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March 2023

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.

I’ve read some great historical fiction recently, ranging from 1840’s Ireland to 1950’s New Jersey.    First up is the Children of the Famine trilogy by Marita Conlon-McKenna.  This juvenile fiction series follows 3 Irish children, orphaned in the Great Famine, as they search for a new home and a place to belong.  It would be interesting to compare with Nory Ryan’s Song.

Moving to the 1870’s and Idaho Territory.  In Jenny of the Tetons, Carrie is orphaned by an Indian attack as her family makes its way to Oregon.  With no where else to go, Carrie makes her home with Beaver Dick, a trapper and his Shoshoni wife, Jenny.  Beaver Dick and Jenny are based on real people, and each chapter begins with an excerpt from Beaver Dick’s journal.

Private Peaceful is the battlefield reflections of a 16 year old private in the British army.  The tension builds with each chapter as a crucial night comes to an end.  An excellent choice for middle school boys.

And finally, we have Newbery Honor winning Penny from Heaven.  11 year old Penny lives with her mother and her mother’s parents.  While her life with her mother’s family is quiet and controlled, it is her dead father’s family that provides noise and excitement.  During one eventful summer, Penny discovers the secrets behind her father’s death, and brings both sides of her family together.