Lian Tanner’s Museum of Thieves is the first in a trilogy series about a gutsy girl named Goldie, her brave pal Toadspit, and her intelligent mentors Herro Dan, Sinew, and Olga Ciavolga. The names alone are proof of Tanner’s imagination (did I mention a cute little dog named Broo who turns into a brizzlehound and a vulturish crow named Morg?). The story unfolds in an enchanting mix of fun and scary fantasy with nuggets of reality-based — and very solid — wisdom for young readers. Kids won’t even realize they are being preached to about values such as bravery, honesty, independence, and responsibility: “[L]earn to think before you act. Whatever happens, remember that there is always a choice. Think of the consequences, and then do what you must.” Young readers are certain to love the bit about thieves having the hearts and guts necessary to save the city of Jewel from certain destruction (trust me, the explanation makes sense and will not lead youngsters to shoplift from the local Seven Eleven) and visiting a museum may also rise to the top of their agenda of what’s cool and fun to do.
Goldie has lived in Jewel her whole life, and her entire life she has been shackled to either her parents, her bed, or one of the army of Blessed Guardians. Jewel believes in protecting their children to the point of imprisonment — the problem is that fear breeds fear and conformity breeds sheep-like behavior, and when real trouble threatens, no one has the first idea of what to do to protect the town and people of Jewel. No one that is except for those few who have make it their duty to preserve currents of strangeness, oddity, and singularity, along with elements of danger and violence, within a very special museum. Those guardians — called “The Keepers” — understand that living a secure life is the same as living an imprisoned life, and that diversity of ideas, actions, and people creates a society that is vibrant, strong, and resilient. Goldie unwittingly becomes one of the Keepers protecting her city, and proves quite good at thievery, camouflage, and in the end, selfless and independent acts of bravery. The very bad guys are defeated — but for how long? Look for the next installment in the Keepers Trilogy to find out. Museum of Thieves is entertaining and fun, but with enough substance to make it solid reading fare for kids and parents alike.
For a book that is short on fun but brimming with moving and inspiring adventure — and like Museum of Thieves, provides real life lessons for its young readers — try I am David (also published under the title North to Freedom) by Anne Hold. First published in Danish in 1963, I am David tells the story of a boy who has been raised in a concentration camp in Eastern Europe, cared for by the other prisoners and in the end, allowed to escape by a pitying camp guard, who tells him to head north, to Denmark; “you’ll be safe there.” Young David is wise in many ways, taught languages by the different prisoners and eternal lessons of dignity, compassion, honesty, and comportment, but is completely blank on concepts of pleasure, joy, play, love, or happiness: “One smiled for joy? Or was it happiness? Joy passed but happiness never completely disappeared; a touch of it would always linger to remind one it had been there. It was happiness that made one smile, then. He would always remember that.”
David sets out on his journey sure that the guards are coming after him, but as time passes, he begins to find faith, both in a God of his own fashioning and in his fellow man. David serves as a moving and compelling role model, against a background that is a mixture of the gray concentration camp life he knew and the colorful and bountiful life he discovers in his travels through Italy, Switzerland, and into Denmark.