The Tales of Olga da Polga, by Michael Bond—creator of the Paddington Bear books, features a feisty, queenly, and imaginative guinea pig who leaves the dull life of an English pet shop to go live with her own “Sawdust People” in “a house with legs” in their garden. For another guinea pig, it would be just a sensible, comfortable life change, but Olga is not just another guinea pig.
The dying days of summer—hot and bright or fog-drenched and rainy—are a suitable time to escape to another century and into the Old World where vampires lurk in musty tombs and sometimes in the candlelight of high society. Michael Sims' collection, Dracula’s Guest, does include Stoker’s title story, but it is also a gathering of kindred pieces that lay out tales both plain and highly-embroidered of the pernicious beings known as vampires. These old school blood-drinkers do not sparkle handsomely in daylight and are decidedly and viciously carnivorous.
Grace Pizzelli lacks pizzazz—or sparkle or brilliance or whatever you want to call it—unlike her brainy, beautiful, popular sister Emily. Grace was dozing off peacefully one day in trigonometry class when an unexpected summons to the principal’s office interrupted her nap. Mom was there, looking frantic and very un-put-together and, frankly, very unMomlike. Emily is missing. No, not her body. They know right where that is, but her mind is stuck somewhere in a video game. On purpose, no less, which is very unlike the totally perfect college student and computer genius everybody knows. In Deadly Pink, by Vivian Vande Velde, the Rasmussen gaming company has a huge problem. Players can only stay in total immersion games for so long before their bodies can’t take it anymore. If Emily doesn’t come out soon, she’s in big trouble, not to mention Rasmussen having a giant publicity meltdown over their dead programmer. Not dead as in messed-up-in-the-game-start-over dead, but really dead.
Sixth-grade graduation is not just about the punch and cookies in Janet Anderson’s Going Through the Gate. In an incredibly small town with a one-room schoolhouse, only a handful of students graduate every June. They know their lives will change completely—but not for the reasons you’d think. Sure, they’ll be taking the bus to the big city middle school and join a grade with hundreds of kids in it instead of just five. There’s more to it than that though. The graduation itself can be dangerous.
Widower William Rees drove his wagon into town like a man possessed. Normally an easy-going, itinerant weaver, Rees has just discovered that his kinfolk have cheated him, and his son has run away to be with the Shaker religious community. In 18th-century, rural Maine, it is not so easy to retrieve a teenager who hates you, get your land back, or solve A Simple Murder.
From where he stood on the hill above the valley, Martin Crawford saw that the leader of the war band was in serious trouble. When a hunting horn sounded from behind, the leader ordered his men to scatter before the onslaught of English soldiers. They were on him in moments, but their numbers broke as they chased the leader's scattered men. In all his sixteen years, Martin had never seen a man fight as this one did, swinging his great sword beside his companions until the last living enemy fled in fear.
I set off one morning in my little red canoe.
My dog wagged his tail.
“Can I come, too?”
It’s a perfect day to explore the lake for a young girl and her dog. They’ve got snacks, paddles, and life jackets--everything a One-Dog Canoe needs. The only problem is, they’re having such a good time that soon all the critters in the lake want to join them.
In A Vision of Light, by Judith Merkle Riley, Margaret of Ashbury is a rather ordinary albeit quite pretty woman—ordinary that is, except for the Voice she sometimes hears and the visions she sometimes sees. One day, the Voice tells Margaret that she should write a book about the extraordinary things that have happened to her. She argues with the Voice… she is a woman so who would listen to her, and what is more, like nearly everybody, she does not know how to write. And further, she has not done any great deeds worth writing about.
The Voice answered:
“Put in it what you have seen. There is nothing wrong with being a woman, and doing ordinary things. Sometimes small deeds can show big ideas. As for writing, do as others do: get someone to write it for you.”
“Voice,” I said, “how do I know you are from God, and not the Devil, tempting me into something foolish?”
“Margaret,” answered the Voice, “isn’t it a good idea? God never gives bad ones.”
Ruth Sawyer lived an extraordinary life. Though born many years before women had the right to vote, there is no doubt that she was a thoroughly independent and extremely intelligent woman with a knack for collecting stories and retelling them.
She did more than collect interesting tales and set them in books, although that would be enough for many writers. But Ruth did more. For her, connecting children with stories was critical. After attending the Garland Kindergarten Training School, she moved to Cuba in 1900 to teach storytelling to teachers working with children who were orphaned during the Spanish-American War.
Getting ready for back-to-school, but not ready to pack away the fun? Al Yankovic’s My New Teacher and Me! is as welcome for the last weeks of summer as an ice cream truck after a long, hot day at the pool. In this rollicking story, Mr. Booth’s strict rules have met their match in Billy, a bright-eyed boy who shows up for the first day of class with a wide-open imagination. Disapproving Mr. Booth spots the dirt on Billy’s shirt immediately! Billy quickly—and politely—tells him how that came to be:
“I was digging to China out in my backyard.
And I almost was there when—I hit something hard!
Well, I dug, and I dug, and I dug a bit more
And discovered the skull of a real dinosaur!
“And I would have cleaned up, sir, but hey, I’m no fool—
I just couldn’t be late on the first day of school!”
Bow-tied and sour, Mr. Booth says his tale sounds highly unlikely, but as Billy points out, “the awesome-est things in the world often are!”