The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand by Jennifer Swann Downey is a middle grade chapter book. Dorrie Barnes loves swordplay, but wishes she could use it for more than play acting on a stage. When an overdue book, run away mongoose, and unfortunate bet led Dorrie and her brother Marcus to the janitor's closet in her local library they accidentally fall through a passage into another place. They land in Petrarch's Library, the headquarters of a secret society of librarians that aim to protect independent thinkers that have gotten themselves into hot water because of their new ideas. These sword-swinging, karate-chopping, crime-fighting ninja librarians do their work anywhere in the world, during any time in history. However, when traitors are lurking, suspicion falls on Marcus and Dorrie as the prime suspects. Can they clear their names before they are sent home for good?
Okay, I'll admit it. As I librarian I just had to read The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand, I had no choice. Thankfully, the book was fabulous and made my day. Dorrie loves to think of herself as a hero, and of the good she could do with her sword, but realizes that there is not much use for sword wielding heroes in our day. She is smart, good hearted, and honest but stubborn. Marcus is a born slacker, he can talk his way into or out of just about anything, which ever would benefit him most. I loved the sibling relationship, and their relationships with the rest of the wacky family. I hope to see more of their sticky fingered younger sibling in future adventures, because she just seems like a good source of entertainment. The solid character and world building made all of the character interactions flow well and feel very real to me.
There are some standard elements to this story, that seem to be in most middle grade and young adult novel lately. There is the mean girl, who is surely motivated by insecurity or jealousy. There is also the unexpected mentor, the sweet friend that comes through in a pinch, the distrustful leader, and of course the villain. However, the way the story plays out, the enjoyment in the reading, is not lost because of this familiar elements. I found that these pieces were reworked and fit together perfectly to create a story that felt new and exciting.
I would recommend The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand to middle grade readers (and adults) that enjoy action, adventure, and a touch of magic. Readers that love libraries and the power of information as well will have a special enjoyment in the story. The flow of words and story make this a great book for reading aloud or listening to on audio book if or when it becomes available in that format.
As it happens, I have many truth-telling heroes. Some of them told (are telling) the truth about human circumstances especially unjust ones, some refused (are refusing) to pretend to conform with the beliefs of the powerful, and some told (are telling) exquisite and brave truths about themselves when it would be easier to remain silent. It's so very tempting to, if not to outright lie in this world, then to hang back from telling whole, uncomfortable truths about what we're noticing in the world or what we're feeling and thinking. It makes us vulnerable. Sometimes very vulnerable.
A truth-teller I've been thinking about a lot lately is Ida B. Wells. She lived here in the United States in the late 19th century/early 20th. She ran a newspaper, she took on the railroads when they tried to make her leave a "whites only" car, and she exposed the massive number of lynchings of african-americans taking place across the south and not-so-south. Despite threats against her life, despite her newspaper office being burned down, she never retreated into silence. She's someone for whom I bow my head, and then raise it again, thankful, inspired and hoping, that in a moment when it counts, I can channel one hundredth of her courage to speak out.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jen Swann Downey’s nonfiction pieces have appeared in New York Magazine, The Washington Post, Women's Day, and other publications. She’s never visited a library in which she didn't want to spend the night. Jen lives in Charlottesville, VA with her family.