Into the Hare Wood by Tonya Macalino

On her last day of school Hannah Troyer finds an honor guard of neighborhood cats lining the street as she walks home. This is the first in a series of strange events that include a neighborhood tramp, a violent storm and a family legacy that her father never taught her.

The Gates of Aurona series would fit in nicely in any school library. The reading level is matched perfectly to the upper elementary interest level with a professional appearance that is becoming more common in independently published books. Hannah’s social difficulties are left vague and are ancillary to the story, giving any child who feels they are on the edges of their family or friends group someone to relate to without pathologizing those feelings.

I enjoyed Into the Hare Wood more than most of the light fantasy books I read to my own children. Too many middle grades books either ignore the difficulties of real life or have the story focus too heavily on those difficulties. Hannah can feel lonely but still know she is loved. The family can make sacrifices when dad loses his job and remain grateful that they didn’t lose the house, a very real possibility for many families in similar situations. The family pulls together when things get scary with mom neither being the Great Problem Solver nor absent and ineffectual. The realism is a nice counterbalance to the fantastic plot.

For part two of the story read:

All books can be purchased through Amazon by clicking on their images.

PI Penguin and the Case of the Missing Bottle by Bec J Smith

In this book P.I. Penguin helps his dolphin friend find his missing bottle. They ask questions and follow leads until the lost bottle is found. Along the way we meet many denizens of the deep, drawn in brilliant colors with a child-like aesthetic. While PI Penguin is able to help his friends, he has spent the past five months unable to find his missing parents, adding a sorrowful note at the end of an otherwise uplifting story.

This read aloud book is rhythmic with different rhyming words on each page. While many books can seem pedantic with iambic tetrameter couplets, P.I. Penguin sprinkles the rhymes generously throughout each page, making it fun to read and providing emergent readers more opportunities to connect sounds with letters. There is a glossary of tricky words to help children grow their vocabulary along with their reading brains.

The book is gorgeously illustrated by Adit Galih, with pictures simple enough to be traced/copied by young readers but rich enough to bring the author’s vision to life. The writing is quick paced and engaging, lending itself well to using different voices for the characters. While the story line is sweet and contains a positive message, some parents may be concerned about certain aspects. Unlike some books for young children, this does not gloss over the realities of wildlife and P.I. speaks first to a shark and then to creatures the shark wanted to eat. Some people might be concerned about the unresolved missing parent sub-plot. Assuming that this is resolved over the course of the series, the best way to address this may be to buy all four books. I think the investment is worth it.

Final note: P.I.Penguin is written in a dyslexia friendly font, making it accessible to struggling readers.  I first learned about such fonts five years ago and have seen a few. This is by far the most elegant and could bring such fonts into the main stream. If you are interested in more books designed to meet the needs of readers with language disabilities you may want to check out the publisher at Aulexic.

You may be interested in the rest of the P.I. Penguin series:

All books can be purchased through Amazon by clicking on their images.
Okay, for some reason these images aren’t showing up. But you can still get to the books from the funny little squares.