Because of Winn-Dixie
by Kate DiCamillo
(Candlewick Press; Boston) $5.99/paperback
For denizens of the South, the title Because of Winn-Dixie is funny.
It doesn't mean much up here. So think of it in Colorado terms ... maybe, Because of King Sooper's.
Winn-Dixie is the name of a large mongrel dog adopted by a lonely young girl in the eponymous grocery store. Unwilling to allow the hungry, friendly, smiling creature to be carted off to the pound after he has wreaked havoc in the produce section, ten-year-old Opal claims the dog as hers, and gives him the first name that pops into mind.
Because of Winn Dixie is a genuinely charming novel, even if its ending is a bit too predictable for an adult reader. In particular, Opal's first-person narration is the perfect pitch for a smart but confused girl who doesn't know how to make friends in a new town, nor ask her preacher father some of the hard questions about why her mother is gone. She is sassy and confused and stubborn, and open enough to learn about some of the strangest characters in her town.
Now the Newberry Honor Book, first published in 2000, has been turned into a soon-to-be-released movie. Before the sweet southern tea of the book gets turned into a saccharine Hollywood tale, check out the real thing by author Kate DiCamillo. It is the real thing for your favorite ten-year old, or for a quick feel-good fix.
-- Andrea Lucard
The Game of Sunken Places
by M.T. Anderson
(Scholastic Press: New York) $16.95/hardcover
The premise of two boys going to visit crazy relatives is not a new one. But Anderson, who penned the award- winning Feed, provides real mystery and creepiness here, enough to satisfy any adventure-lover.
Thirteen-year old Gregory Buchanan goes on vacation with his pal Brian to visit Gregory's eccentric Uncle Max. Upon arriving at the old mansion in Vermont, their clothes are taken away, and the boys are given Victorian- era garb to wear. A bit bored, they find a dusty old board game in the attic, and sit down to play.
In a Jumanji-esque turn of events, the boys find that the fantastical things happening in the game are occurring in the woods outside. Darkness looms, trolls lurk, and a freaky creature named Gelt the Winnower skulks nearby. To solve this Game of Sunken Places, the boys need to go through a series of real-life riddles that will entertain young and older readers alike.
Anderson's previous novels were raw and edgy, with an eye on mature teen readers, but Sunken Places is far lighter in terms of swearing or situation. Though that's not to say that it isn't a fun, suspenseful page turner appropriate for readers aged nine through fourteen.
-- Kara Luger