Babymouse #17: Extreme Babymouse: Jennifer L. Holm & Matt Holm
Mid-January Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup

Sound Bender #2: The Shadow Mask: Lin Oliver & Theo Baker

Book: Sound Bender #2: The Shadow Mask
Author: Lin Oliver & Theo Baker
Pages: 336
Age Range: 10 and up 

The Shadow Mask is the sequel to Lin Oliver and Theo Baker's Sound Bender, featuring a boy named Leo who can dip into an object's past (sometimes) by touching it. Leo and his brother Hollis are living under the not-so-tender care of their step-uncle, Crane, after the disappearance and presumed death of their parents. Crane is a manipulator and an opportunist who makes his living trading in black-market antiquities. In The Shadow Mask, Crane convinces Leo to travel with him to the jungles of Borneo, in search of the missing mask (the companion to one discovered earlier by Leo's father). 

I found the pacing a bit off in The Shadow Mask. Nearly half of the book takes place prior to the trip to Borneo, though most of what takes place is setup for the events in the jungle. It's not that the early part of the book, in which Leo is sent temporarily to another school, isn't interesting. And some of the things that Leo learns are important later. But the real action is on the journey to the jungle, and it takes an awfully long time to get there. There's also a simply enormous coincidence around the repeated appearance of a mother and daughter who help Leo. While I'm generally pretty tolerant of necessary plot devices, this one was a bit over the top even for me.  

Still, it's an entertaining book. Leo's sound-bending is intriguing. And Leo and his best friend spend a fair bit of effort trying to understand how the gift works, which is the kind of detail often glossed over in books. It's also nice to read a middle-grade adventure story set (in part) in another country. The jungle visited by Crane's party is far from idealized (Hollis hates it). Leo is plausibly flawed (he makes mistakes in his dealings with people he cares about, and has to apologize). 

I think that 10-14 year old kids (particularly boys) looking for adventure stories with a supernatural twist will enjoy The Shadow Mask. Those who enjoyed the first book will want to give it a look. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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