CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 12 . . . . February 16, 2001
The two fish descended rapidly, cutting through the deep watery recesses of the earth. It grew totally dark, but Misha realized that his fish senses didn't mind. Somehow he could "see" in the dark, but it was more like sensing than seeing. This world of swirling water tasted full of information as it flowed in through his mouth and out through the gills on the side of his neck. He instinctively knew how to avoid the strong currents and when his body could slip easily through a small gap. He could feel where the water was swirling against a rocky bump and fishtail around it, and he could "taste" the scent of the great sturgeon he was following.Whether or not a child becomes a lifetime reader is largely dependent on that child's early reading experiences. Therefore, it is important that first chapter books provide strong reading incentives. They should be written in language with which early readers are comfortable, yet they should provide appropriate challenges so that language skills continue to grow. And even though they are intended for budding readers, the stories told in these books should be as tantalizing as the ones in more sophisticated novels.
Andrea Spalding's latest offering accomplishes all these things. Children will be hooked from the moment they pick the book up--the title is intriguing, the cover is spooky, and though the book is a healthy 119 pages, the large font makes reading smooth and brisk. The story is narrated in a "meanwhile, back at the ranch" style, alternating between the opposing camps--the hero's and that of the crows, and Spalding sets the hook early by opening the story with the crows.
The Keeper and the Crows is a fantasy adventure. When Misha comes to visit his favorite aunt at her new cottage in Belfountain, Ontario, he becomes immediately aware of the strange behavior of the many crows that roost near his Aunt Dora's home. It isn't long before the reason behind the strange, aggressive actions of these birds becomes clear, and Misha finds himself in the middle of a power struggle between his aunt and the crows. Throw in a night spent as a fish, some secret tunnels, a magic bell, a flood, and a thrilling chase scene, and the result is a page turner young readers will have a hard time putting down.
Kristin Butcher lives in Victoria and writes for children.
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