For Young Readers

(From "Now It's Fall")
Sunday, November 13, 2005

Inkspell , by Cornelia Funke, translated from the German by Anthea Bell (Scholastic/Chicken House; $19.99; ages 10-up). Two years ago, Funke beguiled kids with Inkheart , a strange, labyrinthine tale about a young girl, Meggie, whose bookbinder father has the magical ability to "read" literary characters to life. All hell breaks loose after her dad animates characters from an imaginary medieval tale titled "Inkheart" -- and accidentally reads Meggie's mother into Inkworld. Now comes Inkspell , the second part of a projected trilogy. Crack it open, and instantly there's the familiar whiff of other realms and looming perils: "Twilight was gathering. . . . Soon the whole world would be black as pitch . . . and the ghosts would begin to whisper." Mom is back. This time it's Meggie who opens the "door between the words" and, along with both parents and some wandering story folk yearning to be home, passes into that timeless place where readers go when they lose themselves in a book. Adventures abound, but be warned: There's nothing cute about messing with barriers. As one character puts it: "This is all about Death."

Birdwing , by Rafe Martin (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $16.99; ages 12-up). Remember the Grimms' story "The Six Swans"? A wicked queen turns her stepsons into wild swans; the spell will be broken only if their little sister stays mute for six years and weaves each of them a nettle shirt. When the time is up, she has not quite finished a sleeve on the last shirt. The brothers regain human form, but the youngest is left with one arm and one wing. The end of that fairy tale is the starting point for this extraordinary novel. The youngest brother is now a teenager in the household of his father, the king. Alone among his brothers, he still feels part of the wild world, even as he works to overcome what the human world sees as a handicap. In the best fairy-tale tradition, "Prince Freak" sets out to discover how he must live. The marvelous thing about Birdwing is that, given its highly literary origins, it is so tough, colloquial, funny and moving. But then, having been sent back to the Grimms, you realize Martin has merely emulated his masters. A book for kids who appreciate the likes of William Mayne and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Picture Books

Thelonius Turkey Lives! (on Felicia Ferguson's Farm), by Lynn Rowe Reed (Knopf, $15.95; ages 4-8). "Every year, a plump, wattle-y turkey disappeared just before Thanksgiving. This year, there was only one turkey left on Felicia Ferguson's farm." So begins the suspenseful tale of Thelonius's week-long campaign to avoid the chopping block, aided by his farm friends. As it turns out, Felicia is a vegetarian fashionista who wants only his handsome feathers. Come the holiday, Thelonius fixes her a feast they can all share. Kids will relish the animals' ingenuity, the bright, busy, collage-style illustrations and maybe even the recipes for "feather cookies" and sweet potato and marshmallow casserole. But little ones might be concerned when Thelonius, or one of his relatives, appears, done to a turn, on their own family's Thanksgiving table.

Now It's Fall , by Lois Lenski (Random House, $9.95; ages 2-6). First published in 1948, Lenski's tiny classic (it's just 6 inches by 5) harks back to a time when picture books reflected a simpler life. A pared-down poem and cheery, cartoon-style pictures celebrate fall rituals redolent of an idealized New England. Two rosy-cheeked kids -- he's a redhead in overalls, she's a blonde in Mary Janes and a red dress -- scamper in the leaves with their little brown dog, pick apples, gather nuts, skip back to school, carve pumpkins and finally sit down to Thanksgiving dinner. It's a perfect world: "Summer's over,/Now it's fall;/Just the nicest/Time of all." Ah yes, but even here, the shadows lurk: "Down, down, down,/Leaves of red and gold and brown/Come falling,/falling/down."

--Elizabeth Ward


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