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Children's Book Reviews

*** Dragons & Space Ships ***

*** Dragons & Space Ships ***

Kate Marley

Fantasy, for me, is where magic and myth intersect with (and sometimes overwhelm) reality. Elves, dragons, magic swords and others of that ilk are only the most obvious signposts pointing to a fantasy story. Science fiction tends to be, at least in my opinion, more grounded in our own recognizable reality and the laws of science and nature. Spaceships, aliens and the future are the bedrock of hard science fiction. Occasionally, wisps of fantasy will touch SF, and fantasy only really works if the author can make it seem real and natural. Right now, fantasy is much more popular with kids, but both fulfill an important need to stretch the imagination by asking "What if?..."


Child of Faerie, Child of Earth by Jane Yolen. c 1997, Little Brown.
This is a beautiful book - the illustrations by Jane Dyer capture the delicate loveliness of each child, their worlds and their relationship. The evocative, rhyming story will tempt readers to read it aloud over and over. Itís a rare fantasy treat for everyone.

Benjamin McFadden and the Robot Babysitter by Timothy Bush. c 1998, Crown.
When his parents leave the space station for an adult party, Benjamin is left with an inflexible sitter. Itís then that he finally sees the worth of his creative computing class, and makes a few changes to the robotís master program. But like the sorcererís apprentice, he soon discovers a few problems with his tampering. Detailed illustrations by the author are just plain FUN.

Meanwhile... by Jules Feiffer. c 1997, HarperCollins.
When Raymond tries to ignore his mother calling, he suddenly gets a brainstorm! In comics, the words MEANWHILE...take the reader away. And when he tries writing it himself, by golly it works! His motherís voice is replaced by - pirates. Which all too soon must be replaced by Wild West outlaws - bloodthirsty Martians - and quickly, what seemed like an amazing getaway becomes a scary circle - until he finds the way out, in the nick of time naturally. Humorous illustrations by the author are a great compliment to this fantasy adventure.

Moondogs by Daniel Kirk. c 1999, Putnam.
Willís parents think he spends too much time alone, gazing at the stars, so they plan to get him a pet. But Will has to do it his way, and makes a ship to take him to the moon, where heís seen all kinds of interesting (and I do mean interesting!) moondogs. Itís a cute little adventure, told in rhyme, with a not too surprising, but very satisfying ending. Colorful and cartoonish illustrations are by the author.

Beetle Boy by Lawrence David. c 1999, Doubleday.
One morning, for no reason at all, Gregory wakes up to find out that heís turned into a giant beetle - and no one seems to notice except his best friend! What will it take to convince his family? Funny illustrations by Delphine Durand add to the sense of bizarre as Gregory copes with the pros and cons of being a bug.


Jane on Her Own by Ursula K. Le Guin. c 1999, Orchard Books.
Adventurous Jane is not content to hide forever like her siblings - she wants to explore and experience all she can as a winged cat. Of course she finds adventure, and of course she gets into trouble - but sheís smart enough to learn and find a solution to her problems. Pen and ink drawings by S. D. Schindler are, as they were for all the other Catwings books, attractive and realistic.

Alien for Rent by Betsy Duffey. c 1999, Delacorte Press.
It all started when Lexie and her friend J.P. find an odd notice on the schoolís bulletin board about an alien for rent. Curiosity takes them to the meeting place, but the alien is not what they had expected. Nor is his work, or the payments, and readers will enjoy the hilarious situation as the two friends scramble to save (of all people!) the school bully. Inside artwork is by Abby Carter.


Star Hatchling by Margaret Bechard. c 1995, Puffin.
It may be an old device, to strand a human on an alien world and have them learn about the cultures there - or to switch viewpoints from one character to another so that the reader learns both sides of the story. Yet both methods are effectively used here. Hanna is an earth child, marooned on an alien world - Shem and Cheko are brother and sister, enthralled with the new pet they found, and trying to keep it a secret from the grownups. I found what they NEVER learned about each other as interesting as what they did.

Dark Side of Nowhere by Neal Shusterman. c 1997, Little, Brown.
The town of Billington is boring, normal and nice. Fourteen year old Jason feels trapped and stifled by this nowhere place where nothing interesting happens - until one of his best friends dies. They say Ethan died of a burst appendix, but thatís only one of the many deep, dark lies about the town, his parents, and about himself. I found this to be an engrossing science fiction story with a lot of underlying questions about what is really alien, and what is human.

Noliís Story by Peter Dickinson. c 1998, Grosset & Dunlap.
This is the second book of a series called 'The Kin', about a group of children surviving on their own in prehistoric times. While this one, like the previous 'Suthís Story'(then Po's Story, and Mana's story), can stand on its own, kids who like series with believable characters and great adventure will really enjoy this new series from a writer who has a remarkable knack for making the very remote past come alive.

Briarís Book by Tamora Pierce. c 1999, Scholastic.
This story winds up the Circle of Magic series begun three books ago and focuses on Briar, a boy elevated from poverty to sharpen his plant related mage skills at the temple. An unknown plague in the nearby city becomes a crisis for everyone, particularly all four youngsters and their still developing talents. The book works on several levels - as a fantasy story by itself, or with the others, and as an environmental warning, but mostly about the value of friendship no matter what age, gender or race.

Transall Saga by Gary Paulsen. c 1998, Delacorte Press.
This may seem like a big departure for Paulsen, except that after 13 year old Mark is caught in the strange beam of light and transported to an alien planet, it quickly becomes a survival story - at which the author excels. Through the long years Markís struggles also include the problems of loneliness and his determination to find a way home. How he survives and grows up makes for a fine, if predictable, read.

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones. c 1998, Greenwillow.
This lively fantasy has it all - wizards, elves, parallel worlds, dragons, griffins - and much, much more. Most importantly, it has lots of humor. Much to his dismay, Wizard Derk is declared the Dark Lord for this yearís Pilgrim tours by the Oracle, and it seems that everything is going wrong. How can Derk and his unconventional family reduce the damage caused by the tourists? What can any of them do to get out from the slimy tour leaderís forty year old contract? And whose side is the dragon really on? Donít be fooled by the scary cover - this is a great tongue in cheek, campy book, and fantasy fans will enjoy it.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. first American edition c 1998, Scholastic.
Imagine a cross between Matilda and The Dark Lord of Derkholm, with some hint of Lord of the Rings, and what we get is a great adventure story about Harry. He thought he was just an ordinary, albiet neglected, almost eleven year old, but he's not - he's one of the most famous of the modern wizards, and has received an invitation to Hogwarts, the elite school for wizardary. And of course, he has adventures, learning about his heritage, dealing with being new kid as well as treachery. Filled with weird characters, loads of off hand humor and the hint (I hope!) of a sequel, this one was a real page turner.

P.S. In case anyone is wondering about the long awaited third volume in 'His Dark Material' series by Philip Pullman - itís due to be published sometime in the fall.

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