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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?

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 (September 20, 2022)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534425927
  • Ages: 8 - 12

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