A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Second Spy is the third installment in the popular middle-grade series The Books of Elsewhere. It takes place in a scary old stone house, where painted people and other creatures can come to life and stalk the halls. In one frightening face-off, witch Aldous McMartin traps Olive in a pit inside of painting -- where she herself will soon turn to paint ("Once you have changed to paint and no longer need to breather, or eat, or drink, you can remain down there in the darkness forever ... without even the possibility of death to set you free.") In this third volume, Olive continues to make mistakes, but this time around her heart's really in the right place. In the end, she's able to express her love to Horatio, a talking cat, and help him realize that his life has meaning. There's also a sweet message about being honest and loyal to the loved ones in your life, even when times get hard (or someone threatens to trap you in a painting).
What's the story?
When Olive discovers the recipes for magical paints that can bring whatever she creates to life, she mixes up a batch of colors. Her plan is to bring back the parents of her friend Morton, who was once a human child but who has been trapped in a painting for decades -- and is awfully lonely. But not only does Olive create monstrosities, she also inadvertently delivers the paint recipes into the hands of Aldous McMartin, the evil witch who has also been hiding in a painting, and is determined to take back his house. To save her life and the ones she loves, Olive is going to need all her allies, including Morton, the three talking cats, and Rutherford, a smart neighbor boy with a magical secret of his own.
Is it any good?
This third installment in The Books of Elsewhere series is a fun, suspenseful fantasy, and readers will find themselves squirming throughout Olive's new adventures. Initially, they will wiggle with embarrassment as Olive delivers her terrible parental portraits to Morton ("Olive eyed her work, trying to convince herself that Mrs. Nivens didn't look like a big black funnel with a head and torso dribbling backward out of the top." ) Later, readers will fidget with fear as Olive faces off against terrifying painting of a young Aldous McMartin, who threatens her and the three talking cats fans have come to love throughout this series.
Readers will cheer as Olive and her friends -- furry and otherwise -- learn to trust and depend on each other in this volume. And they will be thrilled when author West concludes this volume with plenty of possibilities for future installments. After all, readers just learned about Rutherford's magical gift, Morton's parents remain missing, and Aldous' witchy granddaughter is still on the loose.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Olive's character. Has she changed at all over the course of the three books? What do you think she has learned?
Also, what loose ends has the author left in this book? What do you think will happen in the next installment (out in July 2013)?
Finally, what do you think about the cats in this book? Can you think of other books with talking animals? What's so appealing about that idea?
- Author: Jacqueline West
- Illustrator: Poly Bernatene
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Dial Books
- Publication date: July 25, 2012
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10
- Number of pages: 256
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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