The Plot (Without Spoilers): Lucy is a young teenager living in the coastal town of Rockport, Massachusetts, who spends most of her days days hanging out with her best friend Fred. Lucy’s mother was a marine biologist who studied sharks but who unfortunately passed away when Lucy was 7. When their teacher assigns an extra credit project to create an animal field guide, Lucy and Fred begin collecting information about local wildlife and are excited when a local fisherman hauls in a great white shark. An upsetting event adds extra urgency to their field guide project as Lucy finds that her developing interest in sharks connects her with the memory of her mother.
My Take: I really want to give this book 5 out of 5 stars, but I’m going to keep it at 4. Kate Allen is a talented writer who can set a scene in just a few words and also has a great ear for convincing dialogue. Several times throughout the book I found myself thinking, ‘That’s well written.’
My only criticism with this book is that the plot lacks urgency. I get that this is not a page turner and that the story is about moving through grief on our own time table. Still, there is a slow undertow to the 3rd act, which I would forgive if the ending had really build up to a rushing climax. But there is none of that here, which made the story feel a little, well, boring.
I want to be clear though, that for a patient reader, this is in many ways a special book. For those who are looking for fiction to show them how to grieve, I would highly recommend ‘The Line Tender.’
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website bio, when Kate Allen was a child, a magician once told her that she would be an interior decorator.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Marty Preston is an 11 year old who lives in the hill country of West Virginia. While out exploring the countryside, he encounters a beagle who follows him home. Marty immediately takes to the animal and names it Shiloh. He is soon disappointed when he learns that Shiloh belongs to Judd Travers, a neighbor who abuses his animals. Marty’s struggle over the ownership of Shiloh forces him to face questions about right and wrong, loyalty, and friendship.
My Take: Shiloh won the Newberry Medal in 1992 and the quality of Naylor’s writing certainly justifies this award. As I was reading the novel, I found myself wishing that I had read this book years earlier in my library career. The story of a boy and his dog is a well worn theme in juvenile literature, but Naylor’s handling of the material never seems stale or cliche. As readers we immediately appreciate the relationship between Marty and Shiloh and we know that it must endure. Our hearts are invested. Naylor deserves credit for rounding out the character of Judd Travers, a man who has himself experienced abuse. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for the feel of a classic story.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her biography on her website, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was making ‘books’ as far back as the 4th and 5th grade. She would write on scratch paper, draw pictures, and then staple it all together.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Red is a scarlet oak that has stood in a neighborhood for 216 years. The local people use Red as a wishtree, writing wishes onto scraps of paper or cloth and tying them onto the branches. When a Muslim family moves into a house close by, Red and its companion animals befriend the daughter named Samar. But when an act of hate targets Samar’s family, Red finds that she must take a more active role in protecting the people and animals in her neighborhood.
My Take: Wishtree is an excellent entry into the category of juvenile fiction that deals with immigration and racial tension. This tale will certainly ring familiar to readers in Trump’s America. Applegate doesn’t clutter up the tale and instead allows the simplicity of the story and the gentle voice of Red guide the narrative. Adults who are struggling to explain racism and persecution to children will appreciate this book
One Interesting Thing About The Author: Katherine Applegate is not only the author of The One And Only Ivan, 2013 Newberry Medal Winner, but also the Animorphs series.