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An engaging, eventful, history-based fantasy with realistic protagonists and an enjoyable, twist-filled plot.

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In this debut middle-grade novel, young siblings from the 21st century are mysteriously transported to ancient Egypt, where they find friendship and danger as they search for a way home.

John isn’t looking forward to summer vacation on his last day in the fourth grade. His family will be moving from Colorado to Maryland for his dad’s job. Unlike his big sister, Sarah, who is excited about the change, John is sure that he’ll be unhappy and friendless there. During one last mountain hike, the siblings stumble on a strange cave where a hieroglyph of an eye transports them to ancient Egypt. They meet Zachariah, a “brown-skinned boy, barefoot and bare chested, wearing a white kilt-like wrapping,” and find they are able to speak his language. The son of Imhotep, the king’s pyramid architect, Zack, as John and Sarah call him, invites the pair home. (The siblings tell the family they are shipwrecked refugees from a distant land.) Gartner seamlessly mixes history with fantasy in his well-crafted tale, integrating into the plot facts about pyramid engineering, gods and goddesses, housing, and food (the book includes a recipe for an ancient Egyptian dish). With emotional authenticity, Sarah’s ready acceptance of the adventure gives way to empathy for her younger brother’s homesickness and her own fears and doubts. John responds to their experience with disbelief, cautious acceptance, a desire to return to his own time, and analytic fascination—the stars in the Egyptian night sky are so abundant and bright, he reasons, because there’s no pollution. Respect for readers shows, too, in the author’s expressive language: “A lazy cloud” reclines against a lofty mountain pinnacle, “waiting for the sunset show”; Imhotep offers resonant assurance that friendships form with “shared experience and time.” And, after providing vivid encounters with scorpions, a tomb robber, a cobra, and a Nile crocodile, Gartner surprises readers with multiple plot twists having to do with an unsavory time traveler; concerns that the eye transport device could change history; news of a bizarre, anachronistic archaeological find; and a fun little kicker for an epilogue.

An engaging, eventful, history-based fantasy with realistic protagonists and an enjoyable, twist-filled plot.

Pub Date: Dec. 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73415-521-1

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Crescent Vista Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Pub Date: March 31, 2000

ISBN: 0-06-028454-4

Page Count: 250

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1999

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Jake and Sam at the Empty Abbey

The Germans may have failed to destroy England, but this book hits its target.

Strong young characters, a solidly researched historical storyline and expressive illustrations work well here, as they did in Berten and Schott’s previous partnership (Littsie of Cincinnati, 2003).

Joining the ranks of books about children evacuated from London during World War II, Jake and Samantha, or Sam, ages 10 and 8, find themselves in Pevensey in 1940 under the care of the horrible Miss Bottomley. Sam is easily tired by her leg braces, a result of having polio, but Miss Bottomley still forces both children to do all the chores, remain outdoors for long hours in the cold, and barely gives them anything to eat. After one particularly bad morning, the siblings befriend both Miss Bottomley’s pet ferret, Fulham, and Brother Godric, a monk who maintains the ruins of the local abbey. Descriptions of life as an evacuee and the fear of German bombing are interspersed with tales of English history. Berten includes gas mask drills and home front guards while also covering the destruction of monasteries under Henry VIII, the problems of medieval lepers in England and more. Schott’s illustrations are well spaced, well envisioned and complement the text. The seemingly pat ending, in which medieval treasure is found and the children are reunited with their parents, is actually well researched. Fulham’s discovery of a secret area in the abbey is in character for the burrower, and British law does indeed allow for treasure hunters to be paid the full value of their finds. The only resolution that feels rushed and far-fetched is Miss Bottomley’s sudden turnaround of character after a childhood admirer professes his affection. Fans of the Chronicles of Narnia are rediscovering this era in history, and Berten, without the fantasy setting of the classic series, helps the reader find magic in exploring new settings and uncovering medieval history.

The Germans may have failed to destroy England, but this book hits its target.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-9724421-1-4

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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