An action-filled story about dog sledding and teamwork presented in just the right way for its readership.

SOJO

MEMOIRS OF A RELUCTANT SLED DOG

An Alaskan sled dog narrates her adventures.

Sojo, born in Alaska, is not sure she wants to be a sled dog. Everyone says she is beautiful, so she thinks she may want to be a show dog instead. But Pam, Sojo’s white human who raises sled dogs, has plans to cross the 2,500 miles of Arctic tundra alone with her dog sled team, and Sojo is picked. Sojo’s narrative voice as she relates the Arctic adventure—the main thrust of the book—is jaunty, with just the right amount of goofiness to appeal to young readers’ sensibilities, while Farnsworth’s black-and-white illustrations add charm. What is notable about the story is its sterling ring of authenticity. The many details of what it takes in both planning and, er, doggedness to mush across frozen tundra during Arctic winters are fascinating. Since it is Sojo narrating, there isn’t much waxing poetic about natural beauty; instead there is action, action, action. Lessons about teamwork and courage are doled out, but they are strictly in service to the story. Readers will come to understand the loyalty and camaraderie between Pam and her dog sled team as well as the absolute dependence each species has on the other for survival in the harsh environment.

An action-filled story about dog sledding and teamwork presented in just the right way for its readership. (Adventure. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-943328-53-6

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Alaska Northwest Books

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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The young folk and (of course) the animals are engagingly wrought in this tale with a strong ecological message.

WILLODEEN

An orphan loner’s small town faces a hard future after it unwittingly disrupts a natural cycle.

Willodeen is lucky that elderly retired thespians Mae and Birdie took her in after the wildfire that killed her parents and brother, not only because they’re a loving couple, but because they let her roam the woods in search of increasingly rare screechers—creatures so vile-tempered and stinky that the village elders of Perchance have put a bounty on them. The elders have other worries, though: The migratory hummingbears that have long nested in the area, drawing tourists to the lucrative annual Autumn Faire, have likewise nearly vanished. Could there be a connection? If there is, Willodeen is just the person to find it—but who would believe her? Applegate’s characters speak in pronouncements about life and nature that sometimes seem to address readers more than other characters, but the winsome illustrations lighten the thematic load. Screechers appear much like comically fierce warthogs and hummingbears, as small teddies with wings. Applegate traces a burgeoning friendship between her traumatized protagonist and Connor, a young artist who turns found materials into small animals so realistic that one actually comes to life. In the end, the townsfolk do listen and pitch in to make amends. Red-haired, gray-eyed Willodeen is cued as White; Connor has brown skin, and other human characters read as White by default.

The young folk and (of course) the animals are engagingly wrought in this tale with a strong ecological message. (Eco-fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-14740-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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