Noteworthy children's books for 2006

Intermediate

The White Elephant
By Sid Fleischman
Illustrated by Robert McGuire
Greenwillow
128 pages, $15.99

In a tale that could easily pass as folklore, young elephant trainer, Run-Run, and his elephant, Walking Mountain, must wage a battle of tricks and wits to deal with the unwelcome gift of a sacred white elephant. Readers will cheer Run-Run as he survives more than one tiger attack, outsmarts the cruel king, and gathers his courage to pursue his destiny. Even more compelling is the story of trust, loyalty, and love between a boy and the elephants who are both his means of earning a living – and his family.

Wings
By William Loizeaux
Illustrated by Leslie Bowman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
138 pages, $16.00

Marcy's no more than a barely alive ball of fluff when Nick finds her – a baby mockingbird, fallen from its nest. But her cry – "like a rusty gate," Nick says – speaks of a fighting spirit inside. And live Marcy does, maturing swiftly under Nick's watchful eye over the course of one memorable summer. "Wings" joins the ranks of "My Side of the Mountain," "Rascal," and other wonderful tales of boys and their wild animal pals. But deeper than this story of friendship is Marcy and Nick's shared coming-of-age experience – a testament to the fact that growing up may sometimes be tough, but in the end, spreading your wings is both inevitable and glorious.

For Teens

The Loud Silence of Francine Green
By Karen Cushman
Clarion
225 pages, $16.00

Francine Green wants to be a movie star. And why not? Growing up in 1950s Los Angeles, she's about as close to Hollywood as anyone her age can get – without actually being "in the business," that is. But in an era fraught with fears about communism and the bomb, Hollywood is more than just a dream; it becomes a metaphor for a safe, mundane existence, little more than a facade masking a complex, vexed universe. Cushman's novel offers no real resolution as Francine's world hurtles toward chaos, but its surprising parallels to the post-9/11 experience will certainly compel readers to search for their own answers.

Sparrow
By Sherri L. Smith
Delacorte
184 pages, $15.95

Sherri L. Smith's characters often find themselves in impossible situations. But that's fine, because her tough-as-nails protagonists also possess just the right balance of heft and heart to eventually come out on top. In 17-year-old Kendall's case, the question is whether or not she'll find her family or finish high school or make it on her own in otherworldly New Orleans. And while, in the end, Kendall doesn't exactly find the family she's come looking for, in the city where everyone just wants to "let the good times roll," she does discover something else: There may be some good times after all – and they're just around the corner.

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