New novels with appeal for children

  • By Karen Macpherson Scripps Howard News Service
  • Wednesday, November 26, 2008 3:22pm
  • Life

Is your child or teen looking for a good novel to read? Check out one of these new books:


An unlikely friendship between a lonely boy and a beetle is the focus of “Masterpiece” (Henry Holt, $16.95), a delightful new novel by Elise Broach.

With echoes of such classics as “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Borrowers,” the story relates how the boy, named James, and his beetle friend, Marvin, join forces to determine who stole a priceless Durer drawing from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

While Broach carefully draws out the suspense, her main interest obviously is on the growing friendship between James and Marvin, who manage to communicate without words.

Readers will delight in the details of Marvin’s miniature existence, and they’ll cheer the way Marvin bolsters James’ self-confidence. Pen-and-ink drawings by Kelly Murphy add a bit of whimsy. With its carefully blended themes of art, mystery and friendship, “Masterpiece” is truly a masterpiece of entertaining fiction for the middle-grade crowd. (Ages 8-12.)

“Nathan Fox: Dangerous Times”

Thirteen-year-old orphan Nathan Fox is an acrobat, juggler and actor — the perfect training for a spy in Elizabethan England, as author L. Brittney shows in “Nathan Fox: Dangerous Times” (Feiwel and Friends, $16.95).

As the star of this action-filled spy story, based on William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello,” Nathan — impulsive, courageous and likeable — will attract readers’ interest, even those who normally don’t like historical fiction. Fans of teen spy novels such as the “Alex Rider” books by Anthony Horowitz will particularly enjoy Nathan’s adventure, and be glad to know that it’s the first in a series. (Ages 10-14.)

“Steinbeck’s Ghost”

When budget cuts threaten to close his local library in Salinas, Calif., avid reader Travis Williams is determined to find a way to raise enough funds to keep it open. An only child, Travis used to spend lots of time with his parents, but the family’s recent move to a different part of town means new jobs and long hours at the office for his parents. Lonely and restless, 13-year-old Travis turns to the library, where the librarian introduces him to the works of local author and Nobel laureate John Steinbeck. As Travis joins the battle to prevent the library’s closure, he begins to see what appear to be characters from Steinbeck’s books around town — and he’s not the only one. In “Steinbeck’s Ghost” (Feiwel and Friends, $17.95), author Lewis Buzbee offers readers an unusual tale of magical realism. (Ages 8-12.)


“Graceling” (Harcourt, $17) is Kristin Cashore’s debut novel, but you would never know it because of the author’s assured storytelling and ability to create memorable characters.

Cashore’s tale is set in a land of seven kingdoms, where some of the people are Gracelings, easily distinguished by their eyes and almost supernatural ability to do a specific task.

Lady Katsa is such a Graceling, and her Grace is killing. For years, she has done the bidding of her corrupt uncle, King Randa, who uses his niece to keep order in his kingdom.

But Katsa also leads a secret council, whose aim is to bring eventual justice to the kingdoms. On one of the council’s rescue missions, Katsa meets Prince Po, another Graceling.

The two become lovers and join forces to battle an evil king whose Grace hides his true nature. With romance, political intrigue and plenty of action, “Graceling” is a book that will thrill fantasy fans. (Ages 13 up.)

Karen MacPherson, the children’s/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at

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