Who knew there were so many kids books set in Venice? I have enjoyed reading several middle grade novels saturated with magic, Venetian mythology and history, and lots of action. Some are set in the past or a fantasy time, others involve time travel to an older Venice. As an overly serious person, I loved the darkest ones: young children faced with seemingly insuperable tasks and responsibilities, set in a magical historical Venice. Shadows, dimly seen gondolas, mermaids, masks, an old bookseller, living flying stone lions, a corrupt government, an implacable evil coming forward out of the past, and of course the looming destruction of the city itself.
The Dark Reflections trilogy by Kai Meyer is the darkest and most complicated, and involves an invading ancient Egyptian army and mummy warriors as well as the flying lions and mermaids. The mermaids by the way are nasty with sharp teeth. “… Two teenaged orphans, apprenticed to a maker of magic mirrors, begin to realize that their fates are tied to the magical protector of the city known as the Flowing Queen and to the ruler of Hell…”(from the online catalog). It sounds over the top, but spread over 3 very imaginative books it works. Not for the youngest set just because of serious decisions and scariness, 10 and up probably is best.
Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric
In 1899, eleven-year-old Teodora goes with her scientist parents to Venice, which is experiencing a series of violent natural disasters. She and friend Renzo are drawn into mysterious adventures involving mermaids, an ancient prophecy, a magical book, and the possible destruction of the city itself. This one is not so dark, has the sweetness of friendship, and the energetic beautiful tough mermaids are on our side. Ten year olds and up will like this.
Through the Skylight by Ian Baucom
This one is set in today’s Venice. Three American siblings uncover a mystery surrounding two magical rings and a magical die, a magical Arabian Nights book, a faun that can walk in and out of paintings, three children from the 13th century who had been sold into slavery in a children’s crusade, not to mention living relics of saints stolen from the churches of Venice. This one starts out light, with complaining homeschooled kids doing art history with their parents, and progresses to serious decisions and actions that bring out the best in them.
Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
of magic. The destruction of Venice is not imminent, and there are no mermaids or other mythical creatures. Set in what seems to be a Venice of a few generations ago, two orphaned brothers run away from the aunt who plans to adopt the younger one only. They then have to run from a detective, and they find shelter with Venice’s boy “Thief Lord” and his band of children living in an abandoned movie theater. Well written, nine year olds and up will empathize with the brothers.
For younger kids, that powerhouse Mary Pope Osborne has written a Magic Tree House book about Venice. In Carnival at Candlelight Jack and Annie time-travel to Venice of the 1700s, to save the city from disaster. With the help of some new friends, a research book, and a mysterious rhyme from Merlin, the heroes will save the beautiful city from a flood! There are about 50 incredibly popular Magic Tree House books, and all of them feature Jack and Annie traveling to different times and places.
Even Geronimo Stilton, mouse detective, receives a mysterious message from someone in Venice, and is off to save the day, in Mystery in Venice by… Geronimo Stilton. His books (also about 50) are colorful and quick, great for reluctant or younger readers.