A thrilling and educational tale for young and old alike.

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ALLIUM

A young plant learns about the natural world in this debut eco-adventure for middle-grade readers. 

As soon as Allium, a garlic plant, has sprouted, she’s curious about the world around her: what are those drops falling from the sky? What is that red-and-black-speckled bug coming in for a landing? The insect, it turns out, is a ladybug named Bet who answers all of Allium’s other questions and teaches her all about the natural world. Things are going well until Allium and the other inhabitants of the garden are threatened by the Septoria sisters—a couple of very serious plant diseases that could wipe everything out, as they’ve done many times before. To combat this possibility, Allium and the rest of her friends must come up with a plan in time, or they may be doomed to become tomorrow’s compost for crop rotation. Most works that use anthropomorphic animals and plants for the sake of teaching a lesson about the natural world are lighthearted, frothy works. Lisa G. Gabory’s debut, though, isn’t quite as breezy as others—and this is a good thing. Instead, the author sets the scene for a bit of a thriller, and the tension increases as Allium and her garden get closer to their potential doom. Of course, this drama also relates plenty of important information about natural processes, such as photosynthesis or how sap-sucking insects produce honeydew (which ants love). These scientific breaks keep the suspense at bay while also educating young readers. Also on the docket are lessons in friendship, bravery, and perseverance, which anyone could stand to brush up on. Both adults and kids will enjoy taking a trip through Allium’s world, and that’s a testament to the quality of the author’s prose and her penchant for big ideas. That said, the illustrations by the author and Lisa M. Gabory are unnecessary, and frankly, a little spooky. All in all, though, this work is certainly a welcome addition to the canon of talking-plant stories.

A thrilling and educational tale for young and old alike.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5089-0253-9

Page Count: 168

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2017

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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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Thought-provoking and charming.

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THE WILD ROBOT

A sophisticated robot—with the capacity to use senses of sight, hearing, and smell—is washed to shore on an island, the only robot survivor of a cargo of 500.

When otters play with her protective packaging, the robot is accidently activated. Roz, though without emotions, is intelligent and versatile. She can observe and learn in service of both her survival and her principle function: to help. Brown links these basic functions to the kind of evolution Roz undergoes as she figures out how to stay dry and intact in her wild environment—not easy, with pine cones and poop dropping from above, stormy weather, and a family of cranky bears. She learns to understand and eventually speak the language of the wild creatures (each species with its different “accent”). An accident leaves her the sole protector of a baby goose, and Roz must ask other creatures for help to shelter and feed the gosling. Roz’s growing connection with her environment is sweetly funny, reminiscent of Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family. At every moment Roz’s actions seem plausible and logical yet surprisingly full of something like feeling. Robot hunters with guns figure into the climax of the story as the outside world intrudes. While the end to Roz’s benign and wild life is startling and violent, Brown leaves Roz and her companions—and readers—with hope.

Thought-provoking and charming. (Science fiction/fantasy. 7-11)

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-38199-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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