Lifestyle | EDUCATION

"Regarding the Sink," "Magyk: Septimus Heap Book One"

“Regarding the Sink,” Kate Klise, Harcourt; 2005; 127pp.

As wacky reads go, it’s hard to find a wackier one than this. The sixth-graders of Geyser Creek Middle School are all riled up because their cafeteria sink is clogged and needs replacing. The stink is unbearable, but the school is burdened with severe budget cuts. This is all thanks to Sen. Sue Ergass, who thinks money should be spent on “worthy” causes, such as saving — get a load of this — the endangered Chinese Sinkiang Blinking Spotted Suckerfish, rather than wasting it on “self-serving class trips.”

So art classes, sport activities, school excursions and the like are made a big no-no at Geyser Creek. And, as Klise takes great pains to point out, the stagnant water in the old sink is not exactly doing wonders for the school morale — or for its feng-shui. Literally meaning “wind and water,” feng-shui is the ancient Chinese art of placement. Simply put, it is a method of living in harmony with nature.

So they write to none other than Florence Waters (she’s made an appearance before in Klise’s previous book, “Regarding the Fountain”) to design a sink for them. But Florence Waters, quite counter to her usually congenial nature, doesn’t write back — for months. The truth is, Waters is missing. And the students must rustle up the cash to go all the way to China in search of her.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ergass is lobbying to send beans to China — so that the Chinese can eat more legumes and less of those spotted suckerfish. And a rather corny-sounding company called AIR-igate, Inc. has come up with a new “rain alternative” — artificial rain timed around public convenience.

Can all these zany elements come together somehow? But, of course. This is a hilarious take on how governments often poke their noses where they shouldn’t, on how politicians can never be trusted; and on how saving the ecology is often nothing more than a campaign promise.

Be forewarned that this book isn’t structured like a typical novel: It pieces together newspaper clippings, letters, memos, school-board notices, even wacky illustrations by Kate Klise’s sister, Sarah Klise. It is hard going at times, reading column after column by Sen. Sue Ergass; investment advice from Macon Bigbucks; and letters from grouchy Ima Crabbie to her son, principal of Geyser Creek Middle School. But you’ll love the shameless puns on their names and the sixth-graders’ crazy illustrations of their “dream-sink” — which include a bottomless sink for dirty dishes and a “drinking sink” that washes dishes by, brace yourself, drinking them up.

Now, um, sink your teeth into this one!

This book is for children 10-12 years.

“Magyk: Septimus Heap Book One,” Angie Sage, Bloomsbury; 2006; 576 pp.

Angie Sage sure knows how to spin a good yarn.

On the kind of cold winter night that so many children’s tales begin with, a seventh son is born to Ordinary Wizard Silas Heap and his wife, Sarah. On his way home to his wife, Silas discovers a baby girl in the snow and takes her home, only to find that his new-born son has died. Jenna, the adopted baby girl, grows up with the Heaps and their six sons quite happily . . . but that wouldn’t make for much of a story, would it?

Which is why author Sage brings in the much-needed villain of the piece, evil necromancer DomDaniel, who wants Jenna dead because she is no other than the heir apparent, the Queenling. And this is when the fun begins. Sage’s imaginative adventure brings together wizards, witches, brownies, friendly ghosts, marsh creatures and all kinds of awful cronies for our villain: an Assassin with a silver bullet; a Hunter who loves closing in for the kill; and Magogs, slimy slug-like creatures who are almost too gross to read about.

If you’re well-versed with adventure fiction, you’ll have guessed how things go from here. The Heaps escape; they spend half the book fleeing a ruthless Hunter in a bullet boat; and the other half of the book using their smarts to fight back.

Of course, they meet a motley group of characters along the way. There’s Boy 412, who stands guard outside the Wizard Tower and has no other name; an insect-size bodyguard known as a Shield Bug; and a brown furry marsh resident known as a Boggart. And how can we forget the Extraordinary Wizard named Marcia who tromps around purple snakeskin boots.

The most winning thing about “Magyk,” though, is the characterization. In most adventure fiction, the characters — apart from the hero — are only devices to propel the plot forward. But in Sage’s novel, all the characters evolve together in equal measure. Jenna comes to terms with her blue-blooded roots; Marcia learns that even Extraordinary Wizards can use some help from their friends; and Boy 412 discovers what it is like to have family to count on.

A tall tale if you ever read one, and here’s the best part — the sequel “Flyte” is out, too.

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