This week's library summer reading pick: His Dark Materials Series by Philip Pullman
First Book: The Golden Compass
You might say that Lyra's adventure begins when her insatiable curiosity makes her a witness to a very strange discussion among scholars at Oxford University, England, her home and playground.
But you also might say her adventure begins as soon as the book opens in an alternate universe where human beings have animal spirit companions, witches fly, bears talk, and where children are mysteriously disappearing.
First and foremost, this story is a great fantasy adventure filled with heroic deeds and heart. There are also deep questions, though, about the ethics of science and the corruption of power. From Lyra's point of view, we see adults acting in all manner of sneaky ways and have to try to guess whom to trust. We find, like Lyra, that sometimes the more you know about a situation, the harder it is to know what the right thing is to do.
Pullman's descriptions are rich and beautiful, transporting us to the harsh and magical northern-most parts of this alternate world, where the Northern Lights are revealing strange things. Lyra's guardian, the clan of Gyptians who have adopted her, a fierce warrior bear who owes her his loyalty, and even her own animal spirit, Pantalaimon, all pull her in different directions, and she must decide how best to act when she finds herself in the middle of what could be all-out war in her world -- and in the world beyond it.
This first book in Pullman's series came out in 1995 and was turned into a movie in 2007. But the mystery and magic are still very fresh. The characters are full and rich, and you will want to follow them to the ends of the Earth to discover their fates. Advanced 6th grade readers and 7th and 8th grade readers seeking adventure and mystery will really enjoy this one.