Engle, Margarita. Mountain Dog
13 August 2013
by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Nominated for the Cybils by: Katy Manck (BooksYALove)
In this novel in verse, Tony is sent to the mountains to live with his great uncle, Tio Leo because his mother has been sent to prison for keeping pit bulls and making money in having them fight. Tony has been tremendously scarred by this but misses his mother. At the same time, he loves the peace of being in the mountains, and adores Gabe, the search and rescue dog with whom Leo works. Told from both Tony and Gabe's viewpoint, this show Tony's slow revolution from scared and lonely boy who is hurt each time his mother refuses to visit with him to a more confident blog writer and member of his small mountain community who has a new family in Leo, Bee, and Gracie.
Strengths: Lots of good information not only about search and rescue dogs, but about what to do if lost in the woods. Strong, supportive adults help Tony deal with his dysfunctional mother. The bond between boy and dog is sweet, and the chapters narrated by the dog are realistic.
Weaknesses: The verse format of this left a lot unsaid that I would have found interesting, and I could have done without the chapters narrated by Gabe. A frequent comment in these is about smells "rhyming" with things, which is poetic but doesn't make much sense.
Crowder, Melanie. Parched
June 4th 2013
by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated for the Cybils, but in MG Speculative Fiction. Who knew?
In a drought stricken, unnamed, possibly African country, Sarel's parents have been killed and her house burned, but she has managed to survive, along with the family's lion hunting dogs. Luckily, there is a grotto there with some water, but supplies are running low and she ventures forth into the wild to find food as well as aloe to heal one of the dogs that has been injured. Musa's mother has died of a fever, and since he is a dowser and has the ability to find water, he's been taken by the Tandi and used by them as they pillage the countryside. He manages to run away, but collapses from lack of water. Luckily, Sarel finds him and helps him, and the two reach an uneasy truce. Musa is sure there is a large amount of water nearby, but it is deep underground. The two try to find it, but first Musa's former captors find him. After a harrowing experience, the two manage to survive. Some of the chapters are from the dog Nandi's perspective, but it is all realistically told.
Strengths: Very good details about what it is like to be in a severe drought, and offers a reasonable explanation of how the children survive. The loyalty of the dogs is very touching.
Weaknesses: This would have been much better if I had known where exactly this took place, and if there had been slightly more hope in the ending.
Almond, David. The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas
6 August 2013, Candlewick Press
Nominated for the Cybils by Monica Kulling
When Stanley Potts' uncle loses his job, he turns their house into a fish cannery. His aunt puts up with this for a while, although she insists that Stanley have a day off from working on his birthday. He goes to a fair, and rescues a number of goldfish from a hook-a-duck booth and certain death, but when he brings them home, Stanley cooks them up and puts them in a tin. This is enough to convince Stanley to go back to the fair and work for Mr. Dostoyevsky, who invites him to come and live with him and his daughter Nitasha as they travel around. When the famous Pancho Pirelli shows up at the fair, he senses that Stanley has an affinity for fish and offers to teach Stanley to swim with the piranhas and become a professional performer just like Pirelli. Stanley does have an affinity for this, but must decide whether to pursue this option or return to his aunt and uncle.
Strengths: A good, Roald Dahlesque romp for children who entertain thoughts of running away from home and joining the circus. This never quite becomes fantasy, although it certainly does stretch one's credence.
Weaknesses: A bit on the quirky side for my students, and the uncle cooking the goldfish was a bit disturbing, but of course crucial to the plot. I also failed to understand the whole DAFT agency men who were after the uncle and then Stanley. Why the horrible spelling?