Savvy by Ingrid Law (J Fantasy)

Savvy 

Ingrid Law (J Fantasy)

There are certain things that the Beaumont family knows about secrets: they need them, they have them, and they keep them. In just a few days, when Mibs turns 13, she’ll join her mother’s side of the family and will have a secret of her very own. That’s when she’ll get her own savvy and her world—as she currently knows it—will never be the same. But before her big day, her father is involved in a terrible accident and left seriously injured. With her newly acquired supernatural power and a pink bible bus filled with a handful of misfits, Mibs encounters bikers, brawls, and plenty of banana cream pie in a race to bring her whole family together and to save her broken father.

A 2009 Newbery Honor Book, Savvy is an imaginative and heart-pounding adventure story filled with many relatable themes that are standard fare for young readers: bullying, standing out, fitting in, first love, and making friends. The first in a series of three books (Scumble and Switch are both complete stories, but make small references to the original book), Savvy is an easy-to-read, thrilling ride that introduces us to a quirky set of characters including the preacher’s daughter, a belittled bible salesman, and a waitress with a heart of gold. Each of these people allow Mibs to slowly understands that perhaps the Beaumonts aren’t the only ones that possess supernatural powers. The ability to encourage, to help, to listen, and to accept are just as powerful as any savvy and Mibs quickly realizes just how special her new friends are in their own way.

Ingrid Law packs so many wonderful lessons in this book and that alone is worth the read. Along the way, Mibs learns that sometimes a bad thing can make a good thing happen or that happy endings come in all shapes and sizes or that things don’t always happen the way you want them to. Perhaps the most valuable lesson Mibs receives was from her mother who told her, “In most ways, we Beaumonts are just like other people. We get born, and sometime later we die. And in between, we’re happy and sad, we feel love and we feel fear, we eat and we sleep and we hurt like everyone else.” Through the eyes of an awkward teenaged girl, Law reminds us of how much good can be accomplished and gained when we focus on our similarities rather than our differences.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.thriftbooks.com

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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 http://www.amazon.com