Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mark Twain Reviews: Drizzle, Ghost Dog Secrets, and Half Upon a Time

I've been making progress toward my goal of reading all of the 2012-2013 Mark Twain Readers Award nominees. Here are the synopses and recommendations of the last three I've finished:

Drizzle by Kathleen Van Cleve is the story of Polly Peabody, who lives on her family's magical rhubarb farm. You don't think rhubarb farming can be magical? Well, it is on this farm, which grows giant rhubarb and chocolate rhubarb, and where it rains every Monday at exactly 1 p.m. despite the farm's location in a drought-prone area of the country. Things start to seem much less perfect and magical, though, when Polly's beloved aunt decides she wants to sell the farm despite the protests of Polly and her family. When her aunt leaves town, that much-needed rain suddenly stops--and all sorts of chaos breaks out. Polly must determine if she's the sort of girl who can reverse the bad luck while her family and their livelihood seem to be headed for total disaster. This fanciful yet heartfelt story deals with such ubiquitous topics as bullying, feeling afraid, the trials of friendship, and the difficulty in living up to your potential. I'll be recommending this book for some of my more self-conscious readers who may need a bit of literary encouragement to come out of their shells.

Ghost Dog Secrets by Peg Kehret is a lovely story about doing the right thing and fighting for the underdog--literally. When Rusty sees a dog chained to a tree day after day without food, water, or shelter, he and his best friend decide to try to help. Their class at school has been focusing on addressing problems in their community, and Rusty takes this message to heart as he "rescues" the dog, who he names Ra. It turns out Ra's owner very much wants his dog back--and he's willing to intimidate and threaten Rusty in the process. To make matters even more interesting, Rusty can see a ghost collie who seems to want him to protect Ra at all costs. Ghost Dog Secrets mixes the realistic themes of a boy and his pet, school difficulties, family dynamics, and animal cruelty with some supernatural elements and a bit of thriller suspense that will hook almost any young reader.

Half Upon a Time by James Riley is a fantastic fractured fairy tale. Jack has never been keen on his hero training--all the princesses are spoken for, so why risk his neck with adventure? When a princess literally falls from the sky, however, Jack finds himself engaged in a quest beyond anything he could have imagined. He and the princess, May, don't quite get along, but Jack is willing to put up with her, a slightly annoying prince, and a good deal of danger to help May find her kidnapped grandmother. Along the way we meet a giant, some dwarves, the Wolf King, and all manner of characters from fairy tales of old. There is plenty of adventure and humor in this tale to appeal to the average school-age reader, but the wonderful spin on fairy tale classics and some great fairy tale puns make this novel an above-average addition to the genre. I'll be recommending this title to readers looking for adventure, humor, and a bit of fun, and I'll probably read aloud from it at some summer programs, too.

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