Paris for Two by Phoebe Stone; Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic; 272 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12.
The author of many acclaimed middle-grade novels – “The Romeo and Juliet Code,” “The Boy on Cinnamon Street” and “Deep Down Popular” – offers another charming novel for this age group, set in Paris. Twelve-year-old Petunia Beanly has a terrible crush on classmate Windel Watson, but things have gone so wrong she is happy to be an ocean away, living in an apartment in Paris with her parents and older sister, Ava, while her father takes a sabbatical year. Ava, blond and pretty and her parents’ favorite – at least in Petunia’s eyes – seems to adjust easily to life in a new place, finding a boyfriend and being consistently nasty to her younger sister, purposely ruining Petunia’s new silk dress and making fun of Petunia’s sewing creations. But then Petunia begins to make friends in the apartment building, including the concierge Collette, and the discovery of a long-hidden treasure in an armoire in the apartment leads to a fascinating story of 19th century France, the doll workshop of Madame Jumeau and a long-held secret that has haunted Collette for many decades. Stone offers a perfect exploration of what it is like to be a 12-year-old girl. The Paris setting comes to vivid life, and the conflicts in this difficult sibling relationship (complicated by parental issues) come to a realistic and sweet resolution. The Jumeau doll firm was famous for its dolls from the late 1870s to the late 1890s, when the competition from cheaper German-made dolls caused the firm financial difficulties.
– Jean Westmoore
Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean by Maris Wicks; First/Second Books, 117 pages ($19.99)
Maris Wicks is a program educator at the New England Aquarium and she wrote and illustrated this amusing, informative, beautiful “Science Comic.” The book masterfully breaks down information into digestible bits while covering an impressive amount of territory. (The creatures of the reef introduce themselves. Queen Conch: “My diet consists of algae. I am another vacuum cleaner of the reef. But a royal vacuum cleaner.”) Others in the “Get to Know Your Universe” science series are “Dinosaurs: Fossils and Fathers” by MK Reed and Joe Flood and future comics subjects include Volcanoes, Flying Machines, Bats and Solar System.
– Jean Westmoore
Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya by William Carlsen; HarperCollins, 544 pages ($28.99)
“Jungle of Stone” is a tale of two men, fathers of archaeology in the Americas, that makes Indiana Jones look like a stay-at-home slacker.
Full of astonishing adventures and breathtaking discoveries, “Jungle of Stone” is, best of all, a true story. William Carlsen’s book offers a window into the early days of archaeology (so early the word had not yet been coined) and much further back into the nearly 2,000-year-long reign of a sophisticated indigenous civilization throughout the lands that are now Central America and southeastern Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
The Maya dominated that huge area from about 800 B.C. to 950 A.D., with a population estimated to have been as high as 10 million at some points. But they had long vanished from history by 1839, when John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood landed in Belize to begin an epic journey on the mere rumor of peculiar stone ruins in the jungles of Guatemala and Honduras.
When they arrived in Belize in 1839, the plan was for the pair to produce another travel book. What they discovered in the jungles in two long trips over three years exceeded their wildest dreams – and almost cost them their lives, many times over.
The pair’s quest is astonishing simply as a journey.
The great cities of their ancestors are known the world over and draw millions of tourists: Tulum, Palenque, Chichen Itza, Tikal and many more. Travelers who marvel at them now can marvel a bit at the two men who brought them back into the light.
– Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times book editor