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Children's LiteratureIn this collection, Newbery award-winner Avi tells five stories of the supernatural, all involving a transformation of some kind, incorporating many elements from traditional literature, and even exploring some of the seven deadly sins—sloth, avarice, and pride. "Bored Tom" is about unwise wishes and trickery in order to transfer an onerous burden (remember Atlas, and the ferryman in "The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs"?). "Babette the Beautiful" is the least successful, with its many undigested bits of folklore, its reference to Andersen's "Emperor's New Clothes," and an unappealing heroine who is neither deserving nor undeserving. "Curious" is not so much about curiosity as it is a horror story with undertones of "The Tailypo" for kids who like to scare each other at camp or sleepovers. The most effective and eerie story, "The Shoemaker and Old Scratch," tells of unkept bargains, especially the age-old ones with the devil (in this case, a wily shape-shifter); throughout literature some protagonists can outwit him (the soldier in the folktale "Bearskin"), but others cannot. The final tale, "Simon," deals with pride and, as with the biblical Prodigal Son, humiliation and degradation. This son's redemption comes, not from his father, but through a golden bird reminiscent of the magical Firebird, who allows Simon to make the mythical sacrifice leading to death, resurrection, and transcendence (Jesus and Goethe's characterization of Faust). These eclectic stories will probably resonate most strongly with middle readers who have already experienced some of the traditional genres in their previous reading. 2006, Harcourt, Ages 8 to 12.
—Barbara L. Talcroft