The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: War is approaching and Peter’s father must go off to fight. Before he leaves, he forces Peter to leave his pet fox, Pax, in the woods; it is not welcome at his grandfather’s house where Peter must stay for the time being. After leaving Pax and traveling to his grandfather’s, Peter is wracked by guilt and decides that he must journey to find his fox. Alone in the woods, Pax learns the way of the wild foxes and learns that as the war draws closer, the animals must travel to safety. Both Peter and Pax find themselves on a journey on which they will discover much about themselves.
My Take: I thought that this was an engaging book from the first page. Pennypacker manages to relate the story of a child’s attachment to his pet in a way that is heartfelt but not sentimental. I also appreciated that she portrays realistic fox behavior but also uses a deft amount of anthropomorphism to draw in the reader. The foxes came across as both believable animals and interesting characters. I found that the narrative slowed down a touch when Peter sought refuge at a hermit’s house, but I thought the ending was sheer magic and more than made up for it.
One Interesting Note About The Author: Pennypacker is also the author of the Clementine book series.
The Plot In Five Sentences or Less: Hobie Hanson is a 5th grader in Seattle, Washington during World War II. His father is away fighting the Germans, so Hobie spends most of his time with his friends and his German Shepherd Duke. Life is not easy without his dad around, and only becomes harder when Mitch Mitchell, the school bully, sets his eyes on him and challenges him to give up Duke for the Dogs for Defense Program. Much to Mitch’s surprise, Hobie rises to the challenge and soon Duke is part of the war effort and on his way to the Pacific. Hobbie finds that he now must adjust to life both without his dad and his dog.
My Take: I found this to be a very straight forward book about a boy’s experience and sacrifice on the home front during World War II. My one criticism would be that Larson could have risked introducing more strangeness into the story. There was a lot of baseball and paper routes, what one might consider stock 1950’s Americana. Still, for those looking for a good read about the connection between and boy and his dog, this is a good pick.
One Interesting Note About the Author: According to her website, Kirby was born at Fort Lawton Army Hospital in Seattle, Washington. She cost $5.
The 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.
Fallout by Todd Strasser
The Plot in Five Sentences or Less: Recounts the experience of one middle American family during the nuclear standoff of 1963. The plot alternates in time between the family preparing a nuclear fallout shelter and then actually using it during a nuclear strike. 9 people make it into the shelter and tensions run high as time passes. The story is told from the point of view of a teenage boy whose father constructs the shelter.
My Take: Fallout is enjoyable and also educates readers on the widespread fear during the early sixties of a nuclear strike. Strasser does an excellent job of building up the anxiety and claustrophobia in the fallout shelter. He also does not dodge the difficult topics of burgeoning teenage sexual feelings nor the bathroom issues involved with 9 people trapped in a room. This cannot be considered strict historical fiction as there was never a nuclear strike on American soil during the 1960’s.
One Interesting Note About the Author: Fallout is based on Strasser’s father constructing a bomb shelter in the family’s backyard in 1962. Strasser revisits this in the author’s note at the end of the book.
The Plot in 5 Sentences or Less: Red O’Sullivan is a senior at Hatley High School in a mining town in Arizona in the fall of 1950. He is also the quarterback for the Hatley Muckers, who haven’t made a push for the title since 1941, when Red’s brother Bobby was QB. Bobby’s death in World War II exacerbated his father’s drinking and his mother’s loss of sanity. Red hopes to redeem his school and his family by leading his team to the championship cup. But larger forces at work; the Korean War is raging, the mine is closing, and the school is shutting down.
My Take: The Korean War. The mine closing. The school shutting down. The alcoholic father. The insane mother. The dead brother. The corrupt priest. Wallace piles on a mountain (no pun intended) of trouble onto the protagonist. By the middle of the book, I began feeling like perhaps this was all too much, as if the book were a parody of some blue collar nightmare set in the southwest. Or perhaps this was Friday Night Lights in Arizona. I believe that a tighter focus on fewer problems may have yielded a more powerful read. However, I commend Wallace for offering the reader an unfamiliar time and place in history. Sports fans and history buffs may enjoy this book. Ages 12+
One Interesting Note About the Author: Sandra Neil Wallace was for many years an ESPN sports announcer. According to her website, her favorite ice cream is Tiger Tiger (a mix of licorice and orange sherbert!). It is a flavor easily found in Canada but not the United States.
Synopsis: The year is 1735 and the place is the Tower of London. Forrest Harper is an 11 year old boy who is the son of the prison’s Ravenmaster. His days are spent tending to the birds, playing with his rat catching friend Ned, and providing meals to some of the prisoners. Forrest longs for adventure and receives some when a group of Scottish prisoners are sent to the tower. Amongst them is a girl named Maddy who soon fills Forrest’s ear up with tales of her home in Scotland.
As the day of Maddie’s trial and execution approaches, Forest and Ned are tempted to become part of a plot to help her escape. But there is so much at stake. If they are caught, it would surely mean death for them and great shame for Forrest’s family. What will they do?
Personal Reaction: Because I enjoy reading about history and other cultures, this was a quick and easy read for me. Woodruff packs this book with bullies, thugs, and shady people. She also does such an excellent job of building characters and moving the plot along that I truly wanted for Forrest, Ned and Maddie to prevail. After I hit the midway point of this book, I just burned through the rest. I had goosebumps as I read the final pages. I’m not sure that I can give a book higher praise than that.
Themes include father-son relationships, testing of friendships, freedom vs. captivity, bullying, the limits of patriotism, the morality of public executions, child labor, and child cruelty.
225 pages; published 2003