by Angela Castillo
First off, I recently put down a different middle grade book because the character pretty much acted like a 30-year-old who happened to be short, so it was refreshing to read a book where kids behaved believably like kids. I think that was the strongest aspect, the dialogue and interaction between the kids.
Overall, this is a sweet adventure. Not what I would call particularly harrowing, which probably puts it on the younger end of middle grade. I'd say it would be ideal as a family read aloud (or listen to if, like me, you snag the audiobook) or for kids first through third grade, though there are enough fun aspects that older children might sneak in during story time but pretend not to listen.
The narration was good, clear and engaging. My one nitpick was that the children all had scratchy voices. It wasn't a terrible choice, but there were places it made especially older boy sound like a little old man and could've been toned down a bit.
The only other minor quibble I had was a tonal dissonance between some of the themes and the rest of the story. Overall things are played very cute-fairy tale with not a lot of real world consequences, but then the major conflict becomes about stopping a war which is at the same time treated with some of the cartoonish, "not so serious" handling (the way those who speak of it talk about it, it's more like a spat between playground rivals than something I'd associate with real war) but at the same time you get hints of very serious consequences that make it clear this is a real war where a whole nations might get wiped out--over essentially name calling. Not that war isn't a serious message that shouldn't be handled seriously, but the darkness of implied consequences meshed awkwardly with the playful handling of other aspects in one or two spots.
Over all a fun and playful book with a great take on siblings and realistic young characters.