Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black

doll bones

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Zach, Poppy and Alice have played with their action figures for years together, creating elaborate adventures, personalities and histories.   At school, they pass notes with questions to one another to round out their world even more.  Then Zach’s father throws out his action figures, saying that Zach is too old to play with them any more.  Zach is broken-hearted not only at losing the characters he has created but also about losing this connection with his best friends.  He is so hurt that he cannot explain to Poppy and Alice what has happened, pushing them away and refusing to play with them at all.  Then one night, Zach is awoken by Poppy and Alice who explain that the china doll they have always called The Queen is haunting Poppy’s dreams.  The doll wants them to go on a real quest, to avenge a murder.  Filled with creepy moments, lots of adventure, and true friendship, this book has remarkable depth.

Black has created a book that says horror on the cover with its creepy doll and certainly has moments in the book that will get you feeling chills.  Yet at its core, this is a book about growing up and expectations for what you will need to give up.  Black clearly does not agree that to be older, means that you must stop pretending.  Rather, she tells a story that shows just how important creativity, open mindedness and wonder are for adolescents too. 

Another aspect of the book worthy of note is that this is a story of a quest that is entirely modern, think highways and modern stores, but also the timelessness of a river, sailboat, and library.  Part of what makes this book exceptional is the way that it shows how very uncomfortable such a quest would be.  Throughout, we get to see the three main characters at their best and their worst, these are true friends who are willing to fight in order to have their way, argue to save friendships, and give up so they won’t have to face the pain of loss.

Friendship, a creepy doll, and adventures, what more could one want in a book!  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from McElderry Books.

Review: Fog Island by Tomi Ungerer

fog island

Fog Island by Tomi Ungerer

Always expect to be surprised by a picture book by Ungerer.  The Three Robbers is one of our favorites in our house and we’ve also loved the short film of the book and quote lines and sing the song from it years later.  This new book from Ungerer has some of the feel of that earlier title, with fog and darkness and danger.  It is the story of Finn and Cara who lived by the sea.  Their father built them a small boat, a curragh, and warned them to only use it in the bay and never go near Fog Island because people who go there have never returned.  But one day, the two of them were trapped in the fog and a current pulled them out of the bay and towards the doomed island.  Once there, they explored and met the Fog Man, who created the fog from sea water and heat from the center of the earth.  He entertained them and fed them well, but when they awoke the next morning, they were in a ruin rather than his castle.  But where had the warm quilt and hot stew come from?

Ungerer weaves a tale of rural life by the sea and folklore together.  The book could be set during any time at all, with the timeless nature of the story and the way of life.  It has the cadence of a story from oral traditions.  He takes the time to fully introduce the characters, the setting and create a world that contrasts beautifully with the wonder of Fog Island itself.  At the same time, Ungerer is happy to leave the magic of the island unexplained and amazing. 

The art is especially atmospheric, particularly the scenes in the fog with the children adrift.  There is one double page spread with no words that leaves a sense of wistfulness, dread and longing.  One can almost here the bell on the buoy and the silence and muffled world beyond.  Throughout the book, the double spreads are worth lingering over, showing rather than explaining the world that Ungerer has created here.

Magical, dark, and filled with fog, this book would make a great story time paired with The Three Robbers.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.