The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

Cover image for The Canyon’s Edge

The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling (9780316494694)

This novel in verse tells a harrowing survival story. After losing her mother in a random shooting at her birthday celebration, Nora has been through lots of therapy trying to just survive the loss. Her father has cocooned them both, keeping Nora from returning to school and remaining isolated from everyone. For her birthday a year after the shooting, he takes Nora to a slot canyon in the Arizona desert. The two rappel down into the canyon together, remembering the many times they made similar journeys with her mother. But once again their lives are shattered by the unexpected as a flash flood rips through the canyon, separating Nora from her father and all of her supplies. Her father is washed away with the flood after shoving Nora high enough up the canyon wall to not be swept away. Now Nora must face her doubts and mental demons while also surviving sunburn, starvation, scorpions and dehydration as she searches for her father.

Bowling’s set up for the story alone would make a great tale, a girl surviving the loss of her mother in a shooting incident. Bowling though takes that first tragedy and builds on it, creating a new dangerous challenge for Nora to survive. The way that she uses what Nora learned in therapy, what Nora’s doubts are and her growing resilience is tremendous. She never becomes didactic, instead allowing Nora to steadily grow stronger mentally and know that she is capable of so much. Along the way, she also admits to herself how she has pushed her best friend away too.

The writing here is stellar, the pacing exactly right. Bowling will shock readers as she moves from the quiet of the canyon to the power of the flood. Then they are thrown directly into a survival story, one where Nora is not spared from a variety of injuries even as her mind and resilience grow. There is so much determination and grit in her, so much strength!

Verse novel meets survival story in this book that will carry you away. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Southwest Sunrise by Nikki Grimes

Southwest Sunrise by Nikki Grimes

Southwest Sunrise by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Wendell Minor (9781547600823)

Told in first person, this is the story of a boy moving from New York to New Mexico. He wakes up to a mountain “striped in rainbows” that he didn’t notice there the night before. He knows that deserts are only tans and browns, so he doesn’t anticipate the colors that he finds. As he leaves the house with a guide book, he quickly notices the patches of desert flowers. He discovers an adobe house, spots a magpie in the trees, and notices the broad blue spread of sky above him. As he moves on, he sees a raven, holds a lizard, and finds a tortoise. Rock formations form new skyscrapers for him.

Grimes has created a love song for the desert here, filled with all of the elements that will fascinate children who either already love the desert or who have never experienced it before. She plays against stereotypes of deserts, noting the bright flowers that bloom there, the various animals who live in that habitat and the span of sky. Through the eyes of Jayden, readers explore alongside him.

Minor brilliantly captures the beauty and expanse of the desert in this picture book. He plays with framing his landscapes at first through windows, and then in a two-page spread allows the landscape to burst in front of the reader as if they too opened a door wide and stepped through.

An ode to the beauty of the southwestern United States and its desert. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Father’s Road by Ji-yun Jang

Father's Road by Ji-yun Jang

Father’s Road by Ji-yun Jang, illustrated by Tan Jun, edited by Joy Cowley (9780802854728)

Released March 30, 2017.

Wong Chung is excited to join his father on the Silk Road as they travel west to sell silk in Constantinople. There are many dangers on the trip and new skills to learn. Traveling on camels, they have to brave the desert and conserve water along the way. Wong Chung learned to cover his face against the blowing sand and find water and even food along the way in unexpected places. Then just as the journey was nearing its end, bandits attack them and kidnap them, stealing their silk. A sandstorm hits the bandit camp and Wong Chung makes a decision that will decide their fate one way or another.

This picture book about the Silk Road transports readers into the harsh terrain and the harrowing journey that used to be the way that trade was done. Through the eyes of Wong Chung, readers learn about the dangers and the wonders of the trail. They also grow to understand the importance of honor and duty in the culture.

Textured papers form the background of the illustrations, offering colors of sand, red mountains and occasional green. Drawn in fine lines, the illustrations of the camels and people meld with the setting to form a unified whole. There is a lovely organic quality to the entire book, drawing readers further into the desert journey.

Part of the Trade Winds series, this picture book is a glimpse into a bygone time of hardship and adventure. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Review: Sand Swimmers by Narelle Oliver

sand swimmers

Sand Swimmers: The Secret Life of Australia’s Desert Wilderness by Narelle Oliver

Set in the ferocious center of Australia, this book looks at one of the harshest climates in the world and the animals that not only survive there but thrive there. The “Dead Heart” of Australia can appear completely uninhabited at first, but this book has us look closer and see what the Aboriginal people have known for thousands of years. The huge salt lake has lizards, shrimp and frogs if you know where to look. The mulga scrublands have tangled timber but that is also shelter for spiders, ants, geckos, and birds. Down deep under the earth, there are even more animals sheltering. Even the oceans of rock and sand have animals living there. Explore an amazing ecosystem along with early explorers of Australia who failed to see the creatures hiding around them.

Oliver takes readers on an amazing journey through various regions of the center of Australia. Even the rocks and sand and plants themselves are wild and different from other parts of the world. Everything seems to combine to make the most uninhabitable ecosystem in the world, but that’s not true if you look deeper. Oliver takes readers deeper into the desert and readers will discover the beauty and life hidden in this desolate landscape.

Oliver’s illustrations combine line drawings of the creatures with smudged drawings of the early explorers. The combination of the crisp line drawings with the more smudged ones is very successful, giving readers a taste of both the animals themselves and the history.

A brilliant look at a fascinating habitat, this book goes far beyond the stereotypical kangaroos and koala bears of Australia. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.