There are certain books that a certain type of bookish woman is almost certain to have read and loved during her formative years - Harriet the Spy, The Westing Game, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. These books made a pretty big impression on me. Even now, when I have to do something unpleasant, I have to fight the urge to throw my hands up in the air and yell, "I'll be finked if I go to dancing school!" And if you don't occasionally want to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, well, your imagination is probably a dead, withered place.
I'm always surprised to see how many books I read 20 years ago are still in print. Heck, kids still read Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret, Teenage Softies references and all. But sadly, a lot of good ones have fallen by the wayside. For my latest experiment in themed reading, I'm going to dig up some of these titles.
Because I don't want to live in a world where future generations can't read Lois Lowry's Autumn Street and be emotionally scarred by it.
First up, The Owlstone Crown by X.J. Kennedy
Timothy and Verity Tibb are orphans who live on a farm with the evil Grimbles, who force them to farm parsnips in the dead of winter, and spend countless hours sticking labels onto bottles of a quack home remedy made of... parsnips. Life is bleak. Until one night they are visited by Lewis O. Ladybug, an insect private investigator, who tells the kids that their grandparents are alive, if not well, and living in a parallel universe. Of course, the kids disobey orders and follow Lew back through the portal, hoping to escape the Grimbles and reunite their family. On the other side, they find a world identical to their own, but somehow much, much worse. Other Earth has been taken over by an evil dictator who calls himself Raoul Owlstone and is holding half the population prisoner, including Timothy and Verity's grandparents. You can guess what the kids have to do next.
This book has great characters and a seriously inventive plot (I haven't even given away the best parts). Also, any book that manages to sneak in references to Hamlet AND Ross MacDonald is aces in my book.