Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Audience: Ages 10+
Rating (out of 5): 2
The Story (in 5 sentences or less) : Cooper is a boy that lives with his mom on a farm in New York state where they run an antiquing business out of their barn. But business is slow and money is tight ever since Cooper’s younger brother passed away and his dad left. His life changes when he is given an enchanted metal detector that can talk. Using this magic machine, he begins digging up musket balls in his yard and learns that his house is on the exact location of the Revolutionary War Battle of Newton. Cooper must use his friendship with Mr. Shepard, the local historical museum director, to fight off government bids for their land.
My Take: Somewhere within this prolix, sometimes clumsy book is a much better book. I applaud Osterweil’s premise of a young man delving into antiquing and amateur archaeology. I appreciated the parts where Cooper was on the hunt, digging up artifacts in his back yard and matching them up to local history. Less enjoyable for me were the mystical parts of the book in which he communes with his dead brother, the planet earth, spirit wind, etc. I found that the anthropomorphic objects slowed the pace of the book and were sown awkwardly into the narrative.
One Interesting Note About the Author: According to his website, Adam Osterweil “teaches junior high English at Springs School in Springs, New York. His hobbies include kayaking, historical research, and metal detecting.”
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: ages 9+
Rating (out of 5): 3
The Story (in 5 sentences or less): Growing up in his Uncle Diego’s house in 15th century Spain, Baltasar often heard stories of the famous Moorish warrior-sorcerer Amir Al-Katib. Thinking them to be nothing but stories, Baltasar is deeply confused when he is picked up by the Malleus Maleficarum, an arm of the Inquisition devoted to hunting sorcerers, and interrogated as to the whereabouts of Al-Katib. During his interrogation, he finds that he also possesses magical powers, capable of summoning creatures from ancient stories. Searching for answers, Baltasar discover’s that he is in fact the son of Al-Katib and that he must journey west to fight an evil that “threatens to destroy the world.” Baltasar procures a position on the Santa Maria, captained by Christobal Colun, on which he will sail towards the west, across the ocean in search of his father and the answers to his past.
My Take: This is a book, much like A Wrinkle In Time, of a character searching for their father. I give high marks to Mlawski for creating a multi ethnic protagonist who is searching for answers to their heritage. This theme seems apt as much today as it was back in 1492. One criticism is that as the book progresses, as more and more characters are introduced, I felt like some of them were redundant. Was it necessary to encounter two island tribes? Could not the character of Catalina be completely stricken and make for a tighter book? Consequently, the final third of the book feels heavily weighted to me, and there were moments where I had to slow down to keep everyone straight.
One interesting note about the author: According to her website, Shana has read every Goosebumps and Baby-sitters Club book! Quite a feat indeed!