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


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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Unhei has just left her Korean homeland and come to America with her parents. As she rides the school bus toward her first day of school, she remembers the farewell at the airport in Korea and examines the treasured gift her grandmother gave her: a small red pouch containing a wooden block on which Unhei’s name is carved. Unhei is ashamed when the children on the bus find her name difficult to pronounce and ridicule it. Lesson learned, she declines to tell her name to anyone else and instead offers, “Um, I haven’t picked one yet. But I’ll let you know next week.” Her classmates write suggested names on slips of paper and place them in a jar. One student, Joey, takes a particular liking to Unhei and sees the beauty in her special stamp. When the day arrives for Unhei to announce her chosen name, she discovers how much Joey has helped. Choi (Earthquake, see below, etc.) draws from her own experience, interweaving several issues into this touching account and delicately addressing the challenges of assimilation. The paintings are done in creamy, earth-tone oils and augment the story nicely. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: July 10, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-80613-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2001

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After an eight-year interval, a Beginner Book by this well-loved originator of the series is welcome; and since Seuss hasn't chosen to illustrate it himself, we are lucky to have Stevenson as alternate. In the familiar Seuss pattern of a simple premise exaggerated to comic effect, a boy declares, "My bed is warm. My pillow's deep. Today's the day I'm going to sleep"—regardless of his mother, various arguments, successive waves of reinforcements, including the Marines, and a TV crew filming the momentous event. Actually, the development of the idea is a little tame compared with Seuss' other extravaganzas (and such determined all-day slumber is more the province of teen-agers and the good doctor's contemporaries than of readers at this level); but the book is delightfully enlivened by Stevenson's vigorous illustrations, which considerably augment the text by showing the full extent of the consternation caused by the hero's stubborness. Though there is plenty of the repetition required by learning readers, there are also some unusual words like Memphis, suggesting that this is not the easiest easy reader; but it has enough appeal to keep beginners entertained.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 1987

ISBN: 0394892178

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1987

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