Come, one and all, to the grand opening of King’s Castle Luxury Resort! The perfect place for the whole family to experience life in a real historic castle. Kenzie’s Kingdom, written by Shea Fontana with illustrations by Agnes Garbowska, is your ticket to this fantastical place.
Kenzie King is a klutz. Her parents decided to move their family to Fralandia, a faraway land full of castles and history, to start their own luxury resort where the whole family plays a part in keeping things running. Her brother, Frederick, and sister, Rose, have no issues adapting to their new home; they’re great at everything they do, but things aren’t so easy for Kenzie. She misses California, her best friend Aubrey, and she keeps messing things up around the resort!
Things don’t seem like they’re ever going to look up until Kenzie trips upon some magical glowing flowers and meets Squire Gavin of Oakwardshire. Gavin is like Kenzie; he trips over his own feet and doesn’t fit in where he’s supposed to. Oh, and he’s a time traveling knight-in-training in full armor from 500 years ago who thinks Kenzie is a princess. In order to pass the Knight’s Challenge, Gavin must overcome his fears and prove he’s mastered the skills of knighthood.
Kenzie and Gavin bond over their shared anxiety. Both are worried they’re letting down the people they care about, always coming up short or causing an issue. Kenzie’s fears are always there, creeping in the background, and when she recalls the feeling of a panic attack, Garbowska’s art accurately portrays that feeling in a way that will be familiar to anyone dealing with their own anxiety.
Anxiety, along with shyness and self-doubt, turn Kenzie’s Kingdom from a standard fantasy tale into something young readers will see themselves in. Mental illness isn’t a main discussion point in the book but is still dealt with, enough that it’s relatable without being overpowering for its intended age range. Through her friendship with Gavin, Kenzie becomes more comfortable as the book progresses, at one point even ditching the trusty sweatshirt she’s worn for years. She doesn’t have to change who she is to make a new friend and her self-acceptance and growth will inspire readers to see that in themselves as well.
While their friendship grows, Kenzie also teaches Gavin how to read, using the King’s Castle library. Her relationship with her siblings flourishes once they find out about Gavin, as they all work together to help him boost his knight skills to pass the Knight’s Challenge. The bonds of family are strengthened alongside her developing social skills. Readers dealing with seemingly all-too-perfect family members may want to look closer at their own relationships after seeing how Kenzie’s change and grow.
The art of Kenzie’s Kingdom is colorful and cartoonish, very appealing to beginning chapter book readers. The coloring, done by Silvana Brys, is perfectly matched to it. Fralandia comes alive on the pages, transporting readers to an often magical world.
Kenzie’s Kingdom is best recommended for readers ages 7 to 11. Fans of Fontana and Garbowska’s previous work with the DC Superhero Girls will enjoy this time traveling tale, as well as fans of Victoria Jamison’s All’s Faire in Middle School and Dana Simpson’s Phoebe and Her Unicorn series.
By Shea Fontana
Art by Agnes Garbowska, Silvana Brys
Simon & Schuster, 2022
Publisher Age Rating: 9-11
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Character Representation: Anxiety