One okie dokie story about the Okefenokee!

Some of my favorite stories are the ones that have rich, deeply-developed settings. The Okefenokee Swamp (it’s a real place) provides such a setting in the latest book I’ve scouted: Elsie Mae has Something to Say. Elsie Mae’s sisters dream of someday marrying, but not Elsie Mae. She dreams of the swamp. Her parents send her there every summer to spend time with grandpa and grandma.  Uncle Owen, in whom she finds a kindred spirit, and Uncle Lone, a grumpy, mean sort,  live nearby. Two additional summer residents unexpectedly join their island farm.  A stray dog, Huck, is given to Elsie Mae. She is over-the-top thrilled, even though he is mischievous, and they become fast friends and constant companions. Henry James, her 10-year-old wanna-be-preacher cousin, with his judgmental ways and overzealous Hallelujahs, starts out as a thorn in her side. These relationships give depth to the story and help the reader connect to the complicated Elsie Mae.

It’s clear that Elsie Mae considers herself a “swamper”, loving her hours spent on the water, fishing and absorbing the sounds of wildlife. So, when a shipping company proposes to build a canal through the Okefenokee, Elsie Mae knows she must act. She writes a heartfelt letter to President Roosevelt, hoping he will end the company’s plan. Her motives are not pure, however, and the story reveals Elsie Mae’s selfish desire to become a hero. The action speeds up when hog bandits steal valued pigs from island farms. Elsie Mae, Huck and a reluctant Henry James set out to solve the mystery, secretly suspecting the involvement of Uncle Lone. Cavanaugh crafts characters with strong voices and the enticing setting comes alive with action, suspense and revelations. The result is an evolution in the relationship between Elsie Mae and Henry James, their growth as individuals and a message that we can all relate to: some family relationships are sweet, others are sour and, once in awhile, a sour one becomes sweet. The story illuminates the difference between people of faith and folks that are fake and the importance of honesty and integrity. The ending is as satisfying as a sunset over the Okefenokee!

Although historically based,  Cavanaugh in her Note from the Author tells the real tale of FDR and how the Okefenokee was given National Wildlife Refuge status.

Copyright 2017, Accelerated Reader Level 5.7

Written by Nancy J. Cavanaugh

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And then things got serious…

My husband loves history and the pain and pride of the decisions and events that created it. When I scouted out An Eagle in the Snow, by Michael Morpurgo, I knew at once that as a twelve-year-old reader, my husband would have been enthralled. The tale is a story-within-a-story.  It’s World War II and Benny and his ma have lost their home on the coast of England. The two, traveling by train to the countryside, meet a kind, fellow passenger. A sudden bomb attack by German planes stalls the train, leaving their car trapped in a tunnel. Benny is a strong boy, but his fear of the dark has been lifelong and severe.  The stranger has only a few matches to ease Benny’s panic and when the dark envelops them, the man decides to tell Benny and his ma a story, one he claims to be true. The story is about he and Benny, a tale of two orphans, and their friendship. The two meet in an orphanage, eventually deciding to join the army and see the world.  Billy, an artist,  chronicles their time in Africa and entrance into World War I through his sketches. Early in the war, Billy is traumatized when he comes upon a girl sitting on the side of the road, dazed and grieving.. Billy throws her over his shoulder, delivering her to safety. He can’t forget the girl, named Christine, and keeps her image in his memory through his sketches. Billy’s fellow soldiers become his family and Billy becomes relentlessly motivated to end the war for his this new family and Christine. To this end,  he takes incredible risks, demonstrating bravery that earns him every commendation medal offered by the British military.  In his final battle, Billy’s troop is victorious. Then, one lone German soldier stumbles into the clearing..  Billy looks the soldier in the eye. The opportunity to shoot was obvious. Still, Billy knows the war is over and allows the soldier to walk away. Many years later, Billy suspects that the soldier to whom he gave mercy may have been Adolph Hitler.  Suspense rises as Billy takes action to right what he perceives as his wrong.  Finally, the train reaches the station, the tale reaches its conclusion and Benny and Ma discover an intriguing secret about the stranger/storyteller. This layered story is captivating for history fans. The AR level is 5.2, but the raw emotions and realistic events of war make this book one for only the most mature junior historians. I suggest readers who’ve reached the age of 11, 12 or older are the most appropriate audience.

In the Afterward, Morpurgo discusses Henry Tandey, the real Billy, and the possibility that this story may be more fact than fiction.

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History-obsessed readers will get hooked on Morpurgo’s writing. Here are a couple of other pieces of his writing that I recommend.

War Horse is a modern classic. It recounts the special relationship between Joey, the horse, and Albert, his first owner.  It draws the reader into the action as Joey faces war, capture and reunion. It’s a powerful tale that pulls at the heart strings!

You can order the book or DVD through Amazon by clicking on the picture. (I love comparing books and the movies based upon them!)

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Kensuke’s Kingdom is an intriguing tale of a boy shipwrecked on an island that’s inhabited by just one person…a Japanese man who took refuge there during World War II. The man speaks no english and is not aware of the war’s end. The beauty of this book lies in their relationship,  beginning as a struggle and transforming over time.  This one is  interesting, entertaining and stuck with me, such a creative concept!  AR level 4.7.