Eggbert Masterson, or Egg, is the youngest son of a plantation owner on the wretched island of Deadweather. One fateful day, his father makes a discovery that sends the family packing to nearby Sunrise Island for a consultation with an attorney. Shortly after, Egg finds himself the sole heir of a mysterious legacy - and the target of deadly foes. His rough world breeds colorful characters, including a spirited heroine, multifaceted villains, and lots of pirates. This first volume in the Chronicles of Egg might be best described as a cross between Treasure Island and Candide - and a good, old-fashioned adventure yarn.
The Tootings' adventures begin when Dad announces he's been fired. The best news ever-now they can travel! But once on the road, the old camper van Dad bought appears to have a mind of her own, insisting on a change of headlights, tires, fenders, and finally a full transformation that includes flight capability. Ian Fleming's heirs tapped Boyce to continue Fleming's only children's novel, and they chose wisely. The author knows how to have fun with the exaggerated characters, cool gadgets, and outlandish villains of a James-Bond-like scenario-not to mention the ultimate cliffhanger, ensuring more titles in the series.
Artemis Fowl, a child prodigy and son of an Irish crime lord, made his first appearance in 2001, riding the Harry Potter wave. But even though Artemis deals with fairies and trolls and other fantasy creatures, he has no magical powers, just a brilliant mind and a ruthless streak that is slowly tempered over the next seven volumes. The Last Guardian wraps up the series with Artemis as a young man who's grown in compassion and even humility. The complex plots weave elements of crime and science fiction, myth, and fairy tale in a way that appeals to readers 12 and older.
This trilogy began with Once, the story of 10-year-old Felix, who escapes a Polish Catholic orphanage because he's convinced his Jewish parents are looking for him. But the world has changed since they left him there for safekeeping: Nazis have overrun Poland and Felix understands gradually that their aim is to eliminate people like him. Now is told by Felix's granddaughter, living under a burden of history in present-day Australia. Though the books are short and the narrative simple, they are not for readers younger than 13 - but as an eloquent and understated testimony of the Holocaust, they are unmatched.
Every children's book editor knows the "kill the parents" principle - meaning the necessity of letting juvenile heroes of juvenile fiction solve problems for themselves, with little or no parental intervention. Gertrude Chandler Warner's Boxcar Children series began with a literal example: Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, orphaned by a tragic accident, run away and eventually make their home in an abandoned boxcar.
If you ever wondered about their previous family life, The Boxcar Children Beginning pictures the four siblings with their parents at Fair Meadow Farm. The prequel is written by Patricia MacLachlan, author of Sarah Plain and Tall, whose spare, poignant voice is a natural for the bucolic setting and quiet story. Young readers will easily segue from Beginning to Warner's Boxcar Children, though adults will wonder why the illustrations seem to date from the 1970s instead of the original 1940s.