GAGAS: Goblins and Goblets Avoidance Syndrome by Jeff Anderson
If you came to me looking for a fantasy book, you could be safe knowing anything with goblins or goblets in the title would always be available to loan because I sure wouldn’t be reading them. (And yes, that includes Harry Potter.) I own The Wizard of Earthsea and Harry Potter, but I haven’t read either.
I’d heard Donalyn Miller invite us to read out of our comfort zones, and I’d say, “Sure. That’s a great idea.”
But when I had time to read, I didn’t want to read something with goblins or goblets. Fantasy wasn’t sounding fantastic—at all. I just couldn’t bring myself to go on genre bender.
So when I met William Alexander at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Austin, I had no reason to expect I’d read his book. But then I noticed Goblin Secrets had won the National Book Award for middle grade fiction in 2012. My antennae went up. I write middle grade fiction. Maybe I should see what’s National Book Award worthy. I mean, I fell in love with nonfiction because I read the National Book Award winner for nonfiction, Flesh and Blood So Cheap by Alfred Marrin.
It started small. I was just going to get a signed copy—it was in paperback after all, and he was right there. Then, because William Alexander had so charmed me in his keynote on structure that weekend, I was at least going to read a chapter. I could do that, right? And then a few more. But only because Alexander is a master of phrase and he used tons of smells. Writers and readers love smells.
What I found in the pages was art. I felt myself a teacher again, reading aloud something perfect to a class. The narrative drives the reader from one chapter to the next. It’s that book that got every student’s interest. Goblin Secrets by William Alexander is action packed, well-written, and creative. I even finished it, and I don’t finish a good percentage of the books I start—especially fantasy. (I don’t even start those—until now.)
The protagonist Rownie is what we want in a character. His name is derived from his missing big brother’s name, Rowan. Rownie is vulnerable and willing to break the rules if it leads to excitement. And it does. But it also, of course, leads to trouble.
Alexander’s background in the theatre becomes evident— exploration of masks and being someone else add depth. But the thing that captured and kept me reading till the end is Goblin Secrets is a good story, brimming with conflict and magic and escape and fear–all that good drama stuff.
I’d highly recommend Goblin Secrets to the goblin and goblet resistant readers. And if you love the goblins and goblets, why haven’t you told every teacher or parent with middle grade readers that this book needs to be in their collection?
Read it. Share it. Raise a goblet to William Alexander and Goblin Secrets.
Jeff Anderson is a middle grade fiction writer from San Antonio, Texas, who writes books for teachers to support his fiction writing and reading habit. If he’s not flying around the US or talking with young readers or teachers, he’s sneaking in some time to write or read. The second book in the Zack Delacruz series, Zack Delacruz: Just My Luck (Sterling, 2016), premieres in October. The paperback version of book 1, Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth is available now. Follow Jeff on Twitter @writeguyjeff.