Coraline by Neil Gaiman (YA Horror)



Neil Gaiman (Young Adult Fiction)

Coraline (not Caroline) Jones lives in a rather large house with her mother and father.  Because the house is much too big for just one family, she shares it with Misses Spink and Forcible (they live in the flat below) and the crazy old man with a big mustache (who lives in the flat above).  The day after she moves in, Coraline goes exploring.  She IS an explorer after all and exploring is what she does.  She explores the gardens, the tennis court, and even the old well (which is very dangerous so it’s best to stay away from it).  Soon, she begins exploring her house, which leads her to a door (which is kept locked), which opens up to a brick wall.  But one day, the brick wall isn’t there and Coraline decides to go through the door, because that is what explorers do.  It’s not long before Coraline realizes that she should have listened to the mice (in the flat above) and NOT have gone through the door.  Mice are smart.  At least they pronounce her name correctly.

Coraline is a wonderfully spooky and thrilling tale of a young girl who is clever, brave, and kind.  Her curiosity tends to get her into mischief, but a level head and a compassionate heart always seem to allow this little explorer to come out on top.

In his book, Neil Gaiman shows us different kinds of love.  There’s the I-love-yellow-Wellington-boots-in-the-shape-of-frogs love and the I’d-love-for-you-to-go-away-so-I-can-work love and then the I-love-you-so-much-that-I-will-give-you-everything-so-you’ll-love-me-too kind of love.  Throughout our story, Coraline deals with all of these:  her own love for quirky things; the love from her parents who often don’t seem to notice her; and the demanding love from a strange being that will go to any length in order to acquire and keep it.  The Ancient Greeks identified eight kinds of love.  Psychologists state there are seven.  For Coraline, there is only one kind of love and that is the love she has for her mother and father.  It is this love that gives her the will and the strength to fight against seemingly overwhelming odds and terrifying beings in order to find her way home again…and back to love.

Rating: 4/5

Posted: 10/2/2018

* Book cover image attributed to



Looking for Marco Polo by Alan Armstrong (J)

Looking for Marco Polo

Looking for Marco Polo   

Alan Armstrong (Juvenile Fiction)

Mark Hearn’s father is a teacher of anthropology and about to embark on a trip to the Gobi Desert.  Like Marco Polo, he wishes to meet and live with the desert people.  Before leaving, he gives Mark a worn copy of The Travels of Marco Polo and says that he will be following the same route as the famous explorer.  Mark receives frequent letters from his father, but when correspondence suddenly stops, he boards a plane to Venice with his mother in search of answers.  Mark’s old paperback suddenly becomes a map, holding clues to his father’s possible whereabouts.

After Mark and his mother arrive in Venice, you can divide this book into two sections.  The first we can call “Sightseeing in Venice” as the reader is provided several famous Venetian landmarks, as well as a few notable Polo sites (his former residence and the church he visited on feast days).  The second half focuses on Polo’s time in China and could be called “My Many Conversations with Kublai Khan”.  Here, the story drags a bit as Polo describes to Khan his multi-year journey.  It also chronicles Polo’s travels throughout the Mongol Empire.

Armstrong describes his book as a work of fiction stating, “The spine of travel is somewhat as Marco described it, as are the ribs of the larger adventures.  The rest is imagined, but possible…”.  Although many parts of the book are indeed overly dramatized and romanticized, the main points are factual:  Polo did travel through much of Asia with his father and uncle where they met Kublai Khan; Polo was imprisoned and dictated his story to a cellmate named Rustichello de Pisa; and Polo’s book did serve as inspiration to many later explorers, including Christopher Columbus.

If you mention Marco Polo to your child and the first thing that comes to mind is a pool game, then Armstrong’s book would be a good introduction to the man.  Perhaps it might even inspire your young reader to find out more about this famous merchant, trader, and explorer.  In the meantime…Marco!  Polo!

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to