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.