You might think this book, The Fire Within by Chris D'Lacey as shown above, is about dragons.
It's about squirrels.
David Rain is a twenty year old college student, who acts like he's eleven. He's renting a room from Liz Pennykettle, who has an eleven year old daughter, Lucy, who acts like she's three. Liz is a potter who makes ceramic dragons. The dragons she crafts are in the book somewhat, but don't come to life until the very end. The book is mostly about David and Lucy trying to capture an injured squirrel before the mean neighbor, or the nasty crow get to it first. Many chapter are devoted to the several other squirrels who all live in the backyard or at the library gardens, their names, personalities, relationships, etc.
The book is clean if super boring. Written for maybe a third grade interest level, but waaayy toooo loonng. Check it out. Many of the Amazon reviewers echo my sentiments exactly.
I first heard about Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz from fellow blogger, Faith Elizabeth Hough. You can read her favorable review here. I agree with pretty much everything she says, but I won't let my kids read this book. Not even my high schoolers.
It's not just the fact that one of the villains uses tarot cards. Betsy, Tacy and Tib use a ouija board in one novel, but I didn't ban those books. It's because at the moment when a different villain realizes he needs a child to perform a theft for him, he says,
...For the child believes--everything! And feels--everything! So much life, instinct, vital force--and then the first stirrings of adult desire. Everything is potent, volatile...! Why do people sacrifice infants in the Black Mass? It makes them feel wicked; that is something of course, but what strength is there in a suckling babe? If one wants power, there is far more power in children!Honestly. Infant sacrifice and satanic rituals getting mentioned in a children's book. My dander is up. We don't play around with that kind of talk here.
Yes, it is a beautiful story, well-written, great characters. Yes, even one of the villains goes to confession on her deathbed. But some things don't belong in children's books.
The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin was a fascinating read. This biography is told in third person, and at first felt a little awkward to my fiction loving ears. But I became engrossed in the tales of Benedict Arnold's military heroism during the Revolutionary War. I knew he was one of our nation's most famous traitors, but I didn't know the backstory (great war hero and close personal friend of G Dub, and by G Dub, I mean George Washington), and I certainly didn't know he got away with it!
Ooops. Just gave away the ending, didn't I? Sorry. Your sons will like this one. Maybe your daughters will too, but definitely your sons.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is the only novel with the words "shades of gray" in the title that I'm ever reading. My library friends tell me that this YA novel is always on the pick list for holds because people are looking for something in the smut genre. They must be so disappointed when they start reading the account of fifteen year old Lina's deportation from World War II Lithuania to Siberia.
But I wasn't disappointed at all. This heart-wrenching story is so captivating. Lina, her mother, and her ten year old brother, Jonas, are all captured by Soviets and sent to work camps in the Arctic Circle, along with millions of other Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians, and Finns. Lina uses her artistic talent to send messages and hope to her father and to other prisoners on the journey.
The content doesn't shy from the disturbing. Lina and her mother are forced to strip and shower in front of Soviet guards, at which point Lina is groped by a soldier. Her friend, Andrius, is alive only because his mother agrees to sleep with the Soviets. People die, and bodies are left in the snow for the foxes. This book is definitely for the mature reader, probably high school at least.
Throughout the novel however, Lina's mother is a constant example of love, patience, kindness, generosity and hope. Based on the ancestors of the author, this book brings light to a little discussed chapter of history, Stalin's genocide of nearly twenty million people.
I knew this book would be awesome when I saw a quote from my all-time favorite author, Richard Peck, on the back cover. Bet you won't find his endorsement on those other books with similar titles.
Not quite the Shades of Gray most people are looking for, but the only one worth reading.