Juniper Berry: A Tale of Terror and Temptation by M.P. Kozlowsky
Eleven-year-old Juniper has watched as her famous parents have pulled away and become absolutely absorbed in their acting roles, forgetting their daughter and family life. Isolated in a mansion behind gates, homeschooled and far from neighbors, Juniper decides to get to the bottom of her parents strange behavior.
When Juniper discovers a strange boy in her yard, during a rainstorm, she finally makes a friend. What she and Giles have in common is the behavior of their parents. Giles has tracked his parents to a tree in Juniper’s yard. Together the children discover the root of their parents’ fame and fortune and bizarre demeanor hidden inside.
In the process, Juniper and Giles must face the temptation to make their own deepest dreams and wishes come true – all which can be granted by a strange creature with an obsession with balloons.
I would, in turns, love the poetic phrases and then be brought up short by the author’s word selection. P. 157 “Right before Juniper’s eyes, her mother vanished.” But the paragraph goes on to explain and contradict that statement.
The flashbacks were jarring enough to bring me out of the story and cause me to reread the passage wondering what I missed.
However, the fundamental flaw lies in the concept behind the story. The premise is that Juniper’s parents are trading their souls for the dream of success. It takes the love of their daughter to face the demon – a creature that lives in a tree on the grounds of a mansion which they purchased from the success of their efforts. Why would they go looking for dream fulfillment when they were already living it?
Adding salt to this review, the production value of the print edition was not stellar. I did not care for the ragged page edges that made it difficult to find the next page to turn. And the paper was not pleasant to hold.
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Story time in autumn is always fun. The plethora of books on trees, sweaters, school, winter preparation, pumpkins, Halloween and Thanksgiving just deepen our revelry of all that is delicious about this season. In fact, there is one picture book that I have been patiently waiting all year to share with my Kindergarteners.
Fall Is Not Easy by Marty Kelley is a deceptively simple book; yet, it really stands out from the crowd. It is the only autumn book whose narrator is the tree. In fact, among all the hundreds of wonderful books that feature trees only one other comes to mind where a tree has been given voice, Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.
Kelley’s tree is not self-sacrificing like our beloved Giving Tree. Rather, this tree is very self-centered, not unlike our young audience, or, to be fair, any of us when faced with a reoccurring event we have come to dread.
At its core, Fall is about change. We all handle change differently and each change differently from the previous. Fall flat-out states that change is not easy and gives us permission to detest it. Yet, the illustrations show us something else entirely. Change can often bring about unexpected pleasures and delights we don’t see or appreciate in the moment. Humor can be found in change. We may even succeed in a most astonishing way at a feat we could never have planned or even imagined for ourselves.
I’m missing even deeper metaphors I’m sure. Your favorite library is likely the only place it can still be found, as it is thirteen years old now; and yet, it feels as crisp and taut as an autumn wind.
The Dragon of Cripple Creek by Troy Howell I recommend this for 5th-8th grade readers.
Katlin, her father and brother, Dillon, are driving west in hopes of making it to San Francisco in time for Dad to start a new job. They were living the ideal upper class, suburban life until Katlin’s mother had an accident that has left her in a coma. Her continuing care and mounting bills have cost Dad his job and bankrupted the family.
Katlin has a serious obsession with all things gold – gold shoes, gold jewelry, golden-haired ponies. When she sees a road sign advertising the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine in Cripple Creek, Colorado, Katlin begs her father to stop, “Can’t we do one fun thing?”
Once on a tour of the mine, Katlin follows her obsession away from the group and falls down an old shaft. And this is when she meets Ye, the last living dragon. Ye is wise, experienced and enjoys a bit of witty repartee. Kat is scared, excited (not only by all the gold lying around), and smitten with Ye.
Once Ye shows her the way out of the mine, Katlin’s mission is to keep the dragon’s existence a secret. This is, of course, nearly impossible when her disappearance – and miraculous reappearance – are the biggest thing to hit Cripple Creek since gold was discovered in 1891.
Howell spends most of the novel exploring the aspects of keeping a dragon secret from the world and he really doesn’t miss much. This is a solidly imagined bit of magical realism. He wraps things up neatly and satisfied my emotional need for Kat’s family to get everything they need in the end. On the other hand, once I met Ye, I wanted a lot more time with him! I don’t have much to criticize but I must admit that I didn’t find the book as much fun as I had hoped.