The Appeal of Children's books

As if I didn’t have enough books to read, this weekend I made the mistake of visiting the book store. I was doing fine and managing to avoid temptation until I walked into the children’s/young adult section and there was a table laid out with a variety of new and popular works. I was weak.

I am not sure why I am so taken recently with young adult fiction but I do find it fascinating. Here are some books that I stumbled upon that definitely seem worth reading:

– Last year I read the first volume in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, the Amulet of Samarkand and really enjoyed it so it seemed natural to pick up the latest volume: The Golem’s Eye. Here is a teaser:

The second adventure in the Bartimaeus trilogy finds our young apprentice magician Nathaniel working his way up the ranks of the government, when crisis hits. A seemingly invulnerable clay golem is making random attacks on London. Nathaniel and the all-powerful, totally irreverent djinni, Bartimaeus, must travel to Prague to discover the source of the golem’s power. In the ensuing chaos, readers will chase a dancing skeleton across London’s skyline, encounter the horror of the dreaded Night Police, witness a daring kidnapping, and enter the Machiavellian world of the magician’s government. Eventually, Nathaniel and Bartimaeus have to go head to head with the fearsome golem before the surprise identity of his master is finally revealed.

Sounds like fun!

– In case it isn’t obvious I enjoy a good fantasy series (this is probably related to my devouring of Tolkien as a child). I am also attracted to well designed and illustrated books. As a result I was captivated by a series I had not heard of previously called the Edge Chronicles from British author-illustrator team Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. The series reminds me of The Spiderwick Chronicles but for slightly older kids. Here is the Amazon blurb:

An un-traditional coming-of-age story, the Edge Chronicles begins with Beyond the Deepwoods, in which our put-upon protagonist, Twig (a misplaced human boy who’s being raised by woodtrolls) gets a hint of his true heritage, sheds his Deepwoods upbringing, and does the unthinkable: He strays from the path. Alone for the first time and surviving by his wits, Twig must surmount all manner of perils to pursue a destiny that is whisperingly, mysteriously promised to him “beyond the Deepwoods.” From one frying pan to the next (but never quite into the fire) Twig either bests or befriends a ferocious, Carroll-esque menagerie of Deepwoods denizens–from foul-mouthed halitoads and red-faced slaughterers to galumphing banderbears and piranha-Tribble wig-wigs.

Given my wife’s love of children’s illustrations, we decided to pick up the first two: Beyond the Deepwoods and Stormchaser.

– Another series that caught my eye, but which I didn’t purchase, is the Overland series by Suzanne Collins. Here is what booklist has to say about the first book Gregor the Overlander:

What if Alice fell down an air vent in a New York City apartment building instead of down a rabbit hole? Collins considers a similar possibility in her exceptional debut novel, a well-written, fast-moving, action-packed fantasy. Eleven-year-old Gregor expects a long, boring summer of baby-sitting his two-year-old sister, Boots, and his senile grandmother. Distracted with thoughts about his father, who disappeared three years ago, Gregor belatedly notices that Boots has crawled into an air vent in the laundry room. He dives in after her, and the two are sucked downward into the Underland, a fantastic subterranean world of translucent-skinned, violet-eyed humans, and giant talking cockroaches, bats, spiders, and rats. Eventually, the terrified Gregor is transformed into a warrior hero who leads a successful battle against an army of invading rats and discovers his father, who has long been held prisoner by the enemy. Collins creates a fascinating, vivid, highly original world and a superb story to go along with it, and Gregor is endearing as a caring, responsible big brother who rises triumphantly to every challenge. This is sure to be a solid hit with young fantasy fans.

The second book in this series, Gregor and The Prophecy Of Bane, was recently released but given my book pile I was able to resist. But I will keep this in mind next time I visit the library.

As the above should make clear, I enjoy reading children’s and young adult fiction. It has all of the inventive storytelling and interesting characters without all of the adult baggage. Obviously, I like reading “adult” fiction as well, but books written for younger readers often provides a relaxing break from more serious subjects. With football season now upon us, my free time is going to be further limited so these books should provide some lighthearted and quick reading. I will report back on how they turn out.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).