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The Blue Umbrella 
Author: Mike Mason
 David C. Cook Publishers, 4050 Lee Vance View, Colorado Springs, CO 80918. ISBN: 978-1-4347-6526-0, pp. 425, pb, $14.99.
 
Writing a children’s book is no easy matter. The material selected must be interesting, informative, characters young people can relate to and having eager minds wanting more. Author Mike Mason (“The Gospel According to Job”) has chosen the subject of weather for his first novel, The Blue Umbrella.  The main character is Zac, about ten years old, and quite intelligent for that age. Zac encounters problems beginning on the first page of the first chapter.
 
In the story, Zac loses his mother and doesn’t remember his father. Right away, he is handed over to two aunties, who resemble the wicked stepsisters from “Cinderella.” In fact, this could almost be seen as a male version of that story.  Zac is forced to do menial work and the aunties block his escape at every move. There are colorful characters introduced to us, such as Ches, a weather-loving boy who is a minister’s son, his sister Chelsea who can’t/won’t speak, the auntie’s butler who seems to live to serve them, the timid minister, his more timid wife and the town barber. Across and down the street from Zac’s attic room, is the town square. Here sits an old flower vendor named Eldy with special flowers. Then, there is a general store owned by Sky Porter. The roof glows at night, but no one seems to notice except  Zac. The auntie’s have a father named Dada, who resembles a prune in clothes and is the persona of evil. Thus, go the adventures of Zac Sparks as he tries to unravel the mystery of his mother’s demise, a blue umbrella the aunties and Dada want from Sky, and how Zac is involved in all of this. Was it chance or fate?
 
The Blue Umbrella is the first in a series of books concerning Zac Sparks. Here is a young boy with intelligence and grit. He gathers his posse of friends so that by the end of the book, the group is poised for something, we don’t know what yet. Along the way, weather plays an important role and who controls it, controls everyone, which is why Dada wants the controlling umbrella so much. Of such are dictators born. Weather terms are explained in a way young readers can understand. Topics such as one gender disguised as another are dropped in, but not fully explained. The use of a cane (caning) as punishment is over-used and brings this book into a darker realm than what one might first think, along with a sort of vampirish theme that takes this book from young readers (suggested 9-12 years old) into the 12-years-old and beyond category. 
 
All in all, The Blue Umbrella is an adequate first novel for young readers, in the middle school and up age limit.  At 425 pages, The Blue Umbrella is a hefty paperback, but attractively packaged and made to look as though it was printed 50 years ago. Mike Mason does have a good turn of phrase and describes people and situations well.
 
Reviewed by Marie Asner
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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