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The Things with Wings

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On his first time out as author, children's book editor Holch packs this allegorical tale with plenty of far-out flights of fancy. A typical underachiever, 11-year-old Newton Bellnap hates to read and fears change, which is a problem because his actor parents keep moving the family around. Facing a predictable spring vacation in yet another new town, Newton discovers that Angel Falls offers more mysteries than he can handle. Add to these his blossoming friendship with Vanessa, an iconoclastic classmate, and the mystifying annual migration of thousands of Emerald Rainbow butterflies, and Newton's break turns into an existential quest for the meaning of life. Holch counteracts Newton's somewhat annoying passivity with Vanessa's likable brashness, and keeps the pace going at a clip by adding layers of curiosities (a mysterious man in a black hat; an illness affecting all of Newton's classmates). Some readers may feel overwhelmed by the scattered threads and find the philosophy heavy-handed (famous quotations and cryptic messages break in throughout). And the miraculous changes in Newton (who becomes a reader) and Vanessa (who is reconciled to her depressed widower father) at the book's close are a bit pat. Nevertheless, this book will appeal to those who like their fantasy thick and deep. Ages 10-13. (May)

Gr 5-8ÄHolch's first novel is full of mystery and excitement. Newton Bellnap, 11, may be new to Angel Falls, but he knows to look for the Emerald Rainbow butterflies in the spring. Millions of these beautiful insects mysteriously appear, stay for one week, and then continue their long migration north. As Newton watches them arrive during his April vacation, other mysterious things begin to happen. He and classmate Vanessa Zephyr discover that her best friend has disappeared. A weird scientist follows them everywhere and warns them not to go into the woods. Meanwhile, Vanessa is obsessed with being able to fly. When the friends find an ancient tree that attracts the butterflies, she takes a bite of its fruit and makes a surprising metamorphosis of her own. Newton and Vanessa are realistic and believable heroes. While the novel is slow to start, it is full of twists, turns, and suspenseful subplots. Other story lines include the relationship between Vanessa and her father and the difficulties involved in facing changes. Readers will also learn about the stages of butterfly development and will be fascinated when the girl's dream of flying becomes a reality. With its brief chapters, this book would be a terrific read-aloud or a good choice for group discussion. Pair it with Lynne Reid Banks's Fairy Rebel (Doubleday, 1988) for hearty fantasy stories about winged creatures.ÄKimberlie Baker, Lucius Beebe Memorial Library, Wakefield, MA

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