Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball (Amelia Fang, #1)
Amelia Fang would much rather hang out with her pet pumpkin Squashy and her friends Florence the yeti (DON'T CALL HER BEAST!) and Grimaldi the reaper than dance at her parents' annual Barbaric Ball.
Then the King's spoiled son Tangine captures Squashy, Amelia and her friends must escape the party to plan a daring rescue!
In their race against time, they begin to realize things in Nocturnia may not be quite what they seem...
At school, she meets a spoiled and rude prince, Tangine, who insists on calling her friend Florence, who is a rare breed of yeti, a beast at school. When she sees him again at dinner at her house where he and his father are guests, she is shocked to see that he gets whatever he wants- even when it is her pet, Squashy, a pumpkin. After he leaves with Squashy, Amelia employs the help of her friends to get him back.
In the process, she learns surprising truths about the prince's parents and also gives him another chance. The book also features illustrations on every spread (some full page and some half or smaller) that are really fantastically well drawn.
What I loved: The whole premise to this series is really cute, in the vein of Vampirina Ballerina, Hotel Transylvania, and others. Creatures of the dark are the main characters who fear the creatures of the light and glitter. However, these may be based on stereotypes which are not true, as Amelia begins to learn. Adding to that, this middle grade features lots of adventure/action, large font, and lots of delightful illustrations that make it ideal for new chapter book readers or reluctant middle grade readers. In terms of the plot, there's an interesting subtext about people (e.g. Tangine) who seem like bullies needing understanding and friendship, which is addressed a bit by the end.
What left me wanting more: Amelia's and Tangine's fathers are pretty much absentee parents, not really paying attention to their children or spouses or guests, and this was kind of sad but not really discussed. It would have been great to see this discussed more in the book, as absentee parents will sometimes feature in readers' lives. Also, her father describes his help with getting ready for the ball as putting his teacup in the sink (more than Amelia expected also), which is playing up some gendered stereotypes a bit much; however, maybe the absurdity of this will stick with young readers rather than the action/expectation itself.
Final verdict: Overall, this is a cute start to a new series which does a good job of introducing the characters. Recommend for reluctant or new chapter book readers who enjoy middle grade fantasy and plenty of delightful illustrations.