2 Magical Middle Grade Novels Featuring Indigenous Tweens | SLJ Spotlight

These two titles center young Indigenous protagonists and integrate coming-of-age tropes with fantasy and folklore.

These two titles center young Indigenous protagonists and integrate coming-of-age tropes with fantasy and folklore. Métis author Cherie ­Dimaline thoughtfully expands a character historically rife with stereotypes in Tiger Lily and the Secret T­reasure of Neverland, while Ziggy ­navigates anxiety and grief over his mother’s disappearance through encounters with entities from Cherokee folklore in Brandon Hobson’s The Storyteller.

Dimaline, Cherie. Tiger Lily and the Secret Treasure of Neverland. 288p. Disney. Mar. 2023. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781368080460.
Gr 3-5–Dimaline (The Marrow Thieves) provides vibrancy and substance to a chronically badly represented character in children’s literature—Tiger Lily. Her ­latest novel spotlights the titular tween as she ­utilizes her sharp wit and acuity to outsmart the devilish pirates who have captured her best friend, Sashi, in their hunt for everlasting youth. While Tiger Lily rushes to save her fairy friend, she grapples with her own fears around growing up, which is something that only members of her community can choose to do in Neverland. Dimaline successfully gives Tiger Lily, her Indigenous community, and the Lost Boys robust identities outside of the perennially famous Peter Pan. The book, slated for ­release one month prior to the live-action Peter Pan & Wendy on Disney+, offers readers more time with the crossover characters. In a short introduction, Dimaline specifically states that Tiger Lily is native to Neverland and is not based on any one Indigenous community. Some facets of Tiger Lily’s culture, including housing (e.g., teepees) and customs (e.g., collecting sweetgrass), are recognizable nods to myriad North ­American Indigenous peoples. Ultimately, this is an enjoyable adventure that should appeal to Disney fans and could be a good choice for a family read-aloud.­ VERDICT Recommended for larger collections and where longer Disney books fly off the shelves.–Taylor Worley

Hobson, Brandon. The Storyteller224p. Scholastic. May 2023. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338797268.
Gr 3-7–Ziggy is a member of the Cherokee nation living with anxiety and still processing the grief of his mother’s disappearance when he was a baby. Determined to find clues about her, Ziggy teams up with school misfit Alice to explore caves his mother once explored. Alice claims these caves are home to the Nunnehi, spirit people who may be able to offer guidance. What unfolds is a series of encounters with various magical creatures. Once Alice and Ziggy, accompanied by Ziggy’s sister Moon and friend Corso, start their adventure, the novel moves at a quick pace. In each chapter readers are introduced to a new magical creature or character, but the story does not feel fragmented. On the contrary, this narrative style is reminiscent of a folklore anthology, woven together with the overarching hero’s quest. In one of the final chapters, Ziggy reflects on the lessons he learned from the characters he met along the way. This reflection comes off expositional; readers will have already drawn conclusions and noted the lessons learned through his travels. VERDICT Hand to tweens who enjoy magical realism and quest stories. Ziggy’s experiences with anxiety and loss will likely resonate with many.–Katharine Gatcomb

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