The Word for Friend by Aidan Cassie (9780374310462)
Kemala, the pangolin, loved everything that was new and different when they moved. There were new foods, new smells, new clothing to admire. But there was also a new language to learn. When Kemala headed to school, she realized that no one could understand her. So she curled into a ball in dismay. She stayed that way until recess, when she climbed high in a tree to get away from everyone. She sat on a branch cutting animals out of leaves, until Ana found her there. Kemala showed Ana how to cut leaves too, and Ana loved it even though she made a big mess. While Kemala didn’t want to go back to school at all, she steadily found herself learning a new language with Ana’s help, particularly through animals they cut out. Until finally, Kemala is brave enough to try talking to the entire class.
Cassie has written a universal book about friendship, belonging and learning a new language. She wisely chose Esperanto as Kemala’s new language in the book. Esperanto is not associated with a specific country, so Kemala could be moving anywhere in the world. Cassie gives the entire story room to breathe a bit, offering time for Kemala to relax and start to learn in a very believable way. The connection with one specific kind friend is also great to see, as well as a tactile way for them to connect with one another without speaking at first.
The art is welcoming and friendly with all sorts of unusual animals in the class that Kemala joins. The choice of pangolin as a main character works particularly well, both her connection with her mother but also when she gets overwhelmed, the ability to just curl up protectively.
A great book to talk about language learners and welcoming new students to school. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.
Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk (9780525555568)
Ellie and her family were forced to move to Echo Mountain a few years ago after losing everything in the Great Depression. The life is rough and much wilder than living in town, but it’s a life that Ellie thrives in. However, the dangers are larger too. When Ellie’s father is injured while felling a tree and left in a coma, Ellie must start taking new responsibilities for herself, her mother, her older sister and her younger brother. She even takes the blame for the accident, unwilling to let her siblings know the roles they played that day. Ellie decides that she must figure out a way to bring her father back, though her family doesn’t approve. She heads up the mountain to seek help from “the hag” who lives there, but discovers someone in dire need there too. As Ellie makes new friends and builds new connections, new chances and opportunities are revealed.
One never knows what world will be revealed by a new Wolk novel, but readers can always be confident in a book that is extremely well written, robustly researched, and filled with unforgettable characters. Wolk also always includes settings that are fascinating and unusual, here it is Echo Mountain, wild and dangerous but also beautiful and sustaining. It’s a setting to fall in love with just as Ellie has.
The characters here are amazingly well crafted. From Ellie as the protagonist all the way through even her rather prickly sister and her demanding younger brother. Everyone makes sense at a deep level, reacting to the situation they are in and doing their best with what they have. The entire book resonates with our current times of job loss, economic downturn, and resilience.
Evocative and powerful, this is one of Wolk’s best and that’s certainly saying something! Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.