I thought I would mention the two titles I booktalked to the library technicians on Wednesday:
Theodosia and the serpent of chaos by R. L. Lafevers
If your kids are pining for all things British since they finished devouring the final Harry Potter, grab this lighter (literally) tome for a quick British fix. With elements of mystery, humour and fantasy, there are more similarities than just the language. Both books also have inept and absent family members, deeply evil curses and helpful – if sometimes bewitched – pets. Eleven-year-old Theodosia (or Theo, as she prefers) is the totally lovable heroine of this book. Theo is as smart as your average Hermione, but not as annoying, mainly because no one ever listens to her. She lives with her parents in early 20th century London, where her parents run the Museum of Legends and Antiquities. Her mother is away in Egypt collecting important artifacts at the beginning of the book, and Theo wanders the halls of the museum, left entirely to her own devices by her kind but utterly forgetful father, who often even forgets to take her home at night. No matter, because Theo sleeps in a sarcophagus. You would, too, if you could feel the dark magic that Theo can feel in the museum. Says Theo, “Frankly, I'm not fond of surprises, as the ones around here tend to be rather wicked." Her special abilities, as well as her expansive knowledge of curses and amulets, serve her well when her mother returns with some seriously ominous treasures. Theo thinks she can remove the curse, but before she gets very far she stumbles into an international artifact crime ring, a London secret society, and Theo must single-handedly (well, with her somewhat-possessed-by-an-evil-curse cat) go to Egypt to save the British Empire! Check out the book’s website for Theo’s own blog, discussion questions, info about the historical setting of the book, and more! Theodosia is a great pic for 8-12 year old starving Potterites, as well as for fans of Eva Ibbotson, Nancy Drew, or Indiana Jones.
Laika by Nick Abadzis
I mentioned this earlier as one of my favourite teen reads of 2008. This is in teens because, although it's essentially a story about a dog, there is some violence and some heavy drinking (hey, they're Russian scientists under a lot of pressure!) This is the story of the abandoned dog who went on to become the first space traveler, under the Soviet space program. More importantly, it is a story for dog lovers, for feminists, for budding scientists and veterinarians, for political junkies, and for those looking for the next Persepolis. It is the story of Korolev, the ambitious Russian enginer, and Yelena, the lab technician responsible for the care of the dogs used in the space program. It is a story about truth, lies and propaganda, loyalty, duty, patriotism, and, ultimately, trust. You know that look a dog can give you, utterly inscrutable and yet somehow completely understandable? It's everywhere in this book; even though Abadzis fills in the details of Laika's backstory for you, you still manage to feel both closer to her, and yet somehow unable to completely understand what she is thinking. One of the reviews I read on NoveList wrote that all the characters in this book try to imprint their own desires on Laika's face. The truly heartbreaking moments come at the end, when Laika is in space, and Yelena learns she won't be coming back, and you hear Yelena saying "Good dog. You can trust me." Whether Yelena is calling those words out into space, or whether Laika is remembering them inside her head as she overheats, is unclear. In the scan below from the end of the book (yes, sorry, the images show Laika's body beginning to shut down), you will see Laika referred to by Yelena as Kudryavka ("Little Curly"), which was changed by the powers that be because it wasn't easy to pronounce (and they wanted maximum media promotion).