Day: December 23, 2013

Review: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

ophelia and the marvelous boy

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Released January 28, 2014.

Ophelia knows that everything worth knowing can be proven with science.  Her father is an expert in swords and is helping a museum set up an exhibit.  She and her older sister Alice come along, the entire family still aching with the loss of Ophelia and Alice’s mother.  As Ophelia wanders the museum in the city where it always snows, she discovers all sorts of amazing things.   But by far the most interesting thing she discovers is a boy locked behind a door.  He is a prisoner who claims to have lived for centuries though he looks like a boy.  And he believes that Ophelia is the person who can save him.  So Ophelia starts to help, and along the way, she has to give in to the magic that is around her and discover her own bravery.

A large part of the pleasure of this book is discovering all of the twists and turns of the plot.  This retelling of the Snow Queen fairy tale takes an entirely new approach to the story.  Foxlee has created a novel that is filled with frightening creatures, dangerous situations, and daring feats.  She has incorporated a clock that is counting down to the day that the Snow Queen can finally kill the marvelous boy, so that alone creates a great deal of time pressure.  Yet Ophelia is also struggling to keep her family happy and not concerned with her.  As the book goes on, the tension is tangible on each page.

Ophelia is a wonderful young protagonist.  While she does believe in science and fights against believing in magic, she is also on the adventure of a lifetime.  Her mother was a novelist and serves as the voice of courage in her head.  Ophelia has a great mix of deep courage and vulnerability.  Readers will figure out who the Snow Queen is long before Ophelia does, something that Foxlee uses to continue to crank up the tension.

Magical, frightening and beautifully written, this book is pure warmth and friendship in the face of icy brutality.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss.

Review: The Message of the Birds by Kate Westerlund

message of the birds

The Message of the Birds by Kate Westerlund, illustrated by Feridun Oral

The old owl tells the story of Christmas to a gather of birds.  He tells the story of Jesus in the manger and the birds above in the rafters.  The birds heard a song in the baby’s voice, a special song that they would carry through the world.  The robin asked why the birds don’t sing that song anymore, and the partridge explained that people don’t listen.  The little robin suggested that even if they don’t know the language anymore, their hearts could understand it.  The birds talk about whether the message would be heard and understood, and then the robin realizes that children are the most likely to hear the message.  So all of the birds sing the song, spread the message, particularly to children.  And something amazing happens.

I’m never sure with any Christmas book what level of Christianity I’m going to find in them and then what type of message it is going to be communicating.  When this book’s second set of pages had the manger scene, I thought I was in a very traditional Christmas book.  What followed though, was a delightful surprise as the book immediately turned from the traditional Christmas tale to one that is universal, a story of peace.  Westerlund tells the story with a pacing right out of folktales.  Her wise older owl, the inventive young robin are characters that are traditional in the best sense of the word.

Oral’s illustrations have a soft beauty to them.  Throughout his images of the birds, there is thick snow in the air.  The colors are consistently subtle and wintry, tawny browns, creamy whites and deep browns are punctuated only with the colors of the birds and the green of the trees. 

A lovely addition to Christmas stories, this book is beautifully written with rich illustrations.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.