The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles De Lint

Cats of Tanglewood Forest
Lillian has spent her whole life living with her Aunt on a remote farm at the edge of Tanglewood Forest.  She helps her Aunt weeding the garden and hoeing the corn field.  She milks Annabelle, the cow, and sets out a saucer of milk for the many wild cats that roam the area.  When her chores are done and her lessons over, the girl rambles the fields and nearby woods, wading in creeks, visiting Apple Tree Man, the oldest apple tree in their overgrown orchard, and looking for fairies.
One day she comes upon and follows a deer deeper into the forest than she has ever ventured before.  When, as last, Lillian is too tired to run any more, she lies down to rest under an ancient beech tree and falls asleep.  She is awakened by a shock of pain as a snake, whom she has kicked in her restless sleep, bites her leg.  Unable to get up, she lies under that beech tree, weak and getting colder, and knows she is dying.
However, a strange thing happens.  Cats creep out from the long grass, some which the girl knows from seeing them around the farm.  They surround Lillian and agree that they must use their cat magic to save her, even though doing so is sure to anger Little Pater, a panther and the Father of Cats.  The wild cats turn the girl into a kitten and then, afraid of Little Pater’s reaction, disappear.
Lillian awakens to discover that she has paws instead of hands and is covered in calico-coloured fur.  A wise old crow tells her that the cats changed her to save her life and, in answer to her repeated questions about whether she can be changed back, reluctantly suggests she visit Old Mother Possum, who is part possum and part witch and powerful enough not to be intimidated by Little Pater.
Unnerved by the crow’s description of the witch, Lillian decides to go home and ask Aunt for help.  Unfortunately, Aunt, who is anxiously looking for her missing niece, does not recognize her.  Both Annabelle, the cow, and T. H. Reynolds, a fox whom Lillian meets in the forest, agree with the old crow that Mother Possum might be her only avenue.
Recognizing the powerful magic used to change her, at first Mother Possum refuses to help the girl-turned-cat, stating that she does not to get on the wrong side of the Father of Cats.  However, Lillian’s insistence that she wishes none of this had happened, finally sways the witch, though she issues an odd warning before snapping her fingers, “Thing like this, there’s always some consequence or other tends to make a body less happy instead of more.”
This time Lillian awakens in the woods close to Aunt’s farm.  She is once again a girl, and, reflecting on an odd memory of being a kitten, decides that she has been dreaming.  She runs home to Aunt but, to her shock and sorrow, finds the woman lying dead in the corn field of a snake bite.
The girl goes to live with the Welshes, friends of her dead aunt.  The man and woman are kind to Lillian, and treat her well, but, as the summer passes, her grief and sense of disorientation increase.  When fall comes and with it the prospect of attending school for the first time, Lillian quietly packs her bag and runs away to find someone who can help her understand her growing sense that something is terribly wrong.
She goes see Aunt Nancy, a strange and powerful woman who lives alone in a distant cabin.  The girl has heard some odd stories about Aunt Nancy, whom some call Spider Woman, but those who whisper them all agree that she can talk to spirits.  Looking at her, Aunt Nancy immediately recognizes that there is something amiss with Lillian.  She listens to the girl’s dream about being turned into a kitten by the wild cats and then into a girl again, and, to Lillian’s shock, speculates that the dream might be true.  On the advice of the spirit people, Aunt Nancy sends the girl to seek the help of the bear people, a community of creatures that are neither entirely human nor bear and who live in a hidden valley high in the hills.
Lillian will find the bear people, and ask their help in interpreting her strange dream, but will find herself in great danger when jealousy and suspicion and ancient enmity rear their heads.  Rescued by an unlikely ally, the girl will begin to wonder whether she will ever understand what has gone so wrong or gain her most longed-for wish, to somehow save Aunt from a deadly snake bite that she is increasingly convinced was meant for her.
Written by Charles de Lint and illustrated by Charles Vess, The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is the enchanting and fantastical story of a young girl who is touched by magic first when she is transformed into a kitten to save her life after she is bitten by a snake and again when she asks a witch to roll back time and undo both events.  When that magic has unforeseen and tragic consequences, the girl sets out to find someone who can help her put things to rights.  On that journey, she meets all manner of animal friends, and some very strange and powerful beings, and learns some important lessons, before, at last, achieving her heart’s fondest wish.  A lovely fairytale filled with delightful characters, steeped in an intriguing tangle of stories and legends, and narrated in a style reminiscent of the people of the Appalachians, this book is sure to capture the imaginations of readers from Grade 4.
FernFolio Editor

The Boy in the Box by Cary Fagan

The Boy in the Box
However much he’d like to take part in the activities that other eleven year olds enjoy, like after-school sports or hanging out with friends, Sullivan Mintz doesn’t have the time.  As soon as school ends, he has to get home to help his parents out with their most recent business venture, the Stardust Home for Old People.  It’s Sullivan’s job to fold clean sheets, serve dinner and deliver mail to the forty-eight elderly residents, and entertain his little sister, Jinny when his parents are busy.  Though he loves the seniors and counts eighty-one-year-old Manny Morgenstern as his best friend, the boy sometimes wishes he has a good friend his own age.
Sullivan attends Beanfield Middle School where he has gone largely unnoticed by classmates.  As one of his teachers opines rather unkindly, he is ordinary in every way.  The only students who seems to know his name are Samuel Patinsky, who’s made Sullivan a target for his taunts and shoves, and Norval Simick, just as ordinary, with whom he eats lunch every day.  Sullivan possesses one unusual talent, a talent he has worked hard to develop: he can juggle.  He has just mastered keeping four balls in the air.
One evening the boy glimpses an ornate horse-drawn caravan on the side of which is written Master Melville’s Medicine Show.  Sitting on the seat is a tall man in a black stovepipe hat and a long black coat.  The next evening, when his father asks him to take Jinny to the corner store for a treat, Sullivan comes across a printed handbill advertising that the medicine show is playing in a nearby field.
Pushing their way to the front of a small crowd, the two children see a small wooden stage which has been let down from one side of the caravan and illuminated by the light of a kerosene lantern.  Almost immediately, Jinny tells her brother that she feels funny and that she wants to go home but Sullivan is enthralled by the show: the beautiful woman in the black dress who plays a large assortment of instruments all strapped to her body, Frederick, the boy magician who pulls cards out of thin air, a chess-playing automaton named Napoleon, and Master Melville, whose words cast an air of enchantment over the crowd.  As they turn to go, that first evening, Mistress Melville says to Sullivan, “I have a feeling about you.  Come back tomorrow.”
The following evening he and Jinny sneak out of the house and return to Reingold’s Field where they watch the remainder of the medicine show.  They laugh at Clarence and his World’s Worst-Trained Dogs, a clever and comical entertainment featuring two small dogs who won’t do anything they’re told but who, when their boy trainer isn’t looking, execute feats of gymnastic prowess.  They thrill as Esmeralda, a very talented young tightrope walker, runs and jumps and dances and tumbles on the rope.  They enjoy Master Melville’s pitch for Hop-Hop Drops which, if you take them, will make the world seem sunny again.  Much to his own surprise, after the show Sullivan takes his juggling balls out of his pockets and performs for Master Melville.  Once again, Mistress Melville bid him to return the next night.
The third evening, the boy lies and says he has to go to Norval’s house to work on a project.  This time he takes his backpack into which he has put his balls and clubs and other juggling equipment.  Once again, a crowd has gathered around the stage but this time Master Melville announces a special treat, a magical illusion he calls The Vanishing Box.  A large box is wheeled out and the man in the stovepipe hat asks for a volunteer.  Though he hasn’t raised his hand, Sullivan is chosen.  The boy climbs into the box, hears a soft click, and feels himself sliding downward.  When he awakens later Sullivan finds himself lying on a bunk inside the moving caravan, meets Frederick, Esmeralda and Clarence, and learns that he has all be stolen by the Melvilles to work in their medicine show.
When he doesn’t return home, Gilbert and Loretta Mintz telephone Norval’s parents and learn that their son hasn’t been there.  They contact the police who treat him as a runaway until his jacket is found in the river.  It is assumed that Sullivan has drowned, and that his body has been swept away.
Meanwhile Sullivan is introduced to life in a travelling medicine show.  He discovers that Mistress Melville, to whom the children refer behind her back as the Black Death, is a beautiful, controlling, bitter woman untempered by any softness or humour, and that Master Melville, on the other hand, is kind in his peculiar way but infatuated with his wife.
Sullivan is given the name Dexter and, when he tries to explain that he must go home and that his parents will be worried sick, is fed a complicated story about how, when he learned of his son’s drowning, his father suffered a heart attack and that the shock of discovering Sullivan is still alive might kill him.  So the boy offers to help out as best he can with the travelling medicine.
Sullivan washes dishes, and helps to set up and break down the stage each evening.  He is befriended by Clarence and Esmeralda, and ignored by Frederick who seems constantly irritated by Sullivan’s presence.  He learns some of the secrets behind Frederick’s card tricks, and discovers that the chess-playing automaton is actually Clarence who curls up inside the cogs and gears and observes the game through a set of mirrors.  He becomes caught up in the thrill and the magic of the show and, when the last bottle of Hop-Hop Drops is sold and the last of the crowd drifts away, finds that a certain melancholy descends.
After newspapers reveal that Sullivan has drowned, Beanfield Junior Middle School holds an awkward memorial for him, one that Norval is too sad to attend, and then forgets the kid that was too average to stand out.  However Norval doesn’t forget.  Instead, he seeks out the one other kid who might remember Sullivan Mintz, Samuel Patinsky, and, oddly enough, they bond over their shared feelings of loss.  Together, they come up with the idea of a day-long Sullivan Mintz celebration but their plans are nixed by the school principal.  Undeterred, they decide to hold the celebration anyway.
Over the following weeks, Sullivan learns that the show never stays in one location for more than a couple of performances.  He also learns that, once the children are in their bunks and the door has been padlocked from the outside so they cannot escape, the caravan travels along back roads and country lanes to its next location.
Sullivan misses his family, even the annoying little Jinny, and starts to think of ways to run away.  After Clarence tries to slip a letter to a young fan and suffers a harrowing consequence at the hands of Mistress Melville, Sullivan redoubles his efforts.  He finds a way past the padlock that locks him and the other children inside the caravan, and slips out one night after the others are asleep.
At first, he experiences a sense of overwhelming freedom.  Sullivan walks for hours though the countryside, looking for some sign of civilization, before he is frightened by strange sounds, runs headfirst into something hard and then becomes convinced that he’s being stalked by a wild dog.  By the time he is overtaken by Mistress Melville, Sullivan is convinced that she has saved his life.
On the morning after his attempted escape, Master Melville announces that it is time that Sullivan start to prepare his juggling act for the stage.  Under Clarence’s expert tutelage, he hones his skills as a juggler and, on the younger boy’s advice, learns to juggle odd objects such as a toaster, an old boot and a piggy bank.  While Clarence tries to figure out his approach, his personality, his schtick, Sullivan also masters the art of juggling fire.  By the time Mistress Melville informs him that he’s to act the part of an accidental juggler, Sullivan has proven to all the members of the troupe that, though he’s so terrified that he’s nauseous and faint, he is also ready for his first performance on stage.
Back in Beanfield, his younger sister Jinny is struggling.  Despite the support and understanding of her grief-stricken parents, the little girl will not, cannot, accept her brother’s death.  She speaks about him in the present tense and talks frequently of his impending return.  When Sullivan’s elderly friend Manny tries to reason with her, Jinny drags him to her brother’s bedroom and shows him the empty dresser drawer.  At first, the old man doesn’t grasp its significance.  Jinny has to point out that Sullivan’s juggling equipment is missing.  She also repeats her story about their visit to the medicine show.  Eventually she stirs up just enough doubt and hope in her parents that they agree to allow their small daughter and Manny to go in search of Sullivan.
Armed with walking sticks and backpacks filled with sandwiches, and the blessings of every elderly resident of the Beanfield Home for Old People, Jinny and Manny set out look for her missing brother.  Though he believes the boy is dead and that this journey will help Jinny finally lay him to rest, Manny cannot help the small flicker of hope that lights within him.  They start by finding the field in which the medicine show held their performances as well as a middle-aged couple who recall attending one of them.
His act perfected, Sullivan finally performs on stage in front of a live audience.  Though he is frightened to the point of physical illness before taking the stage, the boy is shocked and thrilled to discover that not only is his act almost flawless but the audience responds to it with cheers and gasps and applause.  For the first time, Sullivan understands the attraction of performing; the relationship with the spectators, the triumphant sense of accomplishment, and the growing bonds that tie him to Clarence, Esmerelda and even Frederick.
However, juxtaposed against this is the memory of the Old Life Party, the secret celebration the children hold late one night in the caravan after the Melvilles take themselves out for a rare night on the town.  After wolfing down purloined food and drink and dancing to the music of a contraband gramophone, the four children creep into their bunks and recount memories from their past.  While the shared reminiscences draw him closer to the other children, Sullivan remains determined to find a way home to his parents and Jinny.
Written by Cary Fagan, author of the Kaspar Snit books, The Boy in the Box is the spine-tingling story of a boy who is plucked out of his ordinary existence into life in a travelling medicine show comprised of three talented child performers and their captors, the odd yet somehow fascinating Master and Mistress Melville.  Intriguing characters, a fantastical plot and Fagan’s dark and evocative descriptions come together to create a magical tale that will enchant readers from Grade 4.
FernFolio Editor

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

The Night Gardener
Fourteen-year-old Molly and her eleven-year-old brother, Kip, are desperate to find a place to call home.  They have escaped from the orphanage in which they were placed after the ship carrying them and their parents from Ireland went down in the Irish Sea, and have secured positions with a family called the Windsors.  Best not to ask where Molly found the horse and cart that have brought them there.
Whenever Kip gets discouraged, Molly tells him a story.  Born with a bad leg, Kip sometimes needs a good story to help him look past life’s troubles.  It’s gotten so he doesn’t always know which of her stories are true and which are made up.  He know, though, that Ma and Da were kidnapped by pirates and are sure to return for them.  That’s not something Molly would lie about.
The Windsors’ estate is on an island accessed by an ancient wooden bridge.  The house is set in a park surrounded by dark woods, curiously devoid of birds or insects.  A great black tree stands next to the house, so close that it and the house have grown together.  Inside, branches traverse the upper parts of rooms.  Both Molly and Kip are overcome with the feeling that they shouldn’t have come.
Mistress Windsor is not welcoming.  In fact, she only permits the children to stay after Molly tells her they will work in exchange for room and board.  Eying his bad leg, Mistress Windsor also decrees that Kip will sleep above the stables and not in the servants’ quarters.
While her brother tackles its overgrown gardens, Molly sets to work cooking and cleaning and doing the laundry in the house.  She meets the Windsor children, six-year-old Penny, who seems starved for affection, and her older brother Alistair, whose bullying behaviour is unsweetened by the sweets he constantly eats.  She tries to keep on Mistress good side by trying to anticipate her every wish, for Constance Windsor is a cold, difficult woman.  When he returns home from his visit to town, Molly meets Master Windsor, a stuttering milksop, who makes endless attempts to lighten the atmosphere with jokes.
Something is clearly wrong with the Windsors.  First there is the state of tension that exists between the Master and the Mistress.  Second, there is the family portrait, painted only months before, that the Windsors no longer resemble.  The family depicted in the portrait is a happy one, which the Windsors most assuredly are not.  There are other sinister changes, too.  Constance’s eyes used to be blue, and now they are black.  The whole family is a pale, listless, dark-eyed and -haired shadow of its former self.
Outside, Kip cleans up the garden, trims back the ivy around the house, and wonders at the hillocks that mar the front lawn.  He finds a leave-filled hole beside the tree, a hole that terrifies Penny when her brother demands she climb into it.  At her insistence, Kip has been creeping into his sister’s room every night, and, more than once, has sensed someone watching him.  One night, he spots a tall, thin man in a top hat.  When he tells Molly what he’s seen, she laughs.
She doesn’t laugh the night she hears a thump, thump, thumping, the sound of footsteps, and goes to investigate.  Molly finds all the doors in the house wide open, including the front door, and everyone tossing and turning with bad dreams.  She also finds a black top hat.  It is Penny who tells her about the night man, a man who walks through the house every night after everyone is asleep.  Molly wants to believe it’s just a story, but she’s cleaned away his muddy footprints.
Alarmed, Kip urges that they leave the house and try their luck elsewhere, but Molly, who knows only too well how hard it is for two children to find positions, is reluctant.  She suggests they write a letter to Ma and Da, a letter that she doesn’t send but hides away in the bottom of her trunk.
There is a locked green door at the top of the stairs in the Windsors’ house that Molly has sometimes wondered about.  One day, she sees Master Windsor exit through that door dragging a sack full of coins.  He gives that sack to two unpleasant brutes named Fig and Stubbs, who arrive demanding repayment of his debts.
Fig and Stubbs aren’t happy when they open the sack to find that it’s full of ha’pennies, and complain that, while the first sack had banknotes and the second pounds, each sack has contained coins of lesser value.  However, when he pleads that there is family money, “all they could wish for,” the brutes agree to give Master Windsor one more month.  Observing this exchange, Molly cannot help but think that the sacks full of coins are in some way linked to the room behind the locked green door.
In the days after Fig and Stubbs leave, the Windsors are constantly engaged in arguments.  When he departs for town, Master Windsor takes with him his wife’s jewels, including the little ring with the blue stone that she wears on her finger.  Molly doesn’t need Alistair to tell her he is selling their valuable to cover his debts but she is taken aback when Constance steps out of the room behind the green door and notices the woman is wearing her ring again.
Kip spends his free time waiting at the bridge for a reply to their letter but none arrives.  Instead, an old woman named Hester Kettle stops by with a story about Master Windsor’s parents.  She tells Kip that they disappeared one night in the middle of a terrible storm and that the young Master was found screaming and saying something evil was after him.  After that, he went away to live with relatives and the house stood empty until his recent return.
Galileo, the children’s horse, wanders off one evening.  Molly and Kip go looking for him and stumble across a strange garden full of silver and white flowers in the middle of the dark woods.  They come home to see the front door of the house open and the night man stepping out with a watering can.  As they watch from their hiding place behind the well, he waters the tree and then sets to digging a hole next to it.  Galileo senses him and is terrified.  The children are also frightened and agree that they will leave in the morning.
Wanting to leave the gardens looking nicely, the next day Kip tries planting flowers around the base of the tree and is disturbed to observe that they die as soon as they’re in the ground.  He looks closely at the tree, and sees that its lowest branches are actually the handles of axes and swords and saws.  People have tried to destroy the tree in the past.  Kip clears the leaves from the night man’s hole and jumps in to take a look.  He is attacked by the roots of the tree and narrowly escapes.
Molly, meanwhile, hears a voice coming from behind the green door, and peeks in to see Penny reading a brand new book, one that appears to feature Molly and Kip but that is missing the final pages.  She also see that, in this room, the tree’s trunk has come through the wall and that there is a big knothole in the trunk at which Penny is staring expectantly.
The little girl is defensive when she realizes Molly is there.  “Everybody else uses this room, so why shouldn’t I?” Penny demands as she marches past her.  Molly is just about to follow when she hears the sound of the waves and spies an envelope inside the knothole.  It is addressed to her and contains a letter from Ma and Da which she tells a delighted Kip has come special delivery.  The letter ends, “We’ll write again soon, so stay put no matter what.”  Though Kip is not happy, Molly is now determined to stay on with the Windsors.
There are more letters over the next two weeks, letters Molly retrieves by taking the key to the green door from Mistress Constance’s dresser.  At first, he is thrilled by each new letters, but soon Kip becomes reluctant to listen to his sister read them.  By now, Molly knows where Master Windsor’s sackfuls of money come from, where the Mistress gets her rings, Penny, her books, and Alistair, his sweets.  And they seem to know about her letters.
Mistress Constance has grown steadily paler and thinner.  She is ice cold but runs a slight fever.  They all do.  At last, the Master sends for a doctor.  Dr. Crouch fancies himself a man of science, and is eager to cover himself with glory.  After examining them, he prescribes medication that Penny is loath to take.  After she finally gets her to swallow it, the little girl asks Molly if she, too, will take it.  Penny’s words are enough to force her to take a good look at herself in a mirror.  Molly is shocked to see that her freckles have disappeared, and her red hair has turned black.
Molly decides to sleep in the stable with her brother who once again urges that they leave.  The children agree it’s time to find out what the night man is doing.  They sneak into the house that night and watch as the night man stands over each of the Windsors in turn, while they toss and turn in their nightmares, and, with a rag, mops their brows and necks and hands of perspiration.  He carefully wrings the rag over his watering can, the same can he uses to water the tree.
The night man catches the children watching, and says something that causes Molly to fall to the floor in a faint.  As the night man wipes her brow, Kip throws his lamp at him, and runs for the woods.  Followed closely by the night man, he runs as far as the night garden of flowers where his pursuer suddenly stops, seemingly unable to go any further.  As he collects himself and prepares to return to the house, Kip finds a gift…a key.  When she sees it, Molly orders him never to use it, and asks him to promise to bury or burn or throw away any other gifts the night man might try to give him.
The next day, Molly and her brother go to the village to buy food for the household.  She worries because she has been given very little money.  Hester Kettle helps Molly by telling the market stall owners that she’s a friend.  Their prices are reduced by more than half.  Afterward, the old woman invites her new friends to the tavern for a story.
Hazel Kettle tells them the legend of the Night Gardener, a wise man who tended a beautiful garden that would only bloom under the moon.  Then one day a tree grew, one that was alive and gave things to those who wished for them.  People came from far and wide to make their wishes and, in return, they gave something of themselves so that the tree would never die.  When the man was old and on the point of death, the tree simply reached out and swallowed him.
Molly doesn’t like Hester’s story.  She calls it and all stories made-up lies but the old woman asks her a question. What is the difference between a story and a lie?  The girl thinks about it for a while and then answers, “A lie hurts people.  A story helps ’em.”  That knowledge will prove important.
In the days that follow, Molly asks Mistress Constance why she and her family stay.  Mistress Constance asks her the same thing.  It becomes clear to the girl that, despite the doctor’s treatments, the woman is dying.  She hears Master Windsor in the room behind the green door begging the tree to cure his wife.  Another letter appears in the knothole from her absent parents.
They talk it over and then Molly and Kip ask the doctor to help catch the Night Gardener, the spirit whom, they insist, has caused Constance’s illness.  There are now six holes dug around the base of the tree.  Six graves, one for each of the Windsors and for Molly and Kip.  With doctor’s help, they set a trap for the Night Gardener, and realize too late that he plans to take a photograph of him.  A net is spread under the tree, its four corners thrown over a low branch and then attached to Galileo’s cart but Hester Kettle springs the trap instead of the man who haunts their dreams.
The Night Gardener finds them, Hester hanging in the net, the doctor and the children.  He calls up a wind that grabs the doctor’s camera, and smashes it against the house.  Doctor Crouch tries to escape in the cart.  The branch holding up the net breaks, and Molly watches as the Night Gardener staggers and falls.  He points his hands toward the stable.  Its door flies off and lands on the doctor, killing him instantly.
Molly attacks the Night Gardener and sets him ablaze.  The children lift Hester into the cart and escape, pursued by the tall, thin man in the top hat.  He follows only as far as the bridge.
Hester is dying from her injuries.  She gives the children an envelope, telling them it contains something she thinks they might be looking for.  The old woman then walks into the woods and disappears.
On their sad journey back to the house, Molly tells Kip that she has something she needs to tell him.  He knows about the letters, the knothole is where he’s found a tin of Doctor Rootley’s Wonder Balm, that promised to ” cure what ails you.” He hasn’t opened it.  Molly tells her brother what really happen the night that they ended up in a lifeboat on the Irish Sea, how the ship was sinking and their parents had gone down with it.  The children resolve go back to warn the Windsors and then leave for good.
Dr. Crouch’s body and the graves are enough to convince Master Windsor of the dangers his family face if they stay.  The Windsors prepare to depart before sunset but Fig and Stubbs’ arrival changes those plans.  Master Windsor’s creditors tie up the family, and their servants and start to ransack the house, but Molly shows them to the room behind the green door.  There they find the knothole filled to overflowing with promissory notes.  They stuff with their pockets with those notes, but cannot resist getting an axe to hack away at the knothole for more.  To their shock, the Night Gardener climbs out and goes after the two men.
The Windsors and Kip and Molly struggle to free themselves from their ropes and escape but the Night Gardener returns.  While Kip and a newly reformed Alistair lead him into the woods and away from the others, Molly gets the other Windsors into the cart along with their things.  Before they leave, the Master tries to destroy the tree by setting fire to it but, though the fire burns, the tree is not consumed.
Molly runs back inside the house and tries dropping lit matches into the knothole.
She can hear the Night Gardener coming.  In desperation, she reaches into her pocket and throws into the knothole the letters from Ma and Da, the tree’s gift to her.  As she watches, the Night Gardener collapses, breaking apart like dried wood.  Molly escapes the burning house by leaping from a window onto Mistress Constance’s mattress.
By morning, nothing remains of the house and the tree but ashes.  Grateful for their help Windsors invite the children to live with them, but Molly and Kip and Galileo head off into the new day and their new lives, hopeful that Hester’s letter will lead them home.
Written by Jonathan Auxier, author of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, The Night Gardener relates the frightening adventures of an Irish brother and sister who seek work in an isolated house inhabited by a family beleaguered by debts, illness, and a strange, dark tree that has grown into it.  When they learn that a strange man visits the house at night, bringing bad dreams, the children want to leave only, by then, they too have fallen victim to the tree and the mysterious man who tends it.  A thrillingly spine-chilling book for readers from Grade 4.
FernFolio Editor

The Veil Weavers by Maureen Bush

Veil Weavers
Fourteen-year-old Josh and his seven-year-old sister Maddy have been summoned back to the magical world they discovered the previous summer.  Hidden by a veil of magic from the human world, this world is filled with creatures both everyday and fantastical, all of whom are able to sense the magic around them.
The siblings learn that the tears in the veil have not healed since they destroyed the nexus ring, and that magic is leaking into their human world so quickly that their magical friends are dangerously weakened.
Travelling to the Gathering, they note with alarm how exhausted and drained of strength their otter-people friends, Greyfur and Eneirda become.  At the Gathering, at which all the animals are represented, Maddy, whose ring allows her to see magic, and Josh, who can sense and at times wield it, are asked by the Keeper to find a way to repair the veil.
Knowing they need to learn more about the veil and those who created it, Josh and Maddy seek out Gronwald the troll whose long memory may offer valuable clues. They approach warily for the troll uses the tears in the veil to slip into the world of human where he searches for and steals gold to add to his treasure.  Compelled by the will of the Gathering, he must answer Josh’s questions about the Ancients, but cannot be prevented from trying to attack Maddy and their companions.
Aided by the crows, who have adopted Josh as one of their own, carried far by buffalo and sheltered by the otter-people, the teen and his young sister travel high into the mountains to the home of the weavers, descendants of the Ancient Ones who wove the veil.  It s a difficult journey but Josh and Maddy are propelled by the same sense of urgency as their magical friends.  Everywhere they meet creatures worn thin and tired as this hidden world’s magic leaks away.
Josh and Maddy are welcomed by the weavers into their remote sanctuary, and marvel at their ability to weave any substance, including the mountains and the sky.  Filled with hope that he has found those who can repair the veil, Josh explains their quest and is shocked and saddened to learn that they weavers cannot help him.  Though their ancestors created the veil, they cannot so much as touch it.
The humans leave the mountains and return to one of the otter-people’s camps.  As Josh sits that night staring into the fire, overcome with worry and dread, and thinking about everything he has learned in the magical world, he conceives an audacious plan to mend the veil.  It will demand all the combined resources of his friends, it may demand his life and that of his sister, but Josh knows it’s the only chance they have to save the magical world from destruction.
Written by Maureen Bush, The Veil Weavers is the third book in the Veil of Magic series, and tells the exciting story of a teen and his younger sister who are summoned to a magical world of talking animals, giants, trolls and spirits because only he might be able to save it.  Threatened by a powerful troll bent on foiling his efforts and frequently surrounded by creatures who view humans with suspicious and, sometimes, worse, Josh will have to risk everything.  Intriguing characters, from an affectionate little crow to a buffalo who likes to sing to magical spiders and a terrifying ochre monster intent upon destroying humans, and a fast-paced plot that balanced fear and tension with moments of humour and joy, The Veil Weavers is bound to captivate young readers of fantasy from Grade 4.
FernFolio Editor

The Green Man by Michael Bedard

Green Man
Fifteen-year-old Ophelia has come to spend the summer with her aunt Emily in Caledon, Ontario, while her father completes his research into the life of poet Ezra Pound in Italy, and because the older woman has recently suffered a mild heart attack.
A published poet, Emily also owns a used bookshop called The Green Man and lives in the apartment above the shop.
It is clear to O that, since her heart attack, Emily hasn’t been able to keep up with the physical demands of running the shop.  Boxes of books are piled next to overflowing shelves, and along either side of the stairs up to the apartment.  Dust lies thick over every surface, and the paint on the shop’s exterior is faded and peeling.  Her aunt seems to be faring just as poorly.  She is tired looking and thin, and seems to be surviving on a diet of coffee and cigarettes.
O takes over kitchen duty, filling empty cupboards with food, and serving up regular meals.  She takes Emily to task about her smoking, and makes sure she takes her heart medication.  O also tackles the situation downstairs in the shop.  She helps Emily to see that it’s time for a thorough weeding of the shelves so that they can get rid of the boxes of books piled the floor.  She gets busy with the feather duster and wipes down book covers to remove the grim.  She paints the front of the shop and replaces the felt that lines the display window.
However O can’t seem to help her aunt with the trouble that most afflicts her.  Emily, her niece thinks, might be mad.  During recent months, her father has received almost nightly phone calls from his sister, calls that come when she is too disturbed sleep.  It seems to O that madness is an occupational hazard for poets.  So many of the poets her father lectures about, so many of those whose works she has read, were mad.  Does one write poetry because one is mad, or does writing poetry make one mad, O wonders.  The answer has become particularly important since she herself has begun to write.
Days spent in The Green Man helping her aunt unpack and shelve books, and serving infrequent customers have O wondering if she might be surrendering to the at-times fanciful atmosphere of the old bookshop.  Perhaps it is the yellowing photographs of Emily Dickinson, Ezra Pound and Rimbaud, perhaps it is a trick of the dim light, but the girl begins to catch glimpses of the ghosts whom her aunt seems to believe haunt the place, and begins to comprehend what her aunt means when she says that the bookshop is as much a part of her as she is a part of it.
O is drawn to the sign of the Green Man that hangs outside the bookshop, one that is carved out of wood and depicts a man made out of leaves and branches.  When she looks at it, the face in the leaves seems to stare right back.  When it moves in the wind, the sign creaks and speaks in words that O can almost understand.  As the days pass and the summer wends its way toward August, the Green Man seems to whisper, “Beware.”
Aunt Emily has been assailed by dreams, ones that fill her with foreboding.  When O discovers a handbill advertising Doctor Mephisto’s Magic Show for Children on Saturday, August 8th tucked in between two books, and shows it to her aunt, it precipitates heart palpitations and a strange revelation.  Emily confesses that, fifty-six years earlier, when she was fourteen, the same handbill appeared in her desk at school.  When her teacher, Miss Potts, found it, the elderly woman warned Emily the Professor Mephisto had presented his magic show before, with tragic consequences for some of the children who attended.
Despite her teacher’s warning, Emily went to the performance and witnessed illusions and feats of magic that could not be explained any more easily than Professor Mephisto’s almost hypnotic effect on his audience.  Though, at the times, she felt an at-times overpowering sense of evil, the young Emily was as unable to ignore the magician’s persuasive voice as the other children.  Only Miss Potts’ arrival prevented disaster.
As a young woman, Emily travelled the country in search of her muse, writing poems when they came to her and tossing them into the back of her old car.  When twenty-eight years had passed and another Saturday, August 8th loomed, Emily returned to Caledon, determined to ensure that Doctor Mephisto claimed no more young lives.  She had to resort to break-and-enter to stop his performance.
Now, dreams of the magic show have started again, and Emily warns O that Doctor Mephisto will be preparing for his next performance.  She tells her niece that the magician can assume any appearance, and stage his show in any venue.  O wonders if her aunt has finally lost any touch with reality and fears that she hasn’t, especially when she begins to develop her own sense of foreboding.  As the two mark the days to August 8th, the vague signs of approaching evil multiply.
Is the valuable collection of books about magic and the occult that Miss Lenora Linton has offered for sale to Emily somehow connected to Professor Mephisto’s upcoming show?  Who is the young boy both O and Emily see from afar and who so closely resembles O’s father, Charles, when he was a child?  What is causing the noises that drift in from the small deck outside O’s room each night?  Who is the teenaged boy who has recently befriended O, and started helping out at The Green Man in exchange for books, and why won’t he divulge anything about himself?  The mysteries increase in number as the fateful day draws near.
Written by Michael Bedard, The Green Man is the absorbing and quietly eery story of a young teenager who comes to spend the summer with her rather fragile and eccentric aunt, and discovers both the hitherto unimagined beauty of the poet’s sensibility to words and the world around her, as well as an ancient and recurring evil.  Nuanced characters, a plot that deftly weaves together seemingly disparate threads until the patterns grow clear, and Bedard’s superbly poetic writing result in a hauntingly memorable book that is sure to capture the imagination of readers from Grade 5.
FernFolio Editor

Curse of the Dream Witch by Allan Stratton

Curse of the Dream Witch
Princess Olivia, almost thirteen, is the beloved only child of King Augustine and Queen Sophia of Bellumen.  She is also a prisoner who lives in a gilded cage of dresses and books and dolls.  She has been locked up for her own protection since she turned five, and the Dream Witch began her reign of terror.  Her only friend is a mouse named Penelope whom Olivia sometimes fancies can talk.
The princess is protected by twelve pysanka, painted eggs, given to her by Ephemia, the court wizard, at her christening just before the Dream Witch arrived on her giant meat cleaver and demanded the princess’ heart.  The wizard, whose books of spells had been stolen by the witch, rushed to protect the child with a spell and vanished in a puff of smoke.  Thwarted by the Ephemia’s protections, twelve pysanka, the Dream Witch uttered a dreadful curse.  She vowed that on the morning of Olivia’s thirteenth birthday the eggs that protect her would be destroyed and she would take the child’s heart.
In the years that have passed, agents of the Dream Witch have managed to find and destroy eleven of the eggs.  With the destruction of those eggs, the king’s health failed.  He suffered several strokes and was left unable to move or speak except to tap with one thumb.  The last pysanka, all that protects the young princess from the Dream Witch, has been encased in silver and hung from a chain around Olivia’s neck.  The Great Dread began on the princess’ fifth birthday; children began to go missing.  So many children, that parents stopped letting their sons and daughters out of their sight, especially anywhere near the forest, and never ever permitted them to go outside at night.
Milo, thirteen, chafes against his parents’ attempts to keep him close, in the house after dark and treating him like a child even though, since his father lost his foot in an accident, the boy has looked done all the work around the farm.  Angry, he takes off into the fields and, feeling daring steps into the forest to yell a challenge to the Dream Witch.  Then he spots a gold coin and reaches for it, then another and another.  He walks further into the forest and is soon hopelessly lost.  When he hears the voice biding him “Good evening,” he knows he will turn to find the Dream Witch and grieves knowing he will never see his parents again.
The boy awakens inside what he thinks at first is a glass cage with a metal floor.  Looking out from his grinder, Milo discovers that he is in a room full of glass cages, shelves and shelves of glass cages, and every one of them contains a child.  He will learn all too soon that his prison, in fact, a grinder, like those used grind pepper, only, when the witch turns the knob at the top of the glass container, bits of flesh and bone and blood are ground from the child caged within for the Dream Witch’s spells.  The sorceress plucks his grinder from the shelf and takes it with her into her private chamber where she demands his help.
From her barred and guarded room in the castle, Olivia hears the boy’s parents cries.  “Milo, where are you?” and knows that another child has been taken because of her and that all those who had lost children to the Great Dread would be sharing in Milo’s parents’ pain.  As she has done many times since she was five, Olivia grieves and knows that she is responsible for these parents’ agony.
On the eve of her thirteenth birthday, Queen Sophia informs her daughter that they are going to be visited by Prince Leo of Pretonia and his uncle the Duke of Fettwurst, and that, when they leave again, she will go with them to live in Pretonia as their guest.  Olivia makes it clear to her mother that she has no intention of leaving Bellumen or her parents, but her mother is adamant; she fears that, if her daughter remains, the Dream Witch will be successful in her campaign of terror.
That night Olivia has a strange dream in which a great owl lands on her windowsill with a scrap of parchment.  In that dream, she approaches the parchment to pick it up when Penelope, her pet mouse, begins to yell at her, “Rip it up!  Throw it away!”  Olivia reasons, erroneously, that nothing she does in a dream could hurt her in the real world.  She unfolds the scrap to find a drawing of a thatched cottage in the forest, a cottage that appears to move on the parchment.  She throws the scrap into her armoire and is surprises, moments later, when someone or something knocks on the door from inside that armoire.
A boy emerges from the armoire to ask Olivia if she is the princess.  When she confirms that she is, the boy announces that he has come to rescue her.  Olivia does not know why she might need rescuing and tells the boy so, which confuses him.  Eventually, he asks if she might want to come and visit his parents about whom he seems very concerned.  The boy, of course, is Milo and the Dream Witch has threatened to kill his parents if he does not bring Olivia to her.
The children’s conversation is interrupted by Queen Sophia, who has heard the sound of voices talking.  Milo dives back into the armoire.  When she tells her mother about the dream boy, the Queen throws open the armoire to find that Milo is gone.  Olivia’s mother recognizes the dream as the work of the Dream Witch and knows that the curse draws closer.  She is more determined than ever to get her daughter to safety in Pretonia.
Olivia’s first meeting with Prince Leo, the following day, does not go well.  His uncle, the Duke of Fettwurst, and Queen Sophia leave the two alone together to get acquainted and Leo rapidly shows his true colours.  Though her mother has promised she won’t have to marry him unless she chooses, the arrogant prince makes it clear that they will marry so that he can become ruler of Bellumen.  When he insults her parents, Olivia orders Leo out of her room but it takes a hairpin and some help from Penelope to finally scare him off.
The young princess considers telling her parents the true about Prince Leo and his uncle but realizes the visitors from Pretonia have brought enough soldiers that they could stage a coup and seize the kingdom if she kicks up a fuss.  She sits silent throughout the feast held the night before her thirteenth birthday and endures with growing fear and revulsion the duke’s drunken boasts and the prince’s wandering feet.
Back in her turret afterward, Olivia realizes that she must find a way to escape from her prison of a room, from her parents’ castle and from Prince Leo and his uncle.  She receives a second visit from Milo who is now covered in scrapes and bruises.  Penelope who, it turns out, can talk, urges him to tell the truth and eventually the boy falls to his knees to ask Olivia’s forgiveness.  He explains that the Dream Witch has sent him to lure her into the witch’s lair.  He explains that the evil creature simply put him inside the picture she drew on the scrap of parchment and that, when Olivia picked it up and looked at it, he was able to enter her turret.
Once again, the sound of voices draws the Queen who comes running with Prince Leo and the Duke.  The Prince threatens to behead Milo, and Olivia claims she has asked for the boy’s help to run away, that she won’t be forced into a marriage she doesn’t want.  When Queen Sophia learns that the Pretonians are determined to annex Bellumen, with or without Olivia’s consent, she orders them out of the kingdom but they make it clear they are going nowhere.  The Duke destroys the parchment and his men drag Milo to the dungeons.  Olivia is locked in her turret, the Queen and King are confined to their chambers, and the Duke takes over the castle.
Furious and afraid, Olivia knows she must do something.  Fortunately, her little mouse knows just what must be done.  It seems her name is not Penelope but Ephemia and that she is the court wizard, mistakenly transformed into a mouse by her own spell at the princess’ christening.  With Ephemia’s help, the princess escapes through a secret passageway under the floorboards and below the stairs.  They find Milo being tortured in the dungeons and use some well-timed bluster and trickery to send the Pretonian guards running while they jump into a well and emerge, after a short and terrifying underwater journey, in the marshes outside the castle walls.
Milo, Olivia and Ephemia make first for the boy’s home but find his cottage burned to the ground and his grief-stricken parents huddled next to a small campfire near the ruins.  Though he runs up to them, eager to be reunited with them, his parents do not recognize Milo as their son.  The boy realizes the Dream Witch has made good on her threat, “Your parents will never see you again,” and, though Olivia tries to comfort him by telling him they will be all right, he knows they will pine away ad die if the witch isn’t destroyed.
The friends set out for her abode that stands in the middle of the forest, a malevolent cottage surrounded by a fence made up of thighbones topped by skulls.  As they approach, candles flare in every one of those skulls and the cottage itself seems to come to life.  The door opens, a doorway ringed by teeth, and the cottage swallows Olivia and her companions.  They find themselves in the Dream Witch’s underworld, a vast emptiness haunted by nightmares that include endless ice and underwater monsters.
Olivia, Milo and Ephemia also come across Prince Leo, who claims to have come to save the Princess.  Though they are very skeptical at first about his motivations, Leo manages to convince Olivia and Ephemia that he has seen the error in his ways and is determined to do right.  Milo, on the other hand, remains very suspicious of the Prince.  Rightfully so, it seems, because Leo has made a pact with the Dream Witch: in return for destroying the egg Olivia wears around her neck, the talisman that prevents the witch from taking her heart, the evil creature will reward him with vast wealth.  When a chance encounter with a giant praying mantis caused the pysanka to fly from around her neck and into a deep hole into the ground.  Milo offers to go after the talisman and Leo, seeing his chance, agrees to go with him.
No sooner are they into the hole when a giant mole comes after the boys.  Leo throws Milo into the monster’s path and, when the coast is clear, retrieves the egg and clambers back out of the hole.  Reunited with the Princess and her mouse companion, the perfidious Prince lies and tells them that Milo is dead, dragged off by the mole, and the egg lost.  To his surprise and annoyance, Olivia makes up her mind to go after Milo.  Before he can stop her, she has jumped into the hole and disappeared.
Milo, it turns out, is not dead.  Instead, he is hiding from the mole in the middle of the mole’s pantry, the great heap of earthworms and bugs the creature has caught and frozen with the poison in its saliva.  The boy reaches out and grabs Olivia when she appears, and pulls her into the slimy mess with him.  As soon as the mole is distracted, the two friends flee back along the tunnels to the hole and climb out, only to find Prince Leo and Ephemia gone.  Looking up, they see the Dream Witch’s giant owl circling above their heads.  In its talons it holds a mouse.
Though overcome with grief at the death of her friend, Olivia is convinced by Milo that she must continue to fight for her own survival, that she cannot let the Dream Witch win.  Marching on, they once again come across Prince Leo only this time he is caught in a giant spider’s web and about to become lunch.  Leo begs for their help and admits he has the pysanka, which Milo retrieves and hands to Olivia.  They throw his sword at his feet, but refuse to free him from his prison, suggesting instead that he ask his friend the Dream Witch to protect him.
Back at the castle, the Duke of Fettwurst is visited by the Dream Witch who proposes a trade to him: Prince Leo’s safety in return for a few hairs from Queen Sophia’s head and one of King Augustine’s fingernails.  With these, she returns to her cottage in the forest and combines the hairs and fingernail with some skin and blood and bone ground from one of her child captives to form living puppets of the Queen and King good enough to fool their daughter Olivia.
Milo and Olivia are confused when they walk out of the gardens in the Dream Witch’s dreamscape and into that of her parents’ castle.  To their shock and dawning joy, Queen Sophia comes running toward them, concerned that they have left their beds so soon after returning, exhausted and injured, from the witch’s cottage where they found and freed all of the kingdom’s missing children.  She soothes their worries and answers their questions and takes them back to their rooms.
However, looking later from the window in his castle room, Milo can see the Dream Witch’s cottage in the forest, the same cottage Queen Sophia has assured him and Olivia was destroyed by fire.  He is preyed upon by growing doubts until Ephemia arrives and confirms his greatest fear: the witch still lives and has somehow trapped Olivia in a waking dream.
The Princess, meanwhile, is bathed and cosseted by her mother, but grows irritated by the Queen’s repeated suggestions that she take off the pysanka, a talisman that she no longer needs.  However, the painted egg, which was a gift from Ephemia, is all she has to remind her of her dead mouse friend and she is determined to wear it always.  She has it around her neck when she goes to visit her father, and realizes something is terribly wrong when her paralyzed father tries to slip it off her. “You are not my father!” she cries, as her parents turn into demons before her.  Milo and Ephemia arrive just in time to fend them off, and the three flee the dream castle pursued by enchanted suits of armour.
With the help of thousands of bats and with Prince Leo who has followed them, the friends make their way back to the witch’s lair, and the room in which the stolen children cower inside their grinders.  Olivia has just enough time to promise them that she’ll get them safely home to their parents before the Dream Witch comes.  Sensing their presence with her long, trunk-like nose, the sorceress seals the doors and begins to hunt for Milo and Olivia.  Determined to save himself, Leo pushes the other children from their shared hiding place while Ephemia scrambles into a hole near the spell books.  The Dream Witch reaches for the Princess, but steps back when Olivia holds up  the pysanka.
Seeing his chance, Leo darts forward and grabs the egg from her.  Turning to the sorceress, he demands his reward and is taken with the egg to her treasury where he is overcome by greed and glee at the sight of mountains of gold and other riches.  Unfortunately, Leo has neglected to specify that he wants to take his reward home to Pretonia.  Taking advantage this, the Dream Witch turns him into a canary and traps him in a golden cage.  With the pysanka no longer around her neck, the talisman no longer protects Olivia and the sorceress can take her heart.
Back in the spell room, Olivia and Milo gather up all the grinders containing the children and place them into baskets.  The Princess asks the boy if he remembers the words the sorceress used to send him in the scrap of parchment to her armoire.  He replies that he does, and she sits down with pen and ink to draw a picture of her parents’ bedroom but, before they can make good their escape, the Dream Witch returns.
It seems, at first, as if the sorceress will triumph and take the Princess’ heart but Milo notices the portrait of her on the wall, a portrait made of worms and insects pinned to a board, and realizes that the Dream Witch made it to bind nature to her will.  The sorceress begins to recite an incantation but Milo and Olivia free the bugs that form her mouth, stopping the words from being uttered.  As they remove the pins and the small creatures are liberated, the Dream Witch disappears, her power destroyed.  Milo, Olivia and Ephemia return to the castle with the missing children, overthrow the Duke of Fettwurst and, as is the case at the end of every good fairy tale, they live happily ever after.
Written by the incomparable Allan Stratton, author of The Grave Robber’s Apprentice, Chanda’s Secrets and Chandra’s Wars, Curse of the Dream Witch is the captivating story of a young girl cursed by crazed and powerful and vindictive witch, and forced to live a virtual prisoner of her parents’ fears until, at last, she realizes that she must confront those fears head on.  With the help of a peasant boy and her pet mouse, she faces and overcomes challenges that range from a nasty prince, intent upon forcing her into marriage, to a giant mole, determined to consume her for dinner.  Stratton has brought together a breathtakingly exciting plot, engaging characters in Olivia, Milo, and Ephemia, as well as in Prince Leo and the Dream Witch, and a richly detailed narrative style to create a fairytale that is sure to enchant readers from Grade 4.
FernFolio Editor

The Awesome Almost 100% True Adventures of Matt & Craz by Alan Silberberg

Awesome Almost True Adventures of Matt and Craz
Meet Matt Worfle and Larry Crazinski, grade 7 students at Kilgore Junior High and best friends despite their completely different temperaments.  Matt, who lives with his mother and his surly older brother Ricky and still trying to come to terms with his parents’ separation, is neat, methodical and too shy to talk to Cindy Ockabloom, the girl he whom he loves from across the cafeteria.  Craz is the middle of five children and as exuberant, impulsive and generally crazy as his nickname suggests.
Both Matt and Craz love making cartoons.  While Craz dreams up the ideas, Matt draws them.  When they’ve got something good, they take it to Skip Turkle, student editor of Kilgore Junior High’s Lantern, and his unpleasant sidekick Diesel Mackenzie hoping they will publish it.  Unfortunately, Skip Turkle is a nasty piece of work who enjoys balling up their comics and throwing them at Matt and Craz.  Turkle has recently dreamed up a new way to torment the kids; he’s started tossing their comics into the shredder.
Matt’s ready to give up on cartooning and so Craz, like any good friend, tries to cheer him up.  He offers up half of his birthday money to buy Matt some artist’s materials.  They google cartooning supplies but both boys are taken aback by the prices.  Then a pop-up ad appears that reads Draw Better Now, an ad they can’t close no matter how much they click the X in the corner.
Eventually they try a forced quit, and find themselves staring at a webpage that reads, Boyd T. Boone invites you to be the best cartoonist ever!  Intrigued, the boys press ENTER and watch a video in which Mr. Boone draws a cartoon which he pronounces a masterpiece.  When he holds it up, Matt and Craz are startled to see that he has drawn what appears to be them.  Boyd T. Boone offers them a cartooning kit which he guarantees will change their lives.  At $10, Craz decides they ought to give it a try.
Matt gets home after a particularly humiliating day at school to find the cartooning kit has arrived in the mail.  It contains a beautiful drawing pen with a special drawing nib and a glass bottle full of thick, black ink.  Inspired, he sets to work drawing a cartoon of himself and Craz becoming Cartoon Kings and winning fame, fortune and fans with their comics.  He particularly enjoys drawing a big bagful of money in his school locker, the fortune part of their celebrity status.
When Matt shows it to him the next day, Craz is pretty impressed by this latest cartoon and suggests they swing by the Lantern’s office to show it to Skip Turkle.  Remembering what happened to their previous offering, the boys decide to photocopy the Cartoon Kings comic, just as a precaution.  While Matt stands lookout outside the teachers’ lounge, Craz slips in and makes for the photocopy machine but is almost caught by their English teacher, Mrs. Bentz, when she walks in and makes herself at home on the sofa behind which he has dived for cover.  Fortunately, Matt rescues his friend by knocking on the door and asking Mrs. Bentz a question about her favourite book Treasure Island.  While he and the teacher talk in the hallway, Craz scrambles to photocopy Matt’s cartoon and get out of the teachers’ lounge.  He does notice an odd flash of very bright light just as the copy lands in the tray.
The remainder of the school day goes pretty much as expected.  The boys eat lunch together in the cafeteria, and Matt embarrasses himself in front of Cindy Ockabloom.  There is a moment of strangeness when Craz thinks he spots Boyd T. Boone working the cash at the lunch counter but, when he takes another look, it’s the usual old lady.
However after school, the boys find a large bag of money in Matt’s locker, a bag filled with one-dollar bills.  At first they are suspicious and then mystified by the money’s appearance.  Matt’s reluctant to spend it, but his misgivings are soon overcome by Craz’s enthusiasm.  They go on a spending spree at the local diner and, while they are wolfing down milkshakes and fries, Craz tells his friend that he thinks the new drawing pen and ink are magic.  Matt drew a bagful of money in his locker and that bag appeared.
At Craz’s urging, Matt makes another cartoon with the new pen, one of Craz’s lecturing older brother Hank who works part-time at the diner, and the two boys watch in breathless anticipation expecting to see Matt’s drawing come to life.  Nothing happens.  It is only after they have what might be a chance meeting with Boyd T. Boone that Matt and Craz realize how the pen and ink work: in order for the cartoon to come to life, it has to be copied in some way.
After that, Matt and Craz go a little wild.  They brainstorm and draw a perfect Saturday night out, Matt with Cindy and Craz with Captain G-Force, then use Matt’s scanner to make it happen.  Craz tries a little drawing on his own, and is soon the owner of a rocket-powered bicycle and a pet iguana names Virgil.  Slapped with a major research assignment on Treasure Island by an irate Mrs. Bentz, they draw up a desert-island adventure for their English teacher complete with pirates.
Somewhere along the way, each boy wonders if he might be able to use the pen and ink to fix problems in his own life.  Matt, whose home life has recently been dominated by his father’s departure, his mother’s sadness and his brother’s anger, decides to draw his family back together again.  No sooner has Matt hit copy than his father is home again, and only he recalls the separation.  Gone are his mother’s tears and some of Rick’s teenaged surliness, and Matt finds that, for the first time in a long while, he looks forward to going home after school.  Then the arguments between his parents start again, and he begins to wonder if, perhaps, it isn’t as easy as he imagined to fix a broken relationship.
Craz, who loves a long, hot shower but, having to share one bathroom and one water heater with four siblings and his parents, is condemned to 3 1/2 minutes under rapidly cooling water, draws a cartoon of himself enjoyed the Best Shower EVER!  He goes home to discover not a second bathroom or a bigger hot water tank, but that he’s suddenly become an only child.  At first, Craz loves the calm and space and hot water, though he does feel a certain guilt at penning his brothers and sisters into oblivion.  However he realizes being an only child has an unexpected downside; your parents focus all their attention on you.  No more getting away with less-than-great marks or turning dinner conversation from what you learned at school that day.  Soon Craz is wondering what he needs to do to restore his large, disorganized family.
A chance run-in with Turkle and his friend Diesel, who also draws cartoons, leads to near disaster.  Matt’s special drawing pen ends up in Diesel’s possession and the other boy uses it to draw a rather nasty comic featuring Kilgore Junior High’s four-member student council, which includes Cindy Ockabloom, as vicious aliens.  No sooner is the cartoon photocopied than the four aliens attack Turkle and Diesel.  Fortunately, the school day is over and only Matt and Craz, who have raced back to find the missing pen, see the aliens and realize what’s happened.  It takes nerve and cunning to rescue the drawing pen from Diesel, who has been trapped in a coating of green ooze by the student council president, and sort out the mess.  Of course, before things get straightened out, there’s an attack by killer bees that look suspiciously like the members of the Kilgore Killer Bees football team orchestrated by Craz that almost finishes off Matt.  That attack leads to some bad feelings and some cross words between the two friends.
Matt heads home to discover that his parents have separated.  Craz finds his parents and learns, to his shock and chagrin, that his cartooning-pen altered father has accepted a new job in Shanghai.  Desperate to put his family back to rights, Craz contacts Matt and asks for his help.
Though he’s still smarting from their argument, Matt agrees to draw another cartoon with the special pen, only to find that the pen is out of ink and the bottle is empty.  Frantically, the two boys try to find Boyd T. Boone’s website and, when that fails, track down the man himself, but to no avail.  Finally, Craz comes up with one last brilliant idea that restores everything back to normal.  Though, in the end, nothing much has changed for Matt and Craz, they have a whole new appreciation for life just the way it is.
Written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg, The Awesome Almost 100% True Adventures of Matt & Craz is the humorous story of two friends who discover how to use a special drawing pen to make their cartoons come to life and the madness that ensures.  A hilarious and thought-provoking book for readers from Grade 4.
FernFolio Editor

Chasing the White Witch by Marina Cohen

Chasing the White Witch
Between her doofus older brother, Jordan, her sworn enemy, Hollis Van Horn, and a huge zit on the end of her nose, thirteen-year-old Claire Murphy has more trouble than she can cope with.  So when, on a trip to the grocery store with her mother and her taunting brother, she suddenly hears beauty queen Hollis’ bell-like voice, Claire grabs and hides behind a magazine from the rack next to the checkout.  The small book that tumbles from that rack onto the floor in front of her seems to be the answer to her prayers.  Entitled Remedies, Rituals and Incantations by The White Witch, the book contains a remedy for acne.
Though it means sneaking her father’s smelly blue cheese, Claire creeps out of her room after her parents and Jordan have gone to bed, mixes up the remedy and applies it to her face, carefully reciting the spell.  To her anger and disappointment, the zit is still perched on the end of her nose and bigger and redder than ever the next morning.  She’s about to get rid of the little book, when she happens to notice the introduction where the author cautions the reader to cleanse his or her character before trying anything in the book.
Thinking about it, Claire realizes that lately she has been prickly and bad-tempered, and resolves to be more patient and understanding.  When Paula-Jean arrives later that morning to spend for a sleepover, she is grateful that her best friend doesn’t comment on her zit.  Eventually, Claire asks Peej for her advice about it, and is surprised when her friend doesn’t know what she is talking about.  A quick check in a mirror confirms that the spell has worked and the zit is gone.
Thrilled to think that she possesses some measure of power, Claire flips through the little book and finds spell entitled Avenging Curse.  Recalling all the times he has teased and poked fun at her, she decides to get even with Jordan.  Over Peej’s strenuous objections, she harvests a branch of a yearling tree in a midnight raid on a neighbour’s garden and proceeds to invoke the spell.  She crawls into bed gleefully imagining the aches and sores Jordan will awaken to the following morning.
However Claire has failed to heed the White Witch’s warning that magic worked to cause suffering in others will return threefold on he or she who works it.  She spends the next day achy and too sick to enjoy the Thanksgiving meal with her family, and miserable because Paula-Jean has packed up her things and gone home.
The following day at school, Mrs. Martin assigns projects on substance abuse.  Confident that Peej will work with her on it, Claire waits for her best friend to join her at her desk.  Instead, Hollis waylays Paula-Jean and suggests they work together.  Claire is forced to pair up, instead, with Jason Jenkins, whose perfectionism and obsessive attention to detail always make his partners look bad by comparison.
Claire somehow gets through the day but collapses in tears and anger as soon as she reaches her bedroom.  Out of her little book of spells she picks the Binding Hex for Hollis.  Ignoring once again the possible dangers of using magic to cause suffering, she ties seven knots in a a piece of cord, carefully chanting the incantation.
Claire is upset to discover, the next day, that Peej hasn’t waited for her as usual at the corner.  When she gets to school, she finds her best friend standing with Hollis’ friends.  She feels so betrayed and miserable, that she doesn’t notice, at first, that Hollis is absent.  Though she knows she’s being awful, Claire can’t help but relish the image of Hollis covered in warts and rashes.
Her spirits rise that afternoon.  It is the school’s annual Fall Fun Day, and she looks forward eagerly to the races, since running is something she excels at.  However, to her shock, Claire stumbles and falls in the first race, as if her legs were suddenly bound together.  The same thing happens in other two races she enters.  She fairs no better in the games, fumbling cucumbers and chickens.
The remainder of the week is just as bad.  Claire finds herself tripping and stumbling and bumping into things when she walks, and dropping things that she’s carrying.  Hollis does not return to school.
Understanding, finally, that she is the victim of her own misguided magic, Claire resolves to undo the binding spell.  She admits to herself that she’s starting to worry about what she may have done to Hollis.  She searches high and low for the length of cord with the seven knots but cannot find it.  Unable to find a way out of her troubles, she calls Peej.
Paula-Jane listens as Claire confesses about the spell on Hollis and voices her growing fears that the other girl is seriously ill, but refuses to help her best friend out of her mess.  However something Peej says provides Claire with the answer to her problems: she must find the author of Entitled Remedies, Rituals and Incantations.  She must go in search of The White Witch.
Determined to find out for herself how Hollis Van Horn is doing, Claire goes to her house and discovers that her nemesis is suffering from terrible headaches and dizziness, and that the left side of her body is numb.  Hollis isn’t thrilled to by her visit, but something about Claire’s story about a spell convinces her that the other girl is sincere in her desire to help.  Although she is shaky on her feet, Hollis agrees to accompany Claire into Toronto to the offices of Mixed Pickle Press, the publisher of the little book of spells.
To Claire’s disappointment, finding The White Witch proves to be more complicated that she’d at first imagined.  The publisher won’t divulge the author’s name or address.  As Hollis looks on in growing bemusement, Claire comes up with a hair-brained plan to extract the author’s contact information, one that shouldn’t work but does.  When it turns out that The White Witch’s mail is sent to a post office box, Claire has to figure out a way to outsmart Canada Post.  As Hollis begins to realize, nothing is going to stop the other girl from tracking down Remedies, Rituals and Incantations‘ mysterious writer.
Though absolutely nothing goes as planned, the girls’ day in the big city will lead, finally, to a resolution of their long-held differences, Hollis will get started on the road to recovery (and a little self-knowledge thrown in on the side), and Claire will learn that self-acceptance and true friendship are the only magic she needs.
Written by Marina Cohen, Chasing the White Witch is a wry and funny story about a young teen who succumbs briefly to the illusion of magical power, thereby alienating her best friend and possibly causing harm to others, before realizing that she has to reverse her spells and atone for her actions.  A thought-provoking book for readers from Grade 4.
FernFolio Editor

Ella May and the Wishing Stone by Cary Fagan and Geneviève Côté


Ella May returns from the beach with a smooth, round stone that has a line going all the way around it, a wishing stone.  When her best friend, Manuel, comes over to ask her if she wants to play hopscotch, he finds Ella May sitting on her front steps holding it.
Intrigued by her find, Manuel asks her to make a wish.  Ella May wishes that she could show her stone to all her friends, and, sure enough, along come Amir and Maya.
Excited by their friend’s wishing stone, Manuel, Maya and Amir look for their own but, though they find some pretty special stones, Ella May happily pronounces that they aren’t wishing stones because they don’t have lines going all the way around them.
Irritated, Manuel stalks off, returning after a short time with a wagon in which sits a special box with all sorts of buttons and knobs.  He announces to Maya and Amir that, for one penny, he will change their ordinary stones into wishing stones, and the machine seems to work well, at least until it starts to rain and the lines wash off.  Before long, Manuel, Maya and Amir are all upset, and Ella May discovers, to her chagrin, that she’s not very happy either.
She makes one final wish, that she had her friends back, and then goes inside to do something positive to make her wish come true.  With a little thought and imagination, Ella May brings a smile to her friends’ faces and proves that they are worth more than any wishing stone!
Written by Cary Fagan, author of great books like Banjo of Destiny and the Kaspar Snit trilogy, and illustrated by Geneviève Côté, well-known in her own right, Ella May and the Wishing Stone is the story of a young girl who learns that her friends are more valuable than any treasure.  A wise and funny book for readers from age 4!
FernFolio Editor

Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans


Ten-year-old Stuart Horten isn’t happy to find himself leaving behind his home and his friends to move to Beeton, where his father lived as a very young child.  Just as he suspected, within a day or two of his arrival and with no one to play with, he is bored, bored, bored.
On a walk around the old part of the town with his father, Stuart sees the site of the old family business, now long gone except for the sign Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms, which used to produce locks, safes, and coin-operated machines.  Recalling an old advertisement for Horten’s products, his father recites,
If it swivels, clicks or locks,
You’ll read Horten’s on the box.
If coins go in and gifts come out,
It’s made by Horten’s; there’s no doubt.
Curious, the boy asks his father more about the factory and Great-Uncle Tony who ran it while his older brother went away to fight during WWII.  His father tells him that the factory, which made armaments during the war, was destroyed by an incendiary bomb and that Tony Horten’s fiancée Lily died in the blaze.  Uncle Tony, who was a well-known magician, disappeared four years later.
Oddly enough, Stuart and his father also come across an old and long-abandoned house, which his father suddenly realizes is Uncle Tony’s.  It has stood empty, and stuck in probate, since he left everything to his fiancée Lily.
Stuart’s father suddenly recalls a small money box given to him by his uncle.  Examining it carefully, the boy realizes the container is a trick box, a puzzle given to his father by his magician uncle to solve.  He unscrews the bottom and finds eight threepenny bits.  He also finds a letter from Tony addressed to My Nephew.  It reads, “I have to go away, and I may not be able to get back.  If I don’t return, then my workshop and all it contains is yours if you can find it – and if you can find it, then you’re the right sort of boy to have it.  Affectionately, Your uncle Tony.  P.S. Start in the telephone booth on Main Street.”
Stuart returns to Uncle Tony’s house, climbs over the fence, and wades through the waist-high grass.  The windows and doors of the house are boarded up and, though he tests some of those boards, the boy cannot find any way to get inside.  His attempts to get into the abandoned house are observed by April, one of the ten-year-old triplets who live next door, who has followed him from his house.  Stuart makes his escape over the fence into a neighbour’s yard, and heads to Main Street where he darts into an old-fashioned telephone booth.
Pressed by a woman who is anxious to make a call of her own, Stuart pops a coin into the old telephone and dials his own telephone number.  It is then that he notices that the receiver cord has been yanked out of the box.  He is just about to leave the booth when the telephone rings.  Disbelieving, Stuart picks up the receiver and answers the phone.  Stranger still, the man at the end of the line has a message for a Mr. Horten.  Beeton Public Library has the book he requested.
Entitled Modern Beeton: A Photographic Record, the book, which dates from 1923, contains photographs of the town’s landmarks, the main street, the train station, the outdoor swimming pool, the cinema, the gas station, the fairground and the bandstand.  Curiously, in each photograph Stuart spies the same small boy.  The librarian tells Stuart that Hortens have been associated with Beeton for hundreds of years.  They include blacksmiths and locksmiths, a politician and the Great Hortini, a Victorian entertainer, as well as Tony Horten.
The boy starts visit all the places photographed in the little book or, at least, the ones he can find.  At Beeton Station, he manages to find the old coin-operated weighing scales in a dumpster behind the building.  Putting one of the threepenny bits into the slot, he is surprised when the dial reads GRAVEST FLATE 79.
That message puzzles him for the better part of a day until, in frustration, he goes for a walk and finds himself on Grave Street.  At number 79, Stuart finds a building with two bells, one labelled Tricks of the Trade and the other Flat E.  He meets Leonora, an elderly blind lady, who tells Stuart that her sister, Lily, was engaged to Tony Horten.  He also meets Jeannie Carr, owner of Tricks of the Trade, a company that makes and sells devices to magicians, and her apprentice, a determined yet rather hapless aspiring magician named Clifford.
When Jeannie discovers that he is related to the great Tony Horten, Stuart notes, she becomes strangely eager to learn more about him and anything he might know about his great-uncle.  Stuart spies a photograph of Tony and Lily next to a sign that reads, Coming here soon -The Well of Wishes.  He asks Jeannie about it, and is surprised at her sharp and suspicious response.
When Jeannie is suddenly called away to attend to a small emergency, Leonora seizes the opportunity to show Stuart some of his great-uncle’s marvellous magical devices, and asks him to meet her at the old cinema, now a bingo hall, in two days’ time.  He leaves soon after, but not before Jeannie urges him to share any information he might find regarding the location of Tony Horten’s secret workshop, the one he built after the factory burned down.  She promises him a reward for that information.
Continuing with his search for the sites pictured in the old book of photographs, Stuart discovers that the fairgrounds have become a housing estate, the gas station is closed, and the outdoor swimming pool is gone.  At the nature preserve, he is distracted by a group of people all carrying binoculars and finds out they are looking for a rare bird, a little bittern.  When one of the birder watchers informs him that the reserve is built on the site on an old swimming pool, Stuart decides to take a closer look.  He stumbles into the old turnstile that stood at the pool’s entrance, puts one of his threepenny bits into the coin slot, and finds an old house key, one that opens the door to Uncle Tony’s house.
From April, the triplet with glasses and with whom he has formed a guarded friendship, Stuart learns that the old house is scheduled to be demolished within days to make way for an apartment block.  He sneaks into the house early the following morning but is surprised and almost discovered by the arrival of workers who has come to start the demolition.  Scrambling to hide, he ducks into the fireplace and finds a secret safe has been built into the chimney.  It has a dial with the numbers 1 to 29 printed around it.  He slips away, unseen, and goes home to ponder the three numbers needed to open that safe.
Later that morning, he meets Leonora at the bingo hall and listens as she and her elderly friend, Lorna, reminisce about the old cinema.  They both recall the coin-operated machine that used to stand in the lobby and that used to dispense precisely a baker’s dozen of toffees.  Over pie at the café following bingo, Leonora gives Stuart a scrapbook, Lily’s engagement gift to Tony, which is full of old photographs and newspaper clippings.
Touched by her gesture, the boy tells Leonora about the trick box, the threepenny bits, the strange telephone message, and the weighing scales with her address.  He also tells her about Uncle Tony’s note.  “Do you know where he went?”  Stuart asks the old woman.  “No, but I know why he went.  He went to find my sister Lily.”  It seems that Tony didn’t believe his fiancée had died in the factory fire.  He believed, instead, that she disappeared after throwing a threepenny bit into his new Well of Wishes.  Leonora explains that, while Tony was a famous magician, his magic was entirely about his marvellous mechanisms, illusion and slight of hand.  He didn’t believe in magic but, following his fiancée’s disappearance, realized there was something entirely magical about the Well of Wishes.  Tony Horten spent the four years before he vanished reconstructing the Well of Wishes, determined to find Lily, and Leonora has spent the past fifty years wondering what Lily wished for and where she went.
A second visit to the public library and the photographic history of Beeton sends Stuart to the local museum where he discovers the Numismatological Room, endowed by Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms and three coin-operated machines.  Three machines, three numbers needed to open the safe. Looking around to make sure he’s alone, Stuart ducks under the rope and puts a threepenny bit into the machine that originally stood in the cinema.  Out pops a bag of very dried up toffees.  He recalls what Leonora and her friend Lorna told him about the number of toffees in each bag.
He moves along to the second machine, the one from the gas station, that dispenses bicycle repair kits, and discovers, to his consternation, that the coin slot has been covered with a metal plate.  He slips into another room of the museum, determined to find a screwdriver, and inadvertently causes havoc to one of the Victorian farm displays, which results in his removal from the museum.
Worried because he is rapidly running out of time to get the safe in Uncle Tony’s house open and find the magician’s hidden workshop, Stuart approaches April for help.  Despite his original impressions, the girl turns out to be both intelligent and quick witted.  She suggests that each of them tell their parents that they are spending the following evening together watching a film.  Instead, the two return to the museum where April engages the curator in an animated discussion about siege engines while Stuart sneaks into the washroom.  At the first opportunity, the children hide in the WWII bomb shelter, each crawling onto a bunker and under a dusty blanket.
After the museum closes for the day, they head to the room that houses the Horten machines.  With his screwdriver, Stuart manages to remove the metal plate from the machine that used to stand at the gas station.  He inserts a coin and retrieves a Top Marks Tire Repair Kit.  While April goes to the washroom to pry open a window in anticipation of their escape, Stuart moves onto the third mechanism, a try-your-strength machine that used to be on the fairgrounds.  He slides in the threepenny bit, swings the mallet and reaches for the ticket that pops out, only someone else’s hand beats him to it.  He looks up to find Jeannie Carr and Clifford.
The woman removes the repair kit from Stuart’s pocket, and tries to take him away to question him about the significance of the ticket.  April rescues the boy by pushing a hammer-wielding mannequin into the woman’s path.  Jeannie Carr drops the ticket, and lets go of Stuart, who promptly takes off running.
Safely back at their homes, April and Stuart review their evening and decide that the girl will return to the museum on the following day to see if she can find the missing ticket.  In the meantime, she points out that the Top Marks Tire Repair Kit might refer to the number ten, since ten out of ten would be a top mark.  Cheered by the fact that he and April are making progress in finding Uncle Tony’s workshop, Stuart goes into his house, only to discover that his parents have planned a surprise weekend outing that will take him away from Beeton until after his great-uncle’s house is demolished.  Desperate, he leaves a note for April informing her of his departure and asking her please to try opening the safe.
April does as Stuart asks.  She returns to the museum and finds the missing ticket, which reads “You’ll need to double your efforts to get the right result!”  However, try as she may, April cannot get the safe open.  Stuart returns to Uncle Tony’s house on Monday afternoon to find his friend perched on top of the backhoe, refusing to come down.  Realizing she is trying to give him time to sneak in and get into the safe, he slips around to the back of the house and make his way to the chimney.  The boy has spent the weekend thinking about Tony Horten and his clues.  Armed with the final clue from the try-your-strength machine, he is able to open the safe and retrieve a small padlock key.
Back at April’s house, Stuart tells his new friend that he knows where the entrance to Uncle Tony’s secret workshop is hidden.  A good look at a three-dimensional model of wartime Beeton, a recollection of something Leonora said, and a weekend visit to neolithic tomb have provided the answer.  Grounded following their escapades at the museum and on the backhoe, and followed by Jeannie Carr’s apprentice Clifford, Stuart and April will have to plan this final stage in their adventure very carefully.  Of course, neither could possibly imagine just how thrilling and truly miraculous that final stage will be.
Written by Lissa Evans, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms recounts the very strange adventures of Stuart Horten as he tracks down the clues to the whereabouts of a secret workshop left behind in old coin-operated machines by his magician uncle Tony Horten who vanished fifty years earlier.  Filled with mechanical devices and magic, a decade-old mystery, and one very determined ten-year-old boy, this lovely book is bound to appeal to readers from Grade 4.  Thank you to Devon, in Grade 3, who insisted that I should read this book!
FernFolio Editor