The Scarecrow and His Servant is the latest book I’ve read by Philip Pullman. I really like Pullman, especially the His Dark Materials trilogy. The Scarecrow is a quick read, very entertaining and light. The scarecrow is predictable foolish/wise and gets himself into and out of all kinds of trouble from one page to the next. The servant is a resourceful boy who knows when to keep quiet and when to say just the right thing… a trait I would do well to learn. I found myself laughing out loud throughout the book and I think 4th through 6th graders would love it.
The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials series) I read a few years ago and I really loved them. They are much more complex and challenging than the scarecrow story. They should be read in order, as the characters and plot continue to develop through out the series. It takes a while for readers to get into the language and imagery of the story, but once it grabs you, you won’t be able to put the books down. It completely absorbed me until I got through all three of them. Lyra and Will, the children in the center of the saga, are in an alternate universe that looks very much like our own, except that everyone there has a spirit/animal companion called a daemon. Lyra is living at a university in a city like Oxford at the beginning of the story, being raised by scholars as she has lost both of her parents. As the story progresses she meets both her mother and father and struggles with the coldness and cruelty she finds in them. In The Subtle Knife Will is also looking for his father. These two main characters team up on a quest to save the universe from evil and destruction by solving the mystery of why things are disintegrating. The only thing I really didn’t like was the ending in book three, where God is revealed to be a wizard-of-oz type little man hiding behind a curtain. It was anticlimactic and very disappointing. The rest of the philosophical viewpoint was interesting and thought provoking. I would recommend these books to 5th grade – 8th.