Tag Archives: Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award Nominee

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

Author: Kimberly Willis Holt

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Nothing much ever happens in the sleepy Texas town of Antler. Or so Toby Wilson thinks until the summer of 1971 blows into town like an ill wind, bringing challenges and change aplenty.  His best friend Cal’s brother is in Vietnam fighting, and Cal can’t seem to bring himself to even write him back. Toby’s mom went to Nashville for a country music competition, and now Toby isn’t sure she’s ever coming home. And then Zachary Beaver rolls into town in a trailer with red letters proclaiming him the fattest boy in the world. That sure brings some excitement to the town as folks line up to pay their two dollars and gawk (Toby and Cal included). But then Zachary’s guardian leaves town . . . without Zachary, and as they begin to spend more time with him, Toby gradually discovers there’s more to Zachary than a stuck-up, overly hygienic, overweight kid.

Why does this book not get more love?! I’d never even heard of When Zachary Beaver Came to Town until I happened to stumble across it in the middle of a book sale, where I picked it up on whim. It’s fabulous. The tone is simple and captures small-town thirteen-year-old boy remarkably well. There are a lot of coming-of-age elements as Toby and his friends deal with loss, loneliness, love, family, and learning to understand those who are different from themselves. And all of this is expressed in a simple yet moving way that I really enjoyed reading. I valued the flaws that were present even in the most likable of the characters, the humanity of them, and the way these flaws influenced their choices. It was also interesting to read something Vietnam War era that wasn’t focused on big cities, university campuses, and peace protests; you get a much better picture here of how the war affected everyday life for the majority of the country, I think, and just a better picture of what life was like at that time. I would certainly recommend When Zachary Beaver Came to Town both for middle-grade readers (the intended audience) and for older readers as well. It’s excellent.

 

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Silverwing

silverwingAuthor: Kenneth Oppel

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Silverwing, vol. 1

The young Silverwing bat, Shade, has been a runt ever since he was born, but he’s convinced that he can prove his bravery and show up the bigger newborn bats if he just stays out late enough to see the sun rising. Unfortunately, his foolish actions bring the wrath of the owls upon his entire colony, and in the chaos that ensues, Shade becomes separated from his colony and hopelessly lost. Just when Shade is feeling completely alone, he encounters a chipper young Brightwing bat, Marina. Together, the two might just be able to rejoin Shade’s colony . . . and perhaps solve some of the mysteries regarding the bands the humans put on some bats while they’re at it.

Silverwing is just one example of Kenneth Oppel’s brilliant writing–I have yet to read anything he’s written that I haven’t loved. The characters, particularly Shade and Marina, are brimming with personality and are easy to relate to . . . even though they’re, you know, bats. Oppel’s bat world is well realized, particularly for a book written with a younger (say, middle-school) audience. He’s crafted a detailed history and lore for them, while also including plenty of well-researched natural history. I found it fascinating that he writes in his Author’s Note at the end that, since bats are color-blind, he wrote the entire story without mentioning color at all. Looking back, it’s true; however, he writes this black-and-white world so seamlessly that it’s practically unnoticeable while you’re reading it. It’s easy to tell that the author put a lot of work into the Silverwing because it’s very easy for the reader to read. Definitely recommended.

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