Snyder, L. (2017). Orphan Island. MA: Walden Pond Press.
On a special island, only orphaned children live, dropped off one by one, once a year A green boat arrives on the shores, always through thick mist, and drops off the youngest islander and takes away the oldest. The island itself is a safe paradise where no one ever gets hurt by an animal or anything else. The kids may squabble, but nothing major ever happens.
The eldest of the nine children living there has the responsibility of teaching the newest arrival. Throughout the story, Jinny, the eldest, is guiding little Ess. When it is Jinny’s turn to board the green boat that arrives as sure as the sun rises and sets each year, she has different ideas that day.
Orphan Island is centered around themes of childhood and growing up and includes enough magical realism to keep you thinking about it long after the last page is turned.
Gratz, A. (2017). Refugee. NY: Scholastic Press.
Following three children from different places and different time periods in history, Refugee is a gripping and suspenseful story that takes the brave spirit of these seemingly unrelated children and swirls them around in the ocean as they all flee their homelands by boat, then follows them as they struggle to survive, fight to belong, and grapple with issues such as invisibility.
Everything is connected. Josef is escaping a budding Nazi Germany, Isabel flees Castro’s Cuba in the 1990’s, and Mahmoud is running from Syria in present day, yet their journeys tie together in the end. An incredibly timely middle school read, may readers question if we have learned from history or if today’s refugees be treated in the same appalling manner.
Historically accurate, thrilling, and heartbreaking, Refugee will bring you another perspective.
Brown, P. (2016). The Wild Robot. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Peter Brown’s art has come to middle grade fiction, and combined with his equally bare bones writing style, he has created a meditation on nature versus technology, a philosopher’s handbook, if you want to go that far.
After falling off a cargo ship and bobbing along in the ocean, Roz reaches the shores of an island where otters manage to open up her shipping box and activate her. Roz opens her eyes, looks around this place – the only place she’s ever known – and even though she is indeed a robot, she considers it home. However, survival quickly becomes her primary focus, when a storm sweeps her down in a mudslide, angry bears chase her, and a mama bird makes sure Roz lands with a clank out of a tall and sticky pine tree. Intriguingly, Roz begins to observe the island’s animals and learn their ways and their language. The line between real and robot is tenuous and appealing in Continue reading
Werlin, N. (2017). And Then There Were Four. New York: Penguin Random House.
Five prep school kids are tossed together under mysterious circumstances. When one is murdered, they begin talking and piecing together what they know about their families, and a terrifying idea surfaces. What if they are all targets? The premise is classically entertaining, mimicking Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, when a group of strangers are assembled on a remote island only to be murdered one by one.
The chapters alternate between two of the five friends, Saralinda and Caleb, she speaking in the present tense, he in the past for some reason, but both pushing forward the pace of the story. Nancy Werlin knows how to create complex characters whose voices captivate us. We become swept up into the mystery as they go on the run from their cloistered, island-esqe school to an actual island, Fire Island in New York. Here there are no cars, only dirt paths through tall grass, and little Continue reading
Hardinge , F. (2015). The Lie Tree. New York: Amulet Books.
Costa Book Award for Children’s Book (2015)
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction (2016)
Andre Norton Award Nominee Young Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy (2016)
Carnegie Medal Nominee (2016)
Costa Book of the Year (2015)
YA Book Prize Nominee (2016)
Faith Sunderly’s family flees Kent, England for a small and unknown island in order to avoid social gossip surrounding her father’s work, thus providing a dreary backdrop. Historical fiction from the Victorian Era, The Lie Tree takes the adventure story and flips it on its head with a feminist twist. Gender stereotypes are annoyingly prevalent, yet Faith is a strong, intelligent character (“When every door is closed, one learns to climb through windows.”), reminding me much of the young, budding scientist, Calpurnia in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly. Except The Lie Tree is a fantastical fairy tale. Let me explain.
Faith’s father is a natural scientist and is found murdered on the island shortly after the family moves. Investigations lead Faith to discover Continue reading
Mesmerized, I pulled my first Oliver Jeffers book closer to see, so close indeed that I never let his work out of my sight. The Boy series (will there be a fifth?) are some of the best examples of basic illustrations of adorable characters paired with a hopeful story. In the first book, How to Catch a Star, the boy wishes to catch a star and imagines all different ways to do so. In the second book, Lost and Found, a penguin shows up at the boy’s front step. This begins a delightful friendship that carries throughout the series with The Way Back Home and Up and Down.
As humorous, quick, and light Jeffers can be, his 2010 book, The Heart and the Bottle, departed and decided to explore grief. A difficult story of a girl losing her dear father at a young age is brilliantly approached. This is a special book. Mirroring his other picturebooks, this one slowly and deliberately turns itself around to face joy. Maria Popova recently published an article, The Heart and the Bottle: A Tender Illustrated Fable of What Happens When We Deny Our Difficult Emotions: A gentle reminder of what we stand to lose when we lock away loss.” As Popova points out, “the app version of the story is excellent beyond words”, and how true that is! It’s a forward-thinking and engaging experience.
Jeffers has an entertaining YouTube video where he explains his organic creative process, how he makes his ideas come to life and be strong, how much he likes to label things, and more.