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What the Moon Saw

What the Moon Saw, by Laura Resau

Random House; September 2006; 272 pp.; $15.95 HC


Core Audience: Girls 10-14; Readers interested in Latin American stories

Strengths: Lovely lyrical writing; Good use of magical realism

Although her name means “clear moon” in Spanish, fourteen year-old Clara Luna feels nothing but muddy and confused on the inside. She lives in a suburb of Baltimore, and although she has everything she needs—a great happy life, parents she adores, lots of cool clothes and gear—nothing in her life seems to make sense to her anymore. She finds herself sneaking out at night to float in a nearby stream and gaze at the moon. She thinks she might be going a tiny bit crazy.

Then one day, near the start of summer vacation, she gets a letter from her grandparents whom she has never met, inviting her to spend the summer with them in the remote highlands of Mexico. Her father, who came to the US as an illegal alien and who later married her Mom and became a citizen, has never been back to his tiny home village. He has also never really talked about his life before coming to the US, but something in Clara is pulling her along. She embarks on a long journey—of distance, self-discovery, and cultural awakening. What she finds in Mexico, in addition to her grandparents and a very different life, is her true self.

Full of lush, poetic writing, and an authentic adolescent voice, this novel will be a wonderful exploration for any girl who feels out of place in her own skin. I particularly loved the relationship between Clara and her grandmother, as the narrative alternated between the present and the past once Clara reaches Mexico. This intergenerational perspective sheds light on Clara’s emotional turmoil, and links the women together in a chain of strength and history. Although a great piece of writing about the Latina experience, this novel should not be recommended only to Latina readers. Every girl will find something that resonates in this novel about life, family, adventure, and self-discovery.

Rated: 8.75

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Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis

Little, Brown & Co; March 2007; 485 pp; $16.99 HC


Core Audience: Boys and girls, ages 8-12; lovers of classic storytelling in the gothic tradition of Joan Aiken

Strengths: Great, adventurous writing full of fun mystery and intrigue

This is one of those rare books that have all of the classic elements that make a timelessly great story. Like the first time I read a story by Joan Aiken, Edward Eager, E. Nesbit, or Roald Dahl, it felt like this book was written just for me, in the most delicious and savory way. This is the first book from newcomer Trenton Lee Stewart, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

When 11 year-old Reynie Muldoon’s attention is captured one morning by an ad in the paper asking “Are You a Gifted Child looking for Special Opportunities?” he is intrigued. Who would write an ad like this to children, rather than their parents, he thinks. There’s no doubt that Reynie is smart enough, and he is definitely in the market for a Special Opportunity. So off he goes to answer the ad, precisely following all directions.

Although dozens of children show up to answer the ad and take a mind-boggling series of tests, only Reynie and three others—a boy an two girls—are left at the end. They have been brought together by the Mysterious Benedict Society, and they have a job to do. They are a team of pint-sized geniuses who embark on an adventure so mysterious, so devilish, so fiendishly clever and risky that only a team of misfit kids like themselves could pull it off.

This story is packed with irresistible details: a mysterious school on an island run by a sinister man, extraordinary but flawed heroes, spyglasses, secret signals, codes, drippy underground tunnels, bullies that get their comeuppance, plenty of humor, orphans, long-lost parents, acrobatics, mistaken identity, a humorous case of narcolepsy, and so much more. Young readers will get a vicarious thrill as this team of incredibly skilled smarty-pantses overcome danger and strike a blow against an evil authority. The great black and white illustrations at the start of every chapter perfectly capture the quirky gothic flavor of the story.

I loved this book from start to finish, and it is definitely a favorite pick for 2007. The story ends in such a way that I am sure more adventures are coming for The Mysterious Benedict Society, and I can’t wait!

Rated: 9.5

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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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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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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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