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April 29, 2009 > Footnotes


The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin, Putnam hardback, $16.99)(2008)

Winston Breen is trying very hard NOT to do something puzzling. He simply wants to give his sister a birthday present. When his sister finds four mysterious wooden sticks inside a hidden panel, he is as surprised as she is. The four sticks have simple words on them, which when put together seem to mean nothing... nothing at all. All his puzzle-solving instincts roused, Winston goes back to the store he bought the box from and finds out it used to belong to a daughter of Walter Fredericks, the richest man in town in his day.

When Winston discovers that the town's librarian is the late box owner's sister, he goes to ask her what the four wooden sticks could be. The librarian's reaction is so extreme: she jumps back from Winston horrified at the sight of the sticks, and banishes Winston from ever coming back!

Soon Winston is approached by two men, each of whom claims to have two other sets of wooden sticks with odd words on them. He is told that there were 16 sticks originally, and together they combine to form the first clue to a treasure hidden by Walter Fredericks, one that could be worth lots of money! This treasure hunt will require all of Winston's wits and puzzle-solving expertise, and yours, too! The many different kinds of puzzles interspersed in the book are lots of fun for those who enjoy brain twisters. But don't worry- you don't have to solve them to have a great time following Winston on his adventure.

Recommended for 5/6 grade.

Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival by Kirby Larson, Walker Books hardback, $16.99 (2008)

This is the tale of two pets, one tail-less cat and one tail-less dog.. Although it isn't known exactly where these two came from, the story starts with them living in a home in New Orleans. When the hurricane hits, the people are evacuated, but the pets are left behind. The dog is chained to the porch. When rescuers wander the neighborhoods to find abandoned animals, somehow these two are missed. Starving, the dog finally breaks away, and dragging his chain behind him sets out with his feline partner to find food.

This could be such a sad book - starving pets, no home. Instead the people that find these two are very compassionate, and do everything they can to help. The Best Friends shelter that eventually houses them and tries to find their owners is an amazing place. There is hope and kindness towards pets shown here in the lovely illustrations, a sort of rarity in books talking about animal shelters. Children will be happy that the Bobbies find a home; adults will find a deeper message about compassion and survival in the wake of this disaster.

Recommended for 1st/2nd grade:

The Off Season by Catherine Murdock, sequel to Dairy Queen, Graphia paperback, $8.99. (2008)

At the beginning, DJ has almost everything. School is going great, she has a terrific boyfriend, and she's on the high school boy's football team playing linebacker (If you want to read how THAT happened, read Dairy Queen). DJ's older brothers Bill and Win are off playing college football, which the whole family watches every Saturday.

Then everything starts to go wrong. DJ's mom's back goes out, and somehow DJ and her boyfriend end up in People magazine. DJ gets injured during a practice and has to be benched. Worse, much worse, the family is gathered watching her older brother's game on television when he gets tackled. He is lying on the field, with the medics around him. When the phone call comes that the family is needed at the hospital, DJ goes to attend her brother in her mother's stead.

The scenes in the hospital as DJ tries to help her brother with his neck injury are powerful and moving. There's humor to be found in small things, and strength to be found within. As much as I liked Dairy Queen, this book was far more touching and real, and I found myself thinking again and again about the journey DJ had to go through and the difficult decisions she had to make. An excellent book - I look forward to the next installment.

Recommended for young adults.

The Leanin' Dog by K.A. Nuzum, , Joanna Colter hardback, $15.99 (2008)

Deese used to be the kind of person who could stay home and do chores and lessons with her mom or go fishing and exploring with her dad. Even though their life in the wilderness was not easy, she loved it. Her mom had reading and math lessons ready for her every day, and her dad showed her everything about the nature of the environment she lived in. Even when they would get snowed in and separated from the rest of the world, there was planning for Christmas.

One horrible day in November, Deese and her mom were caught outside in a snowstorm. Deese's mom, a diabetic, suffered diabetic confusion due to the cold. Instead of heading home, she lay down in the snow. Though Deese tried and tried to move her, her mom never came home again.

Now Deese can't seem to leave her cabin, or even her front door. If she tries, her body shuts down in panic. She can't help her dad with trapping food. Deese still has her lessons, but they've lost meaning without her mom. To add to her unhappiness, a starving bundle of dirty brown fur that turns out to be a stray dog shows up. When she tires to make friends with it, it runs away.

Deese wants her life back. She's afraid she's going crazy. Vivid nightmares of the circumstances of her mother's death return in flashbacks during the day. She knows that something has to be done, but can't figure out what.

The story revolves around Deese's memories and efforts to entice this stray animal to remain as her friend. The author has a deft touch with the description of her father's frustration as he tries to figure out the best way to help his daughter. The climactic ending has both daughter and father reaching beyond themselves and past their fears of failure. The book could be one of sadness and dreariness, but instead winds up being a story of hope and love.

Recommended for 5th/6th grades

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