April 12, 2017
Cavern of Secrets (Book #2 in the Wing and Claw series)
by Linda Sue Park
If you haven’t read Forest of Wonders, the first book in the series yet, I’d suggest that you pick it up. Not that you won’t understand Cavern of Secrets without it, but it is such an amazing book. And series books are just that much better when you read them in order, don’t you agree?
Raffa and his friends have spent the winter hiding in the Sudden Mountains. Winter is bad enough but they are all still adjusting to the fact that Garith is deaf. Raffa does all that he can to make Garith’s life easier but his cousin always seems to be mad at him.
Then one night Garith disappears. Raffa wants to go after his cousin — what if he can’t hear danger approaching? What if he gets in trouble? But Kuma convinces him that he has no choice but to let the other boy go. Like all of them, Garith has to choose his own path.
Besides, Raffa has other worries. Echo, his bat who has eaten a plant that allows him to talk, is growing sicker and sicker. When Echo flies away, he leads them to a hidden cave system in which Raffa finds a glowing plant with healing properties. Can Raffa use it to cure-all of the animals that have been given the vine that lets them speak so that they can once again be wild? And if he can should he also cure Echo?
I’m not going to write any more about the plot because I don’t want to give too much away. Like the first book in the series, these characters are marvelously complicated. No one is completely good or completely bad and it makes for a wonderfully complex story.
The story touches on many themes including loyalty and responsibility. Linda Sue Park has created a rich world of magic and science (apothecary), generosity and greed. It is a place your young reader will want to visit if he or she loves fantasy or adventure.
June 17, 2016
Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs
by Linda Sue Park
illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
Do you have a young reader who likes to play with words? Whose altogether punny? Then pick up a copy of Yaks Yak. Each spread contains a homograph pair — two words that sound alike. I say “two words” because one is the noun form while the other is the verb. Although the verb may be a bit advanced that’s where Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s illustrations come into play.
In the spread that features bats, the text is super simple. “Bats bat.” Then the art shows five bats in flight swinging baseball bats. Just in case the young reader doesn’t get all he needs from the illustration itself, cozied into the art work is the definition. In this case, one of the baseballs is printed with the definition of “to bat.”
This is a great book to use when working with language. It shows how the meaning of a word is context dependent when it has multiple meanings. The book will also present a challenge for young word hounds — can you come up with something that is both an animal and a verb but isn’t in the book? I have to admit that I only came up with one (fly). I’ll have to do some more thinking on this.
The back matter includes the word origin for both the animal and the action. My favorite? To hog which was first seen in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Fin (1884).
Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s watercolor and ink illustrations do a great job bringing this super simple text to life. Her animals are happy and silly and do a great job of making the book fun and education vs simply studious. An excellent choice for bringing language to life.
May 10, 2016
Forest of Wonder
Book 1 in the Wing and Claw series
by Linda Sue Park
Raffa Santana is studying to be an apothecary like his mother, his father, his uncle and his cousin Garith. Garith is more like a brother than a cousin and the two do most everything together. This includes journeying into the Forest of Wonder.
There are all kinds of stories about the Forest. As with most places that people rarely visit, most of the stories are exaggeration but there is a kernel of truth. After all, the Forest does change from visit to visit as does any wild place. But the Forest changes more than most and that’s before a mysterious group of people decides to ignore the law.
The forest has always been wild but someone has hacked their way in and set up camp. Preservation makes sense because so many plants that the apothecaries use come from the forest. The two boys have no idea who set up camp or where they’ve gone but before they have a chance to find out, Raffa’s family is summoned to the city of Gilden.
This is where I quit talking about the plot. Like many fantasy stories, it is so complex that the only way to thoroughly describe it is to reiterate it. Honestly, you want to read it for yourself.
As is always the case with Park’s writing, the voice is amazing. It is truly unique without being over-the-top and will be accessible to middle grade readers.
Her characters are also well-rounded and believable. Raffa is gifted and doesn’t mean to make others, especially his cousin, feel less but it happens. When he heals a bat and accidentally grants it the ability to speak, at first he doesn’t see a problem. After all, the bat quickly becomes his friend. But soon he learns that changing an animal also changes what you expect and these altered expectations can have unexpected consequences.
I would definitely recommend this for young fantasy fans as well as fans of Park’s other novels as well as kids who love animals. Share it with the young reader in your life today.
December 28, 2015
A Long Walk to Water
by Linda Sue Park
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
A Long Walk to Water combines two storylines.
First is the story of Salva Dut. When his village is attacked, Salva isn’t at home but in school in a nearby village. Because of this, he must undertake a journey across Sudan without his family. He’s told along the way that his village has been wiped out and he has no reason to doubt this since he is all alone.
Desert sun, thirst, starvation and bandits all take their toll on the refugees. And they take their toll on Salva — robbing him of his childhood. But they never take away his patience or his faith in humanity. Salva becomes a leader among the young men who make up a large proportion of the refugee population. This story line begins in 1985.
The second story line is contemporary. In it a young girl, Nya, must walk twice a day to the local water hole. This is what she does all day, every day, facing sun, thorns and loneliness. Add to this the fact that the water is not clean and it is easy to see how her younger sister grew sick after drinking contaminated water.
Nya’s life is consumed with walks to water and walks home carrying the heavy load. She worries that dirty water will make her sister sick, but it is the only water that they have until the day a group of men come to their village. The men are there to dig for water. The head of the crew? A man named Salva.
Salva’s story is true and Linda Sue Parks only decided to write this book after she met him. Although Nya’s story is fiction, it is strongly based on fact. Many girls in this part of the world must walk every day to draw water for their families. As they make this walk, they face not only loneliness but often danger. Still it is the only way that their families can live.
Park goes through great pains to create believable three-dimensional characters to bring this life to light for her young readers. Some of it is hard to read about but it is done in a way what is suitable for a middle grade audience. The story isn’t always an easy to one to take in but it is a reality that people in our country need to acknowledge.
This is a book that should have space on your bookshelf and in your reading time.