Entries Categorized as 'All Ages'

Harry’s Mad

Our rating: ***½

Harry, an English boy, inherits a pet parrot from his American great-uncle. He quickly discovers that Madison (Mad for short) the parrot has been taught to carry on conversations by his great-uncle, who was a linguistic professor. Mad soon becomes one of the family, but when he gets kidnapped by a burglar, Mad must find a way to get back home.

This is your basic talking-animal-gets-kidnapped-and-has-to-return-home book, but it has two things going for it to set it apart. First, Dick King-Smith is a master of animal books and British humor (or should I say humour?), so Harry’s Mad is just plain fun in that regard. Second, the storyline of an American parrot being adopted by a British family has all sorts of fun with the differences between the two cultures. So while you won’t find anything too profound here, Harry’s Mad should do the trick of delighting young and old alike.

The Charlatan’s Boy

Our rating: ****

The story of Grady, a boy with no knowledge of his family, as he travels with a cheating showman named Floyd. The golden age of their show used to be the “Wild Man of the Feechiefen Swamp” act, but now that feechiefolk have become a laughable legend, the traveling duo are forced to find other shows make money from. That is, until they hit upon a scheme that will force all of Corenwald to believe in feechies once more—and bring back an opportunity for their favorite bit of show business. As they travel back and forth across the land, Grady also begins to discover things about himself.

I found this story very entertaining. Though some characters appear only for a short time, many of them actually do tie back in later in the book. My main complaint was that most of the book involves them cheating the townspeople in one way or another, but Grady’s conscience still pesters him, and the story ends well. Readers of the Wilderking Trilogy (The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking) can enjoy picking up on subtle tie-ins, while new readers can still enter and enjoy the world of Corenwald. Overall, definitely worth reading. According to the back of the book, there’s a sequel on its way later this year. I shall look forward to it.

The Mozart Season

Our rating: ***½

Allegra Shapiro, a twelve-year-old violinist, is confronted with the opportunity to perform in the Bloch Competition finals—and she accepts, even though she’s certain she’ll be the youngest player. Mozart’s fourth violin concerto is what she must learn. And so begins “the Mozart season” of her life, in which Allegra focuses on practicing. As the summer progresses, she learns not just the Mozart piece, but about people, music, and herself.

While it’s not bursting with plot, The Mozart Season is still an interesting read, especially for musicians, and at times it’s quite touching. My main objection to the book is the overuse of a kind of “scattered train of thought,” first-person writing style. It is effective in conveying Allegra’s young point of view, but it comes across too strongly, in my opinion. For the most part, however, I enjoyed the book. It’s not going on my list of favorites, but I consider it a very worthwhile read.

The Highly Trained Dogs of Professor Petit

Our rating: ****

Willie is the errand boy for Puddling Center, a town where all the people think much more of work than play. One day, a showman named Professor Petit comes to town with his five dogs. Willie and the Professor become good friends, and Willie is distressed to hear that Professor Petit’s show may go bankrupt. The cause of the trouble is another showman, Black Hoskins, who is taking all of the Professor’s business. Professor Petit doesn’t mind being beaten by an honest showman, but Black Hoskins seems to be doing everything in his power to shut down the Professor’s show, and Willie suspects that the competing showman is swindling the townsfolk as well.

The Highly Trained Dogs of Professor Petit is a short, fun story. Some of the tricks done by the dogs seem a little unrealistic, however the rest of the book has plenty of charm to make up for that slight flaw. Younger and older readers will both find the story entertaining, and I highly recommend it.

The Magic City

Our rating: ****½

Phillip is bored one day in his stepfather’s mansion, so he builds an enormous city out of anything that comes to hand. To his great surprise that night, he shrinks down (or the city gets bigger) and finds himself in a realm containing every city he’s ever built. Through various magical rules, his stepsister Lucy joins him in the city, and they set out on a quest to perform seven tasks and fulfill an ancient prophecy of a coming deliverer who will be king. But their progress is hindered at every turn by the Pretenderette, who wants to claim the throne for herself.

The Magic City is signature Nesbit. How else do you describe her delightful style and humor? The story world is cleverly put together in a way that leaves you guessing about what will come next, but it makes perfect sense once Nesbit explains. I only took off half a star because the main character is bratty enough in the first couple chapters to make you think it’s not going to be any good. Keep reading! This one has made it onto my list of favorite Nesbit books.

(And as a side note, The Magic City inspired Edward Eager’s Knight’s Castle, which makes it great fun to compare the two and see where Eager plays off of Nesbit in his unique take on this concept.)