Friday, February 01, 2008

The Maestro, by Tim Wynne-Jones, 1996.

There was never space for Burl in a universe with Cal, his father, at the center. Burl’s escaping steps lead him to a remote camp on a lake where an eccentric musician seeking solitude offers him scrambled eggs and shelter. “The Maestro,” a famous musician, doesn’t stay long, and when word of his death reaches Burl, an opportunity for a new life unfolds, but claiming poses multi-faceted dangers. Never predictable or trite; Burl’s predicament is dire and authentic, his helpers unlikely and imperfect, his dignity affirmed throughout despite his stumbling steps. Most strongly recommended.

Bill in a China Shop, by Katie McAllaster Weaver, Ill. Tim Ragin, 2003

Bill the bull is a dapper dan with a taste for ornate porcelain. His tail and a sneering salesman are his undoing in the one shop in London that doesn’t specifically prohibit bulls from browsing. Sumptuously illustrated in lavish Victorian style, with rhyme and humor spot-on; a delightful picture book parents won’t mind re-reading. Strongly recommended.

Araminta Spookie: My Haunted House, by Angie Sage, 2006

Araminta Spookie’s Aunt Tabby is sick of doing battle with the boiler in their ancient, huge, rambling house that ought to be haunted even if Araminta has yet to find a ghost. Aunt Tabby sticks a For Sale sign out front, and it takes all of Araminta’s ingenuity to sabotage Tabby’s plans. Even when she finds real ghosts in the castle, it seems she can’t stop Tabby from selling. Charming light humor that hits the target every time. Strongly recommended for elementary and early middle-grade readers.

Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett, 2006.

What do frogs, twelves, used books, anonymous letters, pentominoes, old lady neighbours, and stolen paintings have in common? Who knows! Ms. Hussey, Petra and Calder’s sixth grade teacher, says asking questions can be dangerous. But when a priceless Vermeer painting turns up missing – the very same painting Petra had dreamed about a few days before – Petra and Calder have lots of questions to ask. Middle-grade history-mystery, recommended.

Shakespeare's Secret, by Elise Broach, 2005

When Hero Netherfield moves into the Murphy diamond house, she has nothing good to look forward to but a new set of sixth-grade classmates likely to obsess over her odd name. But when she meets Miriam Roth, her elderly neighbor, who tells her the secret of the stolen Murphy diamond, and its connection to an Elizabethan nobleman who may have been none other than the pen behind the name of Shakespeare, Hero suddenly has more on her mind than just figuring out why Danny Cordova, the cutest boy in the eigth grade, turns up everywhere she goes. Charming middle-grade history-mystery; strongly recommended.