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March 25, 2009 > Footnotes


Owney, the Mail-Pouch Pooch
by Mona Kerby and illustrated by Lynne Barasch. FSG hardback, $16.95.(2008)

In 1888 a stray dog wandered into the Albany, NY post office. He made himself at home there, settling on one of the sacks of letters. After a few days and a few negotiations with the post office workers, Owney was adopted. He took his new home - and job - very seriously. He guarded the mail, especially against anyone not in the familiar uniform.

Owney tagged along with the letter carriers as they made deliveries, and even took to guarding the mail as it was delivered to the train. One time he actually jumped on the train and took a ride! It took days before he returned, and after that the Albany folks put a note on his collar: "Dear Railway Postmen: Owney guards the U.S. mail. Will you let us know where he's been? Please attach your depot tag to his collar." When Owney came back from his next trip he had so many tags he could barely lift his head!

This is the true story of the stray who became a mascot for the U.S. Post Office. Owney had all kinds of adventures before he retired, adventures you can enjoy as much your child will. This book is a bit longer than most picture books and the text is a bit more complex, but this takes nothing away from the appeal of this charming tale.

Recommended for first through third graders.

"The House of Power (Atherton, Book 1)" by Patrick Carman, Little Brown Young Readers paperback, $5.99 (2007)

Atherton is a strange place, totally unlike ours. First there's its shape, sort of like an upside-down mushroom. Second, it has three distinct tiers: the lower flatlands, full of rocks and who knows what else, the middle farming land of Tabletop, and the upper Highlands, from where all the water comes. Each land is segregated from the other, connected only by incredibly high sheer cliffs, and by the Highlands' power over the source of the water.

Edgar lives on Tabletop, and he has a secret. Long ago, so long he can't remember exactly, a person he trusted told him that there was something hidden for him on the cliff face leading to the Highlands. After years of climbing and trying to find this elusive 'something,' Edgar finds it: a book! The problem is that no one in impoverished Tabletop can read. Only the Highlanders have that ability. Edgar decides on a desperate plan to climb the cliffs all the way up to the Highlands to find someone willing to read his book to him.

Secrets in the book are shocking, and will change Edgar's life. Before this, however, Edgar discovers something truly disturbing. The cliffs that lead up to the Highlands are sinking, more and more each day. What could this mean? And what will happen if the Highlands sink so much that those lands become level with Tabletop? The farmers of Tabletop have been forced to work as slaves for the privileged Highlanders. Edgar knows they will not want to remain that way, but what will they do? And why was he set on this adventure?

This is a very exciting novel, full of unexpected twists and turns. The sequel, Rivers of Fire, has recently been released in hardback, and is just as enthralling.

Recommended for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.

"The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins, Scholastic hardback, $17.99. (2008)

Sixteen year old Katniss has a brutally tough life. She lives in a world that went mad some time ago. A massive war left little behind. What used to be the United States is now the State of Panem, divided into 12 sectors, each with their own specialty, centered around the "Capital". There used to be 13 sectors, but one tried to revolt and no longer exists.

Every year to drive home the futility of revolt two children from each sector are chosen to compete in televised "Hunger Games," a vicious competition to the death. Katniss' family is so poor that she has had to trade selection chances for the Hunger Games for necessary supplies. She hasn't traded them away; she has added more chances in her name.

Her one ray of sun in this grim existence is that her younger sister will only have her name submitted once in this cruel lottery. Her sister is what has kept Katniss going every day, hunting for food, trading for supplies, working much harder than any teen should. Years ago, when Katniss' father was killed, her mother became incapacitated with grief. Katniss had to take over the family; it was either that or watch her mother and sister die.

The day comes for picking names. Against all odds Katniss' sister's name is chosen and Katniss jumps in, volunteering to take her place. Soon she is on a train with Peeta, the young man also chosen to represent their sector. She resists any friendship with him because she knows that soon they will be pitted against one another. At Games end, either you are the winner or you are dead. The only unwritten rule is that you cannot eat from another competitor's body. Any other treachery, sneakiness, or cruelty is perfectly acceptable. It is going to take all of Katniss' will and cunning to survive this vile competition.

Collins' tale never bores. It paints the grit of Katniss' life with vivid clarity. Katniss, while at first a fairly severe character, becomes someone you cannot help but root for, someone you'll want to keep in touch with. I am very much looking forward to the sequel!

Recommended for young adults/high school.

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