The Inkheart: Leaping Off the Page

Inkheart is a book about books, a celebration of and a warning about books. The "Inkheart" of the title is a book. I don't think I've ever read anything that conveys so well the joys, terrors and pitfalls of reading. Each chapter is headed by a quotation from a classic - Peter Pan, The BFG, The Wind in the Willows, The Hobbit and many more - which, in the traditional way of such quotes, often has little to do with the subject of the chapter. The headings work more as a rich sample of the books that lie behind Inkheart .

Twelve-year-old Meggie discovers that when her father, Mo, reads aloud, the characters of the book actually come to life. Meggie's mother has mysteriously disappeared, and Meggie and her father have been moving from place to place to avoid vicious Capricorn and his attendant, Basta, who came from the book, "Inkheart." The two men have collected and destroyed all copies of the book so they can't be read back into their own fiction-world.

Capricorn wants his friend and cohort, Shadow, to be brought to life, and he knows that Mo can give him the treasures that remain in all the kingdoms of yore. However, Dustfinger, their fire-eating friend, wants to return to the world from which he was snatched. He betrays Meggie and Mo and bibliophile Great-aunt Elinor, trying to get the copy of "Inkheart."

When Capricorn steals the book and kidnaps Meggie, Mo and Dustfinger collaborate to rescue the girl — her father hoping for her safety and Dustfinger wanting to be read back into his world. "This world will be the death of me. It's too fast, too crowded, too noisy. If I don't die of homesickness I shall starve to death. I don't know how to make a living. . . . I'm like a fish out of water," he says.

"Inkheart" has all the elements of a top-notch high fantasy: parallel themes of good and evil, glimpses of the "other-world" and truly convincing characters. Meggie, Mo and Elinor are likeable protagonists, each wearing the qualities of this real world, while Dustfinger has a selfish demeanor balanced by a caring heart that often interferes with his motive to return to his own fiction-world.

The author's pacing is unswerving and much credit must be given to a careful translation where the descriptions and dialogue hold true — which isn't always the case in translated fiction. As a foreshadowing detail, each chapter begins effectively with a short passage from classics including "Watership Down," "The BFG," "The Jungle Book" and "The Wind in the Willows."

Funke lives in Hamburg, Germany, has written more than 40 books for young readers and is an accomplished illustrator. Her fiction was virtually unknown in the United States until last year with the publication of "Thief Lord." That book won many international awards. It reached the top of the New York Times Bestseller List soon after its release in America and was chosen by the Independent Booksellers as an award winner. "Thief Lord" earned the Batchelder Award for the best-translated children's book of the year.

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