July 13, 2006


Ulysses Moore #2: The Long-Lost Map. By Pierdomenico Baccalario.  Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. Translated by Leah Janeczko. Scholastic. $12.99.

Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods: Book Three in the Underland Chronicles. By Suzanne Collins. Scholastic. $5.99.

     Sometimes adults want a book purely for escapism.  Younger readers do, too – and in fact, summertime seems a particularly hospitable season for literature without grand implications.  Either of these reasonably lightweight books will be a fine warm-weather reading experience – and because both are parts of series, you can get others of the same type if you really enjoy these.

     The Long-Lost Map is the lighter of the two books.  Originally written in Italian as La Bottega delle Mappe Dimenticate – a somewhat more evocative title than it has in English – this second Ulysses Moore adventure continues a story that has clear echoes of The Narnia Chronicles, at least in terms of how modern young people are transported to somewhere outlandish.  The protagonists are 11-year-old twins Jason and Julia, and their friend, Rick.  All walk through a magical door – okay, not a wardrobe, but it’s the same general idea – in an old English mansion, and find themselves…in ancient Egypt.  Why there?  No special reason – this series does not bear too-close examination.  In this second entry, the boys become separated from Julia and then meet an Egyptian girl, with whom they go on a quest for the map of the title, which shows a place called Kilmore Cove.  The dialogue, as translated into English, is of this type: “’This is crazy!’ Rick suddenly exclaimed, holding his head in his hands and shouting to the sky.  He looked at his friends. ‘IT’S INSANE!’ ‘Well, okaaay,’ Jason replied. ‘Thanks for sharing, Rick.’”  Take none of this seriously, and realize that it is an adventure aimed squarely at preteens – around the age of the central characters – and you’ll have a book that tries to accomplish little beyond entertainment, and does a nice job within its limited scope.

     The Underland Chronicles are deeper in intent and more serious in approach.  The fourth book, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, recently came out in hardcover, while the third, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, is now available in paperback.  Readers unfamiliar with the underground world where most of the action takes place may have a little trouble acclimating to it if this third book marks their first encounter with Suzanne Collins’ series.  Once you figure out who the good guys and bad guys are, though – and it’s not really too hard – you will quickly get wrapped up in this story of the boy, Gregor, and the rats (and other creatures) in whose subterranean city he has his adventures.  There are dark doings afoot here, as in the first two books of the series, and this time both Gregor and his mother have traveled to Underland to track down the latest curse that it seems to be Gregor’s destiny to defeat.  Some of this story has resonance precisely because of what happened in the earlier books: when one character says, “you did not kill the Bane,” the reference is to the second book, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane.  But the main element of interest here is Gregor as reluctant hero: “The whole time he was down here all he ever wanted to do was get home to his family in one piece.”  And Gregor does get back home, to what the Underlanders call Overland, after averting (or at least postponing) a war – but all is not well when he returns, and the book ends as he is about to recruit another Overlander to help in his next adventure.  Young readers who like this book will want to read that one, too – and the first two volumes as well, to get all the background and understand all the characters better.

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