Zoe is eleven and she’s tough as nails. She’s taken care of herself for as long as she can remember because the grown-ups in her life have either been gone (her dad) or unreliable (her mom, and her mom’s string of boyfriends).
Zoe knows how to grocery shop, vacuum, scrub toilets, do laundry, drive a stickshift & place bets at the track. What she doesn’t know, is how to be a kid.
Now, Zoe’s Mom is dead and the next person in line to take care of her is an old Uncle she never even knew she had, Uncle Henry. Zoe isn’t expecting much. She figures this new grown-up will probably be just as useless as all the others before him. “What grown-ups said and what they actually did never matched or even came close.”
But this grown-up, this Uncle Henry, he’s different. He’s the first trustworthy adult Zoe has ever met. Sometimes he’s so competent and reliable he makes her really mad – like when he makes her go to school. Zoe’s been in charge of herself for so long it’s hard for her to let Uncle Henry be in charge. And Uncle Henry, he’s been alone for so long it’s hard for him to be in charge of somebody else.
The two of them are independent, moody, stubborn, smart…and they both need a family. So they make one: the street smart, sarcastic, wise-cracking Zoe and the reclusive, grizzly old doctor turned metal sculptor. With their good friends Fred & Bessie, Maud, Father Phillip and Zoe’s teacher Ms. Avery, a stray cat and a mysterious boy – Sugar Hill, North Carolina turns out to be a really fine place to grow up. Author: Clay Carmichael
Another great mystery in the series The Boy Sherlock Holmes. Still stung by having Inspector Lestrade and Scotland Yard take credit for his sleuthing, young Sherlock is determined to find another case to make his name as a great detective.
When a beautiful rich girl vanishes in broad daylight without a trace…no witnesses…no ransom note…no nothing, Sherlock knows this is the case that will prove his worth. The problem? Where to start. After 2 1/2 months of waiting a ransom note is finally delivered to the girl’s family and revealed by Inspector Lestrade, a note Sherlock scrutinizes from afar. When Lestrade holds the note up, the sun shines through the paper. Sherlock notices a faint watermark on the paper – this is his first clue. (A watermark is a picture or logo impressed on paper when the paper is made. It is very faint, in fact, you can’t see it until the paper is held up to the light. The watermark lets the buyer know who manufactured the paper.)
As usual Lestrade is none to happy to have Sherlock around. To make things really interesting, Lestrade’s son becomes Sherlock’s reluctant ally and Irene Doyle remains Sherlock’s reluctant friend. Sherlock still can’t find the nerve to apologize to her and continues to believe that he is better off without her as an ally, a sleuthing partner, or a friend. Like Mr. Incredible, he works alone. Sometimes, geniuses can be really dumb! Author: Shane Peacock
Yes, this one is just as funny as the other ones! This time Greg is happily looking forward to summer vacation.
“The way I like to spend my summer vacation is in front of the TV, playing video games with the curtains closed and the lights turned off.”
You know Greg’s Mom, she isn’t going to go for that plan. In fact, she has all kind of things lined up to keep Greg busy and none of her choices include staying inside playing video games. He tries to reason with her:
“I tell her that I’m just trying to protect my skin so I don’t look all wrinkly when I’m old like her…”
Huh. Of course, that argument doesn’t go very far with Greg’s Mom! He doesn’t get to laze in front of the TV all summer playing video games, he is forced outdoors and as usual, he finds a heap of trouble.
Ray and his sister Sally are on an orphan train in hopes of finding new parents out West. On the train, Ray realizes that Sally would stand a better chance at getting adopted if she didn’t have an older brother – so he jumps off the train to adventure on his own.
Ray has one thing to remind him of the life he used to have, a stone his father gave him. It is a lodestone, a magnetic stone used to make compasses. The stone is acting funny. It seems to be pulling Ray South, so Ray decides to go wherever the lodestone leads.
The stone leads Ray to Cornelius T. Carter’s Mystifying Medicine Show, a sideshow that travels in a steam train from town to town performing tricks and selling medicine oil. The band of performers includes a blind sharpshooter, a snake charmer, a fire-eater, a sword swallower and a strong man. Ray discovers that these performers are more than they first appear. The strong man, Conker, is John Henry’s son. John Henry was a legendary railroad worker who defeated a steam powered hammer, man against machine, in a contest. John Henry won the challenge, but then dropped dead from the effort. His stories are legends like Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan.
Ray discovers that John Henry’s legend is actually real and that John Henry didn’t just win a competition, he defeated a demonic machine built by a man (the Gog) who is still determined to dominate the world with his evil mechanical inventions. Ray finds out that there is a band of heroes, called Ramblers, who have been fighting the Gog for years. Ramblers are like knights or rangers or aurors…their job is to protect the world from evil. Ray finds out his dad, a Rambler, helped John Henry beat the evil machine…but that the Gog and his evil machines are back. It is up to Ray and Conker and their friends to rally the remaining Ramblers and the Rambler’s children to do battle again.
This story draws a lot of characters and personality from tales of the American South, African American Folklore and tales from the frontier West. I liked reading about traveling by steam locomotive. It’s hard for us to imagine now, but back in those days there were trains owned by individual people that traveled all over the country – trains decked out like fancy RVs inside.
The story is science fiction meets the frontier meets steampunk. (Steampunk is a story that involves technology before that technology was actually invented. The evil gunius in this story uses robotic creatures that are built with technology not known in the 1800s.) Ray’s adventure is like Harry Potter because there is an ensemble cast of kids that have inherited the fight from a previous generation.
There are no unicorns or dragons or wizards in this magical story, but magic still, a kind of magic that has its roots in African-American history and the American South called hoo doo. People knowledgeable in hoo doo are called conjurers or root doctors. They make potions from herbs, animals, or items owned by a person. Sometimes, the hoo doo knowledge is what we might call a folk remedy. Hoo doo uses a bit of science and a bit of the spiritual unknown to conjure up its magic. Author: Claude Bemis Series: The Clockwork Dark
There is a really cool book about the song The Ballad of John Henry. The book traces the history of the song and takes a guess at who John Henry really was. This book is called Ain’t Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry. Generally, legends are based on at least a tiny bit of truth and this book shows the historical treasure hunt the author went on to track down the bits of truth in the John Henry story.
The video below is the blues artist John Jackson singing the John Henry song. Blues music came out of African-American communites in the South in the 1800s. Songs included spirituals and work songs and chants. A lot of times the songs told a story in a ballad – John Henry is a ballad and work song.
In A Dog’s Life: the Autobiograpy of a Stray, Ann Martin wrote about Squirrel, a stray dog. It’s a really emotional look into the life of a dog as it struggles to find the right home. If you liked that one, you will surely like Everything for a Dog. It is the story of Squirrel’s brother, Bone.
Bone’s story is also the story of two boys: Charlie and Henry. The chapters alternate between the three as Bone and the two boys tell their stories. Charlie is having a tough time because his older brother RJ died and his parents are all but falling apart. His only consolation is RJ’s dog Sunny, who has attached herself Charlie. Henry is a boy without a dog, and he wants one more than anything. Bone just needs a home. As the stories of the three unfold they don’t really seem related, except that they are about the attachments that occur between people and their pets.
Toward the end of the book the stories of Charlie, Henry & Bone come together in a really surprising way that fits just right. I love it when a story does that and it’s even better when I don’t see it coming. If you have ever wanted or loved a dog this story will speak to you. Author: Ann M. Martin