Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Voyage of the Dogs, The Third Mushroom

Van Eekhout, Greg. Voyage of the Dogs
September 4th 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

The Laika is on mission Stepping Stone, traveling outside the solar system to set up a new planet. In addition to the human crew, animals, and plants, there are some very loyal dogs, because where there are humans, there HAVE to be dogs! Since the journey is so long, everyone goes into hibernation including our hero, Lopside, Great Dane Daisy, natural leader and captain's assistant Champion, and talented engineer Bug. Lopside is a bit apprehensive, but his human Roro tells him he is a good dog, and he follows her orders. When the dogs wake up, however, there is no sign of the humans, and their ship is in danger. The dogs work hard to get it fixed and to come up with the best plan they can to get the ship to their designated planet so that the mission can continue. The dogs manage to navigate the intricacies of space travel, like air locks, decompression chambers, and travel pods, even though they have no support from the command center, who tell them that they are good dogs but offer no attempts to rescue them! Wanting the mission to succeed, and wanting to rescue their humans if at all possible, the dogs make repairs, decide what functions of the space ship can retain power, and do the best they can with limited resources. Will the "Barkonauts" be able to reach their target and save their humans?
Strengths: Writing from the point of view of a dog is a very fine balance, and Van Eekhout does a great job. It helps that there is technology that allows humans to translate dog thoughts into human language, and that the dogs are very well trained in so many aspects of space travel. They face dangers bravely and never give up. There are a growing number of space adventures books (as opposed to sci fi books where the aliens invade and everything goes poorly!), so this will be an excellent addition to the Voyagers series (various authors), Kraatz's Space Runners, and Liss' Randoms. The fact that it has such an adorable dog on the cover will make this appealing to my readers who might not normally pick up space travel books but will read anything about dogs. I know just the student to whom I will hand this first!
Weaknesses: I can fully understand why Roro erased the story of Laika from the database. Not okay to share with doomed space dogs! I am really curious to see how this story continues, and hate to wait!
What I really think: An easier sell than The Boy at the End of the World (2011)  or Kid vs. Squid(2010) which I adored but which doesn't circulate terribly well. Glad to see Mr. Van Eekhout returning to middle grade!

Holm, Jennifer L. The Third Mushroom
September 4th 2018 by Random House
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Ellie's grandfather Melvin, who turned himself into a teenager in The Fourteenth Goldfish, has gotten tired of traveling and has returned home. He's antsy, not being able to drive, and not having fun with "the Puberty" since he is always tired, hungry, and can't tell everyone he has TWO PhDs. To make him happy, Ellie convinces him to join her in a science fair project, which gets him into the new science labs. Experimenting on fruit flies with a specimen of an axolotl that seems to have grown two more legs. Will feeding bits of the animal to the fruit flies cause them to regenerate? In the meantime, Ellie has to deal with her mother, who is a drama teacher busy with plays, and her stepfather, who designs video games, and also visit with her father. Her best friend, Raj, (who knows the truth about Melvin) starts to look more attractive to Ellie, and the two go on a movie date, which doesn't go well, and Ellie has to realize that they are really better off as friends. Her former best friend, Brianna, is friendlier to her than she has been, which is a nice surprise. Sadly, not all changes are good ones, and when Ellie's cat Jonas is hit by a car, she and her grandfather are not able to save him. Even though the science fair doesn't go very well, the experiment with the axolotl has some unexpected consequences.
Strengths: The characters are delightful and wonderfully nuanced. Ellie has a lot to deal with, but does really well... most of the time. She becomes sidelined by the sort of things that can happen to many middle school students-- friend trouble, boy trouble, and the death of a pet. These are all real concerns that can be devastating to young readers and should be treated as serious. I liked that the mother was around and concerned but also had her own life. Melvin... Melvin is great. His budding romance with the local librarian made me cry! The science fair is a nice touch, and it's great to see an author want to write a STEM book because it speaks to her.
Weaknesses: The death of Jonas was handled well EXCEPT it was a bit odd that we don't know quite what happened. Was he hit by a car. I realize that this was so that they could inject him with the axolotl and have some hope, but it somehow bothered me.
What I really think: I really enjoyed both of these books, but after reading this one, it occurred to me that one of my reluctant readers had the first one checked out for a REALLY long time, and I have to admit that they are a tiny bit slow. I'm definitely purchasing, but not handing to any super reluctant readers. I know that Holm is better known for Babymouse and Sunny Side Up, but I always love her middle grade fiction. Boston Jane! Great stuff.

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