Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Note: This is the rehearsal script edition. A definitive collectors’ edition will be released at a later date.

hp8Harry Potter and the Cursed Child joins Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight in the category of “ostensibly canon series continuations that I shall henceforth pretend do not exist.”

The play begins with an abbreviated version of the Deathly Hallows epilogue. Albus Potter, Rose Granger-Weasley, and Scorpius Malfoy head off for their first year at Hogwarts, where Albus and Scorpius are soon sorted into Slytherin. That’s an interesting development and I was still rather optimistic at this point, but sadly there’s hardly any exploration of this event before Albus is in his second year. Then third. Along the way there are brief episodes of scorn and failure and glimpses of his strong friendship with Scorpius—along with lines like “he’s all I need” that make me want to see them fall in love—but it’s all very cursory.

On the eve of his fourth year, Albus happens to overhear Cedric Diggory’s family asking Harry (now head of Magical Law Enforcement) to use a recently confiscated time-turner to go back and save Cedric. Harry declines, and Albus—who has become a surly teen full of angst and bitterness—decides that he and Scorpius are going to show up his uncaring father by saving the day themselves. Of course, they end up screwing up the timeline (though not before successfully accomplishing some things that really ought to have been made more difficult) and the adult characters must help them set things right. Meanwhile, Harry’s scar has started hurting again and he’s hearing whispers of parseltongue.

I would’ve liked this a lot more if it was a book about the boys and their time at school. As it is now, the plot’s too accelerated and simplistic, and there are some scenes with the adult characters that I really could have done without (though I did like seeing Harry and Draco work together to save their sons). That said, probably the best thing about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is its treatment of Slytherins. Not only does Draco show himself to be a decent, wounded person, but he’s raised a truly adorable, geeky son who has his share of heroic moments. Too, one of the timeline variants allows us another glimpse at Snape, still honoring Lily by fighting for the cause she believed in even when all seems lost.

Ultimately, I’m glad I read it, because I do really, truly love Scorpius. I’d love a whole book about Scorpius, in fact, provided it was a proper book written by Rowling and not more of this.

The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes

From the back cover:

Old Witch likes nothing better than to fly about on her broomstick crying “Heh-heh!” and casting abracadabras, but now she has been sent away… by two young girls.

Amy and Clarissa love to tell stories about Old Witch… until one day they decide she is just too mean and wicked. Drawing a rickety old house upon a barren glass hill, the girls exile Old Witch there with the warning that she’d better be good—or else no Halloween! For company they draw her a Little Witch Girl and a Weeny Witch Baby.

Old Witch tries to be good, but anyone would get up to no good in a place as lonely as the glass hill… as Amy and Clarissa find out when Old Witch magics them into her world, a world of make-believe made real.

If you’ve got a clever and charming child and are looking for a clever and charming Halloween book that they might enjoy, The Witch Family just might fit the bill.

Amy and her best friend Clarissa, both “ordinary real girls,” are almost seven. Amy’s vivid imagination has been captured by the tales her mother tells about the wicked Old Witch, and she enlists Clarissa—who, with her faulty memory but pleasant disposition, is content with the sidekick role—in drawing a series of pictures that continue Old Witch’s adventures.

The story is presented in a really neat way. For example, it’s immediately clear through vocabulary that Amy is concocting Old Witch’s story herself. (She’s fond of big words, but doesn’t always know how to spell or pronounce them, so when she sentences Old Witch to live alone on a glass hill as punishment for her evil ways, she declares, “I banquished her!”) But a lot of the book is told from Old Witch’s point of view, so kids would probably enjoy the “is she really real?” mystery.

It’s certainly a fun Halloween tale, but I think Amy is the most fascinating character of all. What a bright little girl! Seriously, I found myself wishing for an epilogue that read, “And then Amy became a super-famous novelist” or something. There’s a real whimsy in the language used, and I love that she does typical little girl things like write the bumblebee who’d been in her yard into the story and give him a noble and heroic part to play. She’s also inserting herself into the story in a way, by giving Old Witch a little witch girl named Hannah to keep her company who looks so much like Amy that no one can tell them apart when Hannah comes to visit Amy on Halloween and goes trick-or-treating with her friends.

I find I haven’t a lot more to say about the book than this. It’s very cute. There are kitties and weeny witch babies and things to make adults giggle and the most adorable bee on the planet. Thanks for the recommendation, K!

Nancy Drew: The New Case Files, Vols. 1-2

By Stefan Petrucha, Sarah Kinney, and Sho Murase | Published by Papercutz

You might wonder why I read a couple of Nancy Drew graphic novels, but when I tell you that these volumes comprise parts one and two of an arc called “Vampire Slayer,” perhaps you will understand. It was the unlikely union of Nancy Drew and Buffy—and yes, said show is specifically referenced in the endnotes—that compelled me and my compatriots at Triple Take to make this our pick for this month. I admit I didn’t expect to like this very much, but the story turned out to be even more blah than I was anticipating.

Here’s the premise: Nancy and friends Bess and George are on their way to see the hot new movie, Dielight. If they arrive in costume, they get a discount, so when they are chased by a pointy-toothed guy in the cemetery (is it supposed to be a fun twist when it’s revealed that he’s actually running from Nancy’s dog?) they assume he’s headed there, as well. He doesn’t show up for the film, but Nancy spots a mysterious-looking cloaked figure lurking alone in the back of the theatre.

Afterwards, tooth dude pops up again and introduces himself as Gregor Coffson. He is super intrigued by the fact that Nancy is a detective and asks her out, prompting this oh-so-hilarious exchange:

Nancy: Thanks… I’m flattered, but I already have a Ned… I mean… boyfriend.

Gregor: So?

Ned: Hi. I’m boyfriend. I mean Ned.

Gregor: Oh.

Oh boy am I ever rolling on the floor now. *eyeroll*

Anyway, things don’t improve very much from here. Gregor indicates that he has a secret, but he won’t divulge it until he is sure that he can trust Nancy. And because Nancy is a big nosypants, she ends up hanging out with him all the time, oblivious to Ned’s growing jealousy. At first I was pleased that Ned was confident that Nancy would not cheat on him, but that doesn’t last long and he soon begins throwing jealous hissy fits. Gregor’s secret turns out to be totally lame—someone’s stalking him because they think he’s a vampire—and so does the resolution of the story.

Ultimately, the adjective that most comes to mind when describing this story is “lazy.” In addition to the fact that Gregor’s secret is a letdown and Ned’s reaction predictable, there are other signs of shoddy craftsmanship. Gregor claims not to have a cell phone, but then how is he receiving threatening text messages from his stalker? The big reveal (spoilers, if you care) that the stalker is actually Gregor’s long-lost sister Garina is torpedoed when Nancy refers to the girl as Garina several pages before the existence of Gregor’s twin even comes up. And I’d swear that one scene of Gregor and Nancy sitting at a table was simply copied and pasted from one place to another, with only a slight adjustment of Gregor’s arm and the application of some green tint to Nancy’s shirt to differentiate them.

Probably they thought that only kids would read this and no one would notice, but kids deserve effort and originality, too. About the best thing I can say about this is that Nancy’s friend, George, is appealingly androgynous. She should get her own series.

Additional reviews can be found at Triple Take.

43 Old Cemetery Road, Books 1-3 by Karen and M. Sarah Klise

43 Old Cemetery Road is a quirky illustrated series for children that tells its ghostly story using letters, newspaper clippings, drawings, et cetera. There are three books in the series so far—Dying to Meet You (2009), Over My Dead Body (2009), and Till Death Do Us Bark (2011)—with a fourth (The Phantom of the Post Office) due in May 2012.

Dying to Meet You
What with the illustrations and the fact that the story is told through correspondence rendered in a large font, Dying to Meet You is a very quick read. And yet, for all that, it’s got some nuance!

Ignatius B. Grumply is a famous children’s author who hasn’t written anything for twenty years. Seeking to overcome his writer’s block, he rents a Victorian house in Ghastly, Illinois and is decidedly miffed to discover a boy and his cat living there. The boy, Seymour Hope, has been left behind by his parents, the owners of the home, who are on a lecture tour of Europe. They’re paranormal experts, and had moved into Spence Mansion hoping to confirm the existence of its rumored spectral resident. When Seymour could see her, but they couldn’t, they became convinced that a) ghosts don’t exist and b) their son is delusional.

But Olive C. Spence, the ghost of the woman who originally built the house, is indeed real! She sets out to drive Ignatius away at first, but after an incident with a chandelier causes more injury than she had intended, she begins to feel sorry for him and decides to help him with his book. It turns out that all of them have been rejected in one form or another: Seymour by his parents, Olive by the publishers who would never give her graphic epistolary mysteries a chance, and Ignatius by the woman he loved and upon whom he squandered his fortune.

Olive encourages “selfish and crabby” Ignatius to feel and care about others again, and thus achieves a warm and fuzzy ending where each of them gets something they want while drawing together into their own little family. It’s quite sweet, really. About the only complaint I could make is that some of the punny names are not funny—Paige Turner, Frank N. Beans, Shirley U. Jest—but I did have to snicker at Fay Tality and her dog, Mort, so they’re not all clunkers.

Over My Dead Body
Life at 43 Old Cemetery Road has been great since Ignatius, Olive, and Seymour began collaborating on a series of ghost stories. When a letter from Dick Tater, head of the International Movement for the Safety & Protection of Our Kids & Youth, arrives, however, everything is turned upside down. Tater objects to their living arrangements, especially the fact that custody of eleven-year-old Seymour was seemingly transferred via a rental lease, and his investigation results in Ignatius being committed to an asylum and Seymour being sent to an orphanage until his opportunistic parents deign to claim him.

The majority of the book is comprised of letters to and from Olive as everyone ponders how to escape confinement and satisfy the customers who have prepaid for the next three installments of their story. Dick Tater does various nefarious things, like canceling Halloween and instructing libraries to burn books that meet with his disapproval, and the book has a very pro-reading, pro-free thinking vibe as a result.

The book also features the second “just go with it” moment of the series. I assume this is going to be a recurring thing. In the first book, readers had to “just go with” the stipulation that sales of the trio’s stories (at $3 a pop, if I recall rightly) were sufficient to raise the $250,000 Seymour needed to buy Spence Mansion from his parents. Here, Ignatius and Olive (a ghost, mind you) are able to adopt Seymour simply by proving his parents don’t love him.

To this I say, “Whatever.” I am willing to go with it because it results in (nicely illustrated) passages like this, which I confess made me a bit verklempt. (Best attempted after you remind yourself of Seymour’s last name.)

And so, in a sense, we end where we began… in a 32½-room house built by a woman who, in her lifetime, never married or had children… and rented by a man who never married and always thought he disliked children… and purchased by a boy whose parents abandoned him. And so, even though one member of the family might still get grumpy now and then… and another might become cranky when she misplaces her glasses… neither would ever, could ever, abandon Hope.


Till Death Do Us Bark
One day, a shaggy dog follows Seymour home from the library. He has always wanted a dog, and so he asks his new parents, Ignatius and Olive, if he can keep him. They have reservations, and insist that he first attempt to find the dog’s owner, since he has a collar and everything. Seymour soon learns that the dog formerly belonged to Noah Breth, a wealthy man who recently died and whose children (Kitty and Kanine) are bickering over their presumed inheritance. But he doesn’t tell his parents this.

I must say that I did not like this book as well as the others. I like that Seymour admits that his goal was to be a perfect son, but that very quickly he was keeping secrets and running away. What I don’t like was how he was so passionately dog crazy when his best friend up ’til now has been his cat, Shadow. He didn’t show much concern that Shadow had seemingly run away after the dog showed up. And Ignatius, who is allergic to cats, suddenly had a flare-up and pledged to “get rid” of the cat once it was found. This is not the way to endear me to your characters, Klise sisters.

Of course, everything works out fine in the end and Shadow is nearby and well. The Breth siblings, who have been following a series of limericks devised by their late father on the hunt for his fortune, are shamed into suddenly becoming nicer people. A rare coin that everyone’s been looking for turns out to be exactly where it was telegraphed to be at the beginning of the story.

As a result, more than the other books, this one feels like something only children would enjoy. I hope the upcoming fourth book represents a return to form.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

From the back cover:
Meet Dwight, a sixth-grade oddball. Dwight does a lot of weird things, like wearing the same t-shirt for a month or telling people to call him “Captain Dwight.” This is embarrassing, particularly for Tommy, who sits with him at lunch every day.

But Dwight does one cool thing. He makes origami. One day he makes an origami finger puppet of Yoda. And that’s when things get mysterious. Origami Yoda can predict the future and suggest the best way to deal with a tricky situation. His advice actually works, and soon most of the sixth grade is lining up with questions.

Tommy wants to know how Origami Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. Is Yoda tapping into the Force? It’s crucial that Tommy figure out the mystery before he takes Yoda’s advice about something VERY IMPORTANT that has to do with a girl.

This is Tommy’s case file of his investigation into “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.”

If you had asked me to sum up The Strange Case of Origami Yoda in one word, my initial answer would have simply been “cute.” When I first finished it, I was left with a pleasant impression but wasn’t sure I had too much to say about it. After a period of mulling, however, I realized that, even if the story itself is fairly straightforward, Angleberger does some interesting things with the way he tells it.

“The big question,” protagonist Tommy begins, “is Origami Yoda real?” The weirdest kid in sixth grade, Dwight, has made an origami Yoda finger puppet, which seems to dispense good advice even though Dwight himself is a big spaz. Tommy compiles a case file of students’ interactions with Yoda in an effort to determine if he’s for real and, therefore, if his advice concerning the girl that Tommy likes should be followed or if it will lead to total humiliation. He allows his friends to add comments and doodles, giving the book a bit of flair.

Origami Yoda offers advice on various topics, like helping a boy not burst into angry tears whenever he strikes out in softball, or helping another kid live down an unwelcome nickname (“Cheeto Hog”). Each chapter recounts a different incident, and though they are nominally written by different students, there is no discernible difference in narrative voice, except in the case of Harvey, Tommy’s obnoxious friend.

Angleberger doesn’t spell out the answer concerning Yoda’s authenticity in detail, but he does show that Tommy gradually gets fed up of Harvey “criticizing everything and everybody all the time” and realizes that he would rather be friends with Dwight, even if he is an oddball. Everyone probably has a toxic friend like Harvey at some point and must make the difficult decision to stop associating with them, and I thought Angleberger handled Tommy’s revelation in this regard rather well.

He also incorporates themes of inclusion and tolerance with subtlety. At no point, for example, is a racial characteristic ever assigned for any of these characters. We know that Tommy is short with unruly hair, Harvey is perpetually smirking, and Kellen is thin, but that’s it. Too, one of the female characters is described as “cute and cool” before it’s revealed a few paragraphs later that she also happens to be deaf. True, characterization doesn’t go much deeper than this for anyone, but I still appreciated the lack of preachiness.

Again, I come back to the idea that The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is a cute read, but I reckon late elementary Star Wars fans would have fun with it. A sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back (in which Harvey is out for revenge), is due out next month.

Additional reviews of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda can be found at Triple Take.

The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit

From the back cover:
It’s startling enough to have a Phoenix hatch in your house, but even more startling when it reveals you have a magic carpet on the floor. Conceited it may be, but the Phoenix is also good-hearted, and obligingly accompanies the children on their adventures through time and space—which, magic being what it is, rarely turn out as they were meant…

The Phoenix and the Carpet (1904) is the second book in the trilogy that begins with Five Children and It. It’s November now and the children—Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane, and baby brother “the Lamb”—are back at home in Camden Town. One day, after a small fire ruins their nursery carpet, their mother buys a new one from which emerges a shiny yellow egg. And when that egg falls into the fire, a talking Phoenix is hatched who informs them that the new carpet is actually magic and can take them wherever they’d like to go.

As with the first book in the trilogy, most of the story is comprised of the wishes the children make and their often unexpected outcomes. They wish to go abroad, for example, so the carpet takes them to visit a topless tower in France, where Robert promptly gets stuck on a window ledge. On another occasion, the cook accidentally accompanies them on a trip to a sunny shore and ends up being worshipped by the natives. Other wishes involve visits to India and a plethora of Persian cats.

What’s different this time is that more of the wishes are linked. When the children wish to do a bit of good, they find themselves back in France, where they find the rightful owners of the treasure hidden in the tower. And when a would-be burglar is arrested on suspicion of having stolen said Persian cats, the children rescue him from jail and convey him to the sunny shore, whereupon he promptly falls in love with the cook and they get married on the spot. The emphasis on helping people makes this installment of the series a little more like The Railway Children, which still remains my favorite Nesbit book.

While the adventures are fun—my very favorite is not a wish at all, but a visit the children make with the Phoenix to a fire insurance company who uses his likeness for their logo—Nesbit’s writing is really the main draw here. It’s warm, observant, and clever simultaneously, eliciting many a giggle. I love this evocative line about a cast-aside bit of correspondence:

”The letter… lay on the table, drinking hot bacon fat with one corner and eating marmalade with the other.”

That line not only conjures a vivid mental picture, but tells you something about the letter’s recipients, as well. And, indeed, the characterization of the children is more defined in this second outing, with the two eldest (Cyril and Anthea) showing signs of increased maturity. Nesbit never idealizes the children—“The children were not particularly handsome, nor were they extra clever, nor extraordinarily good. But they were not bad sorts on the whole.”—and their imperfections are what make them likeable. When they discover that sometimes things can get worn out through striving to please, one gets the sense that they’ve learned an Important Lesson about consideration without it coming across as some sort of moral.

Though less famous, The Phoenix and the Carpet is actually better than the first book in the trilogy, and I am definitely looking forward to the third and final installment.

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit: B+

From the back cover:
‘It’ is a Psammead, an ancient, ugly and irritable sand fairy the children find one day in a gravel pit. It grants them a wish a day, lasting until sunset. But they soon learn it is very hard to think of really sensible wishes, and each one gets them into unexpected difficulties. Magic, the children find, can be as awkward as it is enticing.

After reading and really enjoying The Railway Children, I decided that I definitely needed to read more by E. Nesbit. Five Children and It was my first pick, because I’ve been curious about the book for ages. Expect to see more Nebsit after this one!

Five Children and It (1902) actually has some things in common with The Railway Children (1906). It’s obvious from the titles that both feature kids, but more specifically these kids are siblings from the city who are moving into a new house in the country. Both stories are told by a companionable and amusing narrator. In the case of the latter book, the kids meet and help a lot of new people, and a warm, feel-good tone is the result. There is, alas, less of that feeling in Five Children and It, though it’s still an imaginative and entertaining tale.

Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane, and “the Lamb” (the nickname for the youngest, a two-year-old boy whose given name is Hilary) have just moved into their new house, and are keen to explore. One day, when their mother has gone off to tend to her ailing mother, their wanderings take them to a nearby gravel pit, where they dig and find a strange creature called a psammead, or sand-fairy. The psammead agrees to grant the children one wish per day, the results of which will disappear at sunset, and the majority of the book is made up of their wishes and the usually unpleasant repercussions thereof.

Nothing ever seems to turn out like they hope. When they wish for money, it comes in a form unrecognizable and unaccepted by local merchants. When they wish for wings, they fail to account for how hungry the exertion of flying will make them, and end up stranded on a rooftop after stealing someone else’s dinner. When they wish they lived in a castle, it’s ill-defended and in the midst of a siege. Each time, they attempt to learn from what went wrong and get the best from their next wish, but by the time their mother returns home they’re quite ready to quit with the wishing altogether. If I had to pick a theme for the book, I’d say it’s “be content with your lot.”

What’s really nice about the story is that the kids aren’t idealized at all. In fact, Nesbit says up front that they can be tiresome, and they’re shown being disagreeable often enough. They’re also, however, shown being clever and level-headed, particularly Anthea, the oldest girl. It takes a while for them to emerge as individual characters, though, and I’m still not really sure how to describe Jane, the youngest girl. This is another aspect in which The Railway Children is the superior book, since each of those characters is memorable and distinct. I do think, though, that Anthea and Railway‘s Roberta would like each other very much. In fact, now I kind of want to read fanfic in which they hang out and are sensible together.

In the end, I definitely enjoyed Five Children and It and look forward to reading its two sequels, but it doesn’t supplant The Railway Children as my favorite Nesbit so far.

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke: A-

From the back cover:
Flung far across the universe, from star to star, faced with monsters, magicians, and maybe new friends… an Earth girl named Zita must find a way home.

I’m always impressed by children’s fiction that doesn’t underestimate its audience, especially stories with multiple plot threads that wind up stitching together in a way that’s both surprising and perfect. Holes by Louis Sachar is the best example of this that I can think of, but Zita the Spacegirl does an admirable job, too.

One sunny afternoon, Zita and her friend Joseph discover a smoking hole in a field where something fell to Earth. Despite fretful Joseph’s entreaties, Zita clambers down and discovers a big, tempting red button. She pushes it, as you do, and a portal materializes. Strange tendrils snake out and grab Joseph before the portal zaps shut. Though she flees initially, Zita is unable to leave Joseph to his fate, and so summons the portal once more, jumping into it herself. There’s no dialogue throughout this section, which employs some excellent nonverbal storytelling to convey Zita’s state of mind as she steels herself to do what she must.

She winds up on a strange world full of bizarre creatures and peculiar robots. Some are adorable, like the Miyazaki-esque grass-clod critter, and some are sweet, like the hulking and clay-like Strong-Strong, who carries her away from a robot altercation. In quick succession, she spots Joseph being whisked away, the button is stepped on, and she meets Piper, an unscrupulous inventor who offers to repair the button. After perusing a book of creatures (which contains an entry for “dozers,” which simply must be an homage to the doozers of Fraggle Rock) to identify Joseph’s captors, Piper points her in the right direction for a rescue and pretty much washes his hands of her.

Along the way, Zita is joined by a variety of creatures and encounters still more. First is Mouse, the giant mouse Piper travels with, but she later runs into a mobile battle orb called One, meets a rickety and timid robot calling himself Randy, and is reunited with Strong-Strong. All of these critters are loyal to Zita, who is smart and brave and emotive, and defend her against mechanized predators and turncoats alike. The plot is clever and satisfying, but it’s actually the bond between Zita and her friends that’s the best part of the story, and I was happy that she didn’t need to part with them all just yet.

Although I did like Zita the Spacegirl very much, a couple of things bugged me. First, the existence of how the button came to be is not explained. It’s powered by a missing part from Randy, so… did someone take that power source, affix it to a button, and send it to Earth specifically to transport Joseph? I think that they probably did, but it’s never outright specified. Also, One tells Zita she’s “many thousands of light years from home.” How does he know that? Does he recognize she’s from Earth? Are humans regular space travelers on this planet? What year is it supposed to be in Zita’s timeline, anyway? Probably these are the sorts of questions only a stodgy grown-up would ask so I should loosen up already.

Hatke’s art is beautifully suited to the story. As I mentioned, he does a terrific job conveying actions and character emotions through nonverbal storytelling, something I am always a huge fan of. All of the color is lovely, and he does some really nice things with light, from the warmth of a sunny scene to a brilliant beam in a climactic moment. Additionally, the creature designs are quite imaginative; I think I will always remember the little scavenger bot who emits a little heart when it spies a bit of scrap that suits its fancy.

In the end, Zita the Spacegirl is a thoroughly charming story that any kid would probably enjoy. Even better, the cliffhanger ending and author’s acknowledgments promise “many more” adventures for our plucky heroine. Count me in!

Additional reviews of Zita the Spacegirl can be found at Triple Take.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit: A

From the back cover:
When Father goes away unexpectedly, Roberta, Peter, Phyllis and their mother have to leave their happy life in London to go and live in a small cottage in the country. The children seek solace in the nearby railway station, and make friends with Perks the Porter and the Station Master himself. But the mystery remains: where is Father, and will he ever return?

This is the story of three children—Roberta (Bobbie), Peter, and Phyllis—who move with their mother from the city to the country after their beloved father mysteriously goes away. Though it’s initially a culture shock, they’re soon fascinated by the railway and make many friends among its staff and patrons and end up helping quite a few people—and receiving help in return—along the way.

Perhaps the best compliment I could give The Railway Children is that I wish it had gone on for about three times as long. But, as Peter sagely opines, everything must end.

‘There’s no end to this tunnel,’ said Phyllis—and indeed it did seem very, very long.

‘Stick to it,’ said Peter; ‘everything has an end, and you get to it if you only keep on.’

Which is quite true, if you come to think of it, and a useful thing to remember in seasons of trouble—such as measles, arithmetic, impositions, and those times when you are in disgrace, and feel as though no one would ever love you again, and you could never—never again—love anybody.

The passage above exemplifies several of the qualities that make this book such a charming read. The narration, for example, has a comradely air, evincing sympathy for the child’s point of view while utilizing humor that would please any audience. Here’s another bit at which I giggled—it takes place right after the children have gone out to pick cherries and end up preventing a terrible accident:

Bobbie said nothing. She was thinking of the horrible mound, and the trustful train rushing towards it.

‘And it was us that saved them’ said Peter.

‘How dreadul if they had all been killed!’ said Phyllis; ‘wouldn’t it, Bobbie?’

‘We never got any cherries, after all,’ said Bobbie.

The others thought her rather heartless.

I could go on quoting similar diverting passages, but must address a second strong point in favor of this book: the characterization of the children. Now, it may be said that it’s idealistic to expect children this clever and honest to truly exist, but Nesbit is also careful to give each of them flaws. Peter is a bit hot-headed, Phyllis is self-absorbed, and Bobbie is… well, Bobbie hasn’t really got faults, and yet I love her best of the lot.

Bobbie’s the eldest, and poised on the brink of growing up. She still has fun playing with her siblings, but she’s the one attuned to her mother’s sorrow, and realizes that asking about their father’s whereabouts would only cause more pain. When she discovers the truth, and thinks how it would affect her younger siblings, she understands why her mother did not reveal it. She’s brave, kind, sensitive, and thoughtful. The family owes their happiness to her, though they know it not.

The end result is a story that is wholesome, but never saccharine. The children invariably do the right thing, but that doesn’t make them immune from quarrels. Unfair and frightening things happen, but likewise people are willing to offer help when asked. Cleverness and simple goodness are prized more than foolhardy exploits, and the children are extremely proud of their mother, who uses her gift of storytelling to support the family after the move. It’s a story that makes one feel good about people, and oh, that ending! “I think that just now we are not wanted there. I think it will be best for us to go quickly and quietly away.”

Clearly I must read more E. Nesbit.

Additional reviews of The Railway Children can be found at Triple Take.

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages: A-

From the back cover:
It is 1943, and while war consumes the United States and the world, eleven-year-old Dewey Kerrigan lives with her father in a town that—officially—doesn’t exist: Los Alamos, New Mexico. Famous scientists and mathematicians, including Dewey’s father, work around the clock on a secret project everyone there calls only “the gadget.” Meanwhile, Dewey works on her own mechanical projects, and locks horns with Suze Gordon, a budding artist who is as much of a misfit as she is. None of them—not J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project; not the mathematicians and scientists; and least of all, Dewey and Suze—knows how much “the gadget” is about to change their lives…

Eleven-year-old Dewey Kerrigan is used to being apart from her father. She’s been living in St. Louis with her grandmother while he’s off doing “war work,” but a sudden stroke renders Nana unable to care for Dewey any longer. With the whereabouts of her absentee mother unknown, Dewey is packed up and sent halfway across the country to the officially nonexistent town of Los Alamos, New Mexico where her father is a physicist working on what the residents of “the hill” refer to only as “the gadget” but which is actually the atomic bomb.

Dewey isn’t like ordinary girls. She’s fascinated by science, especially radios and other mechanical gizmos, and doesn’t make any attempts to fit in. Still, she’s got a lot of independence on the hill and there are many adults nearby to answer her questions and help with her various projects, so she’s reasonably happy, if a little lonely, what with Papa spending most of his time in his lab.

Her classmate, Suze Gordon, isn’t like ordinary girls, either, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to get them to like her. Unfortunately, like most awkward preteens in this position (and, believe me, Suze’s efforts conjured up some depressing sixth-grade memories of my own!), Suze’s attempts to fit in never work out. For a significant portion of the book she’s not very likable, and mounts a sullen resistance when, a little over a year after Dewey’s arrival on “the hill,” Dewey’s dad travels to Washington and leaves his daughter in the care of his friends, the Gordons.

Friendship does not automatically ensue between the two girls, but after Suze undertakes one last attempt to be cool—victimizing Dewey in the process—President Roosevelt dies and suddenly she realizes how shameful her behavior has been. Slowly, the girls bond and at this point the book finally becomes so good I wished for it to be quite a bit longer! The girls are delighted to finally have someone with whom they can share ideas on their projects—scientific ones for Dewey and artistic ones for Suze—and love of geeky pursuits. I hadn’t realized how hard it was to be a girl geek in the ’40s! Inevitably, the popular girls get wind of their friendship, and Suze is placed in a position where she must make a choice and makes the right one without a second’s hesitation.

Alas, all good things must end. Suze’s mother, normally so adept at being a good maternal figure in Dewey’s life, completely and utterly fails to realize when Dewey’s upset about something quite significant, leading to a particularly ridiculous bout of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

In the end, I enjoyed The Green Glass Sea quite a lot. I liked Dewey all along (though I was less keen on the bizarre shifts in verb tense the narrative underwent when switching to her perspective) and warmed up to Suze eventually. I was immensely glad to learn there’s a sequel, White Sands, Red Menace, and shall be reading it soon!

For additional reviews of The Green Glass Sea, please visit Triple Take.