I came across this book on Amazon and thought, wow, a cool looking Graphic Novel that isn’t a manga produced by Japan. After doing a little more research on it, I had to laugh. Where it is true that it was written as an American graphic novel, the author was born in Tokyo.

Note: There also looks to be a Warner Brothers movie adaptation coming in 2012.

Story overview:
Two years after having witnessed the death of her father, Emily, along with her mother and brother (Navin), move to a small town and into a broken-down house (once owned by her great-grandfather). Still dealing with emotions from her father’s death, Emily finds that her mother is also doing all she can to hold herself together.

When rummaging in her great-grandfather’s old room, Emily comes across a mystical-looking amulet. Shortly after putting it around her neck, an otherworldly intruder enters their home and captures her mother. When Emily and Navin chase after the creature, they find themselves transported to a different world.

Now Emily is faced with the burden of losing another parent. Only this time there’s something she can do to stop it. Having met some unlikely friends in this new world, Emily and Navin are given the resources necessary for chasing down their mother’s captor. Having activated the amulet’s power, Emily wonders if the cost of such help might end up costing her more in the end.

My thoughts:
At first, I wasn’t sure about the style of drawing. It was, different. But the longer I looked at it, the more it grew on me and I started to appreciate the artistic brilliance, particularly within the scenery–Kibuishi’s use of lighting is clearly his greatest strength. As far as the story goes, it hooked me right away. Heartfelt, mysterious, creative, and gripping are just a few of the words that come to mind. I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting; couldn’t put it down.

Things to consider:
It’s marked for grades 4-7 (which is basically children aged nine to thirteen). I can see that; there are a few elements that may be considered too scary for younger children. But, I think 13 is too soon to cut it off; teenagers of all ages and many adults would appreciate this as well (I’m in my 30s, and I loved it). No hit of sexual references. No gore or even blood for that matter. There is action violence, some disturbing scenes involving a spider-like bug creature, and a few deaths (including Emil’s father, which practically had me in tears–thinking as a father myself). This should appeal to both boys and girls alike.

Opportunities for discussion:
The voice of the amulet told Emily that there was no time for faith. Yet her great grandfather did tell her there was another way. As a reader, I’m glad she listened to the amulet; I wanted to see the adventure unfold and to see what would happen with the stone. But as a believer I completely understand the temptation to reach for a quick and easy solution rather than listen to the voice of faith. The author shows us that the amulet might not be in the right, but leaves that thought open–likely to resurface in a later book. Since I don’t know the final outcome, I can’t say if choosing the amulet was a good decision. For all I know the amulet might have brought the creature to capture her mother in the first place. Therefore, with the story, we have yet to see, but for our own lives, let us consider this Bible verse Prov 19:2 (NIV) “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.” Ask your children about the last time they rushed into something, and what the outcome was. Challenge them to stop and assess the situation before jumping in next time. Sometimes trusting and having faith avoids worse consequences down the road.

When looking through the public domain, I came across The Enchanted Castle, published in 1907. Having never heard of the book (nor the author for that matter), I figured it was worth a try.

As a side note: it appears that this story was adapted into a BBC TV-miniseries in 1979. Unfortunately, it has not been released to either DVD or VHS. I think it is a shame when things like this get lost in the archives.

Story overview:
Three children—Gerald, James, and Kathleen—away on holiday, discover a country estate that resembles a castle. Having believed it really was a caste, the children were fooled by an enchanted princess. The princess, Mabel, turns out to be nothing more than the housekeeper’s niece. However, while in the mist of her performance, Mabel happens across a ring. A magical ring.

At first, the children believe the ring’s only power is to turn the wearer invisible. However, as their escapades increase (including detective work, a carnival show, and scaring the maid) the ring is found out to be a wishing ring.

After wishing more trouble upon themselves than good (such as turning clothes into real people), the four children learn of the ring’s true origins and the mysteries behind the place known as The Enchanted Castle.

My thoughts:
I’m surprised that I haven’t come across this book before now. Not that it is any great masterpiece mind you, but there are markings of a classic here. At first, I was fooled into thinking this was a typical fairy tale, but was happily surprised by the modern day twist (that is, modern day for 1907). There were places where I found the plot to move slower than I like, but overall the originality and freshness of the tale had me reading to the end.

Things to consider:
As mentioned, this was published in 1907. That means it is a few years shy of being a Victorian novel. With Victorian novels comes a style of writing not seen much in modern books. However, this one happens to be written fairly clear in comparison to many of its kind. The most difficult thing for some American readers might be the use of British slang, but overall it was easy enough for me to follow. Not much in the way of questionable content. No use of foul language, sexual situations, or violence. Good for both girls and boys in their teens. Perhaps younger if a parent were to read it to them.

Opportunities for discussion:
One theme throughout the book that kept popping up was that of telling the truth. The author went out of her way to show that even when the children were trying to cover their tracks, they made sure to speak nothing that could be seen as a lie. This may be related to the Victorian era, but even so, I appreciated it. Children of today (and adults included) find it excessively easy to tell a lie in order to get their way. Share with your children this verse: Proverbs 12:19 (NAS) “Truthful lips will be established forever, But a lying tongue is only for a moment.” Ask them what they think this means, and then ask them how they feel when someone tells a lie. From there you can help them to understand what others feel when they are the ones who lie.

After having read the first three books in The Bartimaeus Trilogy, I just had to check out this recent prequel. I remember reading references to Solomon in the first three books, where Bartimaeus often boasted of his time during Solomon’s reign. Now we get to learn why.

Story overview:
As a slave in Jerusalem (950 BC), Bartimaeus is forced to search for relics for King Solomon. His master is a careless wizard who learns a hard lesson when falling for one of the djinni’s tricks. As punishment, Bartimaeus finds himself under the rule of a more terrible wizard named Khaba.

Forced into a dangerous mission, Bartimaeus comes across a girl named Asmira who was sent by the Queen of Sheba to assassinate Solomon. It wasn’t until later that Bartimaeus learned of the girls mission, but by then it was too late—he was already under her spell.

Being more skillful than the average djinni, Bartimaeus works to bring his new master to her goal. When things begin to unfold, the assassin learns there is more to the story of her mission than originally thought. Including the true powers of the ring (worn by Solomon) and the true colors of the evil wizard, Khaba.

My thoughts:
The Ring of Solomon contains much of the same whit and character twists that The Bartimaeus Trilogy did. It was refreshing to continue in the realm of this fictional world, even if there are only two characters (Bartimaeus and Faquarl) from the original series.

Things to consider:
There are many Christians who will be offended that Solomon was used in this book. At first, even I found offense at the way he was portrayed. I know this is fictional and not meant to be taken literally, but historically he was a man of God (at least, in the beginning). Now, I didn’t give up on the book just because of this and I am glad I didn’t. Without giving away too much of the plot, know that it comes out better in the end. The biggest negative here is that the author made magic the source of Israel’s prosperity (during Solomon’s rein), not God. This, even in a fictional sense, can leave a negative impact on the believer. Still, if you can see past this as I did, you won’t be disappointed. There are no sexual situations or harsh language, however there are some disturbing situations and concepts that were portrayed in a humorous light (such as djinni discussing the best way to eat humans). I would recommend this for teenagers, both boys and girls.

Opportunities for discussion:
A key question proposed in this story is that of slavery. Whether it’s slavery in the traditional sense, or that of a deeper level—often unknown to the person who’s bound. The Bible tells us not to be slaves of this world. Be it addiction, negative habits, insecurities, material goods, money, lust, dependency, or obsession. All these things can end up controlling us, rather than us controlling it.  Read this verse to your children and ask them what it means to be transformed rather than conformed: Romans 12:2 (New American Standard Bible) “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Past reviews in this series:

1) The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1)
2) The Golem’s Eye (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 2)
3) Ptolemy’s Gate (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 3)

At 71 years old, Brian Jacques, best known for his Redwall series, passed away over the weekend (February 5th 2011). He died of a heart attack.

I was first introduced to his writings by watching the Redwall cartoon series on PBS (now TPT). Later I came across the first book in a rummage sale, which I bought for a dollar. From then on I was hooked.

For those of you who enjoyed his stories as much as I did, you will understand how much he will be missed. I offer his two sons and wife my sincere condolences, and pray that God would provide them with a peace that surpasses all understanding.

Rest in peace, Brian Jacques. Thank you for sharing your amazing talent with us.

For more information about the Redwall books, visit http://www.redwall.org .

After having read several of the Artemis Fowl books, and The Wish List, I decided to dig deeper into Eoin Colfer’s works. That’s where I came across Airman, a standalone novel, published in 2008.

Story overview:
In the 19th century (1890s), a ten year old boy named Conor Broekhart is a resident of the Saltee islands (a real place off the Irish coast). A close friend of the young princess, Conor finds himself saving her from a burning building.

Having been knighted and regarded as a hero, Conor trains under a Frenchman named Victor Vigny. For the next four years he learns how to become a brilliant scientist and a great swordsmen.

Unfortunately for Conor, he draws the attention of Marshall Bonvilain. A man who kills the king and frames Conor’s mentor, Victor for the crime—after having killed him too. Bonvilain ships Conor off to the prison island of Little Saltee, while deceiving Conor’s parents into thinking that he was killed protecting the king, and Conor into falsely believing that his parents disowned him because they thought he was involved with the king’s death. Conor spends the next three years living with a new identity and seeking a way to free himself of his terrible fate.

My thoughts:
I thought that the narrator voice was a little heavy in the beginning, but after awhile the story picked up and grabbed my attention. By the end I was anxiously anticipating the outcome. Good read. With a title like Airman, I figured I was going to read a story about a flying boy. Well, there is some of that, but the book closer resembles The Count of Monte Cristo. Prison stories of misunderstanding and identity swamping just never get old.

Things to consider:
Overall, this tale contained no inappropriate content. There’s a few scenes of violence, but nothing that doesn’t fit into the mold of this type of story. No sexual situations or harsh use of language. I recommend for pre-teen and older. Both girls and boys, though, perhaps, slightly more toward boys.

Opportunities for discussion:
Misunderstandings plague the best of us, as it did to Conor. His family believed him to be dead, and he believe that his family didn’t care about him. There are people out there like Bonvilain who are deceptive, but there are also misleading thoughts in our own minds, which can be just as bad. It’s easy to doubt the love of family, but sometimes that has more to do with failing to understand their true feelings. Tell your children that, before they think someone is trying to hurt them (such as a brother or sister), have them take a moment to communicate and try to understand where that person is coming from. In doing so there just might be a change of heart for both parties.

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 8,800 times in 2010. That’s about 21 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 19 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 78 posts. There were 22 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 615kb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was June 6th with 89 views. The most popular post that day was Inkheart (Book 1), by Cornelia Funke.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were booksforyouth.com, en.wordpress.com, facebook.com, mangablog.net, and search.aol.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for inkheart, inkheart book, books for youth, youth book reviews, and star wars the force unleashed novel.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Inkheart (Book 1), by Cornelia Funke January 2009
7 comments

2

The Capture (Guardians of Ga’hoole, Book 1), by Kathryn Lasky August 2009
1 comment

3

Mirror in the Mirror, by Michael Ende September 2009

4

The Alchemyst (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 1), by Michael Scott January 2010
1 comment

5

The White Mountains (The Tripods, Book 1), by John Christopher March 2009
2 comments

Ghosthunters And The Incredibly Revolting GhostPublished in 2006, Ghosthunters And The Incredibly Revolting Ghost is the first of a four book series by Cornelia Funke. For those of you not aware, this is the same author who wrote the Inkheart Trilogy, The Thief Lord, and Igraine The Brave (all formerly reviewed on this site).

Story overview:

Nine year old Tom lives in an apartment complex. A new resident recently moves in, but unlike the typical occupant who rents an apartment, this one is a ghost (named Hugo) who haunts the cellar. At first Tom is scared away, but his Grandmother’s friend, Hetty Hyssop, tells him that the ghost is just an ASG (Averagely Scary Ghost)—which is mostly harmless.

When Tom confronts Hugo, he finds that the ghost was chased out of his former home by an IRG (Incredibly Revolting Ghost). Thankfully for both Tom and Hugo, Hetty Hyssop is an expert ghost hunter.

After collecting supplies, the three of them set out to chase away the IRG so that Hugo can have his home back. Once they arrive at the old house, Hetty Hyssop quickly discovers that this IRG is the most powerful one she’s ever dealt with.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed the lightheartedness of this story. Funke creatively uses objects to fight against ghosts, such as eggs, graveyard dirt, and mirrors. Keep in mind that unlike her other works [mentioned above], this one is geared to a slightly younger audience.

Things to consider:

There’s no inappropriate language, violence, or sexual situations. However, if taken in the wrong light, situations such as the IRG removing its head might come across as slightly disturbing to some children. Overall I’d say this is a safe read and one good for children ages seven to preteens.

Opportunities for discussion:

Some Christians get overly protective whenever a story contains ghosts. Please remember that this is a work of fiction, and not meant to be taken literally. Explain to your children what the Bible says about ghosts (which, if memory serves, isn’t much, if anything at all), and ask them if they believe ghosts are real. Explain to them your beliefs on the topic, but be careful not to put them down if they say something you don’t agree with.

Since I greatly enjoyed reading Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy, I was excited to see that Heroes of the Valley was his latest book.

Well, maybe not latest latest, as it seems he’s coming out with a fourth Bartimaeus novel (The Ring of Solomon), but that has yet to be released (release date: November 2, 2010). So in the meantime, let me tell you about Halli Sveinsson.

Story overview:
A world once ruled by heroes is now the peaceful home of fifteen-year-old Halli Sveinsson. The heroes now long dead, their stories still resonate amongst the Twelve Houses, which have control over the valley. Of course, each house places their founder as the top hero in the tales, but one thing remains consistent: they all worked together to rid the valley of the evil Trows.

A short, stumpy boy, Halli finds himself getting into trouble more often than not. His mischief isn’t appreciated by his older brother nor his mother and father, but there is one person who motivates Halli to aim towards the level of the founders. His uncle. One evening when his uncle ends up having too much to drink, he offends one of the other Houses and ultimately is killed in the process.

On a quest to avenge his uncle’s honor, Halli seeks to bring justice to the murders. In his journey he finds that his childhood tales were not all they were made out to be, and in the process he ends up causing trouble to his House, which leads him to search for a way to restore the order.

My thoughts:

Where I don’t rate this as high as Bartimaeus, I did enjoy the tale. A little slower starting than I like, but overall well worth the read. As always the characters are sarcastic and witty, and I like Stroud’s ability to have them interact in a believable manner. I saw a little bit of Kitty in Halli’s female companion.

Things to consider:

It’s a little crude in places, but overall, nothing I’d consider inappropriate. I’d age rate this preteen +. Good for both girls and boys.

Opportunities for discussion:

The word boundaries comes to mind. To keep the Trows out of the valley, the heroes of old put up boundaries to prevent them from getting in. However, the boundaries also kept all the people from getting out. No one but Halli and his friend seem to question this. And when they did, they found that the heroes were not all they were cracked up to be. Children need boundaries to protect them. However, teaching them to mindlessly following boundaries is not a good idea. Ask your children if they know the difference between good boundaries and bad ones. If they say a good one is bad, be sure to explain, in full detail, why they are in place.

I’m not a huge Colts fan [go Falcons and Ravens!], but I ran across this site when searching for namesakes of Books For Youth (booksforyouth.com). Sounds like an interesting and beneficial program.

“In 2006, the Indianapolis Colts announced a new partnership with the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) for the “Books for Youth” program. Through this program, the Colts and the DCS will provide every foster child in Indiana with their own personal library of 25 age-appropriate books.”

“On Wednesday, August 4, forty-five foster children from the Anderson, Ind. area received an opportunity to participate in a special visit to Colts Training Camp . . . As a part of the Books for Youth program, each foster youth was presented a backpack filled with 25 age-appropriate books . . . Despite the blistering heat, the faces of the children immediately brightened as he walked into the tent to distribute the backpacks . . . Visit any Colts Pro Shop or online at www.coltsproshop.com and purchase a limited-edition BLUE backpack. For every backpack purchased, we will donate a backpack filled with books to a foster child.”

Full Article .

The next book in this exciting manga series continues after Kaguro’s attack against our favorite Kekkaishi: Yoshimori and Tokine.

Story overview:

The General Manager of the Kokuboro (the bad guys), Byaku, sends some of his team members to track down the current Master of the Karasumori site (the school). This leads them to Lord Uro, but not only are they unable to get to Lord Uro, they discover that he is the master of the land just outside of the Karasumori site, not the master of the site itself.

In the mean time, Gen and Yoshimori continue to strengthen their bond. Yoshimori meets Gen’s “tamer” from the Shadow Organization, Atora, who is a young and spunky lady that manages to keep Gen in check—in the process she greatly embarrasses the poor boy. In an attempt to improve the teamwork of Gen and the two Kekkaishi, she challenges them to catch her in the time of an hour. They were able to meet her demands and so she goes back to the Shadow Organization satisfied that they will work well together.

Yoshimori’s grandfather becomes worried about his friend (a seventy-year-old retired university professor), who may have dug a little too deep into the Kokuboro. Sure enough, they sent an assassin to kill the old man. It seems as if the assassin succeeds, but he secretly escapes by fooling everyone with an Ayakashi in human skin. Having thought to succeed, the Kokuboro are not done with their plans. They intend to take their princess to the Karasumori site in order to save her life.

My thoughts:

We are thrown a clue about the Kokuboro being run by the “Monster Fox of the black pampas grass.” More mysteries are unfolding, including the fact that it is the land itself that choose a Master to coincide with. If the land suffers, then the master will die, but if the master suffers the land will chose a new one (but it seems there’s a time limit before the land cannot survive without one). This is why the Kokuboro plan to bring their princess to the site; in hopes that the land will accept her as its new master. Interesting approach to the story. Watching the plot unfold is exciting, and as always, the character interaction is superb.

Things to consider:

Nothing really questionable. The series rating stays consistent at ages thirteen plus. A few minor curse words and action violence. And these are well placed; not gratuitous.

Opportunities for discussion:

The bond between Yoshimori and Gen has increased. They are in the process of becoming good friends, yet both would probably not admit it. Friendships are important in life, as no one is an island, but there is little else out there that can influence your teen in a positive or negative way. Talk to your teen about the difference between destructive friendships and ones that mutually benefit each person. Then ask them if they have any friends they think could be one or the other.

Past reviews in this series:

1) Kekkaishi (Volume 1)
2) Kekkaishi (Volume 2)
3) Kekkaishi (Volume 3)
4) Kekkaishi (Volume 4)
5) Kekkaishi (Volume 5)
6) Kekkaishi (Volume 6)
7) Kekkaishi (Volume 7)
8) Kekkaishi (Volume 8)