Friday, July 18, 2014

Spotlight on Fiction 2014

Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey
by Alex Milway

“Pigsticks [is] the last in a noble line of pigs,” but he hasn’t done anything great yet.  After reading about his forepigs, Pigsticks decides to travel to the Ends of the Earth and (“unlike [his ancestor] Colonel Pigslet) . . . make it back alive!”  After a futile search for an assistant, Pigsticks serendipitously meets a small hamster named Harold who is strong, honest, and just what Pigsticks is looking for.

“The job’s yours . . . We shall leave tomorrow, before breakfast!”
“But I’m going to a tea party tomorrow . . . There will be cake.”
“We shall take a cake with us.”
“I don’t mean to be rude . . . but I could never leave before breakfast.”
“We shall take two cakes with us!” (21)

Reluctantly--and only after a promise of three cakes, one of them Battenburg--Harold agrees to the arrangement, and the unlikely pair set off on an adventure.

Pigsticks’ studied inattention, Harold’s penchant for cake, and the dialogue between the two create unpredictable humor and some absurd situations.

An interesting, elevated vocabulary makes this upper-level easy reader a great choice for independent readers who still want shorter stories with plenty of pictures.

*Received Netgalley ebook for review.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
by Karen Foxlee

 “Ophelia did not consider herself brave . . . but she was very curious.  She was exactly the kind of girl who couldn't walk past a golden keyhole without looking inside.” (9)  That keyhole happens to be in a snowy foreign city where her father has just taken a job at the museum. Her mother died three months ago, and since her father is distracted with work, and her sister is moody and distant, Ophelia explores the museum alone.  But the museum is a confusing place with signs pointing the wrong direction and guards that knit, sleep, and yell for no good reason, and of course, that golden keyhole.  Behind the keyhole she finds a 303-year-old boy who claims his name was taken by a “protectorate of wizards from the east, west, and middle . . .” (14) and that he is a prisoner of the Snow Queen.  He needs Ophelia’s help to find a magical sword and the One Other who will know how to wield it.  In short, he needs her to save the world.

Foxlee gives readers a wonderfully wicked villain.  The Snow Queen is “dazzlingly beautiful,” ice cold, deceptively kind, and she smells like hot chocolate. (13)  Eleven-year-old Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard is an equally delightful heroine.  She has a pale face, ragged braids, smudgy glasses, and asthma, and she simply refuses to believe in magic.  (Oh, and she likes sardines.) (76-77)

With lyrical writing, an adventure-filled plot, and the triumph of love over misery, this Snow Queen story is everything that a modern-day fairy tale should be.

*Review copy received from publisher.

Half a Chance
by Cynthia Lord

For 12-year-old Lucy Emery, moving to a lakeside cottage in New Hampshire means starting over in a new place again.  While her dad is out of town on another photography assignment, Lucy makes friends with Nate, the boy next door, and together, they spend the summer trying to find the perfect shots for a photo contest that Lucy is determined to win.  They hike a mountain, kayak on the lake, and watch the loons, but when one photograph reveals too much about Nate’s grandmother, it might mean the end of their friendship.

Lucy’s thoughtful observations provide insight into the characters and the human experience.  For instance, Lucy’s thought that kids “care a lot about other people, but most times . . . don’t have the power to change things for them” rings true. (71)  And her reaction to meeting new people (“Practice only makes familiar . . . Never easy.”) made me stop and think what many introverts might think: “Yep! That’s exactly right!” (6)  The sometimes difficult subjects of aging and dementia are treated in a candid, yet sensitive way.

This is a perceptive story about new beginnings, saying goodbye, and all the moments captured in between.

by Deborah Wiles

Segregation is a way of life in Greenwood, Mississippi, so 12-year-old Sunny Fairchild doesn't think much about why only white people go to the movies at the Leflore, or why no black children swim at the city pool, or why the only black woman at church is not a congregant, but a nursery assistant.  Besides, Sunny has worries of her own: her mother left when Sunny was a baby and her father’s new wife and children are “stuffed” into her home (80).  But this summer--the summer of 1964--agitators from the North are invading Mississippi, bringing big changes to the South, and as Sunny learns to look beyond her own concerns, she finds herself changing, as well.

Wiles uses Freedom Summer--the summer when 1,000 volunteers descended upon Mississippi and worked in a coordinated effort to empower black residents by registering them to vote--as the setting for her story. 

Revolution is the second book in The Sixties Trilogy, and as in the first book, period photographs, music lyrics, speech excerpts, and brief biographical sections are inserted between pages of story.  The factual--LBJ, Muhammad Ali, the Beatles, escalation of the war in Vietnam, and the murder of three Freedom Summer volunteers--intersects with Sunny’s fictional story, enhancing both and creating a memorable read.
This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Mississippi’s Freedom Summer.  RevolutionFreedom Summer by Susan Goldman Rubin and the young adult book, The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell are all excellent for exploring this pivotal period in our nation’s struggle with civil rights.

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