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Category Archives: Intermediate / Ages 8-12

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby

Wonder ShowThey say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.  I beg to differ.  See that cover over there on the left?  Kind of amazing, right?  And the hand drawn goodness wraps around to the back as well.  In all honesty, it almost didn’t matter what this book was about.  I fell in love with the cover art and had to bring it home.

Thankfully, the story is just as delightful as the paper it’s wrapped in.  Wonder Show tells the tale of a young girl, Portia, whose father leaves the dust bowl in search of work.  Her aunt takes care of her for a while, but ultimately puts her in a home for “wayward” girls under the watchful eye of a man known only as Mister.

Without giving anything away, events transpire and Portia runs away to join the circus.  Literally.  Actually, she meets up with the “wonder show,” which is basically a sideshow of human abnormalities that travels alongside any circus that will have them.  As she adjusts to circus life she makes friends and enemies, confronts fears, and learns to be a part of a very unusual family.

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The Wikkeling by Steven Arntson, illustrated by Daniela J. Terrazzini

The Wikkeling

You can tell this book is unusual just by looking at it.  Its shape is a perfect square, it is bound in cloth with no dust jacket, and the cover art is strangely wonderful.  The contents do not disappoint – this is a tale of children living in a dystopia, looking for adventure and causing a bit of mischief.  It also defies a brief description or easy packaging, but I’ll try.

The world of The Wikkeling is really just an exaggerated version of the rapidly accelerating and expanding world we currently inhabit.  Schools are standardized to the point of homogeneity, with constant, instantaneous performance evaluations.  If any student or school falls behind, the consequences are dire.  Children are kept “safe” and “secure” through continuous monitoring to account for their movements throughout the day, an elaborate seat belt system on the bus, and even a camera trained on their beds to watch over them in sleep.  Old houses are destroyed to make way for plastic edifices and books are done away with completely in favor of computers.  Traffic never lets up, with near-total gridlock even in the middle of the night.  It all adds up to a scary, but not completely unbelievable, vision of the future.

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Tollins: Explosive Tales for Children by Conn Iggulden, illustrated by Lizzy Duncan

Tollins: Explosive Tales for ChildrenThis book is gorgeous.  I knew as soon as I picked it up that it had to be mine.  And it didn’t disappoint.

Conn Iggulden is best known for his Dangerous Book for Boys, a 2007 runaway bestseller that counteracts today’s culture of overprotected children by suggesting “dangerous” activities they might engage in.  Tollins, published in 2009, follows suit.  A Tollin is like a fairy, except bigger and not as fragile.  And by “not as fragile,” Iggulden means that they can be used as an ingredient in fireworks, with non-lethal results.  Fairies are actually used and abused by Tollins throughout these stories.  It feels wrong to laugh at “fairy cushions” and “fairy handkerchiefs,” which are not cushions and handkerchiefs made BY fairies, but rather actual squashed and snotty fairies.  At the same time, well, fairies have had their day.  These stories are about Tollins, and if a few fairies get crushed in the making, it’s hard to be too broken up about it.

Tollins have always led idyllic lives, drinking nectar in the summer and waiting out the winter in underground tunnels.  But when their way of life is threatened by the arrival of a train station, fireworks factory, and other developing human innovations, they must find a way to cope with the changing world.  The book is made up of three stories, all starring a Tollin named Sparkler who dares break the First Law of Tollins: don’t speak to humans.  Granted, what Sparkler says to humans involves the fact that it is not strictly necessary to use Tollins as ingredients in fireworks, but this still gets him in a bit of trouble with the High Tollin.  For such short stories, there manages to be a good deal of adventure, cunning, and humor packed in.

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Hell’s Bells by John Connolly

Hell's Bells by John ConnollyFirst a quick note: John Connolly’s latest book was released yesterday in the UK with the title Hell’s Bells.  In the US, it will be released in October under a different title: The Infernals.  Who can wait another 5 months, though?  I recommend ordering a copy from the UK today, although this should in no way interfere with your plans to buy the US edition in October.  You can thank me later.

Connolly is best known for his crime fiction series (starring PI Charlie Parker) and the previously-reviewed The Book of Lost Things.  The Samuel Johnson books, however, are more humorous and adventuresome and generally not as dark.  Read these with tongue fully in cheek!

Hell’s Bells is a sequel to The Gates, featuring a boy named Samuel Johnson and his trustworthy dachshund, Boswell.  In The Gates, the Great Malevolence and his minions tried to invade Earth, but found themselves thwarted by young Samuel, the ever-loyal Boswell, and a very minor demon called Nurd.  Hell’s Bells sees Samuel and Boswell lose the home court advantage as they are transported to Hell by a demon who has fallen out of favor after the failed invasion. Along for the ride are a group of notorious dwarfs, a couple of policemen, and an ice cream truck.  Throughout, Samuel’s ordinary life problems (divorced parents, unattainable girls, and the like) are superseded by the demons he encounters and the battles he witnesses.  His perseverance and continued good humor keep these books light, despite heavy subject matter.

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