Gary Paulsen (Young Adult Fiction)
During the winter, Russel Susskit and his father live in a sixteen by twenty government house in a small Eskimo village. Come summer, both will move to the fish camps. For now, Russel wakes up every morning to his father’s smoking-induced cough; the absence of his mother, who left with a white trapper; and the growing unhappiness he feels when he thinks of his current life and, more importantly, his future. Russel wants to be more, but when he looks ahead, he only sees less. Russel’s father sends him to the local shaman, Oogruk, who owns the last team of dogs in the village. Oogruk tells Russel that he needs to discover his own song and returning to the old ways of his people may help. Driven by a recurring dream and a team of five great red dogs, Russel heads north searching for answers and a song.
Dogsong is divided into two parts: Russel’s training with Oogruk and his solitary journey north. It is the second part of this book that is disappointing and not particularly compelling. We find ourselves caught in a seemingly tedious storyline loop: run, eat, dream, repeat. The story drags like a sled maneuvering through slush and Paulsen fails to provide enough action to hold either the reader’s interest or attention. A sudden story twist near the end arrives far too late to save what could have been an interesting boy-versus-nature adventure story.
One notable bright spot was Oogruk’s advice to Russel about life and living. “It isn’t the destination that counts,” Oogruk said. “It is the journey. That is what life is. A journey. Make it the right way and you will fill it correctly with days. Pay attention to the journey.” All too often we find ourselves consumed or distracted by the things that have little to no effect on our life or circumstances. In hindsight, we often come to realize that it is the small things that have the biggest impact. If we take an old shaman’s advice and simply look up, look around, and pay attention, perhaps we too can find the words to our own song.
* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
The Incredible Journey
Sheila Burnford (Juvenile Fiction)
How far would you travel and what would you be willing to endure just to be home again? Three animals—a Siamese cat, a bull terrier, and a Labrador retriever—travel nearly 300 miles across the Canadian wilderness and battle fatigue, hunger, wild animals, cold, and sickness in order to be reunited with their beloved family again.
Burnford gives us a story of loyalty, inclusivity, diversity, and empathy. This is not a warm and fuzzy tale of three pets and their charming and delightful antics throughout the frontiers of Canada. This is a harsh and brutally honest story of survival, death, pain, and endurance. There is plenty of bone crunching and flesh tearing to remind young readers that this isn’t just another cutesy animal story, but this should not deter them in the slightest from reading this book. The Incredible Journey is an exquisite story of love and friendship. Each animal must depend on one another for survival while proving their own unique worth at pivotal parts of the story.
This is one of those rare books that is so captivating, you almost forget (and really don’t miss) the fact that a majority of the story lacks dialogue. Through Burnford’s adept and masterful storytelling, we understand the language “spoken” between the three companions through their actions, reactions, hisses, and howls. A flick of the tail or drawing down of the ears convey more emotion and drama under Burnford’s nuanced pen than pages and pages of dialogue ever could. Serving as a brilliant complement to Burnford’s words are the beautiful and rich illustrations by Carl Burger. The two combined give readers an emotional, exhilarating, unforgettable, and one incredible journey.
* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com
Deborah and James Howe (Juvenile Fiction)
Who would have thought that a seemingly innocent rabbit found in a movie theater would turn a happy family upside down…and possibly threaten the world? Chester, that’s who. The Monroe’s family cat knew the instant that snuggly bunny entered their home that something was definitely not right. Harold, the family dog, was clueless and Mr. and Mrs. Monroe and their two boys were no help at all. No. It was up to him and him alone to expose this furry fraud for who he really was. Soon, Chester would make his discovery known to all since the clues were all coming together: the nocturnal sleeping habits, the drained vegetables, the Houdini-like talents of escapism, the FANGS! Come on! Why is he the ONLY ONE WHO SEES IT? Well, cats are far more intelligent. Thankfully, Chester has a plan, but can he make it work in time to save his family and everyone on the planet?
Bunnicula is a harmless and hilarious way to get your young reader into the Halloween spirit. FAR more benign and innocuous than The Witches by Roald Dahl (reviewed on October 9), the antics of Chester and Harold are entertaining and lighthearted. Perhaps the only scary thing about this book is the cover (an adorable rabbit with red eyes and fangs? Yikes!). And, if your youngster wants more fun with the Monroe pets, Howe provides fans with six more books in the Bunnicula series. Hare-ray!
So, hide your vegetables, put your garlic necklace on, and prepare yourself for some hare-raising fun with the most adorable vampire you’re likely to ever meet.
* Book cover image attributed to http://www.amazon.com
Kathi Appelt (Juvenile Fiction)
This is a tale of two love stories separated by one thousand years. The first is of a possessive, jealous, and cruel love. It is about an enchantress, a king, and a family of three. The second tale tells of a selfless, devoted, and pure love. It is about a brave mother, a set of twins, and a gifted but abused blues singer. But like so many tales, these two worlds eventually collide and when they do, which love will prove to be the strongest?
Appelt offers up a modern-day fairytale that gives readers heroes, villains, magic, mystery, and danger. Like most fairytales, we can count on the villain getting his comeuppance, the misguided antagonist having a change of heart, and the power of true love winning in the end. The book has very short chapters and makes for an easy read for younger readers (or an ideal bedtime book to be shared and read aloud). The story has some instances of animal cruelty, so parents of sensitive readers should be warned. Also, although Appelt gives us a truly suspenseful tale, it does stall near the middle and needlessly prolongs the action. At just over 300 pages, this may frustrate some readers, but perseverance has its rewards and a satisfying ending awaits the patient reader.
Time and time again our little protagonists are told to “Stay in the Underneath. You’ll be safe in the Underneath.” And true enough, safely tucked underneath this dust jacket is a wonderful tale of devotion, friendship, family, and the importance of a promise kept.
* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com