Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Lynne Reid Banks

The Indian in the Cupboard
by Lynne Reid Banks
Recommended Age: 10+

On Omri's birthday, his best friend Patrick gives him a plastic toy Indian. In all honesty, Omri is much more interested in the gift from his brother, an old medicine chest with a keyhole into which a very special key fits - a key given to his mother as a keepsake long ago. Perhaps because of a birthday cake-cutting wish, or perhaps because of the promises connected with the key itself, something magical happens when Omri puts the Indian in the cupboard and turns the key.

The result is more than Omri could have imagined, even if he had imagined toys coming to life or tiny people coming out of a magical cupboard. What he gets is a real person from the 1700s - an Iroquois brave named Little Bear, who has scalped many enemies and buried a wife. Omri discovers that any plastic toy he puts in the cupboard becomes real... or, the next time, goes back to being a toy. But the complicating factor is, what do you do when real people from the past become toy-sized figures in your bedroom? How do you cope with their fear and loneliness? What do you feed them? How do you protect them from danger and discovery? And most importantly, how can you make them happy so that, perhaps, you can keep them?

Omri learns a lot about treating people with dignity, no matter what their size. His friendship with Patrick is put to the most severe test you can imagine, and becomes stronger for it. Little Bear finds friendship, love, and honor. A school headmaster gives Omri the scare of his life, and an art teacher gives him a much needed laugh. And after complications involving Omri's brother's soccer shorts and his other brother's pet rat, a World War I corpsman and an elderly Indian chief, a shopkeeper with a sharp eye for shoplifters and an argument over a TV program that almost turns fatal, Omri learns about knowing when to let go.

This book bursts with humor and humanity, suspense and terror, wonderful magic and a touching glimpse of one step in growing up. It's exciting, heart warming, and full of people whose flesh-and-blood reality is as wonderful to the reader as Little Bear's is to Omri. The result is that you care about them. And not only is this book the basis for a major motion picture, but it is also the first in a series of five books by an author whose other interesting-sounding titles include Harry the Poisonous Centipede's Big Adventure: Another Story to Make You Squirm. I will be keeping my eyes peeled for them, and I recommend the same to you.

The Return of the Indian
by Lynne Reid Banks
Recommended Age: 10+

This is the sequel to The Indian in the Cupboard, or rather, the second of five books in the popular series by Lynne Reid Banks.

A year has gone by since Omri and his best friend Patrick used a magic key and an old medicine cabinet to bring a plastic toy Indian brave to life. In that time, the two boys have moved out of their old neighborhood and grown in different directions. And their memories of a little tiny Indian and an equally tiny cowboy, snatched from their real lives in the past, have begun to seem like make-believe.

Except Omri has just won a creative writing contest for his "original" story about the plastic Indian.

And Patrick still keeps his plastic cowboy in his pocket.

Brought together again by a new twist, they bring Little Bear and his wife Bright Stars back out of the past. And at such a time! Little Bear has just been wounded in a raid on his village by their Algonquin enemies and the French. And Bright Stars is about to have their firstborn child.

Omri and Patrick nurse Little Bear back to health and try to prepare him to go back to his village and fight against his enemies once again. Only this time, perhaps, the boys go a little too far in playing around with history. And when they realize that the magic key also fits Omri's keepsake trunk, the boys find a way to go back in time and see the resulting Indian battle for themselves. It turns out to be a hard lesson for everyone concerned.

Once again, Ms. Banks creates a tale about children learning to see things from a more grown-up perspective, taking on more responsibility, and realizing more of the consequences of what at first seemed like playing with toys. But these little Indians and soldiers, etc., are not toys; they are people. And they don't come out of nowhere; they are ripped from real history, and must be sent back as well. So Omri and Patrick learn about the dangers of playing, not only with people's lives, but with the fabric of time itself. And even a victory can be mixed with loss, shame, and regret.

On the other hand, not everything goes badly. A very tiny baby is born. The skinhead punks who live in Omri's new neighborhood learn a lesson. Faltering friendships, dying childhood, and failing spirits are renewed. And the stage is set for even more wonderful adventures, beginning with The Secret of the Indian.

The Secret of the Indian
by Lynne Reid Banks
Recommended Age: 10+

It's not that the Indian has a secret. The Indian is the secret.

In this third book in the series that began with The Indian in the Cupboard, the action picks up where The Return of the Indian left off. Patrick and Omri have to explain the aftermath of a burglary they thwarted with the help of the magic key, the cupboard that brings little plastic people to life, and the trunk that sends full-sized people back in time. And yet they have to keep all that magic a secret, or everything will be ruined.

They get over this first challenge, but things keep getting trickier. First Patrick's cousin Emma gets in on the secret. Then Mr. Johnson, Omri's school headmaster, realizes that Omri's prize-winning story is not fiction after all. And Patrick's mother is growing frantic about the disappearance of her son, who has gone back to the wild west to visit his cowboy friend, Boone. Only in a case of magical crossed signals, Boone gets sent back to our time (in miniature form) and gets critically injured along the way.

Aided by a miniature hospital Matron, Omri and Emma take care of the casualties of Little Bear's attempt to use "now-guns" on his Algonquin enemies, and nurse Boone back to health. But they have to make a costly deal with Emma's nasty twin sister Tamsin, who had better not find out about the little people from the past.

Meawhile, back in the Old West (this synopsis sounds more and more like a B-movie) Patrick himself has shrunk down to three inches tall, and with the help of a Texas tart named Ruby Lou he tries to take care of the body Boone left behind when his spirit went to the future.

Inevitably, all these risky games with history, and little people, and boys locked in trunks, and magical keys, become too much for Emma and Omri to keep secret. And just when everything looks like it's going to blow up in their face... it does, in a spectacular and unexpected way. But will this mean the end of the magic, once and for all? You might think so, in the end. But things obviously start happening again, since there are two more books in the series. To find out what happens next, read The Mystery of the Cupboard.

Like the earlier books in this series, The Secret of the Indian is an adventure that combines magic (toys coming to life), science fiction (people traveling in time), and an appealing yet realistic glimpse into the lessons that three children learn, on their way to becoming adults. It's both wonderful and terrible to have a secret like theirs-- wonderful to have magic in your life, and terrible to see what it can do when it gets out of hand, or could fall into the wrong hands. And as the friendship develops between Omri and Emma, and as Patrick learns from experience what it's like to be a pigmy in a land of giants, you will learn to care about them and thrill to the same wonders and terrors.

The Mystery of the Cupboard
by Lynne Reid Banks
Recommended Age: 10+

The fourth book in the adventures of Omri and Little Bear is appropriately named, since it is more like a mystery than any of the others.

Another year has gone by. Omri and his family have moved to a Dorset "longhouse," a quaint two-story place with stone walls, thatched roof, farm outbuildings and countryside all around it.
Right off, the thatch needs to be replaced, and this is specialized work steeped in tradition. One such tradition is that a bottle is hidden in the thatch each time it is redone, with a list of the men who worked on it (and all previous lists) enclosed. But something else turns up in the thatch as well, something that Omri finds and keeps secret. It is an old cash box, locked, key missing, and a diary kept by an actress who died thirty years ago-- about the time the last thatching was done.

The actress, Jessica Charlotte Driscoll, turns out to be a relative of Omri's. And her story provides tantalizing glimpses into the origins of the magic cupboard and the magic key that make little plastic people come to life. With the help of his visiting friend Patrick and a very sad old man who worked on the thatch in Jessica Charlotte's day, Omri unlocks some of the dark secrets of his family history, full of tragic irony. And after breaking his promise to himself and taking the cupboard and key out of safe storage, he meets the little people plucked from history by an earlier owner of the same cupboard and key.

The only problem is, Omri's good intentions may go awry. An opportunity to change history-- his own family's history - tempts him. But if he changes things, could he erase himself from existence? Never has it been more apparent that Omri is in over his head than as this fear eats at him.

What more can I tell you without blowing the whole mystery? Well, there is one thing. What happens at the end of the book changes the course of Omri's adventures for good. How it does so, you must discover by reading The Key to the Indian.

The Key to the Indian
by Lynne Reid Banks
Recommended Age: 10+

In a way, the fifth book in the adventures of Omri and Little Bear picks up right where The Mystery of the Cupboard left off. But then again, it is quite different from all the other books in the series that began with The Indian in the Cupboard.

In case you missed the earlier books, the idea of the series is that Omri, an English boy, has a magic bathroom cupboard and a magic key that, together, can turn plastic toys into the real thing. And when the plastic toys are shaped like people, actual human beings from history come to visit, shrunk down to three inches tall. Among the several little friends Omri has, the most important is Little Bear, a Mohawk "pine chief" from 18th century New York.

Omri's father is in on the secret now. And Little Bear has asked them to come back to his time and help his people in a time of crisis. The first part of the story, then, is the whole adventure of how they figure out how to go back to Little Bear's time. Along the way, a bit more of the mystery of Omri's great-great-aunt Jessica Charlotte is cleared up, Omri and Gillon have a hair-raising adventure in early Twentieth Century India, and Omri's dad experiences his own worst nightmare in Little Bear's village. And it also turns out that some of the magic is in Omri himself, in his blood.

Finally everything is set for the father-son pair to go back together, but Omri has to make a deal with his strong-willed friend Patrick to make it possible. And while Patrick is up to who knows what mischief in Omri's family's Dorsetshire longhouse, Omri and his father find Little Bear at his rope's end in what may be the last Mohawk longhouse. Without meddling too much in history, they need to help Little Bear make a decision which will determine whether his people become extinct, or lose their culture, or somehow overcome the odds at a time when the white man was driving the Iroquois nations off their land.

It's a very exciting, moving, and sometimes infuriating tale, marked (in contrast to the earlier books in the series) by Ms. Banks' meticulous research and uncompromising depiction of just who was "civilized" and who was "savage." So besides being a story with deeply engaging characters and riveting drama, it also speaks to the conscience - piercingly, even horrifyingly, and in a way that challenges traditional views on the colonial period in America (and, for that matter, in India).

The final message for Omri may not be for Omri alone. Guess his dream!

The Fairy Rebel
by Lynne Reid Banks
Recommended Age: 10+

Jan and Charlie are a loving, but childless, couple. Charlie is a busy doctor, but Jan has to stay at home due to an injury that ended her acting career. One day, while Jan is in her garden weeping from loneliness, a tiny blue-jeans-wearing fairy named Tiki gets "earthed" on her foot. A friendship develops, and Tiki decides to defy the rules of her strict Queen to help Jan have a baby.

The Queen is not amused. Soon, with the help of Tiki's elf friend Wijik, Jan and Charlie have to rescue Tiki from a terrible prison devised by the Queen.

Then the baby comes, a perfectly normal little girl named Bindi... normal, except for a tuft of blue hair, and a succession of fairy birthday presents that help her grow up happy and good.

But on her eighth birthday, Bindi finds, instead of a present from Tiki, something nasty from the Queen. A horrible, wasp-ridden, cruel tyrant she turns out to be, and she wants revenge against Tiki and Wijik, and against Bindi and her family. Nothing short of a revolution can stop her, because the Queen holds all the magical cards.

Or does she?

Try this warm-hearted little slip of a book from the author of The Indian in the Cupboard. It is a modern fairy tale with an interesting twist.

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