Pullman, Philip. La Belle Sauvage. (The Book of Dust, volume 1). Knopf, 2017. $22.99. 449p. ISBN 978-0-375-81530-0. Ages 11-15. P7Q10
The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights), the first book in Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials is 22 years old, and the author is celebrating it with a companion “equel,” a trilogy that begins with Compass protagonist Lyra Belacqua as an infant hidden in a priory in the country. Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead, an innkeeper’s son, takes on the responsibility of protecting Lyra while he learns about a secret Church society from Hannah Relf, a spy who is training herself to read the alethiometer, a method of communicating with Dust. The plot builds when Malcolm takes the baby away from her would-be evil capturers with the help of sour teenage kitchen worker, Alice. The book is replete with villains—disgraced theologian Gerard Bonneville, the children who follow a Church cult, the Consistorial Court of Discipline, and the children’s protective society. Much of the book is consumed with the children’s escape in Malcolm’s canoe, La Belle Sauvage, which was refurbished by Lyra’s father after Malcolm helped him escape early in the book. Joy, humor, and help for the humans come from their daemons, animal-like creatures that represent the subjects’ souls and cannot be separated from their humans while they are alive.
Verdict: As in his other books, the writing and the characters shine, and the world-building is fascinating. Woven into the plot are non-didactic discussions of physics and religion. The striving for free speech and thought against a totalitarian theocracy ring true in a way that readers can identify with the philosophical concepts. The next book in La Belle Sauvage, The Secret Commonwealth, begins ten years after The Golden Compass, making La Belle Sauvage a “surround” for His Dark Materials. The Book of Dust is highly recommended.
December 2017 review by Nel Ward
Grine, Chris. Time Shifters. Graphix/Scholastic, 2017. $12.99. 266p. ISBN 978-0-545-92657-7. Ages 9-12. P7Q6
The death of his brother Kyle at the hands of bullies draws Luke into a non-stop adventure in an Old West alternative Earth as a scientist, a robot Abraham Lincoln, and a spirited ghost help him fight a “vampire Napoleon,” a mummy, and a skeleton in a spacesuit to keep the time-travel device.
Verdict: Colorful panels will entertain young readers, but the confusing plot lacks coherence, sometimes without reason, and the characters have little development. The opening promises far more than the graphic novel delivers.
December 2017 review by Nel Ward
Bell, Jennifer. The Crooked Sixpence. (The Uncommoners, #1) Crown Books, 2017. ISBN 9780553498431. 309 pgs. $16.99. Ages 8-12. P7Q6
Ivy and Seb Sparrow find themselves caught up in a strange adventure after their grandmother ends up in the hospital, and their parents are away for work. The grandma’s house is broken into and searched, and the two children are threatened by some very strange people. They find themselves in the underground city of Ludinor, associating with unusual people (including some who are dead), using “normal” objects like clocks and feathers in very unusual, magical ways, and running for their lives. The tone is dark and spooky, Ivy is a feisty and intelligent main character, and the storyline is not predictable, though it does wander quite a bit. VERDICT: Young readers who like a touch of horror in their fantasy books might enjoy The Crooked Sixpence.
September 2017 review by Carol Schramm.
Bell, Jennifer. The Crooked Sixpence. Illustrated by Karl James Mountford. “Advanced Reader’s Copy.” (The Uncommoners series, #1) Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-553-49844-8. 320 pages. Ages 8-12. Q8P8
Another magical world hidden in England! This world is beneath our “common” feet in the underground city of Lundinor. Uncommon people roam here and freely use uncommon objects. The magic of the book does not come from the people themselves, though there are uncommon uncommon people (the heroine, Ivy, is one of them). The magic is in the common objects that become uncommon in this world. A bicycle bell can communicate and has feelings. This fast paced book contains an extreme degree of imagination and thrilling action as Ivy tries to solve the mystery around her family’s past and their most magical uncommon object.
Verdict: The author has a wonderful imagination and a gift to tell stories! Anyone who enjoys reading fantasy novels, and is is willing to try another magical world, should read this book!
October 2017 review by Terri Lippert.
Funke, Cornelia. Lilly and Fin: A Mermaid’s Tale. Trans. By Oliver Latsch. Random House, 2017. $9.99. 83p. ISBN 978-1-5247-0101-7. Ages 7-10. P9Q9
Colorful illustrations help make this chapter book about wealthy “two-legs” determined to capture a pair of “merpups” a fun read that goes from the comfort of two friends enjoying a day to the danger of being stolen from their peaceful home in sunken shipwrecks. Funke has created both memorable monstrous humans, Mr. and Mrs. Snorkel who need a mermaid to complete their collection of every sea creature in the world and their marvelous metal invention that allows them to travel deep under the ocean surface. The merpups, Lilly and Fin, are typical children, adventurous and disobedient in their desire to explore the world beyond the parents’ definition of boundaries. The greatest twist in the plot is the merpups’ friendship with the giant kraken, a mythical giant sea monster that solves their problem. The award-winning German author is well known for her series Inkheart, but my favorite of her books is The Thief Lord. Lilly and Fin was first published in 2004 in Germany.
Verdict: The plot is straightforward and enjoyable, well-translated, and illustrations add to the humor. Funke has added quirky activities at the end, including patterns for knitting the merpups and kraken, a dice game to play with Lilly and Fin, and a search for tiny treasure chests in each of the book’s large illustrations. The size of the book is also appealing for smaller hands.
May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.
Siegel, Mark and Alexis Siegel. The Sand Warrior. Illus. by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun. (5 Worlds series, book 1) Random House, 2017. $18.99. 249p. ISBN 9781101935866. Ages 10-13. P8Q8
Three young people—wealthy but inept sand dancer Oona Lee, street urchin An Tzu, and famous sports figure Jax Amboy—find themselves together trying to save the Five Worlds from extinction by lighting five ancient beacons. It’s epic fantasy with flowing bright colors and non-stop action after their world of Mon Domani is attacked. The format moves from the traditional by bleeding dialog bubbles to the edge, and the vivid palette of colors is inviting.
Verdict: Characters develop into a greater understanding of themselves and acceptance of others, and the authors deal skillfully with income inequality and the shortage of resources on the world, even water. Illustrations of the female form are not stereotyped: although Oona is graceful, she isn’t a standard slim gorgeous girl found in many graphic narratives. The busyness of the plot sometimes makes it hard to understand, but the plot keeps readers moving.
May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.
O’Hearn. Kate. The Runaway. (Valkyrie series, book 2) Aladdin, 2014. 362 pgs. $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-4814-4740-9. Gr. 6+. P8 Q8
This is the second book in the Valkyrie series and what a book it is. Action from the get go and I was so absorbed in it I did not realize that it was the second book; it can definitely stand on its own merits. Set in the city of Asgard, where Odin is the ruler, Freya is a young reaper who is being punished for defying Odin. Her punishment is to clean the stables daily. A competition between the nine separate realms, sort of like the Olympics, is take place soon and Freya thinks she will not be allowed to attend. Odin does allow her to participate in the tug of war completion, where Dirian, a dark searcher, kills her. He loathes Freya for having shamed him in front of other dark searchers. Freya is a reaper and collects people as they die. A dark reaper is a winged man who pledges himself to to Odin and collects those who go astray. Freya returns to life and is ordered by Odin to bring a Valkyrie back to Asgard, as a war between the realms is rumored to take place.
Verdict: I cannot wait for the next book in this series; it is necessary read for all who love action packed mythology literature.
April 2017 review by Carol Bernardi.
Harrison, Paula. The Storm Dragon. Illustrated by Sophy Williams. (The Secret Rescuers series, book 1) Aladdin, 2017. $5.99. ISBN 9781481476072. 128 pages. Ages 7-10. P7 Q7
The Storm Dragon is a chapter book in the series The Secret Rescuers. It is a story about a girl named Sophy who discovers a young dragon named Cloudy. The queen and the captain of the guard do not like magical creatures, so Sophy tries to rescue Cloudy. The cover has a cute picture of a baby dragon on it, which entices the reader to open the book and read it. Pencil drawings enhance the story. The story lends to a sequel.
Verdict: This is an easy read with pictures to go along with the story. It is a sweet book that combines the love of adventure and the love of animals. I recommend this book for individual reading, public library, classroom library and elementary school libraries.
April 2017 review by Tami Harris.