Dead Boy by Laurel Gale (J)

Dead Boy

Dead Boy

Laurel Gale (Juvenile Fiction)

Being dead stank.  Literally.  With everything rotting, decaying, and decomposing, it really did stink.  And let’s not talk about the maggots and the skin falling off and the hair falling out.  Death was really the pits and eleven-year-old Crow Darlingson should know because Crow is dead.  Well, dead but somehow alive.  If you ask Crow what’s worse than being dead, he would tell you that it’s being alone.  Loneliness really stank.  But along came Melody Plympton, his new neighbor, who somehow accepted his deadness.  Just when things were looking up, Crow and Melody discover a terrifying and mysterious creature hiding in the park.  A monster that also grants wishes.  Could this same creature be the cause of Crow’s unusual existence?  Could Crow somehow wish himself a normal life?  Crow is willing to face whatever tests and dangers the monster throws at him.  After all, once you’re dead, what’s the worst that can happen?

Dead Boy is Laurel Gale’s debut novel and she sure delivers!  She delights and entertains readers with a creepy, ghoulish, sweet, and imaginative story that’s full of heart.  Although it’s labeled as a “horror” story and depicts scenes of maggots falling out of various body parts at inappropriate times (not that there’s an appropriate time), Dead Boy is really a story about a young boy wanting to be accepted and longing for a friend.  Anyone who’s ever wanted a friend who liked and accepted them for just the way they are will empathize with Crow and his unfortunate situation.

What I found refreshing about Crow was his ability to see the positive in any situation and to enjoy what little pleasure life might happen to toss his way.  Here’s a boy with no friends, unable to eat food, incapable of sleep, and whose entire existence is spent indoors surrounded by the safety of air conditioning (he lives in the desert of all places), yet he delights in the simple act of lying beneath the stars and gazing up at the night’s sky.  He’s selfless, understanding, intelligent, loyal, and a true friend in every sense of the word.  He’s probably one of the most unlikely protagonists that I’ve come upon in a long time and I certainly hope he won’t be the last.

Near the end of the book, when the dust has settled after all of his exploits and adventures, Crow realized something important that beautifully sums up the meaning of this book: “Maybe having friends wasn’t as important as having the right friends”.

Rating: 4/5

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Bed-Knob and Broomstick by Mary Norton (J)

Bedknob and Broomstick

Bed-Knob and Broomstick    

Mary Norton (Juvenile Fiction)

Carey, Charles, and Paul Wilson are rather ordinary children who are planning to spend a rather ordinary summer with an old aunt in Bedfordshire.  The children, not being very fond of her house, choose to spend most of their time outdoors playing in the barns, by the river, in the lanes, and on the hills.  One day seemed to flow into the next rather uneventfully until the day that Miss Price hurt her ankle.  It was on that day where this story truly begins because Miss Price didn’t just visit the sick or teach piano or was the most ladylike in the village.  Miss Price also happened to be a witch…well, a novice witch…and it was this same Miss Price who cast a spell upon one of Paul’s bed-knobs—a spell that could take him and his bed anyplace in the present or past.  A spell that would eventually lead to a trip to the police station, an encounter with cannibals, and a chance meeting with a lonely necromancer.  Perhaps this will not be an ordinary summer for the Wilson children after all.

Bed-Knob and Broomstick is the combination of Norton’s The Magic Bed-knob (1943) and Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947).  The first part covers the initial meeting between the Wilson children and Miss Price and details their adventures in the present while the second part picks up two years after and sends the group into the past.  Norton’s tale is sure to delight younger readers and has enough unexpected twists and turns to keep older readers engaged as well.

Bed-Knob and Broomstick is a humorous, suspenseful, and enchanting book filled with courage, loyalty, friendship, and love.  American author Debasish Mridha once said, “The magic of love is that it has the power to create a magical world in and around us.”  Norton indeed gives us a magical world which teaches us that you’re never too young for an adventure and you’re never too old to find love.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to 


The Night Garden by Polly Horvath (J)

the night garden

The Night Garden

Polly Horvath (Juvenile Fiction)

Despite the war overseas, life was fairly predictable and peaceful in the spring of 1945 for the family at East Sooke Farm.  Twelve-year-old Franny Whitekraft had her writing; her mother, Thomasina (Sina for short), had her sculpting; and her father, Old Tom, had his gardens—his many, many gardens.  There was the English garden, herb garden, Japanese garden, Italian garden, kitchen garden, statuary garden…but perhaps the most mysterious and closely-guarded garden of all was the night garden.  That garden Old Tom kept locked up nice and tight.  So, days floated by with little fanfare until one day, Crying Alice (that’s Mrs. Alice Madden to you and me) showed up on the Whitekraft doorstep and dropped off her three children: Wilfred, Winifred, and Zebediah.  You see, her husband, Fixing Bob (who does maintenance on the Canadian Air Force’s special plane), is going to do something stupid and she simply has to go and talk some sense into him.  Now, if three new houseguests weren’t enough, just throw in a UFO, ghost, psychic, several mysterious letters, mermaids, and a missing plane and you’ve got a recipe for anything BUT a predictable and peaceful spring.

This is the second book by Polly Horvath that I’ve had the pleasure of reading (the first being The Canning Season) and she continues to amaze and please with her witty dialogue and amusing situations.  Horvath not only entertains her young readers, but she manages to educate them as well.  She’s an English teacher’s dream as she dishes out a veritable smorgasbord of delicious words to savor:  presaged, traversed, bereft, contiguous, compeers, and ilk.  Aren’t they scrumptious?  She also delights us with an assortment of quirky characters that we feel inexplicably drawn to—not in spite of their flaws and rough edges, but because of them.

The Night Garden is a non-stop, heart-thumping thrill ride that will excite and enthrall readers of all ages.  It is a story of family and a love that is blind, slightly deaf, and a little bit thick, but love amongst family is often like that.  The Night Garden also provides us with many valuable lessons—from Miss Macy’s advice on being prepared (“Always wear clean underwear.”) to Franny’s philosophy on self-sacrifice (“Well, we were all put on this earth to suffer.”).  But perhaps it is Old Tom himself who best sums up the greatest lesson of all, “Never, ever, ever have houseguests!”  Old Tom is seldom wrong.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to


The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum (J)

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus     

L. Frank Baum (Juvenile Fiction)

Did you ever wonder why Santa delivers presents on Christmas Eve or why he climbs down a chimney?  Why reindeer were chosen to pull his sleigh or how the first Christmas tree came about?  All of these questions and more are answered about the jolly old man who delivers joy and happiness to every child around the globe on one very special night each year.  From his introduction as a helpless infant who was discovered by the Wood-Nymph Necile in the Forest of Burzee to the night he escaped the Spirit of Death by being given the Mantle of Immortality, the life of Santa Claus is finally shared and what you thought you knew about the man in red may never be the same again.

Two years after The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900, L. Frank Baum delighted audiences again with another tale of mythical creatures and magical worlds.  The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is not just a history of one of the world’s most notable and recognized figures, but it is a heartwarming story of selflessness, devotion, family, and love.  More importantly, Baum gives us a book extolling and celebrating the virtues of inclusion.  As an abandoned baby, Claus was lovingly adopted and wholly accepted within the secret and protected world of immortals.  As an adult, he once questioned whether or not wealthy children were also deserving of gifts since they already possessed so much.  The Queen of the Fairies replied, “Whether it be rich or poor, a child’s longings for pretty playthings are natural.  I think, friend Claus, it is your duty to make all little ones glad, whether they chance to live in palaces or in cottages.”

Children and adults alike can benefit from the messages Baum delivers in this classic children’s story.  The idea of extending grace, mercy, and joy to everyone we encounter is something we should aspire to every day of the year and not just one.

“’In all this world, there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child,’ says good old Santa Claus; and if he had his way the children would all be beautiful, for all would be happy.”

Merry Christmas from The Dusty Jacket.

Rating: 5/5




The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs (J)

The House With a Clock in Its Walls

The House With a Clock in Its Walls  

John Bellairs (Juvenile Fiction)

It’s the summer of 1948.  Newly orphaned Lewis Barnavelt is on a bus headed to New Zebedee, Michigan to live with his Uncle Jonathan.  Lewis is only ten years old but lately, only questions seem to plague him.  Where am I going?  Who will I meet?  What will happen to me?   But rather than getting answers, only more questions await Lewis upon his arrival.  Questions like why does his uncle prowl the halls after midnight and listen to the walls?  How does the stained-glass window change its image?  Why are there so many clocks in the house?  Soon, all too soon, Lewis will discover the truth behind these questions and he just might not like the answers.

John Bellairs gives young readers a book full of magic, mystery, and mayhem.  At the heart of this story, the author introduces us to a young boy who is alone, unpopular, and an outcast.  Parentless, he yearns for a friend and is willing to do anything in order to acquire one.  In his pursuit for acceptance, Lewis has to make a choice between keeping a friend and keeping a trust.  His decision comes at a cost that proves to be more than Lewis can possibly pay.

The House With a Clock in Its Walls is a ghost story that is suspenseful without being too scary.  Perhaps the most frightening thing in this book is how our young hero is relentlessly bullied and disdainfully discarded by a neighborhood boy.  Any child who has been excluded from a group or made to feel inadequate because of his or her appearance will certainly relate to Lewis’s unfortunate predicament.  Because of this, Bellairs provides us with a lesson that makes this book well worth the read:  If you have to prove your value just to keep a friend, is that a friend that’s truly worth keeping?

Happy Halloween from The Dusty Jacket.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to




The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (J)

The Underneath

The Underneath  

Kathi Appelt (Juvenile Fiction)

This is a tale of two love stories separated by one thousand years.  The first is of a possessive, jealous, and cruel love.  It is about an enchantress, a king, and a family of three.  The second tale tells of a selfless, devoted, and pure love.  It is about a brave mother, a set of twins, and a gifted but abused blues singer.  But like so many tales, these two worlds eventually collide and when they do, which love will prove to be the strongest?

Appelt offers up a modern-day fairytale that gives readers heroes, villains, magic, mystery, and danger.  Like most fairytales, we can count on the villain getting his comeuppance, the misguided antagonist having a change of heart, and the power of true love winning in the end.  The book has very short chapters and makes for an easy read for younger readers (or an ideal bedtime book to be shared and read aloud).  The story has some instances of animal cruelty, so parents of sensitive readers should be warned.  Also, although Appelt gives us a truly suspenseful tale, it does stall near the middle and needlessly prolongs the action.  At just over 300 pages, this may frustrate some readers, but perseverance has its rewards and a satisfying ending awaits the patient reader.

Time and time again our little protagonists are told to “Stay in the Underneath.  You’ll be safe in the Underneath.”  And true enough, safely tucked underneath this dust jacket is a wonderful tale of devotion, friendship, family, and the importance of a promise kept.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to


A Finder’s Magic by Philippa Pearce (J)

A Finders Magic

A Finder’s Magic  

Philippa Pearce (Juvenile Fantasy)

Till goes to bed in despair and wakes up desperate.  So deep is his desperation that you can see it in his dreams.  And one night, someone does see it.  That someone is a Finder.  A Finder that promises Till that he will help him find his beloved lost dog, Bess (for it is her absence that leads to all this unfortunate desperateness).  But finding Bess isn’t easy.  Clues need to be found, witnesses questioned, and leads followed.  Leads that point to a stranger, a thin line of light, and a nursery rhyme.

This book has a rather interesting backstory.  Pearce wrote this book for her two grandsons and it was illustrated by the children’s other grandmother, Helen Craig.  The main character’s name is an anagram of the two grandson’s names put together (Nat and Will) giving us Tillawn or Till for short.  Unfortunately, Pearce died before Craig began illustrating this book and was therefore deprived of seeing the beautiful book that their combined efforts produced.

Pearce gives young readers a wonderful tale of magic, mystery, and mischief.  The story deals with issues of loss and trust and tackles both with charm and humor.  After the book is finished, parents might want to remind their young reader that this is a fantasy book and, under ordinary circumstances, it is never appropriate to go running off with a stranger, especially one who offers to help you find your dog.

In the end, through all the questioning and searching and worrying, Finder gives Till something that replaces his desperation.  He gives him hope and although it’s not what Till wants, it’s what he needs and at that moment, hope is enough.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to


The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill (J)

The Mostly True Story of Jack

The Mostly True Story of Jack   

Kelly Barnhill (Juvenile Fantasy)

In the town of Hazelwood, Iowa, everything is neat and quiet and predictable.  Everything, that is, except the deep purple house with its bright green door that sits on the edge of town.  It belongs to Clive and Mabel Fitzpatrick (they’re kooks) and will soon be home to their nephew Jack (he’s a nobody).  But something is happening in the town of Hazelwood.  Something is different.  There’s a buzzing sound that you can hear in the air and feel on the ground.  And there is a sweet smell all about.  Frankie Schumacher is the first to notice it, but he’s usually the first to know most things.  What Frankie doesn’t know is that this newcomer, a boy named Jack, is at the center of everything strange, weird, and disturbing that is happening…again.

Barnhill gives us a story that is full of magic, bravery, and friendship.  The plot gets a little confusing as the reader is provided cryptic clues through old diary entries and postings by Jack’s uncle—both contained in The Secret History of Hazelwood—in order to piece together the bizarre events not only occurring in the Fitzpatrick home, but also around town.  Also, the premise of the story seems a little faulty since we are led to believe that Jack’s character feels “invisible”; however, throughout the book and especially near the end, we see that he is actually being forgotten and not just simply ignored.  This feeling is actually more appropriate in conveying a sense of foreboding and trepidation as the action intensifies and Jack begins to realize the truth about the town and himself.

Overall, I liked that the main characters in this book were loyal, fearless, and chose decency over convenience.  Whether standing up to bullies or corrupted townspeople, they always erred on the side of right, regardless of the consequences they knew they would eventually face.  I do have a slight warning for younger readers or readers that are easily frightened.  There are a few creepy parts in this book where kids get sucked into the ground and have their souls taken so just keep this in mind.  All in all, The Mostly True Story of Jack is a book about trying to feel comfortable in your own skin, trying to fit in, and most of all, just trying to be true to yourself…or mostly true.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to