Saturday, July 10, 2010

What do you get when you cross Chasing Vermeer with Coraline?

Recommended for grades 3-6

The Shadows by Jacqueline West, the first book in a new series entitled The Books of Elsewhere. The plot sounds eerily similar to Coraline by Neil Gaiman—Olive and her parents have just moved. Olive sets about exploring the house, finds an alternate world (Elsewhere), is determined to figure out the mystery surrounding this world, and while her parents are absent has a battle against the evil force that wants to keep her trapped in Elsewhere. Where does the Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett part come in? Elsewhere can only be accessed through paintings that are throughout the house (oh, and a pair of spectacles).

Olive discovers that her house is already occupied by three talking cats. The main cat is Horatio, who has a very dry sense of humor. My appreciation for that brand of humor must be increasing because I found myself laughing out loud at several parts of the story.

A chain reaction is set off when Olive enters the first portrait and meets a little (real?) boy, Morton, whom she takes back with her into the real world. Horatio warns Olive to restrain herself from entering more portraits because “he” will start to notice. Olive does consider Horatio’s warning, but continues into the portraits throughout the house. She is lonely and bored and this is her only form of adventure in a new neighborhood where everyone on the street is old enough to be her grandparent.

While Olive is in the paintings she notices shadows that move of their own accord and swirl throughout the night sky. When she questions the subjects within the paintings, they hush her as soon she wants to know who’s behind it all. It turns out that Olive has caught the attention of Mr. McMartin, who was the original owner of the house. He is the artist behind these paintings that he bewitched. Did I mention he’s been dead for over 100 years? He makes his ominous return with the help of an unsuspecting ally. Who can Olive trust?

Typically, the first book in a series leaves you on a cliff hanger, but The Shadows won’t leave any reader frustrated in that respect. It does leave one wondering what Olive’s next adventure will be. Will she be able to rescue all the people Mr. McMartin trapped in the painting of Linden Street? Will she figure out how to bring Morton back to a more human state, so he can finally go back home?

Check out The Books of Elsewhere website, especially the book trailer!

West, J. (2010). The Shadows. New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers.

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