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21

May
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

TBT: Good Bye, Bunny Bangs by Dorathea Dana

On 21, May 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Bunny Bangs

Good Bye, Bunny Bangs by Dorathea Dana

One morning as Dean and Delia are out playing they notice that the neighbor’s dog is pointing at a bush. As the day wears on the dog is still there and the children are increasingly intrigued. When they finally check on him they discover a tiny baby rabbit with a gash on his shoulder. Even though their mother protests, the children bring the bunny home to help rehabilitate him. As the bunny begins to feel better he starts thumping everyone with his back feet, earning the name Bunny Bangs. The family cares for him and as he grows he moves out into a small pen around a hollow tree in their yard. Finally it’s time to let Bunny Bangs return to the wild and the children are sad to see him go, but there’s a surprise waiting for them the next morning.

My mom read this to me when I was a little girl and she read it when she was a little girl. I remember loving it when I was a child and when I reread it about 10 years ago. This time through I wanted to see if it held up looking at it with a more critical eye and for the most part it does.

I certainly don’t recommend getting advice on pet care from the book, nor do I recommend listening to it for information on rabbit behavior. The family is woefully ignorant in those regards. They have a parrot who they give coffee to every morning and they think the rabbit thumping is his temper (rabbit thumping is often a sign of fear and they use their powerful back legs to get away). If you set this stuff aside (which I found easy to do, as I wasn’t looking for a guidebook to rabbits) it’s really a darling story. The children clearly love animals. Their mother laments all the “pets” they have found in the woods and brought home. This time she insists the rabbit won’t remain a pet. And yet everyone is rather subdued when Bunny Bangs is released into the woods.

The setting is rather idyllic with the children playing in the woods and yard everyday. They change into their play clothes, take naps in the afternoon, and spend the weekend building a hutch with their father. It’s all very 1950s (right down to the family being white), but it doesn’t feel weird. Just happy and gentle. No one is dysfunctional and there isn’t anything overtly or covertly sexist. The mother is a stay at home mom, but that in and of itself isn’t sexist. Even when the mother suggests that the children build a hutch with their father, she contributes supplies and it sounds more like she’s setting up time with the dad than implying women can’t build. The illustration actually shows the little girl more involved helping the father than the older brother. So looking for those things that can crop up in books from this era, I couldn’t find anything that was objectionable, even if it was a tiny bit dated.

Spoiler alert: The end has a funny and sweet twist to it that I think is really wonderful for new readers. It turns out there was a hole in the back of the tree and Bunny Bangs was always free to get in and out of his pen. When the children wake the morning after releasing him, there he is back in his pen waiting for breakfast. It’s such a happy ending to a sweet story about helping wildlife. The kids decide he’s back because he now trusts that they didn’t want to keep him locked up.

The book isn’t particularly long, but it’s more of an early reader than picture book. The illustrations are darling. Try not to coo over the picture of baby Bunny Bangs stretched out in a strawberry basket. There are plenty of pictures, but there is a fair amount of text as well. It would be perfect for early second grade, but it can serve as a read aloud down into Kindergarten and up into third grade. Kids love animals stories and this is a sweet one. I’m so glad it help up.

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23

Apr
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Re-Read: Salt by Maurice Gee

On 23, Apr 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

SaltFrom GoodReads: When his father Tarl is captured and enslaved to work in Deep Salt, Hari vows to rescue him. This is a forbidding task: no one returns from Deep Salt. But Hari was born and raised in Blood Burrow. He’s tough and smart–and he has a secret gift: he can communicate with animals.

The beautiful Pearl, born into the privileged world of the ruling class known as Company, has learned forbidden things from her mysteriously gifted maid Tealeaf. Now her father has promised her in marriage to the powerful and ambitious Ottmar. But Pearl will never submit to a subordinate life, so she and Tealeaf must flee.

When their paths cross, Hari and Pearl realize that together they must discover the secrets of Deep Salt. Their long journey through the badlands becomes far more than a quest to save Tarl–their world is on the brink of unspeakable terror.

I read this book probably five years ago, maybe more, and absolutely loved it then. But I think I loved it even more re-reading it. Salt has it all. Incredible story telling, good writing, amazing characters, fantastic world building, and it subtly tackles some interesting issues like colonialism, racism, poverty, privilege, environmentalism, and coming of age.

*Spoilers ahead.*

I’m not sure how Gee manages to do this, but Salt is both character and plot driven. The story is incredibly exciting and full of action and suspense. However you are also let in on the history of Hari and Pearl and then see them grow immensely as their stories intertwine. I especially liked that not only does it take time for them to shed their old, terrible lives, they don’t do it completely by the end of the story. They retain vestiges of those lives that may never completely leave. Hari often hears the call of violence and hatred while Pearl often feels the pull of privilege that came with wealth. By the end though the two have heard a higher call and they strive to follow that instinct instead of their old ones.

The world is, I believe, based on the colonialism of Australia and the marginalization and impoverishment of the Yolnu. There might also be shades of New Zealand and the marginalization and impoverishment of the Maori. I don’t think you need much if any understanding of what happened in those places, but it’s a place and situation you don’t hear much about in traditional American education which I think makes it all the more interesting. Thankfully there is a map at the beginning of the book to help those of us who have a hard time picturing the lay of the land. Descriptions are spare, but detailed enough to create a clear picture in your mind what the world looks like. And the descriptions of the Burrows, the slums, and the life in them are very vivid. Be forewarned, this is not for the faint of heart. There is a lot of violence in those places.

In my second reading the relationship between Tarl and Hari really stuck out to me. When Tarl is taken to work in the Deep Salt mine Hari vows to save him and this puts Hari’s storyline into motion. Hari spends some time, both before leaving the city on his journey and while on his way to Deep Salt, reflecting back on his early memories of growing up as Tarl’s son. The two were close and Tarl was surprisingly tender with Hari. However as the two have very different experiences through the book, Tarl in the mine and Hari on his travels, they diverge. Once reunited Hari discovers the bond between them is no longer founded on shared experiences but on the relationship they shared in the past. The bond is still strong and certainly important, but the two have changed and they meet on different footing. Interestingly, Tarl appears to lament the new distance between them as much as Hari does, but he also understands that Hari is getting a chance at a much better life than Tarl has had or expects to ever get and this is something he very much wants for Hari. Their relationship and its changes, I think, will really resonate with teens who are separating from their parents and becoming more independent, but also feel that longing for the simpler time of childhood.

I won’t get into all the themes I listed above here, but know there is a lot to this story. There are also two more books in the series. They could in theory all be read as stand alone novels and they are all good. I liked this one best of all, but I think that was because I read it first and loved it so much. The next book, Gool, follows the children of Hari and Pearl in their quest to rid their world of the evil that still lingers. That one is interesting to see how Pearl and Hari have grown and how they have passed their legacy on to the next generation and tried to build a new world for their children. The third book, The Limping Man, follows another character entirely in the next generation after Gool. I would say give this to kids who like dystopian fantasies, and that is probably a good recommendation, however I read the Hunger Games after this series and Hunger Games pales in comparison. This is so much better and I’m not sure kids who loved Hunger Games style dystopia will connect in the same way with this one.

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19

Mar
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

TBT: Harriet’s Hare by Dick King-Smith

On 19, Mar 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Harriet's Hare

Harriet’s Hare written by Dick King-Smith, pictures by Roger Roth

Lexile: 690L

From GoodReads: Hares don’t talk. Everyone knows that. But the hare Harriet meets one morning in a corn circle in her father’s wheatfield is a very unusual hare: a visitor from the far-off planet Pars, come to spend his holidays on Earth in the form of a talking hare. Wiz, as Harriet names her magical new friend, can speak any language, transform himself into any shape – and, as the summer draws to its close, he has one last, lovely surprise in store for Harriet…

I know this one isn’t as old as some of the other books I’ve read, but I think it counts as a throwback. I was interested in this one for a couple reasons. The first is, the author is the author of Babe: A Gallant Pig another great book. The second is that it had a hare in it and I’m a sucker for animal books. Third, I was curious how something more recent, something I could have read new as a kid, held up.

This is a quiet story. No loud action here. Harriet lives on a small farm with her dad in England. Her summer break has just begun when she hears a strange noise outside. An investigation of the wheat field reveals a crop circle and large hare who hops out and begins talking to her. The hare is actually an alien in the form of a hare and he sets Harriet up for a delightful surprise.

I really enjoyed the story and its languid pace and simple story are perfect for young readers. While it does center around Harriet and the hare, they don’t do a whole lot of interacting and what the story really reveals are the people involved in the story- Harriet, her father, the new lady in town, and the housekeeper. Adults will easily figure out the surprise the hare hints at, but the ending will give you warm fuzzy feelings anyway. I would give it to kids who like animals stories, fantasy (although it’s really more science fiction), and kids who like stories about family. It would make a great read aloud, too.

For me personally the story would have worked with just a magical hare that could talk. I am just not a science fiction fan, at least not the type with outer space and aliens in it. But if I had read this as a kid it might have made an excellent entree into world of science fiction. Especially since I so loved (and love) animal stories. In other words, this would make a good introduction to the science fiction genre.

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26

Feb
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

TBT: The Rescuers by Margery Sharp

On 26, Feb 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The Rescuers

The Rescuers by Margery Sharp, pictures by Garth Williams

From GoodReads: Miss Bianca is a white mouse of great beauty and supreme self-confidence, who, courtesy of her excellent young friend, the ambassador’s son, resides luxuriously in a porcelain pagoda painted with violets, primroses, and lilies of the valley. Miss Bianca would seem to be a pampered creature, and not, you would suppose, the mouse to dispatch on an especially challenging and extraordinarily perilous mission. However, it is precisely Miss Bianca that the Prisoners’ Aid Society picks for the job of rescuing a Norwegian poet imprisoned in the legendarily dreadful Black Castle (we all know, don’t we, that mice are the friends of prisoners, tending to their needs in dungeons and oubliettes everywhere). Miss Bianca, after all, is a poet too, and in any case she is due to travel any day now by diplomatic pouch to Norway. There Miss Bianca will be able to enlist one Nils, known to be the bravest mouse in the land, in a desperate and daring endeavor that will take them, along with their trusty companion Bernard, across turbulent seas and over the paws and under the maws of cats into one of the darkest places known to man or mouse. It will take everything they’ve got and a good deal more to escape with their own lives, not to mention the poet.

With these Throwback Thursday posts this year I’m revisiting books I read in my youth and previewing a few classics I might want to share with my daughter. Mostly I’m curious how the books I read when I was young hold up over the years and to see how I like other classics as read alouds. This time I stumbled upon this gem of a classic through the Disney movie The Rescuers, which we watched the other night with my daughter.

I was unaware that the movie was based on a book, let alone a series of books, so being the librarian I am I requested it from the library. The two are fairly different and while the book was incredibly enjoyable, I see why they made the changes they did for the movie. For example the book has the mice as part of the Prisoners’ Aid Society where they comfort and aid prisoners. The movie has them form the Rescue Aid Society where they help people in need of assistance. I think this made the story a bit more modern, less grim, and required less exposition. The movie also combined at least two of the books from the Rescuers series, which again, I’m not sure this story, although good, is exactly box-office-hit material. Some stories adapt better to the visual narrative than others.

Here is where I admit I am an animal-story person. I never clicked with the princess movies or books about people. When given the choice I pick animal books over people books all the time. This is actually why reading diverse kidlit, particularly picture books, has been difficult for me. I am drawn to the stories with wee animals. And those are certainly the books I buy when building our home library. (This is NOT to say that’s an excuse for not reading diverse stories or for not buying them. I just have to make a conscious effort to pick up a book with people and I am doing just that.) My daughter is the same way and I know there are tons of kids out there like that. This is a book for those kids. It’s full of suspense and action, friendship and humor and mice. Garth Williams has drawn darling illustrations to go with the story. I will say Bianca is portrayed as a bit of wimp and silly girl used to creature comforts, but while she never really overcomes that part of herself, she does discover a braver, pluckier side and I think that’s a good message. One that acknowledges that you might be a girly girl, but still have it in you to do what duty requires of you and find an inner strength when necessary.

The Rescuers has quite the vocabulary and syntax in it which makes it great for upper elementary (fourth or fifth grade). It would also make an incredible read aloud. The chapters are each divided into sections (something I don’t think I’ve seen before) and make breaking off very easy. The Lexile for the book is 880L which is high, but not nearly as high as I expected. The length, 150 pages, is also perfect. Give this to fans of adventure and animals. It appears that many of the books in the series are readily available, my library has several copies of each and this first book was republished by The New York Review Children’s Collection. Being a classic, albeit maybe a bit forgotten one, it reminds me of other books from that era like Ben and Me and Charlotte’s Web.

I probably should have just written my own book blurb here because the book description provided by the publisher (and found on GoodReads) is not exactly accurate. Let me clarify a few plot points. Bianca is not selected to go on the mission but is asked, because she will be flying to Norway and will reach it sooner than a boat trip, to find the bravest mouse in Norway to undertake the mission of rescuing this poet-prisoner. When she arrives in Norway and finds a band of mice in the embassy where she lives she is told all mice are the bravest mouse in Norway and is given Nils who happens to be standing close to the mouse she speaks to. Nils agrees to go. Bianca’s part in the mission is done, but she thinks back to Bernard, the mouse who asked her to recruit the bravest Norwegian mouse, and decides she wants to see him again. Back at the Prisoners’ Aid Society Bernard volunteers to go with Nils in order to impress Bianca and Bianca decides she too will volunteer. The three then set off to free the prisoner kept in the Black Castle. Does it really matter for the purposes of reviewing the book? Probably not, but I hate inaccurate book descriptions.

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19

Feb
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

TBT: The Haunted House by Peggy Parish

On 19, Feb 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The Haunted HouseThe Haunted House by Peggy Parish, pictures by Paul Frame

From GoodReads:“Oh, no!” said Liza. “I won’t live in a haunted house.”
The “haunted house’ is the old Blake place, and despite Liza’s protests, that’s where the Roberts family is going to live. Liza, Bill, and Jed soon realize that something weird is happening in and around their new home. Nearly every morning they find mysterious messages. Strange footprints appear, lights flash, and secret compartments pop open. Is John Blake’s ghost responsible? If not, who is?

Lexile: There isn’t a Lexile rating for this particular book, but several others in the series have them and they are all around the low 400s. My guess is, this is the same.

I picked this one up because I remember my third grade teacher reading it aloud to the class and we all loved it. It’s one in the series, Liza, Bill and Jed Mysteries, in which there are six books. The Haunted House is not the first in the series and while there were a couple references to what may have been other stories, this certainly stood alone just fine.

I really enjoyed the story in this one. The kids, when they move into their new house, are drawn into two mysteries which they think have to do with the ghost of the man who built the house. If you’re concerned about the book being too scary, rest assured there is no ghost in the end, but the mystery wraps up nicely. On the first morning Liza discovers a note on her window that begins a several-day-long scavenger hunt which leads them to several prizes. Each note in the hunt includes a code or puzzle they have to decipher before being able to read their clue. For kids who are getting into codes and mysteries this would be awesome.

They also visit their new attic and discover an old grandfather clock that has a secret compartment. When they accidentally get it open part way, they attempt to open it all the way. However their mother has asked them to clean the attic and then she sprays with insecticide so they aren’t allowed up for a day stretching the mystery out. When they finally do get upstairs and manage to open the compartment they discover blueprints of the house which shows a room that would be under Liza’s bedroom but doesn’t appear to be in the basement.

The chapters are a good length in this for early chapter book readers and while the simple text makes details a wee bit sparse, the story is still strong and the mystery suspenseful and engaging. From experience I know this makes a great read aloud and with the codes in the clues you could stop along the way to allow the kids to write down the notes (or simply write them on the board) and try their hand at solving them. My third grade class hung on every word and were sad when the book was over.

The kids get along for the most part, but there’s some bickering between siblings. The book was published originally in the early 70s and the family harmony and the fact that the mom sends the kids out to play by themselves and leaves them home while she goes grocery shopping may seem odd, but the book never felt particularly dated. There is one reference to a tape player, but there aren’t really any language or pop culture references that would make this feel old. My one and only concern was this passage:

“‘I already feel homesick for my old room.’ [said Liza]

‘That’s alright,’ said Mom. ‘To tell the truth I feel a little bit that way myself. But I’m sure we’ll both get over it as soon as we get the new house fixed up.’

‘Ah, girls,’ said Bill. ‘You never are sure of what you want.’

‘But that’s a fact of life,’ said Dad. ‘We just have to take them as they are.'”

I’m not sure if it’s a deal breaker for me, but there are a lot of other good chapter books out there (and this one is lacking in diversity too) so I might pass based on that. On the other hand if I were reading it aloud I would simply skip the sexist commentary by the brother and father. If you want to too, it’s on the second page of the fourth chapter “Moving Day”, page 23 in the copy I have.

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22

Jan
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

TBT: Fire-Hunter by Jim Kjelgaard

On 22, Jan 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Fire-HunterThe Fire-Hunter by Jim Kjelgaard

Originally published 1951

From GoodReads: Fire-Hunter is the story of Hawk, a pre-historic man who is banished from his tribe for breaking the tribal law by inventing a spear-launching tool. He is left behind with Willow, an injured young woman abandoned by the tribe because of her inability to travel in the nomadic lifestyle they employ.

So, I read this book in either fifth or sixth grade and despite the fact that I can’t remember exactly when I read it, the story and enjoyment of it has stuck with me for all these years. I don’t know why it popped into my head a few weeks ago and I don’t know why this time around I decided I wanted to find a copy, but I thought it would be interesting to see if it held up after all these years. It took a bit of Googling around to find the title, but I knew if I saw a picture of the cover I would know it and sure enough I found it. I was more surprised to find that my library system still had a copy! I’m a big proponent of weeding, but I’m glad that despite it’s age this one hadn’t been pulled from the shelf (I can’t attest to how much it’s checked out, but the book is in great shape so maybe it should still be on the shelf).

I was even more surprised by the fact that I liked this book as much, if not more, now as I did all those years ago in elementary school. I still remember when the teacher handed out copies of the book. There were two options and it seemed everyone wanted this book over the other (whose title I cannot remember). There were not enough copies for everyone in the class to have one and I was lucky to get one of the last few. I must have devoured this book because I remember it only took a few days of in-class reading to finish it. I certainly read in elementary school, but I was not strong reader (I have talked about this in other blog posts) so to plow through a book like I did with this one was unusual.

The story itself is very well written. It’s got a surprisingly complex vocabulary and syntax, but it wasn’t hard to read. Again, I’m surprised I clicked with this in elementary school knowing that I was not a great reader. However, I think that attests to the fact that the story is incredibly compelling, even if it’s not plot driven. In fact, it does a great job blending plot and character development. There’s quite a bit of suspense both within the overarching plot (will Hawk and Willow survive on their own?) and within smaller incidences (will they be able to evade the hunters they run into? will they be able to kill the cave bear and use his cave? etc.). Hawk, though, is an inquisitive boy/man (he’s a man by his tribes standards and because people didn’t live long, but he’s only 16) and he spends a good deal of time coming up with new ideas that help them survive, such a stick that helps him throw his spear much further which puts him out of harm’s way. He also invents a bow and arrows.

He observes things very closely and learns from what he observes. So when, for example, they leave their original camp because of a lack of wildlife and return a few days later he notices there is game again. He thinks to begin hunting in one smaller area and rotate through smaller surrounding areas to allow wildlife to return. Willow too has ideas and has paid close attention to what others in the tribe do, so when they need to start a fire she knows how to do it. She also creates a number of baskets and containers that help them out and thinks to line a basket with tar so they can always have a large supply of fresh water in their cave. I was pleasantly surprised that the book was not particularly sexist. Considering the era it was written in and the depictions of “primitive man” I was expecting more overt sexism. There were a couple lines that I rolled my eyes at and, sure, they had defined roles as a man and a woman, but I imagine that’s pretty true to what life was like for early humans. I was also pleased that there didn’t seem to be anything that made it seem racist. I guess that may have been because it was about a hunter-gatherer not a Native American, but at its heart this is a survival story and it made all their skills and ideas seem really cool and essential, not primitive and silly.

I will note that there is a lot of hunting and while the story is never graphic there is violence. Don’t give this to your tender-hearted animal lovers. They will not like it. Do give it to your kids who wonder about life long ago. I can’t speak to its historical accuracy, but it certainly gives you a sense of what life as a nomadic hunter-gatherer must have been like and it doesn’t flinch from showing that life would have been brutal, hard and often short. There is also a brief author’s note at the beginning that explains where an author (and anthropologist) look for information about what life was like.

The long and the short of this is, I bought my own copy to keep on my shelf so my own daughter might stumble on it when she’s older. And quite frankly, I will read this one again in the future too. If your library still has a copy hand sell it to kids who like adventure and survival stories and kids who like protagonists who are clever and curious and like to invent things.

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28

Aug
2014

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Throwback Thursday Review: Outside Your Window by Nicola Davies

On 28, Aug 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Outside Your WindowFrom GoodReads: The buzz of bees in summertime. The tracks of a bird in the winter snow. This beautiful book captures all the sights and sounds of a child’s interactions with nature, from planting acorns or biting into crisp apples to studying tide pools or lying back and watching the birds overhead. No matter what’s outside their windows — city streets or country meadows — kids will be inspired to explore the world around them.

I decided to include this title in my throwback series for a couple of reasons. First, I really love to use poetry to encourage kids to become readers. Second, I’ve been reading this with my daughter for more than a year now and we just love it.

As you probably already figured out, this is a collection of poems about nature. But what I have loved about is that the poems are organized around the seasons. There is a section each for spring, summer, fall and winter. This is the kind of book you can leave out in a classroom, on a nature table, or in a bedroom. You can pick it up whenever you have a few spare minutes and select a poem or two for your current season.

The poems themselves are really lovely and evocative. Not every child is going to have experienced all the nature in the book, but there is something for everyone from a window box on an apartment balcony to a farm. The illustrations are a mixture of collage, watercolor and probably a few other media thrown in. They really do a wonderful job complementing each poem. They are bright, cheerful with seasonally appropriate color palettes. The animals are all very charming and a nice enticement for many children. It’s a large book which I think encourages kids to open it out on the floor and pore over it. The paper is heavy and thick which adds to the sensorial experience of reading it.

The nice thing about a collection of poems like this is that you can dip in and out of if, like with a lot of nonfiction. Kids whose attention spans are short or who are having a hard time reading can choose a poem or two, look at the illustration and move on to something else. Reading doesn’t have to be torturously long. Very young children, who may not want to sit still for an entire picture book or story, are often willing to listen to a poem or two and the use of language and vocabulary in poetry is especially good at getting little ones to listen to spoken words. An all around great book for all ages (parents included!).

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21

Aug
2014

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Throwback Thursday Review: The Death-Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean

On 21, Aug 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

I’m going to start posting reviews on Thursdays of books that I have read and never gotten around to reviewing properly. I may also use it to post reviews of books that were not published recently.

Pepper RouxFrom GoodReads: Pepper’s fourteenth birthday is a momentous one. It’s the day he’s supposed to die. Everyone seems resigned to it—even Pepper, although he would much prefer to live. But can you sidestep Fate? Jump sideways into a different life? Naïve and trusting, Pepper sets a course through dangerous waters, inviting disaster and mayhem at every turn, one eye on the sky for fear of angels, one on the magnificent possibilities of being alive.

It took me two tries to get through this book. It has a rough start that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (or so I thought). However, I was REALLY glad I stuck with it the second time around.

On his 14th birthday Pepper picks up his father’s jacket and, believing his superstitious aunt who has always told him this would be the day he died, he heads down to his father’s boat. Here is where I was lost the first time. Wearing his father’s coat seems to convince people that he must be his father and everyone begins to treat him as the captain. Despite the fact that they are seeing a 14 year old boy in a man’s coat. This happens again and again as he side steps from one adventure and life into the next. People simply assume because he is in a certain place, say behind a deli counter or in a newspaper room, that he belongs there and is either someone they know or should know and they simply go along with it. You have to let the absurdity of it wash over you and accept it and once you do, it’s actually quite enjoyable how Pepper hops from one adventure to the next.

I think ultimately there were a couple themes and messages in this book, none of them blatant. First Pepper learns to question what his aunt has been saying all these years. She is the one who has claimed to have seen a religions vision that proclaims that Pepper will die on his 14th birthday. As he gets more experience of the world it puts his life so far into perspective and his aunt (and parents to some extent) seem more and more ridiculous and tied to the idea that your destiny simply happens to you while you passively wait for it. From this Pepper also learns that you make your own luck and fate. He goes out and has experiences, meets good people, bad people, all kinds of people and he begins to take actions based on what he feels is right. This leads to more experiences and to building a family. A number of the characters he encounters stick around or keep popping up. And at one point he steps into the life of one of his sailors from his first adventure on his father’s boat. The man had died and left a widow, a woman whom he was very cruel to. Pepper steps in and is kind to her, takes care of her and their home. She grows to love him, but not as a husband. As a son. With her and his father’s former first mate Pepper find parents that are willing to love and care for him unlike his own who mostly wrung their hands over his impending death. He also has some friends that he has accumulated and they too become part of the family. So it is also a story about the chosen family.

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux is a quirky book. It would take a quirky, whimsical kid to really appreciate it (and probably finish it). In some ways it reminds me of Ophelia and the Magic Boy except Pepper isn’t such a sad sack. I would say kids who wonder about other people’s lives may find this of interest and honestly some adults may enjoy this too. Adults who were quirky whimsical kids. But I’m rather at a loss for any other books that this is like, which I guess is to say it’s unlike anything else, to my knowledge.

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