Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn (J Mystery)

Spirit’s Key

Edith Cohn (J Mystery)

They get quiet. I’ve come outside, so they reward me with their silence. But it’s only because they want me to follow them. They lead me across the island to the edge of the woods, where they wait. Their eyes are filled with that intense urgency that says Follow me. It’s hard not to be taken in by it. There’s something in the woods they want to show me, but I don’t think it’s as harmless as a horse. I think it’s something actually dangerous.

Twelve. That’s the age where a Holderness receives their gift to be able to see into a person’s future. But Spirit hasn’t received her gift yet and her father’s gift has started to become more and more unreliable—causing business and the community’s confidence to wane. Her dad says that she must reconcile with her present before she can see the future, but her beloved baldie, Sky, is dead and she somehow can’t seem to get over her loss. Worse, other baldies—the wild dogs that roam Bald Island—are dying and a mysterious illness is starting to affect the townspeople…including her father. Could the baldies be the cause? When Spirit’s beloved Sky reappears, he keeps drawing her into the woods and toward the baldie cave. Could the answer to everything plaguing the island lie within that darkened entryway?

Cohn delivers an age-appropriate and suspenseful mystery whose underlying theme is the importance of protecting and respecting life. She communicates the necessity of preservation without being overly preachy and does so through the wonderful relationship between a girl and her dog. Any child who has ever loved and lost a pet will immediately be connected to Spirit and will understand the unique bond she shares with Sky, as well as the profound emptiness she feels upon his death. She also provides so many other valuable lessons: the value of friendship (Everyone needs a friend to watch their back.); the reluctance to accept things that are different (Why do people fear things they don’t understand?); and the importance of living in the now (The present isn’t something we can squander.).

Books for young readers that have a principled and strong female protagonist are my favorites. Spirit is loyal, kind, passionate, and is not afraid to stand up for her convictions. She’s the kind of girl that you would be proud to call daughter and lucky to have as a friend. Most of all, she says the two most courageous and powerful words that anyone can speak: I care. When others around her falter and surrender to fear, Spirit stands up for those unable to defend themselves. She gives a voice to those unfairly targeted and hunted and reminds everyone that outsiders have a place in the world, too. Spirit is not extraordinary because she can hold a key and see into the future or that she can communicate with animals. She’s exemplary because she cares, and the world could use a lot more people like Spirit in it.

Rating: 5/5

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

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp (J)

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

Kathi Appelt (Juvenile Fiction)

Raccoons have been the official scouts of Sugar Man Swamp for eons (and that’s a really long time). Brothers Bingo and J’miah aren’t just ordinary swamp scouts. No, no, no! They’re Information Officers, a highly specialized branch of the Scout system. On the rooftop of Information Headquarters (which happens to look an awful lot like a 1949 DeSoto Sportsman) on the banks of the Bayou Tourterelle, our brave scouts keep vigil over their beloved swamp and try their very best to make their parents proud and to respectfully serve the Sugar Man. Not far from Information Headquarters is twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn. Mourning the recent loss of his beloved grandfather, Chap is now the man of the house and uncomfortably in the crosshairs of one Sonny Boy Beaucoup, owner of Sugar Man Swamp. Sonny Boy wants to build a wresting arena and theme park right smack dab in the middle of the swamp! No, no, no! Before long, the scouts and Chap find themselves in a race against time to save the swamp and everything they hold dear.

I loved Kathi Appelt’s Newbery Honor book The Underneath and was delighted that this book had the same warmth, charm, and appeal. Packed with plenty of action and adventure, young readers will relish this story filled with pirates, feral hogs, a giant rattlesnake, and a hairy giant as tall as a tree with hands as wide as palmettos. The short chapters, numerous say-out-loud sounds (how fun is it to pretend to be a snake by mimicking its rattle with a “chichichichichi” or to sssssssspeak like a ssssssssnake), and humorous side comments make this a ready-made bedtime story. Readers will thrill in the antics of Bingo and J’miah while parents will appreciate the valuable moral lessons repeated throughout the book. Although there is a bit of thievery in our story, can you really blame two hungry scouts when such delicious sugar pies are involved? No, no, no!

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is about family, loyalty, and bravery. But at its core, this book is a love letter to Mother Nature and reminds us that no matter how slimy, scary, slippery, scaly, scummy, or scratchy some creatures, objects, or places might be, they each play an invaluable role in an ecosystem that is extremely complex, amazingly fragile, and so very precious and irreplaceable. As Chap’s grandfather, Audie, always told him, “Nosotros somos paisanos. We are fellow countrymen. We come from the same soil.” We could all benefit by following the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scout Orders: Keep your eyes open; Keep your ears to the ground; Keep your nose in the air; Be true and faithful to each other; In short, be good.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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