The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 13, 2009

Book review: Youth titles are informative, or just fun

For the most part I write about adult books available at the Joplin Public Library, but my heart still remains in youth services.

Below are children’s books that have been on my nightstand of late. Regardless of your age, these contain good information or are just plain fun to read.

“The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West”

By Sid Fleischman (non-fiction)

This well-researched, accessible biography tells of Mark Twain’s life on the Missouri River, heading West to California, how he started writing, and how and why Samuel Clemens came to use the name Mark Twain. Some information about his family and life as a child is also included.

Although this book is written for children, it is a terrific book for those wanting an overview of Twain’s life and is suitable for all ages.

Newbery Award-winning author Sid Fleischman includes many photographs and illustrations, a timeline of Twain’s life, references, a bibliography of titles about Twain as well as a bibliography of his work and an index in this well-written book of one of Missouri’s most favorite and well-known sons.

“Seer of Shadows”

By Avi (fiction)

Horace is a young apprentice to a photographer, Mr. Middleditch.

Mr. Middleditch is not a very well-known photographer and therefore jumps at the chance to take pictures of Mrs. Von Machts, who wishes to have a picture placed at her daughter’s tomb.

Mr. Middleditch devises a scheme to place an image of the deceased daughter, Eleanora, to appear as if her ghost is hovering within the photograph. Horace, not thrilled with this idea, is given the task of using a spy camera to take pictures of pictures of Eleanora in the house while Mr. Middleditch takes Mrs. Von Machts’ portrait.

When Horace develops the plates, he discovers four pictures of Eleanora, not the three he took. He is startled by this discovery but doesn’t halt the scheme. When Mr. Middleditch shows the Von Machts’ the portraits they are terrified of what they see — the “ghost” of Eleanora hovering over Mrs. Von Machts’ shoulder.

Soon Horace sees Eleanora appearing in other pictures. When the Von Machts’ servant girl, actually Eleanora’s cousin, Pegg, realizes what’s going on, she tells Horace the truth about Eleanora’s death and her belief that Eleanora has come back for revenge. Horace now believes it is up to him as a “seer” to put Eleanora’s soul to rest before more damage is done.

Newbery Award-winning author Avi writes a fabulous story of two young people in the 1870s trying to do the best they can under unusual circumstances. The time period, descriptions and dialog are well written and make this an excellent historical-fiction novel for upper-elementary and middle-school students.

“The Postcard”

By Tony Abbott (fiction)

When Jason’s grandmother passes away, his mother sends him to Florida to help his father sort through her things and sell the house. Jason doesn’t really want to go as he’s never met his grandmother.

After the funeral, Jason and his father are working around her house trying to get it ready to put on the market. Jason finds a box marked “Very Important Papers” and decides to find out what his grandmother considered important. In the box is an old magazine entitled Bizarre Mysteries. The cover has a lady flying and in her last days Jason’s grandmother referred to flying. Jason thinks he’s onto something when he finds a fold labeled with the initials E.B., the initials of an author his grandmother once knew and dated. In the magazine there is a story by Emerson Beale that is written as fiction, but is it really fiction?

Later Jason answers the phone and a raspy voice sends him on a quest to find out who Emerson Beale really was, who his grandmother was and why the mysterious caller told him to find a postcard. All his life, Jason’s father has not talked about his family. Will these puzzle pieces, when assembled, give Jason a more complete family history? With the help of a girl, Dia, from down the street, the two of them set out to solve the mystery.

This is a fun, fast-paced mystery within a mystery.

Susan Wray is the director of the Joplin Public Library.