Archive for November, 2008

The Mystery of the Fool and the Vanisher by Ruth and David Ellwand

The Mystery of the Fool and the VanisherHalloween may be over, but Fall is still a time for mists, quiet whisperings, and mysteries, and books full of all of those things.  Spooky?  You bet; even if it’s after Thanksgiving. 

David Ellwand has found a mysterious trunk in an old abandoned house in the South Downs of England.  Inside–a pair of spectacles with stones instead of glass, a journal, an oddly disconcertin mask, and a wax cylinder recording from 1889.  On the recording Isaac Wilde, a photographer, tells the story of an archaeological dig into a hill said to be inhabited by Pixies.  The head archaeologist is arrogant, and the Pixies–if they exist–may not be friendly. 

Imagine a version of the Spiderwick books illustrated with photographs of real objects and scenes–fantasy made reality and a haunting atmosphere captured for all readers to see.  This book is spookier than most I’ve encountered this year, but not overtly scary, and the pictures are beautiful and perfectly evocative of the story.  Highly recommended for anyone who likes fantasy, found objects, and unexplained spookiness.

Posted by: Sarah

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The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson

Star of KazanAnnika lives in Vienna with her adoptive mothers who  cook and tend the house for their employers, three professors who are siblings.   Annika herself is a talented cook and actually was able to add a recipe improvement to her mother’s cookbook.   She has many friends in her neighborhood including an old lady who was a famous dancer when she was young and loves to show Annika her trunk of jewelry and treasures.  Annika loves her “family” and friends but longs for her real mother who in her day dreams will come and claim her.  One day, as in a fairy tale, a presumably rich and beautiful  woman appears at the door and claims to be her mother.  Annika is whisked away to live with her in her ancestral home in Germany.  Annika soon begins to realize though that her new family is a very unhappy one and that the mansion she lives in is beginning to crumble with neglect.  Annika loves animals and her only friend, Zed, is the boy who takes care of the horses and does chores on the farm.    He is so impressed and excited when Annika describes to him the Lippazan horse show in Vienna.

Eventually, Zed steals a horse because it is abused by Annika’s brother and Annika joins him in his flight.  The story is chock-full of interesting details and characters, good and bad, plot twists and intrigue.  It was a very satisfying read and I recommend it to girls in grades 5 and up.

Posted by: Fran W.

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The Doghouse by Jan Thomas

The Doghouse
Cow and his friends are back, and this time they are headed for the doghouse.  While playing outside, their ball accidently lands in the home of a very scary dog.  Who is brave enough to get it back?

Posted by: Liz

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Quiet! There’s a Canary in the Library by Don Freeman

Quiet There's a Canary in the LibraryImagine a special day when only animals and birds are allowed to come into the library!  Which animals would come?  Would they all get along?  Would they follow the rules?  The story begins with Little Cary thinking about what she would do if she were the librarian, and her answer is to hang a banner outside telling animals and birds that they are welcome at the library.  The first to arrive is the canary and then the lion who is reminded that there is no roaring indoors.  The giraffe is directed to the tall tales up on the top shelf, and the monkeys are asked to promise to behave.  Everyone is getting along famously until the mice run in and begin racing up the elephant’s truck, which frightens the canary, and the porcupine comes too close and pokes the lion, and the whole place erupts.  Cary declares that she has never heard such a rumpus!  Thank goodness for the canary who sings a song that tells all the animals in a very polite way that it is time to go. 

This is a charming picture book that will capture kids’ attention with its old-fashioned illustrations and little Cary’s wonderful, imaginative musings about how the animals would act.  Children young and old will enjoy this one.

Posted by: Mary

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The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

The Wee Free MenNine year old Tiffany, a witch in training, sets off to save her little brother from the villainous queen of Fairyland with the help of a talking toad (really a bewitched lawyer) and a multitude of six inch tall blue men with red hair and beards known as the Wee Free Men. Their escapades and also the names of these funny little blue men add humor to Tiffany’s adventure. This rollicking fantasy is geared toward 6th to 9th graders and fantasy loving adults. If you enjoy reading about Tiffany and the drunken, thieving clan of Wee Free Men you may want to read the sequels: A Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith.

Posted by: Iris

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The Dragon’s Child by Laurence Yep

The Dragon's ChildActually, no matter the number of pages, it’s almost blasphemy to say that anything by Laurence Yep is a surprise.  I’ve always found his books to be thought provoking and enjoyable. I picked this book up because, one, as I said, I like Laurence Yep’s work and two, it’s about, in part, Angel Island, the counterpart of Ellis Island, but less well known and on the west coast, in San Francisco.

Dragon’s Child is more biographical than Yep’s usual fiction or folktales.  Jumping from one genre to another can be a dicey move to make.  However, I should never even have given it a thought.  The book is a delight.

As Yep says in the author’s note at the beginning, he had a chance to “step back into history” and learn about his father and his father’s family through not only stories but actual documents kept for many years in the National Archives.  This is a story of struggle and triumph in both the old country and the new.

Gim Lew Yep, Laurence Yep’s father, is ten-years old when the story begins.  The son of and brother of Guests—Chinese living in America and sending funds back to China—he is bound to travel with a father he barely knows to a land of unimaginable strangeness.  He will be dressed in western clothes, live in crammed quarters on an overcrowded ship and then when he finally arrives in America, the “Golden Mountain,” he will be poked, prodded and endlessly questioned before being allowed to even step ashore.  And yet, he had a good life in San Francisco, a long life.  He learned to know his father, to speak English, to work hard and finally to make a life for himself and his family.

There is an extensive and interesting author’s note which details more about the Chinese experience in the US.  Even more captivating though, are actual photos of Gim Lew Yep and his father, Yep Lung Gon, taken in both China and the US.  The Dragon’s Child is a short—119 pages—intensely fascinating tribute to the author’s family and all the other Chinese immigrants who despite frustration and bigotry made a place for themselves, their children and their children’s children in the Golden Mountain.  We are all the better for their struggles.

Posted by: Eileen

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The Vonnesta Project by David Wartik

The Vonnesta ProjectWhen I started reading this book, I thought that Vonnesta was the name of some exotic place in another part of the world. So I was quite surprised to discover that Vonnesta is a fictional town north of Chicago. Note that the author teaches 4th grade in Winnetka, a suburb north of Chicago.  Vonnesta – Winnetka, hmmm.

Jeremy is a 5th grader who lives with his mom and sister and grandparents in Vonnesta, IL. His best friend is Andy. Every year the big 5th grade project is to research something about Vonnesta’s past. Jeremy and Andy decide to research the history of their houses. Of course, I like the fact that the local library comes into play for most of the researching.

Something mysterious begins happening in Jeremy’s house when he discovers an open, hidden door in his bedroom. It certainly had never been there before and it reveals a winding staircase that leads down into complete darkness. He also begins receiving notes from the person who built the house 125 years ago. Jeremy shares his findings with Andy and the two friends try to decipher the mystery within Jeremy’s house. The plot thickens when Jeremy is shown something magical that he cannot share with Andy.

Surprises await the reader. . . so does the sequel – The Vonnesta Project 2: Camp Fingerlake.

Posted by: Wendy

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