Fish Girl by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by and coauthored with David Wiesner

fish girlLovely graphic novel about a mermaid, Mira, who’s being kept in a building sized, boardwalk aquarium by a controlling man, who calls himself King Neptune. Her only friend is an octopus.  He charges for visits and claims that he rescued her.

Fish Girl is told to only give glimpses of herself in order to encourage people to throw in coins  He also threatens her by telling her that if she is seen scientists will take her away and kill her. A young girl spots her, keeps returning and persists in finding  Fish Girl. They become friends and gradually Fish Girl realizes that she is a prisoner and that the man is not Neptune, that it’s all a show. Though ending though is somewhat abrupt, it’s a wonderful story about a lonely but brave, not quite girl.


Towers Falling by Jewel Parker Rhodes

towers fallingWritten in time for the 15th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, this short book is written to explain these awful events to youth who were born after they took place. It is set in a school in Brooklyn, modeled on the school from which the events were able to be seen from classroom windows, a horrifying thought in itself. The three main characters, are 5th graders Déja, Ben and Sabeen; Déja is the narrator.

As an early assignment, they are asked to make an artistic rendering of their home, but as she and her family have recently moved into Avalon, a homeless shelter in the neighborhood, Déja has misgivings about revealing her situation. She does make a box of their room and places inside paper cuttings of the people in her family that her brother makes.  Though she is somewhat embarased by it, especially after seeing the large houses of her friends, Déja receives praise for including people in it, for seeing that family makes a home. As the class goes from discussing family to larger social units, eventually the topic of the hole in the skyline of Manhattan comes up for discussion. Déja has never heard of 9/11.  Her father becomes agitated when she tells him what they are studying  and wants to pull her out of this great new school.  She begins to wonder why he suffers from depression and can’t work and sets out to find the link between him and 9/11.

Sabeen also has a connection to 9/11 as she wears a hijab and is frequently targeted. Ben too is connected as his father fought in Iraq after 9/11.  So he sets out to help Déja find the answers she needs.

I found this to be compelling reading, particularly the beginning, as Déja reveals herself to the readers, becomes friends with Ben and Sabeen and they begin to work on assignments together. They are all well developed characters and it is great see their friendship grow.  The story is told with sensitivity and care as it is directed at children in the middle grades.  Only the resolution of the book did not feel as exceptional. I felt that something was lacking; it was abrupt.  However it leaves room for discussion.

It is hard to imagine that there is a whole new generation of kids who did not experience 9/11, but this book will do a great job of helping them understand the events of that September day fifteen years ago.


Fort by Cynthia DeFelice

fort-coverCynthia DeFelice’s Fort is a good, old-fashioned read for middle grade boys.  It has a great first page that is sure to draw you in.  I’m not sure if kids still build forts, but this may inspire some to do so.  Their fort is terrific, since Augie’s uncle owns a junk yard, so they have access to wood, much of it painted pink(!), for the sides and tin for the roof.  Their fort is built in the woods, but near enough to the junk yard so that hauling stuff back and forth isn’t too hard.
Wyatt, who vacations with his dad every summer in upstate New York, and Augie, who lives there, have a great time in their fort killing, with a slingshot, and eating squirrels, fishing, and looking through Augie’s uncle’s STP motor oil calendar with its girlie photos. But their main ambition for the end of summer weekend is to get back at two older boys who have been bullying them and a developmentally disabled boy, Gerard, for way too long.  They know that the brother’s have trailed them to the fort and they have a deliciously planned surprises for them when they attack.  The payback scene is funny and has some unanticipated events too.
This will be a great recommendation for 4th – 6th grade boys.  Publication date, May 19, 2015

The Zoo at the Edge of the World by Eric Kahn Gale

You cannot be a conqueror and a protector.”

Marlin, incapacitated by a terrible stutter, lives with his father and brother in an exotic, luxurious resort and zoo, the Zoo at the Edge of the World, in British Guiana at the end of the 19th century. Here he feeds the animals and cleans their cages anzoo at the edge of the worldd spends time with his tamarind monkey, Kenji.  Marlin can talk to Kenji and to the other animals when alone with them.  This is a place, where the wealthy and aristocracy can come to be enthralled by wild animals while being comfortably safe.   As the story begins, everyone on the resort is awaiting a new group of tourists with a “Greeting Day” with plans to add a circus to the zoo, which is built on an ancient pyramid, as the centerpiece of their guests’ experience.  But as warned by one of the former Tribesmen, Nathtam Leent, the Sky Shrine, was holy and sacred to the Tribes, and thus no good could come from building a circus there.

Marlin’s father, Ronan Rackham, having come to Guiana to map its inland jungles and to discover new species of animals,  has lost his good intentions somewhere along the way and became filled with pride and greed. Because of his stutter, Marlin can barely communicate with humans but does have special powers to speak with animals, but this puts him in the middle, with a terrible choice to make. A startling book with an intense struggle at the end, The Zoo at the Edge of the World explores issues of animal captivity and animal protection as well as how to be the son of a very flawed man.  Though filled with magical realism, the animals are not anthropomorphized, but retain their animal natures.

The Zoo at the Edge of the World raises a lot of issues about environmental ethics and would be great for a book discussion.