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Adventures of Polo

The Adventures of Polo

By Regis Faller

Roaring Brook Press; April 2006; 80 pp; $16.95 format


Core Audience: All ages

Strengths: Magical wordless picture books about a little dog with big adventures; brilliant conception and illustration

Ah, petit chien! How do I love thee?

Let me count the ways…

1) I love the way your adventures are completely magical, and full of swell stuff like your bottomless backpack, your snug little boat, your house in a tree on a little island, and your wonderful friends of all kinds and colors. I want to come and live with you.

2) I love how your friend Regis Faller has packed each brightly colored frame of your adventure with wonderful details and unexpected developments.

3) I love that your stories will be just as interesting to a three-year-old as to a ten-year-old. I love that I find them interesting too.

4) I love that—like another hero of mine, MacGyver— you have everything you need to solve any problem on you at any time.

5) I love that you remind me of some of my other beloved friends like The Little Prince and TinTin, with all the lyricism and poetry of a movie like Spirited Away.

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And let’s not forget that completely amazing website you’ve got. It’s just as wonderful as your books, like a sweet dream with a lovely soundtrack!

Magnifique, Polo, magnifique!

I look forward to may more wonderful adventures ahead.

Rated: 9.75

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Pickpocket’s Tale

A Pickpocket’s Tale

by Karen Schwabach

Random House, October 2006; 240 pp. ; $15.95 HC


Core Audience: Girls 8-12 who love historical fiction and readers interested in fiction featuring Jewish characters

Strengths: Takes a fresh look at early colonial history

London 1730. Molly, a ten year old orphan, is arrested for being a pickpocket, and is sentenced to seven years in the colonies as an alternative to death. This concise story follows Molly on her difficult ocean journey and her arrival in the New York where she is sold in the slave market as an indentured servant to a Jewish family, the Bells. Mr. Bell is a prosperous businessman, and he and his family are kind to Molly, but Molly is none too sure about anything in this new and unfamiliar world. Determined to get back to London at any cost, Molly must soon decide between her past, and a newfound sense of self in the new colony.

Although it would be easy to overlook, I loved this little novel for several reasons. First, it is filled with vivid descriptions of life in early New York, and of the rites and rituals of early Jewish colonists. I know of no other book that takes a close look at middle-class Jews in early New York. Schwabach obviously did a tremendous amount of research and it shows in her use of language, her descriptions of the buildings and clothing, and the believability of his characterizations. I especially enjoyed the use of “Flash-cant”, and old London dialect developed by thieves so that they could talk without being understood by their marks. The book includes a glossary so that readers can decipher the slang, as well as a good appendix discussing the actual history behind the story. This story will be a solid addition to a section on colonial history, or historical fiction.

Rated: 7.75

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Black Tattoo

The Black Tattoo

by Sam Enthoven

Razorbill/Penguin; October 2006; 512 pp.; $18.99 HC


Core Audience: 14+; Teen lovers of Gothic drama, the Matrix, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Strengths: Plenty of dark humor, demons, and Matrix-like kung-fu

At 512 pages, this book is not for the faint of heart, but it serves up generous portions of all of the dark imagery that gothic adventure fans will love. Not being a fan of this genre generally, I was pleasantly surprised at this book’s ability to draw me in and keep me interested.

The story focuses on three main characters: Charlie, who is chosen and then possessed by a demon who has designs on taking over the underworld; Jack, Charlie’s best friend who follows Charlie into the underworld to save him; and Esme, a girl trained from childhood to fight the forces of evil, who joins the other two to fulfill her destiny. (Esme, I might add, has an amazing arsenal of special powers, and all of the best kung-fu sequences.) The book takes its name from a tattoo that grows on Charlie when he is possessed, and roils over his skin with sufficient creepiness to keep even the most jaded teens reading. Basically, the novel reads like a screenplay, with plenty of visuals, action, and a fast moving plot that doesn’t ask too many questions. It’s a classic good –vs– evil story, with hell the battleground, and plenty of gooey humor and irony. I especially liked the character of Jack, who has that lovely Jimmy Stewart air of being a normal guy caught up in events he can’t quite believe.

This story won’t change the world, but I thought it was pretty fun, if you can embrace all of the demonic imagery.

Rated: 7

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Runaway princess

The Runaway Princess

by Kate Combs

Farrar, Straus & Giroux; August 2006; $17.00 HC


Core Audience: Girls 8-12, families

Strengths: Strong girl character, fun writing, fractured fairytale

As a childhood fan of The Paperback Princess, and Atalana from Free to be You and Me, this book was just a fun treat from beginning to end.

Think The Princess Bride in book format.

The recipe:

  • 1 smart and feisty princess who doesn’t want to get married
  • Her best friend the gardener’s boy
  • 1 witch
  • 200 floating frogs
  • 1 baby dragon who’s not very fierce
  • Some bandits
  • 1 disappearing tower
  • 100 pompous princes
  • 1 young wizard who loves dress-up
  • a troop of gypsies with a handsome leader

Stir liberally, add some slapstick, and let ‘er rip.

Yes, this definitely covers familiar ground, but it does it with humor and a certain irreverence that I loved. A great family read.

Rated 7.75
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Far from Normal

Far From Normal

Kate Klise

Scholastic; October 2006; $16.99 HC


Core Audience: Boys and girls 9-12

Strengths: Topical story, pop-culture references

I really enjoyed this spirited story, not least because it was so contemporary in its “reality TV” scenario. A spirited follow up to Deliver Us from Normal, this book will be a great family read, and will give much food for though in discussions about what it means to be “famous”. The story moves right along, and is full of plenty of absurdity that will keep readers laughing. My only criticism of the story has to do with the lack of leadership on the part of Charles’s parents, who come off looking almost negligent at moments, but I suspect this will just make young readers get behind Charles even more. Call it sympathy or wish fulfillment, it’s not a deal breaker as far as the story is concerned. When she’s not writing books, Kate Klise is a writer for People magazine, which explains the smooth and candy-like pop-culture feel of her story, which young readers will love.

Rated: 8

Buy this book from a local independent bookstore near you

London Calling

London Calling

by Edward Bloor

Knopf/Random; September 2006; $16.95


Core Audience: 10+; especially good for readers who like WWII history

Strengths: Good premise, interesting blend of history with elements of mystery, and a ghost story

John Martin Conway’s life could be better. He lives in a suburb of New Jersey, and at thirteen his parents are divorced, his father’s an alcoholic, and he spends most of his time in his basement bedroom IM-ing his only two friends. And now, at the private school he attends as a scholarship student, (and which he hates), he has gotten himself into trouble with a gang of boys including the grandson of one of the school’s most prominent donors.

When Martin’s Nana starts calling late at night, and talking about a kid named Jimmy who comes out of the radio to talk to her, he’s not sure if she’s going senile, or if something else is happening. When he inherits the radio a few weeks later, it sets him off on an adventure that could be time travel, or a hallucination, or a waking dream—he’s not entirely sure. All he knows is that he’s suddenly in London, during the Blitz of 1940, and a boy name Jimmy is asking for his help. The chain of events this sets in motion will weave together all of the disparate elements of his life both past and present into a surprisingly coherent whole.

Bloor has a gift for writing in a believable voice about teenage angst, and I liked the quiet way he deals with the difficulties of Martin’s family. Young readers will be hooked by the mystery of Martin’s “time-travel” and will want to keep reading to unravel the truth. I thought the strongest part of the novel is the reality with which air raids of the Blitz are portrayed. I think Martin is a little too self-aware and spiritual for a thirteen year old, but this isn’t a fatal flaw. This book will appeal more to boys than girls, and will be perfect for readers who love WWII, or who love mysteries.

Rated 7.5

Life as We KNew It
Life As We Knew It

by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Harcourt, October 2006, $17.00 HC


Core Audience: Most obvious audience is girls 14+ but should be hand sold to boys because it’s so compelling

Strengths: Authentic writing, vivid post-apocalyptic scenario that will be an eye-opener for modern teens

Young readers today are so used to the comfort of technologies such as cell phones, e-mail, cable television, and the internet that most of them never stop to think about how vulnerable these luxuries are. Let alone things like electricity, food in the supermarket, gas at the gas station, and medical care at the local hospital. What I loved about this book is how effectively it shows how a breakdown in society can slowly strip away our creature comforts one by one until we are reduced to our most basic instincts for survival.

When an asteroid hits the Moon and pushes it closer to the Earth, the environmental catastrophe that results will change life on the planet forever. Unlike typical disaster movies like War of the Worlds or Independence Day, the believability of this book comes from the fact that the events take place over many months, and chronicle what a disaster might look like from the perspective of one family in one community. Told through the diary entries of a normal teen, this novel is so authentically written and so compelling that once you get into it, it will be hard to put it down. Even better, when you do put it down, it will take a few minutes to pull yourself back from the sense of impending disaster that this book will evoke in you. Ultimately, this book delivers a positive message about self-reliance and hidden strength, and it is one of my top picks for the year. Not only is it a great story, but it has an important message to send to young readers about not taking life for granted.

Rated: 9.0


Welcome to pixie stix kids pix, the site for reviews and opinions about new and interesting books for children and young adults, by a professional in the children's book industry.

What rates?

When I read books they get rated on a 10 point scale. What I like is subjective, but basically I look for great content, excellent design, and fresh ideas. Generally, only books that receive a 7.0 or higher make it on to the site.

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