The Gold Dust Letters

Book review by
Norah Caroline Piehl, Common Sense Media
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Mystery and fantasy combine effectively.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Angela is rude to her father on more than one occasion.

Violence & Scariness

Angela has a strained relationship with her father. Her parents get a divorce.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Angela's parents are facing divorce, and she has a strained relationship with her father.

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What's the story?

Nine-year-old Angela is lonely--her parents are always fighting, her older brother isn't around much, and her two best friends don't share her belief in magic. When Angela writes to her fairy godmother and receives a reply written in purple ink and sprinkled with gold dust, Angela's sure she's stumbled on magic right at home.

Angela's skeptical friend Georgina wants to get to the bottom of the mystery; her animal-lover pal Poco asks the family cat if she's seen anything suspicious. Angela herself is happy simply to believe in the gray-eyed fairy named Pilaria.

The friends' attempts to investigate seem thwarted at every turn by Angela's gruff father, a busy businessman who dislikes noise and mess. Will Angela and her friends see the fairy, or will they discover that the magic has been right in front of them all along?

Is it any good?

This first book in the pretentiously titled series Investigators of the Unknown explores magic in everyday life; the irony, though, is that there's very little magic to be found. Almost all the magic Angela witnesses has a prosaic explanation. But Angela's story might inspire others to imagine magic in their own lives.

Regardless of the magic quotient, this is an effective portrayal of friendship and family life. Although there's no happy ending to Angela's family problems, the solutions are realistic. The simple character portrayals, as well as the use of concrete language and easygoing humor, make this a good choice for kids ready to graduate from early readers. The dialogue is sometimes banal ("There's always more inside no matter how much you look and look and can't see how there could be"), but Janet Taylor Lisle has a feel for middle-graders' humor, friendships, and fantasies.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about faith in the face of skepticism. Angela's belief that she has encountered magic proves to be unfounded -- but do you think it's still magic, in a way? Is Angela's faith that something wonderful has happened supported?

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