A quick overview of complex philosophical subjects, told in an approachable way.

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PLATO'S ACADEMY AND THE ETERNAL KEY

Gray’s debut middle-grade novel blends fundamentals of philosophy with time-travel fantasy.

Eleven-year-old Charlie’s beloved grandfather, Ted, has recently died. However, he left Charlie instructions to break into his research room in a London museum and steal a scroll. Charlie must return the scroll to its rightful owners, who can be found behind a green door in the same room. The boy is puzzled when the instructions urge him to remain calm; how intimidating can such a mission be? So he undertakes the assignment, slipping away from his classmates during a museum field trip. When he finally goes through the green door, he finds himself in ancient Greece, in the library of Plato’s Academy. He soon meets Plato himself, and discovers that Ted was the philosopher’s chief librarian, splitting his time between the modern day and antiquity. Charlie wants to do the same, but the key to the library door is missing, and Plato has no idea where it is. So Charlie, accompanied by warrior girl Adonia, sets out on a quest to ask the Oracle at Delphi. Portrayed here as a kind of trickster-goddess with a lion-cub familiar, the Oracle doesn’t just give them the key; rather, she puts the pair through a trio of tests based on some of Plato’s essential ideas, touching on the philosopher’s famous parable of the cave, the ideal city described in The Republic, and the four Platonic solids and their corresponding elements. Gray’s introduction to these concepts is necessarily superficial, and it may be difficult for kids to connect them to their everyday lives. The explanation of the Platonic solids, in particular, seems somewhat remote, even though it features in a fun action scene with fireballs and whirlwinds. The author does better with the cave: To complete the test, Adonia and Charlie must not only escape it, but then go back in to lead the other prisoners to freedom, just as Plato urged philosophers to share the truth. The book also mentions some of the problematic aspects of Plato’s ideal city, such as the Noble Lie, without potentially overwhelming young intellects.

A quick overview of complex philosophical subjects, told in an approachable way.

Pub Date: April 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495413506

Page Count: 140

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2014

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MORNING GIRL

Like the quiet lap of waves on the sand, the alternating introspections of two Bahamian island children in 1492. Morning Girl and her brother Star Boy are very different: she loves the hush of pre-dawn while he revels in night skies, noise, wind. In many ways they are antagonists, each too young and subjective to understand the other's perspective—in contrast to their mother's appreciation for her brother. In the course of these taut chapters concerning such pivotal events as their mother's losing a child, the arrival of a hurricane, or Star Boy's earning the right to his adult name, they grow closer. In the last, Morning Girl greets— with cordial innocence—a boat full of visitors, unaware that her beautifully balanced and textured life is about to be catalogued as ``very poor in everything,'' her island conquered by Europeans. This paradise is so intensely and believably imagined that the epilogue, quoted from Columbus's diary, sickens with its ominous significance. Subtly, Dorris draws parallels between the timeless chafings of sibs set on changing each other's temperaments and the intrusions of states questing new territory. Saddening, compelling—a novel to be cherished for its compassion and humanity. (Fiction. 8+)

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 1992

ISBN: 1-56282-284-5

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1992

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An engaging mix of gentle behavior modeling and inventive story ideas that may well provide just the push needed to get some...

RALPH TELLS A STORY

With a little help from his audience, a young storyteller gets over a solid case of writer’s block in this engaging debut.

Despite the (sometimes creatively spelled) examples produced by all his classmates and the teacher’s assertion that “Stories are everywhere!” Ralph can’t get past putting his name at the top of his paper. One day, lying under the desk in despair, he remembers finding an inchworm in the park. That’s all he has, though, until his classmates’ questions—“Did it feel squishy?” “Did your mom let you keep it?” “Did you name it?”—open the floodgates for a rousing yarn featuring an interloping toddler, a broad comic turn and a dramatic rescue. Hanlon illustrates the episode with childlike scenes done in transparent colors, featuring friendly-looking children with big smiles and widely spaced button eyes. The narrative text is printed in standard type, but the children’s dialogue is rendered in hand-lettered printing within speech balloons. The episode is enhanced with a page of elementary writing tips and the tantalizing titles of his many subsequent stories (“When I Ate Too Much Spaghetti,” “The Scariest Hamster,” “When the Librarian Yelled Really Loud at Me,” etc.) on the back endpapers.

An engaging mix of gentle behavior modeling and inventive story ideas that may well provide just the push needed to get some budding young writers off and running. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0761461807

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Amazon Children's Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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