The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby (9780062306937, Amazon)
This first book in a series introduces readers to an alternative New York City, filled with amazing machines built by the Morningstarr twins in the 1800’s. There are servant robots, skyscrapers, elevators that don’t just go up and down, beetle-machines that clean the roads, and many more. The Morningstarrs left behind a cipher to be solved that would lead to treasure, and even though people have worked for cipher for over fifty years, no solution has been found. Tess, Theo and Jaime live in one of the Morningstarr buildings that is unfortunately slated to be torn down. While their families scramble to find somewhere new to live, the three of them discover a potential new cipher that may lead them to the treasure and save the building they love. Now they just have to solve it.
Ruby has beautifully weaved an alternative New York City in this novel. She imagines it filled with amazing technology that has a magical element to it. It’s rather like magic-powered steampunk. She combines this with riddles and ciphers, puzzles to work out and then provides distinct villains to fight as well. The result is a book that is entirely delightful to read and impossible to put down as one new discovery immediately leads to another.
The three main characters are strongly written and offer a diverse cast. Tess keeps up and surpasses the boys at times, offering a strong feminist take on events as she does so. All of them are exceedingly bright in their own way, from being logical and sometimes robotic to looking at the world through art. There is a celebration of different intelligence types here that is great to see.
This mix of magic, technology, mysteries and ciphers is exceptional and just right for summer reading. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Walden Pond Press.
Heart to Heart by Lois Ehlert
Ehlert makes a picture book entirely from rebuses and puns that is completely endearing. Filled with the same bright graphics as the cover, this picture book is a small square size perfect for a gift or for little hands. Various fruits and vegetables make appearances in the puns, adding a yummy twist.
The simple premise of the book gets challenging unless you read the riddles out loud. Suddenly turnips and beans make sense in the sentences and everyone is sure to smile when the sentence is decoded. The playfulness here is as bright as the colors used in the illustrations.
This book is just right to share one-on-one with someone you love. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Goblin’s Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice by Andrew S. Chilton (InfoSoup)
The boy had never had a name, since he had been a slave as long as he could remember. He tried to be the best slave possible, but all of the rules of slavery ran together and often contradicted one another too. When he is sent on a journey with the prince, the boy witnesses a murder and is suddenly free. Soon he finds himself in the company of a goblin who knows all of the answers about the boys’ past but is unwilling to part easily with them. The goblin agrees to answer one question a day truthfully, but goblins are tricky and can’t really be trusted. Meanwhile, Plain Alice has been mistakenly kidnapped by a dragon who meant to kidnap Princess Alice. These characters all find themselves facing issues of logic, dragons, ogres and other horrible deeds on their way to unraveling who they really are.
This novel is a cunning and complicated novel for children. It takes logic and loops it, confuses it and then shows how it actually all works out. It’s a puzzle and a delightful one. Young readers will enjoy the twists and turns, groan at the folly of some of the characters, cheer as others exceed their expectations, and those who love puzzles and logic will find a book to adore here.
The characters are well drawn and interesting. I particularly enjoyed the goblin, who twists and turns but also has a hand in making sure that things turn out right. The boy is a great protagonist, often confused and always seeing the world as new, he explores and learns as he goes. Plain Alice is a strong female protagonist, using her brains to solve problems and even charming a dragon as she does so. The entire book is woven with mystical creatures but magic does not save the day here. Instead, deep thinking and logic are the winners.
A puzzle of a book that twists and turns in the best possible way, this adventure is one for smart children who can use their wits to save themselves. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Wumbers by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
I love puzzle games and this book is like reading a puzzle game. The concept is to mix numbers and words to form something entirely new. The book cre8tes a gr8 way to interact with children, who will happily call out the answers. My 11-year-old happily curled up with me and helped decipher the puzzles on each page. The book is made up of a series of different situations rather than a flowing storyline, which makes the puzzles all the more enjoyable. As the book progresses, the wumbers do get more difficult to figure out, resulting in plenty of groans of appreciation as we read the book.
This would make a 1derful writing exercise for students to a10mpt, since it’s a lot more difficult than it first appears. It’s not a book to share with a large group, but rather one to cozily figure out together with one or two children. Lichtenheld’s illustrations are great fun, adding context to the puzzles and a lightness too.
Perfect for children who enjoy word puzzles or as a jumping off point for a fun writing exercise, this book is sure to el8 young readers. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.