Ice and Jungle–New Middle-Grade Adventure

Ice Dogs, by Terry Lynn Johnson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, 279 pages. Age/interest level: 12-16.

ice-dogs

It’s the call of the wild—Victoria Secord loves her 16 dogs and her life in Alaska, where everything was perfect until the accident that took her father. Dad taught her everything she knows about mushing and wilderness survival, but Mom seems to be from a different world—a world she would probably like to go back to. Mother and daughter are estranged, even though they live in the same house. That’s the situation on the fateful November day when Vickie takes the dogs out on an afternoon’s outing, which becomes an odyssey of survival.

Not that survival was an issue when she took a wrong turn and came across the wrecked snowmobile and its upended driver, a city boy named Chris. Recently relocated in the frozen north, Chris hasn’t much outdoor sense and one careless move or two is all it takes for their situation to become very serious. Some plot elements will seem familiar: the prickly native, the callow greenhorn, the sparring between the two, the dangerous turns and temporary reprieves, the final calamity and resolution. But Vickie describes a nice character arc while the author, a dog sledder and outdoor writer, knows her stuff and writes convincingly about it. What religious sense there is tilts toward New Age spirituality; Vickie prays to her father, a saint-like presence, and gives thanks to “the universe” for fortuitous events. But it’s God’s world she lives in, even at this extreme, with its own still, eerie beauty.

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.5
  • Literary value: 3.5

Jungle of Bones, by Ben Mikaelsen. Scholastic, 2014, 211 pages. Age/interest level: 12-16.

jungle-of-bones

Like Cole, of the author’s Touching Spirit Bear, Dylan is a problem child. But unlike Cole, he isn’t violent, just smart-alecky and unresponsive and unmotivated, at least since his dad (a photojournalist in Darfur) was killed. He is subject to a classic correction: sent to his ex-Marine Uncle Todd to get straightened out. Uncle Todd, in turn, takes the boy along on an expedition to Papua New Guinea to find a World War II plane piloted by Todd’s own father, the sole survivor of a jungle crash. Not too smart on Todd’s part: Dylan blows off everything, even safety precautions and malaria pills (you just want to shake him!). As a result, when he gets lost in the jungle he almost dies. It’s a near-miss, averted by the appearance of a mystical figure (again, like Touching Spirit Bear), and Dylan learns some valuable lessons that change him. His reformation is believable and welcome, in spite of some annoying mystical asides and white-civ trashing; also some middle-grade vulgarity on the order of butt and crap. No profanity, though. Its primary virtue is as a fast read for those readers, chiefly boys, who would rather be doing something else.

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.5
  • Literary value: 3.5

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To cool off on a hot day, read Call of the Klondike. If you’re looking for summertime reading, especially for boys, Roland Smith is a good bet.  And more fun and thrills might be found here, here, and here.

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Janie Cheaney

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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