and what we wish they were

Category Archives: and other Mythical Creatures


Growing up Jake thought his Grandpa Portman was the most fascinating man in the world.  He loved to hear his grandfather’s stories about life in the Welsh orphanage where he had been sent as a boy to escape the Nazis. Grandpa Portman mesmerized Jake with tales of his childhood friends and their peculiar gifts. One could hold fire in her hand. Another could levitate.  Another was invisible.  Still another had amazing strength.  To add to the intrigue, there were photographs, strange and haunting photographs, of these children displaying their unusual gifts.

But as time passed and Jake grew older, he began to realize that these stories and even the photographs were too fantastic to be true.  In time, Jake came to see them as merely a kind of family fairytale – that is, until the night that everything changed.

When Jake’s grandfather is attacked in the woods behind his home, the police blame wild dogs. But Jake was there, and he saw the attacker. He was no dog. He was terrifying.  And he was right out of one of Grandpa Portman’s stories.

Unfortunately for Jake, no one believes him – just like no one believed Grandpa Portman.  To confront the nightmares and fears that consume Jake’s life, his parents try therapy, drugs, and distractions. Eventually Jake tries to convince them to let him travel, with his father, to Wales to see if he can find out more about Grandpa Portman and the place where his strange stories originated. Reluctantly they agree, hoping it will put to rest Jake’s belief in the truth of these tales.

However, there on the island of Cairnhom, Jake finds Miss Peregrine’s orphanage, old and decaying, but teeming with information. Digging through rubble and remains of the old house, Jake begins to uncover, artifacts, photographs, and  the dark secrets of Grandpa Portman’s strange and disturbing childhood and the orphans he shared it with.

Set in a quaint Welsh fishing village and in the fog-shrouded Welsh countryside, this novel, part mystery part horror story, takes us with Jake on his this quest.  Who were these children his Grandfather grew up with? Were their gifts real or just fantastic stories? What happened to them? And where are they now?

As intriguing as this story is, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children might not be the book for everyone.  I’ll admit that I half hoped the story would turn out to be a mystery of the ordinary variety. But no. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is definitely an extraordinary story.

However for adults and teens who enjoy the strange and the scary, this book is a nice departure from the witches, vampires, ghosts, and werewolves that we see in so many YA novels. The children, although very peculiar, are just children, some darker and creepier than others, but they are not supernatural nor other-worldly. There are monsters in this story, but they former Peculiars whose own attempts at immortality caused their mutation.

Another refreshing thing about this book was the lack of steamy romance.  There is an emerging romance between Jake and one of the teenage orphans (yep, they’re still there), but this is not necessarily central to the plot. Unlike most YA fantasy novels where the sexually-charged relationship between some misfit human and some ultra cool vampire, ghost, or witch is the storyline, in this book the romance is more of a subplot.

Like so many YA novels today, this one is the first in a series. So, it looks like fans will have to read the next novel, The Hollow City, to see if Jake’s romance is taken to the next level.  In fact, we’ll have to read on because at the end of the Miss Peregrine Jake’s adventure is really just beginning.


Yes, there are some swear words in this book and some crass expressions.


Yes.  Jake and the other orphans must battle the monsters who threaten their safely.  The last 40 pages or so  involve a pretty intense battle between the opposing sides.


There is a kissing scene that starts to get mildly heated and at one point Jake refers to himself as a “horny teenager.”   There are also references to “making out.”


Not really.  As I said, neither the peculiar children nor the monsters they fight are really other-worldly.  But the monsters are scary and some of the children are downright disturbing.


To give you some idea of the type of book  this is, Tim Burton will be directing the movie slated to come out in the Summer of 2015.  Check out this article and creepy book trailer.


To add to the eerie factor, this book is filled with photographs of the Peculiar Children – holding fire, levitating, swarmed by bees, etc.  The creepy thing is that all the photos in the book are actual photos found in various flea markets, antique shops, and private collections. Chilling.

Due to language and crass expressions some parents might feel this book is not suitable for tweens and younger teens. 


Cryptid Hunters is another great read by author Roland Smith. Since being a school teacher tires me out by the end of the day, I tend to choose some books for easy reading. This book is full of action and adventure, much like Smiths’ other books.
Grace and Marty, thirteen-year-old twins are sent away to live with their uncle Wolfe when their parents are not found after their airplane crashes. Besides getting to know their uncle, the twins find out that he is very interested in cryptozoology, the study of animals, such as the Sasquatch, the Loch Ness monster, and the Mokelembembe, whose existence have not yet been proven scientifically. Wolfe sets up an expedition to the Congo in central Africa to find what is believed to be the last remaining Mokelembembe, a small dinosaur slightly larger than an elephant. He is in a race against time since his enemy in the scientific field, Dr. Noah Blackwood, is also setting up an expedition.
Grace and Marty try to convince Uncle Wolfe to take them on the expedition, but he refuses. Grace really wants to go on the expedition since she experiences nightmares and thinks they are connected to somewhere in the Congo. The twins end up in the Congo, but the way they get there is quite “air”xilirating. Along the way, Marty and Grace find out the truth about their family and Uncle Wolfe.
There was no inappropriate language in this book.
The most violence that occurs is some tranquilizer darts being shot at some of the villains and a fire being set to destroy the carcass of a dinosaur.
The most supernatural thing in this book is the mentions of the cryptids and the hunt for the Mokelembembe. In my opinion, these are more mythical, but possibly real creatures truly not yet discovered.
MORE GREAT READS FROM ROLAND SMITH (these books are wonderful for upper elementary and middle school students who like fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat adventure)
Elephant Run Peak I.Q. Book One: Independence Hall Storm Runners
Storm Runners: The Surge

Review by John McClellan (Middle school science teacher, father of three boys)

  It’s unusual for the main character of a book to be the bad guy, but this is the case in Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl.   Artemis Fowl is a 12 year old criminal mastermind, who seeks to restore his family to billionaire status by stealing the sacred book of the fairy people.  After decoding the fairy language, Artemis discovers the location of the fairies’s magic restoration ritual.  There, under an ancient oak tree, Artemis captures Holly Short, an agent for LEPrecon (think fairy Interpol) and holds her for ransom in exchange for fairy gold.

LEPrecon’s response is to send in their retrieval team.  This is tricky, however, since fairies aren’t allowed to enter human dwellings without permission. In comes the unscrupulous, kleptomaniac troll, Mulch Diggums! His principles and criminal record have long since been compromised, so he’s the perfect person (ummm creature) to break the rules and dig his way into Fowl Manor.  Unfortunately, the fairies underestimate both Fowl, who stays one step of ahead of them throughout the novel, and Holly, who is able to break free from her cell and finish the magic restoration ritual.  Together, Holly and Butler, Artemis’s body guard and butler, defeat the troll, and the fairies are forced to give Artemis the ransom.

In a last ditch effort to regain their gold (and their dignity), LEPrecon makes one last attempt at defeating Artemis, but again he outsmarts them.  Luckily, even a 12 year old evil genius has a soft spot.  For Artemis, it’s his mother who has been in a catatonic-like state since his father disappeared months before.  Artemis returns half the gold in exchange for a wish – the return of his mother’s sanity.  Holly uses her magic to grant this wish.

Now, before we judge the wicked Artemis too harshly for being a thief and a kidnapper, there are several more Artemis Fowl novels and many more fairy adventures.  My guess is, he gets a chance to redeem himself.


I’ll have to start highlighting the naughty words so I can give an accurate count, but I don’t recall any bad words in this book. That’s not to say one or two didn’t slip past me.


It’s possible some kids could find the final fight scene between the troll, Butler, and Holly a little disturbing.  I’d say it’s a level or two above cartoon-level violence.  It’s not enough to upset my kiddos.


None.  This was a welcome change after my last couple of reads full of teenage sexual angst.


Magic rituals, spells, fairies, centaurs, trolls.  Some parents who are squeamish about pagan culture, will not want their kiddos reading this book.


How is reading a novel in which the bad guy is also sort of the hero affect your reading of the novel?  Did you find yourself rooting for Artemis or the fairies?

Did you find the use of spells and magic troubling?  Exciting?  Interesting?

How is this book like other books in the spy/espionage genre?  How is it different?