Book of a Thousand Days


by Shannon Hale

The beautiful language of this book evokes an appealing fantasy world, with eight realms such as Titor’s Garden, Beloved of Ris, and Song for Evela. The cover shows a beautiful young Asian woman, and many of the details are borrowed from medieval Mongolia. The main character, Dashti, grew up on the steppes, lived in a “gher” and wore a traditional outfit called a “deel.”

In this story, Dashti works as a lady’s maid for Lady Saren, and they are shut in a stone tower for seven years because Lady Saren refused to marry the man her father chose for her.  It is a challenge to keep the story lively for the first 100 pages of the book, with two girls locked in a dark tower. After they escape, the story takes some surprising turns, and both girls evolve and grow.

Dashti excels in a traditional (fantasy) art of healing people by signing songs – one of many details that make this book enchanting and lovely.

Readers who enjoyed this book, a “best book” and YALSA “best book for young adults,”  may be fascinated to learn about real historical customs of the Mongols of medieval days, in Daughter of Xanadu.

Shannon Hale, Newbery Honor-winning author of Princess Academy, has a website with the intriguing name of

Ghost Dog Secrets

Ghost Dog Secrets coverby Peg Kehret

Seeing Peg Kehret and hearing her talk make you adore this author and want to read more of her books. When I heard her speak recently, in Issaquah, she was wearing a necklace with a charm from every state that has given her books a Young Reader award.  She has at least 19 of them – probably more!  Across the country, she is well-known and much-loved as a children’s book author, not the least because many of her books feature cats or dogs.

This book, Ghost Dog Secrets, starts with an unloved dog, chained in a yard all day with no food, water, or shelter. Twelve-year-old Rusty, inspired by a class project to help dogs rescued from a puppy mill, wants to save this neglected and abused German shepherd he has found. When a ghost dog, a collie, appears to him, he knows he has to act. But isn’t it stealing, to take someone else’s dog?  The story unfolds with some surprising twists and turns, including a secret even the ghost dog didn’t know about.

This is book #52 from Peg Kehret – a record I can scarcely fathom. Hats off to you, Peg!

Peg Kehret’s website is

The Fences Between Us

fences(Dear America), by Kirby Larson

Author of the 2007 Newbery Honor Book Hattie Big Sky, Kirby Larson has a wonderful knack for making history come alive.  This book, the first new Dear America title in five years, comes in the form of the diary of a fictional seventh-grader named Piper Davis, who lived in Seattle in 1941.

Piper seems very real, with a best friend and a boy she likes, though she worries about her big brother, who enlisted in the Navy just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Suddenly the Japanese American kids at her school, and their families, are forced to leave their homes and move to camps. When her father, who is pastor for a Japanese Baptist Church, tells her they are moving to Idaho to be near his congregation, she hates him. How could he destroy her life?  Yet she grows to understand just whose lives are being destroyed.

This is a topic close to my heart because my good friend, Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, an American citizen, was incarcerated by the U.S. government at the age of 17. It's a tough subject to deal with, and Kirby does it beautifully. She deals with tender and painful subjects in a sensitive and thoughtful way. I hope lots of American kids read this book and never forget.

Kirby Larson's website is

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Meby Rebecca Stead

The Newbery Medal is the gold standard for children’s books. This book, the 2010 medal winner, has an elegant plot, a vivid setting, and a fascinating premise.

Twelve-year-old Miranda, growing up in New York City with her single mother, worries when her best friend, a boy named Sal, begins to pull away from her. The crazy homeless man on the corner also bothers her. But her fears are heightened when she starts receiving mysterious notes that seem to foretell future events.  When these predictions start proving eerily accurate, the tension ratchets up.

Miranda’s voice is clear and engaging, as she negotiates the shoals of sixth-grade friendships, befriends a bully, and deals with a working mom obsessed with winning a TV game show. Her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, sparks unexpected discussions about time travel.

Each clue from the mysterious note-writer drew me deeper into the story until I couldn’t put the book down. Stead skillfully drops clues and hooks the reader right up until the surprising – and satisfying – ending.

Amazing! Rebecca Stead has not been writing books for long, but she is a master.

Rebecca Stead's delightfully whimsical website is

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens

Mongol Queens coverby Jack Weatherford

Okay, I'm obsessed with the Mongol Empire. Otherwise, why would I write a novel about a princess who lived in that era?  But this book really captured my imagination.

Most of us think of "barbarians" and "plunder" when we hear the words "Mongol" or "Genghis Khan." But did you know that Genghis Khan gave power to his daughters? While he and his sons were off with the army, conquering lands far more advanced than Mongolia, he left the already-conquered lands under the control of his wives and daughters. Yes, he married off his daughters to allied kings and princes; but once he did, he stripped the husbands of their titles and gave the real authority to his daughters. He gave them the title of "Princess Who Runs the State." One of these daughters, says Jack Weatherford, a Macalaster College anthropology professor, governed so well that she even "invented the cultural and organization model that grew into the Mongol Empire."

Wow! After all the research I did for Daughter of Xanadu, I knew that Mongolian women were strong, learned archery from a young age, and sometimes rode off to battle with their husbands. The Secret History of the Mongols tells of many female ancestors who showed great fortitude. But governing?  I never knew that.

This book of history - not fiction! - tells some fascinating tales. I wonder if Emmajin knew all these stories?

You can find out more at the Random House website.

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