. She decides that she will ignore them and run her own life. While things end up that she would not have been able to apprentice as a weaver, after all, she still disrespects her parent's advice. Because you know that your twelve-year-olds are not really ready for life's decisions without wise counsel from adults, you might want to bring this up. I would have preferred that she would have discussed this with her parents rather than just throw their advice to the wind as soon as she sets sail.
A Tale of Two Castles was a great twist on the traditional princess/castle/dragon stories. It seemed to have a few more deep lessons and a lot of laughter. When I laughed aloud within the first page, I knew I had a great book. This would be a great family read-aloud.
What will happen to the ogre if the village cats turn him into a mouse? Can Elodie help him, escape from prison, and save the kingdom at the same time?