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Behind the Bookcase Library Binding – October 9, 2012
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-When her grandmother dies, Sarah's family spends a week traveling by car from California to get the dusty and smelly house cleaned up and ready for sale. Sarah's mother has no fond memories of her childhood home or her mother, and the dark corners and strange noises spook timid Sarah. When she finds an unfinished letter written by the grandmother she never knew that refers to "strange things happening behind the bookcase," she is curious and shimmies the bookcase from against the wall and travels to a strange land called Scotopia, where she meets a talking cat, a boy with half a face, a walking hand, and all sorts of strange creatures. This fantasy takes the creepiness of Neil Gaiman's Coraline (HarperCollins, 2002), mixes it liberally with the surrealism of Alice in Wonderland, and adds a dash of Edward Gorey through moody black-and-white illustrations. Readers who are patient with the seeming randomness will soon be rewarded with a suspenseful, magical adventure that, while there is resolution, ends with a promise of a sequel. Sarah and her brother bicker constantly and initially work against each other but soon join forces to prevent the destruction of both our world and Scotopia.-Brenda Kahn, Tenakill Middle School, Closter, NJα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
About the Author
MARK STEENSLAND became a journalist at the age of 18, writing about movies for such magazines as Prevue and American Cinematographer. He has also directed, and produced numerous award-winning films that have played in festivals around the world. Behind the Bookcase is his first novel.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is only like “Coraline” or “Alice in Wonderland” in the broadest sense of type – a fantasy story in which a child magically enters a fantasy world.
This does not at all mean it isn’t a good story, it is! It simply means I believe it should be allowed to be enjoyed and appreciated on its own merits, without expectations it will equal books that have reached top-of-the-class status.
Those who have seen my reading lists over the years have probably noticed that there are two kinds of books I am automatically drawn to, and will snatch up when I come across – time travel stories and kids who magically are transported to a fantasy world.
“Behind the Bookcase” is a solid effort of the second type. My childhood self would have grabbed this one, if it’d been around at the time, and would have enjoyed it.
Finding a secret passage to a magical, fantasy world in your house? Absolutely a favorite premise of mine.
“Truth be told: the place looked creepy. Sarah simply couldn’t believe that anyone she knew-let alone someone from her very own family-could have anything to do with such a house. Never in her life had she seen such a disaster.”
‘”Awesome!” Billy said, with a reverence that thoroughly annoyed his sister. “What could be awesome about this?” “Look at it,” he said, “It’s like a haunted house.”’
It’s hard to say much without spoilers, but world we visit with Sarah is a highly imaginative and original one. People there are certainly very strange. Bathazar, Lefty, Jeb, B. B. And imaginative places such as the Forest of Shadows and streams of moonlight rather than water.
And seriously, what are we teaching kids these days? If you suddenly find yourself in a world that is not ours, populated with strange people, please do keep in mind that while you may find friends and allies, you also may run into villains pretending to be friendly.
This story did several things that are relatively unique for the type. One of which is the traveling back and forth from the “real” word several times, and other things I won’t mention because it’d be a bit of a spoiler. But I really did enjoy this aspect. It added to the adventure and the tension of the plot.
If you’re one who provides Middle Grade books to a young reader who enjoys fantasy, particularly those where an ordinary kid travels to a fantasy world, where things are a bit creepy and things can get tense, this is definitely one to put on their reading list. If they’re like I was at that age they can go through them like candy, and are always on the lookout for another to read.
The story touches upon a fantasy/fictional place where souls go to sleep after we die. This of course isn’t reflective of any real religious beliefs.
My favorite character by far is Balthazat, King of the Cats. What a fun villain! As owner of a cat who consistently wishes to murder me, I found Balthazat a believable evil overlord.
The story works well; there is no character who is playing their full hand and it's hard not to feel uneasy (in that good, ghost story kind of way) as you follow Sarah's adventure. Most importantly, some of the settings and characters are downright creepy. Kelly Murphy's illustrations appear throughout the story to establish a darker mood, and I was certain I'd keep reading as soon as I saw the image of a "sentinel." The story pushes on fast and fantastical; I was a bit frustrated, as I like to linger in strange places, but the plot is intriguing and the hectic pace doesn't change that the pieces of the story are easy to enjoy.
I've read this with one student, who enjoyed it greatly. She liked most of the settings and characters encountered and was eager to talk about creepy moments in the story. I think it's a great fit in a classroom library as a book that is scary without being too dark. For parents, I'd recommend reading ahead through a library before buying for your child. I think it's fairly palatable, but your child's reaction may vary.
I do have two quibbles with the story; the first is that Sarah feels like a vehicle for the events more than a person sometimes. Once you are in a reading groove, though, that issues doesn't matter as much. My second quibble is that some of the text feels too explanatory. Especially when discussing how Sarah feels, there are paragraphs that feel like they could have been done in half the words. Both of these are personal opinions, though, and don't detract too much from the story.
All in all, this is a fun adventure story with nice, spooky atmosphere. Not everyone will like it, but it has so many great scenes and well-timed chills that many kids will love it.
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