For Young Readers

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
Sunday, August 20, 2006

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City , by Kirsten Miller (Bloomsbury, $16.95; ages 10-14). Twelve-year-old Ananka Fishbein's daily life is "flavorless mush" -- "I went to school, I came home, I took a bath, and I went to bed" -- until the Saturday she glances out her New York City bedroom window and sees an enormous sinkhole in the park across the street. Quicker than you can say "Down the rabbit hole," Ananka discovers a shadowy second city deep under the streets of Manhattan. Soon after, tiny, iconoclastic Kiki Strike appears at Ananka's ritzy private girls' school, seemingly out of nowhere. Together, they recruit a team of female mini-MacGyvers -- 12-year-olds as clever and capable as themselves with skills including lock-picking, bomb-making and mechanical engineering -- and set out to explore what lies beneath and foil apparent terrorists plotting above. But of course, little is what it seems. Perfect for bright middle-schoolers hooked on history and mystery and bored witless with pre-teen chick lit.

Changeling , by Delia Sherman (Viking, $16.99; ages 10-up), is another novel in which the Big Apple sprouts parallel worlds, doing for Central Park something like what Peter Pan did for Kensington Gardens. Neef, the narrator, was stolen by the Park fairies as a small child and is being raised in "New York Between." "In the New York I live in," she explains, "mortals don't call the shots. The Fairy Folk do." Neef, however, is a mortal at heart, and a smart, nosy, mouthy one into the bargain (hey, she's a New Yorker), which gets her into a boatload of trouble with the Folk. As the Green Lady tells her, "You're a pistol, kid." But Neef's exploits are really just an excuse to take readers on a tour of this invisible Manhattan, teeming with characters from literature (Water Rat, Iolanthe), folklore and Sherman's own imagination (Theater Folk and Tech Folk, including bugs, gremlins and computer wizards), the Producer of Broadway and the Mermaid Queen of New York Harbor, complete with tattoos and a nuclear sub.

The Unresolved , by T.K. Welsh (Dutton, $16.99; ages 14-up). Narrated by the ghost of a 15-year-old girl who drowned when the steamship General Slocum burned and sank in the East River on June 15, 1904, this historical novel with a supernatural twist offers a far darker take on New York. Welsh writes with a precision and delicacy unusual for YA fiction. Here's the drowned girl's underwater view after the catastrophe: "Through the waving arms and legs . . . if you looked carefully, you could still see tiny hairs on the dead skin, rippling like rabbit fur in a breeze." But an equally unflinching exploration of issues from anti-Semitism and corruption to adolescent sexuality makes this one strictly for older readers.

Finally, it's not New York, but middle readers who appreciate the mysteriousness that lurks in all old cities might enjoy Brad Strickland's tribute to London, Grimoire: The Curse of the Midions (Sleuth/Dial, $11.99; ages 8-12). Jarvey Midion has reluctantly tagged along with his parents on a trip to England. When they vanish, he finds himself transported via the power of an ancient book called the "Grimoire" to the vaguely Dickensian, between-worlds city of "Lunnon," full of Toffs and Dodgers.

Picture Books

The Three Witches , by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Faith Ringgold (HarperCollins, $15.99; ages 6-10). Hurston and Ringgold: Now there's a pairing that sets up expectations. And this adaptation of a folktale that Hurston collected in the Gulf States in the 1920s doesn't disappoint. (Check out the original in Every Tongue Got to Confess [Harper Perennial, 2002].) "Three witches had already eaten a boy and girl's mother and father," it begins briskly, "so their grandmother took them to live with her far off in the woods." Not far enough for the witches, though -- a hair-raising trio with high heels and teeth "longer than their lips," who show up as soon as Grandma goes out. Nothing could be scarier -- or funnier -- than the two kids up a tree, chanting and hollering ("Block eye, chip! Block eye, chip!") as the blinded witches chop away at the trunk with their broadaxes ("O-ooo! Whyncher, whyncher!"). Ringgold's exuberant primitivist paintings sport colors as lush as a Deep South summer.

-- Elizabeth Ward

(warde@washpost.com)

Picture Books

The Three Witches , by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Faith Ringgold (HarperCollins, $15.99; ages 6-10). Hurston and Ringgold: Now there's a pairing that sets up expectations. And this adaptation of a folktale that Hurston collected in the Gulf States in the 1920s doesn't disappoint. (Check out the original in Every Tongue Got to Confess [Harper Perennial, 2002].) "Three witches had already eaten a boy and girl's mother and father," it begins briskly, "so their grandmother took them to live with her far off in the woods." Not far enough for the witches, though -- a hair-raising trio with high heels and teeth "longer than their lips," who show up as soon as Grandma goes out. Nothing could be scarier -- or funnier -- than the two kids up a tree, chanting and hollering ("Block eye, chip! Block eye, chip!") as the blinded witches chop away at the trunk with their broadaxes ("O-ooo! Whyncher, whyncher!"). Ringgold's exuberant primitivist paintings sport colors as lush as a Deep South summer.

-- Elizabeth Ward

(warde@washpost.com)


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity