For a book addict, I’m a slow reader. That’s an extra reason I welcome books with short page counts that are long on emotional content.
Patricia MacLachlan’s “White Fur Flying” (McEldery Books, ages 6-9) is narrated by Zoe, whose family has a comfortable warmth and good humor that nurtures her, her sister and several rescued Great Pyrenees. This becomes more apparent to her when neighbors move in next door with pristine fur-free furniture and Phillip, a boy who doesn’t speak. Phillip’s parents’ marital problems have forced him to live with his childless aunt and uncle who are at a loss for how to help him. It’s Zoe’s family, specifically the dogs, that cracks the neighbors’ reserve and allows Phillip the room to find his voice and communicate his feelings. The dogs serve as a way for Zoe to view the strength of her family and a wonderful metaphor.
Melanie Crowder’s “Parched” (Harcourt, ages 10-12) is a debut novel that weaves the narration of three characters who struggle for survival in an African “place of dust and death.” Nandi’s broken English gives a canine view of the murder of her owners and burning of their home. Sarel, the daughter, tells how she strives to keep the pups and property going and encounters Musa, a dowser, recently escaped from a murderous gang bent on discovering water. Through these united voices the author develops a strong sense of place and the terrible consequences of drought. The emotional intensity of this book demands a sophisticated reader.
Andrea Cheng’s “Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet” (Lee and Low, ages 9-11) is a series of poems imagining different perspectives of those who affected the life of Dave, a real man who was an enslaved potter in the 19th century. Dave left only sentence fragments on his creations but Cheng uses woodprint and free verse to transform these into powerful representations of Dave’s thoughts on clay, art, relationships and enslavement. Cheng expresses the intelligence, wit, artistry and the courage that propels Dave to leave his marks in wet clay, “so my word/can never be erased. And if some day, this jar cracks, my word will stay, /etched in the shards.”
Maryann MacDonald’s “Odette’s Secrets” (Bloomsbury, ages 9-12) was inspired when the author learned that 84 percent of French children deported during World War II survived. She bases her free verse poems on the life of Odette Meyers, a young Jewish child in Paris. Odette, a beloved only child, has “everything I could wish for, except a cat.” Soon, however, normal childhood events fade as Odette faces “wailing sirens,” the “strutting” occupying German soldiers, her father’s imprisonment and separation from her mother. Sent away for her own safety, Odette must adjust to life in small villages where she hides her identity. MacDonald’s descriptive words evoke Odette’s fear, silence and the maternal love that buoys her.