I believe strongly in the “windows and mirrors” approach to filling bookshelves of young readers (and my own.) That means, having a wide variety of books with diverse characters and settings that let young readers see themselves and see others. Learn more about this concept in this 15 minute Ted talk from author Grace Lin.
Fantasy and adventure is a genre where white boys are often the central characters, so I’m particularly happy to find well crafted, action-filled stories with multi-dimensional heroines taking the lead.
Heartseeker by Melinda Beatty is a wonderful addition to the list of adventure tales with clever and brave heroines. Set in a world inspired by 17th century England, we are introduced to royal families, treacherous land wars, citizens with magical powers, and high-minded religious leaders.
The story centers around 11-year-old Only Fallow who can literally see lies. Her special ability or ‘cunning’ allows her to see colors when other people tell lies. Beautiful blues and greens appear when the lie is done for the benefit of others, dark and ugly blackness when the lie is for selfish reasons. Unfortunately, if Only tries to lie, she is visibly in physical pain. Her cunning is valuable to others – especially the King, who would love to know who on his court is loyal and who is a traitor.
When the King’s men tear Only away from her family and their simple life in the orchard to serve at the pleasure of the king, her small world is changed overnight. She goes on a harrowing journey to make it to the kingdom and, once there, learns that who is good and who is bad is not always so clear.
This is a complex story filled with compelling characters and thought-provoking ideas about the ethics of lying, the value of family loyalty, the role of the government versus the rights of people, and deciding when the end justifies the means.
The writing is beautiful and the author is able to create page-turning drama without overdone gore, swearing, or sex. This is an excellent addition to any middle-grade collection. I highly recommend this book to advanced younger elementary readers as well upper elementary and middle school readers.
Need more middle-grade adventure stories with strong heroines? Check out this list and let me know what titles to add to it!
Heartseeker by Melinda Beatty
Adventure’s Guide to Successful Escapes by Wade Albert White
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Oddity by Sarah Cannon
Aru Shah & The End of Time by Roshani Chokshi