Finding a Place & Tilting at Windmills
Perhaps more than any other age group, 8- to 12-year-olds are investigators of sorts, discovering their strengths and weaknesses and how they fit into the world. Sylvie Weil reinforces this idea in My Guardian Angel (Arthur A. Levine), which tells the story of Elvina, an 11th century Jewish girl who secretly cares for a wounded Christian Crusader despite fears of what his compatriots might be planning for her community. The Shadows of Ghadames (Delacorte), by Joëlle Stolz, is set 800 years later in Libya, yet 12-year-old Malika finds herself in a similar situation. She longs to travel and study like her father and brother do, but as a Muslim female, she isn’t allowed. When an injured man in trouble is taken into her home, however, her world broadens a bit more.
A retelling of Miguel de Cervantes’ Tales of Don Quixote (Tundra) packs the title character’s deeds into 200-odd pages, just one-fifth of the original work. Barbara Nichol’s treatment, however, captures the spirit of the aging knight-errant determined to right all the wrongs—some imagined, some not—that he comes across. The adventures of the orphaned Stephen Lansbury are, on the whole, less imaginary but just as bizarre. In The Valley of Secrets (Simon & Schuster), by Charmian Hussey, young Stephen unexpectedly inherits a strange estate after an unknown great-uncle dies, and he must use the uncle’s diary about a trip through the Amazon to unravel the supernatural goings-on.
The 11-year-old in Joan Givner’s Ellen Fremedon (Groundwood) sometimes wishes she were an orphan because her bratty twin siblings always seem to be getting in the way. Ellen’s biggest worry, though, is that she won’t be able to put enough interesting tidbits into the novel she’s writing—until the twins go missing after looking into an environmental threat to their community. In Sammy Keyes and the Psycho Kitty Queen (Knopf), it’s the cats who are disappearing. Wendelin Van Draanen’s ninth Sammy Keyes mystery has the skateboard-riding girl detective contending with an increasingly vicious school enemy while figuring out why large numbers of neighborhood felines are unaccounted for.
It’s no mystery where Indigo Casson has gone: He was taken out of school for a semester to recover from mono. Indigo’s Star (Margaret K. McElderry), Hilary McKay’s sequel about the Casson family, opens with the middle schooler dreading his return to a place where he’d been relentlessly bullied. Yet aided by a new student and his precocious youngest sister, Rose (the Casson kids are all named after paint colors), Indigo learns to stand up for himself. The title character of Becoming Naomi León (Scholastic), by Pam Muñoz Ryan, must do the same after her alcoholic mother shows up (following a seven-year absence) and disrupts Naomi’s happy life with her younger brother and great-grandmother. When Naomi discovers the courage hinted at by her name, she not only reclaims her family but also expands it, establishing a relationship with her father, who had been kept from her.
Vol. 16, Issue 05, Page 50Published in Print: March 1, 2005, as Kidsbooks