A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Pennyroyal Academy, the first novel by prolific TV-cartoon writer M.A. Larson, best known for his work on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, was first envisioned as an animated series, and it shows. A good deal darker than My Little Pony, it retains a bit of cartoonish sensibility, from moments of pure slapstick to inexorable repetition of "courage, compassion, kindness, discipline." It offers plenty of uplifting themes, from living up to the mantra to being true to yourself and being part of a team. It also presents many scary scenes, as well as developing tension as a central character discovers that her birth and adoptive families are mortal enemies, and she sees her loved ones fall prey to their would-be killers in violent combat. There are mean girls, complete with fights that involve sympathetic characters; a character is kissed against her will and later kisses a boy she likes. Several characters use the word "bloody" with gusto, which probably will bother British parents more than American ones. Following the first year of a three-year Academy program, the book offers some appealing, conflicted characters and sets up a multi-volume story arc.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
As the story opens, a girl who doesn't remember her name is wandering through an enchanted forest with trees trying to kill her. After a narrow escape, she reaches PENNYROYAL ACADEMY, where princesses in training learn not to become selfish divas but to practice courage, compassion, kindness, and discipline and battle evil forces side by side with knights. Soon dubbed "Evie" by her classmates, she struggles to survive a demanding program that emphasizes rigorous military training as well as fashion sense and noble character. Along the way, she discovers that the beloved family she's left is at the top of the Academy's enemies list.
Is it any good?
In his first departure from animation scripts, author M.A. Larson makes way, way too many trips to the office of clichés and central casting. Mysterious orphan swept off to magical academy, where weird, cranky, but lovable teachers prepare him/her for cosmic struggle -- we've seen this before and done better. Snobbery involving the purity of one's blood, ditto. Stock characters, from incognito royalty and plucky commoners to witches who live to destroy all happiness, are thick on the ground, as are repetitions of didactic points. Characters are fond of the expletive "bloody."
And yet there also are laugh-out-loud funny moments and heartfelt emotion. Some situations may be comically incongruous but lead to some interesting discussion. For example, Evie's classmate Basil, who against all odds is in training to become a princess -- because, after having 22 sons, his mom gave up trying for a girl and sent her youngest off to the Academy. As the school term ends, it's easy to care enough about several of the characters to want to know what happens next.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why boarding schools (magic, military, and so on) are such popular settings for stories. What's the appeal? If you had a chance to go to any of the academies you've read about, which one would you pick?
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you had absolutely no idea what was going on or how you were supposed to act? How did you feel? What did you do?
Some of the mean kids in this story have pretty horrible parents. Do you find it easier to understand someone's hurtful behavior if you know they're dealing with family issues or other problems?
- Author: M.A. Larson
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
- Publication date: October 7, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Number of pages: 304
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
Our editors recommend
For kids who love fantasy and adventure
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.