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A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

2016, first published 1968 

YA, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 5, ages 14-17, lower secondary, upper secondary, Bildungsroman, fantasy, classic, Le Guin Ursula,  

This is certainly a Bildungsroman, packed with symbolism.  

Duny aka Sparrowhawk aka Ged has to find himself. He has to come to terms with his magical powers and how best to hone and use them, he has to learn his true name (Ged) and he has to confront the shadow that pursues him and find out that this is his alter ego.  He has to do this without his mentor, Oigon and without his familiar, the little otak.  His friend Vetch accompanies him on the final mission in the book but Vetch is powerless to help him at the crucial moment.  He can only be a moral support.

We can recognise many of the tropes also employed by later writers; like Harry Potter he goes to a school for wizards and he has an animal that stays with him rather like the daemons in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. And as in many stories he finds that the hardest lesson is the one he learns at home.  Yes, he travels far and wide in pursuit of the shadow but the finds that the shadow is himself. 

Unlike 21st century novels for the young adult this does not include a love interest.   However there is the hint of a seductive goddess figure in Serren.  Vetch’s younger sister Yarrow shows him much affection and we are left wondering whether a close relationship may follow. 

It is a slightly short text for this age group – just 200 pages long. Since the turn of the century texts for young adults and teens, and even fluent readers have become longer.  Each chapter  is headed with a decorative icon. Ursula Le Guin uses a sophisticated Tolkiensque language.   


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Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

2017, fluent reader, Key Stage 2, ages 9-11, upper primary
Here are some familiar fairy stories though the titles may fool you: Rapunzel becomes The Tower and the Bird, Rumpelstiltskin becomesStraw into Gold, and Cinderella is Roses Around the Palace. We are also offered some rather interesting details about some well-known stories. The mayor of the town with the rats tells us how the children who replaced the lost ones were much more amenable than the ones who were piped away. A young girl has a sliver of the looking-glass that once belonged to a wicked queen.Whilst the girl has chickenpox her grandmother tells her Snow White’s story. It is true she assures her granddaughter. How does she know? Because she is Snow White. Hansel and Gretel tell the story of what they did in their holidays.
There is perhaps an assumption that the reader will be familiar with the original stories. Certainly they are amusing and not just for the young reader.Adults can enjoy them too. 
This is quite a …