Bullard, Lisa. Turn Left at the Cow
8 October 2013, HMH Books for Young Readers
When Travis' mother gets remarried, he decides to hop a bus and spend the summer with his deceased father's mother in Minnesota. He gets in trouble, of course, and his grandmother sets him to doing chores, which start with him cleaning out a deep freeze and finding a frozen head... a butter head, but still! With the help of neighbors Kenny and Iz, Travis investigates the long ago crime of which his father is accused-- robbing a local bank. It is especially timely since the money taken during that heist starts showing up at local businesses. While Travis and his friends manage to get themselves into some funny situations (and eat some hot dish along they way), when they come close to the truth, they get themselves into real danger.
Strengths: This is going on my order list right now! I really enjoyed all of the characters, especially the grandmother, who was dealing with the death of her son all over again as she had to explain it to Travis. The mystery was realistic, and reminded my strongly of John F. Carson's The Mystery of the Tarnished Trophy (1964), which is one of my favorite books. Plenty of action, a cool town dump, strong sense of place-- great stuff.
Weaknesses: I could have done without the drama with Travis' mother, (and possibly the parental issues with the children next door) since there was so much else going on, but it was kind of essential to his trip to Minnesota.
Creech, Sharon. The Boy on the Porch.
3 September 2013, HarperCollins
John and Marta find a young boy asleep on their front porch with a misspelled and cryptic note saying that someone will be back for him. The boy doesn't speak, but the note indicates his name is Jacob. He seems to have a way of communicating through tapping, but John and Marta don't understand. The two are leery of contacting the local law enforcement, because they are mean, so just get him clothes and try to do the best they can to raise him. Jacob shows an affinity for music, loves the dog, and seems frightened of his past. The law is eventually involved, the father shows up, and Jacob is wrenched from John and Marta, who are devastated but soon start to take in foster children.
Strengths: Creech writes beautifully, and this would be great for teachers who love her work or that of Patricia MacLachlan. The tie in with foster care could be used if a group were making blankets for My Very Own Blanket.
Weaknesses: This struck me more as a book mothers would read in a book discussion group. Jacob, since he is mute, is not very engaging, so most of the perspective is from John and Martha. It is very slow paced. I also wish that a clear date had been given for the setting, since I had concerns about Children's Services not being notified. It seems to take place in the 1930s or 1940s, but this is never delineated.