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.
Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico, illustrated by Karensac (9780593124178)
Aster has moved with her family away from the city and to a boring woods on a rural mountain. At first, she thinks they are just there for a brief time as her mother tries to deal with the lethal bird migration, but they have actually moved to the mountain permanently. When her father forces Aster out from in front of her video games, she discovers some oddities about her new home. There’s an old woman who has a herd of woolly dogs. The woman gives Aster one of the dogs, a little one with no wool. After that, Aster and her new pet discover a very strange rock in the middle of the woods, and it turns out to be a trickster that grants wishes. After a series of disastrous wishes, Aster gets things back on track. But things may still be awry, since now the seasons are failing to change, a fox is after a lot of power, and the old woman may have died. It’s up to Aster to figure out how to save the mountain that’s her home.
Pico takes the zany energy of cartoons and channels it into a book filled with twists and turns that are surprising and delightful. The reader never quite knows what is going to happen next. The book has time bubbles that change the way time is perceived, magic power stored in staffs, and talking dogs. It’s chaotic at times but in the best possible way and has a merry tone where one knows things will work out in the end, or perhaps take another twist before that happens.
The art is modern and full of humor. From woolly dogs to mountains with faces to tiny chestnut knights, each one is done with personality to spare. The art captures plenty of action, battles and magical moments.
A thrilling graphic novel with lots of love and laugh with. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.
The Book in the Book in the Book by Julien Baer, illustrated by Simon Bailly (9780823442430)
This picture book features three nested books, each smaller than the last. Thomas and his parents are on vacation at the beach in the first and largest book. His parents decide to take a nap and Thomas is bored, so he heads off and explores the beach. When he can’t find his parents, he stops and sits down, noticing a small book abandoned in the sand. He opens it and discovers the story of Thomas who is on vacation with his parents in the snowy mountains. His parents take a nap; Thomas wanders off. Thomas can’t find them and notices a book nearby. When he opens it, he discovers the story of Thomas and his family visiting outer space. Each book ends with Thomas finding his family right near him and as the smaller books close, the reader is once again back in the beach story and the family heads home.
Originally published in France, this book is very unique and exploring it for the first time is a remarkable experience. The nesting of the books physically represents the way that the stories nest together, rather like a Russian nesting doll where the smaller ones are on the inside. Still, in these books the stories get wider ranging as the books shrink down. The text is simple and accessible, feeling almost like a vintage tale until the nesting begins.
The art and book design here are fantastic. The nested books even feel right inside the larger images that form a frame around them. Each book has a cover that represents what is inside it, much like the main cover does with the boy in snow gear reading on a beach under a ringed planet.
Clever and funny, this is a rewarding book to explore. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Holiday House.
Up the Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc (9781616897239)
Every Sunday, Mrs. Badger walks to the mountain peak. Along the way, she greets her various animal friends and finds gifts to give others later. She helps anyone who needs it too. When a young cat asks to share Mrs. Badger’s snack, she invites the cat along to the mountaintop. They need to find the little cat her own walking stick and take breaks along the way, but the two eventually make it to the peak. They enjoy one another’s company and the trip so much that they continue to make the trek together again and again. Eventually, Mrs. Badger grows older and has to be the one taking breaks and finally she can’t make the trip any longer. The cat continues to make the walk, finding her own young animal to mentor on the way.
This gentle picture book has such depth to it. Mrs. Badger is a fabulous character, exhibiting deep kindness and thoughtfulness for others. She knows everyone she encounters on the walk and makes connections easily. She demonstrates how to make and keep friends with all of her actions. This becomes even more clear as she walks with the young cat, teaching them how to make the long climb to the peak. The book can be read as a metaphor for life but children can also simply enjoy the story of the friendly badger and a young cat who become friends.
Dubuc’s illustrations move from full pages of images to smaller unframed pictures that offer a varied feel throughout the book. She makes sure to have a special feeling when the characters make it to the mountaintop. The vista is striking but it is the journey itself that makes the book sing.
A quiet book about connections and community. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Snow School by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Alan Marks
High in the mountains of Pakistan, two week-old snow leopard cubs snooze in a den waiting for their mother to return. It’s May and the pair are only a week old. When the male cub goes outside, he is attacked by a golden eagle and only saved by his mother rescuing him. As the cubs grow, the practice pouncing one another and then start to eat directly from the game their mother kills. Their mother teaches them skills they must have to survive in the harsh climate. They learn to mark their territory, to silently hunt, to be quick, to guard their food, to find shelter when snow comes, and when to retreat. It is a story of how small cubs grow into strong hunters and how these great and beautiful cats manage to survive in their mountainous and cold habitat.
Markle is the author of over 200 books for children. In this one she takes on one of the most elusive creatures on earth and shows the strong family bonds and the huge amount of learning these young cats must accomplish to live. She writes her nonfiction in verse, making it more easily read. Nicely, as the mother is teaching her cubs, Markle makes sure readers understand the lesson by repeating it neatly at the end of the stanza.
Marks’ illustrations capture the snow leopards and their beauty and grace. There are moments of such daring leaps and heart pounding danger that Marks captures with flawless accuracy. His use of soft watercolors adds to the mystique of these cats and also captures the speed and motion as they hunt.
Beautiful illustrations and strong text result in a book that will teach children much about the snow leopards and their lives. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.