Kids & YA

  • The Amber Spyglass

    Philip Pullman

    The last installment in this trilogy is epic and amazing. Overall the group of books is incredibly nuanced and well-paced, and about the only thing I found lacking through it all was the absence of the status of one character at the end of the second book, not to be heard from again until the seventh chapter in this one. Otherwise the story builds to an amazing point, where the details are clearly stated but the underlying meanings are free to settle in on their own. I like how Pullman plays with the idea of a happy ending, though I have to resist describing how.

    Poking around on his site, I discovered that the series lost Pullman’s...more

  • The Subtle Knife

    Philip Pullman

    I remember when I first read these books years back, I didn’t enjoy The Subtle Knife as much as The Golden Compass, but it must have been misguided Lyra obsession. This book starts off with a whole new character and a new world (“our own world,” a note clarifies), which is kind of unexpected and jarring from the all-out fantasy of The Golden Compass. It only takes one chapter for Will to slip into the Spector-laden world of Cittàgazze and come across Lyra. Then we’re back following the strange events following the end of the first book.

    I liked Will more this time, especially how his perspective puts Lyra in her place: “Don’t they have can openers in your...more

  • The Golden Compass

    Philip Pullman

    I realized that it’s been 8–10 years since I first read this book! When talking about the upcoming movie, I couldn’t keep characters’ dæmons straight (the outward projections of characters’ personalities in animal form) and realized I’d forgotten lots of details, as well as major plot points. The plus of that being that reading it again was almost like reading it for the first time.

    Not yet having fully left Pottermania behind, I couldn’t help but compare similarities: the child growing up without knowing the truth about her parents, unaware she is destined to be the only one who can save the world, beginning her coming-of-age with a discovery of a fantastical world where she inexplicably knows how to reacts...more

  • The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

    Nancy Farmer

    Toby mentioned this in the midst of recent Pottermania as one of the YA sci-fi books he would suggest to Potterfiends at the children’s bookstore he worked at in Boston years back. Set in 2194 Zimbabwe, three overprotected children of a general sneak out for an adventure and get kidnapped. Their parents bring in a trio of detectives, each with a distinct mutation from exposure to nuclear waste (check out the title and take a guess). There are so many characters and other things about this book that are awesome.more

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

    J.K. Rowling

    In the realm of contemporary YA fantasy, the HP series isn’t quite as well-written or nuanced as Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (which will hopefully get a bit more attention from the masses this winter with a big film version of The Golden Compass). But Rowling definitely has her suspense tricks down, which I would venture is what makes these books so popular. Especially in this last installment, each chapter builds in a progression of increasingly tantalizing cliffhangers, and the knowledge that the very end is coming makes it all the worse. The occasional outbursts of heavy-handed schmaltz and recurrences of certain emo themes do get on my nerves at times, but overall I appreciate...more

  • Coraline

    Neil Gaiman

    This girl Coraline is bored in her new house, her parents are too busy for her, and all the neighbors call her Caroline. But there is an old door to the flat next door that has been bricked up; when no one is around, it brings her into a parallel world which has all the things she might want, but in messed up, creepy ways. And all the people have buttons for eyes.

    Illustrations by Dave McKean, who must be this Dave McKean (perhaps the only website left on the ’nets designed for Netscape).more

  • The End

    Lemony Snicket

    I couldn’t decide while reading this whether it was a good ending for the Baudelaires, being stuck on some island rather than somehow encompassing all the books in one. But the ending does deliver pretty well. A lot of us had our suspicious anyhow.

    I still think it would have been better to wait until all the books were published, having only read the first twelve books about a year ago.

    It leaves off so mysteriously, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be a follow-up of some kind.more

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events

    Lemony Snicket

    I read The Bad Beginning several years ago and never continued with the series, which turned out to be a good decision, as I just spent the last couple weeks reading almost the entire series, up to The Penultimate Peril, published this year. It might have been even smarter to wait for them all to be in print, as now I have charged through twelve books and am left hanging until the last one is available, most likely not for another year.

    The books are dark and gloomy and include a lot of definitions for words and phrases used. There are also several passages in any one book where Lemony Snicket will try to convince you not to...more

  • Bill Peet: an Autobiography

    Bill Peet

    One of my favorite books as a kid was Jennifer and Josephine, and though I never read any other of Peet’s many children’s books, I considered him a favorite writer. I spotted this book at the library — an illustrated autobiography! His insight into the early years of the Disney animated features and Walt Disney’s personality are some of the best parts of the book. It is also inspiring how long he strived towards writing books for children until finally, slowly, figuring it out. He obviously was a pretty down-to-earth guy with an ironic sense of humor and sentimentality, so it’s no wonder his books are still relevant today....more