Children's Book Reviews

Friday, June 23, 2006

What Girls Get Up to In Summer

I can't believe I haven't posted a blog in nearly two months! Ouch. The good news is I got swamped with writing lots of articles for my local newspaper, The Taos News. My favorites to write are about local houses and artists. I meet some mighty interesting houses and their owners!

One of these articles last year got me digging into local history. Taos has had it's share of the famous, infamous, and downright notorious from the mountain man Kit Carson, to D.H. Lawrence, the artist R.C. Gorman, and yes Julia Roberts. One of the notorious was a swindler named Arthur Rochford Manby. He came here in 1883 to seek his fortune. He made it and lost it, losing his head in the end. Manby was obsessed with gaining land and made dubious deals to buy as much of Taos Valley as he could lay his hands on. He wasn't above gypping poor farmers and widows out of their land. Did he make enemies? Yes! One hot summer morning, much like the one here today, in 1929 his body was found without its head. No one ever found out who did it, or if it wasn't another one of Manby's tricks to foil people. They say his ghost haunts the now Taos Inn and Manby Hot Springs. Others say they saw him in Europe in the 1930's.

This week I hiked down to Manby Hot Springs with Tanya, my 7 year old friend, whom I babysit a few times a month. We didn't see a ghost, just a trio of friendly squirrels, some more cautious chipmunks, and a few bugs. The Hot Springs is where Manby used to go to soak in the waters and relieve his tormented mind. Today the buildings are in ruins, but the lukewarm pools settled right next to the rushing Rio Grande have clear, peaceful water and a view straight up the sheer rock cliffs of the Rio Grande Gorge ~ 400' up! It was worth the adventure, but I'm not sure I'd do it again on such a hot day.

Sabrina Hofkin's first young adult novel, like a hike to Manby Hot Springs, is an adventure not to be missed. I can't wait for the sequel, which will be coming out most likely next year.

Author: Sabrina Hofkin
Manzanita Falls Publishers
Redding, California, 2005
ISBN 0-9763916-0-0

It's a jam-packed, adventurous summer for plucky, energetic Magnolia. She's not only determined to get her pilot's license by her seventeenth birthday, but she also organizes her family and friends into saving bears from land developers in the local state park. To complicate matters she nearly loses her best friend Rainy when Ross, a new boy in town, not only dates Rainy but also declares his feelings for Magnolia. Magnolia and Ross also compete for who will be the first to get their pilot license.
Magnolia is a breakthrough Young Adult novel. It dares to make teenager Magnolia Holden an aviatrix. While there are many non-fiction books written for young people about renowned aviatrixes, such as Amelia Earhart, Beryl Markham, Bessie "Queen Bess" Coleman, and Katherine Stinson, there does not seem to be any novels about women pilots, especially for teenagers.
This is author Sabrina Hofkin's first novel. She plans to create a sequel. The book is well plotted with the interweaving of the sub-plots nicely executed. The switching of scenes between flying, tracking down the mystery behind the threatened bears and environment, Magnolia's friendship with Ross and Rainy, and the worry about her mother's archaeological dig in unstable Colombia could get bogged down, however it flows successfully.
While some of the aviation terms and descriptions may be technical, there is enough action and tension to carry the reader easily through these scenes. For example, while Magnolia is flying solo, a storm comes up. By describing Magnolia's reaction as well as how she technically lands the plane, the reader is kept going, on the edge of her chair.
This book will entertain young girls, and it will also inspire them to become more than the usual roles ascribed for them.


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