Gr 4-8--Like Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, this story begins with three orphans in dire circumstances. Like Harry Potter, the story contains magic that grows as the characters mature. Like Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, there is a rescue mission and travel through both time and space. And like J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, there are blustery yet valiant dwarves and evil magical creatures. So yes, John Stephens's story (Knopf, 2011) might be described as derivative. But, the book is unique enough to draw the same audience that appreciates the other series and give them something new and exciting. Kate, Michael, and Emma have been alone for years, wondering what happened to their parents. They discover that it has something to do with an ancient evil, a wicked Countess, and a town with the no children. The solution seems to lie in a magical book that permits them to travel back and forth in time, creating a variety of alternate futures and pasts, and allows them to solve problems using the atlas's unique abilities. Kate is the responsible one, putting the needs of others ahead of her own. Michael loves dwarves, and is delighted to actually meet some. Emma, the youngest, combines vulnerability with stubborn grit. Together the children must solve problems, learn to use magic, and stay together as a family. Jim Dale provides a stellar performance, creating unique voices for the characters. He draws listeners along at a compelling pace, using his vocal skills to immerse them in the unique worlds created in the book. The time travel plot can be quite complex, but Dale never lets listeners get bogged down. Fantasy fans will anxiously await the next installment.--Teresa Bateman, Brigadoon Elementary School. Federal Way, WA[Page 49]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Gr 6-9--When Doug Swieteck's father loses his job, the whole family is forced to move to upstate New York. His new home, "The Dump," is in the dullest town ever, and Doug hates his new life. That is, until he meets the local grocer's daughter, Lil, and starts to think that the town might have something worthwhile in it after all. Following Lil into the library, Doug comes across a copy of John James Audubon's Birds of America and becomes immersed in a whole new world of art. As he slowly learns to drop his tough guy exterior, developed from having a father with "lightning quick hands," Doug begins to open up to his neighbors and finds both comfort and acceptance as they begin to share their idyllic world with him. Many painful secrets are delicately handled in Gary Schmidt's fantastic companion to The Wednesday Wars (Clarion, 2007). Lincoln Hoppe effortlessly captures the "tough guy with a heart of gold" tone that epitomizes Doug's emotional journey. His even pacing and matter-of-fact delivery soften the devastating revelations about Doug's abusive father, his eldest brother's war injuries, and Lil's bout with cancer. This excellent audiobook should top purchase lists in school and public libraries.--Jessica Miller, New Britain Public Library, CT[Page 56]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.