Monday, March 31, 2008

The Willoughbys

Lowry, Lois. 2008. The Willoughbys. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

The dust jacket alone is proof enough that Lois Lowry, known for her deep, award-winning and thought-provoking novels, is having a bit of fun. The cover art is a penned sketch of a small, three-story home with a red door. Underneath the drawing are the words "A Novel, Nefariously Written & Ignominiously Illustrated by the Author."

Clearly, this novel about aspiring orphans, Timothy, Jane, and the twins (A & B), is meant as a light-hearted spoof on classic literary tales (Anne of Green Gables, Mary Poppins, Pollyanna, etc.), as well as a nod to the more modern tales of the Penderwick and Baudelaire children.

The plot is set in motion when a baby is left on the Willoughbys doorstep. The self-serving and neglectful parents want nothing to do with the child - indeed, they want nothing to do with their own children either! The children, under the direction of the tyrannical Timothy, leave the child on the doorstep of a reclusive millionaire; first naming the child Ruth, so as to leave themselves "Ruth-less."

The lives of the Willoughby children, the millionaire, Ruth, and Nanny, (and a young boy in lederhosen, "Ach. I forgotzenplunkt. Sorrybrauten.") become entwined when Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby decide to take a trip with the Reprehensible Travel Agency. The children hope that the parents will not survive. Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby plan that the house will be sold and the children will be gone by the time they return. They do, however, send postcards,

"The crocodile river was such fun. Two tourists were eaten in huge gulps but it was not sad at all because they were French. ... Tomorrow we are taking a helicopter trip over an erupting volcano. We got quite a bargain because the pilot has not completed his training. ... By the way, when the house is sold and you move elsewhere, could you leave your clothes behind? We will take them to the secondhand shop and get a commission."

The children often make their decision based on what "good old-fashioned people" would do, with humorous results. When the real estate agent tries to sell the home and directs them to hide in the coal bin, they instead masquerade as a lamp, a rug, a coat rack, and a cactus! Nanny powders herself and strikes a pose as an alabaster Aphrodite! None of this is out of place in The Willoughbys - a delightful romp through "good old-fashioned" stories.

A Glossary of words necessary to "good old-fashioned" stories follows. Some of the words one couldn't do without? Bilious, lugubrious, nefarious, odious - need I say more?

Finally, Lowry concludes with a Bibliography, mixing the likes of The Bobbsey Twins and Baby May and Jane Eyre, with other "books of the past that are heavy on piteous but appealing orphans, ill-tempered and stingy relatives, magnanimous benefactors, and transformations wrought by winsome children."

Good fun!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

After languishing on the waiting list for over 3 months, I finally received a copy Laura Amy Schlitz's of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! this year's Newbery award winner. This choice must have taken the library by surprise; our original order was only for two copies.

Set in a medieval manor in England, 1255, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is a set of soliloquies by the juvenile inhabitants of the manor. ( exceptions are the two-actor plays featuring Mariot and Maud, the glassblower's daughters, and Jacob and Petronella, a Jew and a Christian that meet by the river) Children from all layers of society are represented in short, one-act plays of 5 to 7 pages. From Hugo, the lord's nephew, to Giles, the beggar, the daily lives of children on a feudal manor are starkly presented and neatly interwoven.

The language is appropriate for both the age and the period, and much is written in verse form - some rhyming, some not. From "Drogo: The Tanner's Apprentice"

"I don't mind the stink -
I grew up with it, being the son of a butcher.
Dead things stink; that's the will of God,
and tanners make good money.

I don't mind the work -
digging the pits
grinding the oak bark
smearing the hides with dung.
Work is work. I like
bread in my belly
and ale in my cup. ..."

Unfamiliar words and occupations are accompanied by footnotes; and short, 1 or 2 page explanations of various aspects of medieval life (The Crusades, falconry, etc.) are interspersed between the plays. A generous bibliography (the author is a librarian!) completes the book.

The artwork by Robert Byrd is reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts of the period. The ink and watercolor illustrations are of the typically flat design, lacking in depth and realism - common to the period and perfect for this book! Pages are bordered by wide, richly-colored, vertical "ribbons."

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! brings history alive as no text book can. Readers can understand the misery of being the miller's son (they were roundly disliked!) or the uncertainty of life as a plowboy or runaway. This book might also make a good choice for a Reader's Theater presentation. I think I'll give it a try.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Year of the Dog

Lin, Grace. 2006. The Year of the Dog. New York: Little Brown.

The Year of the Dog is a short chapter book for younger J readers. Loosely autobiographical, Lin tells the story of one year in Pacy (Grace, to her schoolmates) Lin's life, the Chinese Year of the Dog. Lin's year begins appropriately on the Chinese New Year holiday, the lucky year of the dog. And indeed, the years begins with luck as another Chinese American girl moves into Pacy's upstate New York neighborhood, and the two girls become fast friends.

At first, I read the book waiting for the "big event," the problem moment, the other shoe to drop. But the other shoe doesn't drop; instead, the book is a largely upbeat and realistic look at the everyday issues facing a middle-school aged girl. There is one incident in which Pacy is called a "Twinkie," yellow on the outside/white on the inside, too American to be Chinese/too Chinese to be American. Even Pacy isn't sure if she should call herself Taiwanese or Chinese. It's confusing, but not overwhelming. By and large, the book is a positive look at the life of a young Taiwanese American with a loving family and a good friend. Sprinkled throughout are stories within a story; Grace's mother relates memories from her own childhood as a first generation immigrant. Also adding interest are Lin's numerous pen and ink sketches.

Interesting facts about Chinese culture are interspersed throughout the book and the reader will learn a great deal about life as a Chinese American. The melding of the two cultures is dealt with in a humorous manner. When Grace has a sharp pain in her neck, her mother tells her grandmother.

"'Ah,' Grandma nodded her head at me wisely, 'I know. I fix!'" Grandma takes out a silk box with paints and brush and paints Chinese characters on Grace's neck. "'Leave and tiger will chase pig,' she told me. 'Running will help neck.'"

Grandma has painted the Chinese characters for "tiger" and "pig" on the back of Grace's neck.

She later asks her mother, "'Will the paint come off? ... I don't want to go to school with 'pig' written on my neck!' 'I'm sure it will,' Mom said, 'but does your neck feel better?'"

She thinks for a moment. "'Well, yeah,' I nodded, 'it does!'"

The Lin's fill their New Year's candy bowl with Chinese candy mixed with M&Ms; and for Thanksgiving, Mom relents and cooks a small turkey to go alongside the glassy rice noodles, fried shrimp, and meaty dumplings.

The book concludes with a Reader's Guide (questions appropriate for a book discussion), and a sneak peek at the next book in the series, Year of the Rat (Jan 2008).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Regarding the Bathrooms: A Privy to the Past

Klise, Kate. 2006. Regarding the Bathrooms: A Privy to the Past. Ill. By M. Sarah Klise. Orlando: Harcourt.

I don’t know how I missed the other books in this Regarding the ___ series. I’ve only read this one book, but I think that the series idea is pure genius.

Regarding the Bathrooms is a mystery concerning the basement bathrooms of the Geyser Creek Middle School, various Geyser Creek residents (including Liet. Sting Ray of the police force, Jeannie Ologee of the Geyser Creek His, Hers, and Theirs-storical Society), Hugh Dunnit of Interpol, members of the sixth grade class, and the always effervescent, Florence Waters. Like an episode of Seinfeld, seemingly unconnected people and events come together with hilarious results.

It is the multi-genre style that makes this series so engaging. The entire story is told using nothing but newspaper articles,

“The Geyser Creek Gazette
Sally Mander and Delbert “Dee” Eel Escape
Principal Russ to Host SPA Conference
Geyser Creek Middle School Principal Walter Russ will host the upcoming conference of the Society of Principals and Administrators (SPA). Russ stated that until this morning, his biggest challenge was getting the school’s basement bathroom in presentable condition before the conference on August 31. He has asked designer Florence Waters to oversee the project.
‘Now, of course, I’m more stressed out about having escaped convicts on the loose,’ Russ ruminated.
Russ will have to worry about the cons and the johns – and write his own letters to Ms. Waters – without the help of school secretary Goldie Fisch-N., who is taking the summer off for personal reasons.”

advertisements,

“For Sale
Wedding Ring
Barely used, microscopic diamond
Contact Angel Fisch”

letters, postcards, posters, flyers, notes, transcripts, and school bulletins. Each one is humorously illustrated and formatted to bear resemblance to its real counterpart.
The mystery can be completely solved using clues found within the primary source documents. The middle school students, six in all, (each apprenticed to a business or organization for the summer) work together to solve Geyer Creek’s latest mystery.

The story is full of puns, as evidenced in this excerpt from a letter from Florence Waters to the Principal,

“I’m assuming your students will assist me in the renovation. I’d be plumb crazy to plunge into a project this serious (hee-hee) without consulting my favorite pen pals. They’re always flush with great ideas! ….. P.S. Don’t worry about the visiting principals seeing evidence of waste. The simplest flushing mechanism will take care of that.”

This series should be great for reluctant and/or humor-loving readers. The mix of fonts, drawings, sketches, and handwritten notes makes Regarding the Bathrooms a breeze to read. An added bonus, readers will learn a bit of ancient history, some Latin, and various writing styles.

I can’t wait to read Regarding the Bees: A Lesson, in Letters, on Honey, Dating, and Other Sticky Subjects – just in time for this year’s Summer Reading Club theme, Catch the Reading Bug!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Selznick, Brian. 2007. The Invention of Hugo Cabret. New York: Scholastic.

This 526-page book is the unlikely winner of this year’s Caldecott Medal, awarded annually to “the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children published in the United States during the preceding year.” In most years, the Caldecott Medal is awarded to a picture book for young children. There was much discussion about whether or not a book of this type and length, “twenty-six thousand one hundred and fifty-nine words,” belonged in contention for the award. Its nearly 300 pictures, however, sealed the deal and it is a watershed book in children’s literature.

Most of the artwork consists of Selznick’s pencil drawings, but there are also several stills from early motion pictures, and a few drawings by the famous French filmmaker, George Méliès. Selznick’s pencil drawings are incredibly lifelike and detailed. Parts of the story (including a memorable chase scene) are told only through drawings, sometimes twenty or more pages running. The story is so captivating that if the pictures weren’t so wonderful, you would be tempted to race through the illustrated pages just to see what happens next.

Without giving too much away, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is mystery, history, suspense, friendship, and coming-of-age all at once. Life in 1931 Paris, clockworks, the history of film, and a wary but blossoming friendship are strong themes of the story. Hugo Cabret is a young street urchin living inside the walls of a Paris train station. Having learned the skill of horology (the art of measuring time) from his father, he carries on the job of the absent Timekeeper of the station, carefully maintaining and winding the clocks throughout, and living in a tiny hidden room within the walls.

In his solitude, his companion and his obsession is a broken automaton, that he inherited (in a fashion) from his father. He is determined to repair the broken automaton, and so repair himself. He steals small toy parts, gears, and springs from a toy shop in the station and thus begins an unlikely relationship with the secretive and cantankerous shopkeeper and the young girl, Isabelle, frequently found at the shop.

The text on each page is bordered by a large expanse of white space and a black border. Despite its length, this story reads quickly. Hugo is a likeable, if brooding, young man and the reader is immediately swept into the drama that is Hugo’s very existence.

The book’s website is a great resource. http://www.theinventionofhugocabret.com/about_hugo_intro.htm

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Deedy, Carmen Agra. 2007. Martina the Beautiful Cockroach. Ill. by Michael Austin. Atlanta: Peach Tree.

I love this version of the classic Cuban folktale. In Deedy's book, Martina tests her many suitors by dumping coffee on the feet of each. By their responses, she judges the character of each prospect.

"Martina nervously splattered coffee onto the rooster's spotless shoes. 'Oh my!' she said with mock dismay. 'I'm all feelers today!' "Ki-ki-ri-kiiii!' The rooster was furious. 'Clumsy cockroach! I will teach you better manners when you are my wife.' ..... 'A most humble offer, senor,' she said cooly, 'but I cannot accept. You are much too cocky for me.' "

The illustrations are beautiful and lifelike, with feathers, scales, plants and pants shown in great detail. A particularly nice touch are the background features that put the creatures' size into perspective. Martina uses a spoon for a mirror and has a postage stamp on the wall as artwork. Several stacked packages of gum with a jeweled comb handrail serve as her staircase. The dust jacket credits the author, the illustrator, and in a cute touch - "The Real Martina," a description and photograph of the "real" Cuban Cockroach.

Punished

Lubar, David. 2006. Punished. Plain City, OH: Darby Creek.

This is a short (93 pages) novel about a Logan, a young boy with a "punny" problem. The mysterious Professor Robert Wordsworth catches him running in the library, and declares that he should be "punished." It isn't until the next day that Logan realizes that he's been cursed with a steady and unceasing stream of involuntary puns!

His mom asks him to put the evening's dessert into the fridge, " 'Sure, I don't mind pudding it away.' Mom stared at me for a moment. 'We'll be eating in fifteen minutes,' she finally said. 'The spooner you lettuce eat, the better,' I told her."

The punning goes on with hilarious results until Professor Wordsworth offers him a way to break the curse. He must collect seven oxymorons, seven anagrams, and seven palindromes. The chapters are appropriately named, "Opposites Attract," "Scrambling for Answers," and "Either Way it's the Same." With a little help from his family and his best friend, Benedict, he fulfills his "sentence."

Guaranteed to make you groan (with delight), this book is punny for younger J readers.

The Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, rebels (and what the neighbors thought)

Krull, Kathleen. Read by Melissa Hughes. The Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, rebels (and what the neighbors thought). Audio Bookshelf, LLC.

This is a short (about 2 hours) compilation of the lives of extraordinary women rulers from the distant past to the present and from the United States to the Far East. Chapters are divided into the lives of the women with a follow-up section titled "Ever After," in which the lasting impact of each ruler is discussed. This is a great introduction to many famous and not-so-famous women, and listeners should particularly enjoy the little-known facts, such as how often Elizabeth I bathed (not often!) and how Golda Meir was known to do wash by hand, and interrupt meetings to prepare snacks. This is not a book for the youngest J readers; many of the rulers' numerous and varied romantic habits and interests are discussed whenever relevant. This is a useful title for students not needing a full-fledged biography, yet wanting more than an encyclopedia might offer.

Melissa Hughes' reading was not captivating, but the story of these extraordinary women is!


Subjects covered are:
Cleopatra
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Joan of Arc
Isabella I
Elizabeth I
Nzingha
Catherine the Great
Marie Antoinette
Victoria
Harriet Tubman
Tz'u-hsi
Gertrude Bell
Jeannette Rankin
Eleanor Roosevelt
Golda Meir
Indira Gandhi
Eva Perón
Wilma Mankiller
Aung San Suu Kyi
Rigoberta Menchú

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tae Kwon Do

Pierce, Terry. 2006. Tae Kwon Do. New York: Random House.

For kids enrolled in martial arts and learning to read, this book is a winner. Short and very easy!

"We dress.
We go...
...to Tae Kwon Do.
We stand.
We bow.
We step in now."
....
Very cute.

Factory Girl

Greenwood, Barbara. 2007. Factory Girl. Kids Can Press.

Factory Girl is an interesting mix of fiction and non-fiction. Unlike "diary" or "journal" type books, that offer a nonfiction appendix, this book's chapters alternate between the fictional life of Emily, a 12-year-old garment worker, and non-fiction essays on the related issues of the day. (i.e., squalid living conditions, union organization, wretched factory conditions)

While this makes for very interesting and relevant reading, it also makes the book rather difficult to classify. A reader looking for a historical fiction novel may pass on Factory Girl because of its factual accounts (although they are well-written and accompanied by exceptional period photographs). A reader seeking a non-fiction book for a school report might likewise pass on Factory Girl because it is not likely to fulfill a teacher's requirements.

In either case, readers would be missing out on a great piece of history, both fictional and factual. The fictional Emily's story ends on a positive note as she makes the decision to go public with conditions in the sweatshop after she loses a friend in a factory fire. Of course, this is paralleled by the true-life Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911.

Factory Girl ends with an ironic twist. Although child labor laws were eventually passed during the Great Depression (more to provide jobs for men than to save children) , United States consumers still purchase clothes and carpets made under the same appalling conditions detailed in the story. Thousands of children still labor in the sweatshops of India, Pakistan, China and other countries. Greenwood reminds readers that the solution is education, "North American children, for the most part, are now able to enjoy their childhood as they grow into educated adults. One battle has been won, but in other parts of the world, the fight continues."

The numerous photographs by noted 19th and 20th century reformers and photographers, Jacob Riis, J.S. Woodsworth, and Lewis Hine, add a great deal of power to this story of hardship, endurance and hope.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sam's New Friend

Robberecht, Thierry. 2007. Sam's New Friend. New York: Clarion.

Sam's New Friend was first published in Belgium and later translated to English. Sam, a self-described, "strong and brave" dog, plays with boys, not girls. When his mother tells him after school that the new girl in class, Ellie, will be coming over to play and spend the night, Sam is not happy. "But she's a girl!"

Sam is awakened during the night by Ellie's quiet sobbing. Her parents, she explains, may be getting a divorce. Sam models the behavior of his parents and treats Ellie kindly, comforting her and earning her friendship. And in the morning, he knows "she'll be all right, because she's tough. I'm Sam. I'm strong and brave. And so is my new friend Ellie."

Divorce may be mentioned in this story, but it is first and foremost a story of friendship and acceptance. The colorful oil painting illustrations and the vibrant colors of the text-only pages make Sam's New Friend an upbeat look at a sad topic. It's interesting to note that Sam's eyes (and the other characters as well) are depicted as small black dots - until Sam is "awakened" by Ellie's crying, and his eyes become wider and more expressive.

Scoot!

Falwell, Cathryn. Scoot! Greenwillow.

Scoot! is a follow up title to Turtle Splash!
Scoot! follows the same six turtles, this time, "Down at the pond on a sunny summer day... six silent turtles sit still as stones." Falwell employs alliteration and rhyming text to document the movement of wildlife at the pond. "Wood ducks glide. Water striders slide...But the six silent turtles sit still as stones." Children should enjoy anticipating the event that will finally stir the turtles.

"Notes from the Frog Song Pond" follow the story. The author's notes include sketches, observations, and photographs from the pond, adding an informational aspect to this delightful story. The graceful artwork is collage art, however, Falwell includes a closing page on "Printing Textures, "offering suggestions for creating prints with paints and varied household items such as corrugated cardboard, cut carrot and bubble wrap.

I love the dedication, "For my dad, Warren Falwell, who sent me outside to play."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Little Hoot

Rosenthal, Amy. 2008. Little Hoot. San Francisco: Chronicle.

Not the typical bedtime ritual, Little Hoot is an owl that wants to go to bed early.

"All my other friends get to go to bed so much earlier than me! Why do I always have to stay up and play? It's not fair!"

Of course, Little Hoot is an owl and owls must stay up late, but that doesn't stop Little Hoot from complaining, or "boo-whooing!" This book is full of avian and other word play, "...besides, I don't give a hoot what time your friends go to bed," Papa Owl says.

The illustrations are crisp, colorful and modern. Thought and word bubbles give Little Hoot an almost comic strip feel.

A cute twist on a nightly bedtime ritual!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls

Cabot, Meg. 2008. Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls: Book 1: Moving Day. NY: Scholastic.

There seems to be a trend in recent years of making everything from movies, clothing, video games, and books available to ever younger audiences - think of the Nancy Drew you remember from childhood. Nancy Drew is now available in graphic novel format and for readers as young as 7 or 8 in the Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew series.

Meg Cabot has now entered into the children's department with the first in her new series, Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls, called Book 1: Moving Day.

The protagonist is 4th grader, Allie Finkle, who is somewhat reminiscent of Junie B. Jones.

"It wasn't the hugest surprise that Mom and Dad said we were moving. ... Dad has been teaching computers for a while now and recently got a chair. When you're a professor, getting a chair doesn't mean that you finally get to sit down at work. It means that you get more money."

With chapters named after "the rules," ranging from "Don't stick a spatula down your best friend's throat," to "When you do something wrong, always apologize (even if it's not entirely your fault)," Moving Day follows the trials and tribulations of this feisty 4th grader as she gradually adapts to the fact that she must leave her old friends, school and home.

The book started out slow for me, and I had trouble relating to Allie as someone other than an older version of Junie B., however, as the story progresses, the reader learns that Allie is insightful (but not beyond her age level), kind to her younger brothers, and deeply concerned about the welfare of animals - (see rule #12 - When you are setting a turtle free and people are chasing you, the best thing to do is hide).

This was not my favorite book for young readers, but I think that it will appeal to many young girls. Meg Cabot and Allie Finkle will likely have a devoted following for future installments.

Leprechaun Gold

Bateman, Teresa. 1998. Leprechaun Gold. Ill. by Rosanne Litzinger. New York: Holiday House.

This is an older book, but perfect for the upcoming holiday. This book is rather lengthy for preschool storytime, but the story is wonderful in that it combines the trickster element common in Irish tales with the wonderful message that some things are more precious than gold.

Donald O'Dell saves a leprechaun's life, but surprisingly, does not want to accept his offer of gold. The leprechaun is determined to repay his debt and Donald is equally determined to refuse it.
This is a lovely tale that features gratitude, self-sufficiency, and the value of intangibles more precious than gold. Soft, double-spread, watercolor and pencil drawings accompany the rather lengthy story. Of course, being a leprechaun tale, this one ends with a satisfying twist.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Penelope

A quick aside from children's lit -

I went to see Penelope (Stone Village Pictures 2008, starring Christina Ricci, rated PG) this weekend with four 12 and 13 year old girls. I don't think it received stellar ratings, but we absolutely loved it!

Penelope (Christina Ricci) is born to a wealthy, London, blue-blood family. She bears the features of a pig, in fulfillment of a curse issued generations earlier. The curse may only be broken when she is "accepted by one of her own."

In this modern day fairy tale, Penelope's mother secrets her away in the family castle and tries, without luck, to find a suitor among London's wealthy elite class. The movie is funny and touching as Penelope finds and loses true love and strikes out on a path of her own. The movie is at times hilarious, at times touching, at times uplifting. The end is a surprising twist that reaffirms the power and beauty of individuality and self-confidence.

Interestingly, after the movie, we tried to place the time frame for the movie. A reporter types on a 1920s style typewriter, Penelope's clothes could be suited to an earlier era, the street fair evokes the 19th century, the telephones date from the 1960s, the London skyline looks to be a mixture of the past and the future - yet somehow, it all works. My daughter surmised that each character sees the world as she wants to. I think she hit the nail on the head. Penelope shows us that our reality is colored by our perception and challenges us to see beyond.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Golden Compass

My interest in The Golden Compass was sparked by the protests accompanying the release of the movie. On New Year's Eve a stranger handed me a leaflet that appeared to be a Golden Compass bookmark, but turned out to be a denunciation of the book. Similar bookmarks were surreptitiously placed in the library. Many other people must have been interested in the controversy as well. I was on a waiting list for the MP3 download for more than two months.

Although I listened to most of the story, there were a few chapters that I read from the book when my MP3 wasn’t handy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this is helpful when trying to write about an audio book because it gives the listener a chance to see how unusual names, places and creatures are spelled – especially helpful in a high fantasy novel like Pullman’s The Golden Compass. Conversely, my daughter read the book at the same time that I listened to it; while I couldn’t spell the names, she couldn’t pronounce them – Iorek Byrnison and Iofur Raknison giving us both the most trouble. A combination approach to experiencing the book was perfect.

The audio version of this book was superb in quality. This was apparently a big budget release by Listening Library. According to Random House, this nearly eleven hour novel was read by the author himself and a full cast, including "some of the finest actors of the London stage." http://www.randomhouse.com/audio/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780807204719
The few chapters that I read, rather than listened to, were pale in comparison to the richness of the audio version.

This is an old book (1997) and well-reviewed elsewhere. I just want to add a few comments. I think the story is a fantastic and gripping adventure, fantasy, sci-fi and mystery. Lyra is a feisty and endearing protagonist - like her friend, the great bear, Iorek Byrnison, she is purposeful and without guile.

As for the controversy, I am mixed. If the author's intent was to provoke thought and introspection about good and evil, sin and virtue, kindness and wickedness, and the validity of the credo "the end justifies the means," then I believe that these themes should have been intrinsic to the story. Instead, the nature of the overlying problem facing Lyra is obscured throughout much of the book. Only in the final chapter is role of the church fully revealed. I don't believe that the message of The Golden Compass is powerful, compelling or clear enough to actually cause any person of religious conviction to question his faith. I can understand, however, why particular branches of religion might be offended by this story. The re-writing of certain verses of the Bible to fit with the storyline might be offensive to some readers or listeners. Of course, it should also be stressed that this is, without a doubt, a work of fiction and should be taken as such. I don't believe that I will see the trilogy through to the end, but I am interested enough that when my daughter finishes it (she's already asked for the second title, The Subtle Knife), I will ask her if good wins out over evil.