For Young Readers: 'Marcelo in the Real World,' 'Moonshot,' 'Written in Bone'

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


By Francisco X. Stork

Arthur A. Levine. $17.99, age 14 and up

A summer job with a prestigious law firm might fuel the dreams of a bright high school senior, but Marcelo Sandoval has other ambitions. The teen, who has Asperger syndrome, plans to train the therapeutic ponies at his special school, but his lawyer father, Arturo, wants him to work in the "real world," specifically the mailroom of his firm, Sandoval and Holmes. As Marcelo learns, this entails making eye contact and small talk, keeping quiet about his interest in religion and music and dealing with harried people. Arturo also hopes his highly intelligent but naive son will develop street smarts and a greater awareness of the motives behind people's actions. Indeed, Marcelo begins to do just that when he stumbles upon a case the firm wants to hide. With the help of his supervisor, a resilient young woman named Jasmine, Marcelo pieces together clues in hopes he can help a disfigured girl. What should he do, though, when the girl's needs conflict with his father's professional obligations?

Part coming-of-age story, part mystery and wholly compelling, this novel takes readers into the mind of a young man who can "perceive more of reality than others." Marcelo proves a wise and unwittingly humorous companion as he navigates the complex relationships, workaday concerns and ethical dilemmas of the real world.

--Mary Quattlebaum

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The Flight of Apollo 11

By Brian Floca

Atheneum. $17.99, ages 4-7

On the cover, a precisely detailed spacecraft floats buoyantly among the stars, pointing toward a crescent moon. Inside, a lush earth-shaped vignette floats on an empty page, its borders enclosing a woodland field. Beginning with these quiet scenes, readers take a journey through the shattering double-page spread at "LIFTOFF!" to the moment when all eyes swing full circle to view "the good and lonely Earth,/glowing in the sky." Woven into the astronauts' historic 1969 journey is another, more domestic one: A family follows the mission's progress, staring aloft on the title page, then later hunching toward their television and finally exploding with relief as the Eagle lands safely. No journey is complete, however, without a return, and the final two pages pair the drama of splashdown with another glimpse of that field, the family now busy creating their own version of space flight on a more human scale. If this were all, it would be enough, but carefully designed endpapers pack in additional information for budding scientists to enjoy. And while the illustrations speak eloquently of the wonders of science, the free verse text positively sings. Within a single sentence, facts (the rocket is 30 stories high and weighs 6 million pounds) and artistry ("a tower full of fuel and fire") keep company. In this beautiful amalgam of science and poetry, words, set free from gravity, merge into images that reverberate and soar.

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