November 21, 2011
Briony Larkin (first name pronounced briny) doesn’t want to die but its inevitable and it will happen soon. After all, that’s what happens when a witch goes to trial.
What makes someone a witch? It isn’t a conscious choice as far as Briony can tell, but there are things that set her apart from the people around her. For one, Briony can see and hear the Ancient Ones — brownies, wights and more. When she is angry or jealous, something bad is bound to happen. It might be as innocent seeming as another child taking a spill from a swing or as dire as a tidal wave sweeping up and dosing the parsonage. No matter what it is, someone is bound to get hurt.
Then Eldric comes to stay with her family. Eldric is a self-confessed bad boy. Good boys, after all, do not get expelled from college. Bad though he may be, the children of the village love his sense of play and fun and the many fidgets he crafts from next to nothing. Eldric even gets along with Rose, Briony’s twin sister, the girl who fell from the swing and hasn’t been right since. As she gets to know him, Briony yearns for the things that normal girls have. Love and light and life.
Set in early industrial England, Billingsley has crafted a world of science and magic. It is a world where angered swamp spirits bring illness to the village and only one girl can save those who fall ill but it may mean sacrificing her own life.
Romance, adventure and magic combine in a gripping story. There’s enough action in this for boy readers but all the talk of feelings may leave them cold. Still, the desire to brilliantly solve the problems twining throughout this story may keep them reading. I know they kept me hanging on until the last page.
Billingsley is a gifted story teller. Her stories manage to be both personal, focused on the emotion and longing of a handful of characters, and epic, dealing with big issues like self-identity, love and sacrifice.
This would make an excellent Christmas read.
November 16, 2011
Mike isn’t sure what the summer will bring but there are certain things he counted on and chief among them is being home where he can practice for the basketball tryouts.
But his father has other plans and these plans include teaching in Romania of all places. Instead of taking Mike along, he ships Mike off to an unknown Great-Aunt and Great-Uncle.
Mike has no idea how his father is going to get along without him. He’s an absolute genius in math but can’t do anything practical like pay the bills or get a meal together. In spite of his own shortcomings, he’s got a challenge all set up for Mike. He expects Mike to spend the summer completing an Engineering project with this mysterious uncle. Something about an Artesian Screw, whatever that is.
But when Mike shows up, Poppy is just sitting in a chair in front of a blank tv screen. Is the guy even alive? How are they going to get this screw thing built if Poppy never even moves?
Great Aunt Moo isn’t much better. People run and hide when they see her drive past — yes, her driving really is that bad. She can’t seem to see really well but any question sets her off.
Mike soon finds himself with more hapless adults to manage all the while wondering why no one is taking care of him. Isn’t he the kid here?
Erskine has crafted a story about a boy who has spent so long fighting what he isn’t (a math genius just like dad) that he isn’t sure what he is (a genius at managing people). But when the a friend’s plan to adopt a Romanian orphan seem to be falling through, its Mike who gets everyone together to make sure that this one poor kid has someone to take care of him.
Not as action packed as many boy books, Erskine has still crafted a main character who is a tried-and-true problem solver. He may not be alien invaders or evil wizards, but he is battling a world of adult sized problems to save another boy’s hopes for a family.
With themes of family, responsibility and value this one will give teachers and students plenty to discuss and kids something to think about long after the last page has been read.
November 15, 2011
Foxy simply cannot believe her luck. After all, how often do you answer the door only to find a delectable egg on your front step?
Immediately, Foxy’s brain starts working overtime and she’s plotting out ways to make sure this egg grows big and strong so that she can have the most scrumptious egg dish ever. This leads to feeding him on cakes and other delicacies as well as games of musical chairs, races and hide-and-seek.
At long last its time for bed so that Foxy can get up bright and early and enjoy that egg. But during the night, something happens.
When Foxy reaches egg, he is no longer small and fragile. He is enormous. Instead of a great big breakfast, Foxy is in for a great big surprise.
(No, I’m not going to tell you what. I don’t want to give away the ending!)
Smith’s illustrations combine humorous looking comic strip styled characters with an old fashioned melodramatic setting — the old mansion in the woods. To add to this feeling of drama, the title pages announces the stars of the show, Vivien Vixen as Foxy DuBois and Edward L’Oeuf as Egg.
Cues in the illustrations will help young readers grasp the tongue-in-cheek nature of Foxy’s hospitality while the adult reader will enjoy scanning illustrations and text for humorous references to silent films and chorus girls.
A great book for sharing, both the story and the laughs.
November 9, 2011
Great-grandpa was born a really long time ago. He grew up on a farm full of animals. Read all kinds of great books when he had chicken pox and wanted to study horticulture, but a war got in the way.
Pulling a wagon full of gardening gear, the young narrator tells us all about great-grandpa’s life as demonstrated through an amazing collection of topiary. As he moves through the garden, he finds a forgotten picnic, a lost pair of glasses and a hat and, finally, great-grandpa himself.
Lane, best known for colorful illustrations and a wacky sense of humor, tells a gentle tale of family, aging and memory — both keeping it and loosing it. The young narrator clearly adores his great-grandfather and the garden he has created, a garden we fully expect the narrator to maintain in the future.
Better for cuddling and bed time reading than a rollicking story time, this book would be a great one for a parent or grandparent to share with a young child. Or even for one adult to give to another.
Sweet, but not overly so, and touching, this one is sure to find a place of honor on many a bookshelf.
See why in this trailer.