Written by Annemarie O’Brien
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Above everything else, Lara loves the dogs. Lara works with her father, a kennel steward raising borzoi — a special kind of wolf-hunting dog. In imperial Russia, where the Tsar still rules, the winters are endless and the wolves must be kept at bay, therfore the dogs are highly valued. Lara knows how the kennel works, but she also dreams of what will happen to the dogs she loves. These dreams let her get to the births faster, and ease their pain earlier. Lara’s mother says the visions are a blessing; her father says they are a curse. Lara herself must come to terms with the visions before she can go to battle for her own destiny. How can she convince her father and herself that despite her gender and her visions, she should continue to work with the dogs?
Lara’s challenging coming-of-age story is also a study of contrasts. The coziness of the kennels contrasts with the vast Russian wilderness. The sweetness of the dogs she works with contrasts with their fierceness when dealing with wolves. And her own image of her work stands starkly against what the norms for a Russian girl at that time. This will make an exciting read aloud for third grade and up, though fifth grade and sixth grade readers may want to zoom ahead on their own too.
We move back into time and across the continents, not only with the story, but with the words O’Brien uses. Her characters use Russian slang, which is explained in the glossary. Their tone feels slightly formal, which also befits the estate they are living in. And in O’Brien’s extensive author’s note, she offers a short history of the area, a history of the dog breed, and a note cautioning readers not to run out and get one of these giant dogs.
- Title: Lara’s Gift
- Author: Annemarie O’Brien
- Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
- Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
- Hardcover: 208 pages
- ISBN: 978-0-307-93174-0
- Genre: fiction, historical
- Lexile: 1010
Written by Kristin Kladstrup
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Princess Adela wishes everyone would stop treating her like, well, a princess. She would rather dirty her hands in the garden than learn how to embroider or waltz or drink tea. As Queen Cecile nags her to pretty herself so she can land a suitor, Adela dreams of traveling the world to collect and study exotic plants. So when her friend, Garth, receives an invitation to review the enchanted garden of the mysterious Lady Hortensia, Adela worms her way into the party.
The rumors are true: Hortensia’s garden is indeed magical. Colorful spring and summer flowers burst in full bloom even though it’s October! But as Adela tours the grounds on her own she makes an astonishing discovery. Hortensia has been turning all the beautiful female guests into flowers and pocketing the gems and jewels they leave behind. Then she casts a spell on the handsome male guests, making them swoon over her like lovesick puppies.
Hortensia’s thieving servant, a talking magpie named Krazo, becomes an unlikely ally as Adela tries to figure out a way to escape from this witch’s lair. Krazo believes a secret treasure buried underneath an attacking rose tree could break Hortensia’s spell, but she catches Adela first and transforms her into a weedy dandelion to be clipped and tossed into the rubbish heap. Krazo rescues her and transforms back into the young man he once was. Adela and Krazo fall in love and, in an untraditional fairy-tale twist, they do not rush to get married, but instead choose to travel the world together.
Fifth grade girls will appreciate Princess Adela, who stays true to her convictions despite how others think she is supposed to behave. Her down-to-earth nature and self-reliance makes her easy to route for and a good role model for this age group. Most of the characters in the story are in their late teens, but the romance scenes are modest (hand holding, swooning) and appropriate for a fifth grade reading level. With themes of self-esteem and beauty on the inside, readers who enjoy magic, talking animals, light romance, and yes, happy endings won’t be disappointed with Garden Princess.
- Title: Garden Princess
- Author: Kristin Kladstrup
- Publisher: Candlewick Press
- Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
- Hardcover: 264 pages
- ISBN: 978-0-7636-5685-0
- Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
- Lexile Score: 1070