Friday, January 8, 2010

Sisters of the Sword by Maya Snow

I felt obligated to read Sisters of The Sword because one of my most prolific kid reviewers, Clare, told me it would be my kind of book since "there are girl warriors... and I know you like that." Right you are, Clare. So, just on the principle of never saying no to a book that features butt-kicking females, I read Sisters of the Sword over the Thanksgiving break. And Clare was right. There are some tough, butt-kicking females in it. And though the writing was not my favorite, sometimes drifting into the annoyingly didactic when explaining Japanese customs and vocab words (like sansei, which I felt like did not need to be explained, or italicized) it was still a rollicking fun read with likable protagonists at its core. The antagonists, on the other hand, were so evil, that one could in no way have any empathy with them whatsoever, which I found disappointing. Bad guys are usually my favorites, but these were typical, sexist, elitist, evil and most unsatisfyingly two-dimensional. However, for readers yearning for violence, action and all the samurais they can possibly handle, Sisters of the Sword may be just the ticket.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Told from the point of view of a rapidly developing 6th grader, When You Reach Me is a bit like an updated A Wrinkle in Time, with a few decidedly contemporary twists. Set in New York in the 1970's, this very sweet (but not saccharine) coming of age story features a single mother, an only child, and freshly illustrated racial tension. It also features time travel. When Miranda starts receiving mysterious notes that seem to predict the future, the story really starts to pick up. Immaculately crafted, such that many clues are set from first chapter well into the last, When You Reach Me is a great choice for attentive readers who enjoy a bit of puzzle-solving in their reading, not quite to the extent of The Westing Game, but perhaps akin to The Mysterious Benedict Society. And, for those in the 8-12 age range who are just dying to grow up as fast as possible, there's even a bit of romance, albeit, very age-appropriate romance (think kiss and then run for your life). Newbery Winners are not announced for 2010 until January 16th, but this book already has its fair share of buzz.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. Obrien

Winner of the 1972 Newbery Medal, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, from the author of Z for Zachariah and The Silver Crown, is a thoroughly imagined tale of mice, medication, and one of the toughest moms in all of kids' lit. Mrs. Frisby is a widow, with four small children, one of whom is gravely ill. In order to keep her son Timothy alive, she must contract the help of the rats of NIMH, former lab rats who, after being subjected to steroids, tests, captivity and other such calamities, escape into the countryside. It is not long before it is revealed that Mr. Frisby was the only suriviving mouse for said experiments. Mrs. Frisby, who is not gifted as the rats are or her husband was, braves owls, cats and rat poison in the name of familial love. What I found most striking about this book was the complexity of the rats' world. Though talking rats and mice and crows and shrews do not exist, the world they inhabit in this novel comes across as completely reasonable, and the tests the rats describe have a surprisingly element of realism. Perfectly suited for reading aloud with the whole family, (with a few slyly funny moments, to boot) this book was a pleasure to reread. It was also made into an awesome movie in 1982, entitled The Secret of Nimh.