Two orphans, a witch and a girl who laughs at death: Each shares the lens of protagonist in Newbery winner Schlitz’s fully satisfying gothic novel.
Parsefall and Lizzie Rose assist a wicked puppeteer, Grisini, with his London street shows in exchange for board and crumbs in a Dickensian boardinghouse complete with quirky landlady and ill-behaved dogs. Clara Wintermute is a privileged girl living in the shadow of her siblings, who all died from eating diseased watercress (picky Clara made her twin eat hers). Clara demands the puppet show for her birthday, and shortly after the ominous performance, she becomes trapped in some form she can’t fathom. Grisini is suspected, and the orphans are drawn into a dangerous ploy orchestrated by a dying witch who needs a child to steal something precious from her. Each character is a little horrible: Parsefall is a selfish thief, but this neediness gives him a keen empathy and daring. Lizzie Rose is bossy, but her yearning for her lost family keeps them together. Clara is egotistical, but her steely will saves them all. The witch is more horrible than good, but she is a little bit good, like the chocolate in the box that only grown-ups like. The shifting perspective among these characters and cumulative narrative development (echoing Dickens’ serials) create a pleasingly unsettling tension.
Schlitz’s prose is perfect in every stitch, and readers will savor each word.
(Historical fantasy. 9-13)
Twelve-year-old P.K. “Pinky” Pinkerton was born with a poker face—he can’t show or read emotion—but it’s not until he lands in Nevada Territory’s silver-mining country that he comes to terms with the hand he’s dealt.
This fast-paced and deadpan-funny Wild West adventure is Pinky’s first-person account, scrawled out as “last words” on ledger sheets in a mine shaft while three desperados hunt him down. These outlaws, seeking something valuable Pinky's Sioux ma had left behind, murdered his foster parents. Pinky narrowly escapes, jumping a stage to “Satan’s Playground,” or Virginia City of 1862, with its colorful mix of greedy gunslingers, “Celestials,” “Soiled Doves” and even Sam Clemens with the occasional jarring witticism. Best of all, he runs into Poker Face Jace who teaches him how to read people’s feet, “the most honest part of a man’s body.” Pinky is likable. A wannabe detective, he’s resourceful and smart, gutsy but not foolhardy…and partial to black coffee. Jace’s detailed lessons in human “tells” drag on a smidge, but readers will fully grasp how thirsty Pinky is for this information that’s more precious to him than silver. Wonderfully dry humor, vivid sensory descriptions of the mountain town and a genuinely appealing protagonist make this a standout.
A rich vein of wisdom runs through this highly entertaining, swashbuckling series debut.
(1862 map of Virginia City, glossary)
(Historical fiction. 10-14)
Sandler brings to life an extraordinary true adventure tale set on the treacherous Arctic terrain.
In September 1897, eight whaling vessels became icebound near Point Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in America, and 265 men faced starvation. Acting on orders from President McKinley, Secretary of the Treasury Lyman Gage sent Capt. Francis Tuttle and his ship, the Bear, on a rescue mission. He would take the Bear as far north as possible, put three officers ashore and send them over 1,500 miles overland to aid the men. Using a combination of dog-powered and reindeer-drawn sleds, herding 400 reindeer and living off the land along the way, the three-man rescue team, with immense help from indigenous people, succeeded in their journey through the Arctic winter, arriving 103 days after leaving the Bear. Remarkable photographs, many taken by one of the rescuing officers, grace just about every spread, and even the captions are fascinating. The narrative’s excitement is heightened by the words of the participants, drawn from their actual letters, diaries, journals and other personal reminiscences. Maps are well-drawn, documentation is meticulous, and the backmatter includes a section on what happened to the key players and a useful timeline.
Outstanding nonfiction writing that makes history come alive.
(source notes, bibliography, photography credits, index)
(Nonfiction. 10 & up)
Young Mr. Snicket seems to always ask the wrong questions.
In the basin of a bay drained of seawater, where giant needles extract ink from octopi underground, sits Stain’d-by-the-Sea, the mostly deserted town where 12-year-old Lemony Snicket takes his first case as apprentice to chaperone S. Theodora Markson. They have been hired by Mrs. Murphy Sallis to retrieve a vastly valuable statue of the local legend, the Bombinating Beast, from her neighbors and frenemies the Mallahans. Nothing’s what it seems…well, the adults are mostly nitwits…and Snicket is usually preoccupied with someone he left in the city doing something he should be helping her do. With the help and/or hindrance of girls Moxie and Ellington, can Snicket keep his promises and come close to solving a mystery? Author Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) returns with a tale of fictional-character Snicket’s early years, between his unconventional education and his chronicling of the woes of the Baudelaires. Intact from his earlier series are the gothic wackiness, linguistic play and literary allusions. This first in a series of four is less grim and cynical and more noir and pragmatic than Snicket’s earlier works, but just as much fun.
Fans of the Series of Unfortunate Events will be in heaven picking out tidbit references to the tridecalogy, but readers who’ve yet to delve into that well of sadness will have no problem enjoying this weird and witty yarn
. (Mystery. 8-12)
A seventh-grade boy who is coping with social and economic issues moves into a new apartment building, where he makes friends with an over-imaginative home-schooled boy and his eccentric family.
Social rules are meant to be broken is the theme of this bighearted, delightfully quirky tale, and in keeping with that, Stead creates a world where nothing is as it seems. Yet the surprises are meticulously foreshadowed, so when the pieces of the puzzle finally click in, the readers’ "aha" moments are filled with profound satisfaction. When an economic downturn forces Georges’ family to move out of their house and into an apartment, it brings Georges into contact with Safer, a home-schooled boy about the same age, and his unconventional but endearing family—and a mystery involving their possibly evil neighbor, Mr. X. At school, Georges must grapple with another type of mystery: why his once–best friend Jason “shrugged off” their lifelong friendship and suddenly no longer sits with him at lunch. Instead, Jason now sits at the cool table, which is controlled by a bully named Dallas, who delights in tormenting Georges. It would be unfair to give anything away, but suffice it to say that Georges resolves his various issues in a way that’s both ingenious and organic to the story.
What do you get when you combine Because of Winn-Dixie’s heart with the mystery and action of Holes? You get an engaging, spirit-lifting and unforgettable debut for young readers.
Turnage introduces readers to the homey yet exotic world of Tupelo Landing, N.C., well-populated with one-of-a-kind characters. A stranger with justice on his mind has just arrived in town, and Hurricane Amy is on its way. Rising sixth-grader Mo LoBeau leads the cast through a series of clues as the whole town tries to figure out who among them might be a murderer. The novel’s opening lines reveal the unflappable Mo LoBeau as a latter-day Philip Marlowe: “Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt.” This is the first of many genius turns of phrases. Pairing the heartbreaking sadness of children who don’t get their fair share from parents with the hilarity of small-town life, Turnage achieves a wickedly awesome tale of an 11-year-old girl with more spirit and gumption than folks twice her age. Mo LoBeau is destined to become a standout character in children’s fiction.
Readers may find they never want to leave Tupelo Landing.