Beloved by young readers, speculative fiction often gets a very different reception from grown-ups, some of whom lament that such books lack the depth of literary fiction, especially if — horrors! — they are popular ones in a series. It took a tsunami of media attention to get such adults to capitulate to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books and, once they did, they raved about the series as an exception, seemingly unaware of its distinguished lineage. Fortunately, others feel differently, aware that some of the most inventive, enthralling, provocative and (yes) literary writing for children comes in this form. Setting their stories in invented places, a magical version of the real world or far across the universe, these authors explore weighty themes in highly original ways. For established fans, new readers and open-minded skeptics, four new titles offer distinctive and rich reading experiences.
Read on here to see what I thought about Corey Ann Haydu’s Eventown, Anna Ursu’s The Lost Girl, Catherine Doyle’s The Storm Keeper’s Island, and Yoon Ha Lee’s Dragon Pearl.
I had a lot of fun reviewing five terrific oversized books for this weekend’s New York Times, all perfect holiday gift possibilities. A few excerpts below with the complete reviews available for reading here.
Children are sure to return to the book [Oleg Konnecke’s The Big Book of Animals of the World] frequently to pore over and touch its chunky pages, then murmur the names of the different animals.
Starting with the movable gears on the cover, through pages featuring pop-ups and an ingenious variety of interactive experiences, this is as robust and inviting a physical book [David Macaulay’s How Machines Work: Zoo Break!] as you can possibly get.
The large size of the book [Jenny Broom and Kristjana S. Williams’ The Wonder Garden] makes it easy to imagine a group of children sprawled on the floor with it, oohing and aahing over the bright images, pops of electric color and clear, informative descriptions.
Is this, one wonders, the sort of book found at Diagon Alley’s Flourish and Blotts or in the Hogwarts library? … This gorgeous volume [J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone] is sure to please all, from Harry Potter neophytes to longtime fans.
… most young nature lovers, along with those with a yen for serious collecting, will relish this elegantly designed book [Gordon Grice’s Cabinet of Curiosities], with its surfeit of spectacular images.
Here is a richly realized alternate Victorian world of elegant upper-class homes and squalid faerie slums. Filled with healthy doses of suspense and action, this is a story young fantasy buffs are sure to enjoy. And while he is bound to be compared to Christopher Paolini, whose “Eragon” was also published while he was still in his teens, Bachmann has written an accomplished book that deserves to be considered on its own.
Schlitz skillfully manages multiple narratives as the story makes its complex way forward, creating scenes of warmth and humor along with those of drama and horror. Filled with lush language and delightful sensory details like the savored warmth of a velvet cloak, this marvelous story will keep readers absorbed throughout. While the intricate storytelling, captivating characters and evocative setting owe a great deal to Dickens, the book also feels very much in the tradition of such grand 20th-century writers as Joan Aiken and Elizabeth Goudge. Filled with heart-pounding and heart-rending moments, this delicious, glorious novel is the work of a master of children’s literature.
For the rest of my reviews of Stefan Bachmann’s The Peculiar and Laura Amy Schlitz’s Splendors and Glooms in today’s New York Times please go here.
I’m going to be offline for the next few days and so wanted to give you all a heads-up that there will be children’s and YA book reviews in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review and one of them is mine. I’m quite proud of it, I must say.
For kids who are ahead of the game and have finished their Harry Potters, Hobbits and other classics of summer reading lists, here are three recent novels they could polish off for fun before school begins: suspense with a bit of the supernatural; a friendship story set during the Great Depression; and a historical novel involving mistaken identity and swordplay. Call it the pleasure reading list.
Check out these reviews of Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me (by yours truly), Mary Ann Hoberman’s Strawberry Hill and Joanne Dahme’s The Plague in this Sunday’s New York Times and then head on over to their Paper Cuts blog for more on summer reading and comments responding to their questions: “What are you (or your kids) reading this summer? Do you love it or hate it?”