Grayling’s song and Traya’s Quest: The Journey Begins both feature young kids trying to solve a problem in a world full of magic and wonders. But that’s all they have in common.
Grayling’s song is set in a place very much like medieval England. It’s cold, wet, close to sea… and to Grayling’s horror, full of menace. Someone has stolen her mother’s grimoire and turned her into a tree from the waist down. Grayling must now brave the unknown and try to search for the book, singing a secret song that will lead her to it. In the process, she will find a weather witch, a girl apprentice that is full of awkwardness and an old mage. All in all, a very classic story, with a use of language that transports you to a time that seems magical and far away. The best bit, I think is her shape-shifting mouse, called Pook.
The author is Karen Cushman, an American writer of historical fiction. Her novel The Midwife’s Apprentice won the Newbery Medal for children’s literature, and her novel Catherine, Called Birdy won a Newbery Honor. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Greek and English from Stanford University, and a master’s degree in museum studies.
Her language is full of expressions and sayings from medieval England. Her mother calls her “Feeble Wits,” and the perception Grayling has of herself is a very poor one. However, as she moves onwards, she remembers the herbs and remedies she has helped her mother to prepare, the songs she has taught her, and she will find her inner strength.
Traya’s Quest: the Journey Begins on the other hand, is set in the Rift Valley of Kenya. There, the boy Traya, son of a poor Indian family, has the enormous ability to speak to everything: animals, elements, people… He must set out to seek his purpose and true nature, his dharma, and begins by speaking to the greatest elements out there: Surya, the sun, and Varuna, the Ocean. In his quest, the spirit of diverse animals and elements will speak to his soul, in a way that almost seems metaphysical. The sheer exuberance of the world he perceives is incredible, you feel the sun in your face, the animals speaking in one voice to the boy, the experience is more spiritual than magical.
Paulette Agnew has worked with the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency), the USAID and the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, running trauma healing programs and rehabilitation of child soldiers in Southern Sudan’s war zones. She has a degree in biology and has run survival training courses for six years. She divides her time between Snowdonia, Scotland, and Dublin, where she runs her yoga and meditation school Dru Ireland.
Both books feature a clear division between Western and Eastern schools of fantasy and magic. Aimed to 10- to 12-year-olds, the language in both is a bit complicated, with concepts and ways of speaking that are not straightforward. However, this is part of a magical journey into the unknown: not understanding every word, or every concept, going along for the ride because of the wonder of it, not knowing what’s supposed to happen. It depends in how you read a fantasy book: if you are looking for a fantastic, far away journey, this is like having tickets to two very different places altogether. And that is not a bad thing at all, it enriches you, the world is varied and unexpected.