A solid look at a fascinating historical side note.

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RIVER RUNS DEEP

A tubercular boy is sent to live in a cave that might heal him.

Bradbury uses an odd historical fact to jump-start a story about the Underground Railroad. After his father dies from consumption, 12-year-old Elias, suffering from the same disease, is sent from eastern Virginia to live inside Kentucky's Mammoth Cave. This enormous underground labyrinth, already a tourist attraction in the 1840s, is also a sanitarium. Dr. John Croghan believes "cave vapors" can cure the disease, but he also tries restrictive diets, immobility, and horse-urine baths. Numerous slaves attend the patients and also lead tours of the caves; in their off hours they explore the cave's unknown edges. Bored and lonely, Elias begins to follow them, discovering that a far cavern actually houses runaway slaves—now trapped and running low on supplies due to guards at the entrances. Elias' family owns slaves, and he's never questioned slavery's morality, but in the darkness of Mammoth Cave he begins to change his views. Bradbury's plot falters a bit at the end, when a posse of men seems more bumbling than harmful, but she will hold readers throughout with a consistent third-person perspective focused through Elias and his gradual character development, not on the glories of the cave. Several pages of backmatter give insight into the history of the cave and the real Dr. Croghan, with suggestions for further reading.

A solid look at a fascinating historical side note. (Historical fiction. 8-14)

Pub Date: July 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4424-6824-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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Moving and poetic.

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PAX

A motherless boy is forced to abandon his domesticated fox when his father decides to join soldiers in an approaching war.

Twelve-year-old Peter found his loyal companion, Pax, as an orphaned kit while still grieving his own mother’s death. Peter’s difficult and often harsh father said he could keep the fox “for now” but five years later insists the boy leave Pax by the road when he takes Peter to his grandfather’s house, hundreds of miles away. Peter’s journey back to Pax and Pax’s steadfastness in waiting for Peter’s return result in a tale of survival, intrinsic connection, and redemption. The battles between warring humans in the unnamed conflict remain remote, but the oncoming wave of deaths is seen through Pax’s eyes as woodland creatures are blown up by mines. While Pax learns to negotiate the complications of surviving in the wild and relating to other foxes, Peter breaks his foot and must learn to trust a seemingly eccentric woman named Vola who battles her own ghosts of war. Alternating chapters from the perspectives of boy and fox are perfectly paced and complementary. Only Peter, Pax, Vola, and three of Pax’s fox companions are named, conferring a spare, fablelike quality. Every moment in the graceful, fluid narrative is believable. Klassen’s cover art has a sense of contained, powerful stillness. (Interior illustrations not seen.)

Moving and poetic. (Animal fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-237701-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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DRAMA

From award winner Telgemeier (Smile, 2010), a pitch-perfect graphic novel portrayal of a middle school musical, adroitly capturing the drama both on and offstage.

Seventh-grader Callie Marin is over-the-moon to be on stage crew again this year for Eucalyptus Middle School’s production of Moon over Mississippi. Callie's just getting over popular baseball jock and eighth-grader Greg, who crushed her when he left Callie to return to his girlfriend, Bonnie, the stuck-up star of the play. Callie's healing heart is quickly captured by Justin and Jesse Mendocino, the two very cute twins who are working on the play with her. Equally determined to make the best sets possible with a shoestring budget and to get one of the Mendocino boys to notice her, the immensely likable Callie will find this to be an extremely drama-filled experience indeed. The palpably engaging and whip-smart characterization ensures that the charisma and camaraderie run high among those working on the production. When Greg snubs Callie in the halls and misses her reference to Guys and Dolls, one of her friends assuredly tells her, "Don't worry, Cal. We’re the cool kids….He's the dork." With the clear, stylish art, the strongly appealing characters and just the right pinch of drama, this book will undoubtedly make readers stand up and cheer.

Brava!  (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-32698-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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