It has been a long winter here in Maine. Typically cold, but somehow drearier than usual, with many weeks of illness thrown in.
In January my 13-year-old daughter had the flu. Her fever spiked over 102, and she wouldn’t eat anything. As I tried futilely to feed her ice chips on the couch, I pleaded, “Is there ANYTHING I can do that would help?”
She looked at me with those glazed eyes and flushed cheeks, and murmured, “Can you get the Harry Potter CDs from the library?”
What’s a mother to do? I went and picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I put disc 1 in the CD player, and pushed play.
And with that touch of a button, we are transported.
“Chapter One: The Boy Who Lived…”
One for the Murphys is the story of Carley, a tough, clever twelve-year-old who has always lived with her scrappy, care-free single mother in Las Vegas. The two of them have a decent life, stealing clothes from Salvation Army bins and cutting school when they feel like it. Until Carley’s mother decides to get remarried, and makes a series of awful choices that land her in the hospital and Carley in a foster family. Carley’s life, just like that, is turned upside down. Her mother is out of reach, and she is living with complete strangers. Enter the Murphys: picture perfect American family.
Carley has been through terrible things. She has a right to be angry, and angry she is–at everyone and everything: her mother, her stepfather, her new house, her new school, and this new family that seems too perfect to be real.
But real they turn out to be.
Early chapter books can seem pretty formulaic. There are the Sassy Girl books, a genre invented by the brilliant Beverly Cleary in her Ramona books, followed by Junie B. Jones, Clementine, Judy Moody, Ivy and Bean, and many others. Though these vary in quality (I am partial to Clementine), I am all for them: I love a good sassy heroine. There are Sassy Boy books now, too: just look at Stink and Alvin Ho (I DO love Alvin Ho). There are the Time Travel books, anchored by the endless Magic Treehouse series and rendered a little more light-hearted by the Time Warp Trio. There are the Potty-Humor Boy Favorites, trailblazed by that potty-humor guru, Dav Pilkey of Captain Underpants fame. There are Animal Books about puppies and ponies, and Lite Fantasies featuring unicorns and fairies.
The point of these books is not to be great literature, but to tickle kids’ fancy long enough to keep them reading. At this age reading is reading, and the more the better. Still. Parents shouldn’t have to suffer. That is why I am delighted by the Rainbow Street Shelter series.
The False Prince is a terrific read, and a great fresh voice for young fantasy readers.
It is an unapologetic homage to Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief Series, but as I am a huge fan of this series, I am happy to see that Turner serves as inspiration for other writers.
Sage is a brash orphan in the midst of stealing his supper when he is grabbed in the street by a nobleman called Conner, and forced on penalty of death to accompany him on a journey. Conner has big plans for Sage and the other orphans he has kidnapped, and soon he involves them in an audacious plot–a plot that could get them all killed.
Liar and Spy is a frontrunner for lots of awards this year, and with good reason. This short, readable book is layered like an onion, with plenty to love at each layer.
On the surface it is a highly appealing book, with lively chapters about a likable cast of characters. Georges (silent S) is a sympathetic narrator, and his life is full of interesting challenges:
When Twelve Kinds of Ice arrived at the library, I wasn’t sure where to catalog it. It is long for a picture book, and short for a novel. It is a memoir, but doesn’t fit with the biographies. It looks like a children’s book, but is it? So I took it home to read in order to figure out where it belongs.
After reading it once, then again, with tears in my eyes, I find that the problem with this book is not where to stash it in the library, but how to find a pedestal big enough to attract the readers this tiny, unassuming book deserves.
One place it certainly belongs is on my Christmas list.