Based on a true story, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (Lexile: 720; Interest Level: Grades 4-8) tells 2 stories, which are ultimately tied together. The first is the story of Salva, an 11-year-old boy who lived in South Sudan, Africa, in 1985. The second is the story of Nya, an 11-year-old girl who lives in South Sudan in 2008.
Salva has to flee from school one day because of the fighting that comes to his village. He is completely separated from his family, not knowing what happened to them, but needing to keep moving to save his own life. Nya can't go to school because twice a day, every day, she must make the walk to the lake to gather water for her family. One trip to the lake takes half of a day.
Braving the hardships of loneliness, hunger, soldiers, and even attacking lions, Salva struggles as one of the "lost boys" of Sudan, traveling across the country looking for family and safety. His story intersects with Nya's in a very interesting way. Readers who enjoy true stories will be intrigued by this 2013 Indian Paintbrush Nominee, as will anyone with an interest of the history of Africa. (128 pages).
Oscar is the shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow. He loves his job taking care of the plants in the magician's secret garden and making sure there are enough herbs in the shop for the magician's potions and trinkets. It is a good job for a boy who gets along well with cats, but really doesn't seem to know how to interact with people at all. He spends his free time with his master's cats and books with stories about the wizards who used to live in the area.
In The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu (Lexile: 730; Interest Level: Grades 3-6), when the magician goes away on a trip, the apprentice, Wolf, leaves Oscar in charge of the shop while he goes out on an "important errand." When Wolf doesn't return, Oscar does his best to run the shop, but he isn't prepared for how to talk to people. Then Oscar discovers that Wolf was killed on his errand, probably for using magic he wasn't ready to handle, and Oscar starts to notice the strange things going on in the world around him.
Children in the city are starting to get sick, and Oscar's friend Callie asks for him to help her save them. The children's parents are sure they need the magician, but he is away from home. Something evil is hiding in the forest, and starting to attack the shops in the Barrow. It is up to Oscar and Callie to figure out the problem, and magic may not be the answer.
This was a very different sort of fantasy book with a very different main character. I really enjoyed seeing the world from Oscar's point of view, and trying to puzzle out the difficulties as he described them. Readers who are looking for a slightly different story may want to give this one a try. (341 pages)
When the King and Queen go missing, and fourteen year old Rolf is forced to become king with a council of Regents plotting to overthrow him, Celie, the youngest, knows it is up to her to save the people, with the Castle's help, of course. Although the children in this story are faced with a grown-up situation, they still find a way to act like children as they try to solve the problem. For instance, what could be more fun than playing practical jokes on the people that are trying to bully you into giving them your kingdom? Especially if they will think it was someone else (like the Castle!)? If you are looking for a fun, light-hearted adventure, you will enjoy Tuesdays at the Castle, which is the first in a series. I know I certainly did! (256 p.)
I worked on reading this book for a very long time, but once I got into it, I really enjoyed this story. In a world that is rebuilding after the Destruction, Max Unger has been diagnosed as having an allergy to sun particles. This means that he must stay inside during the day, so he is home schooled and watched after by a nanny/ housekeeper whom he does not entirely trust. Although he is supposed to stay inside at night as well because it isn't safe, he often goes to visit a lone tree in a field where he has discovered a silver owl. Silver Owls are feared by the government, who says they are extinct, but Max knows better.
Before his grandmother dies, Max loved listening to her stories of a time before the Destruction, when Sages and Silver Owls worked together to make the world safe. He especially loved the story of the Owl Keeper, who was supposed to come in times of Darkness to unite the silver owls and the sages and ward off evil.
Now would be a good time for the Owl Keeper to come back, and when Max meets a mysterious girl at the Owl Tree, the two of them decide that they will have to work together to find the Owl Keeper. The journey they embark upon is dangerous, and they are being chased by the High Eschelon (government), so will they make it to find the help they need to protect the silver owls and their families?
I did enjoy The Owl Keeper by Christine Brodien-Jones (Lexile: 750; Interest Level: Grades 4-8) once I got into it. Fans of animal stories, especially the protection of animals, as well as those who enjoy stories of post-war and post-destruction communities will be fascinated by this imaginative story. (313 pages)
In this semi-autobiographical novel, Vince Vawter shares his story of being an 11 year old boy during the late 1950s. Like many boys his age, he loved baseball, and he could throw a mean fastball. However, he stuttered when he talked. Paperboy (Lexile: 940; Interest Level: Grades 5-8) is the story of the summer that Vince took over his friend Rat's paper route. Rat's real name was Art, but Vince called him Rat because it was easier to say. Vince was good at delivering the papers, but he was nervous about talking to the people on the route when it came to money collecting time. He got to know a few of the customers, including a drunk housewife, a family with a deaf boy, and retired merchant marine who seemed to know everything and had plenty of time to talk to Vince, even when he had a hard time getting his words out.
Things certainly weren't easy for Vince during this summer, but he grew up in a lot of ways. This is a wonderful story of growing up, learning about one's own strengths, facing one's fears, and making new friends. I highly recommend it to any readers who enjoy a good realistic story, and even some who don't! (240 pages)
If you lived in a world in which your name described your destiny, how would you like to have the name Rump? The main character of this story didn't like it much either. Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff (Lexile: 660; Interest Level: Grades 3-5) starts out by allowing us to meet Rump, a boy who is small for his age and only seems to have half a name. In fact, he is pretty sure he only knows half of his name because he knows his mom whispered his name to him before she died, but since he was the only one who heard his whole name, and he was just a brand new baby, everyone treats him as if his whole name is Rump.
Life isn't easy when your name is Rump, and it doesn't get easier when your job is to mine for gold that doesn't seem to exist any more. So, when Rump finds a spinning wheel that used to belong to his mother, he gets excited that maybe there is more to his life. Then, when he tries out the spinning wheel with some straw he finds on the floor, and it turns to gold, he knows his life is changing. Of course, being able to make gold is an awfully useful talent, but the greedy miller finds out and knows that Rump's new skill comes with a bit of a curse: he has to take whatever is offered to him for the gold. So, the miller asks for bags and bags of gold for just a few bags of grain. And so it begins.
When the king finds out that someone can spin straw into gold, the miller claims that his daughter, Opal, is the one who can, and that's when Rump's real trouble begins. He feels like he has to help Opal, which is just what the miller wants. And when Opal promises her first born child in return for Rump spinning gold for her, Rump knows he must run away to avoid having to take her baby. (Because why would he want her baby?) And maybe he will be able to discover his family and whole name while he travels!
Readers who enjoy fairy tales, especially told from a different point of view, will really like this "true" story of Rumplestiltskin. I know I did! (272 pages)
One of the reasons I became an elementary school librarian is so I can read children's books.