The Caves of Klydor

CavesKlydorThe Caves of Klydor by Douglas Hill, 1984.

This is the second book in a sci-fi series, the ColSec Trilogy.

The five remaining colonists on the planet Klydor have been exploring their new planet and trying to survive and to decide what they will do when the government department that exiled them to this planet, ColSec, sends its ship to check on their progress.  Under Earth’s repressive government, dissents are sent into exile to become colonists on alien planets so that the government can later reap the benefits of anything they find or produce.

They get worried when a ship arrives on their planet earlier than expected.  While searching for the ship to see who it is, the colonists encounter Bren Lathan, the best space explorer that works for ColSec.  It’s his job to seek out new planets for ColSec to colonize.  But, it turns out that he’s not there on an assignment for ColSec.  He’s crash-landed on the planet, apparently frightened of pursuers, who may be the people in the space ship now on the planet.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Lathan is being hunted by CeeDees (Civil Defenders, the harsh law enforcement department that Earth’s government uses to keep the civilian population in line).  Worst still, these ones are Crushers, a group known for using extreme force and not leaving survivors.  They spot Cord and Samella, and they think that the two of them killed one of their people (who was actually killed by an alien creature).  Cord and Samella manage to get awhile, stealing one of the CeeDee’s weapons.

Then, they discover that the reason that the CeeDees are after Lathan is that he is involved with a rebellion against the government of Earth, a rebellion that these colonists would very much like to join.

The themes of the story are still survival and teamwork.  The colonists often have differing opinions about how to solve their problems, but they have to work them out because they only have each other to rely on.  Lathan, who is much older than they are, doesn’t really respect them much at first or want to involve them in his plans, comes to realize that their skills and ideas are valuable and that they may be just the people he needs.

Exiles of Colsec

ExilesColSecExiles of ColSec by Douglas Hill, 1984.

This is the first book in a sci-fi series, the ColSec Trilogy.

In the future, Earth is controlled by a repressive government that sends criminals and dissidents (especially strong youths) into exile on other planets. These exiles are assigned to different planets to form colonies by ColSec (short for Colonization Section). The government then reaps the benefits of whatever resources the colonists find or produce, all while keeping them at a safe distance to prevent them from starting rebellions.

The system works very well as far as the government is concerned, but this time, things don’t go according to plan.  The ship of dissident colonists destined for the planet Klydor crashes, killing most of the people on board.  There are only six survivors, all teenagers:

Cord — A boy from the Scottish Highlands, an area more wild and uncontrolled than most areas of Earth.

Samella — From the area once known as Minnesota (or possibly Manitoba, even the people who live there aren’t sure of the old name).  She lived as part of a commune until a harsh winter brought them to the brink of starvation, and her own family sold her into slavery.  On Klydor, she begins to discover that she has ESP.

Heleth — From the Bunkers, the old Underground tunnels under Old London.  She belonged to a gang called the Vampires, who purposely dye their skin jet black to blend into the darkness of their hidden homes.

Jeko and Rontal — a pair of Free Streeters, gang members from Limbo, in the area of what was once Chicago.

Lamprey — The most dangerous of all, a homicidal maniac who quickly forces the others to do his bidding for fear that he will kill them.

These few survivors are alone on a strange world, where they will have to figure out how to continue to survive and somehow create a life for themselves . . . if Lamprey doesn’t kill them all first.  The other rebels from Earth decide that they will have to stage a rebellion within their own group to get rid of Lamprey, and Cord finds himself appointed to be their leader.

But, it turns out that they aren’t quite as alone on Klydor as they thought, and possibly the most formidable creatures on the planet might be . . . the trees.

This is largely a story of survival as the colonists work together to protect themselves from Lamprey and uncover the secrets of their new world that will allow them to survive.  Samella’s ESP is what allows them to realize the truth about the forest where they have crashed.

The Case of the Cool-Itch Kid

Polka Dot Private Eye

CoolItchKid#5 The Case of the Cool-Itch Kid by Patricia Reilly Giff, 1989.

Dawn heads off to summer camp!  At first, she’s not sure that she really wants to go, even though the idea of riding horses, swimming, and roasting marshmallows sounds appealing.  It turns out that there’s only one other girl from her school going, Jill Simon.  All of the other girls on the bus to camp are people she doesn’t know from another school called Coolidge (which Dawn pronounces “Cool-Itch”).

Before she leaves home, Dawn receives a package of small presents from her grandmother.  Among her grandmother’s gifts are some candy and cookies, a pin, and a small mirror surrounded by seashells that Dawn loves.  Later, after their bus stops at a rest stop, she realizes that some of these things are missing.  She particularly notices that the pin and the beautiful mirror are gone.

Who is the thief?  Could it be one of those kids from Coolidge (“Cool-Itch”)?

Dawn misses her family, especially her grandmother.  She hates the food at camp.  She’s upset about losing her grandmother’s presents.  Worst of all, she realizes that she left her Polka Dot Private Eye box at home!  How is she going to solve this mystery?

Part of the story is about the mistakes people make by jumping to conclusions.  Right from the beginning, Dawn assumes that her only friend at camp is Jill because the other kids are unfamiliar, and she thinks they’re unfriendly.  Also, she assumes that the presents disappeared because they were stolen, but actually, it’s due to a series of accidents and misunderstandings.


The Powder Puff Puzzle

The Polka Dot Private Eye

PowderPuff#4 The Powder Puff Puzzle by Patricia Reilly Giff, 1987.

Dawn is on her way to go swimming with her friend Emily Arrow when her cat, Powder Puff, is startled and jumps into a stranger’s car.  Before Dawn can do anything about it, the car drives away with her cat!

Fortunately, Dawn managed to notice a few things about the car and driver. The car is red and dented.  The driver is tall and skinny and has long, gray hair.  She was eating a jelly cookie and carrying a box and a long pole.  Her license plate had a name on it and that started with “PA,” but Dawn didn’t get to read the rest.

Emily’s father is a police officer, but he can’t trace the license plate with just the letters that Dawn was able to give him.  Instead, he has the kids make Lost Cat posters to put up in the neighborhood.  Still, that’s not enough for Dawn.  As The Polka Dot Private Eye, she should be able to figure out where her own lost cat is!

PowderPuffPicWith the help of her friends, especially Jason, Dawn uses what she knows to put together a picture of the person they’re looking for, and they try to retrace her steps through town.  Can they track down Powder Puff and get him back?

Part of the puzzle that Dawn and Jason overlook at first is the woman’s profession, which is one that the kids hadn’t really expected to find a woman doing, although Dawn spots the clues which point to what the woman was doing in the area and allow them to realize where she had to be going.  Whether more modern kids reading this book would feel the same way about the woman’s profession, I’m not sure.

The Secret at the Polk Street School

The Polka Dot Private Eye

SecretPolkStreet#3 The Secret at the Polk Street School by Patricia Reilly Giff, 1987.

Dawn’s class is competing against other classes in a contest to see which class does the most for the school.  All of the classes are working on their own special projects, trying hard to keep them a secret until the judging.  Dawn, as the class’s resident detective, suggests that she could solve a mystery on behalf of the class, but unfortunately, there is no mystery for her to solve.  Yet.

Instead, Ms. Rooney’s class decides to put on a play for the rest of the school.  It’s Little Red Riding Hood, and Dawn is playing the starring role.  Jason gets to be the Wolf, borrowing an old wolf costume from his sister without her permission.

At the class’s rehearsal, Dawn gets mad when someone dressed in the wolf costume tries to scare her, and she thinks that it’s Jason, goofing off.  But, it turns out that Jason wasn’t even there, and the wolf costume is missing.  Suddenly, Dawn has a mystery!

Dawn starts receiving messages from “The Wolf” saying that someone is going to get her and Jason.  Then, someone takes a bite out of the loaf of bread that Dawn has been using as a prop (the food that she’s taking to “Grandma’s House” in the play).  Could “The Wolf” be someone in a rival class, hoping to sabotage their play so they can win the contest?

The Secret of the Strawbridge Place


SecretStrawbridgePlacePic1The Secret of the Strawbridge Place by Helen Pierce Jacob, 1976.

This story takes place in Ashtabula, Ohio during the Great Depression. Kate is frightened of the hobos who pass through town looking for work, but at the beginning of summer, her brother Josh dares her to come with him to spy on the hobo camp. The two of them witness a fight between three hobos, and in their haste to get away, Kate falls and breaks her arm. At first, she is sure that her summer is ruined, but when she considers the place where she fell, she realizes that she has stumbled on an important clue to a secret surrounding the old house where they live.

Locals say that during the Civil War, the Strawbridge family, who lived in the house before Kate’s family, were part of the underground railroad, hiding runaway slaves. However, no one has ever been able to find the place where the slaves were hidden. When Kate fell, she discovered the opening to a cave near the river that she never knew was there before.

SecretStrawbridgePlacePic2Oscar, a boy visiting his grandfather nearby, becomes Kate’s friend. Since he was also injured in one of Josh’s escapades (having broken his leg when the kids were fooling around in the haymow), she invites him to join her in the search for the secret. They form a partnership called Cripples Incorporated and have fun inventing codewords and writing secret messages about what they’ve discovered. Pursuing the secret comes with some risks, and before Kate can discover the whole truth about Strawbridge Place, she has a serious brush with danger.

It’s an interesting mystery that invites readers to try to figure out the clues along with Kate and Oscar as they ponder the sampler with the strange motto left behind by the Strawbridge twins. Oscar also introduces Kate to Sherlock Holmes stories, one of which provides her with the inspiration to solve the mystery. Kate also develops better feelings for the hobos, who, like the runaway slaves, turn out to be mostly ordinary people just looking for a better life.

The Mystery of the Haunted Trail

MysteryHauntedTrailThe Mystery of the Haunted Trail by Janet Lorimer, 1989.

Brian Kelly wasn’t too excited at first when his teacher assigned his class to write letters to students at a school in Hawaii.  He doesn’t really like to write, and the whole thing sounded boring, but it turned out to be pretty fun when his new pen pal, Alani, wrote back.  Brian discovered that he and Alani had a lot in common, and he even got to meet Alani when his family came to California on a trip.  Then, best of all, Alani’s family invited Brian to spend part of the summer with them in Hawaii!

Brian loves Hawaii from the moment he arrives.  Alani’s family lives in a rural area near Kalawa.  All of the families in the area raise their own vegetables and keep animals.  They depend on what they earn from selling food although some of them, like Alani’s mother, who is a nurse, have other jobs as well.  Alani’s father, like Alani’s grandfather, is primarily a farmer.  Alani’s grandfather lives with him on land that the family has owned for generations.

Alani and his family enjoy showing Brian around their island and talking about the history of the place.  Brian particularly likes the stories that Alani’s grandfather, who they call Kupuna, tells them, although some of them are frightening.  At the luau that the family and their friends have to welcome Brian to Hawaii, Brian overhears people talking about the Night Marchers.  They say that the Night Marchers have been seen recently and that bad things have been happening in the area, like crops dying and the nearby stream starting to dry up.  Some people seem to think that it’s a sign of bad luck and that maybe they should move away from the area.

According to Kupuna, the Night Marchers are a ghostly parade of the ancestors of the people who have lived there for generations.  Sometimes, it’s just ordinary people and sometimes it’s the souls of warriors.  Sometimes, Hawaiian gods may even walk among them.  But, when they march, any living person must either flee from them or, if that is impossible, they must lie down and hide their eyes.  At the head of the Marchers is a ghostly spearman who will strike down any living person who sees them, unless that person is related to one of the Marchers themselves.  They spare members of their own families.  People who are struck by the spear of the Marchers appear to have died of a heart attack.

The place where the Marchers supposedly walk is an old trail that leads to a sacred place where Alani’s ancestors are buried.  Brian is curious to see the place, but Alani warns him away, saying that they are not allowed to go there because it’s too dangerous.  However, Brian soon sees the Marchers himself one night in Alani’s family’s fields, and the next day, their crops are dead.  When Brian notices strange footprints in the fields as well, he realizes that some living people may be responsible for the awful things that have been happening in the area, but the only way he can prove it would be to explore the haunted trail himself and track the “ghosts” to their lair.

Janet Lorimer’s books are interesting because they are often a combination of mystery and ghost story.  There are logical explanations and living villains who are responsible for the things that are happening to Alani’s family and their neighbors, but there is also a definite supernatural element to the story as well.  Telling you where one ends and the other begins may be saying too much.  It may be more fun to let you find out yourself.

Summer Fun

SummerFunSummer Fun by Carolyn Haywood, 1986.

This is a cute book of short stories featuring favorite Haywood characters, including Betsy and Eddie.  The children spent their summer in different ways, having fun summer adventures.  None of the adventures is particularly scary.  Although a couple of the kids find themselves in semi-dangerous situations, everything is resolved pretty quickly, and the rest of the stories are more slice-of-life style stories about fun and funny things that the kids do or lessons they learn.

The stories are very easy to read and great for children beginning chapter books or for some light bedtime reading for younger kids.

The stories in this book are:

Bears and Blueberries

Peter is at summer camp, and when he goes on a hike and camp-out with his camp friends, they have encounters with wildlife.

SummerFunPic2The Watermelon Party

Betsy’s father tells her that he used to have watermelon parties with his friends when he was young, and that the person who had the most watermelon seeds at the end of the party would win a prize.  Betsy decides that she wants to have a party like that, but her friend Rodney learns why cheating takes all the fun out of a contest.

A Bell for Jim Dandy

Jim Dandy is a brand of ice cream that comes on a stick.  When the bell on the ice cream truck is broken, Billy gets a job trying to help the driver attract customers in exchange for free ice cream.  But, without a bell himself, how will he get people’s attention?

Betsy’s Property

While Betsy is visiting her aunt and uncle at their summer home by the beach, she discovers a special rock a little ways out from the shore that she likes to think of as all her own.  She likes to sit out on the rock and read with her aunt’s dog, but what will she do when a sudden storm leaves her stranded?

SummerFunPic1Betsy’s Hammock Club

Betsy loves the hammock that her father bought for her, but so does every other kid in the neighborhood!

Eddie and His Hermit Crab

Anna Patricia buys a couple of hermit crabs at the beach as pets.  When she gives one to Eddie, he decides that his crab will win the hermit crab race at the beach!

Eddie and His Money Sheet

Eddie sets out to make some money with sand sculptures and ends up convincing Anna Patricia to adopt a stray cat.

The Picnic

Eddie and Anna Patricia find out that her new cat actually belongs to someone else.  But, they become friends with the cat’s owners, who take them out for a sailing trip and picnic.  When the kids’ parents are late arriving with food for the picnic, Anna Patricia tries to let the kids into the house and discovers how different the Goldilocks story would have been if the bears had a security alarm.

An Afternoon on the Farm

Teddy and Babs visit a farm with their parents and make friends with the grandchildren of the owners, Mark and Sarah.  While the children are playing at being explorers one day, they find a dead animal they’ve never seen before.  When they bring it back to show their parents, they learn why you shouldn’t mess with a skunk, even a dead one. (No mention of disease, just smell, although I’d think that would be a more serious issue.)

End of Summer

It’s time for Mark and Sarah to go home after visiting their grandparents.  With all of the things they have to remember to take with them and all of the things they forget, will they actually make it to the train on time?

Egyptian Diary


Egyptian Diary: The Journal of Nakht by Richard Platt, 2005.

A young boy in Ancient Egypt, Nakht, is excited because his family will soon move to Memphis because a distant relative has offered his father a job working as a scribe.  Memphis is a large, important city, with more opportunities than Esna, where the family currently lives.  Nakht is also training to be a scribe, so he begins writing an account of his family’s journey to Memphis and what they encounter when they arrive.


The journey to Memphis includes a boat trip down the Nile, past the City of the Dead near Thebes, where pharaohs are buried.  When they arrive in Memphis, they make themselves at home in their new house, which is bigger than their old one.  For the first time, Nakht has a private bedroom of his own, and the wall is decorated with a hunting scene.  Nakht also has a bed to sleep in, although he is still more accustomed to sleeping on a mat on the floor, as he did back in Esna.

In Esna, Nakht’s father had taught him his lessons as a scribe, but in Memphis, Nakht begins attending a school with other boys.  There, he practices his writing as always, although he must also learn the older, more formal hieroglyphic form of writing used on the walls of temples and for public inscriptions as well as the less formal writing used more commonly.  Nakht also receives lessons in building and engineering, which includes calculating the weight of the building stones, how many people it would take to move them, and how much food and drink the workers would need during their time of service).  Sometimes, their teacher also takes the students places for lessons, like taking them to the fields near the river so they can see how to build canals and how farmers water their fields.

There are many exciting things going on in Memphis.  Ships come and go from many places.  When the Nile floods, Nakht describes how the Controller of Granaries sets the taxes on grain for the following year by measuring the highest height of the Nile during the flooding time, which is an indicator of how good the next year’s grain harvest will be.  Nakht and his sister Tamyt witness the funeral procession of a scribe, complete with dancers, paid mourners, and a procession of servants carrying all of the furniture and supplies to be loaded into the man’s tomb for him to use in the afterlife.


Then, Nakht learns that his father and other scribes are investigating tomb robberies in Saqqara.  Nakht and Tamyt have never seen the tombs before, but their father refuses to let them come with him.  Instead, the two of them sneak over by themselves to have a look.  While they are there, they witness the robbing of a tomb!  They get a good look at an unusual ring on the finger of one of the robbers and are shocked to later see an identical ring on the finger of a very important person!


At the end of the story, when Nakht and Tamyt are rewarded for their role in catching the thieves, it is revealed that the current king of Egypt is Hatshepsut, who is actually a woman.


Among the other things that Nakht explains about his life are how the doctor treated him when he broke his arm, how grain is harvested, how different types of craftsman work, and how houses are built.  Nakht also undergoes a special hair-cutting ceremony as a coming-of-age ritual.

There is a section in the back that explains more about Ancient Egyptian history and society.  It also explains Egyptian writing, religion, mummies, and tombs.

Pirate Diary


Pirate Diary: The Journal of Jake Carpenter by Richard Platt, 2001.

Young Jake Carpenter lives with his father in North Carolina in 1716.  His mother is dead, and his father is a medical doctor.  His father wants him to become a doctor as well, but he has decided that it’s important to the boy’s education that he see something of the world first, so he is allowing Jake to go to sea with his uncle, Will, who is a sailor.  Jake is excited about the prospect, and Will has told him many stories about the sea.


Jake isn’t allowed to bring much with him because there is limited space on board the ship for personal belongings, and there are many things that Jake has to get used to, like sleeping in a hammock, the names for all the different parts of the ship, seasickness, the poor quality of food on the ship, and using the horn lanterns which are safer for candles on board ship but don’t cast much light.  Jake makes friends with Abraham, the cook’s boy, who promises him extra food in exchange for teaching him to read.  Jake’s main job on the ship is to help the carpenter, so he begins learning his trade.

When the ship is underway, Jake and his uncle learn that the captain is running from debts and that the ship is carrying contraband.  Jake doesn’t think that smuggling is a very serious crime because the main purpose is to avoid paying extra taxes on certain types of goods, and other members of the crew say that it isn’t fair for Americans to continue paying taxes to England when the king doesn’t really care about them or what they want.  The ship sails the Caribbean, but crew members say that they try to avoid docking at English-controlled ports, like the ones in Jamaica, so they won’t have to pay the customs fees. Abraham says that even if they were caught with their contraband, the authorities would likely look the other way if they offer them a share.  Will tells Jake that the captain of the ship will most likely hold back their wages in order to keep them with the ship for as long as possible, like he does with other sailors.

Discipline on board the ship is harsh and arbitrary, according to the captain’s whims.  When Will speaks up to save Jake from a harsh flogging, he himself is flogged and abandoned in a small boat.  Jake believes that his uncle will die because they left him at sea with no provisions!

Then, the ship is captured by pirates!


Far from making things worse, Jake’s situation and that of the rest of the crew actually improves because of the pirate attack.  With the captain captured, his cruel punishments are over, and members of his crew eagerly join the pirates in the capture.  The pirates ask the crew about the treatment their captain has given them, saying that it will help them to decide what to do with him, and crew members explain the cruelties they have suffered, including what the captain did to Will.  They end up marooning the captain and his equally-cruel second mate on an island with drinking water.

As Jake’s father predicted, Jake gets to see a lot and learn a lot about life and death during his time at sea, perhaps even more than expected while under the command of the pirates.  He gets some experience in dealing with injuries as he has to help the ship’s carpenter saw off the leg of a man whose wound was too infected to treat in any other way, although the man later died anyway.  Later, the pirates join up with other pirate ships, and Jake participates in a raid on a Spanish treasure fleet!


It’s not all excitement, and Jake spends some time talking about the routine chores that sailors did and how they would pass the time on board ship when nothing else was going on.  He does get to see St. Elmo’s Fire on the upper rigging of the ship, and the crew spots a “mermaid” once on a misty day.

An offer of amnesty for those willing to give up pirating allows Jake and other members of the crew to return home where he learns that his uncle has managed to survive after all!


In the back of the book is a section with historical information.  It explains the history and geography of the American Colonies, where Jake lived and the history of piracy from the first known pirates to the privateers and buccaneers that led to the golden age of piracy in the 18th century.  Jake is a fictional character, but some of the pirates that Jake met in the story were real people, and the section in the back explains more about them.