British boy with catchy name and unusual powers, check. Wild hair, check. Students at boarding school, check. Owls and funny street names, check. Mysterious shape-shifting enemies out to get the affable boy protagonist, check. Jenny Nimmo's "Children of the Red King" series (starring Charlie Bone) has so many of the same trappings as the Harry Potter series that, unfortunately, comparison is unavoidable. Rowling's books clearly trump these simpler fantasies for younger readers--but the Charlie Bone books are finding their audience in those who need a boy-wizard fix and need it now.
Charlie Bone and the Invisible Boy, the third book in the author's planned quintet, begins when the magically "endowed" Charlie and his friend Emma discover a mostly invisible, strawberry jam-loving boy named Ollie Sparks imprisoned in the attic of the Hogwartsian Bloor's Academy. Ollie's plight is part of a seemingly amorphous Larger Evil Plot involving school authorities, a blue boa, and Charlie's three horrible great aunts. Charlie Bone and his friends are eager to fight wrongdoing with their combination of special powers, but obstacles in all shapes and sizes abound. Can the children rescue Ollie, Charlie's uncle, Ollie's older brother, and the other hapless victims...or are the enemies too plentiful and powerful? Despite the likeable Charlie and a plethora of magical happenings (raining frogs, sorcerers who escape paintings, etc.), reading this 408-page fantasy feels like a bit like running a marathon where the finish line feels farther away with every step. Thankfully, the ending is a happy one. (Ages 10 and older) --Karin Snelson
From School Library Journal
Grade 4-7–In this third installment in the series, another semester at Bloor Academy is about to begin, and, as usual, chaos ensues. At home, Charlie's Uncle Paton disappears, then returns ill and powerless. Charlie's friend Benjamin heads off to Hong Kong, and his grandmother Maisie leaves to take care of her sick sister. At the same time, a new and sinister student named Belle arrives and quickly establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with. A new art teacher has joined the staff to find his younger brother, Ollie Sparks, turned invisible by a blue boa (snake, though there are feathers involved) controlled by the evil Ezekiel Bloor. Charlie and his friends try to come up with ways to help Ollie and Billy Raven, the poor orphan being manipulated and tormented by the Bloor clan. One of the strengths of this story (and the whole series) is the way both regular people and those who are magically endowed work toward common goals. A weakness is the lack of progress toward identifying and rescuing Charlie's father, who is barely mentioned in this outing. Still, it's a wild roller-coaster ride of a story, and will more than satisfy not only fans of this series, but those who are exhibiting symptoms of Harry Potter withdrawal.–Mara Alpert, Los Angeles Public Library
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