By Jan Pease
Here are some new juvenile books, suitable for people in grades 4-6.
Adventure stories are great but are often written about boys. Girls enjoy adventure stories,too. Not to be stereotypical, but girls also enjoy books that emphasize feelings and relationships. Ice Dogs, by Terry Lynn Johnson, is the book that fills all of those needs. Ms. Johnson is a conservation officer in Ontario, Canada. Her sense of place and adventure is incredible. The dogs are wonderful. The adventure of the human characters is reminiscent of Far North or Hatchet, but the girl is the one with the survival skills. There is a hint of romance in the book, but not too much.
Unleashed, by Gordon Korman, the seventh book in the Swindle series, mixes kids, humor, bad guys, and a large former attack dog named Luthor into a fun read. Sometimes you just need to be silly.
Kathryn Lasky is known for world-building civilizations in the natural world. Her series of books about owls, “The Guardians of Ga’Hoole,” is famous. She has a series aboutwolves, “Wolves of the Beyond,” and in 2014 she started a new series about wild horses, “Horses of the Dawn.” She has imagined the fate of horses on their way to the New World who were forced overboard to lighten the ship. The first book was titled The Escape, and the second book is Star Rise. In Star Rise, the horses begin to meet humans and join a young boy exiled from his village who just happens to communicate with animals.
Horses are one thing, but unicorns are quite something else. A Plague of Unicorns is Jane Yolen’s newest book. She has written more than 350 books, but she comes up with new material every year. A monastery is in danger of falling apart, but could be saved by making and selling wonderful cider made from golden apples. But the golden apples are the favorite food of a herd of unicorns. So the monks need a hero to save the day. Only the head abbot realizes that the small hero, Sandy, is really Alexendria, the sister of the youngest student at the abbey.
Erin Hunter is the pen name of a group of women who have been tremendously successful with a series about feral cats called “Warriors.” Like Kathryn Lasky, Erin Hunter has branched out into other animal groups. One series, “Survivors,” is about dogs who try to survive on their own after a massive earthquake destroys their city. A third series, “Seekers” is about bear cubs, a polar bear, a black bear, and a grizzly bear who find themselves on their own with no adult bears to help them survive. The second group of the series is called “Seekers: Return to the Wild” and a fourth bear joins them. They really don’t like people, and call humans “flat-faces.” The newest book in the series is The Burning Horizon. The bears are trying to get to a gathering that celebrates “the longest day.”
I should have said up front that I dislike anthropomorphism. Besides being a very long word, anthropomorphism is what happens when animals are given human characteristics. We do it all the time in Mother Goose and picture books. Brian Jacques’ “Redwall” series did it. Based on my personal preference, Ice Dogs and Unleashed would be books I enjoy. The animals are funny, loyal, and brave, but act like animals. I love Jane Yolen’s fantasy series. Animals can act like magical creatures in fantasy literature. I’ve tried a book or two of each of the other series, but find myself frustrated by how far they go into inventing animal cultures. Decide for yourself, and let me know what you think.