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Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green by Helen…

Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green

by Helen Phillips

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A cross of The Penderwicks and The Mysterious Benedict Society, but not quite as well done as either. The one thing Phillips does the best is creating full, vibrant characters with feelings as real as the kids who are reading the book. She describes the scenery of the rain forest very well, making you feel right at home at the small motel Mad, Roo, and their mom are staying in. But it's far from a perfect book....

To me, the plot stutters and spurts, much like the volcano and its eruptions. It seems that the children go into the jungle to face certain danger while searching for their father, for the elusive bird, and they turn back without really ever having done anything. The aloofness of the mother was never really explained, and it was something I thought needed to be.

There were parts at the beginning where it was clear that the author was trying to insert liberal ideology into a kids book. As if... of course the mother would keep her maiden name. And that the most important part about Vivi, the superstar actress, was that she gave readily to environmental issues. There were just hints of it at the beginning, before the story really started. And it really ticked me off. I almost told myself that if that keeps up, I was going to stop reading it. I have thoroughly enjoyed books with environmental issues, but only if it's not thrown in my face. Read Cary Neeper's "The Webs of Varok" and "A Place Beyond Man," for books primarily concern with ecological balance but also with an amazing storyline.

But I'm giving the book 4 stars because I honestly enjoyed reading it. The ending was satisfying, the explanation from the author was genuine and fitting at the end. It could easily be a part of a series, with the same characters growing up and finding their own iniquities and strengths. At the end, while Madeline was realizing some of her fears, it reminded me of John Christopher's Tripod books, where the kids have fears and faults, and aren't afraid to bring them out. It's what makes this book worth reading, and worth kids reading, for all it's faults... it's a good book. ( )
  DenzilPugh | Jan 6, 2014 |
A good adventure book for young girls. There is a definite suspension of disbelief that needs to happen for the story to get started but, once you buy that, it's a fun read. There's a great element of mythology/folk knowledge that enhances the story. ( )
  Brainannex | Oct 25, 2013 |
Oh, middle grade books, you are just so delightful. One of my goals this year is to read more of them, because I've had such good experiences with all of my middle grade selections. Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green is the latest success. Phillips' debut is enchanting, full of adventure, nature, and a little bit of magic.

For those who like to indulge wanderlust with fiction, Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green is a real treat. Set in the jungles of Central America, the descriptions are as lush and verdant as the landscape being described. Phillips captures both the beauty and the danger inherent in such a setting, from the poisonous bright-colored tree frogs to the daily monsoon-like rains. The descriptions bring this Central American jungle to life.

Using this setting, Phillips conveys important messages about modern society's treatment of the environment and extinction of natural species. In Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green, the two young heroines and Kyle, a new (cute) friend, team up to save a species of bird, the Lava-Throated Volcano Trogon, from final extinction. A Lazarus species, the LTVTs were already thought extinct once, but now they are being hunted to death for sinister purposes, and, for some reason, their father, a bird expert and lover, is involved. Phillips manages to get her environmental messages across organically, without any preaching.

My very favorite aspect of the story is the dose of magical realism that Helen Phillips added into the mix. La Lava, the plush resort Madeline and Ruby's father works for, is located next to an active volcano, one not believed to blow for another hundred years. However, this volcano's explosive tendencies correlate with the health of the LTVTs. If they die out, the volcano will explode. There are also these giant flowers that can be used as umbrellas if you push the right spot, and glowing mushrooms. These little magical touches really brought the story to life, adding a cinematic touch that middle graders will love.

Mad makes a rather unique heroine. Middle grade MCs tend to be funny and plucky kids, adventurous and brave. Mad, on the other hand, fears pretty much everything and envies the confidence and talents of her younger sister. Mad's jealousy of Roo does wear a bit thin, but I was so happy when Mad finally realized her own strengths. Roo does seem a little bit too magical and clever, though, so Mad's inferiority complex does make a bit of sense. For example, Roo picks up Spanish in just a couple days.

The plot follows pretty standard middle grade lines. Ruby and Mad's parents, while ordinarily loving and pleasant, have been made to act not like themselves. To restore their parents, Roo and Mad have to complete a quest, using ingenuity and determination. Along the way, Roo has a first crush. It's all very cute and empowering, if not anything out of the ordinary.

Helen Phillips transports you to another place and takes you on a journey through the jungles. Her skill at description and timely message make Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green a wonderful choice for middle grade readers (and older ones too). ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Apr 1, 2013 |
From the first sentence I was whisked into and adventure that was fast moving, intense at times and yet full of humor. My kind of book. I love Mad's and Roo's relationship. Roo is everything I wish I could have been in middle grade, fearless, smart and funny. I identified, as I'm sure others will, to Mad's angst and desire to stay out of the way, avoiding any attention toward herself. When Mad has the first stirrings of attraction for Golden-Eyed Boy, the nervousness and new feelings are believable and age appropriate. This is one of those books that you want to keep reading because something happens on every single page. A great read with lots of surprises.

See complete review at soimfifty.blogspot.com ( )
  ptorres | Dec 6, 2012 |
Mad is the quiet one, Roo is the brave one. They're sisters and everything is perfect, living with their mom (a librarian) and their dad (the Bird Guy). Then Dad gets a special job working for La Lava, a "green" resort at the foot of a volcano in Central America. They all agree he should go; it's a wonderful opportunity and with La Lava's help, maybe no more birds like the Lava-Throated Volcano Trogon will go extinct.

But then the Weirdness starts. Dad hardly ever writes or calls and when he does he acts strangely. The representative from the resort, the annoying Ken/Neth, is getting way too friendly with Mom for Mad's liking. Roo is obsessed with deciphering the last code Dad sent, and Mad is lonely and scared and worried.

Mom finally decides to take Mad and Roo down to the resort and figure out what's going on, but the Weirdness just gets more weird. Mad and Roo meet a maybe-friend, definitely crush, Kyle, and they find themselves in the world of the jungle; beautiful, dangerous, and full of surprises. In the end, they have to find hidden strengths to rescue their parents and an exciting discovery.

The best part of this story is the character of Mad, the narrator. She often feels left out because she's not brave like Roo, has trouble learning Spanish, and generally feels in her little sister's shadow. Her worries about her parents are always spot on and her confusing feelings about growing up are genuine and realistic. I could have done without the crush and the first kiss, but that's just my personal bias. The author does a fairly good job of staying away from too many stereotypes. The reader is kept guessing about the villains' real intentions and loyalties until the end and there's plenty of suspense as the kids try to figure out who they can trust.

The fantasy elements come in the magical elements of the jungle, which, although beautifully written, are never really spelled out. Are the prophecies and legends really true? There are plants, flowers, and creatures that seem magical, but the jungle has a lot of amazing flora and fauna - who's to say these don't exist somewhere? References are made to Roo's "special" abilities, but they are never really explained in detail. The story has a fantasy feel, but it's as much the atmosphere and the writing as any actual events.

Although the book is 300 pages long, and the ending is rather abrupt and too-good-to-be-true, there are some loose ends left hanging, like the girls' mom's weird behavior. I would have liked to see more local/native inhabitants involved in what is supposed to be an environmental fantasy. Instead, Kyle's local grandparents' additions to the plot are mysterious drinks, retelling old legends, and complete helplessness. It's all on the (American) kids to save the day. The "evil corporation" trope is rather tired and I thought the "beautiful villainess" was a little too stereotypical. It's also hard to believe that, if the magical cure really works, everyone is just going to abandon it because of a few kids, an aging movie star, and a little volcanic activity.

Verdict: Despite some of the more unbelievable aspects of the plot, there are some really well-drawn characters in this story and the jungle descriptions are magical. I especially liked that, while Mad was able to overcome her fear in the end, she didn't suddenly become as brave and magical as Roo and accepted that. While I wouldn't hand this one to kids looking for fast-paced adventure or realistic stories about the environment, kids who like fantasies with strong characters will enjoy this story.

ISBN: 9780385742368; Published November 2012 by Delacorte; Egalley provided by publisher through Netgalley; Purchased for the library
  JeanLittleLibrary | Nov 10, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385742363, Hardcover)

Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal-winning author of When You Reach Me said this book is "brimming with surprises and grand adventure. Brave, smart, and full of heart, Madeline and Ruby are a gust of fresh air."

Mad's dad is the Bird Guy. He'll go anywhere to study birds. So when he's offered a bird-tracking job in Central America, his bags are packed and he's jungle bound.

But going bird tracking in the jungle and disappearing completely are very different things, and when the Very Strange and Incredibly Creepy Letter arrives, Mad can't shake the terrible feeling that her father is in trouble.

Roo, Mad's younger sister, is convinced that the letter is a coded message. And their mom is worried, because the letter doesn't sound like Dad at all. But Mad is sure it's a sign of something sinister.

The only way to get to the bottom of it is to go to Lava Bird Volcano and find their dad themselves. Though they never could have imagined what they're about to discover.

From new talent Helen Phillips, Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green is the story of what can happen when two sisters make some unusual friends, trust in each other, and bravely face a jungle of trouble all to bring their family back together.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:59 -0400)

Sisters Madeline and Ruby travel to a Central American jungle to help find their missing father, a renowned bird watcher, only to discover a nefarious plot that puts their lives in danger.

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