Month: August 2014

West of the Moon

Jacket-3• Historical folk/fantasy fiction
• Age Range: Grades 5-9
• Author: Margi Preus
• Title: West of the Moon
• Publisher: New York: Amulet
• 04/2014
• 288 pages.
• ISBN: 978-1-4197-0896-1
• Awards: None yet, though this is my pick for the Newbery.

When thirteen year-old Astri’s Aunt trades her to an old humpbacked goat herder for two silver pieces and a goat haunch, Astri vows to be stronger and meaner than he is, so that she can survive her servitude, rescue her younger sister Greta from her aunt and emigrate to America to reunite with their father.

Preus’s masterful novel weaves together Norwegian folktales and a powerful story of a young girl’s heroic determination to do more than survive. Astri is a storyteller in a culture rife with superstition; chapters often begin with legends that parallel and inform the action. Equally as successful as Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Little Brown, 2009), this tale is darker and more mature.

Though Astri tells stories of rescue and transformation to comfort herself and others, she is very aware that if anyone is going to do any rescuing, it is going to have to be her. The decisions she makes to survive come to haunt her and she struggles to reconcile herself to desperate actions. Fast paced, vibrant, and gripping: Preus has created an enthralling, unflinching and unforgettable story inspired by a passage from her great-great grandmother’s diary. Reviewed from an ARC.

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Secrets of the Ancient Gods

       Jacket         Jacket-1

  • History related title
  • Age Range: Grades 4th-6th
  • Author: Vicky Alvear Schecter
  • Series Title: Secrets of the Ancient Gods
  • Publisher: Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press 
  • 10/2013 & 9/2014
  • 116 and 128 pages respectively.
  • ISBNs: 978-1-59078-995-7 & 978-1-62091-598-1
  • Awards: Anubis Speaks was a Cybils finalist.

Anubis clearly loves his job; being worshiped and getting to toss still beating hearts to the crocodile-headed Amut the Destroyer, what could be better? In this chatty, behind-the-scenes tour, the jackal-headed god of the underworld guides readers through an epic nightly battle, as Egyptian Gods fight against the forces of darkness and evil to ensure the sun god Ra is reborn: rising anew with the dawn.

Schecter does a remarkable job of making the complicated iconography of Egyptian mythology both clear and memorable, without dumbing-it-down. Convivial, yet menacing, Anubis orients readers with the Egyptian creation myth and then gets down to the really gross stuff. In between the blood, guts and snakes he manages to convey lots of accurate, precise, nuanced and compelling information about Egyptian practices and beliefs, making Anubis Speaks both an excellent curricular resource and a fun recreational read. Cleverly, a caution at the beginning warns of alarming content while simultaneously functioning as a source-note. An index, glossary, guide to Gods and Demons encountered, and an extensive list of sources, establish nonfiction bona fides – making this an auspicious beginning to the new Secrets of the Ancient Gods series.

Schecter follows her excellent Anubis Speaks (BMP, 2013) with a tour of the Greek and Roman underworld designed to creep you out. Long before Voldemort there was an original ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’: Hades. And, if you dare, he is here to take you on a personal tour of his dark realm.  Hades may have a chip on his shoulder about being the least known and worshiped of his brothers: Zeus and Poseidon, but he definitely has the best stories to tell, and as Larson’s pen and ink illustrations show, a personal-style rock stars would die for.

Readers will be both entertained and come away with a smattering of knowledge about the greats of the Greek and Roman world. And to balance out the Plato and Aristotle, who can resist knowing which hero left half his rear-end stuck to the Throne of Forgetfulness? A Guide to Gods and Heroes, an extensive glossary, a thorough bibliography that includes web sources, and an index establish the scholarly bona fides. Sure to please reluctant readers and fans of Percy Jackson.