Recently, in my small efforts at become more knowledgable about the world of book blogging and particularly children’s book blogging, I discovered the Cybils awards, which are given by book bloggers every year to the best children’s books in a number of categories. This one won the 2010 Cybils award for fantasy.
The Books of Elsewhere. The Shadows by Jacqueline West. This is a story about an old house with secrets that it wants to stay hidden. When its old owner – rumored to be over 100 – dies, the house goes on the market. A family consisting of two rather spacey math professors and their 11-year-old daughter Olive buy it after the first visit. Olive is shy and somewhat uncertain of herself from the combination of many moves and not sharing her parents’ math obsession. The house is large and old, still filled with the furniture and pictures from the previous owner. Olive spends lots of time exploring and finds many small creepy things. The eyes in the pictures follow her and parts of the pictures move. The paintings will not come off the wall. Olive also discovers that there are cats living in the house, who start talking to her and giving her cryptic advice. In the drawer of a vanity, she finds an old pair of spectacles. When she puts them on and looks into the pictures, she discovers first that more things seems to be moving and second, that she herself can climb into the pictures. In the first picture, there is a boy, Morton, who is clearly made of paint but who claims to be a real boy and who wants to go home. He’s hiding behind trees in the woods, trying to avoid the large shadow that Olive can also see, clearly trying to track them down. As Olive explores the house and the paintings and tries to talk with neighbors and the cats, she hears different, incomplete and conflicting stories from everyone. But she must figure out whom to trust, and soon, because the shadows in the paintings are trying to get out and drive the living out of the house for good. Olive is a great character, brave in the face of danger despite being unpopular and not being depicted as Pretty or what her parents consider smart (aka not math smart). This story walked the fine line of being a story that put shivers down my spine without ever crossing over into being too scary for the middle-grade audience. The second book in the series came out summer 2011.