Flashback Fridays: Cross the highways of fantasy . . .

You’re a teenage girl who finds herself swept out of the contemporary world of Earth and into another world–one of strange people, languages and magic.  It seems you’ve been sent to this world, not on accident, but with a purpose, and that purpose will lead you to adventure.

Do you remember:

The Colors in the Dreamweaver’s Loom by Beth Hilgartener (Houghton Mifflin, c1989)

I was thinking about old favorites the other day and this book, the first of a duology, sprang to mind.  Whenever it was I found this, it was a huge  hit with me, despite the rather mouthful of a title.  I mean, a girl struggling with her own sadness and pain gets zapped into another world?  In that world she’s found and taken in by a peaceful group of forest people, and taught their language.  Alexandra Scarsdale in her own world, here she is T’san, which means stranger.  The Orathi believe that T’san has been sent to them with some special purpose–and when folks come from the city with demands, T’san believes her destiny must involve protecting the people who have taken her in.  She journeys to the city with her young friends, twins with special gifts of their own.  She goes to parley with the ruler of the city, but instead finds herself on a greater journey, one where she will gather other friends and allies along the way.

The goal of that journey is to gather a person of each type from the world and gain a god or goddesses own blessing and decree that the Forest people are protected.  T’san joins up with an odd cast of characters, each who is a misfit in their own culture and has struggled with their differences.  Through the journey, each learns how to harness their own set of abilities to help the others in order to reach their final destination.  But that destination turns out to be only half the story . . .

This is one of those books that you really will find perplexing in the “wait–what?  that’s the end?!!” kind of way.  The author leaves our characters with so many particular issues unresolved and new problems to deal with, that it doesn’t seem fair that the book should end like that. Fortunately there is a sequel.

The Feast of the Trickster (1991)

On the plus side, the second book in the duology definitely wraps up the story and lets readers know what is happening with our characters.  On the less positive side for those readers who loved how the first half of this story was set in the fantasy realm and wish for more of the same, a good portion of the story is actually set on contemporary Earth (1980s Earth) with our fantasy characters trying to find T’san (Alexandra).  While the story is an interesting one, our main characters take a back seat to newer characters for much of the plot, and it goes in a direction that readers probably would not have predicted.

I’d say I prefer the first half of the story but can’t deny there was some satisfaction having it wrapped up in the second half.  Also, there’s a certain strangeness to finding beloved fantasy characters you were so used to in their own realm suddenly landing in contemporary Earth world.  I have to wonder if I would have found these books quite as appealing had the fantasy tropes in them been more familiar to me at the time.  The fantasy world, while well-written and enjoyable to travel through, is not wholly unfamiliar.   Peaceful forest folk, warlike city-folk, fierce desert tribes,  a range of gods and goddesses with their own whims . . . it’s possible that half the enjoyment of this story was it was some of my first exposure to these elements.  Although I had come across some of the swords and sorcery fantasy stuff in Tamora Pierce’s  Song of the Lioness quartet, this changed the focal point, putting a contemporary character in the hero slot–allowing the reader to imagine they’d gotten swept up into a fantasy story.  Overall in the first book, T’san acts a bit more as a cipher character for readers.  It’s not that she lacks personality at all, but rather her back story and former life are put at a remove, and not really part of the adventure for this tale.  T’san, like the reader, has been thrown into this other world and now must adapt to it and grow to understand it.

While this is a teen story line with a romance, things remain fairly lightweight and perfectly fine for tween readers.  Given the nature of the story itself, it probably remains a better fit for the younger set of readers.  I’m honestly surprised this has never been reprinted or made available in an e-book format.  While I can understand that the contemporary setting in the second book is fairly dated, that’s true of many interworld fantasies, but it hasn’t prevented them from being enjoyed.

Sadly, Beth Hilgartner, the author of this series wrote fairly few books for children and YA audiences overall.  Other than this duology, I think all of her other titles remain firmly in YA.  I’ve always been a bit disappointed that that there isn’t more fantasy out there by this author.  She has an interesting approach to her stories and creates characters that are flawed and appealing at the same time. And this particular duology has stuck with me over the years, despite the hundreds of other fantasy stories I’ve read and enjoyed.

Any other fans out there?  Comments welcome!

A Tuesday Ten: Inventors and Scientists Wanted

I’ve been saying how we need to see more characters in fiction who are role models and inspirations for the fields of invention and scientific exploration.  Below I’ve pulled together ten books on the topic.  A few are classic examples, but there are a number of very new titles that have got me hoping that we’re seeing an upward trend.


The Water Castle by Megan Fraser Blakemore (Walker Books, 2013)

A book that combines contemporary fiction, mystery, historical fiction and scientific pursuit with just a touch of science fiction. Young Ephraim lives in a huge old house where his science-minded ancestor was doing research and trying to discover the fountain of youth.  The entire book looks at the value of exploration, research and investigation into the sciences as Ephraim and his friends follow clues to uncover an old secret.



Marveltown by Bruce McCall (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008)

One of several picture books on this list.  This one features a super-city where all the kids are encouraged to compete with inventions.  But when things go wrong in the city, it’s up to the kids’ ingenuity to rescue the adults and the city from danger.


Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone by Victor Appleton (Grosset & Dunlap, c1914)

Perhaps the original scientist/inventor series for kids;  the first Tom Swift Series is well over a hundred years old.  But what it envisioned in its time was amazing.  Yes, this was a boy’s adventure serial where the writing was sometimes silly and the plots are severely dated, but the scientific adventures in these books predicted many of the inventions we take for granted today.  One hundred years ago this particular title was published, in this day and age we take our cell phones for granted.   Many of earlier generations of scientists were inspired by books like these as kids–which is why we need to see more like them.



Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Brian Biggs (Amulet, 2014)

One of my 2014 titles!  Frank Einstein is determined to win this year’s science competition–and he just may do it when his attempts to achieve artificial intelligence meet with some success!  Frank creates two delightfully hysterical robot assistants who may just help him win the competition with an antimatter motor.  That is, if T. Edison and his chimp assistant (Frank’s nemesis) don’t manage to steal his ideas for themselves!  Fun funny and the first in a series!



Hive Mind by Timothy J. Bradley (Argosy Press, 2013)

The Sci Hi series  is based on the idea of science exploration and technological discovery.  In this near-future world, certain kids are chosen to join Sci-Hi, a school devoted to science.  Our protagonists wind up on science fictional adventures: in this book, they’re shrunk down to tiny size to explore the inside of a bee colony in order to study Colony Collapse Disorder.  Each book in the series combines science fictional fun with real science fact and theory to give kids taste for further research.


Pirate, Viking & Scientist by Jared Chapman (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Expected Publication November 2014)

Another 2014 title, this one a picture book I couldn’t resist including.  It’s not so much science fictional as fantasy, but I’d say it does it’s job in promoting a scientific approach to problem solving.  Our young scientist has two friends: Pirate and Viking.  Neither of these characters get along with each other, and that’s causing problems.  So our scientist decides to start problem solving through investigation and diagrams to figure out how to get his friends to get along with each other.  Problem solving and the “try, try again” message is well played–as is a good lesson on diplomacy in action!


Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin (Pocket Books, c1956)

Another older series of books with science adventures, the  Danny Dunn series  is about fifty years old at this point, but was still on the bookshelves when I was a kid.  Danny may not know a lot about science himself, but his friend and role model Professor Bullfinch is a topnotch scientist inventing all kinds of strange stuff.  Of course, curious Danny can’t help but investigate, and winds up in some precarious situations.  Upbeat science adventure tales–these were the kind of books that excited me because it felt like these discoveries could be right around the corner.


Robots Rule: The Junkyard Bot by C.J. Richards (HMH books, Expected publication: October 2014)

And another 2014 title (do you see a pattern here?)!  This lightweight futuristic adventure introduces us to math whiz George Gearing who is living in a town where most of the day-to-day stuff is done by robots.  George lives with his grandfather by a junkyard, but he dreams of one day being able to use his programming skills for more than creating his own junkyard robot.  A conspiracy in his home town leads him to uncover a dangerous plot involving robots at Tinkertech Enterprises, and only George can stop them!  There’s a book trailer to be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tg8WwvnANzE


Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat (Disney-Hyperion, 2010)

One of two wild picture books featuring our intrepid young scientist and science fair competitor.  What does our “mad” scientist type build for her science project?  A giant robot of course.  Naturally, the giant robot winds up going on a rampage that could destroy  everything and it’s up to our scientist protagonist to stop it!  Fun and funny and while this tends towards the  “mad” scientist  trope, it’s one of the few books to feature a female protagonist, so I wanted to include it here!


The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm (Random House Books, August 2014)

My final 2014 title, and number ten on the list!  Young Ellie thought she had enough trouble navigating her first year of middle school and dealing with the loss of her best friend.  But now there’s a cranky teenager living in her house–a teen who is actually her grandfather, Melvin.  He’s discovered a formula that reverses the aging process, and tested it upon himself!  Now he’s thirteen and locked out of his own lab!  Melvin decides to recruit Ellie into helping him break into his lab and rescue his research–and in the process he introduces her to the fascinating world of science and scientists.  I loved reading this contemporary fic science fiction work and hope to review it soon!


So here are my ten.  I still think we need more books like these–and especially more titles featuring female protagonists!  If you’ve any titles to add, please comment below!



Flashback Fridays: A dream of trees . . .

You’re a girl on the verge of adolescence who winds up in an accident–it’s a severe accident that destroys your body.  Your grieving scientist parents decide to save you through the only means they know how . . .

Do you remember:

Eva by Peter Dickinson (Laurel Leaf, c1988)

This is one of those . . .odd books that is hard to classify and sell to readers.  But then I generally find Peter Dickinson to be an odd sort of writer.  Not bad, mind you, just . . . odd.  And Eva is certainly in keeping with this rule.

Just a warning there are some mild spoilers below.  So if you haven’t read the book and would rather not be enlightened as to the plot, you may want to skip over the below text.  It’s one of those books where it’s rather impossible to avoid discussing the key plot point.

Eva is a thirteen-year-old girl growing up in a dystopian vision of the future.  Her world is overpopulated, the natural resources are running out and many animals have gone extinct.  Her scientist parents work with chimpanzees and so Eva has been around them most of her life.  But when a horrific accident nearly kills her and puts her in a coma, her parents come up with the only solution they can think of to save their daughter.  They put the mind of Eva into the body of a chimpanzee.  The transplant of mind and personality isn’t easy, but it is successful.  Eva wakes up from her coma trying to puzzle out why everything is so strange for her.  Only gradually does she realize what’s been done.

Her parents have engineered a device for her that allows her to key in speech, and slowly Eva begins to adapt to her new form.  But she’s still in the body of a chimp and her freedom of self is limited at best–she’s in the body of an animal, one that has no rights and is owned by others.  Where does that leave Eva? And even is no longer just a human girl–she’s a human mind influenced by chimpanzee body instincts, leaving her with a foot in both worlds and some hard choices to make as to her own future.

This is a very dark, poignant and powerful look at a future.  It’s not all that favorable to the outcome for humans, but gives readers a lot of food for thought.  Some readers today might lump this in as “just another dystopian novel” but it was well ahead of the curve of the trend.  This book is in my middle grade as well as teen section and regularly features on at least one summer reading list.  There aren’t easy answers here to anything, but plenty of food for discussion and debate.

Peter Dickinson is an veteran English author and poet who is well known for his children’s and YA books.  Before Eva, he’d explored dystopian themes with his The Changes trilogy where the people of England suddenly and inexplicably develop an antipathy to all trappings of technology.  His books are usually thoughtful and full of societal observations.  Some of these can be very grim indeed.

This is perhaps my favorite book by the author.  I certainly wouldn’t say it’s for everyone.  The story itself is pretty depressing and there are readers who won’t respond well to that darkness in the story.  The fact that it doesn’t follow along typical story arcs means it’s not necessarily going to be a comfortable read–but then, I don’t think it was ever meant to be one.

Any other fans of Peter Dickinson’s work out there?

comments welcome!


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