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on November 13, 2012
One of the greatest pleasures for a child is to read a book written for them by an adult who understands imagination and creativity. Helen Phillips is such an author. Her world, as depicted in Here Where the Sunbeams are Green, is peopled by clever, funny children, parents who are a little wacky and strange, and takes place in a spectacular and peculiar setting. She has a great grasp on the way children think, and a good idea of how to present her characters so as to draw children 10 and up into her tale.

Madeline and her sister Ruby (Mad and Roo) are the daughters of an intrepid Bird Watcher/Scientist. He is known for his enthusiasm for his work, and his dedication to studying rare species of avian life. He has headed into the Central American jungle, searching for a bird long thought to be extinct. (Great ecological and environmental issues are present as well; something that will appeal to parents too!)

Unfortunately, his study/work time keeps getting extended, and extended again, and Mad, Roo and their Mom are worried. When a bizarre letter arrives, purportedly from their Dad, this worry becomes a full-blown panic. The annoyingly personable boss, Neth, (nicknamed by Mad) finally agrees to accompany the family to where their Dad is: Lava Bird Volcano.

Once the family is at La Lava Resort and Spa, a "green" getaway in the heart of Central America, confusion and mystery begins to mount. Is the Lava-Throated Volcano Trogon really extinct? Did it (does it?) really have the mysterious ability to restore lost youth? Do the owners of the Resort and Spa have an evil, devilish plan to use this rare bird to promote their spa, and products? Why is Mad and Roo's ornithologist father, Dr. James Wade, unable to come home with them? Why does their mother, Sylvia, seem so confused about, and perhaps even enamored of, Neth?

The book weaves a powerful yet enchanting story, one that encompasses environmental issues without overwhelming young readers and while presenting a mystery that they will want to solve. The book may be a bit too long for readers at the lower end of the scale (10 and 11 year olds) but parents can read it out loud, and create a special time of entertainment and education. There are clever comedic touches, and wonderfully realistic sibling arguments, which will draw the young reader into the imaginary world of green sunbeams...and rare avian species.

If there are children in your life that love mysteries, and humor, this book will definitely have appeal. Author Phillips, in her first foray into writing for children, has hit a homerun!

by Laura Strathman Hulka
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon November 13, 2012
Here Where the Sunbeams are Green by Helen Phillips follows sisters Mad and Roo who have traveled to Central America to find their father who is a bird expert who wrote a strange letter to Roo. As soon as they land they notice that things in the Lava Bird Volcano area are very strange. The sisters will use their magic and their smarts to solve the mystery and save an endangered bird whose very existence is important to the safety of the community.

This is a delightful and magical book. I loved Roo and Mad who are both strong female heroines who were complex and interesting. The green message of the book was fantastic and one that kids will enjoy. While I did have problems being engaged at the beginning of the book the vague creepiness that was evident kept me hooked and I was glad that I kept with it. The story was original and magical.

Appropriateness: There is no adult content in this book and it is more creepy than scary. There is a bit of romance in a does he like me way that is appropriate for a young middle school character. I would recommend this book to readers 9-14
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on January 11, 2013
Madeline Wade, her little sister Roo and their mother are in an unsteady, tiny airplane high above the jungle. Mad doesn't like to admit how scared she is; after all, she is 12 years old --- and Roo, at nine, is thoroughly enjoying this escapade. Then again, Mad knows that Roo is the adventurous sibling, while she tends to be way more cautious. Also, Mad has been jumpier since The Weirdness began.

Her father, a bird expert, has been in the South American jungle working for a spa and resort called La Lava. Dad has been gone for months. At first, he called and sent letters, which were often in code for the benefit of Roo, who loves to crack codes. After a while, though, Dad quit contacting his family. The last letter he sent Mad thinks of as "The Very Strange and Incredibly Creepy Letter" because he wrote out a weird poem on it and surrounded the poetry with disturbing drawings of flowers. Now, whenever Mom calls the La Lava Spa and Resort, she reaches a woman who, in her chilly but beautiful voice, informs her that Dad is deep in the jungle, doing very important work. According to the woman, he can't contact them and "sends all the love in his heart," which suspiciously does not sound at all like anything Dad would be caught dead saying.

Kenneth Candy, the man who found this new job for Mad's father, is along for the ride as the three family members travel to meet up with their father and husband. Candy is so chummy with Mom that it literally gives Mad a stomach ache. In fact, Ken/Neth (as Mad dubs him after he requests she call him "Ken") acts like he is now Mad and Roo's father, translating Spanish for the non-Spanish-speaking family members and giving them advice, while somehow seeming to be under the impression he's dealing with toddlers. Ken/Neth insisted on coming along on this trip to help them, but he definitely grates on Mad's nerves.

When they land at the tiny airport, a posh van picks them up. Ken/Neth sits in front with the driver, where they murmur inaudibly. Mad is surprised when they pull up at the rather run-down Selva Lodge. It seems kids are not welcome at La Lava, a fact that sends the sisters into a rage. They cool down in the motel pool until they need to make a run to the souvenir shop to buy sunscreen. In the shop, a teenaged boy with golden eyes mans the counter. It is their first glimpse of Kyle, who will become an important person in their upcoming adventure, but first comes their long-awaited reunion with Dad...who they find hunched over a table, holding his head in his hands. Dad is not happy to see them; in fact, he looks furious. He claims he has important work to do and no time for family members.

Things soon get even stranger for Mad. Her mother attends yoga classes, which seem to turn her into a smiling zombie. At Roo's insistence, the sisters, with Kyle, begin exploring the jungle in an attempt to figure out what is troubling Dad. They are soon deep in a suspenseful and daring rescue adventure that, although it endangers their lives, has such an urgent goal, they can't possibly turn away from it.

HERE WHERE THE SUNBEAMS ARE GREEN is a totally captivating page-turner (can you say, "instant classic?"). It has a winning cast of characters: Mad and her family seem so real, readers might believe they've met them before. Mad is a sympathetic heroine whose internal struggle to believe in herself perfectly meshes with her external journey to save her family. In addition, themes of animal extinction and society's superficial emphasis on physical beauty add layers to a gripping adventure story set in a colorful locale.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon
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Oh, middle grade books, you are just so delightful. One of my goals this year is to read more of them, because I've had such good experiences with all of my middle grade selections. Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green is the latest success. Phillips' debut is enchanting, full of adventure, nature, and a little bit of magic.

For those who like to indulge wanderlust with fiction, Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green is a real treat. Set in the jungles of Central America, the descriptions are as lush and verdant as the landscape being described. Phillips captures both the beauty and the danger inherent in such a setting, from the poisonous bright-colored tree frogs to the daily monsoon-like rains. The descriptions bring this Central American jungle to life.

Using this setting, Phillips conveys important messages about modern society's treatment of the environment and extinction of natural species. In Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green, the two young heroines and Kyle, a new (cute) friend, team up to save a species of bird, the Lava-Throated Volcano Trogon, from final extinction. A Lazarus species, the LTVTs were already thought extinct once, but now they are being hunted to death for sinister purposes, and, for some reason, their father, a bird expert and lover, is involved. Phillips manages to get her environmental messages across organically, without any preaching.

My very favorite aspect of the story is the dose of magical realism that Helen Phillips added into the mix. La Lava, the plush resort Madeline and Ruby's father works for, is located next to an active volcano, one not believed to blow for another hundred years. However, this volcano's explosive tendencies correlate with the health of the LTVTs. If they die out, the volcano will explode. There are also these giant flowers that can be used as umbrellas if you push the right spot, and glowing mushrooms. These little magical touches really brought the story to life, adding a cinematic touch that middle graders will love.

Mad makes a rather unique heroine. Middle grade MCs tend to be funny and plucky kids, adventurous and brave. Mad, on the other hand, fears pretty much everything and envies the confidence and talents of her younger sister. Mad's jealousy of Roo does wear a bit thin, but I was so happy when Mad finally realized her own strengths. Roo does seem a little bit too magical and clever, though, so Mad's inferiority complex does make a bit of sense. For example, Roo picks up Spanish in just a couple days.

The plot follows pretty standard middle grade lines. Ruby and Mad's parents, while ordinarily loving and pleasant, have been made to act not like themselves. To restore their parents, Roo and Mad have to complete a quest, using ingenuity and determination. Along the way, Roo has a first crush. It's all very cute and empowering, if not anything out of the ordinary.

Helen Phillips transports you to another place and takes you on a journey through the jungles. Her skill at description and timely message make Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green a wonderful choice for middle grade readers (and older ones too).
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on December 8, 2012
Imaginative and descriptive pulling the reader right into the story. A storyline unlike any other I have read. Loved the "green" theme and crazy parental adventures. The relationship between sisters in this book is one that all should envy and or emulate!
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on April 20, 2013
I was really looking forward to reading this book because the description sounded amazing. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to even finish this tale. It is tragically drawn out and takes forever to establish what is going to happen in the story. I stopped at pg. 129 and we had just figured out what the problem was. Up until then it seems to be one exhaustive description after another (Frequently repeated).

And truthfully, I didn't enjoy the characters. Mom is uninvolved, Roo is obnoxious, and Mad is so clueless it is hard to believe.

Hope the next book is better.
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on March 9, 2013
I have enjoyed reading this book and found the characters believable and interesting, and the setting well developed by the author. I would recommend it to book readers ages 10 and up.
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on March 4, 2013
What a terrific book! This book is completely different from Helen's first book, which was definitely for adults, but it's just as much fun! What a great novel for young adults, and what a fun read for adults, too. Thanks for bringing us such a great read.
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on July 21, 2013
This book is creative and descriptive, and a page turner all the way. The plot is so different from anything else I've read, and I fell into a trance as soon as I started reading. You won't regret reading this book!!!!!
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on February 4, 2014
I loved everything about this book!! This book has so many fantastic life lessons!! Mad, Roo, and Kyle are such great role models!!!:)
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