From bustling city to quiet farm, from only child to a trio of girls, chores, chickens, snakes? (please, no snakes!)
Jen’s mom and her boyfriend are the ones who dreamed of living on a farm and selling their produce at the summer market, not Jen who would rather spend summer with Dad (who’s too busy in the city to talk on the phone).
The pre-teen gets flustered trying to make change at their market stand, is annoyed with chicken-keeping chores (twice. every. day), enjoys time alone in the hayloft to sketch, read comics, and play with the barn kitties.
Then Walter’s daughters come to Peapod Farm for the summer – younger Reese is okay, but same-age Andy is a smartypants, pointing out Jen’s problems with math and changing things at their market stand.
Can Mom and Walter make Peapod Farm a success? How can Jen’s sketching talent compete with Andy’s intelligence and Reese’s utter cuteness? Will the nearly-sisters ever get along?
Jen’s summer on the farm begins getting better, one step at a time, in this graphic novel sprouting from Knisley’s own experiences growing up. Find this first book in the Peapod Farm series at your local public library or indie bookstore.
What “oh no!” experience turned into “okay” for you? **kmm
Book info: Stepping Stones (Peapod Farm, book 1) / Lucy Knisley; colored by Whitney Cogar. RH Graphic, 2020. [author site] [publisher site] Personal collection; cover image courtesy of the publisher.
Endangered bird feathers as a prop,
a social club with no social awareness,
time to stop this nonsense!
Waiting out her parents’ transatlantic divorce arguments, Lane decides to take summer at her wealthy grandmother’s palatial Florida estate from boring to bold by inviting other 12 year old girls to form a secret club.
Ofelia’s overprotective Cuban-American parents want the budding journalist to stay safe, quit being so inquisitive, and certainly not apply for news-writers’ camp in New York City.
Helping her grandfather research connections between their Bahamian roots and local citrus growers leaves Aster plenty of time to cook up new dishes while Mom’s overseas in the Army.
As youngest sister, Cat is her society-conscious mother’s final chance to have a Miss Flora in the family, but she’d rather watch living birds than sit in boring club meetings.
The new friends decide to challenge the tradition of Miss Flora wearing a ceremonial hat with feathers from endangered birds – it should be in a museum!
All their low-key protests – stickers, lawn flamingos at the Flora clubhouse – get taken over by the Flora leader for publicity! How can this eclectic crew make the townspeople understand the importance of protecting local birds in peril?
A hidden lighthouse, a sadistic gym teacher, White Deer Woods where Raul just knows Mom is waiting for him – a little further from the sadness that weighed Dad down to the floor when she was gone, out into the freedom of being his wolf-self again, wondering about the missing Fresnel lens and why the new kid Vincent is nice to him.
Happy book birthday to this self-discovery story! Visit the publisher’s page here and scroll down to read chapter one, as Raul meets the new kid and secrets begin to unfold.
Have you ever felt like two beings at once?
Book info: This Is Not a Werewolf Story / Sandra Evans. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.
My book talk: It’s okay that Dad doesn’t come over from Seattle to pick up Raul for the weekends – more time to explore White Deer Woods near the boarding school and learn more about his mom who disappeared.
Tuffman, the three-time Olympian who now teaches PE at this small school for kids with individual learning needs? He’s not okay, not ever!
There’s a real white deer in the woods, and magic, Raul learns. Magic that lets him become his true wolf-self (no, not a werewolf! that’s movie make-believe) and run with the beautiful wolf who must be his mother.
When a cougar is sighted in the woods, Dean Swift restricts students to the main building – but how can Raul stay away?
The abandoned lighthouse where his change-magic happens – where did its giant lens go?
Mary Anne, Sparrow, new kid Vincent, even Mean Jack are on his side – but can he escape Tuffman’s torment?
A white wolf, secrets that divide and bring together – Raul is a young man trying to unravel a hidden agenda at school as the secret in White Deer Woods might free him or doom him. (One of 6,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)
Max “the Wolf” has constantly improved his woodcraft skills as a Boy Scout and is a detective at heart, so he and his new companions watch for clues as they travel together in search of answers – and try to stay ahead of the vicious Blue Cutters.
For his first novel for younger readers, Willingham taps the illustrating skills of his Fables graphic novel series collaborator Mark Buckingham for the masterful sketches of each character, from Banderbrock the badger, Walden the black bear, and McTavish the Monster (or perhaps a cat) to their evil pursuers with swords.
Find this mystery/quest/friendship tale today in hardcover or paperback at your local library or independent bookstore. For a jump into the Fables universe, try Willingham’s Peter & Max novel which I reviewed here.
I do wonder what the animals in our lives would say to us if we could understand them talking…
My Recommendation: Max is lost in an unfamiliar forest, being chased by swordsmen who’d rather kill than talk, meeting up with talking animals – this has never happened to the top-notch Boy Scout before!
Using his woodcraft skills and powers of deduction (the young teen is a detective at heart), Max “the Wolf” decides to head downstream to find a town (and perhaps his memory). Along the way, he encounters Banderbrock the badger, who likewise is perplexed about being in this unknown forest, but remembers many tales of his daring and brave ancestors.
Dodging the Blue Cutter swordsmen who pursue all trespassers in this forest, Max and Banderbrock join forces with the black bear Walden, formerly sheriff in a quiet settlement in another forest, and McTavish the Monster, who looks very much like a battle-scarred tomcat to Max. All can understand one another perfectly, but their memories of time before this forest have unexplainable gaps.
Chased down the Mysterly River (as Walden named it) by the Blue Cutters and their hunting hounds, the friends try to find Prince Aspen (who is said to know many secrets) or anyone else who could help them escape to safety.
For the Blue Cutters remove everything unique about new arrivals in this forest – and what could be more unique than speech in animals or a Boy Scout with no troop nearby…
Why did the boy, badger, bear, and cat all arrive here at the same time?
Can the quartet avoid the Blue Cutters’ vicious blades?
What will they discover at the end of the Mysterly River?
An epic tale with an unexpected twist from Fables graphic novel writer, Bill Willingham, who undoubtedly enjoyed adventurous stories around the campfire as a Scout. (One of 6,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.
Why would 13-year-old Josh want to be at school when he could be nestled into an almost-cave on the rocky seashore, wondering when his dad will come back again from his cargo ship voyages, when his strange cousin will move out, when anything in his life will make sense?
As his own translator from the Icelandic, Erlings captures this teen boy’s voice and ever-circling worries perfectly. Listen to the first three minutes of the novel here, as Josh wakes up on his thirteenth birthday and finds his long-traveling father’s gift.
What would you do with a stuffed falcon, staring at you from its tree branch perch those black eyes?
Book info: Fish in the Sky / Fridrik Erlings; translated from Icelandic by the author. Candlewick Press, 2012. [about the author] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.
My Book Talk: A stuffed falcon? That’s what Dad sent Josh from the ocean freighter for his 13th birthday? Yet another thing that’s not understandable in his universe, like why the girls allow themselves to be chased at recess or how no one stands up to the bullies who throw underwear in the showers after PE or why Mom lets his 17-year-old girl cousin move in with them.
She’s in trouble back home, this Trudy, and Josh is sure that it won’t be better at his house with her here. Mom has transformed his huge walk-in closet into Trudy’s room, so this girl who’s practically a stranger has to walk through his room to get anywhere!
School is even worse than being home: the agony of morning math with the headmaster, the giggling girls who send knowing looks but never walk with him during break time, the torture of PE class and the mean locker-room monitor and the bullies who pick on everyone different than them.
Josh decides that he’s learned enough for now and forges a series of excuse notes to stay away from seventh grade; if Mom weren’t so busy with two jobs, she’d do it, right?
How will Josh and Peter work on their film about falcons with Trudy barging in all the time?
And a growing guy needs his sleep; doesn’t that girl ever turn down her music?
Wait, it’s too quiet in Trudy’s space – has she snuck out after promising mom that she’d behave?
Dad’s calling from shore – why isn’t he on the cargo ships, like always?<
The confusion of becoming a teen and trying to understand other people wanders through Josh’s days and dreams in this coming-of-age novel, translated from the Icelandic by the author.
As volcanic ash fills the Iowa skies, violent earthquakes rattle the cornfields,
booms louder than cannons go on for hours and hours,
it seems like the end of the world is now…
but the end is just beginning.
Yellowstone’s geysers and fumaroles have always hinted at its geothermal potential for destruction. The supervolcano eruption long feared by geologists has come at last, and Alex’s home 900 miles east is under attack from its furies.
The enormous ash plume will spread through the atmosphere, block out sunlight, cause sudden and long-lasting winter weather. No sunshine means no crops growing, no crops means no food, widespread famine and desperation. Imagine the damage that sharp corrosive ash will do to auto engine air intakes, aircraft jet engines, delicate lung tissue of people and animals.
And Alex heads out into this ashfall with meager supplies and no sunrise to guide him eastward, trying to reunite with his family, to survive.
Visiting Yellowstone National Park last September, I smelled the sulfur of its hot spring pools, saw entire forests killed by rising super-scalding water levels, watched Old Faithful geyser jet up hundreds of feet into the sky. Yep, this supervolcano potential is real, and scientists are closely monitoring it – but can’t stop it.
First-time author Mike Mullin describes a perilous apocalyptic world which is all the more frightening because it really could happen at any moment. Book two in the series, Ashen Winter, will be published in October 2012 – pre-order it as soon as possible at your favorite independent bookstore because you won’t want to wait a single extra day to read what happens after Ashfall!
My Book Talk: Alex wants to skip visiting his uncle’s goat farm, and his parents finally agree to let the 16-year-old stay home alone this time, on that September weekend when the whole world changed, when a supervolcano eruption rocked civilization to its core.
It’s not like Alex was planning a wild party in his parents’ absence – just computer games and junk food on the menu. But those teen pleasures are gone now, like clear air and electricity and sunshine and phone service and clean water and trusting other people. Even 900 miles from the Yellowstone supervolcano, earthquakes throw houses around like kids’ blocks in their Iowa hometown. Then the ash begins to fall from the sky…and fall and fall and fall, clogging car engines, making it hard to breathe, getting into every crevice of his clothes.
Determined to get to his family, Alex gathers whatever food and gear he can, then heads east cross-country on Dad’s skis. Driving to Warren takes an hour and a half – how long will it take now? Slogging through ever-deepening ash, running short of water and food, he avoids farmhouses where he can see rifle barrels glinting in the windows, tries to find shelter in this flat farmland it gets colder and colder.
He keeps moving east, encountering very few refugees, some even less-prepared than he is, one much more dangerous than anyone he ever wanted to meet. Wounded, he stumbles into the first farmyard along the road and is taken in by Mrs. Edmunds and her teen daughter. Luckily, Darla has enough veterinary training to sew him up, and there’s corn to feed them for a while. Unluckily, trouble is coming down the road toward them, fast.
Can Alex really get to his uncle’s farm under his own power?
Can he protect Darla and her mom if they go with him?
What’s their biggest danger – the ash searing their lungs, the sudden heavy snowfall, or the viciousness of other people?
Vividly portraying a post-apocalyptic scenario that’s entirely too possible, Ashfall is first in a series, followed by Ashen Winter (book 2). (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)
A chance to study far away instead of babysitting all summer…
Maybe go to the university instead of dental hygienist school….
Prove to ex-boyfriend Erik that she’s better off without him.
Myra imagines herself in the Galapagos Islands with its Darwin’s finches and blue-footed boobies, famous tortoises and amazingly blue sea waters, even as her little brothers break things and mud-wrestle, her big sister drops out of college and moves back home pregnant, both parents work long hours, the family’s carpool schedules look like battle plans – no wonder that Myra feels like she’s holding everything together, even when Erik breaks up with her.
Visit Myra’s study group site at Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake in the author’s slideshow, watch for the next little brother disaster, and cross your fingers that Myra wins that scholarship!
My Book Talk: Oh, how Myra feels trapped! Her perfect big sister is suddenly pregnant, her three little brothers are a constant noisy mess, and now Erik wants “some space” – this isn’t how spring of senior year should go!
When their AP Biology teacher announces a scholarship to study birds in the Galapagos Islands, Myra decides to go for it, even if it does require early morning Saturday excursions to Great Salt Lake Marina’s bird observation area and a “high level” scientific study proposal write-up and… $1,000 toward travel costs. Maybe she can scrape together that much money in just 3 months working part-time at the ice cream shop, right?
Saturday 6 a.m. really is early, but the University of Utah graduate assistant who’s leading the bird studies is enthusiastic enough to wake everyone up. Pete is excited that two high school kids from his hometown have a shot at this scholarship, so he helps them all with their project proposals as much as the rules allow.
Erik makes yet another mistake at the ice cream shop and expects Myra to cover for him like she did while they were dating. When she doesn’t and the manager insinuates that she’s irresponsible like her big sister, Myra just quits.
Now she’s got to find another job in this little town. Mom and Dad think she’s saving money to go to dental hygienist school; Myra hasn’t exactly told them that the scholarship requires that $1,000 travel fee, and they don’t seem too optimistic about her winning it anyway, especially when future-dentist Erik is also a competitor.
When the marina secretary quits, the Lake ranger offers Myra the job, part-time till school’s out, then full-time in the busy summer. Alright! A chance to earn the money she needs, do some extra bird-watching for the seminars, and Pete is at the marina whenever he’s not in class.
But can Myra really get away from this town where her family is judged because they don’t go to church like everyone else?
Can she come up with a scientific study idea that’s better than Erik’s so she can win the scholarship?
Can she keep thinking of Pete as only the group’s study leader instead of something more?
Everyone knows that Girls Don’t Fly, but Myra is determined to change all that in this story of family, dreams, life, and longing. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.
Whatever the name, being able to show just where to drill a water well is an enviable talent in arid places, but not without its consequences. Who could imagine that West Glory’s “springsweet” would be a young lady escaping back-East gossip by moving to the Oklahoma Territory’s vast plains?
And Zora could scarcely have dreamed that her train trip West would bring her to a sodhouse, a nearby all-black town that reminds her of home, a barn-raising, and two unlikely suitors?
While you can read this just-published book on its own, you’ll get a fuller picture of Zora’s life and gifts by reading The Vespertine (my recommendation) first. Just can’t wait for the promised third book to see where Zora’s talent takes her!
My Recommendation: Ever-separated from her fiancé and her cousin, Zora decides to escape the strictures of Baltimore society by heading West. How can she face friends who don’t understand her continued mourning, family members who expect her to settle for a normal life after losing Amelia’s visions and Thomas’ healing touch?
Rather than allowing seventeen-year-old Zora to marry a widower and raise his children in some log cabin, her mother arranges for her to stay with Aunt Birdie and little Louella at their homestead in the Oklahoma Territory. Rattling westward by train and coach, Zora is jolted when bandits rob the stage just a few miles from her destination, smashing the luggage, and taking the locket that Thomas gave her.
Stranded by the highwaymen in a sudden thunderstorm, Zora trudges along the muddy wagon road toward West Glory and is rescued from a night alone on the prairie by Emerson Birch. Beside his rugged cabin in his lush garden, somehow Zora knows that his well is dug in the wrong place and can see silvery shimmers in the evening darkness that tell her where he should dig for water.
Aunt Birdie welcomes her the next morning, but is openly hostile to Emerson who jumped the gun to claim his land. Life is hard for the two young women and toddler Louella in the tiny sod house, hauling water from a distant well, making soap, trying to keep their crops alive in the dry plains winds.
When dandy Theo de la Croix arrives in West Glory to teach school, Zora wonders if he’d followed her from Baltimore. One kiss at a dance couldn’t mean that much… could it? Courted by Theo, yet drawn by Emerson’s vibrant connection to the land, she begins to finds pieces of joy in the midst of her mourning.
Her gift for seeing where the earth’s secret waters hide is precious in this dry land, so she hires out as a “springsweet” to tell folks where to dig wells. Not all visions are happy ones, and soon Zora must decide whether to tell unwelcome news or to hide her talents.
But how else can the little family get enough money to get through the bitter winter ahead? Should Zora accept Theo’s offer of marriage, or sneak away to see Emerson, or just run back home to a pampered life in Baltimore?
This companion volume to The Vespertine follows Amelia’s cousin Zora as she discovers her own psychic gifts and must decide whether she can truly live with the consequences that those visions may bring. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.
Hidden in alpine valleys are tiny treasures. Alex intends to find them, to sketch them, to preserve them. Who knows what wonders are waiting in Yellowstone?
It’s a man’s world in science in the 1890s, but Alexandria Bartram doesn’t care. Her family is sure that she will go into medicine, but her heart is all for botany. Studying Lewisia flowers brought back from the wilderness of Yellowstone makes her eager to see them in their native habitat, so she requests a place on the summer field study team there. If Dr. Merriam thinks that A.E. Bartram is a man, then he’s the one that’s short-sighted.
Like the tough and tender Lewisia itself, Alex finds a way to survive and thrive under harsh conditions, an able researcher and methodical scientist, with an eye for all the beauties of this great national park.
Historical fiction which helps readers see the past more clearly can also help us preserve what’s important for our future. When we visited Yellowstone this summer, I could see areas which Alex would immediately recognize and others which tourism had irrevocably changed.
Yes, the copyright date of 2000 is correct; this charming book is still in print, so check for it at your local library or independent bookstore. **kmm
My Recommendation: Alexandria wants to study mountain plants in their natural setting, so she signs on with a Yellowstone research team. But it’s 1898, and the lead scientist thinks that Dr. A.E. Bartram is a man.
Dr. Merriam is quite startled to find that his new colleague arriving from Cornell is female – how will a young woman endure the hardships of rough camp life, he worries. Railroads have just reached the borders of America’s largest national park, so most travel is by wagon and on horseback. Alex has no concerns and is ready for adventure; when a respectable widow arrives on a bicycle tour and remains with the group as an amateur photographer, her chaperonage satisfies everyone.
Each member of the expedition has a different view of its purpose: Alex wants to catalog every variation of the Lewisia plant, Dr. Merriam needs to secure specimens of many plants and animals for the new Smithsonian Institution in the nation’s capital, Dr. Rutherford thinks he can teach a raven to talk as he studies Yellowstone’s avian life, and their wagon driver wants to stay far, far away from Alex and other females.
The story of the summer’s successes and failures is told through letters and telegrams. Dr. Rutherford is trying to convince the president of his Montana college to expand the botany department, Dr. Merriam reminds the Smithsonian Institution of their promises to fund the expedition and quietly complains to his mother about the problems that beset them at every turn, Alex relates her discoveries to fellow researchers back East, glorying in Yellowstone’s amazing landscapes of geysers and alpine meadows.
Will Dr. Merriam get the full-time position at the Smithsonian? Will Native American conflicts prevent the team from completing their mission? Can Alex continue her field research when summer is over, or will she be stranded in a college classroom forever?
With summer snows and campsites ranging from woeful to wonderful, this novel takes readers back to an age of discoveries, when the idea of wilderness preservation was still new. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.
Wednesday – her home is gone in minutes.
Wondering why her best friend has gone into hiding.
Widdershins, her wonderful dog – gone forever?
Why can’t people just be nice when they don’t understand someone? As nature-centered Wiccans, Ember’s family stands out too much in this small Southern town, no matter how quiet they are. Her mom reads tarot cards for townspeople who call her a witch behind her back and won’t even say hello to her at the store. Ember uses her spells only for peace, for clarity, to ward off Ivy’s nightmares.
Her continuing search for loyal dog Widdershins – “who was a good dog and came when I called her – six times out of ten” – and for objects that the fire left behind brings her close enough to former best friend Anson’s place every week that he might speak to her, tell her why he set the fire… but his silence is very, very loud.
Float out on the lake with Ember, find balance and clarity on her favorite Body of Water, feel how being homeless doesn’t mean being hopeless.
My Recommendation: Three hours after the fire, Ember wonders if Anson did it, if her best friend torched her family’s trailer house everything they owned, if that would keep his father from doing worse things to them for their beliefs.
Just because folks in the little Southern town call them witches doesn’t make them bad people. Dad calls their beliefs Wicca, Mom says not-quite-Wicca and teaches young teen Ember spells for clarity and balance with nature and peace. She also says that revenge is a bad seed to plant in your mind as it just might take root in your heart.
So now they’re homeless, Mom and Dad and Ember and little sister Ivy. She can’t find her dog Widdershins, and big brother Isaac is away at college. No room in Grandma’s tiny apartment, as if that devout lady would welcome her pagan son and family anyway, so eventually they find themselves at Goose Landing Campground, beside the lake where Grandpa drowned, the event that stopped Mom and Dad’s wanderings.
Ember ventures back to her burned-out home every week, searching for things that the fire might have spared – half a pair of Mom’s sewing scissors, a soup ladle – and for Widdershins. She mourns the loss of her spell journal, of Ivy’s random collections, of her former best friend. The only place she finds peace is floating far out in the center of the lake, where the water and the sky hold her.
And now it’s time for school to start. How can Ember and Ivy attend when their address is a pup tent, when they have no notebooks or decent clothes? Can they ever find a place to live when Dad can’t find a job? Did Widdershins perish in the fire or run away to find a safe home? Will Ember even be able to speak to Anson when she sees him again?
A story that circles back again and again to home and family and hope, Body of Water brings readers along on Ember’s search for clarity and balance and peace. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.
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