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The Bronze Pen

Twelve-year-old Audrey Abbott dreams of becoming a writer, but with her father's failing health and the family's shaky finances, it seems there is no room for what her overworked mother would surely call a childish fantasy. So Audrey keeps her writing a secret. That is, until she meets a mysterious old woman who seems able to read her mind. Audrey is surprised at how readily she reveals her secret to the woman. One day the old woman gives Audrey a peculiar bronze pen and tells her to "use it wisely and to good purpose." It turns out to be just perfect for writing her stories with. But as Audrey writes, odd things start happening. Did Beowulf, her dog, just speak to her? And what is that bumping under her bed at night? It seems that whatever she writes with the pen comes true. However, things don't always happen in the way that she wants or expects. In fact, it's quite difficult to predict what writing with the pen will do. Could the pen be more of a curse than a gift? Or will Audrey be able to rewrite the future in the way that she wishes---and save her father's life?
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Gr 4-6-Audrey's father has a heart ailment, forcing her mother to work full-time at a job she doesn't like in order to support the family. To escape from her worries, Audrey writes stories, and so when a mysterious woman in a cave gives her an antique-looking bronze pen ("Use it wisely and to good purpose"), she immediately sets to work. After writing a passage about a girl who can speak with animals, she finds that she can suddenly understand her dog, Beowulf, and her pesky cockatiel, Sputnik. After a few more similar experiences with the pen, Audrey realizes that it must be magical. Once she figures out some of its rules and limitations, she is able to use it to very good purpose indeed. Readers looking for a full-fledged fantasy along the lines of Edward Eager's Half Magic (Harcourt, 1997) will be disappointed; the magical events are tantalizing but few, and although some hints are dropped, the mystery of the old woman remains unsolved. Audrey is an appealing kid and her thoughts and actions are interesting and believable, but in the end readers may feel that this fantasy does not deliver on its magical promise.-Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Set (barely noticeably) in 1973, this relatively straightforward fantasy showcases the beloved author's gift for characterization but not, sadly, her finest example of blending magic and realism. With a father confined to his bed with heart disease and an overworked mother, 12-year-old Audrey Abbott takes solace in writing. It's a testament to Snyder's (The Egypt Game; The Treasures of Weatherby) narrative skills that readers will be intrigued rather than doubtful when a large white duck appears, "almost as if [Audrey] had been expecting it," and guides her to a cave, where she converses with a spooky presence manifested only by its voice. On a subsequent visit, Audrey receives a bronze pen, with instructions to "use it wisely and to good purpose." The rest of the plot revolves around Audrey's gradual realization that the pen brings what it writes into being. The resolution leaves several loose ends (Just who or what is in the cave? Where does the bronze pen come from?), and the magic only occasionally feels fully integrated with the plight of Audrey's family. Ages 8-12. (Mar.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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