Intermediate fiction (ages 8-12)
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy
By Jeanne Birdsall
Knopf, 262 pages, $15.95
In this contemporary Little Women-meets-Gone-Away Lake, four sisters and their loving but preoccupied professor father spend their vacation in a cottage on the grounds of a mansion in Massachusetts. Like any good summer story, this one contains its share of new friendships and madcap adventures, in addition to tenderly rendered family dynamics that feel both magical and real.
Angus and Sadie
By Cynthia Voigt, Illustrated by Tom Leigh
HarperCollins, 194 pages, $15.99
For brother and sister, these border collies couldn't be more different. Angus seems destined for "best in show," while Sadie is content to hang around the "Missus" and befriend the house cat. But the dog dynamic is thrown out of whack when Sadie saves the day and Angus is overcome with envy. Readers will relate to this fresh take on sibling rivalry - and the resolution that both restores order and gently champions individuality.
The Journey that Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey
By Louise Borden, Illustrated by Allan Drummond
Houghton Mifflin, 72 pages, $17.00
"Hans was a deep thinker as well as an artist. Always, he was curious about the world." That's H.A. Rey all right, beloved co-creator of an equally (if not more) curious monkey named George. But as this story details, it would be many months before George (then, Fifi) moved from drawing board to book, as the Jewish Hans and his wife, Margret, were caught up in harrowing adventures as they escaped from Hitler's Germany. With its understated yet dramatic prose, photographs, scrapbook memorabilia, and energetic watercolors, this book manages to capture the history of two lives that, in many ways, are representative of an era.
Stranded in Boringsville
By Catherine Bateson
Holiday House, 134 pages, $16.95
Originally published in Australia, this artistic, multinarrator novel deals with the difficult subject of divorce via the more universal theme of belonging. Told partly through refrigerator magnet poetry, "Stranded in Boringsville" will have readers believing that they, like the book's well-crafted characters, can "celebrate grass/ tree/ cloud/ no concrete/ every day/ can laugh/ and will heal."
By Naomi Shihab Nye
Greenwillow, 232 pages, $16.89
If anyone's not just going to take the franchising of America sitting down it's 16-year-old Florrie, whose campaign to support small businesses in San Antonio provides the narrative arc for this novel about teenage idealism and activism. Like the independent enterprises Florrie champions, this story has plenty of originality and local color to add to the year's mix. It's also a sensitive portrayal of what is fleeting (teenage romance) and what is not (family love and the fight for something you believe in).
By Cynthia Rylant
Harcourt, 74 pages, $16.00
Although the main character in this short, free-verse novel - or poetry collection, take your pick - is a cat, even teen readers will connect with the adult narrator who learns to understand herself through a lovable pet who seems almost a person. Rylant's poetry is skillful and lovely, and manages to explore topics such as companionship, identity, and loss without lapsing into clichés.