The Plot In 5 Sentences or Less: Zach, Poppy, and Alice are friends that enjoy playing an imaginary game filled with pirates, mermaids, and treasure. One of the most important parts of the game is “The Queen,” an old porcelain doll that sits in Polly’s cupboard, whose real origins are unknown. As the kids are now 12, all 3 feel ambivalent about continuing to play this imaginary game in the face of criticism from their peers. Their determination is rekindled, however, when a ghost visits Polly in her dreams, claiming that she was killed, turned into the china doll, and now longs only to be buried properly in her grave. The 3 friends set out on a journey to bury the doll and put the ghost’s spirit to rest.
My Take: Doll Bones novel is really about coming of age, facing the challenges of growing up, and grieving the loss of childhood. Black captures the confusion and awkwardness of turning 12 and being unsure about what to leave behind as childish things. I appreciated that the characters were clearly from underprivileged or blue collar families and that Black does not drive the point home too finely. All 3 of the children have unsettled home lives, giving the reader the sense that the children’s quest is not just to bury the doll, but to help restore some sense of wholeness to their respective households. Finally, I liked that the setting is in the industrial area of western Pennsylvania. It lends context to the idea that these children really are journeying a through a blighted landscape.
One Interesting Note About the Author: Holly Black is also the author of the Spiderwick Chronicles. Find out more about her at her website.
The Story in 5 Sentences Or Less: Rump lives with his Gran in a village in the mountains where people pass their miserable days working the gold mines to receive their weekly food rations from the town Miller. Rump’s life changes when he salvages a spinning wheel that was once his mothers and soon discovers that he has the power to spin straw into gold. At first, the greedy Miller demands all of the gold that Rump spins, but soon the King wants his cut too and mistakenly kidnaps the Miller’s daughter, Opal, thinking that she is the one performing the magic alchemy.
My Take: I found this book to be an interesting take on the old Grimm’s fairy tale. Shurtliff presents Rump as an unlikely hero on a journey of adventure and self discovery. Despite the use of well worn juvenile fantasy elements, (castles, trolls, witches, etc.), I found myself pulled along by the character of Rump. I was with him all the way as he grappled to control his power and unearthed more secrets about his past. I would recommend this book for kids grades 3 and above who like fairy tales and fantasy.
One Interesting Note About the Author: According to her website, Shurtliff grew up in Utah with 7 brothers and sisters. The license plate on the family van was “8SGREAT.”
The Plot in Five Sentences or Less: John and Abigail are the bright, twin children of professor and inventor John Templeton. Following the death of their mother, the family moves to Tick Tock University where, during a lecture, their father is accosted by Dean D. Dean, a man claiming that John Templeton stole his idea for the Personal One-Man Helicopter (POMH). Dean D. Dean, along with his brother, Dan D. Dean, kidnap the Templeton twins and demand that John to sign over the rights to the POMH. The twins must use their smarts to escape from the Dean brothers.
My Take: This book is a clever and enjoyable read. The narrator of the story is self aware and inserts amusing parenthetical remarks in the text as if he were arguing with the reader. For instance, he states “We’re getting off point. And I blame you. Please, I urge you to stop interrupting.” He also inserts “questions for review” at the end of each chapter that are meant to resemble reader’s comprehensive questions, but are simply ridiculous (i.e. “How would the Templeton twins’ lives have been different had they never been born?”). Too much of this sort of thing would be gimmicky and annoying, but Weiner uses a judicious amount that keeps the reader laughing. Credit should be given to Home’s schematic illustrations that reinforce the rational yet ludicrous tone of the book. Highly recommended for kids ages 8+.
One Interesting Note About the Author/Illustrator: Ellis Weiner was an editor of National Lampoon and contributor to many magazines, including The New Yorker and Spy. He has also written an e-book called “Atlas Slugged Again” which you can buy for $1.99.
The Plot in Five Sentences or Less: Kyle Keeley wins an essay writing contest and gets to spend the night in his town’s brand new public library with 11 of his peers. The library is a massive, technological marvel built by none other than Luigi Lemoncello, a one time small town boy who has gone on to make a fortune in the board game industry. When Kyle and his companions awaken the next morning, they find the doors of the library locked. Mr. Lemoncello has challenged them to a new game: escape from the library using the hidden clues. Will Kyle and his friends be able to crack the code in time and escape from Lemoncello’s library?
My Take: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” meets “The Westing Game.” This is a solidly entertaining and clever read that will appeal to both boys and girls ages 9 and above. Author Chris Grabenstein makes the puzzles challenging, but not ridiculously difficult. I appreciated the many nods and allusions to library lore and children’s literature. The characters are not especially fleshed out, but who cares? The fun is in watching the kids solve the puzzles and make their way out of the library. Ages 9+
One Interesting Note About the Author: According to his website, Chris Grabenstein used to write for commercials. One of his earliest bosses was James Patterson, with whom he now writes books!