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.