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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Capsule Review: Two Children's Books that take place in Scotland

Scotland is such a beautiful country. It's amazing that it really isn't as popular of setting in books as it should be. Most of the books that I've encountered take place either in the US, London, England, and most recently Asia. Recently while reading some middle grade fantasy books I came across two books that took place in Scotland, and wanted to share them with you.

Grey Ghost: Book One in the Wolf's Apprentice Series by Julie Hahnke Illustrated by Marcia Christensen

Grey Ghost takes place in the Scottish Highlands in the 16th century. Black Duncan Campbell has taken it upon himself to start murdering all his neighbors, making his clan the ruling clan. Eleven year old Angus finds himself the sole survivor of his clan, Macnab, after his family home is burned down, and his parents are killed. Angus takes it upon himself to try and end the bloody rampage that Black Duncan Campbell has started. Along the way he learns about his family's heritage, some secrets that are hidden in his ancient family home, and even gains a little help from some animal friends.

Grey Ghost is a great middle grade fantasy book. Although there isn't magic and the likes there are talking animals. The main attraction of this novel is the research and setting. Julie Hahnke does an excellent job of setting up and portraying 16th century Scotland. The problems and situations that arise throughout the novel are all situations that were going on during that time period. To avoid any confusion there is a glossy of terms and weapons for words that are used within the book.

Grey Ghost is a short book, but a somewhat complete story. It stands at 183 pages but there are plenty of drawings and most of the pages aren't filled with words, which make this story a very quick read. The ending leaves readers with a complete sense but does lead into the other books that will be coming out.

Although there are talking animals, the only complaint that I had, was the talking moth. The other animals were all helpful and useful throughout the story. However there is a talking moth that talks in an almost repeat type language. It's never explained what this moths purpose is, and I believe as this is a series this will probably come up again.

The illustrations within this novel are excellent. Although the pictures are done in pencil drawing compared to color, they captivate the story and help readers to visualize the setting, and areas that are involved with this book. Marcia Christensen did a wonderful job with adding to this story. Although on a side note, there is one picture of a dead head being carried off that might not be for everyone.

I would readily recommend this book to anyone looking to introduce children to the Scottish setting, or just for a fun quick read.

The Case of the Purloined Professor: The Tails of Frederick and Ishbu by Judy Cox

Frederick and Ishbu are two rat brothers that live in Miss Dove's fifth grade classroom. They enjoy reading, eating, and learning along with the class. One evening, a lovely rat, Natasha seeks the brothers help when her father, the great professor and scientist has gone missing. The rats must travel the world in order to find out where Natasha's father could be, and also find themselves solving a mystery as to why some of the humans pets seem to be hypnotized all of a sudden.

The Case of the Purloined Professor, is the second in the "Tails" of Frederick and Ishbu series by Judy Cox. It isn't necessary to read the first book in the series but it does help if you don't want some of the events to be spoiled from the first book.

This book is just perfect for the age group that it is meant for. There is just that perfect amount of mystery and learning combined. Judy Cox does a wonderful job of slipping in factual information without making it appear as though the book is trying to force children to read and learn at the same time. The characters are all very entertaining, and fun to read. Ishbu and Frederick although they are brothers each have their own individual characteristics, and flaws. However they always seem very caring and fun to be around.

On the rat duo's adventure, the first stop that they make it to Scotland, where they meet up with a band of badgers. Talking badgers in any kids story is always a fun thing. Although Scotland isn't the only place the rats stop at, they do spend a lot of time there. There are descriptions of the moors, and the lochs which are fun to read about. All the badgers talk with little Scottish accents. These badgers are also the ones that teach the duo how to fight so that they are able to defend themselves against the enemy dogs.

The book had a complete story, but there is the continuing thread of "The Big Cheese". So there are sure to be plenty of other installments into this series.

The story was interesting enough for adults, but it really is geared for the 8-12 range, which is just the perfect age for this type of story. I'd readily read another book in this series.


Charlotte said...

I second everything you say about The Grey Ghost, including the moth bit!

And the Case of the Purloined Professor is in my to be read pile--I'll bump it up a notch.

Cindy said...

Have you read the first one of the Tails series? And talking badgers always make me think of Narnia :)

I loved the Grey Ghost and it's Scotland!

Ontario Ukulele Strummers said...

Thanks for the mention! I love writing the Frederick and Ishbu books and I'm thrilled to hear you enjoyed them. The Case of the Purloined Professor was inspired by a trip I took to Scotland.

I just posted a free downloadable curriculum guide to the first two books in The Tails of Frederick and Ishbu series on my website at

Teachers can also enter a drawing to win free books for their classroom.

Cindy said...

Thanks for stopping by Judy!

I love talking badgers, and I can really see the trip coming out in the novel. I also enjoyed the Switzerland parts but the Scotland trip won out.


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