Sunday, April 6, 2008

Three Sequels

The Somebodies
by N. E. Bode
Recommended Age: 10+

It has already been two books since Fern and Howard, switched at birth, have been switched back - but they remain "sort of" sister and brother, and grow more so as their third adventure progresses. It begins in school, where they are expelled after Fern turns her atrocious teacher's hair into a live (but tiny) pony. Howard's real parents, the Drudgers, step in with a court order to send both kids to a military school. So, in desperation, Fern and Howard run away to the "City Beneath the City" - beneath New York, that is - where an Anybodies convention is about to take place at an amazing, ever-changing hotel.

Anybodies, you may recall, are people who can hyponotize other people - and objects - and even themselves - to become whatever they want them to be. For example, at one point Fern hypnotizes herself into the form of a dog, and a Korean dollar-store owner hypnotizes Howard into the form of a Transatlantic twerp. But the point of their going to the Anybodies Convention is not merely to have fun practicing transformations and meeting other Anybodies. Fern has a destiny, revealed to her by the book only she can read - The Art of Being Anybody - the book that makes Fern royalty in the Anybody world. Fern has to do battle with the evil Blue Queen, who has returned after eleven years of exile to make a second attempt to take over overything.

Only, whether she wins or not hasn't been revealed to her. It could be tough. The Queen has brainwashed everyone else to do her bidding. She has gathered strength by sucking the souls out of books, and she will soon be ready to steal souls directly from living people. And before Fern is quite ready to face her, the Blue Queen's flying monkeys capture Howard - who, in turn, holds the key the Blue Queen seeks, the key to unlock a power that will make her unstoppable.

Since this book came out, N. E. Bode (the kidfic penname of Julianna Baggott) has branched out into other work, such as The Slippery Map and some books tied in with the film Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. So I am not certain whether this series will go on to include, say, The Everybodies. But it would be nice. In spite of myself, I have grown to enjoy the voice of N. E. Bode, quirkly injecting snippets of "his" outlandish life story into the strange and delightful adventures of Fern and Howard. Plus, I don't find the sense of closure that one should feel at the end of a "final" book in a series. So I won't be annoyed, or even surprised, to see this magical world again.

Moominpappa's Memoirs
by Tove Jansson
Recommended Age: 10+

This fourth book about a family of fuzzy little creatures that live in a rugged, northern land has something for all ages. For children, it has the same kind of sweet-natured adventure that enlivens the stories of Winnie the Pooh, Pippi Longstocking, and The Wind in the Willows. To the delight of young adults, it pokes gentle fun at the melancholy conceits and romantic aspirations of their age-group. Even older adults - writers especially - may enjoy Jansson's lively play of wit over a memoirist's wistful remembrances of youth. So if anyone in these categories doesn't know about this book, or the Moomins generally, it is time to make their acquaintance!

Also titled The Exploits of Moominpappa, this book - translated from its Finnish author's original Swedish - explores the youthful adventures of Moomintroll's father and his friends - who happen to be the fathers of Moomintroll's friends Sniff and Snufkin. The youngsters bear with Moominpappa's reading of his memoirs chiefly out of interest in hearing about their own, long-absent fathers.

So they hear about the terrible Hemulen Aunt, the inventive Hodgkins and his boat, the nervous Muddler and his button collection, and the footloose Joxter. They learn about a dreadful (but silly) giant, a 100-year-old autocrat who likes to pull pranks on his subjects, the Nibling stowaway, the ravening Sea Hound, the creepy Hattifatteners, Mymble's daughter and Little My, and how the youngsters' parents met. My favorite bit is the lottery in which the Autocrat gives everyone just the gift he wanted - it reveals so much about these zany and lovable characters!

The end seems to hint at further adventures of Moominpappa yet to be revealed. At least, one can hardly help wanting more!

The Shadow World
by Jane Johnson
Recommended Age: 10+

In Book Two of "The Eidolon Chronicles," not only Ben Arnold but his whole family plunge into the "Secret Country" of Eidolon, where Ben's mother is Queen Isadora, Ben's sisters are Princesses, and Ben himself is a Prince. To begin, the Queen returns to her troubled and blighted land, hoping to gather enough supporters to drive out the towering, dog-headed villain known as the Dodman. She brings with her the infant Princess Alice, whose precocious mind is immediately enlivened by the magic of Eidolon. But Ben's resentful older sister Ellie follows them in and is soon captured by the Dodman. Ben and his entirely non-magical father go after her and end up in trouble of their own. In short order, the family is scattered across this magical kingdom, struggling against the forces of evil on several fronts, and aided in their quest by a talking cat, a centaur, a mermaid, dragons, selkies, fairies, and other amazing creatures - including a couple of terrifyingly big and powerful ones.

It is hard not to share the royal family's discouragement as they find their world, their kingdom, dying under the Dodman's evil, vampirelike abuse; filled with resentful and uncooperative creatures who blame the Queen for abandoning them; and loaded with scary dangers and appalling cruelty. But the Dodman has a weakness, and it isn't just the low class of minion he is forced to put up with (stupid giants and goblins, for instance). Like a certain Harry Potter foe who shall not be named, he is missing something that the Arnold family has aplenty, and that transforms the creatures around them - selfish, cowardly, and even monstrous creatures - into willing allies and devoted friends.

Here is a thrilling and heartwarming young-readers' adventure by an author who writes adult fiction under the names Gabriel King and Jude Fischer, and who, for some time, edited the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. It has fiendish villains (several of them), an adorable cat named Iggy, a few blushes of young love, and a climax that might be called hair-raising if it weren't so very, very wet. And if the ending leaves you hungry for more, take heart: the third book in this series is now available, and it is titled Dragon's Fire.

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