Category Archives: Middle Grade

Chomp – Carl Hiaasen

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Hooray for Carl Hiaasen and Chomp, the latest in his Florida wilderness adventures for intrepid kids. Chomp, as you might deduce, deals with a very large and toothy alligator but the comic romp (sorry, irresistible rhyming compulsion) ranges all over the exotic flora and fauna of the Everglades and the reckless foibles of the flawed human species as well. It’s wild, in every sense of the word. And it’s fun, because Hiaasen’s children’s books are educational and hilarious and this one is no exception.

Wahoo Cray plans to change his name to something normal as soon as he hits eighteen and can do so legally. For the time being, he helps his father wrangle the menagerie of critters that live on their property at the edge of the Glades, tossing nuked whole chickens to Alice the gator, who accidentally crunched off his thumb once, and feeding pythons, monkeys, turtles and whatever else wanders into their “zoo”. Wahoo’s mom is a language teacher who flies off to China as the book opens to make some cash from tin-eared executives so the family can catch up on the mortgage and avoid foreclosure. Not much money has been coming in since dad was conked on the head by a frozen giant iguana that tumbled out of a palm tree during a cold snap.

By the time a reader digests all this madness, the arrival of a reality TV crew and a fake made-for-television survivalist and adventurer seems almost tame. Alice nearly chomps the back end off the TV star when he ignores the Cray duo’s warning about provoking her. The show then hires the two of them to guide the production into the real Everglades to encounter actual wild creatures for the star to wrestle into submission and probably roast over a counterfeit campfire. While collecting supplies for the expedition, they rescue a girl named Tuna with a major shiner in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart where she lives with her drunk, abusive father in a trailer. And then things really get interesting.

Throughout the violence–staged and real–with chopper shots, stunt doubles, razor-toothed wildlife, crashed air boats and loaded guns, Hiaasen delivers a boatload of information about indigenous and invasive species, the destructive incursion of people into a pristine wilderness, the idiocy of same species, and the wonders to be glimpsed when you venture off the beaten trails. There are good old boys—and bad old boys—greedy media types, plucky kids, deluded and well-meaning grown-ups, fortuitous and disastrous accidents and nonstop action. He even manages to sneak in a subplot about vampires, capitalizing on the current craze for the paranormal without sacrificing the fine intelligence and irony that give every incident a delicious twist.  

Hiaasen has delivered another knock-out punch. Hoot, Flush and Scat are his previous books for kids and the discriminating adults I know who have sampled them are as enamored of the formula as younger readers. May he never run out of environmental crusades to wage so we can look forward to many more one-syllable escapades in Florida’s endangered and endlessly entertaining ecosystems. Chomp is excellent. Devour it at your earliest opportunity.

Chomp    Carl Hiaasen | Alfred A. Knopf   2012

The Calder Game – Blue Balliett

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The Calder Game is the third in Blue Balliett’s series about some eccentric Chicago middle school kids who solve mysteries using an idiosyncratic belief in coincidence and their own curiosity. Chasing Vermeer was the first book to introduce Petra who has a magical relationship with language and Calder who keeps a pocketful of pentominoes and is a mathier kid. Together they made a formidable, if sometimes perplexing team. A great fascination of book one was the puzzle around the Vermeer paintings and it led to perusal of the Vermeers in our own museum across the park—a delightful follow-up to an engaging book.

In The Calder Game, the third member of the trio, Calder’s friend Tommy who was introduced in book two (haven’t read it) gets his ink. I don’t find him a very compelling character—in fact, he is anything but appealing. Picks his nose, for one thing, and is too easily ruffled. But his presence does take some of the action away from Petra to her detriment. She seems a less strong character in this episode and that is a loss.

The story begins as Calder takes a trip to Oxford with his father, after a disastrous class excursion to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art to see an ambitious Calder retrospective. Calder, who was named after the artist, lugs his pocketful of pentominoes with him and is stunned to find a giant Calder sculpture installed in the medieval town square in the small village outside of Oxford where he and his dad are staying. Dad takes off for a conference at the university, leaving Calder to sightsee on his own and things pretty much go downhill from there.

A village full of suspicious characters resents the sudden appearance of a sculpture no one wants, ominous looks and coincidences shadow Calder’s tourism, nearby Blenheim Palace has a legendary maze that hides ugly secrets and ancient landscaping that might be deadly, a fat cat shows up rather often at auspicious moments. Then the Calder sculpture and Calder himself disappear. You need a powerful willing suspension of disbelief to puzzle through the rest of the story. Petra, Tommy and a neighbor are flown over from Chicago to help in the search for Calder. The neighbor has thoughtfully procured some sort of Chicago official police detective IDs for them so they can ignore police lines and sleuth at will. They come and go day and night without much supervision. Calder’s father and the neighbor believe the children will solve the mystery of the disappearances.

There’s a lot of adventure and the kids do act independently. The resolution of the various riddles—and crimes—is tricky to guess at because it doesn’t/can’t make sense until the explanations at the end. A bright boy like Calder doesn’t know that a cave with an entrance and cracks in the rocks isn’t a sealed oxygen-free chamber. Americans are boors and bad guys before they are heroes and okay after all. It’s very puzzly—a hallmark of these books—and it was entertaining. But the illogical bits were very distracting and I wish they were more seamlessly incorporated. Nice to learn about an artist, a math tool that looks like a toy, a few museums and botanical gardens. But Chasing Vermeer was a better book—Calder and Petra were a tough team together. Add the nose-picking Tommy and, not so much.

The Calder Game   Blue Balliett  | Scholastic   2008

Turtle in Paradise – Jennifer L. Holm

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Turtle is ten when her mama gets a job cleaning house for a lady who can’t tolerate children. So she’s shipped off to Key West to live with a family of Currys she’s never met, in a place her dreamy mother calls “paradise.” Turtle knows better, even before she arrives on the steamy island courtesy of a traveling salesman who owes her mama’s current boyfriend money. One looong free ride with Smokey the cat and a chatty hair tonic entrepreneur and a quick introduction to her bratty cousins and surprised Aunt Minerva and she is stashed in a tiny bedroom on Curry Avenue, named for all the Curry clan who have lived there since before anybody can remember. It’s 1935. Shirley Temple is the reigning queen of cinema. Jobs are hard to come by and kids are forced to grow up pretty fast.

Jennifer L. Holm writes a spunky, clear-eyed preteen realist of a kid in Turtle in Paradise, a Newbery Honor book. Turtle knows mama will always believe in silver linings and better days just around the corner. But Turtle squints at what she sees, takes its measure and accepts no guff or fancy promises from anyone. She tags along with her ragamuffin cousins as the boys drag babies around in their Diaper Gang business. She isn’t allowed in the gang so she gets none of the candy they are paid for babysitting and curing diaper rash with their magic formula. But she cons the guy in the ice cream truck out of a scoop with no trouble at all and puts a little fear of the lord—actually fear of Turtle—into those bad boys from Day One.

Life in hot, poor, crowded, neighborly Key West softens Turtle’s tough shell and she acclimates to a new reality with Cuban food, a surprise—and crotchety—grandmother, grown-ups who look out for kids and a few who are too worn down by them to be anything but exasperated. She learns how to go barefoot after her prized shoes are stolen, talks herself into a job sponging and nearly drowns, discovers a possible key to buried treasure and survives a hurricane, stranded on a tiny barrier island. The real treasure has nothing to do with pirate gold and everything to do with open hearts. Turtle finds a bounty of those and knits herself into the fabric of a family like a bright silver thread.

Turtle in Paradise gives children a colorful glimpse of history, a legendary island community, and a young survivor wise beyond her years and sassy enough to brighten economic hardship and displacement with razor-sharp humor.  

Turtle in Paradise   Jennifer L. Holm | Random House   2010

Spellbound – Jacqueline West

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Elsewhere is a mysterious world inside framed paintings in the haunted house where Olive Dunwoody and her wonky parents live. Olive is nearly twelve and pretty much on her own. Her mathematician mother and father teach in the university and are absentminded even when they are present at home. Olive is missing the math gene but she makes up for it with extreme right-braininess—she lives in a powerful imaginary world that is, unfortunately, not imaginary.

The house is as alive as those paintings. The three gigantic and ornery cats who came with the house are not actually cats—by any common definition, in any case. They speak English, for one thing. And they boss Olive around like crazy for another. She puts up with this because they have the ability to move in and out of the living pictures—into and back from Elsewhere dragging Olive along—and Olive is desperate to know more about that world.

Morton is a frail, apparently albino boy who was trapped in a painting decades ago by an evil witch and has gradually faded into paint. He isn’t precisely alive, in a conventional way, but he is lonely and Olive is the only kid he ever sees. She would like to figure out a way to return him to the world but even her imagination can’t solve that one. And there is the little matter of the deadly nature of a few inhabitants of Elsewhere. Olive was close to killed by one or two of them in her last adventure.

Rutherford Dewey is an irritating boy about Olive’s age who comes to live with his grandmother next door and invades Olive’s backyard and her half-haunted existence. He seems to be able to read her mind, whenever there is something she wants to hide from him. Mrs. Niven lives on the other side. She has the neatest yard on the block but there is something off about her, especially in bright sunlight. The McMartins no longer live in Olive’s house. They were inherently evil and met unhappy ends, abetted by Olive whom they nearly succeeded in murdering.

The cats, Horatio, Harold and Leopold, grow more eccentric by the day. Leopold guards a trapdoor in the dark basement 24-by-7. Harold is usually a pirate or a knight or a secret agent on a mission. Often this involves painting himself green or black so he can blend in with his environment. Horatio hangs around Olive but he is very grumpy and seldom wants to take her inside a painting. When Rutherford asks Olive if the house has a grimoire, a witches’ spellbook, she begins to see a way to help Morton and to tap into the peculiar powers around her. But what happens when Olive looks for the grimoire is way outside her expectations and puts her and every living and a few non-living creatures in the neighborhood in mortal peril.

Spellbound is well-written and full of surprises. The dangers feel real and the characters—feline and otherwise–are engaging and believable. Olive’s parents are as clueless and unavailable as any obliging parents in a children’s book so she is free to pursue her questionable escapades at all hours. Jacqueline West’s series is entertaining enough for anyone who likes a good fantasy based on an original premise.

Vol. 2 Spellbound (The Books of Elsewhere)   Jacqueline West | Dial Books   2011

The Lily Pond – Annika Thor

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The Lily Pond is a middle grade story, book two of an award-winning quartet by Annika Thor, about two young Jewish sisters who leave their parents in Vienna to become refugees in Sweden. It’s a very sweet account of a thirteen-year-old’s struggle to hold on to her academic dreams, navigate a first love, adjust to a new city and a new school, deal with growing prejudice in her safe haven and believe that her parents will survive their ordeal in Nazi-occupied Austria.

Stephie Steiner looks forward to school on the mainland after graduating from the lower school on the fishing island where she and her sister live with two different foster families. She’s a scholarship student, living with a wealthy family who sometimes use her as a maid. And she’s in love with the family’s son, who takes her to concerts, walks the family dog with her, eats his meals with her in the kitchen and never suspects that the girl he thinks of as a little sister imagines he will wait for her to grow up. Thor is wonderfully descriptive about life on the rough island where Stephie’s foster family lives and the relative sophistication of life in the city.

The book imparts a strong sense of the conditions of the time, even though the translation from the Swedish uses simple declarative sentences that tell the story as much as show it. You really don’t mind the style as events speed up and Stephie creates some complications she can’t control and encounters some grown-ups who are dangerously flawed human beings. What happens feels absolutely true and what shadows Stephie’s adventures is absolutely true and makes this an inevitably sad book. Letters from her parents reveal the increasingly dire conditions in Vienna and a basic knowledge of history points to a looming tragedy.

This is a story to share with a thoughtful young reader and my recommendation is to be available for plenty of conversation. It’s a poignant account, not because Stephanie Steiner’s innocent heart is at serious risk and not because anti-Semitism puts her efforts in school at risk. It is a difficult story because Stephie’s parents are trapped in Vienna and might end up in Dachau, Mauthausen or Auschwitz. The grim reality of what ultimately befell Jews who could not get out of Vienna is not specifically referred to in this book, though, so The Lily Pond does provide a glimpse of history through the moving story of a young teen for whom there is still hope.

The Lily Pond   Annika Thor | Delacorte Press 2011

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette – Jeanne Birdsall

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Let me just say that I like the Penderwicks best when they are on vacation. Jeanne Birdsall’s first book, The Penderwicks, tracked four kids and a big sloppy dog named Hound through a summer holiday on a country estate. Plenty of misadventures and great adventures behind the hedgerows in a very charming, old-fashioned story with wonderful characters, terrific humor and the sort of British country setting (although the tale is set in New England) that enchanted me in the books I read as a child.

Birdsall’s second in the series follows them home to Gardam Street in Massachusetts and it is sweet and simple but not nearly as much fun as the summer escapades. In book three,  The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, the three youngest girls, Skye, Jane and Batty, are vacationing in Maine while their eldest sister Rosalind gets a much needed break from minding all of them and is off to the Jersey Shore with a friend. Their newly-married father, stepmother and her young son are on an academic business trip to England and the girls are in the care of second-eldest Penderwick, Skye, and their Aunt Claire.

This makes Skye all kinds of nervous because Rosalind has always cared for Batty, the baby, since their mother died and keeps the rest of the team in line. Skye isn’t sure she has the right stuff for the job. Their best friend Jeffrey, collected on the first summer jaunt, joins them for this one and mild disasters accumulate faster than shells on the strip of beach outside their vacation cottage. Skye studies astrophysics and black holes and practices soccer moves. Jane, next in line, is a serious writer struggling with a bad case of writer’s block over her latest Sabrina Starr novel that deals with the perils of falling in love. Small problem—the author is eleven and lacks the requisite research to get past the opening sentence. Batty (Elizabeth) has given up the fairy wings she once wore everywhere but still drags her stuffed elephants along for the trip. She must wear a bright orange life preserver whenever she gets anywhere NEAR the water, which hampers her style.

Jeffrey is happy to have eluded his difficult mother’s summer plans and sets about having adventures with the girls. A neighbor next door is a musician and invites musical prodigy Jeffrey to use his grand piano for practice. Five-year-old Batty, who trails Jeffrey everywhere and intends to marry him when she grows up, displays a surprising musical talent. Love rears its unpredictable head among the lobster rolls. Aunt Claire winds up on crutches. The girls find out that errant golf balls from the nearby club are a boon to piggy banks. And a long lost parent surfaces, causing havoc for kids and grown-ups alike.

I like the Penderwicks books. They are innocent and fun; the writing is good; the characters are real people with lots of interesting quirks; the adventures are lively. I know a few young readers who devoured the first book and still like the series, even though they are older now and the books are middle grade level. Then again, middle grade is one of my favorite book categories and I am far from the target audience. Penderwicks at home—not so fascinating. Penderwicks up to summer mischief—a recipe for a delightful read.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette   Jeanne Birdsall | Alfred A. Knopf   2011

The Unfinished Angel – Sharon Creech

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Sharon Creech can write anything she wants. The Newbery Medal winner has a sure touch and ready audience for her fiction so The Unfinished Angel was no risk for her. It’s an odd little book but endearing. The angel of the title has flitted about a small town in the Swiss Alps for…a very long time…”maybe hundreds of years”.  S/he (angels are genderless, but you knew that) speaks a sort of pidgin language sprinkled with muddled words and hesitations. The angel doesn’t actually have a brief, has never seen another angel, doesn’t know where heaven is and mostly hangs out in the Casa Rosa tower and flishes in people’s heads to inspire them to do the right thing.

Along comes a brassy little American kid named Zola with her distracted father and three layers of skirts, two blouses, six or nineteen hair ribbons and all in loud clashing colors that look very beautiful. She can see the angel. In fact, she begins at once to boss it around. Zola has an open heart and a highly developed sense of justice so the angel begins to be very busy and only slightly annoyed.

There are a passel of orphans hiding in an old chicken coop to rescue and an arfing dog to shush (that one is a fail) and some hard grown-up hearts to melt and ruffled feathers to smooth over everywhere. The angel rushes around, still confused about what angels do and wondering constantly why s/he is an unfinished angel and not a poised, decisive spirit with a grand mission and a clear set of instructions.

The tale is charming. One of the most delightful chapters—they are all extremely short scenes and there are many of them—details the angel’s reaction to Zola’s memory of the angel that hovered over her premature brother in his incubator until he was out of danger. It looked to Zola like a pigeon and the angel is flummoxed and dismayed to think s/he might resemble a pigeon.

The Unfinished Angel isn’t complicated, although it manages to touch on the human predilection for war, neighborly spats, human loss, sorrow and need, the vacuity of consumer culture, the innocence and optimism of children, and how the language of the heart trumps the dictates of the head for happy endings. The book is aimed at kids and middle grade readers—if you are an especially theatrical reader you could succeed with this as a read-aloud for a younger child. It’s very funny, a tiny bit tense in spots and will leave you with a warm feeling, if you aren’t hopelessly and intractably cynical. You may never look at pigeons in quite the same way again.

The Unfinished Angel   Sharon Creech | HarperCollins 2009

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate – Jacqueline Kelly

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Calpurnia Virginia Tate is nearly twelve and Fentress, Texas in 1899 isn’t big enough to hold all her questions. Callie Vee is right in the middle of seven children, the only girl, and her rambunctious household gives her some cover to pursue her real interests. No tatting lace and coming out parties in her imagined future. But what is it she really wants to do?

The day Calpurnia discovers that she is a naturalist she also finds her best ally in the grandfather who has retired to putter around his laboratory in an old shed out back. Walter Tate, who amassed a tidy sum innovating cotton gin systems and working the family acreage, lends Callie an original copy of The Origin of the Species, given to him by his longtime correspondent Charles Darwin. And they are off, spending long hours exploring the scrub and the river, examining plants and insects, scribbling field notes. Grandaddy is an accomplished amateur naturalist and he enlists Calpurnia to collect specimens, take notes and engage in scientific inquiry through the long, fiercely hot Texas summer and fall.

Grandaddy was an awe-inspiring figure Callie avoided for most of her life but he turns out to be a respectful mentor and partner-in-crime. She is overcome by a swig of pecan moonshine he is attempting to distill, raises a huge hairy caterpillar they find on a walk but gets more than she bargained for when it hatches, and helps him to discover an odd specimen of vetch that may be botanically significant. When Grandaddy predicts that men will someday travel to the moon, the good folk of Fentress raise their eyebrows but Calpurnia thinks events will prove him right—in about a thousand years.

Calpurnia tells the tale in a wonderful, distinctive voice at once droll, wise beyond her years and full of childlike wonder. She is such a terrific character and this is such a delightful glimpse of history and the dilemmas of a bright young girl at the turn of the last century that it is no surprise the book was a Newbery Honor pick for 2010. There are pet turkeys slated for Thanksgiving dinner and various brothers who keep developing inconvenient crushes on unsuitable young ladies. A piano recital is disastrous enough to win a permanent reprieve from future musical entertainments. Cooking lessons are sticky, gluey and unsuccessful and knitting socks is pure torture.

But the volvox in a drop of pond water under a microscope is a marvel, a telephone line connects Fentress to Austin and the rest of the world one memorable day, and the fair introduces the astonishments of a horseless carriage and a new fizzy drink, Coca Cola. Calpurnia skips in and out of trouble while she worries about how a girl could ever go to the university to become a scientist and rages at the unfairness of corsets and her Christmas book, The Science of Housewifery. You root for her all the way through that long season of discovery and suspect she will find her own clever way to realize her dreams.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a middle grade book with chapters introduced by epigraphs from Darwin. I would give it to a kid in a heartbeat—after I finished reading it myself. Kelly’s book is a great example of why I love really fine children’s stories, often even better than the jaded and mannered tales aimed at adults.    

 The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate   Jacqueline Kelly  |   Henry Holt and Company  2009

Secrets at Sea – Richard Peck

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Secrets at Sea is a tale of tails—and whiskers and scampering and crumbs of Bel Paese and thimbles of tea. The Cranstons are mice from an old, really old, New York family. Currently they live in a rambling mansion inhabited by human Cranstons, rather a nouveau bunch by mouse accounting. The remaining mice Cranstons, Helena, Louise, Beatrice and boy-in-trouble Lamont, live in the walls and keep things going nicely. Mama and two older siblings drowned in the rain barrel. Papa was done in by the barn cat as he nibbled a dropped ear of corn. Helena is the eldest and in charge and she is busy from morning to night.

A snake gets Lamont by the tail and Helena must rescue the tail and sew it back on—a risky job for a cosmetically-flawed effect but a mouse does what she can. Louise sits on the bed of the youngest Cranston, Camilla, every night and listens to Camilla’s day. Louise understands several languages, of course, but the poor teenage human has no idea how to interpret mouse so Louise holds her tongue, cocks her head sympathetically and gets all the latest dirt.

Beatrice swoons over boys, any and all boys, as long as they are mice. She has to be watched. And the Cranstons have a shocking secret that threatens to upend generations of New York Cranston mice and expose them to deadly peril. Olive, the klutzy, sallow, unpopular elder Cranston girl, cannot interest a beau for love nor money. So the whole family plans a European tour in time for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, just “to give Olive her chance.”

This is very bad news indeed because if there is one thing mice do not encounter well it is water. And the trip to Europe involves many days on a large ship entirely surrounded by water. Nevertheless, the house will be closed up for who knows how long. The food will disappear and no cozy fires will warm the grates. The foolish Cranstons need some oversight by more socially adept creatures. So the mice stow away and the adventure begins.

Do not think a sea voyage on a crowded ship with cats, constant pitching and rolling, slippery decks, a violently seasick Olive Cranston, mandatory lifeboat drills, assorted human and vermin nobility, and plots that unspool and then thicken is a piece of cake—although there is a fair amount of cake to be had. In fact, at one point Helena is inadvertently and completely iced in sticky pink. But no mind. Beatrice falls in mad love. Lamont apprentices himself to the shipboard mouse steward and develops a Cockney accent and a swagger. Louise plots to keep Camilla happy and Helena discovers she has as many lives as a cat—and needs every one.

Richard Peck sustains a charming voice and a classic fairytale adventure. There is plenty of wry humor and delicious description. Funny plot twists abound and a palace in merry oulde England is no more challenge for these self-assured mice than their upstate estate in New York was. Secrets at Sea is a middle grade book that will keep a young reader absorbed in something more amusing than the usual school tropes of failed tests, bullies and dumb tricks. But do yourself a favor. Volunteer to read it aloud so you get to enjoy it, too. And, if you have no handy kid, just savor the good writing and the clever tail/tale—whatever. Pure whimsy with a soupçon of Austen. Perfect.   

 Secrets at Sea    Richard Peck | The Penguin Group  2011

The Looking Glass Wars – Frank Beddor

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Alyss Heart is a feisty, pampered, imaginative seven-year-old princess in Wonderland and it’s her birthday. The entire queendom clamors at her feet, with endless displays of the wonders of White Imagination, crystal technology and All Good Things that leave the restless little girl slightly bored. Soon enough she slips away to get into some mischief with her soulmate-playmate Dodge, the son of a distinguished guardsman knighted by Alyss’s mother, Queen Genevieve herself.

Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars is the first volume of a trilogy that re-imagines Lewis Carroll’s epic tales. No White Rabbit in this story but there is a Mad Hatter of sorts, and a Red Queen and a really awful Cat, not Cheshire. Beddor takes the richest of material and imbues it with the threat of deadly jabberwocks, stoned caterpillars and so many mirrors that we see reflections of reflections, each with its own distorted image.  

The royal birthday festivities are fatally interrupted when Genevieve’s elder sister Redd and her lethal minions arrive. Redd’s favorite cry is “Off with their heads!” and she proceeds to do just that, reclaiming Wonderland for herself and laying waste to the Heart Palace and everyone in it. Alyss escapes through a looking glass with her bodyguard, the knife-slashing, blade-wielding Hatter Madigan. They jump in the Pool of Tears where Alyss loses her grip on Hatter and emerges in a puddle in London while he pops out in Paris. Back home in Wonderland, blood flows crimson over the land and a reign of horror begins.

Alyss soon finds that her insistence on the reality of Wonderland and her own royal birthright is a source of mockery and danger. She takes up with a Dickensian band of street urchins, is hauled off to an orphanage, adopted by an Oxford cleric and moves to a rambling house in the countryside that abuts the property of the Reverend Charles Dodgson. Alyss Heart becomes Alice Liddell, a beautiful but troublesome child exploding with imagination, impossible tales and far too much attitude for her own good. Dodgson is charmed by her, coaxes her fairytale autobiography from her and turns it into an epic fantasy for publication, the ultimate betrayal.

The princess thinks she has found her amanuensis, a willing scribe for her true tale and identity, someone whose work will validate her wild claims. Instead she hands her life to that ultimate predator, the writer, who twists and reshapes it into a fiction of his own design and plunges her into an identity crisis and the depths of despair.

Beddor has a lot of fun with his source material and uses it to construct a breathless read through fantasy, magic, epic battles, evil doings, love, loss, courageous deeds, and adventures that test the adults and mature the children. The Looking Glass Wars is thoroughly enjoyable—a tale for tweens, teens and adults who have no trouble believing, as the White Queen does, “as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

The Looking Glass Wars    Frank Beddor   Penguin Group   2006