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For animal lovers only

Four middle-grade novels feature animals (and one mysterious creature) that change the protagonists’ lives. From an inventive, slightly mystical environmental fable to a compelling work of historical fiction, these are all recommended for the animal lovers in your life.

king_me and marvin gardensMe and Marvin Gardens is a smart, environmentally conscious fable with a lot of heart and a little sci-fi. Sixth-grader Obe lives at the edge of a massive housing development being built on what was once his family’s land. Picking up trash near a creek one morning, Obe spots a mysterious “animal/creature/monster/thing,” whom he befriends and names Marvin Gardens. When Obe discovers that Marvin eats only plastic, he realizes how important Marvin could be to the world — and that it’s up to him to protect the unique creature. Author Amy Sarig King (who writes for young adults as A.S. King) explores Big Questions — “One hundred years from now…would people live a different way — a way that helped the planet?” — alongside smaller, more personal ones in a way that will have readers doing the same. (Scholastic/Levine, 10–12 years)

van de vendel_dog like samSam, a Great Pyrenees dog, appears one day in the front yard of the farm where Kix lives with his parents and little sister in A Dog like Sam. Things take a complicated turn when Sam’s original owner — the mentally unstable adult son of an unpleasant neighbor — turns up. Edward van de Vendel’s spare prose style serves the story well in both the taut, suspenseful action narrative and the lyrical passages in praise of dogs. Black-and-white drawings by Philip Hopman feature a loose and sketchlike line. This Dutch import (translated by David Colmer) speaks the international language of dog-lovers while also quietly providing an unvarnished yet ultimately compassionate portrait of mental illness. (Eerdmans, 8–11 years)

broach_wolf keepersIn Elise Broach’s latest mystery-adventure, The Wolf Keepers, twelve-year-old Lizzie Durango is fascinated by the wolves in the (fictional) John Muir Wildlife Park, where her father is zookeeper. One day, Lizzie notices a boy stealing a visitor’s lunch and realizes that he is living at the zoo. Tyler shares Lizzie’s love of animals, and they become friends. When the wolves mysteriously begin to get sick right after Tyler notices odd comings-and-goings at night, they work together to solve the mystery. The page-turning adventure, Alice Ratterree’s lush pencil illustrations, and the wry humor of Lizzie’s keen observations of the human animals at the zoo give this novel solid middle-grade appeal. (Holt/Ottaviano, 8–11 years)

garlick_storm horseNick Garlick’s Storm Horse tells the story of Flip, a newly orphaned twelve-year-old boy who moves from Amsterdam to Mossum, a remote island in the North Sea, to live on his dour uncle’s farm. Flip is entirely out of his element on Mossum, especially when he becomes the target of bullying. But when he rescues a stranded horse from the sea, he begins to claim a place for himself on the island. Flip names the horse Storm and takes on the responsibility of training and caring for him despite his uncle’s reluctance, the horse’s stubbornness, and the ongoing bullying. The characters are strong and believable, and Mossum, with its small-town intimacies and dependence on the weather, makes for a dynamic setting. (Scholastic/Chicken House, 10–12 years)

From the April 2017 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.



Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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