A good lean-in read right now for those in survivalist mode. My partner and I read this aloud to each other. He had read it so many times as a kid that he could often tell me what was about to happen next or even quote me the line verbatim! I also read it as a kid but didn’t remember it well at all.
12-year-old Sam Gribley is tired of life in his cramped New York apartment with 7 siblings. Like many kids, he dreams of running away and roughing it on his own. Unlike most kids, though, he makes it past the afternoon – and in fact stays out in the Catskills for over a year. He strikes out for Delhi, New York, and the old Gribley farmstead, so he has some claim to the land, though he also lives in fear of being discovered and sent back to the city. He has learned a lot about living off the land from his father and grandfather and has a relatively easy time of it. The one thing that helps a lot is that he is able to capture and train a baby falcon, whom he names Frightful and who ends up being his closest companion and fellow provider as she hunts food for them both. Sam describes making his home in a hollowed out tree, learning to make campfires, befriending his local animal neighbors, and hunting and gathering.
At times Sam’s descriptions sound more didactic and adult, and that is likely George’s own experience showing through, as well as the aesthetics of children’s literature in 1959, when the book was written. Sam share his thoughts through both narration and in readings from his diary entries, which were written on tree bark (though not sure what writing implement he used). I enjoyed learning vicariously through Sam about how to live off the land and I especially appreciated George’s introduction where she spoke of the inspiration for the story (her own failed attempt at running away) as well as where her own expertise came from. I also liked Sam’s visitors, the librarian in town, his description of how busy and not at all boring winter is, and how he came around to returning to the city. My partner and I discussed our own theories of social and political events that would have shaped George’s world, such as McCarthyism and the Cold War, and made an escape from humanity desirable. Sam also gets into trouble for domesticating an endangered species (and therefore removing her from the breeding pool), in addition to being hounded by people and reporters chasing rumors of the “wild boy.”
12-year-old Lucy Callahan has been homeschooled since she got struck by lightning at age 8 and became a super math genius. She’s academically ready for college, but her grandmother, who is her guardian, is insisting that she spend a year in the seventh grade to help her social skills. Lucy resists, of course, but eventually makes friends: an assertive, gossipy girl named Windy and a quieter, insightful boy named Levi. Windy actively recruits Lucy from day 1, despite being labeled an outcast because of her OCD, and Levi is put into their community service project group, for which they decide to help a local animal shelter. Lucy’s grandmother also gets her an interview at rigorous high school boarding school a couple of hours away, reasoning that high school feels like a compromise between seventh grade and college. Lucy’s friend situation, and her love of a dog at the shelter, finally come to a head.
I was a little surprised at how easily Lucy made a friend, but Windy had her own background issues going on with her fragile friendship with the popular girl, which plays into her revealing Lucy’s math-genius secret. One thing I look for in middle grade novels is how realistic is the protagonist’s decision to keep information from their parents/teacher/friends and solve their problem independently. It can be hard to justify well, and Lucy’s justification makes perfect sense. I love that she feels more comfortable talking to Levi and telling him her secret than Windy, and how their friendships develop and are tested. I also especially love that Lucy decides in the end to stick out the year in middle school instead of transferring to the boarding school. And the sad, sad story of the dog she falls in love with at the shelter has a semi-happy ending that wraps up neatly. Satisfying!
Lety and her best friends Brisa and Kennedy, rising 6th graders, are doing a special summer program volunteering at the local animal shelter. To Lety’s annoyance, their classmate Hunter is also there, and he scowls a lot and is rude to Lety about her not being a U.S. citizen or being fluent in English. They both want to be “shelter scribe,” the person who writes the profiles of the animals for the website, and get in trouble for developing a contest to determine who gets the honor. Over the course of the story, however, he opens up to Lety and the two become friends – and maybe someday will be more than friends?!
There’s also the sort of opposite storyline that happens with Brisa. While out shopping with her family and Lety, they encounter an angry white man who yells at them to learn English and “go back to Mexico” (Brisa’s family is from Peru, and even inserts a phrase in Quechua, the language of her grandparents, which was very cool). Brisa is scared and decides to leave the shelter camp to go to ESL summer school, but Lety comes up with a plan to get her back. She also comes up with a plan to get Hunter’s dog back for him, and to be able to adopt a dog herself.
This is not the first book in this series but it works quite well as a stand-alone read, and I learned about it because a fellow children’s librarian chose it for her 4th and 5th grade book club. I think it raises a lot of really great, topical issues and would be great for a book club, even if things get resolved very (too) neatly to be entirely satisfactory to me as an adult reader. I also suggested it to a fellow children’s librarian who writes animal profiles at a shelter! (I also especially love the word play because when this title is read aloud, it sounds like “let it out loud”!) There is some Spanish in here, and it is handled very well and not at all clunky.
Emma is about to start fifth grade at her local public school, which she has never attended before. She’s been homeschooled, as had her brother until recently. Emma misses her brother and laments how he’s changed, though they are clearly still close. On her first day of school, Emma is put in a group with two girls who she wants to befriend and Jack, an autistic boy, who she sort of wants to befriend and also sort of doesn’t. Emma is not put off by Jack’s unusual mannerisms and, though she would prefer to work with the two girls, she enjoys working with Jack when they devise a plan to force Emma and Jack to do their part alone. Emma’s internal conflict arises when she feels she has to treat Jack poorly in or attempt to get to know the other kids. She eventually figures out that she can both stick up for him and make new friends in a new school, which seems tragically idealistic and didn’t quite ring true to me.
Despite that, I really enjoyed this book. I had it as an audiobook over the long weekend here in the U.S. and zipped right through it on my road trip (as opposed to You Go First which I had to stop listening to because the reader’s voice was way too annoying when she was voicing the annoying girl). I read it at the request of my boss and we agreed that, as the parent of an autistic child, Lord seems to have found a groove there, but we are wary of parents-as-experts not necessarily being the best resource. Our basis for this is the Light it Up Blue autism awareness campaign, run by Autism Speaks, which has come under scrutiny for not including voices of actual autistic people. The critique is that it’s an organization made of parents and other people who have autistic people in their lives, but do not include autistic people in their leadership and, more than that, sometimes say hurtful things. In contrast, the Autism Self-Advocacy Network is just what it sounds like, and their tag line is “Nothing About Us Without Us.” Keeping in mind that sometimes even parents of autistic children can make missteps, the boss and I were wondering how an autistic person would review this book. Until that happens, I’ll rank it high, with caveats.
The two lions outside the New York Public Library come to life in this sweet tale. When Patience goes missing one morning, Fortitude finally ventures into the library to try and find him, going from room to room and interacting with the various famous features of the historic building. I loved that when Fortitude reunites with his pal Patience, he learns that Patience has been reading up stories to share with him. It’s a lovely homage to the NYPL, despite the fact that the layout may be different in the near future.
I loved Josh’s previous picture books, especially Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast and How to Code a Sandcastle, and this one did not disappoint. If anything, Josh’s rhyming has gotten even more impressive, with every stanza having an ABAB rhyming scheme (as opposed to ABCB in previous books). (In the interest of full disclosure, Josh is a friend, so I am especially aware of how hard he works on his rhymes, and how hard it is to get them right!) He makes them seem effortless, and the story is solid. A bit more grounded in reality than Lady Pancake, but no less creative for it.
This is a beautiful new book that’s great for opposites. I used it in my toddler storytime, right after Bread and Butter and right before This is Big Big Big. The pictures are simple and clean, easy to see from far away but also interesting up close. It starts with black and white and then moves into brilliantly-colored animals. We had a lot of fun pointing out our body parts, being quiet and loud, and generally interacting with the book. This is definitely a book to grow with as there are notes on all the animals at the end, with their full names and endangered status (vulnerable, threatened, critically endangered, etc).
Sophie Brown and her parents have just moved from Los Angeles to a farm in the country following her father’s job loss. They are taking over the farm that belonged to her father’s Uncle Jim, who apparently used to have some unusual chickens on it. Between finding the chickens, discovering their unusual qualities (one lays glass eggs, one has chicks who can turn animals to stone, one can turn invisible, etc), and learning to care for them, Sophie also has to fend off a would-be chicken thief, a feat she manages with considerable grace given the circumstances. She even makes some new friends along the way which will ease her transition to her new school in the fall. My favorite thing is her friendship with the mailman, Gregory, which reminded me a bit of my favorite mailman, Donald, when I was a kid. But I digress.
This was a solid story. It’s epistolary, and sometimes the letter format seemed a bit clunky, like when Sophie wrote several letters to the same person in one day, because so much happened (near the denouement), or when she really needed an answer by the next day but mail takes a bit longer than that, even in Gregory’s speedy and capable hands. I did not suspect the twist until pretty close to its reveal, which is always satisfying. And I liked that the evil grownup got what she deserved – but also that she seemed more complex than just pure evil. Sophie’s mother is of Mexican descent and her father is white, and she mentions race quite a bit. She says people are always assuming her family works on a farm, like as harvesters or migrant farmworkers, and how that hurts to hear over and over. Also it’s a small town and people are always surprised and confused that she’s Jim Brown’s great-niece, and then someone explains that she’s half Mexican, and that also seems to not sit well. But meanwhile, Sophie’s mom is a writer and keeps the family afloat, and the whole family has fun singing and dancing one night, and she makes migas with some of the eggs they get from Uncle Jim’s chickens, even providing the recipe and a non-didactic description of what they are that makes them sound as delicious as they are in real life!