Treasure in the Lake by Jason Pamment

Cover image for Treasure in the Lake.

Treasure in the Lake by Jason Pamment (9780063065185)

Iris loves to pick up the treasures she discovers near the river and under rocks. Usually it’s bent forks and spoons, but Iris sees them as special. After all, there’s not much to do in their tiny town of Bugden and nothing special ever happens there. Then one day, the river dries up, exposing new treasures for Iris and her friend Sam to discover. The two follow the dry river bed and make the discovery of a lifetime. There is an entire town that is usually underwater! Sam is reluctant to explore the forgotten city, but Iris refuses to leave. When Sam get lost on his way back, he is saved by an old man who has ties to the forgotten town. Meanwhile, Iris is making discoveries and meeting an unusual girl who lives in the normally underwater city.

In this graphic novel, Pamment shows the amazing way that hidden cities can be discovered. He shares at the end of the book facts about real underwater towns. In his novel, he shares his excitement and wonder at these lost towns through Iris, a girl who is brave and resourceful, determined to see all of the treasures before her. Sam, on the other hand, is content in their small town, eager to see the new statue in the town square unveiled, and also a true friend to Iris, who often pushes him away. Their friendship is complex and marvelous to see in a graphic novel format.

The art in this graphic novel is full of wonder and connection. When Iris finds a strange object, it is echoed later in the town she discovers. The town is falling apart from being underwater. This is captured in small and big details in the illustrations, that show the beauty of the elements of the town and all that was lost when water covered it over.

Based in real drowned towns, this graphic novel is a treasure worth seeking. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperAlley.

Review: The Dam by David Almond

The Dam by David Almond

The Dam by David Almond, illustrated by Levi Pinfold (9780763695972)

Based on a true story, this is the tale of the Kielder Dam which when finished would flood the valley where there were farms, homes and a school. Musicians had played throughout the area, so right before the valley was to be flooded, Mike Tickell took his daughter Kathryn and her fiddle into the dam to play music there for the final time. They enter each boarded-up house and Kathryn plays music. They played all day long, one home and structure after another, filling the spaces with music. Now the area is a lake, a lake that contains music.

Almond’s writing is so incredibly beautiful here. He takes the haunting story of a musician saying farewell and welcome at the same time. He tells the story with poetry and awe, a hushed beauty filling the pages as he explains the wonder of the music that still lives within the lake. In his note at the end, Almond explains about the Tickells and Kathryn Tickell’s career as a well-known folk musician.

The illustrations by Pinfold are equally haunting. The lone stone buildings with their boarded doors and windows stand as witnesses but also ghosts on the landscape, soon to be covered by water. There are ghostly figures on the pages, swirling with the music and poetry, saying goodbye to the world they knew.

A gorgeous picture book that looks at the power of music and the wonder of a place. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost

When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost

When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost (9780374303037, Amazon)

Sisters Claire and Abi have been going to their family’s lake house since they were born. After their mother died, her things were kept just the way she had left them at the lake house: her chair at the window, books on the shelves and a painting on the easel. Now everything is different. Their father has married Pam and their mother’s things have been moved from the house. Pam is pregnant and the baby should come during their time at the lake. Claire discovers that Abi is changing too. Abi is interested in boys and starts to sneak off to meet them, involving Claire in her lies. Claire finds herself alone on the lake often, trying to figure out what all of this change means for her family.

Frost is a master of the verse novel, and this book is a great example of her skill and heart. She plays with formats for her poetry, using different types of poems and different structures for the various voices. The book is told not only by Claire and Abi but by the lake itself, and those poems are my favorites. They have embedded sentences using the bolded letters either at the beginning or ends of the poetic lines. It turns reading them into a puzzle that leads to discovery, rather like Claire’s summer.

The two sisters are dynamic characters. Abi’s interest in boys is seen as natural and normal, and so is her pushing the boundaries. Organic progression is made in Claire’s relationship with Pam, positivity slowly moving in to replace the wariness. Claire is a girl who is brave and wonderfully written. She has fears but overcomes them and never stops trying.

A beautiful verse novel that captures summer days on a lake and a family becoming stronger. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Review: Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond

Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond

Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event by Rebecca Bond (InfoSoup)

Inspired by a true story, this picture book tells of the author’s grandfather’s life in Ontario, Canada in 1914. Antonio lived with his family in a hotel run by his mother. He spent his time with the hotel workers since there were no children around. He helped the cooks, the maids, and watched as others hauled wood and repaired buildings. The hotel had three stories with a space to feed crowds of people, individual rooms for travelers and then a large open dormitory space for others. He loved spending time in the forest around the hotel too. Then one year when Antonio was almost five, it was dry as could be. When smoke was spotted in the distance, everyone knew they were in real trouble. All of the people fled the building and stood in the lake watching the fire come closer. Then something amazing happened and the animals too left the forest and entered the water, standing near the humans and close to one another, predator and prey alike. When the fire ended, the hotel was still standing and the animals returned to the burned forest, but Antonio never forgot what he witnessed that day.

Bond captures the time period, allowing readers to really explore the hotel that Antonio lived in, showing us all of the floors and the hard-working men that the hotel served. The text offers details such as describing Antonio’s room as a place that was off the kitchen and had once been a pantry. Even small things are noted like the travel bags men carried and the fact that they sometimes had guns along too. Through these details, the entire hotel comes alive on the page.

The illustrations in the book also add to the details from the long distance view of the hotel on the lake to the finely drawn images showing the interior. Small details are captured in sepia tones and fine ink lines, allowing us to get a glimpse into the past and a way of life. The same details continue even as the fire rages and the animals come into the water. Realistic and lovely, the animals’ body language shows how wary they are and yet how desperate too.

A true story brought to life through details and wonder. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Review: Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb

moonpenny island

Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb

The author of What Happened on Fox Street returns with a beautiful story set on a little island in a large lake.  Flor loves her island home, loves being able to ride her bicycle everywhere, loves that her best friend is the only other person in her grade at school, and loves that she knows all of the people who live there year round.  But things start to change that Flor has no way to control.  Her best friend is sent off the island to attend a different school, leaving Flor the only person in sixth grade.  Flor’s mother leaves to take care of her sick grandmother, and with her parents always fighting, maybe she won’t be back.  Even her very responsible older sister is hiding something from Flor.  Flor has to figure out how to live in this new island landscape where everything is changing around her.  But in change there is also opportunity, perhaps a new friend (or two) and also seeing things for what they actually are. 

Springstubb writes a love letter to her island setting.  She imbues each bike ride of Flor’s with a beauty and a celebration of this small island and its nature.  Her writing sparkles like sun on the water as she picks unique metaphors to show both her characters emotions and the setting.  Here is one of my favorite examples:  “Her heart’s a circus, with trapezes and tightropes and people shooting out of cannons but no nets – someone forgot the nets.”  Springstubb also shows emotions rather than telling about them.  Flor’s emotions come out in the way she digs her toes in sand, how she pedals her bicycle and through what she notices in the island itself. 

Flor is a great young protagonist.  She reads like an eleven year old, desperate to hold her family and friends together.  She has a youthful and frenzied love of her island, something that readers can see may change in the future but it is her connection to this place that makes this book work so beautifully.  She is fiercely protective of her siblings, throwing herself in to defend and protect them even as she proves that she has no understanding of teen love, something refreshing in a young protagonist.

Strong written, this book is beautiful, deep and rich just like its island setting.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.

Review: Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

half a chance

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Lucy and her family have moved often, following her father’s love of new places to photograph.  So when they move to New Hampshire and a house on a lake, the moving process is nothing new.  On her first day at the lake, Lucy meets Nate, a boy who summers on the lake with his family and grandmother.  Nate invites her along to help document the loons that live on the lake and soon Lucy is out on the lake every day.  Lucy longs to be a great photographer like her father, who has left for the entire summer on a photography shoot.  So she decides to enter a photo contest for youth, the only problem is that her father is the judge.  As Lucy sets out to prove her own skill at taking photos, she finds herself on a different parallel journey, one that will reveal new friends, expose difficult truths, and one that is far more important than winning any contest.

Lord has written another exceptional book for middle graders.  Lord excels at creating seemingly simple books that open with a premise and then blossom into something far more complex by the end.  Here she explores several themes that center on families.  There is the deteriorating grandmother who is aware of what is happening but unable to stop it.  There is Lucy’s own family that is fractured at times but remains strong.  There is a search for approval that Lucy undergoes as well as her own harsh criticism of her work.  Through it all, honesty is overarching, an unflinching sense of reality and truth that makes it impossible to look away.

Beautifully written, the entire book is memorable.  Lucy is a great character, a strong heroine who has self-confidence issues but is also talented, friendly and warm.  She is a rare young character who moves often with her family and yet the book is not about her scars from that transient life.  Rather it is about so many other things that that is just a small factor in a rich tapestry of her world.

Brilliant, soaring and honest, this book is another great read from one of the best.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Scholastic.