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rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve been finding this shelved as YA, but to me it had that classic children’s adventure feel, reminiscent of Lloyd Alexander in the blend of history and fantasy and adventure. Although the action mainly follows a woman bodyguard, Balsa, there’s nothing here that would make the story inappropriate for middle school. There’s plenty of martial arts, for those of you who are interested in those things, described in a way that makes sense to people like me. There’s a strong fantasy element, mainly through the young prince who Balsa has been hired to protect – the “guardian of the spirit” – complete with a fantastically creepy many-legged creature.
But what really stood out for me was the great character building – even the minor characters seem to live and breath. It looks like the next book in the series will be published in the US this year – I look forward to it, and I’m sure to recommend them to kids looking for a good new fantasy series with some meat on its bones.
Also, I don’t know anything about the challenges of translating from Japanese to English, but the prose is lovely and rich without overwhelming the story – I would say it well deserves its Batchelder Award for translation. And the production quality is great, too, with nice thick pages and plenty of decorations that add to the mood of the story.
For a few years now, I’ve followed the Tournament of Books, where books fight it out in semi-serious, semi-rediculous judged matches. An alternative to sports for those of us who are oblivious to the existence of sports. I’ve always liked the concept of the TOB – in part because the creators admit to the whole thing being unfair and a bizarre way to discuss books, and because it highlights the inherent unfairness of book awards, and because it’s just fun.
The problem, though, is that I haven’t usually read enough of the books to have a real opinion. And reading about the rest of them doesn’t make me want to rush out and read them. This year I did pretty well, since I happened to have picked up a few they chose. I’d already read Netherland, The Lazarus Project, Unaccustomed Earth, and that lone and much-discussed YA title, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. I’d also listened to a bit of Home and heard a podcast of Toni Morrison reading a few chapters of A Mercy. But with the exception of Frankie, I didn’t really care about the various matches. These aren’t the types of books that I discuss passionately and would defend to the death.
Enter School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books. Kids’ books. Now this is my territory. I’ve heard of grade school BOBs, where the kids read the books and argue/defend them, but this version has celebrity judges. And by celebrity, I mean my kind of celebrity – authors and the like. Authors I’ve read, which means I’ll read their opinions with all that background info. Anyway, I’m madly putting things on hold so I can be opinionated as well – and I’ve already read 10 titles. Round 1 is April 13 – and the schedule can be found at the link.