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Notable books

Notable Books | Four books for young readers reviewed by Susan Olasky

Anne of Green Gables

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables, publisher Putnam has issued a special edition of the wonderful novel, first published in 1908. It contains illustrations from the original edition and L.M. Montgomery's deft writing: She depicted with affection the strait-laced Presbyterian community of Avonlea and poked gentle fun at her characters' prejudices, while affirming the basic truth of their worldview.

Anne-the 11-year-old orphan who comes to Avonlea and turns Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert's staid world upside down-is funny, deeply loyal (she also holds long grudges), impulsive, mistake-prone (but never the same mistake twice), and plagued by her red hair and freckles.

100 Cupboards

Nate Wilson's protagonist in this adventure series is Henry York, a boy so cosseted by his overprotective parents that he was still riding in a child's car seat at the age of 9. When his travel-writing parents go missing, he comes to live with his Aunt Dotty and Uncle Frank and their three children in isolated Henry, Kansas.

He discovers behind one plastered wall of his bedroom 100 tiny cupboards. As he uncovers the cupboards and opens their doors, he finds portals into different worlds. He lets loose from one cupboard a witch and her cat, then makes his way back just in time to save his family from the witch. Wilson's frenetic writing and off-the-charts imagination will thrill fantasy-loving middle readers.

Annie's War

With Annie's father missing in action after World War II, her mother perseveres. Eleven-year-old Annie goes to live with her grandmother and Uncle Billy, a bitter veteran who takes his anger out on Miss Gloria, a young black woman who comes to work at the grandmother's general store.

Annie loves her grandma and Miss Gloria, who teach her about colorblind friendship. She also wants her daddy to come home, and wants desperately to fix what's changed her playful uncle into a hate-filled thug. Annie develops an imaginary friend in President Harry Truman, who comforts, inspires, and encourages her. Through her family's troubles, the young girl learns about love, sacrifice, and forgiveness.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

This 500-page-long National Book Award finalist and 2008 Caldecott winner is neither traditional picture book nor novel. Most pages have gorgeous black-and-white pencil drawings that illustrate long sequences of action interrupted by occasional pages of text.

The pictures are lovely, but the story is probably more interesting to adults and fans of movie history than to kids. It involves young Hugo, who tends the clocks in a Paris train station and tries to fix a strange invention left behind by his clockmaker father who died in a fire. Hugo hides from the stationmaster, stealing food to stay alive, but a cranky toyshop owner and a bookish girl discover his secrets, and he discovers theirs.

Spotlight

Before Green Gables, the authorized prequel to Anne of Green Gables, fills in the 11 years of Anne's life before Matthew Cuthbert first spies her at the train station. Budge Wilson tries to show the origin of Anne's imagination and love of life by building on the sketchy history provided in the original book-the death of Anne's parents when she was 3 months old, and her life with the Thomases (where the father was a drunk) and then with the Hammonds, where she helped care for the family's three sets of twins.

The prequel includes moving moments, but it is much darker than the original novel. While the original hinted at sadness in Anne's early life, to read about it in detail for 300 pages is often depressing. Even though Anne meets teachers who spark her imagination and carries on delightful conversations with imaginary friends Katie Maurice and Violetta, Before Green Gables is too dreary to become a much beloved friend-and maybe that's why L.M. Montgomery never wrote it herself.

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