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January 28, 2009 > Footnotes: Books for children of all ages

Footnotes: Books for children of all ages

By Dominique Hutches

"Pete and Pickles" by Berkley Breathed, Philomel hardback, $17.99.(2008)

Pete is a very practical pig. After the death of his beloved Petunia, he organized and tidied things. He likes his days safe and predictable. All that comes to a halt when he encounters an elephant named Pickles hiding in his house. He calls the circus folks to come and get her. As Pickles leaves, she gives him a little smile.

The next day he finds himself remembering that little smile as he goes on a walk. His feet lead him to the circus, where he finds poor Pickles cowering forlornly in a dark tent. Pete rescues Pickles, and is sure she'll find her own place after a day or two. Hah!

Pickles settles in, totally disrupting Pete's life. She takes him on adventures, redecorates, and does wildly unpredictable things! Pete sighs and allows all this until one day Pickles goes too far!

Younger people will love the pictures and the story of a staid pig learning to open his heart to the unexpected. Adults will find the charm in the more subtle details and humor. Breathed's illustrations are a delight for all ages, and the friendship that develops between these two disparate characters is lovely.

Recommended for 1st and 2nd graders.



"Leanin' Dog" by K.A. Nuzum, Joanna Colter hardback, $15.99. (2008)

Deese was the kind of person who could either stay home and do chores and lessons with her mom, or go fishing and exploring with her dad. Even though their life in the wilderness was not easy, she loved it. Her mom had reading and math lessons ready for her every day, and her dad showed her everything about the nature of the environment she lived in. Even when they would get snowed in and separated from the rest of the world, there was the planning for Christmas.

One horrible November day, Deese and her diabetic mother were caught outside in a snowstorm. The cold and distance from home brought about a diabetic episode. Instead of heading home, she lay down in the snow. Though Deese tried and tried to move her, her mom never came home again.

Now Deese can't seem to leave her cabin, not even her front door. If she tries, her body shuts down in panic. She can't help her dad with trapping food. Though she still has her lessons, they've lost all meaning without mom. To add to her unhappiness, a starving bundle of dirty brown fur turns out to be a stray dog. When she tries to make friends with it, it runs away.

Deese wants her life back. She's afraid of going crazy. Her vivid nightmares of the circumstances of her mother's death return as flashbacks during the day. She knows that something has to be done, but she can't figure out what.

The story revolves around her memories and her efforts to entice this stray animal to remain as her friend. The author has a deft touch with the description of the father's frustration as he tries to figure out the best way to help his daughter. The climactic ending has both daughter and father reaching beyond themselves and past their fears of failure. This novel could be one of sadness and dreariness, but instead winds up being a story of hope and love.

Recommended for 5th/6th grades.



"The Off Season" by Catherine Murdock, Graphia paperback, $8.99. (2008) (sequel to "Dairy Queen," 2006)

At the beginning of this story, DJ has almost everything. School is going great, she has a terrific boyfriend, and she's on the high school boy's football team playing linebacker (If you want to read how THAT happened, read "Dairy Queen"). DJ's older brothers Bill and Win are off playing college football which the whole family watches every Saturday.

Then everything starts to go wrong. DJ's mother's back goes out, and somehow DJ and her boyfriend end up in People magazine. After getting injured during a practice, she is benched. Worse, much worse, the family is gathered watching her older brother's game on television when he gets tackled; he is lying on the field with the medics around him. When the phone call comes that the family is needed at the hospital, DJ goes to attend to her brother in her mother's stead.

The scenes in the hospital as DJ tries to help her brother with his neck injury are powerful and moving. There's humor to be found in small things, and strength to be found within. As much as I liked "Dairy Queen," this book was far more touching and real. I found myself thinking again and again about the journey DJ travels and the difficult decisions she had to make. An excellent book - I look forward to the next installment.

Recommended for young adults.

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