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Tall Tales


About The Book

The second book in a new trilogy of twisted fairy tales from New York Times bestselling author James Riley, set in the world of his popular Half Upon a Time series, that’s perfect for fans of Fablehaven and Chris Colfer’s A Tale of Magic series!

Lena might finally be accepted by the other giants after helping to defeat the Golden King and his faceless army in the Cursed City, but that doesn’t mean life has become any easier for her. The power-hungry Golden King wants revenge and has begun spreading shadow magic out over the kingdoms, taking over the minds of anyone it touches, and instilling fear and hatred as it goes.

The fairy queens, the most magical beings in the kingdoms, say their sacred book, Tales of All Things, claims that there is one person who can defeat the Golden King and his dark spells: Lena. But only if she first proves herself worthy by completing three challenges.

All Lena ever wanted was to prove she is really a giant. Now she has to be so much more. Can she and her genie friend, Jin, save the human world that doesn’t trust them, or will they fall prey to shadow magic, and doom everything?


Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
Once upon a time, Lena the Giant would never have imagined having an audience of her own kind as she fought her way through a patrol of Faceless, the Golden King’s mind-controlled army. But everything was different now, after she’d received her epithet from the Sparktender, and the other giants had seen her for who she really was: a five-and-a-half-foot tall giant, just like the rest of them in every way but height.

“Rip ’em up!” her father shouted, his voice a bit muffled by a bubble of thinner air, to keep him from getting air sickness down on the ground. “That’s my girl!”

The visit had started as a test of the new magical bubbles, only to be interrupted by a Faceless patrol. Fortunately, her guests had been more than happy to wait as Lena took out the Golden King’s soldiers. Her father in particular had offered to help, but Lena had refused, not wanting to share.

A Faceless in a full suit of black armor swung its magical sword at Lena, and she ducked beneath it, then kicked out, knocking the Faceless into a tree. It slid down the trunk, then lit up with small bursts of light as the brainwashed Lilliputians inside all teleported away.

“Aw, they’re escaping!” Creel the Sparktender shouted.

Lena frowned, then pointed at the pile of Faceless armor she’d already accumulated. “I know, they’re quick. But that’s why I grab trophies whenever I can!”

“Just watch out for those swords of theirs!” her mother said, wincing as another Faceless drove his sword down, slamming it into the ground just inches from where Lena had been standing. “They’ll take away your strength again!”

Her mother had a point: the last time Lena had actually been struck by one of their swords, she’d lost all of the giant power in her arms. Sure, it’d come back over the last few weeks, and she was finally feeling normal again, but that wasn’t something she wanted to repeat.

At least for her, it’d just been strength. Half of the residents of the Cursed City had been hit as well, changing them back to their non-cursed forms, which almost none of them preferred. Just like her own power, though, the residents’ magical curses had returned, and the entire city’s population was back to normal. Or the Cursed City version of normal.

Except now the residents also knew Lena’s secret, that she was actually just a very short giant, not the regular human they’d taken her for. At first they’d treated her with fear and paranoia, but after she’d helped save the city from the Golden King’s army, they’d come around quickly.

“Behind you!” her father roared, almost knocking a few of the remaining Faceless off their feet with the power of his voice. Lena kicked back without looking and sent another Faceless flying into the woods.

“Lena,” said Rufus, her horse-sized cat, as he trotted away from her mother’s foot and settled himself down on the ground right in the middle of the battle, no longer afraid of the Faceless after fighting them with Lena so many times. “I am hungry. Treats?”

“Just a minute, little man,” she said, punching another Faceless in the helmet, which went flying off. Without the protection of the headpiece, various tiny men and women inside quickly scrambled down farther into the armor, at which point several more bursts of light appeared as they teleported to safety.

These were Lilliputians, as small as giants were big, and the Last Knight’s own people. For years they’d been infected by the Golden King’s shadow magic, being forced to fight under his command. Fortunately, the Last Knight had used a magical item called the Cauldron of Truth on some captured Faceless to free their minds, and those Lilliputians had then returned to their homeland to help start a rebellion against the Golden King.

But there were far more Lilliputians still under the shadow’s power than had been freed, and the king wouldn’t let up until he destroyed the Cursed City. Unfortunately, without the Cauldron of Truth, all Lena could do was make sure these Faceless never got anywhere close. The city’s protective spell had just about been restored, ensuring that no one with any bad intentions could even find the city. Mrs. Hubbard had spent countless hours the last few weeks working to get it back up, but the magic took time, and the city needed protecting.

And that’s where Lena came in. After all, giants fight to show their might, as the saying went, and there was nothing Lena enjoyed more than getting to use her full strength to protect her friends and loved ones.

“Last one!” Creel shouted as a Faceless turned away from Lena to stalk Rufus. She gasped, the idea that her cat might be in danger sending her into a fury, and leapt forward with all her strength. Her giant power propelled her straight into the Faceless, and she slammed the armor’s torso right off its legs.

“Get ’em!” her father shouted as brainwashed Lilliputians came pouring out of the armor, each one equipped with their own magical teleportation device. Lena knew that if she could just grab one, she could bring them to the Last Knight and free the Lilliputian’s mind.

But even with Rufus joining in to hunt the tiny people, it was quickly apparent that they were both too slow, as the Lilliputians all disappeared, leaving behind that same burst of magical light. Lena growled in frustration, but she really couldn’t complain. After all, the Cursed City was safe, another Faceless patrol had been wiped out, and she’d even gotten to show off a bit for her parents and Creel.

“Look at you go, Lena!” her father shouted, pulling out a nearby tree and shaking it in excitement. Her mother and Creel both began clapping, and all three giants grinned widely. The praise hit Lena almost like a giant punch, and she took a step back in surprise. This was just all so new and wonderful, not having to hide her true size from other giants, and even getting to flaunt her strength for them. It was like nothing she was used to, and she never wanted it to end.

But even the giants’ magical air bubbles wouldn’t last forever, and she didn’t want her family or Creel to suffer from air sickness, which fogged up giants’ brains to the point they lost all control, and might potentially put the Cursed City in danger. So while she could have listened to their applause for another few days, it was time for them to climb back up the mountain to the giant village in the clouds.

“I’m so glad you could all come down to visit!” she shouted up at them. Her mother pushed one of her fingers into the ground, and Lena threw her arms around the finger, hugging it tightly. “Promise you’ll come back soon!”

“We certainly will, now that we can do it safely!” Creel said, tapping the air bubble around his head. “And please thank that witch who came up with these again. They’re just fantastic.”

“I will!” Lena promised, knowing she owed Mrs. Hubbard big-time, and not just for the bubbles. The owner of the Boot-ique, a Cursed City store built within a discarded giant boot, Mrs. Hubbard had openly welcomed Lena when she’d first visited. There was no one in town that Lena owed more to, and that debt just kept growing. “But you should all go back now before the thinner air starts running out in there.”

“Love you, Lena girl,” her father said, his voice a bit gravelly as he sniffed. He tried to wipe a tear away, only to smack his finger against the air bubble, so he looked away instead. “We’re just so proud. So, so proud.”

Lena had to look away herself, though she couldn’t hide her own loud sniff. She rubbed the back of her hand against her now-wet eyes, then waved at her parents and Creel as they turned to clomp back toward the mountain that once Lena had descended to explore the human world below the clouds.

“Treats now?” Rufus said, bumping his head into her impatiently. At his size, he almost knocked her over with every headbutt.

“Let me just tie up all the armor, okay?” she said, moving to do just that. “If we leave it out in the open, another patrol might find it, and figure out they’re close to the city.”

Rufus’s ears flattened in irritation, but he helped collect various pieces of armor using his teeth as Lena snaked a rope through it all. A few moments later, she stood back up with a satisfied sigh and surveyed the field of battle.

“Not too bad,” she said, nodding. “Didn’t even knock down a tree this time. Other than that one Dad pulled up.”

“Lena is the best,” Rufus said through a mouthful of helmet. “Treats? Treats. Treats?”

She scratched behind his ears, then moved to grab the roped-together armor, happier than she’d ever been in her life. And the best part was, even with the threat of the Golden King out there, she knew that between herself, the Last Knight, and her genie friend Jin, they could handle it and keep everyone safe.

After all, with a genie on their side, what could possibly go wrong?

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for

Tall Tales

By James Riley

About the Book

In the sequel to Once Upon Another Time, shadow magic is spreading across the land, endangering everyone that Lena cares about. Lena is a giant whose human-size body contains super strength. Threatened by fairy queens, Lena agrees to test herself through three trials to defeat Wrath, Warfare, and Wickedness. If she succeeds, she will be deemed worthy to defeat the shadow magic. Her genie friend, Jin, won’t let her go alone, nor will her faithful cat, Rufus, sometimes small and sometimes huge. Shefin—a tiny, proud, and courageous prince—joins the adventure as well. Even the three ferocious wolf sisters they encounter along the way become allies. Facing magical danger with her friends, Lena learns to appreciate herself and her strengths more than ever, but will it be enough to save the world around her?

Discussion Questions

1. Read the book’s dedication. How does it compare to other book dedications you’ve seen? What does it suggest about the author and what the story will be like?

2. Who is Lena? What is her family background, and why is she worried about it? How does she treat those around her, including Rufus? What are some prophecies about her? Do they come true?

3. Early in the story, Jin thinks, “Everything should be about me!” (Chapter four) What does that tell you about this character? When does he show a different side of himself in the story, taking risks to help others? How does Jin fulfill Thomas’s last two wishes? What happens to the voice of knowledge in Jin’s head?

4. Who is Shefin? Where do Lena and Jin find him? How do they react to him? Why is Jin sometimes jealous of Shefin? Why does Shefin, at first, act like he’s better than they are? How does he change and prove himself at the farm?

5. Describe some of the secondary characters in the story such as Jill, Thomas, and Princess Gwentell. What are their relationships to Lena and Jin? What roles do they play in the plot?

6. Trust is an important issue starting early in the book. Discuss Lena’s realization during a conversation with Mrs. Hubbard that “Homes could be rebuilt, but trust was something else entirely.” (Chapter three) Shortly after that, why does Lena think that Thomas doesn’t trust her? Find other instances where trust is a central issue and why it’s so important in the lives of Lena and Jin.

7. Summarize the three trials that the fairy queens set for Lena. If Lena doesn’t complete the trials, they say she “‘. . . will have no chance against the darkness.’” (Chapter nine) Explain who the fairy queens are and why Lena believes them.

8. The three trials are related to three traits that Lena would like to change in herself. Identify these traits and explain why Lena sees them as problems in her life. What does Lena realize about the trials near the end of the book?

9. Describe shadow magic and why Lena and her companions are afraid of it. How does it first attack them? How do they try to avoid it? In the end, how is Jin related to the shadow magic?

10. Who are the wolf sisters? Describe their relationships with each other. What is their initial reaction to Lena and her friends? How do they get involved with Lena’s journey? When Susi says, “‘We haven’t finished our trial,’” (chapter twenty-four) what does she mean?

11. Lena, Jin, and the others go to the city of Charm. What is this place like? How are the characters treated by the townspeople, and why? Who are the three councillors they meet? How do the travelers end their visit to Charm?

12. When a dragon comes from the shadow, what familiar figures do Lena and Shefin see and hear? What do the voices say? Discuss what Shefin means when he says, “‘The shadow is using our own fears against us. We can’t listen to them, or we’ll be lost!’” (Chapter nineteen)

13. In chapter twenty-one, Susi is attacked by the shadow, but instead of running away, she and her sisters approach it. Susi explains, “‘It’s all about facing your fear.’” What does she mean? Why are Lena and Shefin skeptical of the wolf sister’s advice?

14. How do Lena and the others get pulled into the farm? Explain the scheme that the pigs have devised to keep the farmers working. Why are the pigs doing it? How do they enforce it? How do Lena and her friends escape, and what is the farm like when they leave?

15. What are the plot twists at the very end? Did you see them coming? If not, how did you think the story would end? What do you think will happen to Jin, Lena, and their friends next?

16. Coni says to Lena in Charm, “‘It doesn’t matter who or what made you, giant. All that matters is who you are. Who you decide to be.’” (Chapter twenty-one) Discuss this statement and relate it to Lena’s journey. Why is this important for Lena to hear? Describe her worries about her past and about what made her.

17. By the end, Lena tells the shadow that the fairy queens’ story is over and that Lena is going to start a new story: “‘The story of Lena the Giant realizing she’s just fine who she is.’” (Chapter twenty-nine) What does this tell you about how Lena has changed? What are some of the events and interactions that led her to being fine with who she is?

Extension Activities

1. Wish You Were Here! People on trips sometimes send postcards to friends and family. Review the features of a postcard with your class. Have students create at least four postcards that Lena could have sent to her parents during her journey. Each card should include art on the front and a message on the back that refers specifically to a place in the novel.

2. Cliff-hangers and Questions: Take a close look at the way chapters end. Find some that end in cliff-hangers — exciting moments that leave readers in suspense. Discuss their effect and why the author uses them. Find some chapters that end with questions either in dialogue or in the narrative. Why does the author use questions? How do those chapter endings affect you as a reader? What are some other ways that the author ends chapters?

3. Giving Characters a Voice: Invite students to create a talking avatar of one of the characters, using the free version of Voki. The internet site Voki allows users to choose a character for the avatar (including a cat), change its appearance and background, and type in or record a short monologue for the avatar to speak. The student’s monologue can relate to a specific scene or give a general sense of the character, their background, and their personality.

4. Meet the Author: As a class, watch the first eleven minutes of this video from the National PTA, in which James Riley talks about writing stories, illustrating his remarks with cat photographs. Discuss his advice and how his novel puts the advice into action. For example, he says, “Stories need trouble.” Where is there trouble in Tall Tales and why is it necessary?

5. Imaginative Imagery: Sometimes the most effective way to convey an image or feeling is to compare it to something else by using a simile or metaphor. Find the following uses of figurative language in the novel. What is the context? What comparisons are made? What images and emotions are conveyed? Find other examples and do the same.

- Chapter five: “like it was in a vise”

- Chapter seven: “like someone had turned a page”

- Chapter eleven: “like a punch to the gut”

Chapter seventeen: “like some kind of giant squid”

- Chapter twenty-one: “like an angry ocean”

Guide written by Kathleen Odean, a former school librarian and Chair of the 2002 Newbery Award Committee. She gives professional development workshops on books for young people and is the author of Great Books for Girls and Great Books about Things Kids Love.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit or

About The Author

Author Photo by Maarten de Boer

James Riley lives in Virginia. He is the New York Times bestselling author of the Half Upon a Time, Story Thieves, Revenge of Magic, and Once Upon Another Time series.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Aladdin (May 2, 2023)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534425910
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 780L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®
  • Fountas & Pinnell™ W These books have been officially leveled by using the F&P Text Level Gradient™ Leveling System

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