Tuesday, June 14, 2011

3. Books to Make Hearts Soar

Wild Wings, by Gill Lewis, illustrated by Yuta Onoda (Atheneum, $15.99, ages 8-12, 304 pages, 2011). A girl no one cared to know works her way into a boy's heart and inspires him to watch over a magnificent bird they both loved and an injured girl half-way around the world.  When Iona McNair arrives in town, 11-year-old Callum doesn't know what to think of her. His friend Rob calls her a thief for fishing in Callum's family's creek and blames her for something her mother may have stolen years ago. But Callum is drawn to Iona and the secret she wants to share, something no one has seen on his Scottish farm for a hundred years. Iona has spotted an osprey building an aerie in the farm's woods and soon he has attracted a mate. Knowing osprey are vulnerable, Callum keeps the secret from his friends Rob and Euan. But when the osprey's mate, Iris, gets tangled in fishing line, Iona and Callum can no longer keep the secret to themselves. Callum's father calls a biologist for help and after rescuing Iris, he cautions them about poachers. He also tags Iris with satellite telemetry so they can watch over her as she migrates back to Africa. But then one day Iona doesn't show up to meet Callum at their tree house and Callum's life is turned upside down. Iona has made Callum promise to look after Iris, but can he trust Rob and Euan to help him? In this wonderful story, a boy makes a pact that will change his life, the lives of his friends, a small fishing village in The Gambia and a 10-year-old girl who's hospitalized there. Tender and beautiful, this is a story to make eyes misty, but only briefly, before sweeping readers hearts back into the clouds.

Junonia, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, $15.99, ages 10-14, 192 pages, 2011) When Alice Rice arrives at Florida's Sanibel Island on a family vacation, she wants to do everything at once and can't decide where to start. Should she unpack or comb the beach for shells? (After all, this is the year she's determined to find a rare Junonia.) But the only place her legs want to go is to the cottages. She has to know who's there. For nine years, the same neighbors have returned to the island and celebrated her birthday. This is her 10th -- and she's hoping it will be special.  But when she finds old Mr. and Mrs. Wishmeier, who've always been like grandparents, she begins to discover that things won't be quite the same. The Wishmeier's grandchildren (the older siblings Alice never had) can't make it, neither can artist Helen Blair (who always had the most wonderful gifts to give Alice) and her mother's friend Kate (Aunt Kate to Alice) isn't coming alone. She has a new boyfriend with a snippy daughter Mallory and now Alice's friend, ancient Mr. Barden, has hurt Alice's feelings. He's told her that Mallory's the prettiest little girl he's ever seen even though she's a screamer. Suddenly Alice, an only child, is working harder than ever to rub off the mole on her face and her big day has become engulfed in uncertainty. This is the last time she'll be able to count how old she is on her fingers -- it should be the best day yet. But it seems like it's become a big deal in a bad way. Could it be that, even when things are mixed-up, they get better? A charming, coming-of-age story from an author-illustrator with the heart of a child. If a book could smell of summer, this would.

One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, by Joanne Rocklin (Amulet, $16.95, ages 8-12, 224 pages, 2011).  The kids on Orange Street always felt the vacant lot with the big orange tree belonged to them, but then one day a Day-Glo orange cone appears in front of the tree, followed by a mysterious stranger. Could this man be planning to cut it down? And why is he so familiar to Mrs. Snoops, an elderly lady who grew up near the tree? In this sweet story, three girls and boy realize their beloved old tree has affected too many lives to belong to just one person and in one glowing moment, do something brave, formidable and amazing.

The tree, the last from an old Valencia grove, has lived through great joys and sorrows, and for the neighborhood children, it's been a companion, a gathering spot, a source of comfort and a source of oranges, especially for ambrosia. It's the meeting place for the Girls With Long Hair Club, and Ali's excavation spot for finding treasures. That's where she found a blue stone shaped like a heart, the one she rubs and wishes on for her little brother.  He hasn't spoken a word since a tumor was removed from his brain and Ali longs to hear him laugh. When he swings from their orange tree, it seems as if her wish could come true. The tree is also Bunny's good luck charm.  Every time her mother leaves on business, Bunny climbs the tree and waves as her plane passes overhead.  And for Mrs. Snoops: her every meal seems to revolve around the fruit on that tree and oh, the memories it brings back. Though her thoughts get muddled about the recent past, she can still picture the day she hung upside down from its branches. Then there's Leandra, who's been feeling rather sour about her parents having a baby. That tree just might have something to teach her about life, death and taking chances. This is one of those books that curls up inside a young girl's heart and gets her thinking about friends and how "infrangible" they can be.

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