Kai and Leila are both having an adventure. For Leila, that means a globe-crossing journey to visit family in Pakistan for the summer; for Kai, it means being stuck with her crazy great-aunt in Texas while her mom looks for a job. In each of their bedrooms, they discover a copy of a blank, old book called . Kai writes three words on the first page—and suddenly, they magically appear in Leila's copy on the other side of the planet. Kai's words are soon followed by line after line of the long-ago, romantic tale of Ralph T. Flabbergast and his forever-love, Edwina Pickle. As the two take turns writing, the tale unfolds, connecting both girls to each other, and to the past, in a way they never could have imagined.
This is exactly the kind of book I would have fallen in love with around middle school. So much in this lovely (when you are talking about forgotten romances and bioluminescent moths, you have to use words like 'lovely') book. The many characters couldn't be more different, but they are all tied together - implying that we all are (the author's note is a must-read!). Stories of the past and present weave in and around each other until everyone is tightly meshed. Older readers will see the connections well before the characters do, but they won't care.
Other themes include the different types of magic in the world, the power of music, and the things that really matter. A thoroughly enjoyable read, and a must for every library.
In keeping with the gifting theme, there are many avenues to go down. The Celestial Moth (not real as far as I can find) figures prominently - perhaps a pretty glass paperweight with a blue moth or butterfly in it (not real! Doodle would kill you!) Leila is visiting family in Pakistan, and food is mentioned frequently - a Pakistani cookbook would be a lot of fun. Kipling's novel Kim, as well as parts of his life, weave in - a biography of Kipling would be a great extension, finding out which parts of the story match up. A book of magic tricks. A glass vial like the one Ralph has. Last but not least, your very own copies of The Exquisite Corpse - any blank book you can pass back and forth, continuing a story together (this might be especially fun if you live apart!)