Children's books and book reviews - reading resource for kids, teachers, librarians, parents

Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

*Looking for Marco Polo* by Alan Armstrong, illustrated by Tim Jessell- young readers book review
Also by Alan Armstrong:

Racing the Moon


Also illustrated by Tim Jessell:

Racing the Moon
Also illustrated by Tim Jessell:

Two Hot Dogs with Everything
Looking for Marco Polo
by Alan Armstrong, illustrated by Tim Jessell
Ages 9-12 304 pages Random House September 2009 Hardcover    

Mark’s father teaches anthropology (the study of human beings and their cultures), and sometimes he gets to travel to strange places and study cultures for himself. Now he’s all set to go to the Gobi Desert, where two-humped camels and desert Bedouins still live much as they did hundreds of years ago.

The Gobi Desert is also one of the places where the famous explorer Marco Polo traveled. Mark will miss his dad, of course, but they’ll be able to exchange letters. There’s no post office in the Gobi, though, so their mail will be carried by people from the company that is sending Mark’s father on this trip. Mark can also follow the story of Marco Polo through a book that his father gives him just before leaving.

Once his father is gone, Mark reads a few pages of the book, but it just doesn’t hold his attention. He’s eager to get the weeks over with so he can enjoy Christmas with his dad back home again. He’s very good about writing letters to his father, and his father writes home to tell Mark all about the unusual and interesting experiences he’s having.

And then the letters stop coming. Mark’s father seems to have disappeared, and no one knows exactly what has happened or where he might be.

Not satisfied with the answers they are getting (or not getting) from the travel company, Mark and his mother travel to Venice, Italy, to nag the company into searching harder for their missing father and husband. As it turns out, Venice was Marco Polo’s hometown, and everyone there is quite proud of him. Mark learns a lot about the explorer just by walking the watery streets of that unique city.

When an old friend of his father’s enters the picture, the story of Marco Polo and his travels suddenly takes on a new dimension. Is Mark having hallucinations, or is an old man who lived hundreds of years ago really talking to him? What role does a big black dog play in the story of Marco Polo, and how does he figure into Mark’s visions of other worlds? And where is Mark’s missing father?

Alan Armstrong has crafted a historical novel with intrigue and drama, with characters who grow so large that they escape from the pages, and with a touch of magic realism that is perfectly executed to capture readers’ attention without being silly. Marco Polo’s travels take on a new fascination through the evolving story, told by different characters in different guises as they draw Mark into their tale even as he worries about the mysterious disappearance of his father.

Looking for Marco Polo is the sort of grand novel that we seldom see offered to young readers anymore, and it deserves special and positive attention for what it achieves. Polo’s history is delivered with reverence, humor, and honesty; young Mark learns as the reader learns, but without the dry, fact-driven approach of schoolbook instruction. Instead, Armstrong creates a mystical environment for his characters that reaches out from the pages and embraces the reader. Outstanding!
Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

click here to browse children's board book reviews
click here to browse children's picture book reviews
click here to browse young readers book reviews
click here to browse young readers book reviews
click here to browse young adult book reviews
click here to browse parenting book reviews
web reviews
  Deborah Adams/2009 for curled up with a good kid's book  

For grown-up fiction, nonfiction and speculative fiction book reviews,
visit our sister site Curled Up With a Good Book (