School breaks are coming up soon. If your kids are looking for something to read, here are 3 titles I’ve recently enjoyed. None are brand new, so you should be able to nab them from the library shelves easily:
Audrey of the Outback, by Christine Harris, illustrations by Ann James
first published in Australia in 2008; this edition 2013 by Little Hare Books
Audrey is a magnificent character, a spunky middle child living in the Australian Outback around 1930. If you have read any of Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine books, Audrey reminds me a bit of her. Well-meaning but impulsive, highly inquisitive, and quite game to attempt things that are probably better left alone. All of which leads to a series of misadventures.
These tales have an extra dose of intrigue because of the curiously exotic Outback setting complete with emus, skinks, swagmen, bunyips, and an exploding dunny. Have no fear, a glossary of Interesting Words is here to guide us through the Aussie lingo.
Whether Audrey is deciding to become a man, a teacher, or a swaggie, she’s always got her faithful friend Stumpy by her side, and she always keeps one eye open for her dad’s return from his roaming days as a dogger. Good thing her heart is huge, plenty big for numerous loyalties and a nonstop series of dreams. Her funny, warm story will win your heart in a flash.
159 pages long. It would make a sterling read-aloud for ages 5 and up, or a good solo read for ages 8-10. There are two sequels. If my girls were this age, I’d just go ahead and get them all. They’re that good.
The Turtle of Oman, by Naomi Shihab Nye, illustrations by Betsy Peterschmidt
published in 2014 by Greenwillow Books
I am late to the party reading this one but my goodness, am I ever glad I finally settled in with this masterfully-written book about home.
Aref is a young boy living in Muscat, Oman, the spot in the world stitched so durably into the fabric of his life that he cannot imagine ripping out those threads and moving elsewhere.
But in fact, that is what is on the docket for him. With both of his parents set to study at the University of Michigan, there is no choice for Aref but to say goodbye to his home for several years. How is it possible to do that?
For anyone who has had to leave home and journey to the unknown, especially when it involves crossing long distances and huge cultural divides, you will be stunned by how Naomi Shihab Nye captures the wrenching emotions of good-bye, how she articulates the all-encompassing womb of home as well as the shadowy, minute details of homeness, so hard to pin down but so piercingly a part of us.
She manages to do this via a quiet flow of thoughts, honest conversations between Aref and the dearest grandfather who ever lived, and a number of poignant scenarios all taking place in just one week. And she manages it without manipulation, without maudlin emotion, with just enough wink and a smile to keep us floating on top of Aref’s struggle rather than sinking with him.
Highly recommended for ages 9 and up. Family members of TCKs — you really should read this book for a window on the separation process experienced by kids transitioning between cultures. It’s an incredible read.
Wild Wings, by Gill Lewis, illustrated by Yuta Onoda
published in 2011 by Atheneum Books for Young Children
Gill Lewis is a UK author whose background as a veterinarian and worldwide adventurer informs her writing. This middle-grade novel was her first, and was published in the UK as Sky Hawk.
The story takes place in Scotland and follows a young boy named Callum as he navigates several friendships that are pulling him in opposing directions. His new friendship is with Iona McNair, a raggle-taggle gal with a murky background. Not
really the sort of person he’d normally spend time with. But Iona has spotted a nesting pair of osprey on Callum’s family farmland, and that’s an extraordinarily rare sight. They’ve bound themselves to protecting these endangered birds by keeping the nest a secret, but neither of them can foresee the way events will unfold.
It’s a dramatic, page-turning, eco-adventure that incorporates some darkness, tragedy, and grief, so be aware of that for younger readers. It also brings in a connection with fellow osprey-lovers in The Gambia which I loved. Ages 9 and up.