Category Archives: younger readers

The Poet’s Dog, by Patricia MacLachlan

 

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One day, during a terrible snow storm, a family car gets stuck along the side of the road. Nicholas and Flora’s mother leaves them in the car to go find help, and when she doesn’t come back, Nicholas and Flora leave the car to try and find shelter. Max, an Irish Wolfhound, finds them in the snow, half frozen. He leads them to a cabin, and soon the children are snug as bugs. It is in this cabin that the two children learn a valuable truth–that the words of dogs can be understood by children and poets. And in the cabin with the two children, Max learns that love is not something you lose, but something that you gain and gain.

“The Poet’s Dog” is a beautiful tale, told in an elegant, simple style. Patricia MacLachlan, best known for “Sarah Plain and Tall,” returns with a slim tale with hidden depths, one sprinkled with the best bits of wisdom for spice. This is a book for dog lovers, certainly, but this delightful story will be enjoyed by both young and old alike.

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Raymie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo

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It is 1975 and Raymie Clarke is determined to learn to twirl a baton so she can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition. If she does, she is sure she will get her picture in the newspaper, where her father will see it. And if he sees it, he will surely come back home to live with Raymie and her mom. Raymie meets Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski, both of whom have reasons to want to be Little Miss Central Florida Tire. The three girls could have been rivals, but instead, they become friends. Together they find a lost library book, look for a missing cat, and mourn for a elderly friend who has died. While each girl clearly has problems in their personal lives, they do not let those problems define them. Instead, they love, laugh, and enjoy life, and you see the strength of their characters shine though.

This book does not offer easy answers to any of the problems the girls must face. Instead, “Raymie Nighingale” celebrates the power of friendship and the joy of every day things. I very much enjoyed this one, though I do wish that Ms. DiCamillo had given the relationship between Raymie and her father a little more depth. That way, the loss of that relationship would have had more meaning to me.

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The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown

wildrobot
One fateful day, a ship is caught in a hurricane and sinks, but not
before five boxes are thrown free to float away. Four of the boxes
meet an untimely end on the rocky shores of a distant island. The
fifth box makes it to shore before it breaks open. The island otters
search the box and push a button. Out pops Roz, a shiny new robot, now
activated and awake. Roz does not know how robots are supposed to act,
but she does her best. All Roz knows is she feels lonely and wants to
make friends. All the animals are afraid of Roz, and Roz has to learn
to be wild in order to gain their trust. When Roz tries to care for a
orphaned gosling, Roz realizes she needs even more help to ensure he
survives.

“The Wild Robot” is a lovely book, and one that begs to be read aloud.
Peter Brown is a picture book author and illustrator, having won a
Caldecott Honor for Creepy Carrots! Readers will relate to Roz as she
tries to not only survive, but thrive on the island. Roz is the
ultimate outsider, and if she can make friends with otters, beavers,
dear, and squirrels, then the children who are reading the book
certainly can. Marvelous.

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George, by Alex Gino

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George, by Alex Gino

George is a boy with a secret: on the inside, George is a girl. She manages to hide her secret most of the time, but it makes her miserable. Her class is planning a play of the classic story, Charlotte’s Web, and George wants nothing more than to audition for the part. She loves Charlotte, feeling a special connection to the character. But the role of Charlotte is a girl’s part, and George isn’t even sure she will be considered. Family, friends, classmates, teachers, and school administrators all play a role in the drama that is George’s life as she tries to become a part of the class play. This is a beautiful story, delicately told from George’s point of view. The message is not heavy handed or preachy, rather, this story is like any other story of a young person trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into the world. Which, I believe, is exactly the point.

This title is on a sensitive subject, but it is very well handled. Suitable for grades 4 and up, this is a book I highly recommend.

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Little Robot and Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke

Little Robot, by Ben Hatke

Little Robot, by Ben Hatke

I have discovered a treasure, and this type of treasure only gets more
valuable with the sharing. What treasure, you ask? Clearly, it is not a winning lottery ticket, because would already be living in Hawaii and I certainly would not share. This treasure is an author and illustrator. His name? Ben Hatke, and he writes the most wonderful  graphic novels for young children.

He has written a series of three graphic novels about the adventures of an intelligent girl, lost, through no fault of her own, in space. The first book, “Zita the Spacegirl: Far From Home” tells the tale of Zita, who pushes a red button she shouldn’t have pushed and gets pulled into a strange area of space along with her best friend Joseph. Now, far from home, Zita must try to deal with aliens, a broken red button, a suspicious pied piper, and a missing best friend. Can Zita face her fears, find her friend, fix the red button, and finally get home? The titles in this series are “Zita the Spacegirl: Far From Home,” “Legends of Zita the Spacegirl,” and “The Return of Zita the Spacegirl.” These books would appeal to readers from third grade and up.

Ben’s newest book, titled “Little Robot,” also features a plucky girl character as she finds adventure. In “Little Robot,” we meet a young girl who just happens across a little robot, one lost from his shipment of other robots headed for a factory. The girl overcomes her wariness, and she and Little Robot are soon fast friends. As Little Robot learns about the world, he longs for friends like himself, but the girl does not want to let him go. When danger from Little Robot’s past threatens them both, can their friendship survive? This graphic novel is aimed at a younger audience than Zita the Spacegirl, with a good portion of the story being told without words. When words are used, they are simple enough that I would happily put this into the hands of a six year old. Ben’s illustrations are superb, and actions and emotions are clearly conveyed through the artwork.

As a woman with a science and engineering background, I applaud that all the books mentioned here feature girls that are bold, smart, and able to fix their own problems and technology. Boys should still enjoy the titles, as they features wit, charm, and a goodly dash of sly humor. Well done, Ben Hatke. Well done!

Zita the Spacegirl

Zita the Spacegirl

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

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Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine

Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine

Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine

The Great Library of Alexandria has survived to modern times.  This ancient repository of knowledge now keeps all original books in a world where private ownership of books is forbidden. Copies of books are provided to the masses through Alchemy, and those that try to smuggle books illegally are hunted down by Library Automata–fearsome robots in the forms of Sphinxes and ancient Greek gods. Jess Brightwell comes from a family of book smugglers. His father trained him early to be self-reliant and to keep secrets well. When his father asks him to train to become a scholar in the Library so he can more easily smuggle books, Jess is conflicted. He loves books, and believes that maybe the Library offers him more than a life of smuggling ever could. When he arrives at the Great Library, he meets a new class of students, an intimidating instructor, and begins to understand that the Library may have a dark side to its services. During a dangerous training mission, students begin to die and Jess must make a vital choice…stay loyal to the Library or stay loyal to his friends.

This is a terrific start to what promises to be a fun new Young Adult series. Steam punk meets Harry Potter as Jess and company begin their journey to understand the workings of the Great Library. Their discoveries and decisions may just change the world. For older fans of Harry Potter, and for fans of Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series.

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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly

Eleven-year-old Calpurnia Tate has six brothers. As the only girl in the bunch, Calpurnia is just beginning to realize that her parents’ expectations for her are much different than for her brothers. It is 1899, and she is expected to learn to cook, sew, knit, and generally be domestic so that she can take care of a family of her own one day. Thing is, Calpurnia doesn’t really like being domestic, and even when she really tries, she’s not very good at it. Calpurnia may lack cooking and sewing talent, but she has an abundance of curiosity. One day, she overcomes her fear of her imposing grandfather and asks him a question: Why are the yellow grasshoppers so much bigger than the green grasshoppers in her back yard? Her grandfather doesn’t answer the question directly, but rather he starts encouraging her to observe and record the natural world for herself so she might figure it out. And figure it out, she does, and her investigation leads Calpurnia to think about her life, her dreams, and her place in the world at the turn of the century.

This is a marvelous book. Calpurnia is smart and full of spirit. Her relationship with her grandfather develops slowly over the course of the story wonderfully well. Calpurnia yearns for a life of study as a naturalist, but she also begins to embrace the choices she has as a young woman in 1900 as she begins to understand her mother and the other women in her town. There are no easy answers for Calpurnia, but her journey of discovery is well worth the read. Thankfully, there is a second book in this series titled “The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate” so we can continue to follow Calpurnia’s journey. This is a Newbery Honor book.

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Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley

It is a rare event when I read a book and know it will be an award winner, but Circus Mirandus by debut author Cassie Beasley is going to win awards. The last book I was so certain of winning acclaim was The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and of course, it won the Newbery. In Circus Mirandus we meet Micah Tuttle. Micah’s grandfather, Ephraim Tuttle is very sick and Micah’s Great-Aunt Gertrudis has come to help care for them both. As her name suggests, Great-Aunt Gertrudis isn’t a very nice person, and Micah wants more than anything for his grandfather to get well so she will leave. For years, his grandfather has told Micah about Circus Mirandus, a magical circus that he visited as a youth. The Man Who Bends Light at this circus owes his grandfather a miracle. Micah has hope that somehow, the magic circus is real, and the Lightbender’s miracle can save his grandfather.

This is an utterly charming tale, magical and yet with depth as Micah faces the death of his grandfather. Micah, Ephraim, and the Lightbender are complex, wonderful characters. The only negative comment I can make is that the book is too short. I hope that this author offers us a sequel, if only so I can see more of Chintzy, the cantankerous parrot. This book will appeal to younger readers who enjoyed Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

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Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures, by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce

Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures, by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce

Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures, by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce

Pip Bartlett is a girl who can talk to magical creatures, and they can talk to her. The problem is, no one believes that Pip has this wonderful talent. On career day at school, when Marisol Barrera’s family bring their unicorns as a part of their career day display, Pip gets a chance to use her talent, and she uses it to ask permission of a unicorn for a ride. Things go quickly awry, and career day becomes chaos day. What does Pip learn? She learns that unicorns like to be the center of attention, yes…but most importantly, she learns they are bad listeners.

After the Unicorn Incident, Pip finds herself spending the summer with her Aunt Emma, a veterinarian for magical creatures. Pip is in heaven, and soon finds herself conversing with Lilac-Horned Pomeranians, HobGrackles, and Silky Griffins.  She also meets a new friend named Tomas who is allergic to almost everything in the most interesting ways. Soon, Pip and Tomas are in a race to save the town of Cloverton from an invasion of Fuzzles. And since Fuzzles burst into flames when they are stressed and the Ms. Dreadbatch wants the Fuzzles exterminated, Pip and Tomas must find a way to save them too. Can they do it? Perhaps, with the help of some magical, wonderful creature friends.

This is a juvenile fiction title that will appeal to younger readers. The action is fast, creatures are fabulous, and there is a promise of more adventures in the future. A very fun read.

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Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny, by John Himmelman

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny, by John Himmelman

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny, by John Himmelman

Isabel was the best bunjitsu artist in her school. She could kick higher than anyone. She could hit harder than anyone. She could throw her classmates farther than anyone. “But,” said Isabel, “Bunjitsu is not just about hitting and kicking and throwing. It is about finding ways to NOT hit, kick, or throw.”

And so, we meet Isabel, also called Bunjitsu Bunny. This is an early chapter book where each chapter tells a tale of Bunjitsu Bunny. A few of these tales are variations of a familiar story, such as the tortoise and the hare. But Isabel brings her own wisdom and Bunjitsu Bunny skills to the mix, and you end up with something refreshing and fun. Zen wisdom is woven through the book, but Bunjitsu Bunny’s exploits are never preachy or heavy-handed. Rather, Bunny is charming and spunky and she is surrounded by good friends. For me, this book gave me the same warm, fuzzy, wondrous feeling I get when reading Winnie-the-Pooh or Little Bear stories. Those stories were about animals we could call friends, but they were also something deeper, in that they shared with us truths about life and love and friends. Bunjitsu Bunny’s tale is much the same, with martial arts action and striking art. Very enjoyable, and a book to recommend to those hard to please, reluctant readers.

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