The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

by Janet Fox

To insure that the three Bateson children are safe from the Blitz in 1940’s London, their father has made arrangements for them to attend the Children’s Academy at Rookskill Castle in Scotland. A great danger awaits them at the castle, however. Lady Eleanor’s dark magic threatens to take their souls just as she has stolen the souls of other children through the centuries, using the charms on her chatelaine (“an ornamental appendage worn by ladies at the waist”). Both literally and figuratively, she loses a piece of her humanity with each soul that she takes. Before leaving for the castle, Kat Bateson, the oldest of the three children, is given a chatelaine by her great-aunt Margaret, who tells her it is magical. Kat, who is adept at math and logic, must use all her strength, knowledge, and newly-discovered magical skills to overpower Lady Eleanor before she takes Kat’s soul. Meanwhile, the children of the castle discover a Nazi spy is in their midst. They race to uncover his identity before he absconds with Lady Eleanor’s magic chatelaine. A strong sense of place, vivid characters, and spine-tingling suspense pervade this story of good versus evil. Children disappear, the wind howls, and strange noises come from the walls. Since her father works for the British government, and Kat’s human hand has been replaced with a powerful metal one, perhaps we will see a sequel. A fine mixture of historical fiction and fantasy.

Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo

The Storyteller

by Evan Turk

The danger to a culture when its history-keepers are silenced is the foundational motif for this story of a boy who searches his city, in the kingdom of Morocco, for water to fill his cup. He encounters a wizened story-teller who begins to tell a fable to the boy about a family who always had enough water. The approach of a sand-tsunami that gathers out in the desert, and is rolling toward the city, alternates with the tale of an old woman who brings relief from drought to a village in the form of beautiful yarn that must be woven to realize the miracle. The boy repeats the story to the powerful storm. In the process, he empowers the people and together they drive off the desert spirits who threaten to destroy the land. The use of a culturally important craft (weaving) to rescue a land surrounded by desert delivers a powerful message about the importance of preserving beautiful and useful traditions in the midst of adapting to the technology of the future. The story design, of a story within a story within a story, is repetitive and circular, building from a story about a single weaver in a village to a city-wide uprising that defeats the storm, much like a carpet, woven from single threads, grows to cover an entire room. The illustrations, rich in cultural references in design and color, are framed in motifs that suggest carpet edges. The linear style blends with the weft and warp of a loom and produces a seamless visual that enhances the text. This story begs to be read over and over, each page offering new details for discovery on each encounter, like the complex patterns of a beautiful rug. Turk’s book concludes with an “Author’s Note,” that offers insights into why he wrote this story, and a list of resources labeled “Further Learning.” This book would be a good choice for story circle both as a way to introduce the culture of Morocco and as a way of initiating discussions with young children about why it is important to preserve and tell the stories of all cultures.

Reviewer: Hazel Buys

No Better Friend: Young Readers Edition: A Man, a Dog, and Their Incredible True Story of Friendship and Survival in World War II

by Robert Weintraub

“Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.” This quote by Theodore Roosevelt opens this 38-chapter middle grade edition of Robert Weintraub’s New York Times bestseller about Judy, the purebred Pointer, and her best friend, Frank Williams, a Royal Air Force radar expert. The two met in a Prisoner of War camp in Japan during World War II. In fact, it is not until 120 pages into the book that Frank and Judy meet. Judy’s life before Frank included traveling on British gunboats, being stranded on a desert island, traveling through jungles and imprisoned in Padang. She had had a litter of pups aboard a ship, and another while in a Japanese POW camp, and was essentially not only a heroic war dog but the world’s first therapy dog, bringing hope and comfort to soldiers and refugees she met along the way. The book has many photos and sidebars about the war and Judy’s story in light of these hardships is made even more remarkable. Written for a middle grade audience, the violence and desperate measures Frank had to take to keep Judy by his side for years are evenly paced throughout and the sidebars even include information on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something not even considered following World War II. When the pair returned to London the Pointer was now known as “Gunboat Judy” or “Precious Pointer” and following her six-month quarantine (standard for all dogs entering the United Kingdom) Judy and Frank were honored in many ceremonies throughout the country for their service. Finally, the pair settled in Africa working on a food growing project for the British, where Judy had her third litter of pups and they spent two years together before Judy’s passing. The deeply touching relationship between Frank and Judy, as well as the historical details and uplifting stories of courage and survival, make this an unforgettable volume definitely worth adding to a collection.

Reviewer: Debra Lampert-Rudman