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Published: Sunday, 4/24/2005

Warmer weather brings out the adventurer in young readers

FEA Dust jacket cover for "The Xanadu Adventure," by Lloyd Alexander. FEA Dust jacket cover for "The Xanadu Adventure," by Lloyd Alexander.

This is one in a series of periodic reviews written by four area teachers of children's literature. Today's are by Barbara Britsch, a professor of language and literature at Lourdes College.

Now that warmer weather invites us to wander and explore, what better time for stories about great adventures that open up the world? This month's collection, spanning both time and space, is for middle and upper-level readers.

THE XANADU ADVENTURE, by Lloyd Alexander. Dutton. Ages 12-14. $16.99.

Vesper Holly, Girl Adventurer, is back! Alexander introduced this series in the 1980s with Holly as an intrepid traveler to exotic locales. This adventure, sailing to the newly discovered archeological site of Troy with friends, is as daring as ever.

Trapped by the master villain, Dr. Helvitius, in a palace called Xanadu, calls for all of Holly's ingenuity to free the party. Her travels come to a satisfying and surprising conclusion in this volume.

MAGIC BY THE BOOK, by Nina Bernstein. Farrar Straus Giroux. Ages 9-12. $17.

Anne, Emily, and Will bring home an ordinary-looking book from the library as summer vacation begins. They discover that, far from being ordinary, the book holds amazing adventures. They are pulled into its stories, singly and together, once they see themselves pictured on the pages.

Bernstein has created a unique tribute to the power of a book, with a nod to childhood favorites: Robin Hood and the magical worlds of E. Nesbit and Edward Eager.

FEA Dust jacket cover for "The TIme Hackers," by Gary Paulsen. FEA Dust jacket cover for "The TIme Hackers," by Gary Paulsen.

THE VALLEY OF SECRETS, by Charmian Hussey. Simon & Schuster. Ages 12-15. $16.95.

Orphan Stephen Lansbury inherits an English country estate from a distant uncle. At Lansbury Hall he finds a cold, empty house with strange noises and unexplained disturbances.

When Stephen finds his uncle's journal, we read along with him the account of a voyage up the Amazon River 75 years before. The mystery of Lansbury Hall is more incredible than he imagines.

A spellbinding story, finely illustrated.

JOURNEY TO THE RIVER SEA, by Eva Ibbotson. Puffin Books. Ages 11-14. $5.99.

Although not new, this is the perfect companion book to The Valley of Secrets. Maia, an orphan like Stephen Lansbury, is sent, in the early 1900s, to stay with relatives in Brazil who live near Manaus on a tributary of the Amazon River.

Maia's thrilling adventures with a seemingly native boy make for a highly satisfying read. Both books advocate caring for tribal peoples everywhere and for the rainforest.

THE TIME HACKERS, by Gary Paulsen. Random House (Wendy Lamb Books). Ages 10 and up. $13.95.

Set in the near future, this science fiction novel takes a different view of time travel. Two computer hackers have found a way to bend time and are engaged in a deadly game of trying to change the past.

High-school students Dorso and his pal, Frank, are drawn into the game, finding themselves in increasingly distant ages looking for the controlling laptop before the game master can hit the escape key.

A short, fast, and exciting adventure.

THE LOATHSOME DRAGON, retold by David Weisner and Kim Kahng. Illustrated by David Weisner. Clarion Books. Ages 7-12. $16.

In a departure from his signature comic, surreal style, Weisner fills this traditional English tale with elegant medieval art in glowing watercolors. An enchanting landscape in double-page spreads leads the reader through the story of Margaret, the princess who wakes one morning to find herself a "loathly dragon."

Only her absent brother can break the spell cast by an evil stepmother.

A high adventure in picture book format.

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