A mix of mathematics, sorcery and heroism that’s not to be missed.

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Libellus de Numeros

From the Magicae Mathematica series

West’s debut middle-grade novel asks: What happens when a young girl finds herself in a city governed by magic and math?

For young Alex, traveling all over the world with her engineer father has lost its sheen, and she’s discontented with her life. One day, however, during a confrontation with bullies at school, she’s suddenly and inexplicably thrown into a new world. There she meets Archimedes, a surprisingly sprightly old man who appears to be a magical being. He takes her to a place called the City, where she learns that what she sees as magic is actually a combination of math and Latin. As it turns out, Alex already knows Latin—and she’s about to learn a lot more math. Under Archimedes’ wing, she and other students learn lessons from the Book of Numbers, which give her powers that the City’s ruling classes fear. As trouble brews outside the City from wizards who’ve turned to the dark side, Alex struggles with the power of her own magic, her homesickness, and the intensity of her emotions. When danger comes to the City itself, Alex and Archimedes must try to save it in the only way they know how—with math, magic and love. West’s novel will appeal strongly to readers who enjoyed Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth (1961) as younger children. As with that book, a pre-existing love of math isn’t required; Alex doesn’t see the big deal about numbers until she learns about their magic, and readers won’t need to either. West uses figures from Greek mythology throughout the book, and these references will be delightful to those who understand them, but unimportant to those who don’t. The author draws on a wide range of sources—including a city that resembles the one in Plato’s The Republic—while still managing to write a gripping book for middle-grade readers. The references may even inspire further reading in the classics. Alex’s femininity is never a plot point, either, providing an ideal example of a strong girl completing heroic tasks.

A mix of mathematics, sorcery and heroism that’s not to be missed.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-1502834911

Page Count: 382

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2015

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ZATHURA

A trite, knock-off sequel to Jumanji (1981). The “Jumanji” box distracts Walter Budwing away from beating up on his little brother Danny, but it’s Danny who discovers the Zathura board inside—and in no time, Earth is far behind, a meteor has smashed through the roof, and a reptilian Zyborg pirate is crawling through the hole. Each throw of the dice brings an ominous new development, portrayed in grainy, penciled freeze frames featuring sculptured-looking figures in constricted, almost claustrophobic settings. The angles of view are, as always, wonderfully dramatic, but not only is much of the finer detail that contributed to Jumanji’s astonishing realism missing, the spectacular damage being done to the Budwings’ house as the game progresses is, by and large, only glimpsed around the picture edges. Naturally, having had his bacon repeatedly saved by his younger sibling’s quick thinking, once Walter falls through a black hole to a time preceding the game’s start, his attitude toward Danny undergoes a sudden, radical transformation. Van Allsburg’s imagination usually soars right along with his accomplished art—but here, both are just running in place. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2002

ISBN: 0-618-25396-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2002

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Guaranteed to enchant, enthrall, and enmagick.

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THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON

An elderly witch, a magical girl, a brave carpenter, a wise monster, a tiny dragon, paper birds, and a madwoman converge to thwart a magician who feeds on sorrow.

Every year Elders of the Protectorate leave a baby in the forest, warning everyone an evil Witch demands this sacrifice. In reality, every year, a kind witch named Xan rescues the babies and find families for them. One year Xan saves a baby girl with a crescent birthmark who accidentally feeds on moonlight and becomes “enmagicked.” Magic babies can be tricky, so Xan adopts little Luna herself and lovingly raises her, with help from an ancient swamp monster and a chatty, wee dragon. Luna’s magical powers emerge as her 13th birthday approaches. Meanwhile, Luna’s deranged real mother enters the forest to find her daughter. Simultaneously, a young carpenter from the Protectorate enters the forest to kill the Witch and end the sacrifices. Xan also enters the forest to rescue the next sacrificed child, and Luna, the monster, and the dragon enter the forest to protect Xan. In the dramatic denouement, a volcano erupts, the real villain attempts to destroy all, and love prevails. Replete with traditional motifs, this nontraditional fairy tale boasts sinister and endearing characters, magical elements, strong storytelling, and unleashed forces. Luna has black eyes, curly, black hair, and “amber” skin.

Guaranteed to enchant, enthrall, and enmagick. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61620-567-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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