The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Fish Girl is a mermaid who lives in a water tank at a private ocean attraction aquarium. The owner is a man who claims, and Fish Girl initially believes, to be the ocean god Neptune who tells her that he saved her and that she must stay hidden from everyone else. A girl named Livia spots her and begins regularly visiting with her and informing her of the outside world. Fish Girl yearns to break free from the tank and to learn more about her past and what the wider world is like. She begins to take risks, to defy Neptune, and eventually find where she belongs.
My Take: I am so impressed by this book. Library patrons often ask me for something like CeCe Bell’s El Deafo or any of the graphic novels by Telgemeier. I feel like Fish Girl would appeal to these readers looking for a strong female protagonist.
Culturally, Fish Girl also feels very relevant to the times in which we live. For those who participated in The Women March in D.C. or are interested in promoting the ‘She Persisted’ philosophy, Fish Girl will hold a lot of appeal.
One Interesting Note About The Author: Donna Jo Napoli has a LOT of pictures of her family on her website! It’s kind of neat because you don’t see that too often!
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: A black thoroughbred is born on a farm and lives his first days in favorable conditions. As he grows and is given the name Black Beauty, his circumstances change, gradually becoming more grim. Black Beauty finds himself sold from master to master and is ill treated in some of his new homes.
My Take: It was a pleasure to encounter this children’s classic for the first time. I found Black Beauty’s voice to be even and genial under the most trying of circumstances. Some readers may find Black Beauty’s attitude to be cold, distant, or perhaps a bit 19th century-ish, but I appreciated the lack of sentimentalism and the eschewing of pity. To me it drove home the noble character of horses and made even more grievous the wrong done to them by people. My one criticism is that many of the human characters were flat and interchangeable. The power of the story might have been heightened had Sewell given the reader one or two people to get to know deeply. Still, I can understand why this books has lasted.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to history.com, the novel Black Beauty was written in the final days of Sewell’s life, after she was confined to her home, and published just before her death.
The Plot In Five Sentences: Henry is spending the summer with his Aunt Dotty, Uncle Frank and their 3 daughters on their farm in Kansas. His stay takes a strange turn when he notices plaster peeling off the walls of his attic bedroom one night. Strange knobs and doors begin to appear and Henry eventually discovers that his walls are filled with cupboards. Along with his cousin Henrietta, he comes to realize that these are no ordinary cupboards, but rather possess a magic that proves to be as dangerous as it is enchanting.
My Take: I found the pace of ‘100 Cupboards’ to be deliberate. Wilson grounds us in the reality of small town Kansas life for the first third of the novel, making the big reveal of the cupboards and the attendant magic they possess all the more powerful. By the end of the book, when the presence of a great evil appears, I was thoroughly engaged and emotionally invested in the story and characters. I recommend this novel for any child who enjoys the fantasy genre and will not be put off by a slow start.
One Interesting Note About the Author: According to his online bio, when he was in preschool, N.D. Wilson dug up a dead cat out of his sandbox.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: When the great paper magnate Samuel G. Westing dies under suspicious circumstances, 16 people are summoned to his mansion to hear his will read aloud. In fact, they are all drawn into a game where they must pair up with another heir and decipher clues that are handed to them in order to determine the identity of the killer and inherit the Westing fortune. Could it be Turtle Wexler, the wily 13 year old who can play the stock market like a champ? Or perhaps it’s Sydelle Pulaski, who copies the will down in short hand — in Polish. Suspicion abounds and the plot twists and turns as the 16 heirs narrow down who among them may have killed Samuel Westing.
My Take: I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time because it comes recommended whenever I search for mystery books for kids. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I enjoyed it. I found the characters, while quirky, to not be emotionally fleshed out. I also felt that the emotional hook of the narrative — to find Sam Westing’s killer– to be lost in an ocean of detail. To be fair, Raskin is juggling over 16 characters and trying to keep them all distinct in the reader’s mind–a high wire act for any writer to be sure. But over half way through the book, I found that I had stopped caring who the killer was.
One Interesting Note About the Author: Ellen Raskin designed the dust jacket for the first edition of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Eleven year old Ellie’s life and that of her mother is turned upside down when an eccentric 13 year old boy wanders into their home one evening. He wears tweed jackets and polyester pants, grouses about the depreciation of their home, and has a keen interest in science. Most shockingly, he claims to be Dr. Sargarsky, noted scientist and also Ellie’s grandfather. Has her 76 year old scientist grandfather actually found a way to reverse the aging process?
My Take: This was an enjoyable read, but I did not fall in love with the book. I found the character of the grandfather too grouchy, arrogant, and self centered to conjure up much interest in following what happens to him. To Holm’s credit, she does show different sides to him, most notably the pain that he feel regarding the loss of his wife. Still, for those looking for a book on inter-generational connection or the driving power of science, this would be an excellent pick. Ages 8+
One Interesting Note About the Author: Jennifer L. Holm is a prolific children’s author, having written the famous Babymouse series as well as the recent graphic novel Sunny Side Up.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Ted’s mind works a bit different than most people’s in that he’s great with numbers and facts, but not so adept at reading emotions. When his cousin Salim comes to visit for a day, Ted and his sister Kat decide to take him on the London Eye, a giant ferris wheel on the southside of the Thames. Ted and Kat watch Salim get on the ride and go to meet him at the return point, but Salim has somehow disappeared. Will Ted and Kat be able to put their own unique minds together and solve the mystery and find Salim?
My Take: I had seen this book on many short lists and had been wanting to read it for some time. I was not disappointed. Dowd does an excellent job of not only developing a mystery, but also of putting the reader into the mind of a person with high functioning autism. I would recommend this to any child who is looking for a great mystery or is interested in learning more about what it’s like to live with Aspergers syndrome. Ages 10+
One Interesting Note About The Author: Siobhan Dowd passed away too soon in 2007 at the young age of 47. Prior to writing children’s books, she spent her life advocating for socially marginalized youth, including serving as the Deputy Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Oxfordshire.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Salva is a boy who growning up in the south Sudan village of Loun-Ariik in 1980’s. While attending school one day, his peaceful life is shattered by the tribal conflict tearing apart Sudan. Fleeing his village as it is attacked, Salva joins a group of refugees heading east to a destination unknown to him. Along the way, he luckily encounters his uncle, the only person he recognizes as well as possibly his only surviving family member. With his uncle and the rest of the refugees, Salva continues his trek towards a fate that will test him to the extreme and take him places he never thought he would go.
My Take: Having read A Single Shard a few years ago, I was well acquainted with Park’s writing being characterized by a modest plainness that belies a deeper, quiet strength, or what one reviewer referred to as a “core moral purposefulness.” A Long Walk To Water carried on in this tradition with its exploration of one of the most horrific situations in modern times: the war in the Sudan. Genocide is not necessarily fertile ground on which to base juvenile fiction, but Park handles the subject deftly. Through the character of Salva, she manages to depict the brutality in a way that children will understand but that also makes allowances for the sensitivity of young minds. Those looking for a thoughtful way to talk to young readers about conflict and the moral choice to turn suffering into social contribution could do worse than choosing this wonderful book. Ages 10+
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website, Linda Sue Park’s first piece of writing that was published was a haiku that was accepted by a children’s magazine when she was 9 years old: In the green forest/ A sparkling, bright blue pond hides./ And animals drink.