cover image Secret Letters from 0 to 10

Secret Letters from 0 to 10

Susie Hoch Morgenstern. Viking Books, $16.99 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-670-88007-2

Terse prose and a lovable hero in the form of Ernest Morlaisse, a deprived young man whose life turns topsy-turvy with a new neighbor's arrival, give this French novel universal appeal. There is no magic involved here, just the irrepressible spirit of Victoria de Montardent. This human ""bulldozer"" charges into his classroom and pulls 10-year-old Ernest into the colorful, modern world lying outside the door of his 80-year-old (""the kind of eighty that is really old"") grandmother's house, a place where daily routines are as bland and predictable as the soup he has for dinner each night. Led by Victoria (and occasionally some of her 13 lively brothers), Ernest experiences a wide range of firsts: ""I have tasted a delicious fondue, I have held an adorable baby in my arms, I have discovered the supermarket experience,"" he later reflects in a letter. He also learns the whereabouts of his long-lost father and is finally able to unveil the meaning of a puzzling missive written by his grandfather half a century ago. Not only will readers relish the serendipitous twists this novel has to offer, but their appreciation of ordinary pleasures (such as eating chocolate and scanning a book in the grocery store) may be heightened as they share Ernest's delight in discovering each new taste, texture, smell, sound and sight. Wrought with energy and wit, this chronicle of Ernest's metamorphosis from sheltered na f into vibrant young man is not to be missed. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)