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08 Dec, Thursday
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Montreal Families

Engaging new children's books

Over the past decade, children’s literature has been revitalized in a way that publishers hadn’t expected. Contrary to the popular notion that television had supplanted books in the hearts of children, slowly dulling their imaginations and literacy skills, books such as Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events and the vampire series Twilight by Stephenie Meyer showed that kids could get just as excited about books, if not more so, than the latest episode of their favourite television program.

But now that Harry Potter has conquered Voldermort, the Baudelaire children have stopped having unfortunate events and the next instalment in the Twilight series has been postponed due to an Internet leak of the plot, what are kids supposed to do?

The good new is that two new series have been released that are already being billed as the next literary hits that will capture the minds of kids everywhere. But do they live up to the hype that surrounds them? Publishers can create as much buzz as they like about books, but the truly successful ones are those that get passed around in school hallways, their popularity building up like a tidal wave. They are the ones that hold some kind of magic that sparks excitement, anticipation and emotion in these young readers. Only time will tell if the finicky tastes of children will be sated by these two series, or if these books will leave them indifferent and reaching for that television remote.

The 39 Clues (Scholastic, $13.99) by various authors. Ages 8-12The 39 Clues

This new series is built around the basic instinct of wanting to solve a mystery, with each book holding a clue that leads readers ever closer to the final discovery.

The first book, entitled The Book of Bones and written by Rick Riordan, introduces kids to the Cahill clan, whose matriarch, Grace Cahill, has died. Her entire family, which includes a cast of international characters, convenes at Grace’s funeral. There, they learn that some family members can give up their inheritance in order to pursue 39 clues, which, if found, will unlock ancient secrets and make the finder of the entire set the most powerful person in the world.

To discover the clues, the main protagonist, Amy and Dan Cahill (two of Grace’s grandchildren) must use their wits, cunning and knowledge of history and geography. But readers are also encouraged to carry on their own search, as each book comes with a set of cards that hold clues, games, and challenges. Kids can then go to the 39 Clues website to collect and trade cards as well as uncover even more clues. There is a Canadian sweepstakes being offered on the site, but it is not valid for Quebec residents.

This series promises to be a popular one with children due to its interactive nature and its use of technology, but will it live up to the high expectations surrounding it? It definitely holds all the elements that children love: mystery, intrigue, a hero, a heroine and some good villains. The publishers (Scholastic) plan on releasing a new book in the series every three to four months, each written by a different author to keep up the momentum. But the question is: will children get wrapped up in this series or will they decide it’s just a bit too formulaic?

The Joy of Spooking Book One: Fiendish Deeds (photo above- Simon & Schuster, $16.99) by P.J. Bracegirdle. Ages 8-12

This new series is part of a trilogy by Montreal writer P.J Bracegirdle. Clearly inspired by the tradition of heart-pounding, gothic horror stories by such authors as Edgar Allen Poe and Washington Irving, Bracegirdle picks up on this thread of terror and brings it into the 21st century.

His heroine, Joy Wells, is anything but joyful. She is fascinated by the dark and macabre, cynical about her peers and life in general. She lives in a small, decaying town called Spooking that is quickly being overshadowed by a sparkling new neighbourhood called Darlington. Even the students who come from Darlington annoy Joy with their shiny facades.

The one thing that actually does make Joy relate to her namesake is her most treasured possession: the collected works of her favourite author A.E. Peugeot. She reads his stories over and over again and becomes convinced that Peugeot was actually from Spooking and wrote his stories based on the small town’s quirky features, like an eerie bog and eccentric residents. When a developer wants to build a water park over the bog, threatening the town and the unique ecosystem of the bog, Joy looks for details in Peugeot’s stories that reveal he was actually writing about Spooking to possibly save the town in the name of heritage. Joy, along with her tag-along brother Byron, brave the strangeness of the bog, repeatedly coming close to encountering the Bog Fiend, who could hold the key to saving the town.

Bracegirdle creates an interesting dichotomy in the character of Joy. She is a girl who feels alienated from her peers and appears blasé about life yet she is passionate and determined, sticking to what she believes in and always staying true to herself. She is a fantastic heroine for a generation who often appear disconnected but, underneath it all, see a lot of joy in the world they live in.

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