Tag: Juvenile Fic

by Jeffrey Brown

Comic style graphic novel about a family of Neanderthals. The main characters are the kids- particularly Andy, who really wants to join the grownups on a mammoth hunt, resents having to look after his baby brother, and has a crush on a slightly older girl in the small group. Through their daily life adventures, the reader learns more about what it was like in the Stone Age- what Neanderthals probably ate, wore, how they made tools, etc. It’s cute and funny. Andy sneaks after the adults to watch one of the hunts, and is nauseated by seeing the actual mammoth getting killed, and the butchering afterwards. The kids are supposed to watch their baby brother at one point, but he wanders off and then they’re desperate to find him again- before something bad happens. The sister Lucy gets tasked with making clothes from the mammoth skins, and creates a new style that others are reluctant to appreciate. And so on. At the end they encounter a group of humans, some of them are trusting and willing to be friendly, others suspicious if the humans have sinister motives. I thought the part about cave art was pretty amusing- created simply because the kids were bored during a rainy spell (not as some grand symbolism or magic).

In between bits of story are pages showing present-day scientists discussing things, explaining to the reader what the current facts are about Neanderthals, and how much is just speculation. At the end is an even longer section that details more clearly what parts the author made up (Neanderthals would not have had pet cats for example- even though this one is supposed to be a scimitar cat runt). I liked this book a lot more than I expected to. It was engaging and fun, and I learned a bunch of stuff. Not only does it do a good job of dispelling stereotypical ideas about Neanderthals, but it shows how kids back then were just like kids today in many regards- not wanting to do their chores, having trouble getting along, reluctant to try new foods . . . There’s at least one sequel, about how they survive in the winter- I might just look for that.

Rating: 3/5
220 pages, 2016

Guardians of Horsa

by Roan Black

Picked up browsing library shelves, on a whim. My first impression was this must be based off a television cartoon or something, but I could be wrong. I think I had that idea because the horse’s style looks so much like My Little Pony- the small noses, bulgy foreheads and huge eyes, overly large feet. The drawings are very bright and the faces so expressive, but a few times the anatomy seemed weird, even for made-up creatures. Because these aren’t really horses. There’s four groups, in herds that are constantly at odds with each other. Each group embodies an element- so the fire horses have flames for manes and tails, the air or wind ones have misty see-through something for hair, the forest ones it looks like gatherings of leaves. The water one has big dramatic fins. But they all have jewelry, some bits of clothing like cloaks or crowns, and horns as well- the wind horses have thin antler-like horns, the fire ones a single scimitar horn, the forest ones goat-like horns. And of course the air one has wings. I was confused by all that, but went along with it. They just didn’t look much like horses to me, with all that extra stuff.

So the story is somewhat reminiscent of Wings of Fire– a group of young representatives of each race are supposed to fulfill a prophecy and bring peace between all the herds. In this case, the four young horses need to find an unknown yearling, who supposedly has some special magic. (They all talked about this like magic was a new thing to them, but they did some things that seemed magical to me, and acted as if it was totally ordinary. More confusion from the reader). Their goal is openly announced by their parents- who then send them off on the quest without further ado. It seemed quite abrupt. Most of the story is about the four young ones trying to learn to get along- who’s going to carry the special map, who decides where they’re going to look next, and so on. The fire horse has a hot temper, the water one is kind of proud, the flying one a bit standoffish. The earth/nature horse is a goofball who often seems he doesn’t know what he’s doing or talking about, but has the best personality, is really kind at heart and easygoing. It’s actually a good story, just one that felt quite repetitive to me. I bet there’s certain kids who love this though.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 7/6/24.

Rating: 2/5
144 pages, 2023

More opinions: Jean Little Library
anyone else?

Horses of the American West

by Chris Duffy

From a graphic novel series called History Comics. Illustrated by Falynn Koch. Really nice images, a bit busy at times- so much going on! Tells (obviously) the story of mustangs in North America- how horses first had their origin here, went extinct, were re-introduced and became an integral part of Native American lives. The part that horses played in warfare, westward expansion, and development. How their importance was shouldered out by vehicles and they were shot by cattlemen who wanting the grazing land. Many rounded up and slaughtered for pet food. And finally, the work of ‘Wild Horse Annie’ to save the mustangs, ending with protections that are currently in place, and how to adopt a mustang. This book is so jam packed with details. Little stories from various parts of history that feature the mustangs. Information about horse physiology and some breeds that were forerunners of the mustangs. How horses were a sign of wealth among many Native tribes, and the heyday of horse stealing. So much that I didn’t know before!

I just failed to appreciate the delivery method. I liked the illustrations, but the entire book (nearly every single page) is presented by three outside characters- two comic figures that look like skinny Gumby with weird hats, and a stick-figure type horse (actually supposed to be a petroglyph I think) that walked out of the background, who converse together to present the stories and facts. The goofy figures are supposed to be funny, the horse is setting them straight with his knowledge. I guess this appeals to kids? I found it annoying and tiresome. So much so that I really only skimmed most of the book, and while a few of the other titles in this series had caught my eye on the back cover (Roanoke, American bison) I now have no interest in reading them.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 7/6/24.

Rating: 2/5
134 pages, 2021

by Sid Sharp

Bellwether is a sheep who lives in a cozy little house in the forest. He is afraid of a lot of things- especially wolves. He needs to gather more berries from the forest, but doesn’t want to get eaten by a wolf! Luckily he is very good at sewing and crafting, so he makes himself a wolf suit, certain that he can then traipse about fearlessly, as no one will recognize him. Discouragingly, the wolf suit makes it hard for him to enjoy some of the things he usually does in the forest, but he is able to achieve his main goal- and then encounters his greatest fear. The wolf suit works too well, as the wolves invite him to join them- but will it hold up to closer inspection? He’s so worried that any moment now his ruse will be discovered. What happens next was as much a surprise for the reader as it was for the shocked sheep. The ending, and the underlying message was great. (But the artwork did little for me, though I’m sure it appeals to kids).

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 7/5/24.

Rating: 3/5
128 pages, 2022

by Avi

Poppy, mouse heroine from previous book, travels in the company of her grumpy porcupine friend to find her deceased boyfriend’s family. She wants to inform them what happened to him. She finds the family in great distress. They’ve lived for years peacefully by a small brook, but now a group of beavers has moved in, built a dam and flooded the area. The golden mouse family moved uphill to live under a rock, but it’s crowded and damp and they very much resent what the beavers have done. Being confronted, the beavers spout a bunch of aphorisms about progress and basically ignore the fact that they’ve inconvenienced and displaced a bunch of other animals. The mice are despondent, don’t know what they can do. Poppy arrives with the bad news of the oldest brother’s death. She meets Rye, the next-oldest brother, who looks a lot like her prior boyfriend, but is much more sensitive and thoughtful. They feel an instant attraction (they both love to dance) but also feel emotional turmoil- Poppy feels weird about liking Rye, having so recently lost his brother. Rye for his part, had for many years resented the way the deceased mouse treated him, and was jealous of him as well, so he feels relieved he’s gone, but guilty about that. Quite a complicated thing. But they have to put all this aside to face their immediate problems with the beavers. The mice are so small the beavers just laugh and think they can shove them out, but Poppy is quite brave and resourceful. When Rye goes by himself to talk to the beavers and gets into trouble, she goes to rescue him. Failing that, she comes back and pleads with the family for help. She’s appalled when it becomes clear that they intend to just give up and move away. Only a few of the younger mice agree to join her efforts in returning to free Rye. Their bravery puts the parent mice to shame, who come up with a plan that will use the group strength of some forty mice (all their children, granchildren, etc) to resist the beavers. It looks like all this will fail too, but then at the very last moment guess who shows up to save the day. That grumpy porcupine, who had been sulking in the woods because he thought Poppy forgot about him, and reluctantly admits that he considers her a friend after all.

I was actually quite impressed that this book for kids dealt with such topics- the troublesome feelings of loosing someone you both loved and resented, jealousy within the family, apathy in the face of big problems, the blustering aggressive techniques of the beavers, their disregarding anyone they could bully to just do what they wanted, altering the environment all around. It was admirable that the mice finally stood up to the beavers with their united strength, but also turned the last few chapters of the story into a battle of sorts, which was less interesting to me. It shouldn’t feel more unrealistic than talking animals and mice who wield porcupine quills as swords, but it did stretch things a bit for me. I’m sure the excitement of the battle would appeal to the younger readers though.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 5/7/24.

Rating: 3/5
210 pages, 1998

More opinions: MuggleNet
anyone else?

by Avi

I’m confused about the order of books in this series, because I have two with different titles and they both say ‘book three of the Poppy series’ on the front cover. I think some were written after the series started, as prequels and then they were all reordered? Regardless, I started with this one, and didn’t feel like I was missing much even though maybe it was the middle of the larger story arc.

It’s about a little deer mouse (named Poppy) who is part of a huge family. Her father leads them all- and reading between the lines he’s something of a pompous fool, but they follow along. This father mouse has them all in fear of an owl who demands they follow his rules, eats some of them on a regular basis, and restricts their movements. But their population has grown beyond the food supply, so Poppy and her father go beseeching the owl to let half of them move to a new house they know has been built on the other side of the dark forest. He says NO, but also seems nervous about something. This makes Poppy very intrigued. She’s all upset because right before this proposal to move, her boyfriend had been killed by the owl- who now blames that mouse’s blatant refusal to follow the owl’s rules, for his refusal to let the mice move. Poppy feels this isn’t fair and decides- in spite of her many fears- to travel to the new house and see what’s there.

She bravely ventures across open spaces, narrowly avoids the owl, and traverses the dark forest. Only pleasantly surprised to find it isn’t as gloomy and dangerous as she’d supposed. It’s quite beautiful in a different way. She meets a porcupine, and has more surprises- having been taught a bunch of nonsense about these prickly animals. The porcupine is short of temper, but helps her reach the new house in exchange for some salt he craves. The reader was just as surprised as the mouse to find out why the owl didn’t want them to go to the new house- and I laughed out loud. All these revelations challenging things Poppy had always assumed to be true, change her remarkably. She arms herself with one of the porcupine’s dropped quills, faces her worst enemy, and heads back for home with news that will shake up the entire mouse family. Bravo, Poppy!

This was really well-written, told in a lively and engaging fashion. Even though I had my doubts at the beginning (I found the mouse-boyfriend’s slang and backtalk a bit awkward, but maybe that was done so on purpose). I liked the interactions of the mice with the nasty owl, and the grumpy but well-meaning porcupine. I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 7/3/24.

Rating: 3/5
162 pages, 1995

More opinions:
Luminous Libro

by Chris Platt

This book featured an equine sport I wasn’t familiar with- endurance racing. With Arabian horses. The main character is a teenage girl whose mother had died in an accident in a race. The daughter still loves the horse her mother had trained and ridden, even though her father can’t stand the sight of it, and has forbidden her to ride. He’s afraid to loose her too. She works in a stable near her house, hoping that Astra (the mare) will fulfill her mother’s dream, of becoming a champion. Her friends at the stable question how she can prepare this horse for racing when she isn’t allowed to ride it. There’s a boy at the barn who teases her, and another new boy shows up who immediately catches her attention- he’s kind, and cute- and often makes her feel flustered. There’s the complicated feelings to work through at having lost her mother, and dealing with her father’s grief, anger and strict rules. She thinks she has it all figured out, but then the horse falls ill, and all her plans change. The story suddenly becomes one of nursing the mare back to health, when all the adults around her have given up on it. There is a good turnaround at the end, I won’t tell how. It was so interesting to read about how the horses were trained for this particular type of racing, and what the race day entails. The story felt true to life (as far as I can tell) but not told very fluidly- there was a lot of tell (not show), and quite a bit of info dumping at the beginning- so at times I got a little bored or frustrated reading it. Quite a few other books by this author about horses that all look interesting, but I don’t know if I’d like them, because of how the style didn’t quite sit easy with me. Maybe it’s just my mood though, and I should give a few others a try. It is a good story.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 6/30/24.

Rating: 3/5

by Elizabeth Goudge

This is a classic I should have read long ago. Happy to say it was enjoyable even as an adult, though some parts seemed a bit too sweet or simplistic or tidily-solved for my taste. Sure to enthrall the right sort of children, though. It’s got overtones very like Robin McKinley’s Beauty, with the mysterious large mansion that provides every comfort though no servants are in sight. It reminded me of many books I once read by George MacDonald, with the good girl protagonist (though this one is not without her flaws) seeking to solve a little mystery and put something to right. There are moralizing themes but they weren’t heavy-hand, and hints of magic but quite subtle.

It’s about a thirteen-year-old girl who suddenly finds herself an orphan and has to leave her nice London home to go live with an unknown relative in the country. She’s expecting the worst, especially because the journey with her governess is long and rough, but surprised at the lovely acreage that greets her. Moonacre is quite the estate. Her relative Sir Benjamin soon makes it clear that she is the next heiress to the manor and its lands, and shows her how far she may wander at will. She explores the house, the gardens, the dark woods nearby, the nice little village. Learns that there is some shadow hanging over Sir Benjamin and his household (yes, there are servants of a sort, but they keep mostly out of sight and work secretly), and a very long-standing feud between Moonacre + the villagers, and the fishermen + ‘Black’ men who live in the dark forest. Together with some animal companions (a great, calm dog who turns out to be more than canine, a sophisticated cat that communicates by writing in the fireplace ashes, a wild hare that she rescues from a trap) and an old childhood friend she gets reunited with, Maria tries to put to rights what was done wrong so many generations ago. She’s not the first Moonacre princess to attempt this, but she will be the first to succeed.

There’s a slightly magical element to the whole story- but it feels under the surface rather like some books I’ve read by Dianna Wynne Jones. You’d think from the cover (and all the covers I saw depicted online) that a unicorn is a big part of the novel, but really it’s not. The ‘white horse’ or unicorn is glimpsed only a few times, and it’s more a symbolic presence than anything else.

It’s a very nice story, and written so lovely. It feels like a turning point in my focus or recovery- the first actual full chapter book I’ve been able to feel immersed in and enjoy. It did still take me longer to read than books of this level used to, and I had difficulty with the descriptive passages- finding they just did not hold my attention and I couldn’t picture all the wonderful details clearly- but I was finally spending some time reading during the day and appreciating it, instead of only managing to get a few pages in at bedtime.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 6/28/24.

Rating: 4/5
238 pages, 1946

by Walt Morey

Set in Alaska before it was a state. About a young boy who befriends a bear that a neighbor keeps locked up in a shed- for five years since he shot its mother when it was a cub. The owner neglects the bear, but Mark feeds it his sandwiches and trusts the bear- he can pet it, sleep next to it, unhook its chain and lead it places. His parents – and all the other neighbors in their small town- are shocked and worried for their safety when they find out about the bear. After seeing Mark’s interactions with Ben, the parents agree he is probably safe but they are always nearby with a rifle, just in case. When the bear’s actual owner learns that Mark has gentled the animal, he is instantly jealous. A bunch of drunk men stupidly provoke the bear into attacking someone, and then the whole town demands something must be done. They can’t just release the bear, because he will follow Mark back home. It seems he’s destined to be shot by frightened townspeople, or trophy hunters who visit looking for thrills. Mark can’t stand the idea of Ben being shot. His parents try to think of a solution. And it looks like one has been found- but more unscrupulous men twist the tale into a new direction. It did end up well in the end, in fact an almost perfect ending (a hunter trying to shoot Ben ends up getting saved by the bear instead, when the boy intervenes- and the experience changes him so much that he puts down his weapon and declares he will only travel to Alaska to photograph wildlife from now on).

This story is so much more than just a boy’s friendship with a bear, challenging the prejudices of everyone’s fear. It’s about the family struggling financially when his father’s fishing boat is damaged. About the annual salmon run, how it supports the town’s economy, and the methods of catching salmon. About fish poachers and canning sheds and bargaining for freezer storage space. Also how the family is overcoming the loss of Mark’s older brother to an illness, how the mother always worries for the safety of her husband and her child, and full of the wild and natural setting of Alaska. I know I read this book when I was a kid- I vaguely remember the parts about the bear, and the illustrations by John Schoenherr were vividly familiar. I had completely forgotten all the details of the fishing boat and the salmon traps, the boy’s first job helping on the seiner, and the nature writing bits- which were plenty interesting to read about as an adult, adding a lot of depth to the story.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 6/24/24.

Rating: 4/5
192 pages, 1965

by Harriet Graham

Set in medieval times. A young boy’s family falls on hard times when his father dies. He finds himself apprenticed to the local tanner- and he hates it there. He gets along okay with the other apprentices, but the work is smelly and unpleasant, and the Master’s wife is always looking to find fault with his behavior so he can be beaten. One day he is sent on an errand to another Master in town- the Master of Bears. This man runs a business displaying wild bears, baiting them with dogs while the public watches and bets on the fights. The boy is there waiting for a reply to his Master’s message when a new load of bears is brought in. A very young one is frightened and runs up against the boy, standing on the sidelines. His reaction is to calm the animal, and everyone is shocked and awed at his natural ability with the beast. He is simply treating the animal with patience and kindness instead of brutality, but others think he has a special gift, or is even bewitched. Our protagonist finds himself the center of new attention- the Bear Master wants him to train the cub to do tricks and dance to draw the public in, but he is still apprenticed to the tanner. Loyalties divided- well, not really- he’d rather leave the tannery, but his apprenticeship is a binding contract. So he ends up running away with the bear cub, taking up company with some traveling performers. And finding all kinds of trials out on the road. I really enjoyed this story. The only part that felt awkward was near the end, when the boy and a friend are kidnapped (it was the way their assailant talked, I found kind of unbelivable) but most of it I liked. Some short passages are told from the bear cub’s viewpoint, which I thought was well done.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 6/17/24.

Rating: 3/5
198 pages, 1994


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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