Featured Children’s Book of the Month for January 2018 – The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell
This month’s featured children’s book recommendation is a treat from the author of the How to Train Your Dragon book series. It was received well by critics on its release in 2017. My personal children’s book tester who loves magic books, certainly enjoyed the book and gave it a huge thumbs up.
“I like magic books. This book’s got magic. I really liked Wish, the Warrior Princess because of the power she didn’t know she had.” Toothy, age 10
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Who will like The Wizards of Once?
Inquisitive children who are fans of adventure and magical stories will love this book. It is an exciting page turning adventure with relatable young characters. Like many children and young people, Wish and Xar are trying to find their place in a world where they don’t quite fit in. The Wizards of Once is one of those magic books that is a story of good versus evil. However, it also features characters who occupy a grey area somewhere between those two opposites. The narrative actively engages the reader and keeps us on our toes.
Great for children who loved Hiccup and Toothless
Like the How to Train Your Dragon books; The Wizards of Once is witty, exciting and gorgeously illustrated by the author. Kids who loved the dragon book series are likely to enjoy it. However, children who haven’t read How to Train Your Dragon will also be able to enjoy this book, and then might want to give it a try too.
In common with the dragon series, The Wizards of Once is an exciting and magical adventure. Children are the heroes of the story and are working against unlikely odds to save their world from fearful enemies that the adults may not recognise the threat of. The children can also see the benefit of working with those who the adults might shun. They sometimes have a more open-minded approach than the adults who rule their kingdoms.
A unique new story
While maintaining her unique and imaginative style of story telling that made How to Train Your Dragon so appealing; Cowell has created a very different setting and a world full of fresh new ideas and characters.
The Wizards of Once is set in old Britain, in a time and landscape of dark forests and magic. Unlike the dragons series, the book begins with two lead characters. Their stories are told alongside each other until the narratives merge as the characters come together.
An unknown narrator who invites the reader to guess who they are tells the story of the two very different children. The boy and girl – Xar and Wish – are from opposing sides of a long lasting conflict between Wizards and Warriors. They are both struggling to fit in to the worlds they should belong to. Xar is a son to the King Enchanter Encanzo, yet the young wizard doesn’t have yet have any magic. Wish is the daughter of Queen Sychorax of the Warriors, but is disappointingly un-warrior like.
“Wish shook the spoon at whatever-was-following-them. She may have been a somewhat weird Warrior princess, but she certainly had courage.”
When they meet each other they fight and treat each other as can be expected – as enemies. The characters make mistakes. One of them can be arrogant and foolish, yet is still likeable. As Xar and Wish’s adventures unfold, an old evil awakens in the forest. The two children from opposing sides must work together against Witches who use dark magic.
Alongside these characters an ensemble of other interesting characters are quickly introduced. Characters who support the two heroes include sprites, snow cats, a giant, a wise raven, a young bodyguard and an enchanted spoon.
Set in an amazing magical landscape
“These were forests darker than you would believe possible, darker than inkspots, darker than midnight, darker than space itself, and as twisted and as tangled as a Witch’s heart. They were what is now known as wildwoods, and they stretched as far in every direction as you can possibly imagine, only stopping when they reached a sea.”
The writing of Cressida Cowell is richly evocative and fantastically descriptive. The Wizards of Once is one of those magic books which encourages the reader to fully believe in the imaginative and unusual environments depicted. The opposing ways of life of the Warriors and the Wizards are expressed in the environments they inhabit. The underground base of the Wizards is hidden by briars and brambles, and its structure is nestled amongst hollowed out trees. In opposition, the Warrior fort looms over the forest with its thirteen watch towers. The forts iron structure overwhelms wizard magic.
Can we expect more wizarding magic books from Cowell?
The Wizards of Once left us wanting to hear more of the adventures of Xar, Wish, and their friends and families. We are left with the possibility that frightful enemies of both the Warrior and Wizard clans may continue to pose a threat to them.
And what is Queen Sychorax up to? Throughout the story, the queen’s mysterious behaviour raises questions about her intentions. And who is the mysterious narrator? The unanswered questions of The Wizards of Once means we can hope that there will be more adventures of the delightful characters in future magic books from the author.
Approximate age recommendation: 8+
I hesitate to put age restrictions on any reading as all children develop their reading ages and interests at different stages. However I realise it is useful for parents and carers to access age recommendations. Of course that information always comes with a health warning. Children (and adults!) older than eight can most certainly enjoy this book, especially if they are fans of magic books. Slightly younger children may enjoy it also, but may need a bit more support while reading.
What did you and your children think of The Wizards of Once?
Have you or your children checked out The Wizards of Once or are you planning to? Are there any other magic books you would recommend for magic fans? Please do share you and your children’s thoughts in the comments below.