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May 18, 2007 Edition
This has become one of my favorite audiobooks (right up there with Susan Cooper’s “King of Shadows”) for its remarkable story and its equally remarkable reading. The setting is World War II Germany, the narrator is Death, and the focus is the young illiterate daughter of a German Communist. Liesel is on her way to live with a foster family when Death comes to collect her little brother and witnesses Liesel’s first act of thievery. Death, intrigued, checks in on her when he can, and ends up collecting and reading the book she has written and inadvertently abandoned after her foster family’s street is bombed. Corduner reads Zusak’s poetic and vivid story with fluency and several lovely accents. This is labeled Young Adult, probably for some strong language and for the general misery of the era, but elementary and middle school kids listening with an adult to provide explanations may well enjoy this rich and thoughtful book as well.
This final episode in the saga of the Baudelaires offers as much humor and as few answers as readers have come to expect. Even at the end, the plot turns back to the beginning, with the introduction of a new character who may or may not have a connection to the Baudelaire orphans’ deceased parents. Washed up on an island with Count Olaf, the orphans find themselves rescued by the other residents of the island who seem to be part of a cult. Can they escape? Fans of the series will find much to be satisfied with, but will still be left with loose ends.
Seventeen year-old Annabel Greene is surrounded by the results of untruths and half-truths: she’s lost her friends because of one untruth, she’s stuck modeling because of another. And her family piles half-truths up like bricks to keep the reality of her mother’s depression, her sister’s anorexia, and Annabel’s social troubles at bay. But Annabel’s newest friend, Owen, believes that without truth, all is lost, and sets out to help Annabel face her secrets. Young adult listeners will be drawn into Annabel’s realistically complex relationships with her family and friends and emerge enriched.
The Dalinger kids are faced with an entirely new (to them) breed of nanny: the Manny. He arrives after 7th grader Lulu’s complaints send the previous nanny packing, and immediately charms the three youngest siblings: fourth grader India, third grader Keats, and 3 year-old Belly, but Lulu is embarrassed by his flamboyance. Keats is especially drawn to the Manny (as he wants to be called) who encourages him to “be interesting” and to stand up for himself. Written for older elementary and middle school readers, this lighthearted story touches on a variety of issues important to that age group, including bullying, sexual identity, death, and gender stereotyping.
When Rachel Sheridan loses both her parents to an influenza epidemic, she turns to their neighbors for help and finds herself part of a net of deceit. The Pritchards want to send her from her home in British East Africa to England to charm an old man into believing she is his granddaughter, and, afraid of orphanage life, Rachel complies. Once in England, masquerading as Valerie Pritchard, she and Grandfather Pritchard find an immediate bond over their love of nature. Ultimately, she must decide between revealing the deception to her new grandfather and possibly hastening his death with the shock, or staying in dreary England and never going home to Africa again. Fans of “The Secret Garden” who wondered about Mary’s life in India will find Rachel’s descriptions of life in Africa deeply satisfying.