The True Gift: A Christmas Story by Patricia MacLachlan (J)

The True Gift

The True Gift: A Christmas Story    

Patricia MacLachlan (Juvenile Fiction)

Lily and Liam are off to Grandpa and Gran’s farm for Christmas.  They always go in December and then wait for Mama and Papa to join them on Christmas Day.  Lily likes the sameness that this time of year brings:  the walks into town, the trip to the lilac library, and helping Gran make cookies.  But when her brother spots a white cow standing alone in a snowy meadow, Lily’s predictable holiday is suddenly threatened.  “Do we know if she’s lonely?” Liam asks his sister.  “She’s a cow,” replies Lily.  “Cows don’t care.”  But Liam cares and because of this, Lily knows that White Cow is bound to ruin everything…especially Christmas.

From the author who delighted us with Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan gives readers another book filled with compassion, love, and family.  She introduces us to Lily, a young girl who finds herself angered by her brother’s selfless desire to help a creature that finds itself quite alone on Christmas.  Fortunately, Liam’s determined desire to bring comfort to this lonely creature is enough to eventually whittle down Lily’s stubborn defenses until at last, she surprises herself by whispering to White Cow one night, “Don’t worry.  We’ll take care of you.”  Those few words set in motion a turning of Lily’s heart, as well as the fate of another soul in need of rescuing.

The True Gift shows us that any small act of kindness isn’t truly small at all.  By giving us a simple story of a young girl, a small boy, and a lonely white cow, MacLachlan reminds us that Christmas is about giving from the heart and that the act of bestowing even the slightest bit of charity to another being is perhaps one of the truest gifts of all.

Rating: 4/5

Posted: 12/4/2018

* Book cover image attributed to www.barnesandnoble.com

 

 

The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne (J)

The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket

The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket     

John Boyne (Juvenile Fiction)

“This is the story of Barnaby Brocket, and to understand Barnaby, first you have to understand his parents: two people who were so afraid of anyone who was different that they did a terrible thing that would have the most appalling consequences for everyone they loved.”

The Brocket family was undeniably THE most normal family in all of New South Wales, perhaps even in the whole of Australia.  That was until their third child was born.  You see, Barnaby…how to put this delicately…well, Barnaby floats and this put the Brockets in a very undesirable predicament since having a floating child is simply not normal.  Not normal at all.

Told in the vein of Lemony Snicket, John Boyne delights readers with a tale that mixes awfulness, meanness, and absolute horridness with kindness, goodness, and pinches of pleasantness.  The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket is a story about fitting in, finding your place, and accepting the person that you are supposed to be rather than the person that you are expected to be.  I never tire of books that reaffirm the belief that it is our differences that make us special and just because someone stands out shouldn’t mean that they stand alone.

Throughout his adventures, Barnaby meets coffee farmers, a window cleaner, a gallery owner, and an art critic, and he travels to Brazil, New York, Toronto, and Iceland.  Along the way, he comes to realize that the terrible thing that has happened to him may not be so terrible after all.  Besides, what’s so great about keeping your feet on the ground anyway?  Because if you do, how will you ever touch the stars?

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com

 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (J)

Alices Adventures in Wonderland

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Juvenile Fiction)

Lewis Carroll

Alice was bored.  She had peeked into what her sister was reading, but it held no pictures or interesting conversations.  What is the use of a book without pictures?  So, she began contemplating whether making a daisy-chain would be worth the effort on such a dreadfully hot day when a white rabbit suddenly passed by her.  Not just any rabbit, but a talking rabbit…with a pocket watch.  Perhaps this day wouldn’t be so boring after all.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a wonderful way to introduce your young reader to the joys of classic literature.  From Alice (“Curiouser and curiouser.”), to the White Rabbit (“Oh dear! Oh dear!  I shall be late!”), to the Queen of Hearts (“Off with her head!”), this story brims with so many colorful and memorable characters, that it simply begs to be shared and read out loud.  I highly recommend reading the version that contains the original illustrations by John Tenniel.  His beautiful drawings capture the true essence and spirit of Carroll’s tale and allow the reader to become fully absorbed in the wonderful world which is Wonderland.

Aside from being a fanciful story about a young girl’s dream, there is a deeper message that Carroll lovingly bestows upon his reader.  Once you realize that Lewis Carroll is actually the pseudonym of the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, an Anglican deacon, it’s not so hard to recognize or appreciate it.  When the Duchess was taking Alice to meet the Mock Turtle, she said to the girl, “Be what you would seem to be.”  Many characters in Carroll’s classic are, in fact, not what they seem to be.  We find out that the Queen isn’t as bloodthirsty as she appears and that there is an understandable reason for the Hatter’s madness.  Even the Duchess’s child undergoes its own formidable transformation.  Closely resembling the Latin phrase Esse quam videri meaning, “To be, rather than to seem”, Carroll reminds us all—through a curious girl, a tardy hare, and a grinning feline—that it is far better to be the person you really are than to be the person others think you to be.

Rating: 4/5

Posted: 11/15/2018

*Book cover image attributed to http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com

 

Incident at Hawk’s Hill by Allan W. Eckert (J)

Incident at Hawk's Hill

Incident at Hawk’s Hill     

Allan W. Eckert (Juvenile Fiction)

Twenty miles north of Winnipeg, in the year 1870, there stood the farm of William MacDonald, his wife, Esther, and their four children.  They named their farm Hawk’s Hill and for many years, the family thrived on the land.  Everyone thrived except the youngest child, Ben.  At six years old, he was much smaller than other children his own age.  He was also quiet, withdrawn, and seemed to get along better with the surrounding animals than with his own family.  Ben would often imitate the animals he came in contact with—mimicking their sounds and movements.  The folks in town called him strange, odd, and different.  But Ben derived a certain amount of comfort when he was with the animals, and in turn, the animals drew comfort from him.  One day, Ben wandered a bit too far from home and found himself hopelessly lost.  Little did he realize that his rescuer would be a female badger who needed him almost as much as he needed her.

The author’s note states that this book “is a slightly fictionalized version of an incident which actually occurred at the time and place noted.”  Intrigued, I did a little research and found that this claim could neither be substantiated nor does the author provide any further documentation.  Some believe Eckert’s story is based on legend while others think that it came from an article about a boy who, in 1873, lived in a badger hole for 10 days.  Regardless, Eckert gives us an interesting main character who is part Dr. Dolittle and part John Audubon and, through his exploits in and around his farm, offers readers a fascinating insight into the natural world.  Eckert also provides a greater understanding of the hunting, nesting, and breeding habits of the badger sow.  Although the book is filled with many interesting facts and details, the pace doesn’t lag and the story never feels weighted down.

Through the unimaginable and unlikely bond formed between a boy and a badger, we are treated to a story of survival, friendship, and devotion.  I truly enjoyed this book, but deducted a rating point since this is one of those rare children’s books that lacks a sufficient ending.  Because of the emotional commitment required on the reader’s part, the author should have provided a definitive ending merely out of a sense of obligation…especially given the age of the intended audience.  But rather than acquiring a sense of closure, we are left feeling deserted, confused, and rather perturbed.  There are stories that purposely leave the ending open-ended in order to encourage further thought and reflection.  This is not one of those stories and will undoubtedly leave the reader growling, chittering, wailing, hissing, and sounding very much like an angry badger.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com

 

 

 

The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford (J)

The Incredible Journey

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.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com 

 

 

The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs (J)

The House With a Clock in Its Walls

The House With a Clock in Its Walls  

John Bellairs (Juvenile Fiction)

It’s the summer of 1948.  Newly orphaned Lewis Barnavelt is on a bus headed to New Zebedee, Michigan to live with his Uncle Jonathan.  Lewis is only ten years old but lately, only questions seem to plague him.  Where am I going?  Who will I meet?  What will happen to me?   But rather than getting answers, only more questions await Lewis upon his arrival.  Questions like why does his uncle prowl the halls after midnight and listen to the walls?  How does the stained-glass window change its image?  Why are there so many clocks in the house?  Soon, all too soon, Lewis will discover the truth behind these questions and he just might not like the answers.

John Bellairs gives young readers a book full of magic, mystery, and mayhem.  At the heart of this story, the author introduces us to a young boy who is alone, unpopular, and an outcast.  Parentless, he yearns for a friend and is willing to do anything in order to acquire one.  In his pursuit for acceptance, Lewis has to make a choice between keeping a friend and keeping a trust.  His decision comes at a cost that proves to be more than Lewis can possibly pay.

The House With a Clock in Its Walls is a ghost story that is suspenseful without being too scary.  Perhaps the most frightening thing in this book is how our young hero is relentlessly bullied and disdainfully discarded by a neighborhood boy.  Any child who has been excluded from a group or made to feel inadequate because of his or her appearance will certainly relate to Lewis’s unfortunate predicament.  Because of this, Bellairs provides us with a lesson that makes this book well worth the read:  If you have to prove your value just to keep a friend, is that a friend that’s truly worth keeping?

Happy Halloween from The Dusty Jacket.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.amazon.com

 

 

 

The Old Willis Place by Mary Downing Hahn (J)

The Old Willis Place

The Old Willis Place  

Mary Downing Hahn (Juvenile Fiction)

There are just two rules that siblings Diana and Georgie Eldridge have to follow: don’t let anyone see you and do not leave Oak Hill Manor.  But after the terrible thing happened, there would be many more rules to come.  All of these rules were easy enough to abide by until the new caretaker of the old Willis place arrived with his daughter.  Things would quickly get a lot more complicated.  Caretakers came and went (there were too many to count), but this one had a daughter—a daughter the same age as Diana.  Diana wanted a friend so badly, that she was willing to break any rule just to have one.  But at what cost?

This is a ghost story with some surprisingly heavy themes given that it is written for ages 7 to 12.  Besides dealing with theft, trespassing, and murder, we are given an older sister who, by selfishly putting her own wants and needs above all else, puts both herself and her younger brother in danger.  She lies to her sibling not once, but several times and flirts with severing the bond of trust that the two share.  Once trust is broken, can it ever be fully restored again?

This book is filled with plenty of action and suspense and, despite some scary and disturbing bits at the end, younger readers will become enthralled and immersed in this wonderfully spooky ghost story.  What I like most about this book is that Hahn delivers a powerful moral message that readers of any age can appreciate.  Despite suffering from separation, grief, loneliness, and fear, Hahn gives us two children who demonstrate the importance and value of extending mercy to the unworthy and offering forgiveness to the undeserving.  And that isn’t scary at all.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com