Priscilla Cummings’ The Red Kayak is our first read aloud of the school year for so many reasons: it’s a wonderful story which lends itself to interesting and rich discussions so I can get our reading year off to a great start, it’s a story rich in moral quandaries and our classroom community is built on the way we address these, and my kids love this book. And every year I get the same question: is there a sequel? I guess Priscilla Cummings received the same question from her readers, too, and she answered those queries (eventually) with The Journey Back.
I know that my kids will love the fact that Cummings chose to tell this story from Digger’s perspective. Digger , who was the antagonist in The Red Kayak – the sympathetic antagonist, that is. In The Red Kayak, Digger’s attempt to play a prank on the man who bought his beloved grandfather’s farm in order to tear it down and build a mansion for his young family turns tragic. It is not Mr. DiAngelo who takes the rigged kayak out for a turn ,but Mrs. DiAngelo and their little boy. The currents and the weather conspire against the weakened kayak, and young Ben drowns. Digger, the one who planned and executed the “prank,” is tried and sent to a juvenile facility.
The Journey Back begins with Digger, who decides that its time to run away from the the center in order to protect his mother and siblings from his abusive father. Digger is successful at first, but his path home is strewn with encounters and challenges. Each of these teaches him something new about himself, and these self discoveries allow the reader to confirm their faith in Digger’s essential goodness. Richly drawn characters and a wonderful ability to set the scene and create tension, make this a hugely enjoyable read. I’m going to have to buy extra copies for all my ex-students who have been yearning to hear more of the trio of friends from the Chesapeake Bay.
I finally got around to reading Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, which was a glorious adventure, full of literary allusions and surprising turns.
Here is the summary from the author Chris Grabenstein’s fantastic website:
Can twelve 12-year-olds escape from the most ridiculously brilliant library ever created?Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library plunks a dozen sixth-graders into the middle of a futuristic library for a night of nonstop fun and adventure.In a nod to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this fast-paced new novel features an eccentric billionaire who welcomes a group of children into a fantasy setting full of weird, wondrous touches.Kyle is a game fan—board games, word games, and especially video games! Kyle’s hero, the famous gamemaker Luigi Lemoncello, is the genius behind the design of the town’s new public library, which contains not only books, but an IMAX theater, an electronic learning center, instructional holograms, interactive dioramas and electromagnetic hover ladders that float patrons up to the books they want.Lucky Kyle wins a spot as one of the first twelve kids invited to a gala, overnight library lock-in filled with of fun and games. But the next morning, when the lock-in is supposed to be over, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the others must follow book-related clues and unravel all sorts of secret puzzles to find the hidden escape route if they want to win Mr. Lemoncello’s most fabulous prize ever.Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is more than a rib-tickling novel full of humor and suspense. It’s a game in itself, in which readers can have fun solving clues and answering riddles while learning how to navigate the Dewey Decimal system. Eagle-eyed kids—not to mention their parents, teachers, and librarians—can also hunt for the names of authors and classic books sprinkled throughout the fast-moving story.Rumor has it there is even one puzzle that is in the book but not in the story. Readers who can find and solve that bonus riddle will have a chance, just like the kids in the library, to win an exciting prize.
I loved the twists and turns in this story, and the way in which the kids had to band together to solve the mystery. Cooperation and kindness win the day – although not without being challenged and tested. There is a final puzzle to be figured out, too…always a delicious thing to have to mull over once a delightful book comes to an end! (PS. Still pondering the solution to this, but I have a feeling that my kids will beat me to it!).