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June 2023

Hattie’s mom has died, leaving Hattie alone with her gruff, grieving father. After Hattie chops off her braids in a fit of rage, Hattie’s Pa buys her some boy clothes, introduces her as Harley, and trains her to help him as a river man. While she misses her Ma, Hattie begins to find some joy in her strange new life as a river rafting”boy.” When she and her Pa take a dangerous journey down river, Hattie begins to realize that there’s more behind her Pa’s silence than she first thought. Hattie is a strong heroine who will appeal to middle grade girls who love Laura Ingalls and are ready for a more challenging character.

Charlie’s mom died of cancer, and his dad has retreated into silence to cope with his grief. Lonely and friendless, and looking for an escape from junior high bullies, Charlie wanders into the woods one day and meets a grizzly bear. But this is no ordinary grizzly bear, as Charlie soon discovers. The grizzly bear, Emory, soon becomes a friend to Charlie. But keeping a grizzly bear as a secret friend is no easy task. Charlie must decide whom to trust with his secret, and how he can protect Emory from the community.

I loved that this book wasn’t just an animal story. Charlie has to deal with all sorts of realistic issues: bullies at school, after school fights, pretty girls, first dances, first kisses, arguing with his dad, missing his mom, and watching his dad enter the dating world. While this is an adult novel, and not juvenile fiction, it reminded me a lot of The Nine Lives of Travis Keating. The subject matter might be a bit much for most middle school students, but high school students as well as adults will enjoy this heart-warming, realistic and slightly fantastical story about a boy and a bear who rescue each other.

Alabama Moon by Watt Key

07th September 2009

Moon and his Pap have been living in the Alabama wilderness for as long as Moon can remember.  They are completely self-sufficient and trust no one.  When Moon’s Pap dies, Moon is determined to carry out his father’s last wishes, and travel to Alaska.  But before Moon can begin his trip, he is taken into state custody and locked up in a boy’s home.  Moon quickly makes both friends and enemies in his quest to flee to Alaska and find a place where he belongs.  An excellent book. Would be great for late elementary/middle school reluctant readers.

This book had the potential to be really good.  It started out as a story about a boy, Daniel, going in search of his fur-trapper father.  Daniel joins a group of pioneers, and begins walking to Oregon, looking for his father, whom Daniel believes to be in trouble.  On the way, Daniel meets Rosalie and the two strike up an unlikely friendship.  But then the book veers off onto a lesson about the evils of the white man.  I have no problem with historical fiction dealing honestly with the violence that explorers and pioneers inflicted on native peoples.  But Daniel’s Walk treats the subject in such an abrupt and preachy way that it comes off as contrived and ruins the rest of the story.

Chase Walker has mysteries to solve:  Who is his real father?  What is the true story behind his foster dad’s secret past?  And, what secret is the mysterious boy called “Sketch” hiding?   The thing I loved about this book was Martin’s emphasis on the importance of fathers.  As he says, “nothing compares” to the importance of a father’s love for his children.  As a mother, I tend to read a lot of chick lit glorifying mother-love.  And of course, I know this is important, but it was refreshing to read a novel all about a child’s search for the one thing he needed most: his father.

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