On Snowden Mountain by Jeri Watts

On Snowden Mountain

Jeri Watts, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 208

Themes: Mental illness, Separation, WW ll, Abuse, Mountain community, Friendship

Book Synopsis:

Ellen’s mother has struggled with depression before, but not like this. With her father away fighting in World War II and her mother unable to care for them, Ellen’s only option is to reach out to her cold, distant Aunt Pearl. Soon enough, city-dwelling Ellen and her mother are shepherded off to the countryside to Aunt Pearl’s home, a tidy white cottage at the base of Snowden Mountain.

Adjusting to life in a small town is no easy thing: the school has one room, one of her classmates smells of skunks, and members of the community seem to whisper about Ellen’s family. She worries that depression is a family curse to which she’ll inevitably succumb, Ellen slowly begins to carve out a space for herself and her mother on Snowden Mountain in this thoughtful, heartfelt middle-grade novel.

Why I like this book:

Jeri Watts has written a richly textured story with a heartwarming narrative about the bond of family, community and their connection to each other. I meandered my way through this story which culminated in a satisfying ending that left me feeling hopeful for Ellen, her family and friends.

The characters are colorful. Ellen is resilient even though her mother is lost to a spell of deep sadness within and her father overseas serving his country. This Baltimore city girl has a lot to get used to living with lively Aunt Pearl — no indoor plumbing, no electricity and outhouses.  Aunt Pearl is a strong woman who speaks her mind. She is stern on the outside and creates a safe space (with structure and hard work) for Ellen, but on the inside she is a generous soul. Ellen develops a friendship with a creative and sensitive boy, Russell Armentrout (Skunk Boy) can’t read or write because he is forced to trap skunks by his drunk and abusive father. Russell teaches Ellen about the nature around her and the special traits of animals. Ellen teaches him to read and count. She also meets other memorable characters who impact her life like Moselle Toms, the town gossip and troublemaker and Miss Spencer, the school teacher.

Watts introduces the reader to some heavy topics: parental separation, mental illness (depression and bipolar disorders), alcoholism, physical and emotional abuse (both child and spousal).  Both Ellen and Russell form a bond as they confront the issues of their parents. These are timely and important issues that many readers will easily identify with. This is an excellent discussion book for students.

Favorite Quotes:

She was right. It was “very different” from Baltimore. There were no streetlights, so velvet darkness wrapped around us that night — a dark of such depth I felt it cloaking me so tightly that I was strangling in it.  So soft, so smooth — and yet so deep as to swallow you.”

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

The Great Good Summer

Great Good Summer 51pFkPl3l2L__SX334_BO1,204,203,200_The Great Good Summer

Liz Garton Scanlon, Author

Beach Lane Books, Fiction, May 5, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Runaways, Mothers and daughters, Absent mother, Family and Faith, Adventure, Friendship, Forgiveness

Pages: 213

Opening: “God is alive and well in Loomer, Texas, so I don’t know why Mama had to go all the way to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida to find him, or to find herself, either.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Ivy Green’s summer has gone all topsy-turvy since her mama ran off to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida with a charismatic preacher who calls himself Hallelujah Dave.

Hallelujah Dave, for goodness sake.

Ivy’s been left behind with her daddy and with the painful mystery of her missing mama. It’s no wonder she starts to lose faith in nearly everything she’s always counted on.

Meanwhile, Ivy’s friend Paul Dobbs is having a crummy summer too. The Space Shuttle program’s been scrapped, and Paul’s dream of being an astronaut look like it will never get off the ground. So Ivy and Paul hatch a secret plan to set things right and maybe, just maybe, reclaim their faith in the things in life that are most important.

Why I like this book:

Liz Garton Scanlon’s emotional and heartfelt story is a timely story for teens with realistic issues like parental betrayal and abandonment. It is also a lovely coming of age story as Ivy Green is pressed to rely on her own inner resources and an unwavering faith to track her mother from Texas to Florida. She sets off on a secret adventure with her best friend, Paul Dobbs, who is logical and obsessed with science and space. While their mission is to find Ivy’s mother and bring her home, they also plan to visit the Kennedy Space Center.

The plot is strong and complex, deftly interweaving the lives of two very good friends, Ivy and Paul. It is packed with so much suspense (one-way bus tickets, thugs that steal Ivy’s money, a jail visit) that it moves along rather quickly. The text is smart and polished. And, you have to love that cover!

Ivy is a strong and smart character, with a believable voice. She is the perfect narrator because she doesn’t hold back. She’s not afraid to ask tough questions, weave a few lies, stand up to her father, tell people off,  handle the truth and learn to forgive. Paul is the opposite of Ivy. He’s a dreamer, but offers a level-headed balance to Ivy’s impatience. Their friendship is honest and moving.

I was concerned the book would be heavy on a debate between religion and science, but it turns out that’s not what the story is about. The discussions between Ivy, who has faith and Paul, who only believes in science, add for some really great conversations that tie everything together at the end.  And it opens room for discussions among readers. The story does give readers a sense of Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie. Verdict: This is an excellent summer read for tweens and teens.

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of many celebrated picture books, including Happy Birthday, Bunny!, Noodle & Lou, and All the World. The Great Good Summer is her first novel. Visit her at her website.