Navigating Early

Navigating Earlyby Clare Vanderpool

a 300 page quest for the largest bear in the Appalachian woods of Maine – at least that what they say at first…

Lost, alone and without bearings.  That’s how Jack Baker finds himself when his dad, Captain John Baker, Jr., leaves him at Morton Hill Academy for boys in Cape Fealty, Maine.  It the day before most boys will arrive and Jack has time to wander and wonder at his new life.  This is a life outside of Kansas, a life without the gentle guidance of his mom, a life filled with questions and regret.

Full of all this emptiness, Jack goes to the beach where he sees a boy filling sand bags as though he is trying to hold the ocean back from the shore.  From that moment loneliness and loss bind them.  Jack is new to everything in the school.  Unfamiliar with this life he has to navigate through a series of challenges and just when Jack is sure he will fail – there is Early, teaching him guiding him, telling him with an odd certainty what to do.

Early, clearly brilliant, doesn’t always go to class often.  He has an odd presence that the rest of the boys tolerate, but seldom include.  He lives in a basement workshop that was once the custodian’s room.  He has a jar of jellybeans for sorting, a sequence of music he listens to and an uncanny way of understanding numbers. They tell him a story through their shapes and colors.

Pi, 3.14, in fact, launches their quest.  Dr. Stanton a famed mathematician has put forth a theory that Pi will end.  Ones have stopped appearing in its sequence and he posits that eventually all the digits will disappear.  Early does not, cannot believe this is true.  The numbers tell Early that Pi is on a quest to discover his destiny and find his family.  On fall break, Early embarks on his own quest down the Kennibec River and across parts of the Appalachian Trail in search of the great black bear, his lost family and his place in the world.  Jack goes along.

Navigating Early is a quest through loss and longing, challenge, heartache and aching loneliness.  You’ll navigate your way through each step of the journey, returning home with hope and wonder, relief, kindness and the best of all friends, “Early Auden, that strangest of boys.”

Dogs of Winter

The Dogs of Winterby Bobbie Pryon

I was looking for realistic fiction.  I was looking for a book that was serious and that had a male main character.  I came across Dogs of Winter, with a note on the cover saying, “based on a true story.”  I thought I’d give it a try.  Wow!  I’m glad I did.  The more I read the more I wondered.  What is happening right now around me that I am not aware of?  What can I do to help?  How many starving children are there lurking in the background hoping to remain invisible, desperate to survive?

This is the story of Ivan Andreovich.  At first he is in kindergarten, learning to read in his little apartment with his Babushka Ina and his mom.  Shortly after his grandmother dies and he finds himself needing to  hide in the pantry from “him” and a bit later he has been left on the winter streets of Moscow.  Hungry, cold and alone, Ivan tries to join up with the other children he finds in the city, but they are mean and greedy.  Ivan notices the dogs – they make sure everyone has some…some company, some food, some warmth.  Ivan chooses the dogs.  He helps Lucky and Lucky brings the little boy to his pack.  Ivan joins the pack and together they learn to survive through the coldest bleakest winter and the sunny bounty of summer.  For three or so years, Ivan lives with the dogs – becoming one of the pack, but there are moments when he longs for stories and wishes for music.

When he told his story Ivan said, “I was better off with the dogs.  They loved and protected me.”  What is the truth in that statement?  The heart wrenching ending of this book has me wondering.  Make sure to read Dogs of Winter.  Wonder about what people do, what they can do, what they have to do and what they don’t do.  Though it has been two weeks since I finished reading this book I still hear the howl of sorrow and loss echoing in my mind – and I wonder.

Keeping Safe the Stars

Keeping Safe the Starsby Sheila O’Connor

set in the 70’s with a background of the Watergate Trials, the turmoil of the Vietnam War and the proliferation of cults and communes, the Stars have already survived a lot  – but there will be more.

Imagine being 13 and finding yourself alone with the responsibility of taking care of your little brother and sister.  You’ve already been orphaned and taken by the state – will it happen again?  The Stars are determined that they will be fine until Old Finn comes home, but the wait gets longer and longer.  Pride just needs to get into town to ask Old Finn what to do.  He’s sick, but one question and then she’ll be able to take care of things.  She is certain of that, except nothing seems to work out as hoped.

Since their mother died, the Star children have lived with their grandpa, Old Finn on the farm he calls Eden. It’s away from everyone and everything.  Old Finn wants it that way.  He likes to keep his business to himself.   But then Old Finn gets sick and  not just a little sick; he develops an infection that sends him far away to the hospital in Duluth.  Left in charge of the farm, Pride and her sister, 9-year-old Nightingale and brother, 6-year-old Baby try to figure out how to feed themselves and wait things out.

That proves challenging.  Pride knows she can’t run a household with no money and only a horse to make the long trek into town. The children decide to start a roadside business.  It seems like it might work at first, but then it starts to attract attention from neighbors and concerned adults. Isn’t it odd that three kids are alone seemingly all the time and their stories seem to fall a little short of the truth.  As things begin to unravel, the Stars know they must get to Old Finn and find help to keep them safe before the state takes them into custody.  That is something they couldn’t bear again.

Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O’Connor helps us understand that even bright, resourceful kids can’t go it alone.  It also helps us know that the adults they depend on need plans.  People do need people in order to make it through.  There are  people full of kindness and understanding- not everyone is bad.   It may not be wise to keep others away – even if you’ve had reason to distrust and fear in the past.   If you are a good soul, and it seems clear Old Finn is that, the others will be there waiting and watching and willing to help when they are invited in.

Keeping Safe the Stars holds you until the very end.  You have a sense of how things will go in the end – but nothing goes as the Stars hope or plan throughout the story so you’re not certain of the ending until it comes.  It is a story that will have you thinking and wondering long after you are done.  The Stars will stay with you for a long while.



Every Soul a Star

Every Soul A Starby Wendy Mass

middle and intermediate readers will be interested to discover who is who and how lives grow and unfold

A few years ago Josie and Lyndsey suggested that I read books by Wendy Mass.  The ones they most highly recommended were a Mango Shaped Space and Every Soul a Star.  I paid attention that recommendation and read many of Wendy Mass’ books.  At last Every Soul a Star came to the top of my “to read” pile.  Lyndsey and Josie were right.  It is a book to read.  It is amazing to imagine  how such diverse people, with different lives can meet – collide – regroup – and move on changed forever.

Ally and her family has spent her whole life preparing for on total eclipse.  They built Moon Shadow, a campground at the site for best viewing for this particular eclipse and have waited years for this event.  Their campground has Unusuals like the Star Garden – full of telescopes for endless nights of star gazing or the Sun Garden – full of sun dials of all shapes and sizes to tell the time, or the Labyrinth – that will allow you to meditate on a question as you travel the paths to the center.  Annual star parties mean that friends come to meet for Meteor Showers year after year.  This year, though, thousands will be coming to the campground for this one main event.  How exciting, but change is on the way now that their mission has come to an end.

Bree has lived in the suburbs working on her social status and planning for the moment she will be discovered  and become a cover model.  Her scientist parents don’t see the value in this, but Bree lives for fashion, her A-clique friends and being as beautiful as possible at all times.  They are always sorting through data, searching for grants and investigating the stars and working to discover new solar systems, planets and galaxies. Their dream grant comes through and they are moving – no one can stay behind.

Jack failed science, not because he couldn’t do the work, but because he didn’t.  He’d rather sit in the back of class and draw or find some quiet time where he can fly.  It’s a skill that SD3 (step dad)shared before leaving.  He was into lucid dreaming and Jack developed the knack.  Knack or no, Jack will either have to attend summer school or agree to help his science teacher on the trip he is leading for amateur astronomers into following eclipses around the world. While all he wants it to be alone, Jack chooses the trip over endless dull classes and plunges himself into a social world that he can’t fade from.

Ally, Bree and Jack are so different, but also able to help and support each other to grow in ways they hadn’t known they wanted to.  When the eclipse is over each of them has become more strongly aware of both their inner worlds and the world beyond their own lives – it is a vast universe full of wonder and dreams.  Read Every Soul a Star – what dream will you discover and follow?

One Year in Coal Harbor

One Year in Coal Harborby Polly Horvath

215 pages for intermediate and middle readers looking for a place to fit in and feel good.

Last year after I finally got around to reading Everything With a Waffle I decided to add Polly Horvath to my “favorite authors” list.  Her writing has strong characters deeply connected to place and I like that.  I loved Primrose Squarp – spunky, independent, creative and resilient. (Love the guinea pig scene – both at The Girl on the Red Swing and in the school guidance counselor’s office.  It’s still making me snicker.)  I was glad that things worked out happily for Primrose, but I was sad to leave her behind. So you can only imagine how happy I was to learn Polly Horvath had written One Year in Coal Harbor – more time with Primrose, Uncle Jack, Miss Bowser and Bert and Evie.

Primrose is at home with her mom and dad and thankful for everything she has.  She is trying to think of how she can help Miss Bowser and Uncle Jack spend more time together now that Miss Honeycut is gone.  She’s busy with Mallomar and collecting recipes, though what she’d really like is a good friend her age.  Primrose learned that people treat you differently when you’re in foster care.  It’s as if they think it’s your fault or that you have something that might rub off on them if they get too close.  Primrose could hang out with Eleanor, but she wasn’t really much of a friend.  They were together because neither of them had anyone else, not because it was fun.  Then Ked came along.  He was foster kid staying with Evie and Bert in Coal Harbor for a while.  He and Primrose get along right from the start. Ked is interested in the peaceful quiet of Jackson Road.  He’s a kind gentle soul, who seems to know what to do to make others feel appreciated.  For instance, he’d never tell Evie he doesn’t really like mini-marshmallows, nor would he ignore the seer though he is unkempt and unusual.

Just as Ked arrives so does Dan Sneild.  His arrival seems to upset the balance.  Miss Bowser and Uncle Jack argue all the time.  Primrose’s plans seem to make it worse. Logging comes to Mendolay Mountain – a clear cut and nothing will be the same again.  Ked is going fishing with her dad all the time.  Eleanor seems to like the cat poet more and more.  Nothing is going right and Primrose is feeling alone and angry.  She forgets to tell others how glad she is to have them as her friends, and then Ked’s dad comes for him.  He moves north and Primrose doesn’t have the opportunity to say good-bye.  She doesn’t want to anyway.  She’s too angry.  But then there’s a news report telling of a boy who’d been abandoned on the ice.  No one knew where he was – though it was said no one could survive the cold.

Caught in chaos, surrounded by guilt and grief, Primrose has to figure out what to do.  Her Uncle Jack says, “although we can’t keep undeserved bad things from happening, we do have control in making undeserved good things happen.”  She has to find her way through the hurt and happiness, change and tradition to find a place where she feels satisfied that she has done all she can to make the world a good place.

Read One Year in Coal Harbor to find out how Primrose meets that challenge.  Along they way you might learns some things that will work for you – you might even find a good recipe too!

Liar and Spy

by Rebecca SteadLiar & Spy

180 pages of interesting questions – can you be friends with a liar?

Perhaps the only thing good right now in Georges (yes, with an s) life is the fact that he stayed at the same school.  His dad lost his job, his family sold their house, they moved to an apartment and his mom started working doubles at the hospital.  He never sees her any more and that’s tough.  No dinners at home.  Dad’s often goes to visit her, but Georges chooses to leave her Scrabble tile messages.  He’s not much for hospitals.   The move means everything is in turmoil and everything he has relied on to stay grounded is difficult to find.

Doing laundry in the new building, Georges and his dad notice a sign for a Spy Club.  Thinking it is a joke, dad pencils a question – what time’s the next meeting.  Georges gets and answer and that’s how he first meets Safer and then, Candy.   Is there really a mystery in the building?  Could the man in black be a criminal?  What story is true?  How can anyone be sure?

As Georges answers his questions, you’ll answer your own. Can you really live a lie?  Can you actually be friends with a liar?  Are friends what it takes to face reality?  Read Liar and Spy to see what you think – can anything good ever come from a lie.

Cinderella Smith – The More the Merrier

Cinderella Smith: The More the Merrierby Stephanie Barden

144 page middle grade tale of friendship, kindness and fun

Cinderella Smith is one of a kind.  She’s “vexylent.”  It may not be a real word, but it could be.  Combine very with excellent and you know Cinderella’s meaning.  Cinderella likes words and she likes to play around with them.  In third grade, Cinderella is determined to win her school spelling bee. It is important to her because, of course she would like to win, and because the winner plans a class party. She wants to plan a party everyone can enjoy.  She doesn’t want her once good friend, Rosemary T., to win. She’ll plan a unicorn party and that’s something that only Rosemary T. and her posse of friends will like. That doesn’t seem right to Cinder – a party should be fun for everyone.

While studying words with her friends, Erin and Charlie, Cinder notices that Rosemary T. has been using some pretty mean ones lately. Cinder’s parents are on a trip, her aunt is taking care of her and Rosemary T. is spreading rumors around the class.  She’s decided that Cinder is babyish and weird.  It doesn’t feel good to be excluded and Cinder , in desperation,  gives her the silent treatment. Aunt Flora helps her understand how important it is to be yourself and enjoy life. While creating “pancake surprise,” Cinder learns that putting tons of ingredients together makes very tasty pancakes.  And her idea of “the more the merrier” is born. This philosophy spills over to school and Cinder finds a way to include everyone.

You’ll learn some pretty great words by reading Cinderella Smith – the More the Merrier and you’ll also find some good friends.  They know they’re different, but they’re okay with that.  There are no adventures in “same.”

Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World

by Candice RansomIva Honeysuckle Discovers the World

152 pages of family adventures for middle readers

Iva longs for adventure.  Iva wants to do amazing things, but Iva is in the middle and that makes achieving greatness a challenge.  You see her mom and her aunt married brothers and planned to have children (double- first cousins) who would grow up to be best friends and neighbors.  That worked for her older sister, Arden and cousin, Hunter.  It worked for little sister, Lily Pearl and cousin, Howard.  But it did not work for Iva and her bossy, rule-following, perfect cousin, Heaven. Summer is here and Iva has decided this is her opportunity to make important discoveries.  Recently while her dad was cleaning out the attic he found some interesting artifacts:  a small black journal containing tire pressure records, a geography bee medal dated 1923 and a stack of magazines.  These things had once belonged to her great grandfather and reading through the old National Geographic magazines, Iva discovered a map.  It seems to show where General Braddock had stopped in Uncertain, Virginia (the very town Iva lives in now) and had buried a cannon full of gold.  The weight needed to be left behind so his troops could move more quickly to battle.  That treasure has been waiting in the ground for over two hundred years and Iva is determined it will be found. Iva’s plans for the summer are set, but things don’t go as smoothly as planned.  It’s hard to discover things on your own.  It takes time to avoid people – Iva will do most anything to keep away from Heaven.  Iva’s mom thinks she should be nicer to her cousin.  She thinks she should do things with her so she has a friend, but Heaven is always in the way and she never wants to do anything of interest.  First there is the yard sale, then there’s the kitten and then Iva’s only friend, Mrs. Compton becomes Heaven’s friend too.  Iva doesn’t know what to do or how to take Mrs. Compton’s advice, “If you are a friend you’ll have a friend.” You’ll have to read Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World to find out about the discoveries that are made.  There’s more than one, and while they may not surprise you, you’ll be glad to have Iva Honeysuckle as an explorer friend.

The Lemonade War

The Lemonade Warby Jacqueline Davies

After the first glass you’ll want another.

With the start of school just around the corner The Lemonade Wars by Jacqueline Davies is a perfect reading fit.  What would you do if you discovered that your little sister was going to skip into your grade at school next year?  Not only your grade, but also your exact classroom because there is only one 4th grade in the school?  That is the news the letter from school had to share.   Jessie is good at school.  She is smart.  She has great ideas.  She loves to get things done and to solve problems.  She does things, but she’s not that good at understanding people.  She doesn’t have many friends.  Other kids think she’s weird.  Evan’s not so great at school.  He is athletic and active.  He has friends.  Will that be the case now… now that everything has changed?

That’s the dilemma.  Evan and Jessie get along just great at home.  They like being together and since their dad has left the family they have made a pact never to fight and argue, especially in front of mom.  But now Evan is angry.  He doesn’t want to be shown up by his little sister.  She’s good at reading.  She’s GREAT at math, but she’s awkward.  Now everyone he knows will know too and it’s just too much to bear.

There’s a heat wave and Evan sets up a lemonade stand (one of Jessie’s favorite things to do) with Scott?!?  He purposefully excludes Jessie.  She’s hurt.  “Good,” thinks Evan.  “But Scott,” wonders Jessie.  He’s not nice and he’s not really Evan’s great friend.  One thing leads to another and before you know it that last dog days of summer have turned into an all out war – winner takes all!  When the final summer fireworks explode who will be the winner, Jessie or Evan?

Read The Lemonade War to find out.  You’ll be glad you did!

The story continues in The Lemonade Crime and you can discover more about the family in The Bell Bandit.  This is the third of the five books in the series full of great characters, relationships and genuine understanding of how things change no matter how much you wish they would stay the same.The Lemonade CrimeThe Bell Bandit

Here Lies Linc

Here Lies Lincby Delia Ray

306 pages for readers looking to discover an unusual story that looks into the past

It’s the end of one life and the start of a new one for Lincoln Raintree Crenshaw.  The old life had two parents, each with a passion to share and teach; a small basement homeschool where lots of the other professors’ children went; and a friend, Jeeter, who maintained the cemetery next door.  It might have been a bit different, but it was happy, interesting and safe.  The new life has one parent now that Linc’s dad had passed away; a public middle school full of ordinary classes and ordinary kids; and no friends – yet, or maybe never.  Linc wasn’t sure, but he knew he was anxious, still and scared.

Day one of the new life was going okay.  In his old school, a friend had described middle school like living in ancient Egypt.  When you looked at the kids he said you’d see the pharaoh, next the high priests and nobles and after them the peasants and slaves. Linc could see that was true.  He thought he was peasant and he could live with that until American Studies class when Mr. Oliver announced THE project.  They were going on a field trip to the Oakland Cemetery and while there they were going to meet with “one of the nation’s premier cemetery experts…to lead our tour.  Charlotte Landers.”

First of all the cemetery was next door to Linc’s house.  Second of all the “expert” was his mom.  Third of all Linc knew his mom was rather unconventional, but he didn’t need his entire class to know that.  And after that day, Linc was certain they would and now he wondered why he had ever thought his life could change…

One thing leads to another and by the end of the book Linc’s life has changed – in some good ways and some not so good ways; some predictable and some totally unforeseeable.  Here Lies Linc  helps you appreciate what you have and helps you realize there is probably more to a person or a situation than you think…even when you’ve known those people and truths your whole life.  It is an interesting look at families, friends, people, history and burial rites.  How would you like your epitaph to read?