The Munchkins Book 1
by Candice Zee Genre: Upper Middle-Grade Fantasy
"Has all the "ingredients" for a fantastical, magical, YA story that also caters to adults who absolutely love the Potter-esque world that happens maybe twice in a lifetime." -Reader Views
Thirteen extraordinary children with mysterious powers.
Their loving and protective father.
And a sociopathic neighbor who knows them better than they know themselves.
When Capricorn Munch and her twelve siblings appear outside a children's home, no one, including themselves, knows who they are or where they came from. At ten years old they stop aging, as she and her siblings develop powers that gift them with incredible abilities, like healing wounds and manifesting objects. They keep these powers secret and their adoptive father restricts their use. Capricorn strives to live a normal life, blissfully playing with her favorite sisters, witty and bold Allie, empathic and wise Breezy, and giddy and sweet Hazy.
But now a sudden threat has intruded on their carefree lives: Their next-door neighbor, a man who calls himself Big Boss. Capricorn watches fretfully as Big Boss encroaches on her family like a malevolent force, feeding hostility between her siblings and causing them to be reckless with their powers. Capricorn knows Big Boss is plotting something sinister and can only pray it doesn't end in ultimate doom for her and her family.
"Told in a fast-paced narrative voice with complex characters, the exhilarating fantasy will keep readers guessing until the very end—all while falling in love with the quirky cast. The book deserved to be made into a movie or a web series." - The Prairies Book Review
“We’re going to play a game,” Ashley said, approaching us. The rest of our siblings gathered at the tree.
“How about we play tag?” said Justin.
“No,” said Carlie. “I don't like tag.”
“What are you talking about, Carlie? “ Ashley said. “You love tag.”
“Well I don’t want to play it today,” Carlie scowled.
“You’re so stubborn,” Ashley frowned. Ashley, being technically the oldest (she was nine when adopted), felt it was partly her responsibility to keep the rest of her siblings in check, especially Carlie, the youngest of us (she was five when adopted).
“How about Simon Says then?” Justin said, quickly making another suggestion before an argument surfaced between Carlie and Ashley. Justin, kind and sensible, hated conflict and strived to find compromises that would make everyone happy.
“That sounds good but I want to be Simon,” said Becky. Everyone groaned in unison. Becky seemed to thrive on telling her siblings what to do. Simon Says was the perfect game for her.
“How about we play Simon Says only if Becky doesn't get to be Simon,” said Allie.
“Agreed!” shouted out half the group, their hands in the air.
Becky gave Allie a contemptuous look. Her sandy blonde hair cast a sheen in the sunlight. “Oh, be quiet, Allie. Nobody asked you.”
“Oh, see that's funny because I don't recall anyone asking you to be Simon either,” said Allie.
“Okay,” said Breezy, with her hands raised, stepping into the middle of the group. “We're only going to play a game together if we can all agree on it. Does anyone have any other suggestions?” Justin gave Breezy a grateful smile for her quick mediation, which Breezy returned with a nod.
“How about we play baseball?” I said.
“Hey, great idea, Cap!” Allie cried.
All around various cheers in favor of baseball arose. We divided amongst ourselves to form two teams, and Kevin agreed to serve as umpire. But there was one problem.
“We need a bat and ball,” said Ashley. “Someone took them in the house.”
“Let’s go in and look for them,” Justin suggested.
“Nah,” Kevin said. “That could take all day. We'll just whip some up. No biggie.”
“You mean use our powers?” Ashley asked. “Should we?”
Breezy clenched her face and shook her head. One of CC’s rules was our power should be used only when necessary and with good reason. Frivolous use of magic was a serious no-no. I had a feeling for manifesting a bat and ball, CC wouldn't consider “we didn't feel like going in the house to look for our old ones” a good reason.
Just as I expected, Breezy objected. “I don't think this counts as a necessary use of our powers. CC wouldn't approve of this.”
“Well, CC's not here right now, is he?” Twisty declared defiantly, spinning rapidly on her heels and running off with her braids bouncing behind her. Twisty (a nickname for Theresa, but she hated that name and didn't allow it to be used in her presence), had always been a bit of a troublemaker and had a real rebellious streak. Just the thought of doing something that was against CC's rules excited her greatly.
Breezy turned to Hazy, Allie, and me looking for support. Allie signaled her sympathy for Breezy's position by rolling her eyes in Twisty's direction and gave a hapless shrug. Hazy's apprehension mirrored Breezy's. I mumbled feebly, “Well, it's only a bat and ball.” Breezy shook her head and repeated, “CC would not approve of this.”
My siblings didn’t always see it, but there's a good reason for this rule. There are limitations to our powers. There are certain things we’re not able to do at all (such as make ourselves disappear and reappear, make ourselves invisible, magically teleport ourselves from one place to another, the list goes on) but more importantly, the powers we do have aren’t inexhaustible. Using a power takes a lot of energy, and once that energy is used, it takes a while before you have enough energy to use a power again. Think of it as a battery. If you run something on a battery that uses a lot of power, you'll drain your battery quickly and have to recharge. Recharging means you have to wait for your energy levels to restore themselves before you can use them again. The time required to recharge depends on what type of power you are using and the task. A telekinetic power like moving an object in the air is one of the lowest energy uses and takes about 10-20 minutes before you're good to go again, but of course, it depends on the size and distance of the object. Healing a wound or injury, depending on how severe the injury is, can take over an hour or two. Replicating an object, disappearing objects, or putting up a protective shield will put you back a few hours. Manifesting an object into being? That's huge and will cost you a whole day's worth of power at least.
Candice Zee is a middle-grade and YA fantasy writer who first dreamed the idea of The Munchkins as a child while playing make-believe with her brother in Wilkes-Barre, PA. She is an early childhood teacher with an M.Ed. in Elementary Education and has taught for over twelve years in Pre-K, Kindergarten, and primary grade classrooms. Like Casey Munch in her book series, she is passionate about creating a more just and equitable world. She savors vegan food, loves board games and podcasts, relishes horror movies and novels, devours social science nonfiction, spontaneously belts out tunes from musicals, and does some of her best writing while drinking coffee at 1 AM. She lives in Cleveland, OH with her wife Dana and their dog companion Solstice. The Munchkins is her debut novel. More information about her book series and the characters can be found at www.munchkinsbooks.com.
A Deeper Look into the Character Casey Munch
Casey Munch, or as his children affectionately call him, CC, is the Munch children’s adoptive father. He is an activist who, before adopting his children, traveled the world with his wife, Erin, doing social justice work. Casey believes housing should be a human right, so when he inherited a large fortune from his father, he created a nonprofit to provide free housing to people all over the world. He and Erin wanted to adopt children together, but then Erin died, and Casey was lonely and heartbroken. He continued to travel and devote his time to helping people and animals, but that ended the second he adopted his children. From that point on, his life became dedicated to caring for thirteen kids single-handedly and keeping their powers a closely guarded secret.
Casey is often overwhelmed and stressed, but he is a loving father and highly protective of his children. He can be strict and authoritative, but also nurturing and affectionate at the same time. Casey likes routines, structure, and rules because it brings some order to all the chaos in his life, so he is fond of lists, chore charts, and family meetings. He runs his nonprofit remotely from his home office, and gives his children the freedom to play independently, but within defined boundaries. He is also wise, perceptive, and knows right away when his children are hiding something.
Casey has firm rules and restrictions on when his children are allowed to use their powers, and he prohibits them from using them at all if there’s any possibility of them being seen. He understands the grave danger his children would be in if the public found out about their powers, and he keeps his kids largely sheltered and limits contact with the outside world because of this. At the same time though, he worries about them becoming too isolated, so he encourages them to interact with other kids. Casey’s life is ruled by safeguarding his children and ensuring other people don’t discover their extraordinary anomalies. He views his kids’ powers as more of a curse than a gift because of the severe restrictions they place on him and his children, and he laments that his children will never be able to grow into adulthood and live normal lives. He takes his role as their sole parent and protector very seriously, and there is nothing he won’t do to keep his children safe.
The Munch Brothers
There are thirteen children in the Munch family, and four of them are boys: Ryan, Kevin, Chase, and Justin. Here’s a closer look at these four characters.
Active and energetic, Ryan enjoys physical games, sports, and competition. He also appreciates a good joke and offers many of his own. Ryan is constantly looking for an excuse to use his powers. He attempts to use them more than any of the other Munch children. He doesn’t understand his father’s rules and restrictions on their use and longs to use his powers freely. However, even though he will sometimes sneak and use magic, he genuinely wants to understand the justifications for the strict rules, and he values his siblings’ opinions. While he wishes to do what he wants with his powers, he hears his siblings out and follows what they say if he thinks they have a fair point. He is an independent thinker and doesn’t hesitate to ask questions and challenge the rules.
Kevin is fun-loving and enjoys trading banter with his best friends Ryan and Chase. He is also inquisitive, and asks a lot of questions, especially when he gets nervous. Kevin is impulsive and quick to say or do things without thinking, and this often leads him to trouble. He is also short-tempered and rises to anger rather fast. Beneath the surface, Kevin is actually a very anxious person. When he is scared or upset, he is highly reactive, and he will bounce back and forth from being fretful and afraid one minute to being angry and aggressive the next minute.
Chase craves excitement and will cheer on anything dramatic or entertaining, even when it isn’t always appropriate. Due to this, he can be a little naive and unaware of genuine danger. His over-enthusiasm sometimes leads him to trouble. He hates boredom and despises tedious chores like washing dishes. He loves food, TV, and sleeping in late. He is greatly concerned with fairness and will go out of his way to set things right, even if it’s against his own interest. He is a kind person and a loyal friend, but insecure with himself, and will often put himself down and allow others to mistreat him.
Finally, Justin is kindhearted, giving, sensible, and extremely compassionate. He hates conflict and fighting, and whenever tensions arise in his family, he immediately steps in and tries his hardest to keep the peace. He is also an artist and spends lots of his free time drawing nature landscapes. He is more mature than many of his other siblings and is able to see the bigger picture. While many of his siblings use their powers selfishly, Justin dreams to use them to help people and create a better world. He is an activist like his father and sees the systemic nature of many of the world’s problems. He takes it upon himself to find small ways to make a difference, like giving people free food. He is driven by his desire for a more loving and peaceful world, and to correct its injustices.
Is The Munchkins YA or Middle Grade?
To YA or not to YA? That is the question I have been asking myself a lot lately. The unique plot of my book series presents me with a very particular problem: Do I label The Munchkins series upper middle grade or YA?
Middle-grade novels are written for children between the ages of 8-12 years, with upper middle-grade designated as age 10 and up, but usually no later than age 14. The first book is categorized as middle-grade because of the age of the protagonists, the way they interact with each other, and the major themes of family, connection, and sibling relationships that a middle-grade audience usually identifies with. However, the content is much darker and more serious than the average middle-grade novel, so I had some reservations about putting it in the middle-grade category but felt upper middle-grade was the best designation.
Now my dilemma is compounded as I move towards publishing the second book in the series. As I’ve stated elsewhere, the second book, Capricorn’s Journal: My Family’s Fight for Survival, is very intense, much more violent, and makes the first book look like a bright, happy Disney movie in comparison. The Munch children go through a highly traumatic ordeal together, they are greatly affected by it in some pretty serious ways, and they have to depend on each other to survive, which makes for some pretty grave reading material for a younger age group. I think this firmly moves the second book into the YA category. However, the traditional parameters of what is considered middle-grade vs. YA dictate that the age of the protagonist determines the age group of the reader. Therefore, if the protagonists are ten (like the Munch children), the audience would be middle-grade. But honestly, I would not feel comfortable recommending the second book to a ten-year-old, or any child under the age of 13 for that matter.
However, there’s another angle here, a loophole, so to speak, that the unique plot of my book series can slip through, and it’s in that qualifier of the age of the protagonist. The loophole is this: The Munch children are 10, but they aren’t really 10. In the story, the Munch children develop extraordinary powers after they turn 10 but developing these powers results in permanently stunting their growth. Physically and emotionally, they are eternal ten-year-olds, and in many ways, they act and think like typical ten-year-olds. However, since they have more years of life experience and intellectual growth than a normal ten-year-old, in other ways they are much more mature and responsible than an average ten-year-old. So are the Munch children really ten? This whole factor of the age of the protagonists has been a perplexing question for me since I started writing the first book, and has me repeatedly asking, “But what if the age of the protagonist isn’t a definite?”
So I’m now leaving the question open for others to decide. What do you think? Is The Munchkins series upper middle grade or YA?
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