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Book Review: Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Cyd’s here with our first fall book review of the much-anticipated new middle grade novel by Newbery honor-winning author Lauren Wolk!

“Surely there has never been a better time to read about healing, of both the body and the heart.” –The New York Times Book Review

Depression-era Maine – 1934

After Ellie’s family loses almost everything they own, including their home in town, they are forced to start over in the untamed forests of nearby Echo Mountain. Unlike her sister, Ellie finds comfort in her new home. She welcomes the freedom and discovers a natural connection and love for the mountain and the creatures that share it. But the joy she has discovered is short lived when an accident leaves her father in a coma. An accident that she has accepted the unearned blame for. 

Ellie is determined to bring her father back. Listening to her heart and following her instincts, Ellie will make her way to the top of the mountain, in search of the healing secrets that a woman known only as “the hag” is known to possess. Her journey to find a cure for her father leads her to discover that help can come from surprising places.

Newbery honoree Lauren Wolk is a master at painting vivid pictures of people and places. Her young heroine, Ellie, is a remarkable character. Ellie’s kindness and innate understanding and empathy for the people and creatures of Echo Mountain, her trust in herself, her willingness to do whatever needs to be done – make her a great role model. I think young readers will find themselves engrossed in (and uplifted by) her character. This book is filled with positive messages that transfer to our current times.  Messages about community, openness to learning, how people respond differently in hard times. One of Ellie’s strongest character traits is her acceptance of people as they are – without judgement.    

I highly recommend this book. Echo Mountain is a page turner that I had a hard time putting down and couldn’t wait to come back to!  There are a few scares along the way, but the overall tone of the book is positive and thought-provoking for a young reader.

Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven

“The way I see it, I’ve lost my mom, eaten myself nearly to death, been cut out of my house while the whole county watched, endured exercise regimes and diets and the nation’s disappointment, and I’ve received hate mail from total strangers. So I ask you, What can high school do to me that hasn’t already been done?” After 5 years of hard work, Libby Stroud is finally ready to return to the world and all the wonderful possibilities it has to offer… high school, new friends, boys, EVERYTHING! She refuses to let her weight and her past define her. But WILL the world see her for who she is? Jack Masselin, on the other hand, has the world by the tail (or so it seems). He is charming and popular and fits seamlessly into the roll of superficial high school boy. Jack has a secret, though. He has prosopagnosia, a cognitive disorder that means he can’t recognize faces – not even his family’s or his own. He has become an expert at fitting in and hiding his disorder. One slip, one mistake, and his entire world could blow apart. “Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.”

On the surface, Jack and Libby seem to be polar opposites – not two people you would ever envision as friends, much less a couple. But a cruel high school game throws them together in group counseling – both of them angry and frustrated with their lives. As they spend time together, a connection grows. If they can trust each other, if they can be their true selves with one another, they may find the confidence to finally live their lives the way they really want to.

I loved this book! It is an honest, sometimes raw, account of teenage life and the struggle to be accepted for who you truly are. Libby Stroud is courageous, resilient and hopeful. I could not help but love her. Jack appeared to be that guy who has it made… the life of the party that isn’t exactly likeable. His true character, however, is so much more than that. The two take turns telling us their story with honest voices, confronting both their own personal issues and those of the people they are closest to. Holding Up the Universe reminds us that we all have a need to be understood, accepted and ultimately – true to ourselves.

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear book jacket

This sweet and fascinating book begins with a mother telling her son a bedtime tale about how veterinarian Harry Colebourn, a young Canadian soldier on his way to train for battle in Europe during World War 1, rescues a baby black bear from a trapper at the train depot. He named the bear Winnie, short for his home town of Winnipeg, and brought the bear with him to England. Winnie quickly became the mascot for the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade. When Winnie could not follow the Brigade to France for combat, Harry left his pet with the London Zoo.

That is far from the end of this tale! While on a visit to the zoo, a little boy named Christopher Robin (yes…THAT Christopher Robin, the son of author A.A. Milne) met Winnie and fell in love with that little bear. They grew so close Christopher was actually allowed to play with Winnie in her enclosure. Their friendship and the adventures Christopher Robin imagined for them became the basis for the famous, beloved Winnie The Pooh stories.

A bonus for me was finding out that the author, Lindsay Mattick, is the great-grandaughter of Captain Harry Coleman (the veterinarian that adopted Winnie). She is the mother reading to her son throughout the story. Mattick has written a beautiful, captivating book that I found very touching. The illustrations by Sophi Blackwell create a warm, cheerful and imaginative backdrop for Winnie’s story. Blackwell received the 2016 Caldecott Medal (awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children) for her beautiful illustrations.

Finding Winnie is a story that will be enjoyed by children and adults – a definite must read!