Title: Hollow Earth
Author: John and Carol E. Barrowman
Themes: Family, Good vs. Evil, Imagination
Age Range: 4th-8th Grade
Matt and Emily Calder are twins with a special connection. When they draw together, the things they imagine can come to life. When a secret society called Hollow Earth wants to use them to access the nightmare world of demons they believe exists in a realm under the earth, they are forced to flee their home in London and go to their grandfather's estate on a remote island off the coast of Scotland. There they learn more about their powers, and their father, who disappeared when the twins were small. But the Hollow Earth Society doesn't give up that easily, and it will take all of their new found skills to stay one step ahead of the people who are trying to take advantage of them.
Full discolsure: I am seriously predisposed to love this book because Captain Jack Harkness is one of the authors. As a serious Doctor Who/Torchwood geek, the man can almost do no wrong. So I am happy to report that my love of this story is not JUST because John Barrowman wrote it. I liked it because it is an interesting concept, something that I have never read before in all of the fantasy books I have read over the years.
(In fairness to myself, I really wanted to love Chris Colfer's books as well, given my love of all things Glee, but I didn't, and I gave it an honest review.)
This book has some great elements of traditional fantasy in a contemporary setting, which I love. I also appreciate the historical context that the Barrowmans (brother and sister) create for the Animare, with a middle ages tie in that helps ground the story in that period of time when people were most likely to believe in magic. Not only are the children really well written characters, but the adults in the story are also pretty well developed and made the story feel a little more mature, though still appropriate for the age range. The setting is cool-there's something about islands that I love. This book is the first in a series, and I am so looking forward to reading the next book.
While the story is really exciting and engaging, there isn't really a ton of discussion-worthy themes in the story, so I don't think I would use it as a literature circle choice or for guided reading, but I think it is a very good choice to have in an independent reading program or as part of a classroom library.