“Alone” by Megan E. Freeman

Title: Alone

Author: Megan E. Freeman

Publication: 2021 by Aladin/Simon & Schuster

The Plot: Twelve year old Maddie awakes in her hometown to find that everyone but herself has been evacuated by the government. Alone except for her dog George, Maddie must learn how to survive on her own for months at a time. One of the most challenging parts of her experiences is enduring the longing for family and friends.

My Take: This was a great read. Freeman wastes no time setting up and executing the inciting event that pitches Maddie into her survival challenge. Author Megan E. Freeman presents the story in a spare verse format that retains all of the emotional power while giving the reader only what they need to know about the plot and background. I applaud the tight framing of the character and the story and I won’t give away the ending when I say that I got a lump in my throat. Very much recommended for middle grade readers.

One Interesting Note About The Author: Freeman’s interest in becoming a writer started in elementary school when poets were invited in each week to present to her class.

“Stick Dog” by Tom Watson

The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less:  Stick Dog lives in a pipe that runs under Highway 16.  His favorite pastime is playing with his four friends Karen, Stripes, Mutt, and Poo Poo.  One day when the dogs are out playing, they catch a whiff of hamburgers being grilled over in the park.  This starts an adventure in which the 5 friends try to find a way to snatch the tasty hamburgers from the humans.

My Take:  This is a funny book!  Tom Watson has a writing style that initially appears quite simple–and that mirrors the childish drawings–but that breaks out into elevated vocabulary at unexpected moments.  When one of the dogs–not one of which is known for being exceptionally smart by the way–tastes a new kind of potato chip, she describes it as a “powdery combination that is both enchanting and invigorating.”

Kids will appreciate the light hearted humor and relentlessly positive spirit of Stick Dog.  He is a character that suffers under the circumstances of fate and the dim wittedness of his good friends, while always looking to win the day.  Or, in this case, hamburgers!

One Interesting Note About the Author:  According to his website, Tom Watson once worked in politics for U.S. Senator John Glenn and the Governor of Ohio.

Whistle in the Dark by Susan Hill Long

ImageThe Plot in Five Sentences or Less:  Clem lives in the mining country in the Ozarks of Missouri.  After his 13th birthday, he must leave school and join his father in the mines to make much needed money for the family.  Clem detests mining and is tempted to join his friend Linda Jean in her family bootleg business.  A string of family tragedies, however, reinforces the need for Clem to work the mines and he subsequently wonders if his life will ever change.

My Take:  This was a convincing and compelling account of families caught in the economic trap of lead mining in Missouri in the 1920’s.  Through the characters of Clem and his family, we appreciate how awful that life was and how few choices people had in that area of the country.  Long’s writing is plain and never devolves into sentimentality.  I applaud her for using the 3rd person point of view, rather than the more common first person.  Towards the end there are a few plot points that tie things up perhaps a bit too nicely, but overall this is a pleasant and educational read for ages 10+.

One Interesting Note About the Author:  As a child, Susan had the interesting habit of rating her days along a spectrum of 1-10.  Her rating was based on the requirements of “doing [her] homework, eat[ing] well, exercis[ing], practicing the flute, and doing something nice for someone.”  She no longer rates her days, but you may find out more about her at her website.