“The Girl Who Drank The Moon” by Kelly Barnhill

The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less:  Every year the members of the Proctectorate have taken an infant and left it in the woods as a sacrifice to the witch.  Unbeknownst to them, the witch, who name is Xan, has shepherded each baby to another town so that it can be raised by a loving family.  One year, however, Xan accidentally feeds a baby with moonlight, thereby enmagicking it.  She names the girl Luna and raises her by her side. As Luna’s powers develop, her past comes calling in the form of two women: one that has gone insane and another that feeds on sorrow and prowls with a tiger’s heart.

My Take:  This was an engrossing read and worthy of its winning the Newberry Medal.   Barnhill has the ability to create a fantasy world that is convincing but not indulgent.  Her writing moves the narrative along at a good clip while also taking the time to build the characters.  I particularly appreciated that so much of the story revolves around, in several forms, a mother’s attachment – or lack thereof -for her child.  You can tell that Barnhill enjoys exploring this subject from several different angles, ultimately arriving at a positive answer.

One Interesting Note About The Author:  On her website, Barnhill describes herself as a “former teacher, former bartender, former waitress, former activist, former park ranger, former secretary, former janitor and former church-guitar-player.”

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“Wolf Hollow” by Lauren Wolk

The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less:  Annabelle is a 12 year old girl living on a farm in rural Pennsylvania in the autumn of 1943.  Betty is a new girl at school who jumps Annabelle on her way home one afternoon in the deep recess of Wolf Hollow, a low, dark place that runs between the school and Annabelle’s farm.  Betty threatens to beat her with a stick and hurt her younger brothers if she tells anyone.  The one witness to this cruelty is Toby, a local homeless man with a mysterious past who wanders the local woods.  The tension culminates is a violent incident that turns the town against Toby and makes Annabelle realizes that she is the only person who can protect him.

My Take:  This was a book that gripped me from the opening pages and then expanded into a conversation about larger themes.  I appreciated that author Lauren Wolk takes no time in introducing the character of Betty Glengarry who immediately provides a source of danger and conflict.  She’s a wonderful antagonist that fills the narrative with a tension that makes you want to continue reading.  Later on, as we get to know the character of Toby, we are asked to make sense of a more complicated character:  a man who is obviously troubled, perhaps dangerous, but also show signs of warmth and kindness.  When we learn the source of Toby’s demons, we are hoping that the community will show wisdom and patience in how it treats with him.  This is a wonderful book that will encourage readers to ask questions about the homeless, the mentally ill, PTSD, and the ambiguous consequences of deception.  I can certainly understand why Wolf Hollow won a Newberry Honor earlier this year.

One Interesting Note About The Author:  Lauren Wolk has a new book out entitled Beyond The Bright Sea that is already creating some Newberry chatter for 2018.

 

Fish Girl by Napoli and Wiesner

fishgirlThe 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!

“Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell

Image result for black beauty bookThe 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.

“100 Cupboards” by N.D. Wilson

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 Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin

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 Fourteenth Goldfish” by Jennifer L. Holm

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.