21. - 27. YA Round Up

It is once again that time of the year in which I list a bunch of Young Adult books I have read and you can decide if they are for you.  This is a pretty strong batch, actually.


“It had been a great house once, with farms and fields, money and jewels — with tenants and squires and men-at-arms.”

The House of Arden, E. Nesbit

For Christmas I bought all three of my monkeys subscriptions to various New York Review of Books book clubs - in which they are sent a children’s book published by the NYRB every other month (wish it was every month, waaah).  It’s been super fun to get new unknown books in the mail, and the books themselves are really beautifully made, with distinctive red bindings and lovely decorated endpapers.  I’m not reviewing the younger monkeys' books, which are largely picture books, but the oldest monkey and I have been reading his books (they came from the Fantasy Book Club series), and have been having a ton of fun doing so.

The House of Arden is by E. Nesbit, an old, old, friend of mine.  It’s a treasure seeking and time travel story, about Edred and Elfrida (oh boy did we want to call him Edward the whole time), who inherit a crumbling castle and learn that there may be a treasure hidden in it.  With the help of a magical creature called the Mouldiwarp, they travel through time to try to figure out what has happened to the Arden loot.  In many ways this is classic Nesbit, with the adorably Edwardian children who have stiff upper lips, and the gorgeous slang, and a little bit of her Fabian heritage, and all that good stuff.  BUT.  As much fun as I found this, I think you’d have to already be a Nesbit fan to love it.  Because it’s just not up to her best.  Lots of the time travel plot requires you to have a pretty strong grounding in British history (there was lots of explaining to my eight year old).  Also, a lot of plot threads seem to go nowhere.  Now, I since have learned there is a sequel to this book, which we have ordered (not published by NYRB, I had to get my copy off ABE Books for like, $24.00), and are currently reading, hoping that that will clear things up.  And obviously, we liked this enough to go and get the sequel.  But, I think that if you haven’t read any Nesbit, you should read The Railway Children (c’mon, who else remembers the bitching 1970’s tv movie?), The Enchanted Castle, or the Bastable children books - The Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet.  I think there is a reason that those books were around when I was growing up and this one wasn’t.  Minor Nesbit is still a delight, but newbies should start with the classics.


“One day when the Water Sprite came home, his wife told him, “You must be very quiet todays. We have a baby boy.”

The Little Water Sprite, Otfried Preussler

The second NYRB book.  It’s very different from The House of Arden. This is a translation of a classic German children’s book, and the word I would use for it is sweet.  Or maybe calming.  It’s just a little story about a little water sprite who lives in a mill pond and the first year of his life (not as a baby, water sprites grow faster than us), and all the little experiences he has.  It’s not really my kind of book.  I like more action and twists and stakes.  But it was actually lovely to read aloud to my son.  He really liked it, and it was nice and peaceful for bedtime - you never had to worry that something stressful was going to happen on any of the water sprites' little adventures.  I recommend it as a read-aloud for younger kids.  And maybe my friend who lives in Germany (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE) can read it aloud in the original!


“One double-back combo, one cheese-back with fries, a double Napolean shake…”

Ghosts, Raina Telgemeier

Bought this graphic novel at the kids’ book fair, thinking my biggest monkey might enjoy reading it before bed.  And he did, even if he got spooked before he finished it (I had planned to read it first to vet it, but he grabbed it out of my hand).  This is my first read by Telgemeier, who has written a few bestseller graphic novels for kids, and I really liked  it (and so did my monkey, once he finished it).  It’s the story of Catrina, who has moved with her family to the seaside town of Bahia de la Luna, California for her younger sister’s health.  Maya has cystic fibrosis, and the cool salty air will benefit her lungs.  But Catrina is sad and angry, and learning that the town has a reputation for ghosts doesn’t help her.  She’s scared - of the ghosts, and of what the future holds for Maya, and  for herself.  But by the end she has come to terms with all of her fears, and found happiness in a strange but lovely community.

It’s really sweet and moving - 8 might be a little young for it, not because of the ghost stuff which is actually not spooky at all - (even my fraidy cat son really liked it).  But the issues of loss and family are somewhat sophisticated and sad.  I mean, what do I know, I read stuff like that all the time at that age (aren’t all classic YA books super sad and about death? Can I get a Bridge to Terebethia? A Where the Red Fern Grows?). So maybe I’m being overprotective of my child.  But regardless, it’s a nice fast read and I think that tweens would love it (if they haven’t read it already - I think Telgemeier is pretty popular).


“Edward Hall sat under the front porch of the big house on Walden Street in Concord, Massachusetts, and thought about his two ambitions in life.”

The Diamond in the Window, Jane Langton 

I bought this at a used book sale because I am a big fan of Langton’s literary mystery series, featuring her former detective, now literature professor, Homer Kelley (the series is all over this blog, but for a sample, try Emily Dickenson is Dead).  And I love fantasy series set in old Victorian houses and magic, and this looked to be in the Edgar Eager/E. Nesbitt vein.  I picked it up the other day, thinking if I liked it, I might read it aloud to the monkeys.  Alas, it’s stranger than I had hoped.  What I mean is, it starts out like it’s going to be a classic puzzle solving mystery - two children, Ned and Nora, have disappeared along with their friend, Prince Krishna.  Twenty years later, two other children, Eleanor and Edward learn of the disappearance (along with a treasure!) and start looking for them.  Excellent premise, and the long poem that contains clues is a perfect trope of children’s literature.  Alas, the way the clues are solved involves these trippy shared dreams that didn’t quite do it for me.  Some were quite fun (the one where they had to escape by asking more and more profound questions), but they weren’t quite puzzle-y enough for me.  I’m being nitpicky (I would, for example, give the sequels a go, given my love for Langton’s other work), but I won’t bother to read this aloud unless the rest of the series is amazing.


Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones


House of Many Ways, Diana Wynne Jones


Castle in the Air, Diana Wynne Jones

On a whim I decided to re-read Howl’s Moving Castle, and enjoyed my re-read so that I went out and bought the sequel, House of Many Ways, and the “companion” book, Castle in the Air (which I also had read before but have not blogged about ).  Jones is a favorite of mine, even though I didn’t discover her until I was an adult, and these three books are delightful. 

My previous review of Howl is really cranky, and doesn’t reflect at all what I felt on the re-read. I agree with my previous position that Jones tends to be a less is more type writer, when I prefer, in my fantasy jams, more-is-more.  She writes for bright people and assumes you will get it without having every little detail explained, and you do get it - you just miss out on all that J.K. Rowling-esque detail that can be fun.  But her plots are aces, and her characters even more so.  From Howl, the spoiled but loveable wizard, to practical and clever Sophie, to nose-stuck in a book Charmain, to clever Abdullah, I loved every protagonist in this set.  

Howl tells the story of Sophie, who, as the oldest daughter of three assume that magic will never happen to her - despite living in Ingary, a place where seven-league boots are a reality and wizard is a career path.  Still, Sophie knows the stories - it is the youngest daughter who has adventures and magical capers, and resigns herself to life in the family milinary shop.  So when the Witch of the Waste arrives one day and turns her into an old woman for no reason, she is surprised.  And when she gets involved with Wizard Howl and his amazing moving castle, adventures ensue, despite her first child status.   This book is so clever and fun, and Sophie is such a delight.  Can’t wait to read it to my kids (once we get through the next couple things in our queue).

Castle in the Air comes next, chronologically. It is mostly about Abdullah, who lives a very Aladdin-esque life in Rashput, which is far south of Ingary.  He is a rug seller who comes upon a magic carpet, which leads him to a princess, and a genie, and a djinn, until he finds himself (in a gorgeous set piece) in the Howl’s Castle, which has been stolen by the djinn surrounded hundreds of kidnapped princesses.  That’s a bit of a spoiler, but I so, so loved the scenes where all the princesses were working with Abdullah (and Sophie, who got involved halfway through) to defeat the djinn.  Such a fun read.

Finally, House of Many Ways is the story of Charmain Baker, who goes to watch the house of her great uncle by marriage while he is recovering from a serious illness.  He is a wizard, and she, she comes to find, is, though untrained, quite adept at a magic.  Complications ensue as she tries to manage his house, and help the king find his missing gold, and Sophie and Howl are involved at the end, and it’s another fun and lovely fantasy book.  I really recommend all three of the Howl books, and if you like those there is a lot of fun Jones out there, much of which I suspect I will be re-reading soon.  

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017