Archive for July, 2008

The House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

House of Many Ways
























I have been reading Diana Wynne Jones’ books since I was ten years old, and I have never found one to be disappointing.  Her latest, House of Many Ways, is a companion to two of my favorites: Howl’s Moving Castle, and Castle in the Air.  It’s also definitely my favorite of all of her books that have come out in the last several years. 

The story concerns Charmain Baker, a young girl sent by her Great Aunt Semphronia to take care of her Great-Great Uncle William’s house, while he is away being treated for a great illness.  Not only is Great-Great Uncle William a wizard, but his house–and possibly his dog–are magical as well.  Charmain’s mother has raised her to be perfectly “respectable;” thus, she has no experience with magic whatsoever, and even less experience taking care of a house.

The story of Charmain’s housesitting might have turned out to be full of nothing but cooking and cleaning–quite boring, in Charmain’s view, when one could be reading a book instead–except for two things.  1. Charmain sends a letter to the King of High Norland, offering to help out in his library.  And 2. Peter, the Witch of Montalbino’s son, appears on Great-Great Uncle William’s doorstep, demanding to be his apprentice.

In less than a week, Charmain’s life suddenly includes fire demons, flying castles, magical tea trolleys, doorways that go back in time, traitorous kobolds, terrifying purple lubbocks, and the world’s most annoyingly beautiful 4-year-old boy named Twinkle.

As usual, Jones’ writing is delightful, and, as I mentioned previously, so compelling that one is swept along into the story with no desire to put the book down.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I can only hope that Jones will write many (many) more books.

Posted by: Sarah

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Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett

Monkey and MeAlong with ducks, monkeys are my favorite animal and as the back cover of the book states this one is “perfect for little monkeys everywhere.” 

Monkey and Me is the tale of a little girl and her favorite stuffed animal.  The catchy refrain that gets stuck in your head is great for children and the repetition helps move the story along.  Illustrations give the reader clues to what animal will appear next.  After a busy day, someone is ready for a nap while someone else is ready for mischief.  Who could it be?

Posted by: Liz

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Skullduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

Skullduggery PleasantSkulduggery is a person — or rather a skeleton that was a person — who also happens to be a detective that can use magic.  Confused yet? Enter Stephanie Edgley, a girl who wants to avenge her uncle’s death and go on exciting adventures.  Her uncle, a very rich, very eccentric man, was friends with Skullduggery, but none of Stephanie’s family had ever met him before. 

Stephanie is immediately intrigued and knows that Skullduggery will be able to give her the action and adventure she craves from her fairly boring life.  Skullduggery, for reasons he does not want to give Stephanie, does not want her tagging alone or getting involved in his work.  But soon the unlikely pair is racing across Ireland fighting evil and looking for a scepter that may only be a myth.  This is a true good vs evil type of book with a large dollop of wit and humor that of course has bad guys, near misses, and lots of action. Both characters are engaging and well depicted by the author which makes the book even more enjoyable.  If you like mysteries with a dash of adventure and fantasy, then this is the book for you. 

The best part… you don’t even have to wait for the sequel to come out because it was just published! (P.S.  It is called Playing with Fire).

Posted by: Kate

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Keep Your Eye On the Kid by Catherine Brighton

Keep Your Eye On the KidA lot of people think biographies are big and boring.  They need to see Keep Your Eye on the Kid, the picture biography of vaudevillian and early film comedy star, Buster Keaton.  Author Catherine Brighton’s text and illustrations are seamlessly matched up to tell quite an amusing and thorough story—especially taking into consideration that the book is only 30 pages long.  Looking almost like a graphic novel, with extra illustrations running in bands across the top and down the sides of the pages, the book moves along with the speed of one of the silent movies Keaton was so popular in.

A comic genius of world renown, Keaton’s tale begins with his birth just behind the curtains of a vaudeville stage.  As a toddler he joined the “family business” and was included in his parent’s act.  His father would heave him through the air across the stage shouting “keep your eye on the kid!”  Buster, a natural physical jokester, would tumble safely into his landing, amazing and amusing the applauding crowds.

After spending exactly one day in school, Buster decided to make the world his university.  It was while wandering the streets one day between shows that he discovered moving pictures.  His life was never the same.  Because I’ve never liked spoilers, I’m not going to give away the rest of plot.

Take 20-30 minutes out of your hectic life—it’s summertime after all—and “keep your eye on the kid.”  He’s going far and you’ll be happy to have shared the trip with him.

Posted by: Eileen

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Iron Thunder: the Battle Between the Monitor & the Merrimac by Avi

Iron ThunderThis is a new historical fiction series from this author called “I Witness”.  Avi explains that although these stories are fictional, he tried to stay as close to what really happened as possible.  The author has used real newspaper accounts, letters, telegraph messages, and whatever eyewitness accounts he could find.  This really makes the story more interesting knowing how many of the details are true.  I really felt like I was on board the Monitor along with the main character, Tom Carroll.  Tom is a 13-year-old boy growing up during the Civil War, and his father has just been killed fighting for the Union.  Since it is just Tom, his mother, and his sickly sister, Tom must get a job to help support his family.  He finds himself working for the inventor of the first ironclad ship, the Monitor, whose main purpose is to fight and win the war for the North.  This mission and the workings of this ship are TOP SECRET, and Tom almost becomes prey to some “Rebs” – spies for the South, so he must escape by going on board the Monitor.  Next thing you know he is in the middle of the big fight!  This story was intriguing and exciting and would be great for boys!

Posted by: Mary

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Pale Male by Janet Schulman

Citizen Hawk of New YorkI have long been interested in a certain New York City celebrity resident.  He first tried living in Central Park, but got chased away; but his second try for a place to live turned golden.  Imagine living at a fancy Fifth Avenue exclusive and expensive apartment building, high up, overlooking Central Park!  That‘s just what my celebrity did.  Across the street, in the park, crowds of people would gawk each day, some using telescopes and binoculars to see this celebrity and invade his privacy.  At one point, the snooty apartment building evicted this resident and his family because the way they lived was a bit dirty and annoying to some of the other residents.  But, when you have true-blue followers of your every move, and you are true celebrity, then newspaper and television media get involved and so do hordes of protestors, all on  your behalf.  The apartment building relented and allowed the celebrity back to live.  Although he no longer lives on Fifth Avenue now, tour bus operators still point out the building made famous by Pale Male, the first citizen hawk of New York City.

The newest children’s book about Pale Male (recommended for third grade and older) is written by Janet Schulman.  I love the beautiful watercolor ink and colored pencil sketches of the historic red-tale hawk who dared to take up residence, mate, and raise baby hawks high on the side of 927 Fifth Avenue.  It is a charming story of a bird with moxie, guts, persistence, and a real fan club following his nest buildings, chick hatchings, flying lessons, how-to-catch food lessons, and so on.  You don’t need to be a hard core birder to appreciate this sweet, true story of the famous red-tale hawk that won the hearts of most New Yorkers and many, many others around the world.

Posted by: Fran D.

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The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

The Goose GirlIf you had a favorite fairy tale when you were growing up, would you like to know more about the characters and the story than the Grimm Brothers recorded in their collection of tales? But how could you know what the characters were thinking and what else took place in their lives? Shannon Hale solved that problem by imagining some more elaborate happenings for Ani, a princess who was cheated out of her arranged marriage by her lady-in-waiting and became a goose girl while biding her time to claim her rightful crown. This extensive retelling of the goose girl story is full of adventure and suspense as Ani, a girl with the gift of talking to animals, grows in independence and resourcefulness and learns how to use her gifts to become a people talker as well as an animal talker.

This book will be especially appealing to girls in sixth grade and up. Adults will also find it to be a rewarding read.

Posted by: Iris

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