From Kemie Nix, founder of Children’s Literature for Children, three books for readers ages 7 and up.
MIKIS AND THE DONKEY
Ages: 7 -10
Author: Bibi Dumon Tak Illustrator: Philip Hopman
Mikis and his family live on the Greek island of Corfu. One day after school, Mikis’ Pappou (grandfather) has a surprise waiting for him in the stable. It’s a donkey, and Mikis can name her. After telling the donkey to blink when she hears her name and after much consultation, Mikis and the donkey agree on Tsaki as her name.
Pappou works Tsaki much too hard, forcing her to carry huge loads of wood down the mountain, chiding Mikis who feels that Tsaki is being mistreated; she’s a working farm animal, not a pet, Pappou explains. On Sunday, when Mikis is allowed to take the donkey out for the day, he discovers that the donkey is bleeding where the straps for the heavy baskets have cut into her flesh. His solution to the problem causes him to have a certain notoriety in the small village.
Love between a boy and an animal, plus friendship between a boy and a girl, are universal, and Mikis and the donkey are delightful characters. With a slightly tall format, very loose brown ink sketches, and brown lettering, this book is a pleasure to hold and read.
THE MADMAN OF PINEY WOODS
Author: Christopher Paul Curtis Publisher: Scholastic
Buxton, Canada was a community in the woods built by runaway slaves. By the turn of the twentieth century, children born in Buxton knew only freedom. Thirteen-year-old Benji understood woodland lore and loved the nearby forest where he and his friends enthusiastically played American Civil War games. Although rumors of a “madman” living in the woods abound, neither Benji nor his friends knew the truth.
In the nearby town of Chatam, a boy of Irish heritage, Alvin Stockhard, dubbed “Red” for his flaming red hair, lived with his widowed father and mean-spirited Grandmother O’Toole. Red wanted to be a scientist, and Benji wanted to be a newspaper reporter. These two bright, very different boys from dissimilar backgrounds became unlikely companions and ultimately friends.
Told in alternating chapters, the lives of the boys inexorably are drawn closer until an amazing denouement involving the so-called “Madman of Piney Woods,” teaches the boys lessons about their own characters and seals their friendship.
EGG AND SPOON
Author: Gregory Maguire Publisher: Candlewick
Elena Rudina’s family is falling apart. Her father died, her mother is dying. The eldest brother Luka has been conscripted into the Tsar’s army, and Elena’s other brother Alexei, has been carried off to be a servant to the local landowner. Crops have failed, and the peasants in the village of Miersk are literally starving.
Elena scavenges widely, reduced to stealing acorns from a squirrel’s cache to make soup for her mother. Desperate, Elena declares that she is going to the Tsar to ask for help. When the local vetrenarian tells her she doesn’t know the way, Elena replies, “I’ll ask Baba Yaga, the old witch of the woods, if I have to,” she cried. “Don’t think I won’t.”
Magic begins to creep into Elena’s life. A long forgotten train passes through the abandoned train station on the way to Saint Petersburg where the Tzar is wintering. On board, Elena meets and talks to a girl who is traveling with her great-aunt to be presented to the Tsar’s godson. As the two girls become acquainted, Ekaterina unlocks an intricately carved wooden box to show Elena the prized ceramic egg that is her great-aunt’s gift for the Tzar. When the train starts abruptly, the expensive gift begins to roll away. Ekaterina dives after it and falls out of the train, leaving Elena behind. The rich girl and the poor girl have inadvertently exchanged places.
The author plays out this old and appealing theme in the misadventures of both girls with the elements of magic, as viewed inside the egg. The intriguing tale is told by an old man imprisoned in a tower, with our author standing behind him. This multi-layered story is a wonder of richness, embedded humor and complexity that amazingly sorts itself out.