Review 4 star
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The Rock of Sarraka (A Spirit Animal Adventure) by Gary Karton is the second book about Brody Boondoggle, a boy who—thanks to a rare creature called an Akaway—can assume the physical abilities of any animal he thinks of and help connect other children to their spirit animals. Spirit animals form a special bond to a child and guide him/her through adventures and the spirit animal realm, Sarraka, is reached through portals from our world. But Brody’s former best friend, Rudy, has become jealous of Brody’s powers and turned against him. Brody and his team must race to stop Rudy from stealing the Rock of Sarraka. Something bigger is threatening Sarraka and the whole realm is in danger of being destroyed.
The Rock of Sarraka is great entertainment for young children. With numerous obstacles for Brody to face and inventive puzzles for he and his gang to solve on their desperate journey to get into Sarraka, the tale rolls along nicely. Rudy was a charming little jerk I was almost tempted to root for a couple of times and I liked the way characters who at first appeared simple were made surprisingly complex, such as Rosalina’s supposedly evil grandmother La Tarantula. But Brody’s relationships with his friends (including Punching Crab, the world’s cutest comedy crab) kept him at the center of the story. Gary Karton also manages to work in a lot of facts about the natural world, so it doubles as a light educational resource on extinct animals, who appear often in the story, and on vocabulary--humorously and painlessly introduced. A really nice book.
Review 5 star
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The Jaccazaxr Trilogy by S.W. Benson is a wonderful, fun action-adventure book. While staying in the country with their wise, kindly grandparents (who have a little more adventure to them than meets the eye) a family of cousins find a cave and stumble into a fascinating underground world. Everything in Jaccazaxr is a rainbow of colors, the fruit is the best they’ve ever tasted, the blue possum they’ve just met is so adorable, and it’s all like finding their very own Narnia—until a bunch of lizards attack them and the kids find themselves in the middle of a looming war between different factions of animals. Will the grandparents, the kids, and a few noble animals be able to find the source of the war and bring peace before it’s too late?
This book was just all-around awesome. Its spot-on dialogue and interchanges brought the characters to life like a movie and the fast pace developed the story excellently. The family of cousins were so real—sensible Adison, pugnacious Jadzia, resourceful Xander, and the rest—and the story of their adventures in Jaccazaxr was everything a children’s book should be. From herbal remedies to negotiating with captors to finding friends in unexpected places, S.W. Benson created a world I couldn’t wait to read more about. I was simply having so much fun all the time. Side characters like morally torn Piggsvin and enigmatic Panthera fleshed out the journey of the kids and made the potential war between the animals far from simple or lacking in layers. Loyalty, courage, friendship, family, and helping others shone out as themes—not hammered, but spun into the tale as purely the reason for the story. Absolutely recommended—The Jaccazaxr Trilogy.
Review 4 star
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The Land Under by Frank Spadafora is a charming middle-grade adventure story about a boy’s journey to an underground kingdom of talking animals. Unhappy because of his parent’s financial difficulties, 13-year-old Frank finds himself summoned into The Land Under, a place that parallels our world, but is only for animals. Fallen trees linked to forests above ground are damming up the mighty waterfall, Naveah, which powers the rivers that keep the three kingdoms of the underground civilization separated. If Frank doesn’t find a way to unblock the waterfall, the Northern forest kingdom will be overrun by savage animals from the jungle and safari kingdoms. It’s a race against time, the elements, and the balance of nature for an average boy with an extraordinary mission.
Frank Spadafora writes an endearing narrative with a great message. Like a fairy tale in its intuitive simplicity, Land Under grew before my eyes into a completely detailed world that felt so ordinary and real it almost didn’t seem to be fantasy. The young hero is an Everyman, someone any reader of any age can relate to, and the animals he comes to know—Ot, the snarky otter; Su, the fierce, but benevolent black bear; Dnik, the fisher cat; and Eb, the earnest woodchuck who summoned him—build a likable, perfect team around him. The story’s theme of “Be Kind To Us” is a powerful one, woven seamlessly and cleverly into the very names of the characters. A story that springs to life on its own terms and deserves to be read and reread.
This is the companion for Sarah Scheele's newsletter blog. In it I share reviews for books I'd recommend/are similar to my own.