When a Canadian family inherits a Scottish castle, they also inherit the Boggart, a mischievous ancient spirit who delights in playing pranks and beinWhen a Canadian family inherits a Scottish castle, they also inherit the Boggart, a mischievous ancient spirit who delights in playing pranks and being a general nuisance. Unfortunately for the Boggart, he accidentally ends up shipped back to Canada along with some of the castle's furnishings, and that's when the trouble starts.
Emily and Jessup, the two main characters, have to figure out just what's causing all the weird occurrences in their normally placid suburban life, and once they do, must come up with a way to send the Boggart back where he belongs before he can do any further damage. The plotline ends up relying heavily on the children's use of technology, and that is the one feature of the book that might be a bit off-putting for kids reading the book today.
"The Boggart" was first published in 1993, and what must have seemed cutting-edge then is now remarkably dated. Jessup is one of the first kids on the block to have a personal computer. We get descriptions of how a floppy disk works and what a screen-saver is, and the kids are quite shocked to see a blue dot on their black-and-white monitor. The story itself is charming, but because of the great emphasis on the kids' clever use of technology, the book comes off as being old-fashioned.
That said, my 9-year-old son was quite enchanted by the story overall and enjoyed it very much, despite having to stop me to ask "why don't they just send an email?", "why don't they have a color monitor?", and "wouldn't a flash drive work better?". I recommend "The Boggart" for middle-age readers, but be prepared to explain the "ancient" technology.
"The Boggart and the Monster" by Susan Cooper is a fun romp which I found to be even better than its predecessor "The Boggart". In TB&TM, several"The Boggart and the Monster" by Susan Cooper is a fun romp which I found to be even better than its predecessor "The Boggart". In TB&TM, several years have gone by since Canadian siblings Emily and Jessup managed to send the wayward boggart back to his ancestral home in Scotland. As Emily, Jessup, and their parents head back to Scotland for a visit, they encounter a visiting scientist on his way to explore the mystery of Loch Ness.
The Loch Ness Monster, as it turns out, is a long-lost cousin of the boggart. Centuries earlier, Nessie got stuck in monster form and, depressed, has been sleeping in the muddy bottom of the loch, only wanting to be left alone. With help from Emily, Jessup, and their pal Tommy, the boggart must raise Nessie from the depths and convince him to reclaim his true boggart nature before the scientists and their underwater cameras invade the loch and destroy Nessie's peace forever.
My 9-year-old and I read this together, and found it fast-paced, funny, and exciting. The reading level is appropriate for middle grade readers, either as independent reading or as a read-aloud story. The plot zips right along, yet takes the time to establish the mythology of boggarts and old spirits of the highlands, as well as setting the scene with lovely descriptions of the loch and the surrounding area.
A key problem for me with the first book was the emphasis on gee-whiz admiration of the boys' computers. Given that the book was written quite a while ago, all the technology references were so outdated that they disrupted the flow of the story. ("Mom, what's a floppy disk?"!!!) TB&TM by and large avoids this problem by sticking to the story of the children and their adventure, and is a much better book as a result.
I would recommend this to anyone looking for a fun adventure story to enjoy with children....more
My son and I greatly enjoyed this children's book by George R. R. Martin. As an avid fan of Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire series, I was intriguedMy son and I greatly enjoyed this children's book by George R. R. Martin. As an avid fan of Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire series, I was intrigued to hear that he'd written a story for young readers. Many of his familiar elements are present in The Ice Dragon. The story is set in a land that seems to match the description of Westeros, in a time when armies still rode upon the backs of dragons. The main character, Adara, is a small girl who lives with her family on a farm in the north of the land. Adara is a child of winter, loving nothing more than the advent of snow and cold. She earns the trust of an ice dragon, a creature rarely seen, who glides through the winter air and breathes plumes of frozen ice. As war advances through the kingdom, Adara and her family witness the ravages of battle as the king's soldiers retreat, defeated, through their lands. Ultimately, Adara must take to the sky with her ice dragon to face the fire dragons of the enemy.
The Ice Dragon is brief but intense, and features descriptions of war, injuries, and brutality that are not appropriate for the very young. I believe the cover art and interior illustrations, while beautifully rendered, are slightly misleading, as they make the book appear much more suited for younger children who enjoy fairy tales and the like.
That said, my 8-year-old son and I were captivated by this tale....more
My son and I were looking for a good follow-up to the Harry Potter series, and "The Candy Shop War" fit the bill. Don't be deceived by the cover -- ThMy son and I were looking for a good follow-up to the Harry Potter series, and "The Candy Shop War" fit the bill. Don't be deceived by the cover -- The Candy Shop War is not all sweetness and light. When a new candy shop opens up in their small town, a group of ten-year-old friends is delighted, even more so when the kind owner shares her "special" candy with them. The magical candy treats come with a price tag, and as the price gets steeper, the kids wake up and realize there's more to the nice candy shop lady than meets the eye. This book is much darker than it would appear, and the bad guys -- yes, there are plenty of bad guys -- can be mightly ruthless. Full of plot twists to make your head spin, along with plenty of humor for the 4th/5th grade set, The Candy Shop War was a winner in my house. ...more
Charming and challenging children's book, provides an excellent introduction to California history. Rich in detail, "The Ballad of Lucy Whipple" putsCharming and challenging children's book, provides an excellent introduction to California history. Rich in detail, "The Ballad of Lucy Whipple" puts the reader inside the experience of the adventurers rushing after gold but coming up empty. A great book for preteen girls, with a strong and memorable female protagonist....more
My son and I had a blast reading through this outstanding book of Norse mythology for children. Thor and Loki, man. They're not just those pretty guysMy son and I had a blast reading through this outstanding book of Norse mythology for children. Thor and Loki, man. They're not just those pretty guys from the Marvel movies...
Perhaps not as sweeping and comprehensive as the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, but pretty great all the same....more
Mister Max has a nostalgic feel to it -- a warm-hearted book about a boy with a predicament. Left alone by his parents due to mysterious circumstancesMister Max has a nostalgic feel to it -- a warm-hearted book about a boy with a predicament. Left alone by his parents due to mysterious circumstances, 12-year-old Max has to fend for himself, figure out how to get by, and try to find out where his parents are and whether they're in danger. Meanwhile, he falls into a new career as a "solutioneer" -- not a detective, but simply a resourceful person helping people figure out their problems and how to make them better. Max is a smart boy who, inspired by his actor parents, uses costuming and acting to take on a variety of personas in order to carry out his business and investigate the odd jobs that come his way. The writing is matter-of-fact and easily accessible, although it lacks a sense of urgency in a way that's a bit puzzling, given that Max's parents have disappeared and may have met with foul play.
I enjoyed Mister Max, although I wonder whether the target age group (ages 8 - 12) will take to a 400 page book that's not as fast-paced as the adventure and fantasy stories that seem to be popular now. Mister Max is the first in a series, and I'd like to read more and see where the story goes.
In this magical story for young independent readers, Ophelia and her sister Alice have accompanied their father to a strange, wintry city where he's bIn this magical story for young independent readers, Ophelia and her sister Alice have accompanied their father to a strange, wintry city where he's been hired last-minute to curate a sword exhibition at a museum. The girls' mother has died just months before, and it's clear that the girls and their father have all been somewhat lost since then.
When Ophelia wanders off to explore the museum, she finds a boy locked in a hidden room, who tells her a tale of a magical mission involving a lost sword, the Winter Queen, herald trees, and a protectorate of wizards. Ophelia is a scientific and logical girl, and can't bring herself to believe the boy's story. But her innate compassion, bolstered by her imaginings of her mother's voice in her ear, bring her to dedicate herself to helping the boy.
Ophelia isn't a typical heroine. She wears glasses that are always smudgy, and has to stop for quick puffs from her asthma inhaler whenever things get too exciting. Still, she has a big heart and avid curiosity, and so she keeps pushing herself to explore, to collect the clues hidden throughout the museum, and to find a way around the beautiful but menacing museum director.
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a fantasy adventure set in the modern world, with magic embedded in a city full of people going about their business and not prone toward belief in evil queens or sinister spells. There are some wonderful touches: a portrait gallery of glum-looking girls sets an ominous tone, galleries of everything you could imagine which seem to change every time Ophelia passes by, museum guards who sit and knit all day until falling asleep, and an older sister who gives up her jeans and t-shirts for a mysterious beauty treatment.
I'm not sure that the climax and resolution of the book necessarily make sense, but it doesn't really matter. Ophelia is a lovely main character, showing unexpected strength as she pushes herself beyond her normal limits. As Ophelia and her family finally face the danger in the museum, they also finally come to terms with the loss that they've suffered and take the first tentative steps toward healing and finding a way forward without their mother.
There are some wonderful magical scenes, as well as moments of danger and excitement. This book should please middle grade readers who like action mixed with fantasy. The reading level seems appropriate for older elementary school grades, easily accessible for children confident in their independent reading abilities. ...more
My son and I quite enjoyed this clever tale of a governess and her three charges -- a trio of wild children discovered in the woods of a grand estate.My son and I quite enjoyed this clever tale of a governess and her three charges -- a trio of wild children discovered in the woods of a grand estate. Miss Lumley marshalls her own impecable boarding school education and training in order to civilize the three "Incorrigibles", while realizing there may be more to them than meets the eye. Funny, exciting, and well-written, this promises to be an entertaining and engaging series. We're looking forward to #2....more
Doll Bones is a middle-grade book about friendship and growing up, about imagination and adventures — and it’s also a ghost story involving a pretty cDoll Bones is a middle-grade book about friendship and growing up, about imagination and adventures — and it’s also a ghost story involving a pretty creepy doll, a mystery, and a quest.
The book works on multiple levels. Children may read it as a straight-forward adventure story, with secret missions, dangers and risks, and a ghostly mystery to unravel. I think adults will more likely be moved by the book’s exploration of the transition from childhood to adulthood, and the questions it poses: Does the end of childhood mean the end of dreaming and imagination? Do we have to give up magic and wonder in order to grow up?
The writing in Doll Bones is lovely and accessible. There’s just enough of eerie winds, strange sensations on the back of one’s neck, and seeing things that may not be there to give a reader a few chills and goose bumps along the way. It’s not terribly scary, but the middle grade target audience may find themselves a bit spooked by certain scenes and images. The reading level seems appropriate for middle school and above, although it might be a bit much for kids on the younger end of the middle-grade-reader spectrum. As for adults… well, I read it and thought it was wonderful. It’s a terrific book to read and and discuss with a kid, but there’s no reason not to read it for your own pleasure too. For an adult, there’s a certain sweet nostalgia for the days when one could indulge freely in imagination and make-believe, for the time before reality becomes more important than play.
In Doll Bones, Holly Black has created memorable, complex characters, a spooky ghost story, and a beautiful ode to childhood and the imagination. It’s sweet, it’s sad, and it’s delicious. Don’t miss it!
The third entry in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place is another quirky, silly adventure story with wordplay and tongue-in-cheekiness galore. TThe third entry in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place is another quirky, silly adventure story with wordplay and tongue-in-cheekiness galore. The story of plucky governess Penelope Lumley and her three raised-by-wolf charges gallops onward, with a forest trek, a hunt for a missing ostrich, a reunion with a pack of wolves, and a seance that may or may not raise the dead.
Lots of action, but no resolution to any of the ongoing mysteries. I wish I knew how many books are projected in this series, but so far all I can tell is that the next installment is due in January 2013.
I read this book with my 10-year-old son, and he was mostly amused by it. Overall, the book held his interest and made him giggle, although the constant asides -- on topics such as optimism, hyperbole, and rhetorical questions, to name but a few -- got a little irritating after a while.
We're sticking with the series for now, but I could see getting tired of it within another book or two, particularly if none of the plot points are resolved or explained....more
My son and I just finished this one as a read-aloud, and once we got into it, really enjoyed it. A secret island, wizards and hags, a stolen prince, aMy son and I just finished this one as a read-aloud, and once we got into it, really enjoyed it. A secret island, wizards and hags, a stolen prince, and a race against time add up to an exciting and magical adventure. Appropriate for middle-grade readers, either to read independently or to enjoy out loud as a bedtime story....more
I recently finished reading Thirteenth Child with my son, and while we both enjoyed it, I hesitate to declare this book an unmitigated success.
First,I recently finished reading Thirteenth Child with my son, and while we both enjoyed it, I hesitate to declare this book an unmitigated success.
First, the good: In the world of Thirteenth Child, the American frontier is redefined as a place in which magic is the only thing standing between people and all sorts of deadly beasts. In the country of Columbia, the Great Mammoth River marks the barrier between civilization and the wild, and as settlers venture west, they rely on magicians to provide the protective spells needed to keep out the wild. The world-building here is quite imaginative -- a world in which magic is commonplace, used on a basic level to manage household chores and day-to-day tasks, and on a more complex level, to provide the means of human survival.
Main character Eff is a girl whose powers are just beginning to emerge by the end of this book. Brought up believing herself to harbor some inner evil, thanks to being a thirteenth child, Eff is hesitant and uncomfortable when it comes to using magic, until a gifted teacher introduces her to non-Avrupan (read non-European) approaches to magic. Eff's worldview is expanded, and she starts to tap into non-traditional approaches to magic, realizing that her talents may be positive after all.
The not-quite-as-good: Thirteenth Child is the first book in the Frontier Magic trilogy, and as such, has to cover a lot of ground in terms of exposition and explanation. Likewise, quite a lot of time is covered, as we follow Eff from age five to age eighteen. Because of the length of time covered in a relatively short book, many of the chapters feel more like summaries than actual events -- basically, well, that year, not much happened except Eff's brother went away to school, or, that year, Eff was sick for a while, missed a lot of classes, and ended up having to repeat a grade.
The author is building a world system from scratch, and at times the jargon threatens to overwhelm the plot. We have Avrupan magic, Hijero-Cathayan magic, and Aphrikan magic, as well as Rationalists, the North Plains Territory Homestead Claim and Settlement Office, and circuit magicians.
The climax of this volume involves a plague of grubs that threaten the western settlements, and Eff's role in fighting the bug invasion. The solution to the problem comes across like convoluted mumbo-jumbo, not that it's not exciting to read.
Finally, on the negative side, I'd be remiss in not mentioning the to-do over this book from when it first came out concerning the lack of a Native American population. The only people in the book are the (presumably) white settlers, with a couple of people of color mixed in among the townsfolk and school magicians. There isn't a native culture, at least not one that's mentioned at all in this book. Apparently, there was quite a bit of criticism over this when the book came out. As a work of fantasy fiction, I suppose it's the author's right to create whatever world she sees fit... but I leave it to potential readers to decide whether or not this is a deal-breaker for them.
Bottom line: My son and I enjoyed Thirteenth Child enough to continue with the series. Despite uneven pacing, the story itself is fresh and intriguing -- so that the duller parts are easily outweighed by chapters and sequences that are suspenseful and highly engaging. ...more