By Karen Foxlee
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Given that Frozen is tearing up the box office, I suspect that many kids now have some interest in Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen." It's the perfect moment for Karen Foxlee's modern retelling OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY to come out. And this was a wonderful book to curl up with on a cold day.
The Marvelous Boy was chosen by wizards to bear a sword and deliver it to the person who can defeat the Snow Queen. Ophelia is a young girl grieving over her mother's death and feeling ignored by her sister and father. (They are, of course, reacting to the mother's death in their own way and the book is very fair about this.) When Ophelia finds the Marvelous Boy, locked up for centuries by the Snow Queen, she reluctantly agrees to help free him and find his sword.
I've always enjoyed the way this story subverts standard gender roles and love that Foxlee kept that aspect. The Marvelous Boy is the damsel in distress and Ophelia is the hero who finds her courage to save the day. Of course, they can only do it by working together and trusting in each other, which is a nice message.
I thought OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY did a good job of updating the story without losing the fairytale charm. The Marvelous Boy tells Ophelia how he came to be trapped and his stories are basically pure fairytale style. Ophelia, meanwhile, lives in a fairly typical modern city - even if it does happen to snow all the time. But she's constantly in the museum where her father works and the Marvelous Boy is trapped, and a museum is a terrific setting for blending history and magic together. I liked the descriptions of the various exhibits; it sounded like a fun museum to visit.
I think OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY is a wonderful choice for middle grade readers. It deals with themes of grief, death, and change in a whimsical, light story. This would be a particularly good choice for kids who are slightly too young for Claire Legrand's THE YEAR OF SHADOWS.