VALLEY OF SECRETS

Charmian Hussey, Author, Christopher Crump, Illustrator , illus. by Christopher Crump. S&S $16.95 (382p) ISBN 978-0-689-87862-6

First novelist Hussey immerses readers in the sights, smells and sounds of orphan Stephen Lansbury's world, first at his school in London, then in Cornwall, where he has unexpectedly inherited an estate on England's southwest coast. The locals, a colorful cast of supporting characters (largely in cameo roles) believes that, within Lansbury Hall's high walls, Stephen's reclusive Great-Uncle Theo is the lone inhabitant. But Theo, in fact, is dead and, it turns out, has shared his home for decades with Murra-yari, a "forest Indian" he brought back from a youthful expedition to South America, along with a wide variety of plants and "Bugwomp," rare creatures that resemble oversize caterpillars. Despite the intriguing premise, the story becomes overshadowed by its save-the-rainforest message, and the main action consists of lonely Stephen puzzling out the mysteries of his new property and his past, by reading Theo's journals. Only in the last third of the book does Murra-yari, now well past age 80, appear, finally providing human company for Stephen. Although the boy's age is never given, he acts like an adult: he makes plans to polish the silver after lunch and enjoys the "glorious" colors and "brilliant designs" of the tiles in the master bath. Gardeners may enjoy the wealth of botanical detail (an appendix lists various flora and fauna) but younger readers may wish for a main character with a bit more moxie. Christopher Crump's pen-and-ink illustrations add an old-fashioned air but, alas, no rendering of the curious Bugwomp. Ages 9-up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 02/07/2005
Release date: 01/01/2005
Genre: Children's
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-307-20652-7
Paperback - 382 pages - 978-1-4169-0015-3
Compact Disc - 978-0-307-20736-4
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-307-20651-0
Hardcover - 10 pages - 978-0-340-90237-0
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