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A Mouse, an Owl, and a Mountain Dog: New Books for Older Readers

sugar-by-jewell-parker-rhodesSugar, by Jewell Parker Rhodes
On the River Road Plantation, ten-year-old Sugar hates all things sweet, and hates her name. Slavery is over, but she and her family must harvest cane to make a living with her fellow plantation workers. Sugar is curious and vexed by this “freedom,” and cures her restlessness with the elders’ African folk tales and a new secret and trouble-filled friendship with Billy, the plantation owner’s son. Then, life at River Road Plantation takes a turn when the community learns that new workers from China will come and work side by side with them. Everyone is scared, but Sugar is eager to get to know her new neighbors. Through the eyes of a spunky girl, Rhodes gives depth to racial tensions, generational differences, bridging cultural gaps, and finding light in dark places. Coretta Scott King Award honoree Rhodes has written another great book for young readers who enjoy historical fiction, courageous protagonists, and emotional dramas. (grades 3-7)

mouseThe Mouse with the Question Mark Tail, by Richard Peck, audiobook narrated by Russ Bain
Mouse Minor is always asking questions. Perhaps that is why his tail has a most peculiar shape – the shape of a question mark! Mouse Minor is not his real name; in fact, he does not know what his real name is, who his family is, or where he came from. All he knows is that he is the smallest mouse in Buckingham Palace with a big question: Who is he supposed to be? After ditching school, scaring a princess, and riding in a horse’s ear, Mouse Minor heads toward Queen Victoria herself to get his questions answered. Mouse Minor wants to find his place in a world of aristocratic animal and human societies. Newbery award-winner Peck weaves together the themes of self-discovery, complexities of social order, and the overall mystery of life. Kids who enjoyed Kate DiCamillo‘s Tales of Despereaux and E.B. White‘s Stuart Little will gravitate toward The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail. (grades 4-6)

laskyThe Rise of a Legend, by Kathryn Lasky
In this prequel to the popular Guardians of Ga’Hoole series, Ezylryb the screech owl hatches into a war-torn forest. He has a thirst for knowledge but when his baby sister perishes in an enemy raid, Ezylryb changes his priorities to focus on battle. He becomes the voice of a new generation, though the elders are aghast at Ezylryb’s unorthodox war strategies and his notions to recruit snakes and use guerrilla warfare. Fans of Lasky’s series will be thrilled to learn about the respected teacher of the great tree. The Rise of a Legend can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel as well, and will be appreciated by readers who like Kenneth Oppel’s Silverwing and other action-packed animal fantasies. Written like a memoir with captivating footnotes that describe how this world works, Lasky captures the brutalities and solid bonds during conflict, the sorrows and the triumphs. (grades 5-8)

mountainMountain Dog, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov
When his mom goes to jail for pit bull fighting, eleven-year-old Tony is sent to live in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with his uncle, a forest ranger. In the mountains, Tony learns that people can treat dogs like partners instead of profit makers, and he is particularly drawn to Uncle Tio’s search-and-rescue Labrador, Gabe. With a nose that has 230 million scent receptors, Gabe can smell lost hikers and human feelings. Tony finally feels understood by someone. Struggling with the difficulties of visiting a parent in prison and knowing his home on the mountain may be only temporary, Tony decides to volunteer with his uncle on search-and-rescue missions. He longs for the calm that the rescue crew achieves in a crisis, and tries to emulate that in his own troubled life. Mountain Dog is written from the perspectives of both Tony and Gabe, whose narratives alternate throughout the book. Gabe is given an equal voice in this novel, which will be appreciated by dog lovers who consider their dogs their family members. Newbery honoree Engle, a former search-and-rescue volunteer, includes numerous details of the wilderness and of rescue activities, establishing an authentic feel to the book. (grades 4-7)

-Courtney

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