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A New Beginning for Old Friends

The Boxcar Children BeginningFor over seven decades, generations of young readers have delighted in the stories of Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny, known collectively as The Boxcar Children. But before four orphans found their way from an abandoned boxcar to a new life with their loving grandfather, they had another life and adventures yet untold. In The Boxcar Children Beginning: The Aldens of Meadow Fair Farm, Newbery Medal-winning author Patricia MacLachlan offers a new beginning to a classic series.

 

The Alden family of Meadow Fair Farm is not wealthy, but they have always managed. What they lack in economy they balance with the support of strong family ties and good humor. Readers will be charmed by the gentle tone and tranquil setting of the farm life and the new friends encountered as the Alden children enjoy their last season at home before embarking on a more challenging journey. MacLachlan possesses an uncanny gift for mirroring the voice of Gertrude Chandler Warner. Her narration and characterizations strongly reflect the simple, straightforward and unassuming style of the original. Those who have read any of the nineteen volumes of The Boxcar Children will be struck by the similarity of style between the two authors.

 

Her ability to engage young readers without overwhelming them is particularly evident in this story. The Boxcar Children Beginning prequel serves as a wonderful introduction to the rich and bountiful series, while neatly avoiding the hazard of saddening young readers when it comes to the reason for their leaving the farm. The transition from life on the farm to life in the boxcar is made all the smoother by MacLachlan’s inclusion of a continuation teaser, borrowed from the original first volume. This prequel is recommended both for younger readers who have yet to enjoy the beloved series, and for current fans curious about the children’s life before the boxcar.

Meghan

 
 

Read the Book, Play the Game, Save the Future

A Mutiny in TimeIn A Mutiny in Time, Book One of The Infinity Ring series, James Dashner delivers a strong opening to the latest multi-platform, clue-finding series for kids. Best friends Dak and Sera are unusual kids.  Dak is a self-professed history nerd (and cheese addict), while Sera’s fondness for quantum physics is incalculable. So when the best friends discover a time travel device--the Infinity Ring--in a secret lab belonging to Dak’s parents, they’re seriously excited.

 

They’re not the only ones anxious to get their hands on the Infinity Ring though, and soon the kids are recruited by the Hystorians, a secret society formed by Aristotle and maintained over generations and many centuries. From the Hystorians, Dak and Sera learn that there have been a number of Great Breaks in history--rifts in reality--that will eventually lead to the world’s destruction! The only way to save the world is to use the Infinity Ring to go back in time and mend each rift.

 

Dak and Sera agree to help the Hystorians, in exchange for help in finding Dak’s parents, who were lost in time during a test run of the Infinity Ring. Joined by Riq, an older boy and youngest member of the Hystorians, Dak and Sera travel to Spain in 1492 to stop a mutiny on Columbus’ fateful voyage. There are dangers though; for as long as the Hystorians society has existed, so too has another society, the SQ, which has benefited from the rifts in reality and will stop at nothing to keep the Great Breaks from being mended. For every Hystorian Guide they find in each era, they must also elude the SQ’s Time Wardens who seek to stop them.

 

The fun doesn’t end with the fast paced first adventure in the series. After completing A Mutiny in Time, readers are invited to play the game online. The reader becomes a player and can solve puzzles, navigate wormholes, and explore cities of the past while receiving a dash of real history with their entertainment. Fans of The 39 Clues series now have a new series to enjoy.

Meghan

 
 

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

posted by:
September 19, 2012 - 7:55am

Fairest of AllBeauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run AwayYoung readers who fondly remember fairy tales will fall in love with two new titles that add a modern spin on classic childhood favorites.

 

In Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski, ten year old Abby and her younger brother Jonah discover an antique mirror in their new house. The magical mirror sends them back into the Snow White fairy tale and the duo is responsible for tangling this tale so that there might not be a happily ever after. Mlynowski’s version is funny and contemporary with enough changes to spice things up. Three of the seven dwarfs are women and one has pink hair! Comical hijinks result as the two kids try to fix what they botched, resulting in a hysterical read. The swift pace combined with Abby's quick wit and a real sibling relationship will grab readers from page one. This is a wonderful start to the Whatever After series which promises future magical adventures behind the looking glass.  

 

Wendy Mass also fractures a favored tale with Beauty and the Beast: the Only One Who Didn’t Run Away, the third entry in her popular Twice Upon a Time series. Beauty is a twelve year old dealing with self-esteem issues and a name which she thinks doesn’t reflect reality.  Prince Riley is a gangly bagpipe player who ends up on the wrong end of a witch’s spell and suddenly starts growing fur and sharp nails. Both have superstar older siblings who outshine them in everything. Mass set her version of the story in a medieval kingdom, but her two protagonists are pleasantly modern and relatable. Told in alternating chapters by Beauty and the Prince/Beast, the pace of this quest story is quick and filled with adventure and romance.

Maureen

 
 

A Glee-ful Story

A Glee-ful Story

posted by:
August 22, 2012 - 7:55am

The Land of Stories: the Wishing SpellThe fairy tale world is one that is familiar to all of us. Hearing the words "My, what big teeth you have!" or "Somebody has been eating my porridge!" instantly transports us into a magical land of evil queens and brave heroes and heroines. Actor and debut author Chris Colfer takes readers on this journey in The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell.

 

Twins Alex and Conner have not had much magic in their lives lately. Their father was killed in a car accident earlier in the year, and their mother has had to work double shifts just to keep the family afloat. Quiet, bookish Alex has had an especially hard time since her father died, since she has no close friends other than her brother. Neither twin holds out much hope for a happy birthday until their oft-absent grandmother appears for a visit. Among the birthday gifts she brings is "The Land of Stories", the book of fairy tales from which their father and grandmother used to read during happier times. When Alex takes the book to bed with her and it begins to hum loudly and glow, the magic truly begins. The twins literally fall into The Land of Stories.

 

As they try to find a way home by collecting magical items for the Wishing Spell, Alex and Conner encounter many of their favorite characters. They are not exactly as they remember them from the stories, however; Cinderella was scorned by her people for being lower class, Goldilocks is a master swordswoman on the run from the law for multiple crimes, and the Big Bad Wolf Pack (descendants of the original) is working for the Evil Queen who tried to kill Snow White. Will the twins find all of the items in time to return home to their mother?

 

Colfer credits his grandmother for his writing skill, as she often edited his childhood writing by tearing it up and telling him he could do better. He infuses his Land with witty humor and quick action. Alex and Conner complement each other as the star-struck fairy tale fan and cynical wise-cracker respectively. Kids will love going along with them on the ultimate scavenger hunt and learning what happened to their favorites beyond “happily ever after.” The audiobook is narrated by Colfer himself, and his voice adds child-like humor and whimsical charm to his tale.

Sam

 
 

More Fun in the Magical Car

More Fun in the Magical Car

posted by:
August 15, 2012 - 7:57am

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies AgainIn Frank Cottrell Boyce's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, we meet The Tootings, your average twenty-first century British nuclear family: there's Dad, recently laid off from his job assembling tiny things; Mum, who works at Unbeatable Motoring Bargains; black-clad teenage Lucy; Jem, who tries to keep his head down; and Little Harry, the baby. Dad's sudden joblessness is a bit worrying to the rest of the family, but not to him. He's a very optimistic type, and rejoices in all the time he suddenly has on his hands to fix things around the house. He's a something of an inventor, like Caractacus Pott, the dad in Ian's Fleming's original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, published in 1964. And like the original dad, his inventions do not work very well.

 

He's driving the family crazy, in fact, and so, to distract him, Mum brings home a decrepit pop-top 1966 camper van for him to fix up. A real rustbucket, but a vehicle from back in the days when any reasonably careful adult could figure out how to fix his or her own car. Dad and Jem take the whole thing apart, assess their needs, and then hit up the local junkyard for parts.

 

What they find at the junkyard, and the effect it has on the camper van when they install it, plus the brief wink to Fleming's original inspiration for the story, are pleasures this writer would not dilute for any reader.

 

Although the story is inventive and picturesque, with billionaire crooks and a visit to Madagascar and a guest appearance on a French reality show called Car Stupide, most of the humor in this very funny novel is a result of the family's interactions with each other. Occasional British terms (lift, motorway), while initially puzzling for young readers, are quickly made clear by the context. Joe Berger's lively cartoon illustrations depict each phase of Chitty's reincarnation in loving detail and bring the resourceful Tootings to life.

Paula W.

 
 

Forecast: Adventure with Chance of Danger

The Storm MakersJennifer E. Smith’s first middle grade novel The Storm Makers begins on a deceptively peaceful morning on a farm in Wisconsin. It was early when 12 year-old Ruby McDuff spied the tall, disheveled stranger in a wrinkled blue shirt with silver buttons. With her nosed pressed to the glass of her bedroom window, she watched him yawn before strolling out of the family barn and away toward the main road.

 

Miles away from the nearest town and a day’s journey from the blissfully normal suburb where they used to live, the McDuff‘s tiny farm isn’t exactly walking distance from anywhere. So what could explain the stranger with the long legs and bright buttons ambling away down the lane?

 

Once, Ruby would have leapt to wake her twin brother, Simon. Once, they would have made up stories together about where the stranger had come from, or searched together for clues. That was all before, though. Before they had turned 12; before their parents left their jobs to live off the land; before, when Simon and Ruby had been two parts of one whole. These days Simon has been distant in a way he never was before. Alternately restless and sullen, teasing and resentful, Simon’s moods seem as changeable as the weather lately. Even the dogs seem to avoid him.

 

Yet even as they seem to drift apart, avoiding each other this summer seems impossible. An oppressive drought has settled in and boisterous, heated winds toss dust from one end of the farm to the other, coating all who venture outdoors in a fine, powdery grime.  Little can the twins imagine how this drought, the stranger in the barn, and a coming storm will change everything they have known, about their world and about themselves. For Simon is a Storm Maker, one of a group of incredibly rare individuals with the power to influence the weather. And he just may have flared up in time to stop a disaster of untold proportions. That is, if Ruby can protect them both from the dangerous ambitions of the most powerful Storm Maker.

 

A spirited read, The Storm Makers is recommended for readers who enjoy a blend of adventure, magic and mystery.

Meghan

 
 

Eight-Year-Old Seeks Adventure, Finds Friendship

Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the WorldIn Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World, eight-year-old Iva Honeycutt has a thirst for adventure. Her summer plan is to make her first big discovery and earn membership into the National Geographic Society. First she has to ditch her girly-girl double cousin, Heaven. Iva’s mother and Heaven’s mother are sisters. They married brothers and planned their families so their children would grow up as best friends. This is great for Iva’s older and younger sisters, who were paired with cousins they liked. Iva is stuck with bossy Heaven, who lives next door and tattles on her constantly. 

 

Iva sets out to find the lost treasure of General Braddock. She finds a treasure map from her great-grandfather Ludwell, changes her name to Iva Honeysuckle and embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. Unfortunately, Heaven gets her cousin signed up for Vacation Church School, where Iva earns the distinction of being the first child ever expelled. Will her summer improve? Will Iva join the National Geographic Society? Enjoy finding out the answers in this quirky, fun read by Candice Ransom. The author peppers her story with eccentric characters like Mr. and Mrs. Prindy, who had a falling out thirty-five years ago and have only spoke through third parties ever since. Euple Free is patiently covering his truck in used tinfoil, and Swannanoah Prindy spends her time picking through the trash to offer up as treasures to others.

 

Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World is a light, funny read for the elementary school crowd. Young readers will enjoy the adventure and the freedom Iva has as she sets out to make her mark on the world.  Ransom’s original storytelling is engaging and fun. Illustrations by Heather Ross add to the charm of the story. This one is perfect for summer reading.

Diane