Discovering Hidden Gems

    Some books seem to fly under the radar.  They don’t garner the big awards or make the bestseller lists, they’re just quietly checked out of libraries over and over again.  One of my new favorites in this category is “The Thumb in the Box” by Ken Roberts.

    It begins, “This is a story about a fire truck being driven into the ocean and two people taking off their thumbs.  Don’t worry, though.  Nobody gets hurt.”  No self-respecting third grade audience will let you stop reading after that!

Leon Mazzei is our eleven-year-old narrator.  He lives in a fishing village in British Columbia that’s so tiny it doesn’t even have a road.  One evening, Leon spots smoke coming from a neighbor’s shed, and soon enough the whole village has formed a bucket brigade and put out the fire. But the mayor, Big Charlie, worries about what would happen if a fire started while half the village was out fishing. He asks the Canadian government to help them out with a big saltwater pump.

The government, however, insists on sending money for a fire truck fully equipped with two ladders, four axes, canvas hose and a pump.  They also send money to build a sandy road and a small fire station.  “Oh well,” says the mayor, “at least we’ll get our pump.”

Most folks in town see no need for a road, and what ensues is the classic story of the country mouse outwitting the city mouse.  And the thumb in the box?  It’s a practical joke that Big Charlie’s son plays on Leon, and that Leon is soon teaching to his best friend.

Filled with three-dimensional characters and understated humor, this little gem of a book – under 100 pages – will appeal to readers or listeners from seven to ten.  Beware – you’ll likely have an outbreak of thumb-in-the-box performers after reading.

Eight-year-old J.D. likes spending the summer on his grandmother’s farm, but he’s a little intimidated by her cow, Georgie Lee, preferring gentle Bootsy the cat. 

In small vignettes, Sharon Phillips Denslow’s “Georgie Lee” develops a small but memorable cast of characters, not least of which is Georgie Lee.  The cow turns out to be a hero when her actions save an elderly neighbor, and she scares J.D. and his grandmother to death when she shows up at the local haunted house (she has a bad habit of escaping from the pasture). 

The book ends with a short conversation between grandmother and grandson.  “’Why do some people think there’s nothing to do in the country?’ J.D. asked.  ‘Obviously, they’ve never been here,’ Grandmother said.”  Seven- and eight-year-olds will warm to J.D., Grandmother, and Georgie Lee.

In Vera Williams’ “Scooter,” Elana Rose Rosen loves riding her silver and blue scooter.  Once she and her mother move to the Melon Hill House apartments, the scooter helps “Lannie” to make new friends.  Life in her New York City neighborhood is filled with lively characters, not the least of whom is Lannie herself. 

Fans of Ramona will appreciate Lannie’s enthusiasm and passion, which once in a while spills over into a temper tantrum.  But all’s well that ends well.  In a delightful ending, Lannie and her new friends celebrate the end of summer with a spontaneous somersaulting extravaganza in the park. Share this hidden gem with kids eight and up.