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February 24, 2011 Edition

Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior, by Chris Bradford


When Jack Fletcher, agile rigging monkey and twelve-year old son of the navigator of the British trading ship Alexandria, becomes the only survivor of an attack by Japanese pirates, he feels as if his life is over. Only the fact that the pirates were looking for the rutter, a book of maps and notes on uncharted waters, kept him from being beheaded aboard ship. Saved from drowning by a samurai and adopted into his home, Jack struggles to learn the language and customs of medieval Japan, and to prove to his caretakers that he is worthy of being trained as a warrior, even as ninja threaten his and his new family’s lives in the pursuit of the rutter. Details of everyday life in Europe and Japan are slipped effortlessly into the story, which is brisk, gory, and utterly fascinating, whether readers want to read the ins and outs of fighting or life in Japan.

The Not-So-Great Depression, by Amy Goldman Koss.


Up till now, Jacki and her family have lived pretty well: there’s the swimming pool, the housekeeper Hortensia, private school, and dinners out at fancy restaurants. And then her mom loses her job and all the stuff Jacki’s 9th grade teacher has been explaining about the economy suddenly means something. There goes her big sister’s college tuition and $600 prom dress, and pretty soon it’s bye-bye Hortensia! (But not, to Jacki’s horror, farewell to piano lessons.) Learning to live on a budget has the family scrambling to uncover hidden talents for cooking, cleaning, and fundraising. Jacki knows just how lucky her family is: her best friend’s cousin moved in with them when her home was foreclosed on. But this is chapter book fare, after all, and this serious topic is treated firmly but with humor and resilience, and all, in the end, is well.

Escape Under the Forever Sky, by Eve Yohalem


Lucy Hoffman is the daughter of the US ambassador to Ethiopia, and bored stiff. It’s not that she’s shallow – as a budding conservation zoologist, she’s anxious to go see wildlife, as a thirteen-year old girl, she wants to go shopping with friends, and as a well-seasoned traveler, she’s interested in everything she sees. But her mother insists Ethiopia isn’t safe (Lucy wonders why her mother brought her!) and doesn’t allow her outside the American compound alone. Lucy’s belief that she can take care of herself gets put to the test when she sneaks out on her own and is kidnapped and held prisoner in the bush to await ransom payment. She escapes and finds herself at the mercy of the animals, the drinking water (at one point she’s forced to consider whether her spit or the local water will be worse for the contact lens that has popped out), and her own memory. Slipping into Lucy’s story is like rafting down a tumultuous river – it’s hard to stop reading till you’ve reached the calm at the end.

Alien Feast, by Michael Simmons


Fans of The True Meaning of Smekday and Lemony Snicket novels will be happy readers when they pick up this tongue-in-cheek account of what happens when earth is invaded by aliens. Large, green, toothy, mean, kinda-dumb, but very dangerous aliens. Who don’t understand their own technology, let alone human things like doorknobs, vending machines, or peanut butter jars, and instead run around like a bunch of six-year olds hyped up on birthday cake. Twelve-year old William has returned home from gathering supplies to find that his stepparents have been eaten (well, all but their feet, naturally), and has made his way to his uncle’s house in his stepfather’s car with his violin and his best friend, Sophie. Sophie’s parents have been captured (and, very unusually, NOT eaten) because they are scientists whom the aliens hope will find a cure for the deadly virus they’ve caught on earth. While all William wants to do is find a safe, quiet place to play his violin, it seems like he, Uncle Maynard, and Sophie are going to have an adventure instead.

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