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Friday, Sept. 13, 2002

ON THE BOOK TRAIL

"Artemis Fowl," "Egg Drop"


"Artemis Fowl," Eoin Colfer, Puffin Books; 2002; 282 pp.

"Stay back, human. You don't know what you are dealing with."

But the human who hears this warning does know what he's dealing with -- fairies. He wants their gold, and he's planned out exactly how he's going to get it.

If you're tired of reading about kids that are way too good to be real, then here's a book about a 12-year-old who's almost too foul to be real: Artemis Fowl.

This scheming antihero has no time for school because he's busy devising villainous schemes to make money and restore his family's fortunes. He gets his hands on the secret Book of the fairies and decides to strike it rich by, horror of horrors, kidnapping one. He hopes to collect a ransom in gold, but unfortunately for him, he picks the wrong target. The fairy in question, Captain Holly Short, is no pretty-in-pink sprite with a wand and a sparkling tiara. Instead, she's a member of an elite police unit. And if Fowl can play foul, so can she.

When she goes missing, her people come looking for her. They aren't armed only with spells -- in fact, they've got a whole arsenal of weaponry that's years ahead of ours. And they give Artemis the fight of his life.

So if these fairies are so advanced, are all the stories that we've been told about them dreadfully outdated? Author Eoin Colfer seems to think so. He gives us a 21st-century look at Fairyland, with its early-evening commuter rush of elves and gnomes heading to work and holidaygoers lining up for overground visas. And all of this takes place underground -- in the last human-free zone.

Purple-faced Commander Root blasts out of this subterranean fairy world to bring Short back home. He's got an eccentric team to help him out -- there's a smartmouth centaur who's at the cutting edge of fairy technology; a kleptomaniac dwarf; and one very angry caged troll.

The war between Fowl and fairies is like a fast-paced action film, powered with techno wizardry and super gadgets, including high-vibration shields that make fairies invisible to the Mud People (that's us!) and miniature iris cameras that fit into your eyes like contact lenses. Things happen so quickly, you'll be afraid to blink in case you miss something.

If Artemis would only stop fighting the fairies for a second, he'd find that these hyper-advanced beings could teach him a thing or two. Except that they don't like Mud People too much either -- and Colfer provides ample reasons for that.

For starters, humans are to blame for pollution, which has bleached the dolphins white and riddled them with sores. Humans have made the planet so uninhabitable that the fairies have no choice but to stick it out below ground. And human weapons threaten to destroy everything -- quite unlike the fairies' sophisticated bio-bomb that wipes out only its target, leaving all else untouched.

And most of all, the human race has greedy specimens like Artemis Fowl who will do anything for a pot of gold. As Colfer shows us, we human beings have plenty to answer for.

But Artemis isn't just greedy, he's intelligent. And he's always one step ahead of the fairies. When his wiliness fails, he's got Butler, his muscle-headed bodyguard, who's more than happy to pulverize the enemy in order to protect his master.

Still, even though Fowl's got everything going in his favor, there's one thing he doesn't bargain for -- his hostage being the toughest fairy of them all . . .

So who wins in this breathless page-turner? Does Short escape? Does Artemis get his gold? And why is he so likable when he's such a bad boy? Get your hands on this book to find out.

For children 10 years and older. Available at online bookstores

"Egg Drop," Mini Grey, Janathan Cape; 2002; 24 pp.

If you have a little brother or sister, here's a book you might enjoy reading with them. It's a tragic story about an egg with a dream -- to fly.

A flying egg? Maybe it's silly, but the egg doesn't think so. It wants to fly so badly that it ignores the advice of those who know better. And it does fly -- but only for a moment -- and finds out, too late, that there's a big difference between flying and . . . falling.

The egg meets a sad end, like a modern-day Humpty Dumpty. But the book is surprisingly cheerful. Younger kids will love the bright pictures and the zesty imagination of the egg aviator.

Perhaps you, too, will be surprised by the unexpected turns that this tale takes. There are quirky illustrations on every page, to discover, to discuss and to giggle about. Even your parents will like it.

For children 5 years and under. Available at online bookstores

E-mail Payal Kapadia about this new fortnightly column or about the Education page in general at payal@japantimes.co.jp


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