Oracle intrigue

Navajo code talkers

toad on a trek

For Young Readers

April 10, 2005|By Mary Harris Russell | Mary Harris Russell,Chicago Tribune

The Sphere of Secrets

By Catherine Fisher. Greenwillow. $16.99. Ages 11-14 years.

Starting with the second book of this series would be difficult. If you have, however, read The Oracle Betrayed (or after you have), Book 2 continues the fast turns of plot and character. It combines some aspects of the mythologies of ancient Greece and Egypt, with an Oracle, a Speaker for the oracle, and a child, Archon, ruling over a kingdom of political intrigue and mercantile power. Mirany, a young attendant to the Speaker, and the one through whom the divinity is actually speaking, seeks an end to the intrigue. Manipulations by human and divine characters are intricately woven , along with class antagonisms, falling stars and even remarkable elephants. Difficult to summarize, fun to read.

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two

By Joseph Bruchac. Dial, $16.99. Ages 10-14 years.

Joseph Bruchac is probably the most respected writer for children about American Indian history. Here he presents a story told by a Navajo grandfather that the Navajo Marines themselves were forbidden to discuss until its declassification in 1969. The grandfather's narrative is rich. It looks not only to the details of Navajo code talkers in World War II, who used their native language to transmit military messages undecipherable by the Japanese, but also to the story of Navajo boarding schools. Before that, it also covers the Long Walk, a forced relocation of the entire tribe, and, before that, Mexican and Navajo interactions. Resonant history and sobering specificity about combat.

Toad Heaven

By Morris Gleitzman. Random House. $14.95. Ages 9-12 years.

Limpy, the Australian cane toad, is back for a second adventure. He's still trying to lower the stats on road-killed toads, as he tries to catch insects in less dangerous ways as well as finding "paradise," a refuge where toads might be welcome. He hears that there are things called "national parks" and sets off with his dim but loyal friend, Goliath, to find them. Bad luck: the first one he finds is the Great Barrier Reef, too wet for toads. At another site they're rejected by the "park residents committee," in the great tradition of snooty co-op boards, because Goliath is overcome by hunger and eats a dragonfly member of the committee. Ecology, family and friendship, always with humor.

Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp

Retold by Philip Pullman, illustrated by Sophy Williams. Arthur A. Levine. $16.95. Ages 9-11 years.

English fantasy author Philip Pullman has long been fascinated by storytelling, so it's no surprise he's trying his hand at an Aladdin. Pullman's Aladdin seems a teenage rebel, more interested in mischief in the marketplace than in taking up a trade. The magic lamp and the "jinnee" appear, of course. This Aladdin lives along the Street of the Oil Sellers, but upstairs, above "the house of Shaheed the Nervous Poet." Viziers, grand and petty, jockey for position at the sultan's court. A thoughtful and exciting retelling.

Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery

By John Feinstein. Alfred A. Knopf. $16.95. Ages 11-14 years.

If you're asking, "Final four of what?" then this isn't the book for you. John Feinstein, an experienced sports journalist, centers his story on two young winners of a sportswriting contest. Steve and Susan are 8th-graders who've been looking at the sports pages since they could read. The plot involves an attempt to blackmail a college basketball player into throwing a game. The central team and players are invented, but they're woven in with much talk of real coaches and teams, like "Coach K" at Duke University.

Mary Harris Russell teaches English at Indiana University Northwest.

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