Author: R. J. Palacio
The Plot: 12 year old Silas lives with his father and a ghostly friend named Mittenwool, whom only Silas can see, on a farm in the west. Their peaceful life together is shattered when a gang of counterfeiters kidnaps the father in the middle of the night. Silas and Mittenwool embark on a journey across rugged country aided by several lawmen and a spirited pony to find the gang. Silas eventually realizes that he is searching not only for his father, but for answers to mysteries from his past.
My Take: Palacio has another homerun on her hands here. The author of the mega-popular book Wonder proves that she is a master of her craft in this western. The characters are complex and the kidnapping plot draws the reader in while cleverly shifting towards a deeper narrative towards the end of the book. For any young readers looking for a good story filled with fully realized characters, this is your ticket.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website, Palacio “invented a baby toy called The Bobo Glove, a portable, wearable, washable activity toy for infants.” Pretty neat!
The Plot in Five Sentences or Less: John and Abigail are the bright, twin children of professor and inventor John Templeton. Following the death of their mother, the family moves to Tick Tock University where, during a lecture, their father is accosted by Dean D. Dean, a man claiming that John Templeton stole his idea for the Personal One-Man Helicopter (POMH). Dean D. Dean, along with his brother, Dan D. Dean, kidnap the Templeton twins and demand that John to sign over the rights to the POMH. The twins must use their smarts to escape from the Dean brothers.
My Take: This book is a clever and enjoyable read. The narrator of the story is self aware and inserts amusing parenthetical remarks in the text as if he were arguing with the reader. For instance, he states “We’re getting off point. And I blame you. Please, I urge you to stop interrupting.” He also inserts “questions for review” at the end of each chapter that are meant to resemble reader’s comprehensive questions, but are simply ridiculous (i.e. “How would the Templeton twins’ lives have been different had they never been born?”). Too much of this sort of thing would be gimmicky and annoying, but Weiner uses a judicious amount that keeps the reader laughing. Credit should be given to Home’s schematic illustrations that reinforce the rational yet ludicrous tone of the book. Highly recommended for kids ages 8+.
One Interesting Note About the Author/Illustrator: Ellis Weiner was an editor of National Lampoon and contributor to many magazines, including The New Yorker and Spy. He has also written an e-book called “Atlas Slugged Again” which you can buy for $1.99.
The Plot: Soren is a barn owlet born in the forest of Tyoto. Living with his family in the hollow of a fir tree, he has many things to look forward to. He has just had his “first fur “ceremony, in which he eats his first meal with fur in it, and it will soon be time for his “first bones,” in which he will be expected to regurgitate pellets, just like a healthy adult owl would. After that he will begin to learn how to fly!
But there are also problems in Soren’s life. His older brother Kludd is a bully and at times seems to possess an even darker side that goes beyond that. Soren worries about Kludd’s influence on their younger sister Eglantine. There are rumors as well of a egg snatchings. Someone or something has been raiding owl nests and stealing the eggs. Such a things has never been heard of in the forests of Tyoto before.
Soren’s life abruptly changes when he falls (or was he pushed by Kludd?) out of the nest one evening. He is soon snatched up and carried aloft by a powerful owl who takes him to a stony place with deep, narrow canyons. Hundreds of other young owls are there as well, all of them having been kidnapped from their homes. He discovers out that this is “St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls.” During the first full moon, the owlets are marched together outside. Soren makes friends with an elf owl named Gylfie and together they discover that the Academy is trying to “moon blink” them, a process in which an owl basks in the moonlight and is made crazy. The two owls discover other areas of St. Aegolius as well and realize that the Academy has a sinister purpose. Soren and Gylfie must escape from this place and make it back to their homes to warn the other owls.
Personal Reaction: I have been wanting to read some of The Guardians of Ga’hoole series for some time and I was not disappointed. Lasky keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace while managing to create a convincing fantasy world. I appreciated that Lasky presents a great deal of factual information about owls, including some of the not so appealing topics of regurgitation and excretion. These bathroom subjects are approached in such a way that the young readers will understand that these are important part of the owl’s lives and not just put in the book for comedic material.
Themes: desire for power, orphans, bullies, kidnaping, creating new family, enslavement, searching for home.