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August 28, 2007 > Pages of action and aliens await readers

Pages of action and aliens await readers

"InterWorld" by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves, Eos hardback, $16.99. (2007)

Joey Harker is having a really tough day. It is "finals" time for this high school sophomore and his Social Studies teacher's idea of a final exam is to blindfold all his students, bus them to somewhere in the city and tell them to find their way back to the school. This isn't as unsafe as it may sound - Greenville isn't that big of a city, and for most people this wouldn't be that big of a challenge. But Joey Harker isn't most people. His sense of direction is pathetic - at home, he once got lost between his bedroom and the kitchen.

Trying to find his way back from where the school bus dropped him, he feels really good when he recognizes the street he's on. But during the journey, he encounters a thick mist. When he pushes through it, he's still in Greenville, but there is something very strange about it. Panicked, he rushes home, only to find a mother that doesn't know who he is, and that his baby brother doesn't exist!

Outside he encounters three aliens: one wants to eradicate him; another wants to 'render' him for fuel! And the third? That one says he's trying to save Joey's life. All Joey wants to do is go the original one. Unfortunately, clicking his heels and saying 'there's no place like home' just isn't going to get him there.

Recommended for junior high and up.

Reviewed by dh.

"Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam" by Cynthia Kadohata, Atheneum hardback, $16.99. (2007)

Cynthia Kadohata won the 2005 Newbery Award for her beautifully-written, moving novel "Kira Kira." This is a very different book for a very different audience. "Kira Kira" was probably better suited for adults even though it was written in a young girl's voice. Cracker, on the other hand, is about a German Shepard trained to guide soldiers safely through the Vietnam jungle. The story is told from a male and dog perspective - the young boy who must give Cracker away; the brash headstrong young man who trains the dog; and Cracker herself. Each one's thoughts are written in an appropriate manner and tone for their perspective and age. For example, Cracker is not a super dog with human emotions; she has simple needs - shelter, food and love. In some ways, this book has more kid appeal.

The book begins, introducing Venus (later to be renamed Cracker) as Willie's dog, a little slow-moving but affecting. Poor Venus is wrenched away from the heartbroken boy; the intense pain of separation is told in the dog's voice.

Confused and traumatized, Cracker is unwilling to accept Rick, the soldier who is just as impulsive and undisciplined as the dog. This unlikely pair must meld into a handler/dog team to sniff out booby traps - any mistakes will mean dead or maimed soldiers. Dog lovers will be find chapters on training military dogs fascinating.

For those interested in battle scenes, there are dangerous jungle operations that describe the excitement and utter terror of war. In their final assignment, Cracker and Rick are separated during a siege. Critically wounded, Rick is sent home, not knowing what has become of Cracker. Rick has become changed man with a purpose - to get his dog back.

"Cracker" has war, patriotism, bravery and action which should appeal to young male readers. The book has no political point of view regarding war. The soldiers here don't discuss the "whys." That is up to the reader to find elsewhere. This is a story of the little-known military canine program which should generate a lot of discussion about the bond between man and dog.

Recommended for 5-9 graders. Reviewed by jp.


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