Things I saw today:
two crows, more than once,
flying close enough to hear the
whisper of their wings
– From The Red Hills, by Charles de Lint
This week, a selection of books for those aged 9 to 12. And yes, they were enjoyed by this middle-aged reader, too. But don’t tell that part to your kids, as that would ruin it for them.
Begin with Charles de Lint’s delightful tome, The Cats Of Tanglewood Forest, illustrated by Charles Vess (2013). Orphan Lillian Kindred lives with her aunt on a farm, giving the visiting cats a sip of milk every day. She spends most of her time in the forest, hoping to catch sight of a fairy.
One day she is bitten by a venomous snake, and dies.
The cats are horrified, and decide to save her by changing her past. (Cats are magical beasts.) The problem is that there is always a cost to such games, and Lillian must decide whether her life is worth that cost. This is a lovely book. And the illustrations are stunning.
De Lint is a multitalented and multiple-award-winning Ottawa resident known for his sci fi and “urban fantasy” books (mixing the real with the magical), but he’s also a poet, musician and essayist. Three of his more than 70 books are horror novels (published under the pseudonym Samuel M. Key).
Next: Suzanne Collins is best-known right now as the author of the Young Adult series The Hunger Games (a great read, and the Lennoxville Library has the trilogy). But the younger set will enjoy Gregor The Overlander (2003).
Young Gregor’s life can be rough. He has two younger sisters (one is a toddler, and he must help care for her), a granny with Alzheimer’s, a working mom just barely getting by, and a dad who disappeared.
One day, while babysitting little Boots and doing laundry in the basement of his New York City apartment building, Gregor discovers a grill covering up a large hole.
He falls. With two-year-old sister, Boots. For a very, very long time, into the middle of the Earth. And middle Earth is a pretty nasty place. It’s Alice in Horrorland meets Narnia – do not read if giant cockroaches and rats and bazillions of spiders give you the heebie-jeebies.
But here’s the thing: there are also really wonderful people and altruistic creepy crawlies. And noble bats.
Overlander Gregor has fallen into the Underland, and must learn to survive and even, if possible, make friends and allies. He’s barely arrived when he hears rumours of another Overlander, who arrived years ago, and was kidnapped. This Overlander sounds like… his father.
Gregor (and Boots!) must go on a quest to find their dad. But even if they find him, can they all get back home?
British poet, poetry publisher, and novelist Martin Booth died in 2003, and The Alchemist’s Son: Doctor Illuminatus (2003, it was published posthumously) is the first of a series, and spends much of its time in exposition. The pace is a bit slow.
Twins Philippa and Timothy Ledger move into a giant ancient house named Rawne Barton. They discover a boy living in the basement – a boy who turns out to be 580 years old, whose father was an alchemist for King Henry V. The boy sleeps the centuries away, awakening only to fight evil. And there it is, evil, just in time for summer vacation… a meandering read, like summer can be.
For the fledgling Goth in the family, there’s The Secret Of Grim Hill, by Linda DeMeulemeester (2007). Cat Peters is not making friends at her new school. But she’d love to go to Grimoire, the private place up the hill that’s too rich for her and her mom.
As if in answer to her prayers, posters go up offering free tuition to the winners of a soccer tourney. Cat tries out and makes one of the teams!
Then weird things start to happen. Cat, and her teammates, are gold. Everything is forgiven. It’s like… magic. (Perhaps the Celtic kind.)
Cat is happy. Delirious, in fact. And she ignores her little sister, who sees something far more sinister in the works. An award-winning book (and series, but each tale is self-contained), and it’s the shortest and one of the easier reads of all those mentioned in this column.
And here’s one last suggestion, also short and fast. You could think of it as historical fiction. Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko (2004), points out that the infamous criminal overlord did laundry when he was imprisoned at Alcatraz during the Depression.
Alcatraz (which operated between 1933 and 1963) was located on an island in San Francisco Bay. Employees lived on the island, up to 60 families at a time, separated from the murderers by fences and guns. There was even a school for the children. The little settlement was considered safer than the nearby city, since the bad guys were already locked up.
Young Matthew (but call him Moose) has just arrived with his family, and hates it. Especially because he expects his schoolmates will make fun of sister Nat, who is a complete weirdo (she’s autistic, but of course the diagnosis did not exist at the time).
There’s no magic incantations in this book, no faeries or giant talking cockroaches, it’s just a tale of trying to fit in, make friends, impress girls, and catch a glimpse of Al Capone.
It sounds earnest, but it’s not dull. There’s lots of action, worry, drama, and avoiding adults while having some fun.
Choldenko read letters and other research materials for this book, and it shows. A multiple award winner, and lots of fun.
– Eleanor Brown, May 30, 2014