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Archive for the ‘Junior Fiction’ Category

moserAs I wrote about last year at this time, many readers first come to stories of the uncanny in their youth. In browsing the catalog for a collection of ghost stories for younger readers, I came across this delightful anthology compiled by Barry Moser. Moser is an noted artist, especially at printmaking and woodcuts, and his work graces the pages here. He also clearly has an ear for a good ghost story.

This collection starts with the chilling classic “The Monkey’s Paw.” I remember reading this story as a child and it still sends a shiver up my spine now just thinking on it. Be careful what you wish for is the theme here. Moser includes stories from classic writers, among them, Arthur Conan Doyle’s, “How it Happened,” the story of a car accident and its aftermath and the old, ghostly ballad of Polly Vaughn, retold by Moser himself. But there are more contemporary tales as well. Madeline L’Engle’s “Poor Little Saturday” is an excellent story of how a lonely boy finds some surcease of sorrow as he explores a haunted mansion. Joyce Carol Oates, known for her dark adult fiction, contributes a story here, “The Others,” that in its lack of resolution is a great addition to the ghost story canon. Also of note, and both related to music, are “Samantha and the Ghost,” by Philippa Pearce, where a young girl frees her grandparents’ cottage from a ghostly visitor and H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann.”

None of the stories here is overly scary (well, maybe “The Monkey’s Paw” is for me), and a couple of them are pretty mild as far as ghost stories go by modern standards. But they are fun stories to read, and perhaps to read aloud. Moser’s illustrations add an extra frisson to the general eeriness.

Check the WRL catalog for Great Ghost Stories

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OperationYesBo Whaley lives on an Air Force base in North Carolina. His father is the base commander, which just makes life complicated, especially when most of the kids in his class also live on base. To make life even more convoluted, his cousin Gari arrives from Seattle to live with him because her mother is being deployed to Iraq. They are assigned to the same class to help Gari fit in, but things go badly between them from the start.

The only good thing that is happening to Bo is his new teacher. Ms. Loupe, who is in her first year of teaching, has a tattoo and is young enough to have been taught by the principal. For Bo the best thing about her is her passion for theater. She engages the class in improv involving a beaten up couch, and Bo discovers in himself a talent for acting that previous teachers had seen as a propensity to talk and goof-off in class. His enthusiasm grows until he discovers that the big theater camp that the teacher is planning will be held next summer. He will be gone then, when his family is sent to their next military assignment, which makes Bo furious with the military lifestyle.

Ms. Loupe also gets the class working on a project to send supplies to her brother, who is stationed in Afghanistan. When her brother is declared missing in action, Ms. Loupe is understandably distraught, and Bo’s whole class want to help. In the most moving part of the book Bo, his cousin Gari, Ms. Loupe’s entire class and finally the whole community find a way to work together and, if not fix the unfixable, at least make things better. In the process they learn about each other, themselves, friendship and community.

In turn hilarious and heartbreaking, Operation Yes is aimed at middle grades, but has a lot to offer adults. As a librarian I love the literary profanity that the school librarian indulges in : “‘Frog and Toad!’ Miss Candy said. ‘Not again!’” or “Green Eggs and Ham!” I am doing a project on books featuring children with parents in U.S. military, and some of these books are impossible to get through without crying. Operation Yes is definitely in this category. Read it for a moving portrait of a community coming together or an accurate depiction of the military family lifestyle.

Check the WRL catalog for Operation Yes.

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mysisterI listened to this award-winning debut novel by Annabel Pitcher and was quickly drawn into 10-year-old Jamie’s world.

The story starts five years after Jamie’s sister Rose was killed in a terrorist attack in Trafalgar Square.  His dad promises they are making a new start – but it’s a new start without their mother who has stayed in London to live with a man from her support group.  Jamie and his big sister, Jas (Rose’s twin), have hopes that maybe it will be different in this new town.  But then their dad puts the gold urn with Rose’s remains on the mantel, and they realize nothing has really changed.

Jamie has quite a few typical – and not so typical – challenges to overcome as a newcomer to this small town.  He has to start a new school and while it is a relief not to be identified as “poor Rose’s brother” it’s still difficult to make new friends.  He doesn’t seem to fit in with anyone, except a Muslim girl named Sunya.  But being friends with Sunya would make his dad mad because his dad blames all Muslims for the terrorist attack.

Jamie would also have you believe he didn’t care that he hadn’t seen his mother, yet he can quickly count off how many days it had been since she walked out.  And he faithfully wears the Spiderman t-shirt she gave him for his birthday every day in case she visits so she’ll see how much he loves it.

You may need to have some tissues handy, but the story isn’t told in an overly sentimental manner.  Coming from Jamie’s perspective you understand why losing his sister when he was five-years-old isn’t as real to him as making friends at school or making the winning goal of a soccer match.  And it’s heartbreaking when Jamie finally understands the grief his parents must feel after losing Rose.

I would recommend this book for all ages.  While Jamie sees things in a very kid-like fashion, the issues he deals with – abandonment, loss, grief, friendship, racism, bullying – can be understood from all ages.  As an adult I ached as well as rooted for him and his sister, two decent kids trying to make it without the solid support of either parent.  And at the end they do seem to be in a better place.

The printed book was checked out when I selected it but I absolutely loved hearing the audiobook read by Scottish actor David Tennant of Dr. Who and Harry Potter fame.  Tennant did a superb job making me believe I was listening to Jamie.

I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

Check the WRL catalog for My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

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PiperReedPiper Reed is irrepressible.  In the vein of children’s literature’s girl-heroes like Ramona Quimby or Pippi Longstocking she faces life with strong opinions and some crazy ideas, but a good heart.

As it says in the subtitle, Piper Reed is a Navy Brat. Her father is a Naval aviation mechanic and Piper has fully embraced the military family lifestyle, even referring to her father as “the Chief.”

At the beginning of the book, during her family’s weekly pizza night, her father announces that he has received new orders.  Piper adds, “Chief always says ‘we’ when he talked about being assigned somewhere even though he was really the only person in the family being assigned to a new base.  He would say, ‘When a man joins the Navy, his family joins the Navy.’”

In the Navy or not, Piper finds it difficult to pack up in San Diego and drive all the way to the other side of the country to Pensacola, Florida, especially as the middle child, with an increasingly moody older sister in middle school and an annoying younger sister who considers herself a genius.  When they first get to Pensacola, Piper is moved to write “My Why-I-Wish-We’d-Never-Moved List,” including things like “I had my own room in San Diego” and “I had a tree house in San Diego.”  But Piper can’t be held down for long and she soon cooks up a scheme to make new friends involving her sister pretending to be a fortune-teller.  As time passes she discovers the joys of Florida in the form of a new family dog, the nearby beach, and the Blue Angels demonstration planes.

Like Piper Reed, National Book Award winning author Kimberly Willis Holt says “I’m a Navy brat that lived all over the world, including Guam.”  There are many details of military family life here that ring true:

  • Piper hasn’t seen her extended family for two years, and when they visit her grandparents on their cross-country car trip, she can’t imagine living down the street from grandparents like her cousins do.
  • Piper’s little sister, Sam, is distraught when Annie the doll is inadvertently packed in a box during the move from San Diego to Florida.
  • The family’s new house in Florida is smaller than their old house and Piper asks “Why can’t we live in one of those big houses with the screen porches?” and her father replies “That’s the officers’ housing.”
  • The book ends as Piper’s family farewell’s her father for six-months, as he is regularly at sea for that long.

If you remember Ramona Quimby fondly (she first appeared in print in 1955) then stop in to visit Piper Reed and you’ll find her just as funny and character driven as Ramona.  Even if you don’t remember Ramona, read Piper Reed, Navy Brat for a portrait of a strong, resilient family weathering life’s ups and downs.

Check the WRL catalog for Piper Reed, Navy Brat

Follow Piper’s further adventures in:

2. Piper Reed, the Great Gypsy

3. Piper Reed Gets a Job

4. Piper Reed, Campfire Girl

5. Piper Reed, Rodeo Star

6. Piper Reed, Forever Friend

If you are interested in other books about military family lifestyles, look on my website Books for Military Children.

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ozDoes the Wizard of Oz need a plot summary? Thanks to Hollywood, everybody knows how the story goes. For many people, the 1939 movie has become the seminal adaptation of the work: singing munchkins, ruby slippers, a yellow brick road, an evil, water-phobic witch, and those monkeys. Creepy, creepy, flying monkeys.

When I heard that there was a new graphic novel representation of the original book I picked it up with a thrill of expectation tinged with fond nostalgia. I quickly found out how little I knew about the actual story. Shanower faithfully returned to the original text, which is darker and more involved than the movie portrayal. The munchkins don’t sing and there are a lot more winged monkeys. The famed ruby slippers are also nowhere to be found, with the original silver shoes taking their rightful place in the story. But Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, and even Toto are all here, quickly joining together for their journey.

It was a daunting task for Eric Shanower and Skottie Young to take a story that has become so enmeshed in our cultural history and remake it. The introduction to this volume, written by Shanower, describes his lifelong passion for the works of Baum. This goes a long way towards explaining why he is so successful in his rendition. Only someone who so loves and respects Oz and the creatures that inhabit the world could pull this volume off. Young’s artwork is fantastic and his interpretation of the characters is both whimsical and humorous, which helps ease the scariness of some of the darker passages. The lion in particular is wonderfully puffy and squishy looking, and his face makes some of the best expressions as he vacillates between fearsome and frightened.

There are four volumes in this series so far, with a fifth being published in November. The series won Eisner awards for Best Limited Series and Best Publication for Kids. Recommended for children, teens, and any adult for whom this title is a fond link to their childhood. Especially recommended for people who didn’t like the movie’s (creepy, creepy) flying monkeys. They’re still hair-raising, but when their story gets told they are less sinister. One might even feel a bit sorry for them.

Search the WRL catalog for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

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Game“Most people like to take apart their problems, look at them in smaller, more manageable pieces. Trolls, he mused, simply take this to the extreme.”

Thirteen-year-old best friends, who describe themselves as “two lobes of the same brain,” visit an eccentric uncle at his Vermont mansion, and in the tradition of such vacations, end up in peril. Gregory, the smart-alecky one, warns his friend Brian that Uncle Max is eccentric, but it becomes obvious when they arrive and he has the butler burn all of their luggage. Uncle Max prefers that boys wear knickerbockers and speaks like a character out of Dickens.

Exploring the house, the boys discover a curious board game without any rules but with a layout that seems to correspond to the old, Victorian house and its grounds. As the boys solve puzzles, the board expands to reveal more pathways and tests. It’s no Candyland, though… more like Zork, with gruesome monsters lurking in the dark, trolls, and a mysterious stranger with a bladed yo-yo. Someone really should have taught these boys not to get involved in a magical game before they know the rules… or the stakes.

A bit like Narnia by way of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, this first book in a series has marvelously despicable villains and writing that combines a real sense of malice with a wicked, nutty sense of humor. Like Philip Reeve’s Larklight, it’s published for kids and younger teens, but there are jokes for the adults mixed in.

I liked the friendship in this book. The boys are very different, but they “get” each other; Gregory’s off-the-wall sense of humor is balanced by Brian’s quieter, deep-thinking approach to problems. They may get on each other’s nerves, but neither doubts that the other will be there when it counts.

The ending has some nifty twists and sets the story up to continue in three more books.

Check the WRL catalog for The Game of Sunken Places.

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parrySecondFiddle

Second Fiddle is a story of adventures in exotic locales. From the outside it may seem that this is always true of military family life. It is accurate that I have lived in six countries and four states. And I have the annoying habit of being able to trump just about anyone’s extreme temperature stories, having lived in both one of the hottest cities in the world, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and one of the coldest, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. But the appeal of exotic travel chronicles only part of the experience. The constant moving of military families is an important theme in Second Fiddle and the book does a great job of capturing the sense of loss, while at the same time, even the thirteen-year-old characters appreciate that they are also receiving a gift.

As the main character, Jody says near the beginning, “The upside of being a military kid was that you got to see a lot of cool places. The downside was that every time you made a friend, you had to move away.” And her friend Vivian adds, “My mother thinks I’m having this great international experience, but changing schools all the time is just the same horrible experience over and over.”

Jody and her two friends Giselle and Vivian live on an American Army base in Berlin in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They are brought together by their love of music and they travel by train each week to music lessons in East Germany with Herr Muller. They are scheduled to attend a music competition in Paris and they all know it will be their last time to perform together as they are all moving away. On their way home from a music lesson they witness an attempted murder and the adventure begins, sending them across international borders as they desperately try to save the life of a young man.

Without their musical connection the three would not have been friends at all, as Giselle’s father is a general and the base commander, while Jody’s father is enlisted. Jody feels she can’t invite the general’s daughter over as even the adults in the enlisted housing area wouldn’t like it. Of course, parents’ ranks shouldn’t make a difference to the children, but this book accurately reflects that they do.

Author, Roseanne Parry based Second Fiddle on her own life experiences as she says that she moved to Germany in 1990 with her soldier husband. While the details of girls’ adventures can at times seem melodramatic, the book does a wonderful job of capturing the feel of military life. She mentions details that I recognize or have heard from my children and other people. For example, impending doom in the smell of moving boxes; the constant absence of Jody’s Dad; Jody not minding moving so much when she was younger; finding the question of where are you from impossible to answer; living in one place for three years for the first time and feeling unnatural in knowing her way around; and also remembering the time of an event in your personal history from where you lived (“I was seven so it must have been Missouri”).

Second Fiddle is an exciting older children’s adventure that sneaks in some history about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. Try it if you are interested in the military lifestyle and the people who lead it.  I also recommend it for military families, both older children of around ten and up and their parents. It will be a great start for conversations about the lifestyle.

Check the WRL catalog for Second Fiddle.

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OrdinaryJackCover

Have you ever wondered how British humor can be so consistently different from American humor? After all, the two countries share a language and much culture. Re-reading the Bagthorpe Saga by Helen Cresswell, I suspect the difference may persist because the training starts very young in dry, witty, ridiculous British humor.

The Bagthorpe Saga started in 1977 with Ordinary Jack. It continued for over 20 years with ten books chronicling the bizarre, but highly entertaining Bagthorpes, including Bagthorpes Abroad (1984) and Bagthorpes Haunted (1985). It was made into a T.V. series in 1981, which is looking dated now, but the books are still hilariously funny.

Eponymous Jack is certainly ordinary, far too ordinary to live in his overwhelming and extraordinary extended family. His three siblings are “genii” with multiple talents they call Strings to their Bows. His prima donna father writes scripts for the BBC while his mother writes an Agony Aunt column for her Problem people. His only ally is his mongrel dog, Zero, although he sometimes collaborates with his foppish Uncle Parker. Capricious and stubborn Grandma, Selectively Deaf Grandpa, along with precocious and out-of-control cousin Daisy round out the family. Other characters, like the put-upon cleaning lady Mrs. Fosdyke come in and out of the stories. Helen Cresswell managed to take the mickey out of over-scheduled children and helicopter parents before the terms were invented, because Ordinary Jack is the hero and the rest of the Bagthorpes are obnoxiously pretentious.

The humor is both dry and slapstick and relies a lot on wordplay. These books manage to be laugh aloud hilarious and also make comments about human nature.

I was surprised to discover that my library owned this older British series at all, and I was delighted to discover that we own three of the series on CD. I was even more delighted with Clive Mantle’s dry delivery. His sonorous and grave voice was a wonderful foil to the books’ over-the-top humor. In fact, I often thought he sounded like a commentator for a BBC nature documentary—ponderous, serious and reverberating.

Try Ordinary Jack or any of the Bagthorpe Saga for a quick and light read that may make you laugh out loud. Although it is a children’s series, I recommend it for fans of the absurd British wit of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Monty Python.

Check the WRL catalog for Ordinary Jack in book form.

Check the WRL catalog for Bagthorpes Unlimited in book form.

Check the WRL catalog for Ordinary Jack in CD form.

Check the WRL catalog for Bagthorpes Unlimited in CD form.

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I was listening to Unbroken : a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption in my car for my book club, and like many people I was shocked and horrified on many occasions.  I knew I needed to listen to The Secret Garden next to regain my equilibrium, even though it is a book that I have read at least six times.  I listened to the audiobook on CD.  The reader, Flo Gibson, wasn’t who I would have picked as she has an American accent and a kind of scratchy voice but I soon settled into the old story like sliding down into a warm bubble bath.  I had previously come to the conclusion that many of the children’s books that I enjoy reading over and over are “cozy,” so I was surprised to discover when I started working in this library that “cozy mystery” is an official designation.  It makes sense, as sometimes we all need a cozy and comforting read.

In The Secret Garden Mary Lennox is a neglected and spoiled child  who has spent her entire ten years being over-indulged by Indian servants.  After her parents die in an epidemic she is sent to another dysfunctional household, the home of her uncle at Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire Moors.  There she meets the sturdy Martha and Dickon, representatives of a family of fourteen.  She makes friends with an elderly and crabby gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, through her interest in a friendly robin.  There are also also mysterious noises and howlings down the corridors of the huge house.  And of course, she discovers a hidden and secret garden.

In this story, the Yorkshire Moors themselves, as well as the Secret Garden, are characters just as much as the people.  As the season changes from winter to spring and on into summer, Mary changes, the garden and the Moors change, and so too does everyone at Misselthwaite Manor.

This book was first published in 1911 and what I find intriguing 100 years later is the psychology of Mary and other characters.  Despite Dickon and Martha’s material poverty they are well loved and looked after and it shows in their steady, kind ways.  Mary, on the other hand, starts the book emotionally impoverished but gains a purpose and learns to love and live under the influence of attention.  The book is also full of gentle humor, especially in the character of Ben Weatherstaff.

One aspect of The Secret Garden that I missed as a child and can see as an adult is the Christian symbolism, for example, when they recite the Doxology while sitting in a circle with a fox and a lamb.  Other aspects are less overtly Christian as when  the children call the life force that helps them to heal “Magic.”  The Magic makes the Moors and garden change for spring, and when the children and other characters allow it, the Magic also changes them. Towards the end one previously stunted, but blossoming character announces,  “Being alive is the Magic!”

When I was talking about cozy children’s books, a colleague at the library recommended an out-of-print book, The Golden Name Day by Jennie D. Lindquist.  It captures the joy of being a child, that many adults are yearning to regain.  “Oh, anything can happen in this world, just anything. That’s why life is so exciting,” says Nancy towards the end of that book.  Other out-of-print (and sometimes obscure) books in this category that I love include: World’s End series by Monica Dickens, Green Smoke by Rosemary Manning, The Blow and Grow Year by Margaret Potter and Longtime Passing by Hesba Brinsmead.

For those who have read The Secret Garden before, perhaps years ago as a child, I highly recommend a second look through the eyes of an adult.  For those who have never tried it, it is a deeply hopeful story about redemption through the natural world and redemption through love.

Check the WRL catalog for The Secret Garden in book form.

Check the WRL catalog for The Secret Garden on audiobook CD.

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In Tuesdays at the Castle, author Jessica Day George creates a setting that becomes a character.  Castle Glower, identified as “The Castle,” is home to Princess Celie and the rest of the royal family of Sleyne. Living in a castle sounds pretty great, but what makes Castle Glower even better is that it is a magical castle. It will expand to create new rooms, make rooms that are no longer needed disappear, and even provide furnishings, all at its own discretion, of course. And it is a very opinionated castle. If it likes you, your visit to Castle Glower will be most comfortable. If not, your accommodations might look more like the dungeons, or The Castle might kick you out altogether.  Furthermore, The Castle has views on who should rule. King Glower’s heir was chosen not by himself, but by The Castle.

You might think that such defenses would eliminate any concern about a hostile takeover from a rival kingdom, but that is just what happens. Prince Khelsh of Vhervhine, along with his entourage of guards and sycophants, has weaseled his way into the castle under false pretenses. He is determined to take over The Castle and claim the throne. With the rest of her family missing and presumed dead, Princess Celie, her brother Rolf, her sister Lilah, and Castle Glower must work together to mount a defense.  Allegiances are questioned, and the siblings quickly learn that they can trust no one but themselves and The Castle.

I found this story to be very immersive and quickly became lost in the twists and turns of Castle Glower. The setting truly comes to life, and you’ll soon find yourself wondering, “Well, how does The Castle feel about that?” Don’t worry, being concerned for the emotional well-being of supposedly inanimate objects is just a side effect from reading fantasy in general, and Tuesdays at the Castle in particular. This is the first in a new junior fiction series which will continue in Wednesdays in the Tower, to be published in May 2013.

Check the WRL catalog for Tuesdays at the Castle.

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This week’s posts all have some element of the supernatural that make the reader feel increasingly ill at ease and encourage one to keep checking behind the curtains and making sure the windows are actually locked—just the sort of titles to read on a rainy night in October, when the dark comes early and the wind is in the trees.

I suspect that for many of us, our first encounter with tales of the supernatural came through short story collections, perhaps in school or taken from a shelf in the library. I remember coming across this collection of superbly eerie fiction for young readers in a house that my grandparents rented for vacation down in Tall Timbers, Maryland. The house was surrounded by towering pines on the Potomac River, and as I recall in my mind, it was darkly paneled and made an excellent spot to read spooky stories.

Here, Hitchcock has collected some fun tales to introduce a younger reader to the delightful pleasures of scary stories. There are two classic thrilling tales—Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Red-Headed League” and Mark Twain’s “The Treasure in the Cave” (from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer). But even better in some ways are the other stories featuring lost treasure (“The Forgotten Island”), vengeful spirits (“The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall”), and playful ghosts (“Jimmy Takes Vanishing Lessons”). Except for the Sherlock Holmes piece, all the stories feature young boys and girls as the protagonists, and the settings range from small towns that all seem to have a haunted house nearby to a decidedly eerie summer spot in Maine.

None of the tales is overly scary, and some would be considered pretty mild by today’s standards, but for a younger reader, these stories might be just the thing to read under the bedcovers on a cool fall night.

Check the WRL catalog for Haunted Houseful

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I saw this graphic novel in a list of Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and was curious—what about this book would appeal to kids of the computer game generation, and would it appeal to me as well?

The story is fast-paced and well drawn.  Garth seems to be a pretty typical kid, though we find out quickly that he has an incurable disease.  He’s reading in his room when a night mare jumps through the wall.

Unfortunately for Garth, an agent of the Supernatural Immigration Task Force, Frank Gallows, chooses that moment to hook cuffs on the ghost horse and send it back to Ghostopolis.  His mom watches in horror as Garth disappears…

While Frank is getting into all sorts of trouble for being careless, a rescue team is assembling to bring Garth home.  Frank decides to try to save Garth on his own and enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend.

Meanwhile Garth is exploring the ghost world with “Skinny,” the friendly night mare.  One of the first ghosts he meets is his grandfather, whom Garth never met in his human life.  Grandpa will help Garth make it back to the world of the living, if they can just stay out of trouble.

The story ends with a showdown between the good guys (Garth, Frank, and their friends) and the bad guy (the ruler of Ghostopolis).  Not too much of a stretch to figure out who will win… but getting to that point is fun.  I loved that regular physics didn’t apply to the humans in Ghostopolis and Frank has to “imagine that I have an imagination!” in order to help Garth with the battle.

Ghostopolis is recommended for ages 8-10, but young adults and those young at heart will enjoy it as well.  The plot is easy to follow and has enough humor and complexities to keep all ages turning pages.  I think the pictures are gruesome enough to keep it just on the edge of being scary.  So yes, I can see how it would appeal to reluctant young adult readers.  And I know I enjoyed it!

Check the WRL catalog for Ghostopolis

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What girl doesn’t dream about shrinking down to play in her dollhouse? This premise, with a time travel twist, is the genesis for the story The Sixty-Eight Rooms. The titular rooms are the Thorne Miniature Rooms housed in The Art Institute of Chicago. They are meticulously crafted rooms depicting late 1200s to 1930s Europe and 1600s to 1930s America. Ruthie and Jack visit the exhibit on a field trip and Ruthie, in particular, is mesmerized. Intrigued to see what the rooms look like from the staff-only area that runs behind the exhibit, Jack manages to talk a security guard into showing them backstage. That’s where Jack finds the key.

At first when Ruthie holds the key, she feels it grow warm in her hand, and the sensation of a breeze blowing by. Later, when she holds the key in the vicinity of the rooms on a return trip to the exhibit, Ruthie is stunned to find herself shrinking! Jack and Ruthie soon realize that the key and the rooms were meant to be used together and they begin their adventure. Even more surprising than all they’ve seen so far is the revelation that the windows and doors built into some of the Thorne Rooms actually lead to the time and place they recreate. The only way they’ll have the time and privacy to explore all the Thorne Rooms have to offer is to hatch a secret, overnight visit to the exhibit—Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler-style.

The Sixty-Eight Rooms is followed by Stealing Magic: A Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventure. After all, Ruthie and Jack have 68 Thorne Rooms to explore.

Check the WRL catalog for The Sixty-Eight Rooms.

 

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Pinhoe EggI have decided to take a risk and recommend one of my favorite books ever. It has a satisfying story, strong characters who are learning about themselves, magic and magical creatures, a magnificent horse, evil elderly relatives, a castle, and children who are better people than the adults around them. How could any book need more? In fact, my enduring ambition is to live in Chrestomanci Castle (they do have a librarian; it says so in the book!).

The Pinhoe Egg is shelved in the children’s section and is certainly enjoyed by children, but it is also a marvelous book for adults to relish. If you guiltily enjoyed the early Harry Potter books for their humor, magic, and “Englishness” you will probably love The Pinhoe Egg and the rest of the Chrestomanci Series.

Marianne Pinhoe lives in a quiet English country village. The school holidays are starting and she is looking forward to having free time and working on her story about romantic Princess Irene. Unfortunately for Marianne, her family has other plans. Marianne is to run errands for her ailing grandmother, Gamma, while her older brother Joe is to go to work as a boot boy at nearby Chrestomanci Castle and report back what he learns (to spy, in other words!). On Marianne’s very first morning at Gamma’s house things start to fall apart as the old woman is visited by members of the Farley family from the next village and Marianne’s Gamma appears to go mad. The entire, overwhelming, extended family gather round to look after the old woman and decide that they need to clear out her house to sell. The attics are forgotten, and one day in search of Gamma’s constantly straying cat, Nutcase, Marianne discovers a strange spherical object covered with strong “don’t notice” spells. Thinking that it is useless, Marianne gives it to Eric Chant (or Cat) from the Castle, unknowingly betraying her family’s Sacred Trust. What is the spherical object? Could it be an egg? And what is the Sacred Trust and has Marianne done a bad thing in breaking it, as her father says, or a good thing as the people at the Castle claim?

(Note that the object is clearly described as round and mauve with speckles, and not gold and hen’s-egg shaped as it is shown on this cover.)

This book can be enjoyed on its own, but readers of Diana Wynne Jone’s other Chrestomanci books will recognize plenty of characters. I enjoy series like this which include the same characters, but are told each time from a different person’s perspective. We get to see how our favorite characters are seen by other people in other situations–sort of like seeing your teacher in their tatty track pants in the supermarket during the weekend.

Although I have read The Pinhoe Egg several times, I have just listened to it on CD during my commute. Diana Wynne Jone’s wry humor and Gerard Doyle’s engaging narration have seen me looking like a fool and laughing out loud (those familiar with I-64 know that smiles are not necessarily easy to come by on this stretch of Hampton Roads).

Sadly, Diana Wynne Jones died on March 26, 2011 after a literary career spanning four decades. Her first children’s book, Witch’s Business, was published in 1973 and her last children’s book, Earwig and the Witch, was published this year. She won numerous awards including the Carnegie Medal. As Neil Gaiman said in his online journal about her “She was the funniest, wisest, fiercest, sharpest person I’ve known, a witchy and wonderful woman, intensely practical, filled with opinions, who wrote the best books about magic, who wrote the finest and most perceptive letters…” He adds, “… there was only one Diana Wynne Jones, and the world was a finer one for having her in it.”

Check the WRL Catalog for The Pinhoe Egg

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A misfit is a great subject for literature, because the character’s life story creates inbuilt dramatic tension before the plot even begins.

And what a misfit we meet in Limpy the cane toad!

He lives in Queensland, Australia, where introduced cane toads are an ecological disaster and Australians are attempting to exterminate them.  As a misfit Limpy not only is a member of a hated species, he also has a “crook leg” that was run over on purpose by a truck, which makes him hop around in circles when he gets excited.

At first Limpy doesn’t believe that humans hate cane toads and it takes numerous attempts on his life before he believes it.  He notices that humans do love some animals, especially the three Olympic mascots: the platypus, the echidna, and the kookaburra.  To further his ambition of cane toad/human harmony Limpy and his cousin, Goliath, go on a madcap adventure to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, to try and become mascots as well.  Along the way they meet many quirky characters, from talking mosquitoes and rats to a kind human athlete (who, unfortunately, doesn’t understand what they say).

The humor is exaggerated and slapstick, but Limpy is an anti-hero that many people will be able to relate to.  He is basically a decent person (cane toad?) in a world that doesn’t appreciate his inner beauty.

Since I come from down under, I especially enjoyed “having a squiz” at the glossary of Australian words.  I can attest that the words are accurate as my grandmother used to say many of them (dubious looks from my American colleagues notwithstanding).

Although it is a children’s book, Toad rage is a quick and funny read for adults.  And you never know, you may just learn some bonza new words!

Check the WRL catalog for Toad Rage.

For a rib-rousing movie on this type of reptile, check out the blog’s 2009 review for the DVD Cane Toads: An Unnatural History, and check the WRL catalog for it here.

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Kate DiCamillo’s work has long been a staple on our Battle of the Books lists, but The Magician’s Elephant (on this year’s 4th and 5th grade list) is definitely my favorite. It features an eclectic cast of characters including a fortune teller, two orphans, a magician, a nun, a dog, an ex-soldier, a policeman and his wife, and an elephant.

One of the orphans, Peter Augustus Duchene, is searching for his sister. He has been told that she is dead but maintains the hope that, somewhere out there, she is alive. His hopes seem to be well-founded when he meets a fortune teller who tells him that in order to find his sister, he must “follow the elephant.” While that prospect seems to be quite the impossibility, at least the fortune has confirmed that Peter’s sister is alive. Then he overhears the most amazing story. A magician in town has performed an unbelievable trick. He has materialized an elephant out of thin air! Could this be the elephant that will lead Peter to his sister?

The Magician’s Elephant is a quirky, lovely book that quietly tells a story of, as Ms. DiCamillo puts it, “love and magic.”

Check the WRL catalog for The Magician’s Elephant

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It is the spring of 1768 and Matt’s father has just left him alone in the middle of nowhere. Well, not nowhere. He is on property his family has purchased in Maine territory, in a cabin he and his father just finished building. Matt’s father is making the return trip to Massachusetts to bring the rest of his family to their new home. He leaves Matt to protect their land, tend the crops, and prepare for the family’s return. Matt expects to be alone for six weeks, perhaps a bit more. Things don’t exactly go according to plan.

Matt faces many obstacles during his time alone – a thief, bees, bears, and a dwindling food supply. He is unsure whether the neighboring Indians are friend or foe, until they come to his rescue one day. Though they do not get along at first, Matt slowly builds a friendship with Attean, an Indian boy about his own age. This friendship might turn out to be the most important in Matt’s life.

I found The Sign of the Beaver to be one of the best juvenile historical fiction books I’ve ever read. It is an excellent story and well deserving of its Newbery Honor award. Classics are classics for a reason and this one is definitely worth revisiting.

Check the WRL catalog for The Sign of the Beaver

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Janet finishes off the week with some fine poetry.

Just published, Every Thing On It, is a magical collection of poems and drawings that my kids, your kids, – and of course each of us who are still a kid at heart- will enjoy. The collection is quintessential Shel Silverstein – poems that are funny, sentimental and often completely off the wall. Silverstein, a poet and artist, well known for Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and The Giving Tree, died in 1999. He left behind over 1000 completed, yet never published, poems and drawings that have been assembled by his family and released here for the first time.

Shel Silverstein helped me bring a love of poetry to my kids. His straightforward, ridiculous, and endearing style always made for a great read aloud and some of his lines we still remember.

He had a knack for knowing how to get a kid’s attention, and sometimes pass a message along without it seeming like a message at all. As in all of his work his pencil drawings bring each poem to life adding to the reading experience. Who else creates wonderfully imaginative and engaging titles such as “Garlic Breath” or Twenty-eight Uses for Spaghetti” that immediately draw you in and demand attention.

The last poem appearing in this new collection, entitled “When I Am Gone” reminds us that Silverstein he is still very much with us and here for another generation of readers young and old to discover either as a solitary reader, listening in a classroom, or sitting together as a family.

When I Am Gone

When I am gone what will you do?
Who will write and draw for you?
Someone smarter- someone new?
Someone better- maybe YOU!

Looking for a special gift for a child this holiday season? Couple this new Silverstein collection with one of his older, favorite titles. You might even offer to read it together as part of the gift. Neither of you will be disappointed.

Check the WRL catalog for Everything On It

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