Aster can’t believe she’s stuck in this weird, tiny, nowhere village in the mountains while her mom is in charge of halting a dangerous migration of monster-like birds. She and her dad are along for the ride, while her brother was able to escape back to the city.

But when Aster meets a strange old lady with a flock of woolly dogs and a mysterious stone trickster, she finds herself getting caught up in magic, excitement, and a plot that might destroy not only the mountain, but the whole country.

Reading this, I was strongly reminded of the Hilda series by Luke Pearson, although the stories are almost exactly opposite. Hilda is a loner and desperately wants to stay in the mountains with her friends and the wonders and magic she sees every day. Aster is a self-proclaimed city girl, and is absolutely not interested in the strange life on the mountain, until she becomes sucked into an absorbing adventure. However, both are quirky, unique characters and while the magic of the mountains they experience is different, both have the same folkloric and reflective quality, as the creatures muse upon how humans have changed their lives, and not always for the better.

Both characters and stories stand alone however. Aster is a perky, snarky character who, despite flashes of maturity, is still very much a child. She has some frightening experiences when she takes the wishes granted her by the trickster and is initially stubborn about enjoying anything about her new home, but when she’s called upon to act she shows bravery, resilience, and cleverness. Her mother is a distant figure, slipping in and out of the story as she focuses on her work as an ornithologist. Her dad, although they moved back to his home village, is not handling the transition any better than Aster and midway through the book she, somewhat jokingly, starts parenting him, suggested he put down the video games and learn to cook.

Most intriguing and delightful in the story are the wonderful magical creations, from the Chestnut Knights to the woolly dogs, the wise and experienced Granny, frustrated and vengeful King of Autumn, and creepy but goofy trickster, Rapscallion.

The story is episodic, with each chapter contributing a new facet to Aster’s journey until she reaches the climax of her adventures. Aster is a small, white child with a swathe of brown hair and expressive eyebrows. The woolly dogs are almost her size, although it can be hard to tell since perspectives change rapidly, demonstrating the magic-warped times and seasons, and the strange birds and other creatures zoom through an idyllic mountain landscape. Color schemes shift through each chapter; when danger lurks and a climax is near, the characters’ surroundings are intense oranges and purples. The trickster Rapscallion is generally in a dark blue setting, showing the murkiness of its motives and actions. Aster’s early adventures on the mountain, undertaken with enthusiasm and optimism, show green meadows, blue skies, and white-topped peaks in the distance.

The story ends with a hint of the next adventure, and a recap of the map at the beginning of the story. Aster’s map at the beginning is not enthusiastic, but the updated map, created with the help of her new friends, is lovingly drawn and annotated. There is a list and description of characters, and promotions for Random House’s new graphics line and the next book in Aster’s adventures.

If your library’s budget is limited, stick to the Hilda series. It has superior literary and artistic merit and more depth to the story. However, if you have the funds, and a lot of Hilda fans, they are going to love this new adventure starring a spunky heroine, magical creatures, and lots of humor.

Aster and the Accidental Magic
By Thom Pico
Art by Karensac
ISBN: 9780593124178
Random House, 2020

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

  • Jennifer

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Matheson Memorial Library

    Reviewer

    Jennifer Wharton is the Youth Services Librarian at Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin where she maintains the juvenile and young adult graphic novel collections and was responsible for creating the library’s adult graphic novel collection. She is constantly looking for great new comics for kids and teens and new ways to incorporate graphic storytelling in programming. Jennifer blogs for preschool through middle grade at JeanLittleLibrary and has an MLS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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