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Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

07th December 2012

This was a fun book, perfect for young fans of  “Harry Potter” style stories. It’s a blend of dystopia survival with magical elements and intrigue. While it’s action packed and suspenseful, it’s not frightening or gruesome, and would be an excellent read-aloud or independent read for grades 4-7.

Ashfall by Mike Mullin

27th February 2012

A worthy addition to the post-apocalyptic genre. It was similar in style and feel to Life as We Knew It. When a supervolcano erupts unexpectedly near Alex’s Iowa home, he is separated from his parents. Desperate to reunite with them, he begins the dangerous journey in the midst of a cataclysmic ashfall. Facing hunger, injury and violence, Alex also finds unexpected friendship and help. I’m eager to read the sequel, Ashen Winter, due out in October.

So Big by Edna Ferber

20th February 2012

Orphaned at age 19 in the late 1800′s, Selina accepts a job as a school teacher in the community of New Holland. Even though New Holland is only a few hours drive by wagon to her former life in Chicago, Selina is not prepared for the shock of living in the tiny, conservative truck-farming community. The grinding work and poverty take a toll on even the hardiest of souls. Determined to continue finding beauty in life and learning, Selina throws herself into her teaching, and later into her family farm. When her son, Dirk, “SoBig” DeJong is born, Selina promises herself that he will not be bound to the farm, and that he will have every opportunity that she herself lost. This is a rich novel, with much to discuss and analyze. I was most struck by how Selina lost every privilege, and yet didn’t lose hope, either for herself or her child. Dirk’s response at being given every opportunity would also be worthy of discussing.

Erik’s parents deploy to Iraq, leaving him to go live with his Oma and Big Darrell on the prairies of North Dakota. Angry, lonely and feeling unwanted, Erik rescues a dog, names him Quill and claims the dog as his own. When the dog’s owner turns up, Erik takes to the prairie, confident that he and Quill together can make a life for themselves on the prairie.

Middle grade readers, both boys and girls, will love this book. Erik’s independence, his love for Quill and his journey on the prairie will fuel the imaginations of young readers. What I liked about the book is that in the end, Erik discovers that there is more to the adults in his life than he first realized. His parents and grandparents aren’t just labelled as “the bad guys” and kept that way. Erik is allowed to get to know them and appreciate them for who they are. This is a similar, but easier to read, tale to My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, one of my personal classics.

This thin volume, based on a true story, is powerful and intense.   Park tells the true story of two children from Sudan.  Salva is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.  He flees his hometown in 1985 and begins a journey that will last over 11 years and take him ultimately to America.  Nya lives in modern Sudan.  Her days are filled with one task–walking to get water.  She spends 8 hours a day walking, making 2 round trips each day to fill up her family’s water jugs.  Alternating between Salva’s and Nya’s stories, Park tells how hope came to one Sudanese village through the perseverance and courage of one young boy and the many who helped him on his journey.

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