Friday, May 08, 2020

Turtle Boy and Battle of the Bulge (Soldier Dogs #5)

Wolkenstein, M. Evan. Turtle Boy
May 5th 2020 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Will has always been self conscious about his receding chin, but middle school has heightened his anxiety, mainly because of the name calling of two bullies, who taunt him with "Turtle Boy". His mother has taken him to the doctor to check this out, and the diagnosis was micrognathia, which is concerning because it can lead to problems eating and breathing. There is a surgery for it, but Will is afraid because his father died during a routine hernia repair operation when Will was four. His mother is doing her best, but Will's insistence on keeping to himself is starting to cause more and more problems. He's alienated his best friend Shira, and struggling to get his community service hours before his bar mitzvah because he doesn't want anyone to look at him. Rabbi Harris steps in and takes him to the hospital to visit with RJ, a teen drummer who is dying due to mitochrondrial disease. Will doesn't want to be in a hospital, doesn't want to talk to RJ, and would rather stay at home with his collection of turtles that he has illegally removed from the school nature lab. Luckily, the adults in Will's life step in when he is not helping himself. A teacher lets him know that keeping wild turtles is illegal, and demands that he returns them. He returns all but one, an endangered Blandings turtle that was injured due to his negligence. Rabbi Harris makes him go visit RJ, and his mother schedules the chin surgery and makes him go to classmates' parties. Even faced with RJ's serious condition and relentless optimism, Will remains unhappy and closed off, but starts to slowly work on RJ's "bucket list" so he can share his experiences before RJ's health takes an inevitable turn. When the school's nature lab might be sold to developers, Will does use the rare turtle to try to save the land, and he manages to get through his bar mitzva, where he finally comes to terms with the many issues in his life, and seems prepared to go forward.
Strengths: It's good to see a variety of physical conditions in middle grade literature; I've had several students over the years with micrognathia. Will's involvement with turtles is innovative, and I was glad to see that he consulted experts and was cautioned against taking animals from the wild. His interest in drumming, spurred on by RJ, is a good addition as well. The grief over the father's death is experienced very differently by the mother and Will, and their reactions and coping mechanisms are well portrayed. Books with cultural heritage also are good to see, and there aren't as many books about bar and bat mitzvahs as I would like. (Notable exceptions are Freedman's My Basmati Bat Mitzvah , Rosenberg and Shang's This is Just a Test, Perl's All Three Stooges, and Ben Izzy's Dreidel's on the Brain.)
Weaknesses: I found Will hard to like for most of the book, and his growth and insights come late in the book. Two of the main plots, gaining wisdom from someone who is dying and evil developers trying to take beloved land, have been done quite a bit, but this book does have the addition of the bar mitzvah and the physical condition, which helps.
What I really think: This has a blend of humor and Important Topics that will make it popular with teachers who like to use Sonnenblick's Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie or Benjamin's The Truth about Jellyfish for classroom novels or read alouds.

Sutter, Marcus. Battle of the Bulge (Soldier Dogs #5)
November 19th 2019 by HarperFestival
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Juliette's father is a baker in Belgium in 1944, and has been threatened by the occupying Nazis into giving them extra bread in exchange for protection. Since everyone is starving, Juliette's parents decide to leave town and hope that they can find somewhere safer. Juliette doesn't want to leave, and makes a last ditch attempt to go to the family's hidden house in the forest and alert the Kraismans, a Jewish family hiding there. When she arrives, she finds the door open and the house empty, and also that a bullying neighbor, Antoine, had been bringing them food. While searching the house, they hear German soldiers approach and hide, only to be caught in the house when it is set on fire. They manage to escape, but have to try to survive in the woods. At the same time, American forces are arriving from Alaska at the front line of the Battle of the Bulge. Two military dogs, Boss and Tank, end up finding the children, and the group takes off, trying to get to safety. It's treacherous, cold, and seemingly hopeless. Will Boss be able to get the children to safety and also fulfill his duty?

All of the books in this series are a great length, and packed with action and adventure. They remind me a little of the mid century We Were There books in that they bring in children to participate in historic events, so there is a tween perspective to them that young readers can understand. Adding in military dogs, with plenty of notes about the battles at the end of the book, makes for a winning combination.

Juliette and Antoine are interesting characters, and the fact that they didn't know the other was helping the family as well makes an interesting point; during war, you make sure that secrets stay secrets. We never quite find out why Antoine had been so mean to Juliette, but they manage to forge a relationship after their harrowing time in the forest.

Readers of Calkhoven's G.I.Dogs, Hart's Dog Chronicles, and London's Dogs of War will want to collect all of these riveting tales of bravery and survival, and will look forward to the next installments, Heroes on the Homefront and Shipwreck on the High Seas.

Ms. Yingling

No comments:

Post a Comment