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Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Banks
Sunday, September 23, 2007

Literary Adventure, Mystery Can Add Fun to Ho-Hum Life

Think your life is pretty stagnant? Dull, ho-hum, no fun? Then sit back and enjoy these armchair adventures about three young men full of purpose and life who find more adventure than they could ever imagine, courtesy of first-rate authors who know how to turn out great stories.

Room One: A Mystery or Two by Andrew Clements.

Meet Ted Hammond. He's 12, a sixth-grader, a good student and a farmer's son. He delivers the morning newspaper, believes in the high ideals of the Boy Scouts and his 4-H Club and loves mysteries. He is also the keeper of a secret. A big one.

It all started one May morning when Ted was delivering the Omaha World-Tribune. At the old Anderson farmhouse, he spies a girl in an upstairs window. What? No one has lived on the farm for more than two years.

Strange, though; there were no other signs of life around the place. Loving mysteries as he did, Ted decides he would come back after school and investigate.

The girl's name was April Thayer. Small, scrawny and on-the-run. It wasn't just April, he learned, but her brother and mother, too. Three people who obviously have a story to tell - if he can win their trust.

When Ted agrees to keep their secret, and even shuttle food, water and supplies to them, he becomes an accomplice to their plans.

Readers will sympathize with Ted as he struggles with his promise to the Thayers, while knowing that he desperately needs the help of an adult who can sort out all the problems.

When Ted finally entrusts the Thayers' secret to his parents and his teacher, circumstances evolve that set dramatic events into motion. The heartwarming conclusion, although not what Ted had expected, involves not only Ted, his family and his school, but the whole town. Clements' book reinforces all that is good and decent in the human spirit.

Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco, 1906 by Deborah Hopkinson.

Nicholas Dray was a Texan who had picked cotton for most of his young years. After his Gran's death, he is placed in a county poor farm, but manages to run away and live out the dream he and his Gran had shared: moving to San Francisco.

With only 50 cents, Nick begins the long walk to California - no easy feat for a boy of 11. But Nick is determined to make his own way in the world.

Arriving in San Francisco early in April 1906, Nick quickly learns how to find food and shelter and to avoid the police, who would quickly see that a "road kid" would be placed in an orphanage.

A chance meeting with Pat Patterson, owner of a stationery shop, begins a formidable friendship. Mr. Pat sees something in Nick. Patterson provides Nick with food, clothes and a place to sleep in return for Nick's pledge of honesty.

Mr. Pat has business in Oakland for a few days and needs someone to watch the store. He leaves the store and Shake, his beloved dog, in Nick's care - the night before the great San Francisco earthquake and fire. Awakened by horrific crashes, explosions and violent shaking, Nick figures the sky literally was falling on him. Although terrified for himself and Shake, Nick's inner strength and resolve spur him into action. He gathers up the dog and the most expensive pens and supplies and begins the biggest adventure of his young life.

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney.

Eben McAllister loves to read. Granted, there wasn't much else to do in his little bump-in-the-road farm community of Sassafras Springs, Mo., in 1923.

Sure, there were always farm chores, but Eben has his head in the clouds, dreaming of the day when he can leave home and travel the world.

His favorite new book about the Seven Wonders of the World would provide the impetus for a grand adventure.

When Eben mentions to his dad that Sassafras Springs did not have anything at all like the Seven Wonders in his book, his dad challenges him to find seven wonders in their town. Eben balks at the idea. So, Eben's dad ups the ante. If Eben could find seven wonders in seven days, he would stake Eben to a train trip to Colorado.

Eben couldn't wait to finish his morning chores; he was off, looking for wonders. By the second day, word has spread about Eben's odyssey, and all the neighbors have something to share that they feel qualifies as a genuine wonder.

Although none of them remotely resembles the Great Pyramid at Giza or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the Colossus of Rhodes, wonders they were.

Carol Banks is supervisor of the READ Center, Central Library's children's Department. Contact her at (812) 428-8222. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.