Monday, November 9, 2009

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

Jessica Day George
Bloomsbury, 2008

On the promise that her impoverished family will be blessed with riches, a young girl goes to live for a year in an enchanted palace with a mysterious white bear. Just as she begins to unravel the dark secrets of the curse on her host, her curiosity and fear drive her to betray the man she has come to love. To redeem him, she must journey beyond the edge of the world and face the Troll Princess herself.

East o'the Sun, West o'the Moon, always one of my favorite folk-tales, finds new life in this charming adaptation. I loved how Jessica Day George followed the traditional storyline so faithfully, but added an intriguing new twist of her own. She floods the pages with details about Scandinavian culture and language. A good, solid performance, and a recommended read for ages 10 and up.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ida B

Katherine Hannigan
Greenwillow Books 2004

Energetic, imaginative Ida B lives in Wisconsin, in a valley full of apple orchard with a stream running through it and a mountain behind it. Her loving parents are good, wise, and kind enough rescue her from the "Place of Slow but Sure Body-Cramping, Mind-Numbing, Fun-Killing Torture" more commonly known as public school. Ida is home-schooled, but she isn't lonely. As she roams the valley she talks to the apple trees and the brook and the rocks, and they talk back, just the way I remember trees and rocks talking when I was young. By the time I get through the first few chapters, I'm drooling just as much as Ida B's dog, Rufus. I wish I'd grown up in a place like that.

But Ida B's idyllic life doesn't last forever. Hard times come, and Ida B has to go back to school. Her family even has to sell some of the orchard. Ida B's a plotter and a planner, she's not going to take this lying down, but will her schemes for fighting back make things better or worse?

One thing very special about this book - Ida B's voice makes ordinary life feel as big and important as it really is. I loved it. Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Anybodies

by N.E. Bode
HarperCollins 2004

I wish I had written this book.

Once a week, I volunteer at a school library. They don't know I'm a writer. I haven't told them yet. When I go, I feel like I'm doing secret agent undercover work, spying out what kind of books the kids are reading, finding out what kind of books the publishers are publishing. So last week, as I was slicing alphabetical labels off the shelves with a razor blade (the labels were from an old, outdated shelving system, were all wrong, and were driving me crazy whenever I tried to re-shelve the books), the spine of The Anybodies caught my eye.

I can't say what about it attracted my attention. The title was hidden by a big sticker with the letters PB (for paperback) and then FIC (for fiction) and then BOD for Bode. Maybe it was the charming, powder-blue color peeking out from around the sticker. Anyways, I took the book off the shelf, opened it up and read the dedication:

"THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED to you. Yes, you. Don't be so shocked. Haven't you always secretly thought that you deserved a book dedicated to you and you only?"

I smirked. I grinned. I stood up and asked the school librarian, "Excuse me, but are parents allowed to check out books too?"

The truth is, The Anybodies was written just for me, and for every other person who loves to read. This is a book for readers, and since most books are read by readers, I'd say it hits the market right on target. It is one of those books that just had to be written by somebody, and so it is only fitting that it should have been written by N.E. Bode. It's funny. Hilarious. I laughed out loud several times, once even punching my fist in the air in triumph. The book is also adventurous and heartwarming, for that's what readers want, isn't it? And there are plenty of other goodies, like children accidentally swapped at birth, retired circus performers, fairies that pop out of books, giant peaches, mysterious diaries written in code, a bitter love-triangle, grouchy henchmen, and a perfectly ordinary squirrel.

I'd recommend this book to any child (or adult) who has read everything on the shelf and is hungry for a little something different.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Golden Goblet

Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Puffin, 1961

Time to introduce another one of my favorite authors, Eloise Jarvis McGraw. She wrote a stack of books in her lifetime, historical fiction, fantasy, and even added three volumes to the Oz franchise. My favorite thing about her writing is her minor characters. In most books, the minor characters are shallow, flat, uninteresting creatures. You never meet one of those in McGraw's books. Every last character who walks on the scene is a living, breathing, fascinating, complex human being. I wish I could have met her. From the way she writes her minor characters I'm guessing she had the gift to see everyone in the world as a real person.

She also does her homework. Set in ancient Egypt, The Golden Goblet rings with authentic details about Egyptian culture and life. But in addition to historical fiction, this book is a crime-solving mystery. Ranofer, who dreams of apprenticing to a goldsmith and becoming an artisan, is forced to work for his older brother instead. Then Ranofer discovers his brother has been grave-robbing, and Ranofer has unknowingly been helping to sell the goods. Can Ranofer expose his brother without being caught and punished himself?

This book offers a compelling story of a boy who wants to be free to pursue his dream and find his place in the world, along with a lot of sneaking around night-time Egyptian streets, and a nail-biting action climax in a dark, Egyptian tomb. Recommended for readers ten and up.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Black and Blue Magic

Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Aladdin, 1972

Awkward, accident-prone Harry Houdini Marco has a long, boring San Francisco summer to look forward to. He can't go on vacation because his mother has to stay and take care of the boarding house, and there's no money to send him to camp with his friends. Then, one day, Harry notices a strange little man who loses his suitcase on the bus. When Harry returns the suitcase the grateful man gives him a magic potion, a potion that gives Harry his own pair of giant, white-feathered wings!

It sounds like the ultimate wish fulfillment for a nearly twelve-year-old boy, but Harry gets bruises just trying to walk around. What's going to happen when he can fly?

This is my very favorite book by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. She's got a way of describing people that makes them pop right off the page. This hilarious book has a bitter-sweet ending in which Harry discovers that what he's gained from his summer of flying will last long after the potion runs out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Game

Diana Wynne Jones
Penguin, 2007

I am ashamed to admit that this is my fiftieth review on this blog, and only my first review of a Diana Wynne Jones book!

Time to set things right.

Haley has never met her cousins before. Her strict and fussy grandmother has always kept her away from the rest of her unruly family. But Haley has crept off to the forbidden mythosphere before, a place woven of colorful story threads, threads with ends that trail through the ordinary world. She's delighted to find that her cousins know about the mythosphere too, and joins them in their secret game, a sort of scavenger hunt where the players collect glass slippers, dragon scales, and golden apples.

There's more than mythical baubles out in the mythosphere. Haley finds clues to the location of her missing parents, her true identity, and the reason her Uncle Jolyon banned the family from the mythosphere in the first place.

Uncle isn't going to be happy.

This book is Diana Wynne Jones at her best--full of wild, world-hopping magic, bubbling with jolly chaos, bristling with danger, and grounded in honest emotion. A little piece of perfection, "The Game" blends real mythology and real life in fantastic ways. For readers twelve and up.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Behind the Bedroom Wall

Laura E. Williams
Milkweed Editions, 1996

Korinna thought she had nothing to fear.

A loyal German, a staunch member of the Nazi Youth organization, Korinna dreams of the day when Hitler will restore her country to greatness. If some of her neighbors are arrested for treason, it is only for the good of the Fatherland. She jots in her small, black Jungmadel notebook when she notices anyone showing less than fervent adoration for Hitler and his New Germany.

Then she discovers the unthinkable. Her parents are hiding Jews behind her very own bedroom wall.

It is her duty to report her parents as traitors, but traitors are shot!

In this book, Laura Williams explores the emotions of a young girl caught in a world of hate and fear, where things are not what she's been told and there are few people to trust. Will she betray her parents and the fugitives they harbor, or pay the price of standing for freedom?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dogs Don't Tell Jokes

Louis Sachar
Alfred A. Knopf, 1991

Gary Boone's classmates and teachers are tired of his constant jokes. He wants to be a stand-up comedian, but all he can get from his friends are groans. When Gary announces that he wants to tell jokes at the school talent show his parents issue him a difficult challenge - keep his humor to himself until the performance. Will giving up telling jokes for weeks result in a final, incredible explosion of talent, or will Gary just lose his touch? And is someone planning to sabotage his act?

This is my favorite book by Louis Sachar. I like it even better than Holes. It's a story about an artist coming to terms with his muse, about the fine line between a weakness and a gift, and about how every disaster is a triumph waiting to happen. Great reading for ages nine and up.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Long Way From Chicago

Richard Peck
Dial Books for Young Readers, 1998

I love trickster characters- Anansi the spider, raven and coyote, Brer Rabbit, and Grandma Dowdle.

In Richard Peck's A Long Way from Chicago, Joey Dowdle and his little sister Mary Alice get a taste of small town life each summer when they take the train from Chicago to spend a week with Grandma. Year after year, the hilarious adventures pile up, chronicled in the chapters of this book. Grandma Dowdle is a woman of folk-hero proportions, getting the best of all her small town neighbors, except on the rare occasion where her own cleverness comes back to bite her. This collection of stories would make a delightful summer read for ages ten and up.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Enchantress from the Stars

Sylvia Louise Engdahl
Antheneum, 1970

I first picked this book up in the early 1980's, during my 7th grade fantasy only phase, when if it didn't have a dragon in it I didn't want to read it.

This one has a dragon in it, but it wasn't the sort of dragon I was looking for.

Enchantress from the Stars may have been the first real science fiction novel I ever read. In it, a young girl from a highly advanced space-faring society joins her father on a dangerous mission to protect an infant civilization from being overrun by less enlightened space colonists. This collision of three worlds plays out as a fantastic fairy tale for the woodcutter's son Geyorn, as a science fiction adventure for colonist Jarel, and a magnificent coming of age story for Elara the young enchantress/anthropologist from the stars.

Deftly weaving together these three points of view, Engdahl explores deeply relevant questions about prejudice, technology, and human love. Classic, classic science fiction. Not to be missed. For readers 10 and up.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Heck Superhero

Martine Leavitt
Front Street, 2004

I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting Martine Leavitt last week. She seemed like the kind of person who would show up with a big smile and fresh baked cookies at your door if she knew you were feeling down, even if her editor were breathing down her neck to get those revisions done.

Heck, the thirteen-year-old hero of this story, has that same kind of heart. When Heck's mother calls him to tell him they've been evicted from their apartment, Heck is too worried about his mom to just stay at his friend's house until she comes for him. He has to go out looking for her, protect her, tell her everything will be okay. After all, he's her hero.

The city streets are a rough place for a thirteen-year-old. Battling constant toothache, encountering drug pushers and bully gangs, evading Social Services and the threat of being put in a "Frosty Home," Heck dreams of doing the one Good Deed that will put the universe to rights again and bring his mother back from the alternate dimension she's slipped into.

This book contains some drug use and a suicide, so I'm calling this a young adult novel, for ages fourteen and up. Martine Leavitt said that she felt she couldn't write honestly about homeless children without including those horrors. I think she did a fine job.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Phillip Reeve
Decorated Throughout by David Wyatt
Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children's Books, 2008

As the third installment of the Larklight series, this is Mr. Reeve and Mr. Wyatt's greatest achievement yet. But you simply must read the other two books first (see reviews no. 1 and no. 2).

In this episode, the Mumby family's Christmas Holiday is spoiled, first by a visit from the voracious pudding worm and then by a call to investigate a mysterious and sinister silvery cloud which is rapidly approaching the solar system. Can Art Mumby and his friends save the British Empire from the most powerful and evil villain they've ever met? Can they do it by New Year's? Well, they've always managed before...

With fantastic battles, hungry space creatures of all sizes and shapes, deluded missionaries, amazon lizard women in full armor, and enough giant moths to set any wool sweater aquiver with fright, Mothstorm is a jolly romp for all readers age nine and up.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Keturah and Lord Death

Martine Leavitt
Front Street, 2006

Sixteen-year-old Keturah Reeve has one simple dream - a true love of her own, a cottage of her own, and a sweet wee babe of her very own. But one day she wanders into the woods and is lost. When Death comes for her as a cold and comely young lord, she pleads for her life with a tale like the ones she tells around the village fire. Intrigued by her story, Death grants her another day in which she must find her true love or be taken.

So begins this lyrical fable, a story of life and death, hope and transformation. I marvel that so much wisdom and beauty can be packed in two hundred pages. Keturah's shabby village throbs with life, full of characters that seem to have been plucked from a fairy tale but then given real-life hearts and souls. The prose is exquisite - Keturah has the eye of a poet and the voice of a storyteller. Her quest to find an everlasting love takes so many turns it kept me guessing right up until the end. After closing the book I felt like I'd woken from a dream that meant more than I was ready to understand.

Highly recommended for readers age twelve and up.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fablehaven 4: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary

Brandon Mull
Shadow Mountain, 2009

This book begins horribly. For the characters, that is. As the reader, I adored it. Seth and Kendra Sorensen may have been looking forward to a quiet Christmas vacation, but the Society of the Evening Star is on the move. Caught up in a race to claim the key to a magical object that will help the Society open the demon prison Zyzyx and unleash unstoppable magical destruction on the peaceful, utterly oblivious modern world, Seth and Kendra must travel to the treacherous dragon sanctuary Wyrmroost. Hopefully they'll survive long enough to make it home for New Year's.

Zyzyx - Wyrmroost - aren't these great names? When I learned to type using the Dvorak keyboard, which is supposed to be ultra-efficient for speedy typing, I found that the letters fantasy writers like to use in made-up names were in hard-to-reach spots. I had a character named Jyvwin, and picking out the letters for his name were a real pain. I thought I should come up with a new keyboard which was ultra efficient for fantasy writers. The home row was YWZXJLVKR. Needless to say, it never caught on.

But I digress. In this fourth book of the Fablehaven series, Brandon Mull delivers a story full of inventive magical creatures, amazing settings, heart-wrenching plot twists, intrigue, betrayal, clever traps, even cleverer escapes, friendship, family, and Yatzee. I enjoyed seeing Seth come into his own, discovering talents that match and compliment his sister Kendra's. The dragons were marvelous - all different, all amazing. Time was, I wouldn't pick up a book unless there was a dragon in it. If this book had been published back when I was thirteen, it would have been a dream come true.

But I still think Grandma was better off as a chicken.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Phillip Reeve
Illustrated by David Wyatt
Bloomsbury, 2007

In an alternate Victorian age where the British Empire stretches from cloudy Venus to the moons of Jupiter, young Art Mumby finds himself embroiled in one interplanetary adventure after another. His previous encounter (recorded in the volume Larklight) with an ancient race of giant spiders bent on dominating the solar system turned out remarkably well, thanks to Art's quick thinking, the bold deeds of his rakish pirate-captain friend Jack and his alien crew, and, surprisingly, Art's intolerably properly prudish sister Myrtle, who shocks everyone, including herself, by ultimately saving the day (a deplorably unladylike thing to do - she swears never to repeat it).

But now Art and his allies face an even greater threat. An unexpected invitation to a recently opened sea-bathing resort in the asteroid field draws Art along with his mother and sister into a tangled plot of stolen time machines, poisonings, espionage, and brain-wave sucking hats. More jolly characters join the cast, as well as killer maniacal sea-side amusement machines, and most of our old friends from the previous volume make an appearance as well, even though some of them, sadly, spend most of the book having been turned into trees. Anyone who loves a good yarn will want to join this journey to the very cold, dark end of time to save the good old nineteenth century (huzzah!) from dismal destruction. Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Brian Selznick
Scholastic, 2007

When Hugo Cabret's cruel uncle disappears, it is up to Hugo to keep the clocks running in the Paris train station where he lives. If anyone finds out his uncle is gone, Hugo will be taken to an orphanage. Not only will he lose his freedom, but he'll lose the chance to repair the only thing he has left from his father - a mechanical man that Hugo believes will write a message for him if only he can get the mechanism to work.

Creeping between walls, stealing food, and collecting uncle's paychecks (though he doesn't know how to cash them) keeps Hugo from being discovered. But Hugo needs parts for his mechanical man, and when he tries to steal them from the strange old toymaker who owns a shop in the train station, Hugo stumbles into an even bigger secret than the one hidden in the mechanical man's gears.

Cinematic illustrations take turns with sparse, direct prose to tell a moving story of mystery, tragedy, and redemption. For ages 8 and up.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Louis Sachar
Yearling Books 1998

My very favorite book published in the 1990's has to be Holes by Louis Sachar.

There is no doubt that Stanley Yelnats is a very unlucky boy. Framed for stealing a valuable pair of shoes owned by a baseball superstar, he takes the option of serving out his sentence at Camp Green Lake. Turns out, there is no lake. Not any more. At this juvenile detention facility, the warden makes every boy dig a five-foot-deep, five-foot around hole in the dry lake bed every day. If that weren't bad enough, there's the deadly yellow spotted lizards you have to watch out for.

Stanley's family has always had bad luck, ever since his great-great-grandfather stole a pig from an old gypsy named Madame Zeroni back in Latvia. Stanley's mother doesn't believe in the family curse, but then again Stanley's grandfather's fortune was stolen by the infamous outlaw, Kissing Kate Barlow, and Stanley's father is an inventor who can't seem to invent anything.

And no rain has fallen on Green Lake, Texas since Kissing Kate left the town and turned to a life of crime.

Louis Sachar brings all these story elements together, twisting and weaving a marvelously complex plot that comes down to an absolutely satisfying ending. A great read for ages 9 and up.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

First Day Jitters

Julie Danneberg
Illustrated by Judy Love
Charlesbridge Publishing, 2000

One of my children brought this charming picture book home from the elementary school library. I liked the whimsical personality of the illustrations and the dialog that sounded just like those mornings when a reluctant child is protesting as I try to wheedle him or her out of bed. I read along as the tension mounted, enjoying the story, until I got to the last page. What an utter and delightful surprise! I never would have guessed. I had to go back and read the whole book again looking for clues. They were there, I simply didn't notice.

This is a great book, sure to be enjoyed by children and parents alike.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The School Story

Andrew Clements
Simon & Schuster, 2001

This book makes me cry. The beginning makes me cry, the end makes me cry. Why? Because it's about a sixth grader who is trying to publish a book, and I've wanted to publish a book ever since third grade, so there.

Natalie's mother is an editor at a big publishing house, but Natalie doesn't want her mother's help. In fact, she wants to keep the project a complete secret. With the help of her English teacher and a good friend who becomes the world's first twelve-year-old literary agent, Natalie breaks into publishing right under her mother's nose. But how long can they keep the secret, and what happens when mom finds out the promising author she's been editing is her own daughter?

I usually don't like to encounter characters in books who want to become writers because the author is so obviously writing about him or herself. But The School Story takes a different angle. Andrew Clements knows how it feels to be a writer, and that's what he's captured in this marvelous story. Recommended for ages 8 and up, essential for any kid who wants to become an author.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Andrew Clements
Simon & Schuster, 1996

Where do words come from? Nick's teacher, Mrs. Granger, says that people agree on what words to use and what they mean, and if everyone decided to change the meaning of a word then one day it would be changed in the dictionary.

Mrs. Granger never expected Nick to try it.

A battle of wills ensues, with Mrs. Granger defending the dictionary and Nick Allen attempting to get his entire school to use the new word "frindle" instead of "pen." This book is the first and one of the best of Andrew Clements' collection of school stories which feature unique and well drawn characters, clever plot lines, and heart-warming endings. Great for readers age 8 and up.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Neil Gaiman
HarperCollins, 2002

Coraline begins like a modern day version of The Phantom Tollbooth --- bored child with nothing to do steps through a magical portal into another world. In Phantom Tollbooth, the other world is silly, witty, and mostly harmless. In Coraline, the other world is inventively surreal and deliciously creepy. Coraline faces dangers that Milo never dreamed of in a game of hide-and-seek where the stakes are even higher than life-and-death.

This is the first book by Neil Gaiman that I have ever read. I simply must read more. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Mermaid Summer

Mollie Hunter
Harper & Row, 1988

A hundred years ago, so this story begins. In it, Mollie Hunter draws a Scottish fishing village as only one who has known one can do, making the characters seem as real as your own neighbors. She understands their fears and struggles, how the sea is both their provider and their terror. Superstitious they are, so says Mollie Hunter, the most superstitious folk you'll find. All except old Eric Anderson, who doesn't believe in mermaids.

The mermaid is not amused.

Mollie Hunter's mermaid is a frightening creature, strong and dangerous. It will take all the wit and courage that Eric's two grandchildren can muster in order to keep the mermaid from taking her vengeance on the whole village. At 120 pages this book is a quick read, but the poignant story will stay with you long after the cover is closed. Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tom's Midnight Garden

Phillipa Pearce
Oxford University Press, 1958

Two bored and lonely children live in the same big, old house-- Tom is missing out on summer vacation while he recovers from measles, and Hattie is an orphan living with her wealthy and unpleasant Aunt. Tom and Hattie might be able to cheer each other up a bit if they became friends. The only problem is that they were born nearly a century apart, so they can never meet.

Or can they?

This absorbing story of mystery, time-travel, and friendship is widely considered to be one of the great children's fantasy books of all time. Perfect for ages ten and up.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Thief

Megan Whalen Turner
HarperCollins, 1996

It took me some time to see the light. I thought this book started slow. Sure, the first person point of view character had an engaging voice and a charming personality, but I read for plot. I wanted action and adventure. When a young thief is dragged out of the royal prison and hired by the king to steal a politically significant and possibly magical artifact from a neighboring country, he sets off on a pleasant ride through the countryside escorted by a soldier, a scholar, and two scholarly apprentices. Snooze. I don't think I would have read any further if my husband hadn't taken over and read the book out loud to me.

Not reading on would have been a tragedy. I would never have discovered that several members of this jolly party, including the narrator, are not who they seem to be.

Read this book twice. The first time, it is a good book that gets better and better. The second time, once you know all the answers, the book is a work of pure genius. Recommended for ages twelve and up.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Among the Hidden

Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1998

Twelve-year-old Luke is an outlaw.

In a future world where being a third-born child is a crime punishable by death, Luke lives like a shadow, hiding every time someone comes near his family's farm. Then, when the government builds an upscale housing development next door Luke is sure he will never be allowed to go outside again.

But his family aren't the only ones with a secret to hide.

Among the Hidden is the very best dystopian science fiction for young readers that I have ever come across. Intelligent, suspenseful, with well drawn characters and a chillingly believable setting, this book is one of my favorites. Ages 10 and up.

Monday, February 9, 2009

King of Shadows

Susan Cooper
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1999

Young actor Nat Field is enjoying the opportunity of a lifetime - the chance to travel to England to perform a Shakespeare play in a replica of the Globe Theater. Then, shortly after he arrives in London, he becomes seriously ill. The next morning he wakes up as young actor Nat Field of 1599, recently recruited to join William Shakespeare's players at the original Globe in the premier of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Is it a dream come true, or a nightmare?

Susan Cooper paints a vivid picture of Shakespeare's England complete with open sewage, cut-purses, bear pits, plague, and all those other unglamorous aspects of the age. Nat muddles along as best he can, finding refuge in the familiar lines of the plays and forming a friendship with the playwright he'd admired across the centuries.

This is the sort of story that only Susan Cooper could come up with and pull off so well. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Boggart

Susan Cooper
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1993

When Jessup and Maggie get a telegram saying their dad has inherited an ancient castle in Scotland they think they're going to be rich. Excitement dampens when they learn the old ancestral home is a crumbling wreck. There's no money to fix it up, and they can't move to Scotland, and so it seems the only option is to sell the property.

Sad to part with their tarnished treasure, the family decides to have some of the furniture shipped to their home in Toronto, just so they can have something of their inheritance to keep. But once the furniture arrives, things began to happen - strange things. Mysterious things. Dangerous things. Perhaps the old castle wasn't empty after all.

This imaginative tale shows off Susan Cooper's greatest gifts - her ability to blend folklore magic with real life, her strong sense of family relationships, her heartfelt characters, and her keen storytelling. Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Silver on the Tree

Susan Cooper
Margaret K. McElderry Books 1977

In this final novel of the Dark is Rising Sequence, all the principle characters from previous books come together with all the prophetic rhymes and magical objects they've collected throughout the series. A journey through time, space, history and legend brings them to a final spectacular confrontation with the Dark. Exactly the sort of fantasy adventure my thirteen-year-old self craved.

Yes, I loved this book, but the very end made me angry. To tell you why would be a spoiler, so I'll refrain. I will say that after I read this series I had a fun time wondering if anyone I knew was an Old One - a member of the secret magical society charged with protecting the world from evil. I thought my eighth grade English teacher could have been, but the cafeteria cash register lady was probably from the Dark.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Grey King

Susan Cooper
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1975

Fantasy is sadly underrepresented in the Newbery awards. Susan Cooper's The Grey King defied that trend. Why did this one win the Newbery and not any of the others in the series? They all have the same lyrical prose, the same deep foundation in the legends of the British Isles, the same sweeping conflict between good and evil. My personal opinion is that the ALA has an unusual affinity for moody stories about outcast orphan boys and their all too mortal dogs (see Alcatraz Vs. The Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson).

In this story, Will Stanton of previous books is joined by his new found friend Bran Davies in a quest to find a legendary golden harp and wake a band of sleeping warriors that will help turn back the rising tide of the Dark. One of my favorite parts of the book is the Welsh pronunciation lesson that Bran gives to Will - I still turn to it when I want a quick reference for how to say a word with double d's or lots of y's in it.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Susan Cooper
McElderry, 1974

Many people have a book that they read over and over again as a child. This one was mine. It begins with the Drew children indignant that the grail, the artifact they discovered in Over Sea and Under Stone, has been snatched from the museum, presumably by the powers of the Dark. They return to Tresswick to try and solve the mystery, and encounter none other than Will Stanton, who is there on the same errand. Having the characters from the first two books of the series meet up lends the story the delightful excitement of getting some of your good friends that don't know each other together for the first time.

My favorite part, though, was the Greenwitch. A creature of the wild magic drawn from an ancient spring rite, the Greenwitch holds beneath the sea the secret key to the grail. Without this key, the grail is useless to either Dark or Light. Who will risk drawing her forth and unleashing her untameable powers? Who can persuade her to give up her precious treasure?

Oh, you'll never guess! You'll just have to read it.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Dark is Rising

Susan Cooper

I read this book way back in 1986, when I was 13 years old, and this is what I wrote about it in my journal:
"I liked it because of the way it made you think while telling a neat story with lots of good description. It's more alive than some fantasy and I like the way it mixes magic with real life."

My husband read this book to my children last fall. The prose is stunning! Lyrical! Beautiful! Weaving together the ancient mythology of the British Isles with contemporary characters and settings, Susan Cooper wraps Christmas holiday for the Stanton Family in an epic battle between dark and light. As a child I loved the magic and the adventure. As an adult I love the poetic language and the story built on the power of folklore.

When I found this book way back when I gave it to my brother and my sister and told them they just had to read it. We all read the entire series within a week or two, and then adapted Susan Cooper's magical version of the world into our own imagination games for years. I'm glad now to share it with my children.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Over Sea, Under Stone

Susan Cooper
Jonathan Cape 1965

This classic summer vacation adventure stars three children, an old house, a hidden door, a forgotten attic, and a map that just might lead to an ancient treasure. With hints of greater magic at work, the Drew children follow clues that lead them over sea and under stone to find a relic from the time of King Arthur.

What sets this book apart is the excellence of its prose. The writing and the characters far exceed the standards for books written for children at that time. Three cheers for Susan Cooper!

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Philip Reeve
Bloomsbury 2006

In an alternate solar system where the science of two centuries ago turned out to be absolutely true, more or less, the mysterious and drafty old Larklight drifts out beyond the orbit of the moon. This daft house in which no one can tell which way is up, especially when the gravity generators are down, is home to the Mumby family - Art, his older sister Myrtle, and their lonely, absent-minded, space-fish-dissecting father. The British Empire is at it's height under the reign of Queen Victoria, bringing the blessings of civilization and proper manners to the natives of Mars, Io, the Moon, and other such formerly benighted realms. But all that is about to change, and it begins with an uninvited visitor at Larklight named Mr. Webster.

Jolly adventure ensues, including space pirates, giant spiders, even bigger moths, entrepreneurs, British Secret Service agents, robotic domestic servants, lizards that do alchemy, and even Queen Victoria herself. Seasoned with British humor and packed with clever ideas, this book was a fun and funny read. Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Bear Snores On

Karma Wilson
Simon and Schuster 2002

I found Bear Snores On in a cereal box while visiting my sister - it was a tiny little paperback, part of some promotional for getting children to read. "This is a really good book!" I exclaimed, utterly shocked. When was the last thing you got something of quality out of a cereal box?

I loved the book so much that the next time one of my children had a birthday I bought the big, expensive hardback version from the bookstore. At the time I was the literacy specialist in my women's group at church and at our next meeting I read them the first few pages as an example of exceptional poetry. The meter dances, the words sing, the story is charming and it has a clever twist at the end that always leaves me grinning.

An absolute favorite! I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Harold and the Purple Crayon

Crockett Johnson
Harper 1955

In my earliest memory of the elementary school library, I zoom like a homing pigeon to the shelf where I know I'll find the Harold and the Purple Crayon books. When I began to read independently, these were my favorites. Little Harold in his foot pajamas draws himself adventure after adventure with nothing more than a simple purple crayon. The narration is spiced with wit and there's a jolly sense of anything goes within the broad scope of Harold's delightfully childish logic.

I hope that my three-year-old's earliest memories of books will include how gleefully his mother read Harold's purple crayon stories to him.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wind Rider

Susan Williams
Laura Geringer 2006

In this beautiful novel, Susan Williams imagines how humans and horses may have begun their long friendship. A young girl of a hunter-gatherer tribe finds a young horse trapped in a bog. The girl's struggle to free the horse, tame it, learn to ride it, and then earn acceptance for her new friend from her tribe is only the beginning of the adventure. Told as only someone who loves horses, nature, and people could, this story moved me more than any other I have read this year. It is a book about life, about growing up, about courage and love.

Although the book is billed for middle grade readers, I thought the themes were more appropriate for young adults.

Monday, January 26, 2009


It was by David Wiesner and it had a Caldecott Medal stuck on the cover. I bought Flotsam without even looking through it, as a Christmas present for my eleven-year-old son.

"Mom, you have got to see this book!" My thirteen-year-old daughter insisted on Christmas morning. "It's weird!"

I took it to church because I thought a picture book without words would be a good way to keep little ones quiet during the meeting. Found it very distracting - my mind full of, "What the - ?" and "Whoa!" I turned the pages over and over, enjoying the story and the inventiveness of the images. On an east-coast beach a boy finds an antique "underwater" camera. The camera has a roll of film in it, and after waiting an hour at the photo shop, an amazing story in pictures unfolds.

Though not as exuberant as Wiesner's Tuesday, I found Flotsam filled with the delight of secret discovery. I wish I lived closer to the beach.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Gawgon and the Boy

Lloyd Alexander
Dutton Juvenile 2001

My mother-in-law works at a book store. This suits me fine! For birthdays, instead of clothes or toys, my children get books! Lloyd Alexander's The Gawgon and the Boy came in a box with a few other books as a gift to my ten year old son a few weeks ago. I recognized the author's name of course, as I had read all the Prydain books both as a child and then again as an adult. Neither pass had impressed me greatly, so at first I regarded the book with cool disinterest. Could Lloyd Alexander still be writing books? Inside the front cover, the list of his published works spanned two pages. Still, I was skeptical. With his reputation, he could probably publish any old thing.

So the book languished on my front room table. One day I picked it up during what was supposed to be a five minute break from house cleaning. I opened the book, turned over the table of contents, and found the little bylines on the family tree perfectly charming. Intrigued, I went on to page one and was immediately caught by the cheerful, boyish relish the main character felt for having a near fatal case of pneumonia. I read on. Every page I told myself that it would be the last, that I must get up and do more housework, but the book was too much of a delight! Only decades of writing fiction can give an author the poise to dash off such a piece of work.

Finally, in chapter five, I managed to tear myself away for a few hours, but I was soon back. The convalescent boy is put under the tutelage of an elderly aunt. At first frightened of his aunt, whom he nicknames "Gawgon" after the gorgon Medusa, the boy soon finds out there's more to the old woman than he thought.

My favorite parts of the book are the yarns the boy spins in his imagination. A delightful blend of history, mythology, literature, geometry, and an eleven year old sense of high adventure, these stories kept me laughing as the boy's family faces the Great Depression and the changes it brings about in their lives.

In the friendship between the boy and his aunt I remembered my favorite teachers, the ones who really inspired me to learn. I loved the jolly cast of the boy's eccentric extended family. Full of sparkly, funny bits, this book is a marvelous read. I highly recommend it.

So why weren't those Prydain books more like this? I suppose thirty years of writing books does count for something.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The City of Ember

Jeanne DuPrau
Random House Books for Young Readers 2003

There is a shortage of good science fiction for children in this world. "City of Ember" should take its place among the classics.

Deep beneath the ground, the City of Ember is dying. The electric generator which gives the city its only light is slowly failing, and the supplies which were plentiful a generation ago are running out. It is up to two children who have never known anything but the black empty sky over their city to discover the way back to a world they could never have imagined.

Well thought out, with solidly drawn characters, this book moved me and captured my imagination. Recommended for ages 8 to adult.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Brandon Mull
Shadow Mountain 2006

This book gets so many things right that other fantasy novels for children typically miss. First of all, the adults are smart, reasonable, and willing to trust the children when they show they are worthy to be trusted. Second, there is a strong theme running through the book about how keeping the rules affords you strong protection against evil, and how breaking the rules can have serious, unforseen consequences. It is the cautious, obedient character who has the power to save the day at the end because she has kept the rules of Fablehaven and offended no one.

Brandon Mull has a spectacular imagination. His powers of description are stunning, and he is endlessly inventive. The fantastic creatures that inhabit Fablehaven are fascinatingly varied in their personalities, intelligence, and behavior. He's not bad with humans either. His two main characters scrap so much like real siblings I wonder if he bugged his kids' rooms and listened to their arguments as research for his book. The book is not quite Newbury quality - there are a few places where the dialogue stops sounding real and instead becomes a thinly veiled explanation for the reader. In spite of this, Mull does create a very convincing sense of peril in Fablehaven, a place both wonderful and treacherous. It is just the sort of fantasy world you love to believe in.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Homeless Bird

Gloria Whelan
HarperCollins 2001

"Homeless Bird" is a perfect little gem of a book. Set in India, it is a story of courage and patience in the face of disappointment and betrayal. A young widow abandoned by her in-laws seems to have no hope of making any kind of life for herself. But, in time, her patience, kind-hearted nature, talent for embroidery, and a little luck combine to give her a second chance.

I enjoyed learning about the culture of India as I read this book. I recommend it for ages 10 and up.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fablehaven 2: Rise of the Evening Star

Brandon Mull
Shadow Mountain 2007

Author Brandon Mull is the rising star of this story. He hits the ground running in this second book with a first chapter full of laughs, magic, and tween-aged characters so believable you think he must have picked them up from the middle school right down the street. This book is more exciting than the first installment of the Fablehaven series. Right from the start, Mull creates a sense that no one can be trusted, the stakes are high, and the danger is real.

Mulls leads are fabulous. Kendra nearly walks off the page, and her trouble-prone little brother Seth is emerging as one of my all time favorite fictional characters. Their fantasy adventure is touched with some unexpected bits of realism that drew me right in and almost made me believe it could have happened.

On the other hand, I must say that Mull deserves a better editor. As I read I went from saying, "Wow! This stuff is fabulous! What genius! What imagination!" to "Hmm, the editor should have caught that one." Not that there were any typos or mispellings or anything like that. It was only that I had to read some of the sentences two or three times in order to decode their meaning, some passages were confusing, and sometimes the dialogue got out of focus. At times I felt like shaking one of the characters and saying "LOOK OUT! THE AUTHOR IS MIND CONTROLLING YOU TO MAKE YOU EXPLAIN THINGS TO THE AUDIENCE!" And yes, I care enough about the characters and the story to wish there had been another revision or two before the book went to print.

All my pickiness aside, the Fablehaven books are just exactly the sort of books I wish I could have read when I was fourteen years old, but that really didn't exist back then. Smart, sophisticated, funny, exciting, adventurous, and clean as a whistle, I'm pleased and grateful that all of my children will have them to enjoy.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Stephanie Meyer
Little, Brown Young Readers 2006

In the opening pages of "Twilight," the author leaves a compelling question unanswered. By the time you know the answer so many other even more compelling questions have come up that the book is impossible to put down. I have never tried to wash dishes while reading a library book before, not until now. The library police will be after me, I'm sure.

But by about page 300, my enthusiasm had petered out. I was getting tired of hearing how wonderful and ideal Edward was, ideal except for the fact that if Bella so much as gets a paper cut in his presence he won't be able to stop himself from sucking her dry. The two of them were so into each other I was beginning to feel like I'd tagged along on a date with an engaged couple. I looked at the clock, it was only 10:45. I put the book down and went to bed.

To my surprise, I couldn't sleep. Meyer has an extraordinary gift. Her direct prose style, combined with a keenly accurate sense of internal emotions and motivations, gets right under your skin. It reminded me of Orson Scott Card. And, just like I dreamed I was enrolled in battle school the night after I first read "Ender's Game," last night when I finally did get to sleep I dreamed about Edward.

He was on a skiing trip with some dangerous, blonde woman who was dressed all in red. In my dream, I was torn between watching the two of them and finishing the book. Then several planes landed nearby, full of Japanese zombies, and I had to run for my life. Huh? I guess that's why everyone, myself included, is glad that I didn't write "Twilight."

I finished up the book this morning, tucking chapters into my morning routine. The pace picked up again, and the action climax was almost worth getting through 500 pages for. Overall it was an intoxicating read. I kept grinning like a fool at things Edward and Bella would say to each other. As silly as the book was in places, the characters felt so believable that I went right along with it.

But in the end, the most terrifying thing about the book was not the vampires at all. It was the behavior of the teenage girl. I have a daughter, and it shook me to my socks that Bella would lie to her father about where she was going to be, then willingly go off alone with Edward to some secluded spot in the woods so that she could have a three hundred page conversation with him about what it is like to be a vampire. And then, when they get home, she invites him to sneak into her room and spend the night! Did this girl's parents never have a talk with her about basic safety rules for dating? I sat down with my daughter and went over it all again, and insisted that there are no exceptions for cute vampires!

Still, I have to admit that Meyer is amazing. It is no accident that this book got picked up out of the slush pile and catapulted to the bestsellers list.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins Publishers Canada 2004

This book had me hooked from page one. Young Matt Cruise, cabin boy aboard the luxury airship "Aurora," adores flying. With three generations of air force pilots in my family, and my own fascination with everything that flies, I understood him at once. More at home in the sky than on the ground, he dreams of working his way up to ship's captain one day. Then, a routine voyage turns into high flying adventure with sky pirates, crash landings, uncharted islands, typhoons, and a girl with a camera determined to find evidence for a creature that no one else believes exists.

Think of this book as a cross between Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, with a delightful dose of humor thrown in. Sure, the constant hair breadth escapes strain the willing suspension of disbelief, but that's why they call it escapist fiction right? Everyone keeps having narrow escapes. That's what makes it fun.

As much as I liked Matt, I found the girl character a bit tedious. She was bold, stubborn, plucky, and that was about it. Clueless for such a well educated lass, her poor decisions necessitated a few extra narrow escapes. Not my kind of heroine.

Even if they weren't the most subtle and sophisticated characters, the cast certainly had a lot of personality. My favorite character may have been the airship "Aurora" itself, so well described in the book I almost felt like I'd been aboard myself.

A very entertaining book. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Somewhat violent, but otherwise unoffensive, I'd recommend this book for middle grade readers and up.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Project Mulberry

Linda Sue Park
Yearling 2007

This is a great little book.

I love Linda Sue Park. She does her homework! What she doesn't already know about, she finds out about before she writes about it. She already knows about being a Korean American, and she handles this subject deftly and naturally, as only someone who has really been there can do. She didn't know about silk worms, so she recruited family members to raise two different batches. Hence the loving detail with which she describes the life of the silk worms through the eyes of her main character.

This would be a great book for a middle school English class. It's a school story, a friendship story, it deals well with issues of racial prejudice, and brings up questions on animal rights and environmentalism. There's plenty of fodder for good discussion here.

My favorite, favorite part, though, were the clever asides between chapters when the author records conversations she had with her main character in the course of writing the book. As a writer whose characters follow her to the grocery store and pester her while she is doing her housework, I am comforted to know that if I really am insane, at least one other writer I admire and respect is insane in the same way.

So I hope to make Linda Sue Park fans out of all of you. I hope you'll read all her books. Project Mulberry is a good place to start.

Endymion Spring

Matthew Skelton
Delacorte Books for Young Readers 2006

I spotted this book on a shelf in a shop. The cover intrigued me, so I picked it up and read the first few pages. I was hooked! This is a fantasy book about. . . books! My favorite subject!

The story runs on two levels. First comes the historical fantasy, well researched and brilliantly written, in which Johann Gutenberg's young shop assistant tells his tale. I ate it up. Dr. Fust (Faust), Gutenberg's business partner, arrives in town with something mysterious locked in a scary looking chest: magic paper that can reveal all knowledge to a chosen innocent. The shop assistant is the chosen one, and soon realizes that he must find a way to keep Fust from exploiting infinite knowledge for his selfish ends.

Fast forward to the twenty first century. A young boy named Blake has to hang around Oxford University while his mother does some scholarly research. He quickly becomes involved in a desperate race to find the pieces of the Book of All Knowledge before the bad guys beat him to it.

As much as I adored the historical fantasy portions of the book, the modern day part just wasn't so well done. First of all, I had very mixed feelings about the fact that Blake's parents were separated. On the one hand, I'm tired of that theme. Could we please have some fiction where the parents are not divorced or separated? Almost half of all real children still live in traditional nuclear families with married parents, but it seems that only about ten percent of fictional children do. On the other hand, Skelton handled it well. The emotions and reactions of the characters in relation to the separation were all honest and believable. On the other, other hand, it was completely irrelevant to the plot and it added about a hundred pages to a book that was nearly a hundred pages too long.

Secondly, in the modern day part, Skelton goes a little overboard with the poetic devices. Sometimes he hits it spot on, as in the following:
"A small rectangular lawn, brilliant green by day, but black by night, lay in front of them: a pool of darkness moated by a silver path."
That was beautiful! I could see it perfectly!

But other times:
"Dressed in a black leather jacket that made a crunchy sound when he moved, he sauntered up to the main counter and deposited an iridescent green helmet, like a decapitated head, on its surface."

Like a decapitated head? Did Skelton really intend to put that much horror and revulsion in that image? And what about the helmet was like a decapitated head? The shape? Maybe. The size? NO! The color? NO! The way the man set it down? Certainly not, unless he's used to handling decapitated heads!

Thirdly, Blake's story needed a little more work. For one, it contained too many characters. I had a hard time keeping them all straight. Also, Skelton began to resort to cheap tricks towards the climax. I mean, if you know the bad guys are hot on your tail, do you ever leave your little sister unattended for even one second? NO!

The reason I have written such a long and passionate review about this book is that I feel it could have been so much better! The ideas were GREAT! I loved the parts of the book that took place in 1452. If only Skelton could have refined Blake's story into a more compelling yarn. Ah well, it is only his first book. Maybe next time.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Alcatraz Vs. The Scrivener's Bones

Brandon Sanderson
Scholastic Press 2008
I have waited all my life for someone to write books like these, books that defy the Law of Conservation of Awesomeness. This law states, basically, that fiction with really awesome and exciting action scenes must have stupid plots, flat characters, and nothing important to say.

Brandon Sanderson's "Alcatraz" series shatters this principle. Sanderson's genius is his ability to draw tension out of thin air. Combine this with the dizzying sophistication of multiple systems of magic use, an evil librarian conspiracy that covers up true world history and geography, quirky characters, and a fresh voice that breaks all the rules of traditional story narration, and you get a book that my husband, three children, and I all fought to be the first one to finish reading. All week you could hear someone snickering at the jokes or moaning at the suspense, with shouts in the background of, "DON'T TELL ME I HAVEN'T READ THAT PART YET!!!"

Alcatraz Smedry, the true author of the book (he publishes under Brandon Sanderson's name to avoid detection by the cult of evil librarians), intermixes his edge-of-your-seat narrative with snarky personal insights into subjects like literary fiction, philosophy, real adults vs. fictional adults, truth in storytelling, and perception vs. reality. This book defies gravity as a light, funny, fast paced, and thought-provoking read.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Hollow Kingdom

Claire B. Dunkle
Henry Holt and Company 2006

Recently orphaned Kate discovers that the hideous Goblin King has decided to kidnap her and take her to his underground kingdom as his bride. Can she evade him long enough to escape the Goblin lands? Will her great-aunts and her indifferent guardian believe her preposterous story? Can one girl stand against a whole kingdom of strange and magical creatures determined to have her as their queen?

In "The Hollow Kingdom," Clare Dunkle takes elements of folklore and weaves them together into a tale of surprising twists and wonderful invention. The evil in this book is truly evil, and doesn't always come from the direction one might expect.

This is another book I wish had been in print when I was in high school. It is just the sort of thing I wanted to read but couldn't find.

Fablehaven 3: Grip of the Shadow Plague

Brandon Mull
Shadow Mountain 2008

No author I know can top Brandon Mull for sheer imaginative power.

Kendra and Seth Sorenson are the grandchildren of the caretakers of Fablehaven preserve, one of the few places left on earth where magical creatures can live on in an increasingly skeptical world. The trouble is, not all magical creatures are nice. In fact, some of them are downright evil. All the worst ones have been locked away in a magical prison, and if they ever get out, the world as we know it is basically over.

Mull creates a world where the stakes are high, danger is real, and almost everyone is under suspicion. His book has an endless parade of fascinating magical creatures, each with their own habits and personality. Fablehaven 3 contains Mull's best paced plot so far, with lots of adventures, an intense action climax, and an ending that leaves the reader eager for the next book.

Mull introduces some great new characters in this book, and only kills off about half of them. He's still having trouble with Grandma Sorensen, who had more personality during the time she had been turned into a chicken, but his tween-aged characters live and breathe as always. Seth is still my favorite, and I'm glad to see him begin to discover more of his abilities in this book.

So go out and buy your own copy. You certainly can't borrow mine. My husband is going to start reading it to our children tonight, and we just can't wait!

Palace of Mirrors

Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon and Schuster 2008

Palace of Mirrors
by Margaret Peterson Haddix is a princess tale of mistaken identities. The character, Ella, from Haddix's earlier book, Just Ella, makes an appearance, but this new book isn't really a sequel. The story stands on its own.

The characters were the best thing about the book. The setting is your typical princess book setting, a very well behaved Medieval Europe that has been through the wash a few times so as not to horrify the kids. As for the story, some very important plot points were a little beyond my willing suspension of disbelief. But the characters were great! I almost didn't mind where the characters were or what was happening to them - I liked them so much.

But the reason I am going to buy this book, besides the fact that I'm a dedicated Haddix fan, is that she did her research on harps! I loved the details on harp-playing in the book, all accurate by the way, and wished for even more. It makes me wonder if Haddix plays the harp, knows a harper, or simply spent hours on the internet reading everything she could find.

Girls ages 9-12 should adore this unusual twist on the "princes raised as a peasant" theme.

Hidden Talents

David Lubar
Starscape 2003

I have wanted to read Hidden Talents by David Lubar for a long time. I started it once, but the first few pages were so much like Holes I thought "Been there, done that" and hopped off the bus. I took a look at it again and this time, I'm glad I stayed on for the ride. The book is clever, fun, and it even has a great sequel! I read them both in one day. The main character is a boy who has such a smart mouth that he's been sent to alternative school for very bad boys. He gets a pyro for a roommate, makes freinds with a clepto and a pathological cheater, and fills out his crowd with a hyperactive boy who wears his hair in little braids (that was one of my favorite parts) and a kid famous for randomly throwing objects.

They all have one thing in common, one thing they haven't discovered yet.

None of it is their fault

There is some language in this book I wouldn't want to hear my kids use, but other than that, nothing objectionable. The sequel is more action oriented and less contemplative, but still clever and well written. I recommend them both.

Greetings From Planet Earth

Barbara Kerley
Scholastic Press 2007

I first met Greetings From Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley a couple of weeks ago at the library. The spine really caught my attention. That font, those colors - the book looked like it ought to be thirty or forty years old. But the book had a shiny new plastic jacket and a "NEW BOOK" sticker half-covering the first letter of the author's name. I had to investigate.

The cover illustration looked just like the cover illustrations on the books that had been published when I was very young - scratchy line drawing filled in with pools of uniform colors like bright red and pale turquoise. The end paper was that bumpy stuff you never see anymore. Published in 2007 but set thirty years ago, I held in my hands a piece of historical fiction about WHEN I WAS ALIVE ALREADY! I must be getting really old.

I smiled at the book designer's cleverness and popped it back on the shelf.

But I couldn't get it out of my head. Two weeks later I was back to check it out. I am glad I did. This is unlike any book I have read before. It deftly combined the wonder of moon exploration and the Voyager probes with the tragedy of Vietnam, all through the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy who wants to know more about his missing father. The book made me think, made me laugh, made me cry, made me wonder. What more could I ask?

Someone Named Eva

Joan M. Wolf
Houghton Mifflin 2007

I love World War II historical fiction, and this is one of the best! Chilling, almost science-fiction-like, it deals with a relatively small Nazi program that kidnapped children from occupied countries who fit the Aryan mold, "reprogrammed" them, and then adopted them out to good Nazi homes. Of course those who couldn't take the reprogramming got shipped off to prison camp.

Clear, unaffected prose lets the power of the story shine through. As I read I had to keep reminding myself that this really happened. Sixty years ago in Europe, modern civilization went very, very wrong. Could it happen again? Could it happen here?

I want my children to read this book and see the spiral of destruction that blind hate and bigotry can lead to. This book is a memorial, a warning, and an offering of hope. As I read this book I had the benefit of knowing that the war would end, that Germany would surrender, that some time in 1945 the skies would grow quiet again and the Nazi regime would crumble. I could urge the characters on - hang on, survive a little longer, and the night will be over, and once again you will have a chance to live. If I should ever face such dark times myself, I will remember - the night ends, the sun comes up in the morning.

Dear Readers

Hi everyone!

Today at the public library I knelt in front of the "NEW YA BOOKS" shelf until my feet fell asleep and the carpet dug bumps into my knees. Lost in delight, I combed through title after title until I narrowed my selections down to seven books. As I drove home, bouncing in the seat with gleeful anticipation of reading and reviewing them for my blog, I thought maybe I should create a NEW blog JUST FOR MY BOOK REVIEWS. I'd really like to provide a service for people who love good books, especially young people who love good books, and give them an on-going, ever-expanding book list.

I don't write negative reviews any more. If I don't like it, I won't review it. I've decided I'll be a better reader, reviewer, and writer if I focus on what books do right rather than on what they do wrong.

And so, here goes! Happy reading!