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November 11, 2010 Edition

The Nine Pound Hammer, by John Claude Bemis

American folklore proves a solid foundation for a fantasy world in this first in of a new series. Ray doesn’t know it, but he is the son of a Rambler – a protector – who disappeared from Ray’s life eight years ago, leaving the strangest memories. Could his dad really talk to animals? Now, Ray jumps the orphan train that is taking him to be adopted and lands in the Deep South. Following the lodestone his father gave him, Ray is taken in by circus performers, meets a siren and a witch, and finds his father again – though he doesn’t know it at the time. As myths, folklore, and the dawn (or dusk?) of the Industrial Age collide, Ray struggles to do more than just survive. This is the kind of inventive, original fantasy that leaves a deep impression on readers.

The Great Death, by John Smelcer

Middle school fans of survival stories will find the story of Millie and Maura, sisters who are the only survivors of an epidemic that raged through their village, grimly fascinating. After burying their parents, thirteen-year old Millie gathers her courage and loots her neighbors’ homes to find the supplies she and Maura will need. Knowing they will not survive alone, the sisters set out by canoe to reach a settlement that is downriver many days. Resourceful but young, they find many obstacles in their way: the way the quiet river turns to rapids, the increasing cold and deepening snow, and their lack of experience all endanger their lives. Based on historical facts about contact between Native Alaskan villages and whites.

The Savage, by David Almond, illustrated by Dave McKean

Almond is a master at blurring the line between reality and imagination. Here, drawings and words go hand in hand with each other to tell the tale of Blue Baker, who is making up a story about a wild boy who lives in the woods near town. In real life, Blue keeps his problems to himself since his father died - he’s being tormented by the school bully, but doesn’t want to make his mother and little sister sadder than they already are. But the story he writes begins to intrude into his real life in odd ways, and the boy he thought he invented somehow becomes real in this powerful story about loss, strength, and the savage within everyone.

Hannah’s Winter, by Kierin Meehan

Hannah is less than thrilled to be plucked from her anticipated kick-back summer vacation at home and brought to Japan by her journalist mother for three months. It isn’t even as if she’ll be spending much time with her mom - instead, she’ll be staying with her mom’s friends, improving her spoken Japanese, learning kanji, and starting her Australian Year Eight classes by correspondence. Sounds grim to Hannah, but the reality surprises her. She and Miki become friends immediately and soon find themselves enmeshed in a mystery involving flying donuts, beserker festival beans, and someone called “the ocean boy”. Hannah finds herself loving life in Japan and enjoying the answers to the mysteries she and Miki solve.

Sassy: Little Sister is NOT my name! by Sharon M. Draper

Sassy is the youngest of three kids and everyone calls her Little Sister, which she hates! She’s only nine and she is small, but she prefers her real name, Sassy, which fits her personality so much better. At home, she feels invisible to her loving family, but at school, she’s often the center of her friends with her leaps of imagination. She weathers the dramas of school (like when Travis gets his head stuck in a chair), and the trials of home with the aid of her Sassy-bag – her sparkly, seemingly-bottomless bag of essentials, including hairbrush, green Jolly Ranchers, and several colors of Kleenex. And in the end, it’s her small size that saves the day! This is the beginning of a new series that early elementary school readers will find particularly appealing.

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