Wild River by Rodman Philbrick

Published by Scholastic Press

Amazon.com: Wild River (9781338647273): Philbrick, Rodman: Books

Summary:  A whitewater rafting trip turns into a survival nightmare for five middle school students when a dam breaks and they barely escape the floodwaters.  With their adult leaders gone, the group breaks into two factions, starting a war over who will lead until they are rescued.  When this conflict results in tragedy, the kids realize they have to put aside their differences if they are going to survive.  Facing wild animals, injuries, and a dwindling food supply, they learn each others’ secrets and vow that their friendship will last if and when they are rescued.  Includes tips for surviving in the wilderness.  193 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  The short chapters, non-stop action, and cliffhanger chapter endings will keep even the most reluctant readers engaged.  Narrator Daniel’s secret about his father’s mental illness adds an interesting dimension to his character.

Cons:  Due to the short length of the book and the focus on the action, the characters weren’t all that well-developed, particularly Tony, who had a pivotal role in the story.

The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The Canyon's Edge: Bowling, Dusti: 9780316494694: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Nora and her dad are going for a hike on her birthday.  It’s the first time they’ve gone hiking since her mother was killed by a gunman exactly a year ago when the family was celebrating Nora’s birthday at a restaurant.  Her father was also injured, but the greater trauma to both of them was psychological.  Nora’s ready to return to school, but her dad’s afraid to let her out of his sight.  The two of them argue about it as they start their hike; seconds later, there’s a rumbling sound, and a flash flood sweeps into the canyon, washing her father away.  Nora’s left on her own to survive two nights in the desert, battling snakes, scorpions, heat, thirst, and her own demons.  Determined to find and rescue her dad, Nora draws on inner resources and discovers she is stronger than she’s believed for the past year.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Warning: once you pick up this novel in verse, it’s hard to put down. It’s equal parts survival tale and a story of healing from a horrific trauma, told in flashbacks as Nora grapples with nightmares and other reminders of her mother’s murder.  Although it may not sound so from this description, this is a book appropriate for upper elementary kids, who will undoubtedly find it as difficult to put down as I did.

Cons:  If you’re seeking a little light reading, you should probably look elsewhere.

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96 Miles by J. L. Esplin

Published by Starscape

96 Miles - Kindle edition by Esplin, J. L.. Children Kindle eBooks ...

Summary:  “Dad always said if things get desperate, it’s okay to drink the water in the toilet bowl.”  When we meet John and his younger brother Stew, they are indeed scooping water out of a toilet; things have obviously gotten desperate.  Their father is away on a business trip, and the power grid over much of the U.S. has been out for weeks.  Dad is a bit of a survivalist, but unfortunately his reputation was well-known.  When some unsavory neighbors learned the boys were on their own, their food and water supplies were stolen one night.  Now they’re stocking up on toilet water to make a 96-mile hike through the Nevada desert to the one place they know of that might save them.  Another pair of siblings, Cleverly and Will, who are also trying to stay alive, find them in the bathroom.  Stew convinces a reluctant John to let them come along, and the four of them start out.  For reasons that are not clear until well past the halfway point of the book, they have to make the trip in three days, and even John and Stew’s survivalist training may not be enough to get all four of them safely to their destination.  272 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Holy cow!  Once I got about a third of the way through, nothing would do but to read all the way to the end.  Unlike many survival stories, the situations felt fairly realistic, as did the knowledge the kids had.  The characters were interesting and reasonably well-developed, and the pace did not let up from page one until the very end.

Cons:  I had a very unproductive Saturday morning, thanks to this book.

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A Whale of the Wild by Rosanne Parry, illustrated by Lindsay Moore

Published by Greenwillow Books (Released September 1)

A Whale of the Wild: Parry, Rosanne, Moore, Lindsay: 9780062995926 ...

Summary:  Vega and her orca family live in the waters near land, taking care of each other and hunting for the salmon that sustains them.  Vega is learning to be a wayfinder, taught by her mother and grandmother in the matriarchal orca society.  When an earthquake and tsunami separate the family, Vega must keep herself and her younger brother Deneb safe.  They wind up in a much deeper part of the ocean, where they discover sights and creatures they have never seen before.  A harrowing journey back to their home reunites them with a couple of family members and gives them hope that they may find the rest of their kin some day.  Includes maps; facts about orcas; the real orcas who inspired the story; and additional information about salmon, the various habitats in the story, earthquakes and tsunamis, and how to help the orcas (not seen by me in the advanced review copy I got).  336 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Another fascinating animal adventure by the author of A Wolf Called Wander, probably my top book club book in 2019.  Readers will learn a lot about the orcas and their ocean environment, as well as the threat humans pose to them.  I was sorry not to get to see Lindsay Moore’s illustrations (who is oddly not credited on the cover), which I’m sure are beautiful based on her work in Sea Bear.

Cons:  I found myself struggling a bit to get through this book, although it is beautifully written and has plenty of action.  I hope I’ll get to try it out on kids soon to see if they enjoy it as much as Wander

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Shuri: A Black Panther Novel by Nic Stone

Published by Scholastic

Shuri: A Black Panther Novel (Marvel) (1): Stone, Nic ...

Summary:  Princess Shuri, sister of T’Challa the Black Panther, is gifted in all things technological and wants to use her talents to help Wakanda.  She feels that her mother and brother don’t appreciate her and treat her like a child.  So when she discovers that the powerful heart-shaped herb is dying, then has a vision of an evil invading Wakanda, she feels compelled to act.  When her family doesn’t take her warnings seriously, Shuri takes matters into her own hands, escaping with her friend and protector K’Marah to travel to Kenya and London in search of assistance.  Their return to Wakanda coincides with the invasion, and Shuri is able to use some of her innovative technology to stop it and to show her family what she is capable of.  272 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  My experience with another middle grade Black Panther novel makes me pretty confident that this will be an easy sell.  It’s an action-packed ride with a strong, smart girl protagonist, and characters that may be familiar to readers from the movie or comic books.

Cons:  The queen seemed unnecessarily obnoxious to her daughter, not appreciating Shuri’s considerable gifts, and focusing too much on her clothes and social skills.

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The Disaster Days by Rebecca Behrens

Published by Sourcebooks Young Readers

Image result for disaster days behrens

Summary:  13-year-old Hannah’s only babysat once before, so she’s a little nervous about looking after her neighbors Zoe and Oscar while their mom goes on an errand to mainland Washington.  During her absence, there’s a major earthquake, and Hannah must figure out how to survive and take care of her two charges. Their island neighborhood is cut off from help, and the broadcasts they get from their emergency radio make them think their parents might be hurt or worse.  For four days, Hannah has to cope with major injuries, diminishing food and water, a gas leak, a bear, and her own asthma as she tries to keep everyone alive and wait for help. Hannah has sometimes felt overshadowed by her more outgoing best friend, but in an emergency, she discovers reserves of strength and resourcefulness that she never knew she had.  Includes an author’s note with more information about earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Anyone who enjoys a gripping survival story will find this hard to put down.  The situations and the kids’ responses to them are believable, and readers will pick up a few survival tips of their own.

Cons:  The title and cover didn’t really draw me in.

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Wildfire by Rodman Philbrick

Published by The Blue Sky Press

Image result for wildfire philbrick amazon

Summary:  When Sam’s summer camp in Maine is evacuated due to wildfires, Sam misses the bus when he runs back to get his phone.  Trapped in a forest that is rapidly being engulfed by the flames, he goes on the run to survive. The discovery of an old Jeep at an abandoned cabin saves his life, allowing him to outpace the fire, at least temporarily.  Later he meets Delphy, another lost camper a few years older than Sam. As the two of them combine their wits to find a way to safety, the reader gradually learns details about Sam’s late father and his mom’s hospitalization.  It’s a nail-biting race to the finish as Sam and Delphy face one obstacle after another. Includes additional information about wildfires, with tips and resources for surviving. 208 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Another title for those who enjoy the “I Survived” series.  The action is pretty much non-stop from Sam’s ill-fated evacuation in chapter one to the high-speed Jeep race to safety on the final few pages.  The fast pace combined with short chapters make this a great choice for reluctant readers.

Cons:  I found 12-year-old Sam’s ability to teach himself how to drive a Jeep in about two minutes while surrounded by fire a little hard to believe. 

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Storm Blown by Nick Courage

Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Image result for storm blown nick courage amazon

Summary:  As Hurricane Valerie, the “storm of the century”,  approaches the Gulf Coast, two families struggle to survive.  Emily lives in New Orleans with her brother Elliott who is recovering from cancer surgery. Her father is out on the Gulf working on an oil rig, and her mom is completely stressed out trying to deal with everything going on at home.  When Emily feels pushed away, she retreats to an island in a nearby park and hides in a tree, unaware that evacuation orders have been issued ahead of the storm. Alejo lives in Puerto Rico with his uncle, and the two of them get separated during the evacuation there.  Eventually the kids’ lives intersect, and there’s a nail-biting, race-against-time rescue as the storm moves in, even bigger and more powerful than expected. 352 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of the I Survived series will enjoy the slow build-up of the first half as the storm is still approaching, and the edge-of-your-seat suspense of the second half as the group stranded in New Orleans struggles to get away.

Cons:  The females in the story seemed too passive, depending on the males to rescue them.  Emily makes a series of bad decisions, leaving it to her sick brother to risk his life to save her.  Their mom seems just about paralyzed by anxiety, and it’s up to the dad to sweep in from his oil rig job at the last minute and begin the rescue effort.

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A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry, illustrated by Mónica Armiño

Published by Greenwillow Books

Image result for wolf called wander amazon

Summary:  Swift may not be the biggest member of his pack, but he is the fastest, and determined to some day beat out his larger brother Sharp.  When another pack of wolves attacks, though, Swift finds himself alone.  He travels through miles of wilderness,  searching for members of his pack, or any wolves that will be his companions.  Along the way, he has encounters with a variety of animals, including humans, and barely survives some narrow escapes. He finally meets a female wolf, and after renaming himself Wander, they work together to create a new pack of their own.  Includes several pages of information and photos of the real wolf that was the inspiration for the book; additional facts about wolves; a map of Swift/Wander’s journey; and a list of resources for more information. 256 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  An exciting nature story that will be especially appreciated by animal lovers.  Lots of adventure and plenty of illustrations make this a good choice for reluctant readers.  

Cons:  The illustrations added a lot to the text, and Mónica Armiño’s name doesn’t appear on the cover, nor is there any information about her on the back flap.

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The Titanic (Survival Tails, Book 1) by Katrina Charman

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Image result for survival tails titanic amazon

Summary:  Mutt is heartbroken when his owner, Alice, and her father leave for a journey to America.  He manages to follow them to the dock where they are boarding the Titanic.  With the help of a rat named King Leon, he manages to sneak aboard and begin his search for Alice.  Meanwhile, Clara, the captain’s cat, discovers three kitten stowaways and reluctantly becomes their guardian.  When the ship begins to go down, it’s up to Clara and Mutt to save the kittens, Alice, and maybe themselves. Includes a 5-page author’s note; a timeline of the Titanic’s voyage; additional information about the ship and the animals that were on board; and animal facts.  224 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  The story of the Titanic from the point of view of a cat or a dog?  This will undoubtedly be a big hit with the upper elementary crowd, and they will be eagerly anticipating book 2 which features the sled dogs that traveled with Ernest Shackleton to Antarctica.  Try this out on fans of I Survived and Ranger in Time.

Cons:  I feel as though I have read and watched enough Titanic accounts for this lifetime.

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