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Gr. 6^-9. Twelve-year-old Haoyou watches in horror as his father dies as a result of being sent aloft tied to the mast as a "wind tester" to predict the success of a ship's voyage. When Di Chou, the ship's brutal first mate, who ordered the wind test, plans to marry Haoyou's newly widowed mother, the boy, with the help of Mipeng, a distant cousin, takes action. To prevent the wedding, he signs a very drunk Di Chou aboard a different ship and volunteers himself as the new wind tester so the ship can leave before the first mate comes to his senses. Haoyou's exploit leads to his becoming a kite rider for a traveling circus. Mipeng, who is considered to be a medium, helps Haoyou by serving as his link to the sky spirits. The story is a genuine page-turner, with the tension increasing after the circus performs for the capricious Kublai Khan and when Di Chou comes back into the picture. McCaughrean fully immerses her memorable characters in the culture and lore of the ancient Chinese and Mongols, which make this not only a solid adventure story but also a window to a fascinating time and place rarely used as a background in children's fiction. --Sally Estes


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Gr 5-9-In 1281, the Chinese lived under a foreign emperor, Kublai Khan, whose nomadic Mongol warriors had just toppled the glorious Sung Dynasty. The pageant of changing dynasties is an epic backdrop for the story of 12-year-old Haoyou. After watching his father die, the boy must fend for himself and protect his widowed mother from their greedy, overbearing uncle and a suitor responsible for his father's death. With his cousin Mipeng, Haoyou joins a traveling circus headed by the mysterious, charismatic Miao Jie. The cousins create a popular and profitable act as Haoyou, strapped to the crossbars of a kite, rides the winds high in the sky, where, gullible villagers believe, he can speak to spirits. Written in a rich vocabulary saturated with metaphor, McCaughrean's account of Haoyou's journey from innocence to experience is driven by a plot that sweeps readers along like the famous kamikaze wind that nearly kills the boy and destroys a fleet sent by Kublai Khan to invade Japan. Readers ride the winds with Haoyou, thanks to the author's vivid, realistic re-creation of his thrilling but terrifying flights. Her deliberate, shifting focus straddles insider and outsider, Mongol and Chinese, earth and sky, and life and death. Ultimately, the characters transcend all boundaries as their common humanity touches readers' hearts.-Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.