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May 19, 2011 Edition

Hamster Magic, by Lynne Jonell

When Celia makes a reckless wish to be big, her wish is granted by the hamster she’s rescued. But he misunderstands what she wants, so not only is she big, but she’s a big hamster with a taste for Woofies dog biscuits! Fortunately, her brothers and sister manage to keep her hidden from their parents, but they can’t do it for much longer. Hammy, the rescued hamster, knows what to do, unfortunately, he’s used up all his magic changing her into a big hamster. And she’s got to be human again before their parents catch a glimpse of her in her furry four-legged form. Their only hope is to find the Great Hamster and offer her something she can’t refuse to turn Celia back into a girl. (younger elementary)

A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park

This is the story of Nya, who, in 2008 Sudan, spends her days walking miles to fill her water container, coming home to eat and exchange water containers, and then setting out again for more water, not returning till evening. That is, unless she’s at her family’s lake camp, where, instead of walking, she spends her day digging a hole deep enough to get to water. This is also the story of 11-year old Salva, who, in 1985 Sudan, is running away from his home village, driven by the sound of gunfire and screams. He runs and walks and stumbles until he finds his way to a refugee camp, and from there, becomes part of a group of Sudanese boys being flown to the United States. Though the split timelines of this story may be confusing, the ending brings both Nya and Salva together at last, with hope for the future. (older elementary and middle school readers)

Word After Word After Word, by Patricia MacLachlan

Mrs. Cash’s fourth grade class is taken over by Ms. Mirabel and her words – six weeks worth! May, Evie, Henry, Russell, and Lucy are captivated by visiting Ms. Mirabel, who encourages them to write about their insides, their outside, their feelings, and thoughts and dreams. She brings in dirt from her childhood to show them landscape, wears a different fancy outfit every day, encourages the use of words like “robust,” and tells them that she writes to change her life. And when her six weeks is up and everyone’s parents come to class, the kids find that their lives have changed – and that they have done it themselves. (early elementary)

A Nest for Celeste, by Henry Cole

Poor Celeste! First, she’s at the mercy of two mean and bossy gray rats, and then nearly starved out of her home by a vigilant cat. She finds a cozy new home in the toe of a boot, but is nearly squashed when the owner puts the boot on. The owner of the boot is Joseph, John Audubon’s young apprentice, who is homesick and lonely; once Celeste gets over his imprisoning her in a cage and throwing all her belongings out the window, the two become friends. Both Joseph and Celeste disagree with Mr. Audubon’s method of killing and pinning his bird specimens into a semblance of life, and eventually, Celeste is able to show the naturalist himself that drawing from live birds is better. Along the way, she finds a home and many friends. Beautifully illustrated with sketches galore, this is an utterly delightful book. (everyone!)

Walls Within Walls, by Maureen Sherry

When Mr. Smithfork strikes it rich designing video games, he, Mrs. Smithfork, and their four kids move from their comfortable and happy home in Brooklyn to an exclusive and important Post family apartment in Manhattan. CJ, Brid, and Patrick think their new home is old and boring (the youngest, Carron, has no opinion) till a tennis ball fight knocks the radiator grill off the wall to reveal a giant eye staring right at them! Though it turns out to be only a painting, it’s also the tip of the iceburg – the first clue to a mystery posed by the original owner of the house. The whole house is a puzzle, full of hidden panels and cryptic clues, and the prize seems to be the Post family fortune. This architectural and literary romp through New York City will have you checking corners in your own house for evidence of fake walls and hidden clues. (older elementary and middle school readers)

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