Kendra Kandlestar and the Crack in Kazah, by Lee Edward Fodi (2011, Brown Books, lower middle grade, 294 pages)
Back in 2009, when I was serving as a sci fi/fantasy panelist for the Cybils, a book called Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard from Greeve was nominated. Of all the many books that came into my house that Cybils reading period, this one was just about the only one that called to my nine year old son. I was pleased (since he was at that time a very picky reader), and more than a little surprised (it looked to me very like a "girl" book, which goes to show how pointless such distinctions often are). It was, however, the third of the series, and so, both to please him and so as not to read the books out of order myself, I bought the first two (K.K. and the Box of Whispers, and K.K. and the Door to Unger), and my boy had a lovely reading orgy.
This year the fourth book in the series was nominated. My son is now eleven, but still he was very happy when it arrived. He got to read it first, and then my turn came....and I was happy to find it was a time travel book (because of always being anxious that I won't have one ready come Tuesday).
So on to Kendra Kandlestar and the Crack in Kazah.
Kendra is a young Een girl (the Eens are an ancient race of fairy-like beings), who, in her previous adventures, found herself faced with one magical and dangerous quest after another. Together with an assortment of odd companions (a warrior grasshopper, a raccoon who aspires to be a wizard, her Uncle Griffinskitch, who is in fact a powerful one, and her best friend, a mouse named Oki), Kendra is now off on a quest to find her brother, transformed into a fearsome Unger.
But Kendra's quest is violently interrupted by the arrival of an old enemy...and when he is captured, Kendra finds herself in possession of his ring. It's cracked, and cold, and grey, and Kendra has no inkling of its power. It is made of magical kazah stone...and it is about to take her on a journey through time. Finally she will meet her mother--when her mother was still a girl--and she'll learn about the secret past of her family. But time travel also brings dangers, and Kendra's present Een world is threatened by its changing past....
The choices that Kendra makes, not just in the past, but in a future that might not happen, will determine not just her fate, but the fate of (sorry for the melodrama, but sometimes I can't resist) all she holds dear!
It's a rather fascinating time travel experience. Not only does Kendra have the rare chance to see her mother as a person her own age, but she gets to see a future version of herself grown old, something that rarely turns up in time travel stories. The paradoxes and perils of time travel all hang together to make a cohesive whole, that keeps the reader (me and my son, at least) briskly turning the pages.
And in large part this is because I was genuinely interested in what happened to Kendra. She's a plucky, believable 12 year old, confronted with thought-provoking problems that are almost too much for her to solve, but managing, with the help of her friends, to make it through.
This series is one that makes a nice next step for the young reader ready to move on beyond easy readers; a seven to nine year old, say, who's just about to become a confident reader. The numerous, and appealing, black and white illustrations by the author, the engaging characters, and fast paced adventures, make the books a friendly read. Which isn't to say these aren't substantial books--the font and margins are the same size as your basic middle grade book, and the page counts up in the 200s. But in feel, they seem to me more likely to please the elementary school set, and also good ones to read out loud to an even younger child. (At the left is the first page of Crack in Kazah).
I enjoyed this fourth book in particular (because of the time travel), but as an older reader, I could have done without the authorial intrusions that start the chapters. It's not one I'd urge all you grown-up readers of my blog to leap up and find, but I do think that many children, especially those that enjoy the whimsical fantastic, will appreciate it.
I couldn't find any other blog reviews of this one, but here's the podcast that the folks at Just One More did about book 1. For more information about the books, here's their website.
Disclaimer: review copy provided to me by the publisher for Cybils consideration