Furry and Fierce | SLJ Spotlight

Five adventure-packed middle grade titles featuring darling and daring animal heroes.

A bold hamster, intrepid insects, a lionhearted rat, a curious opossum, and a band of valiant woodland creatures—these furry little anthropomorphized heroes embark on all manner of derring-do in a crop of fun, new animal adventure tales. Offer these middle grade books and graphic novels to kids who tear through Erin Hunter’s “Warriors” series (HarperCollins)—but perhaps are not quite ready for the intricate politics of Brian Jacques’s classic “Redwall” sagas (Philomel).

lastofthesandwalkersHosler, Jay. Last of the Sandwalkers. 320p. First Second. 2015. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781626720244.

Gr 5 Up –New Coleopolis is a community of beetles, moths, and a few other insects. The sanctuary is protected under a palm tree. Most residents are content to live within the confines of their oasis, going to school, restaurants, museums, and other routine activities without a thought for what lies beyond. Yet there are a few independent thinkers who yearn to explore the mysterious world away from home. Lucy, in particular, is adamant about venturing out. The group of elders attempts to stop her, as they seem to already know what is out there and will do whatever it takes to keep it a secret. Eventually, Lucy and a small group head out on a grand expedition. Things go awry from the start, and the beetles will be lucky to return safely to New Coleopolis with or without any new information. Friendships and loyalties are tested to their limits as great, potentially life-altering discoveries are made. This graphic novel is reminiscent of Richard Adams’s Watership Down, Brian Jacques’s “Redwall” series (Philomel), and Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H. Though the characters are not human, they have their own unique and individual characteristics that will resonate with young readers. The black-and-white illustrations adeptly complement the narrative and infuses each protagonist with expressive emotions and personality. The text is well written, complete with scientific information and humorous puns. VERDICT This epic graphic novel adventure is recommended for fans of animal fantasies.–Carol Hirsche, Provo City Library, UT

beyondthewesterndeepKain, Alex. Beyond the Western Deep. illus. by Rachel Bennett. 80p. Action Lab. Jun. 2015. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781632291035.

Gr 4 Up –This novel, from game designer Kain and animator Bennett, is about an ancient hatred between races, impending war, fear of failing a family legacy, and renegades with single-minded purpose—all told with warrior mammals. The book opens with a quote from Sean Rubin, one of the illustrators of the graphic novel adaptation of the “Redwall” series (Philomel). In it, he explains why stories starring animals are necessary. In the Four Kingdoms, a tenuous treaty has brought peace to the seven races. This first volume in a series shows an archivist cat digging into some (beautifully done) old scrolls that set the historical context. It also depicts the emotional turmoil of a squirrel named Quinlan, an uncomfortable leader who is sent on a quest to bring peace, while rebels fight a duel to the death and expose their cruel but noble plans. This title is very much in the “Redwall” tradition, and its graphic novel format is fun, with dynamically cinematic action and dialogue. The violence is cartoonish and brief—action, more than bloodshed, is emphasized. Originally a webcomic with lively discussion posts by devotees, this translation to the page will satisfy fans. Readers of Jeff Smith’s “Bone” (Scholastic) and Bryan J.L. Glass’s “The Mouse Templar” (Image Comics) may also be interested. VERDICT Young readers who haven’t yet discovered other iterations of the story will enjoy it—and any animal-based fantasy lover will gobble it up.–Lisa Nowlain, Darien Library, CT

RatscaliburLieb, Josh. Ratscalibur. illus. by Tom Lintern. 192p. Penguin/Razorbill. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781595142429.

Gr 4-6 –A move to the city has Joey adjusting to new surroundings, but that’s nothing compared to the changes to come. His favorite uncle, Patrick, brings him a rat for a pet and, much to Joey’s surprise, the sickly rodent introduces himself as Gondorff the Gray and asks for his help. One magical, or rather “ragical,” bite on the finger later, Joey is turned into a rat, escaping cats and crows as he attempts to deliver an important message to King Uther of the Low Realm. Once Joey pulls Ratscalibur, the mythical spork in the scone, he finds himself on a dangerous quest to see the powerful squagician Squirrelin who will hopefully help save the kingdom of Ravalon and turn Joey back into a human. Readers will root for Joey and his friends to prevail in this fast-paced and entertaining story about a magical world humans can’t see. Short chapters and plenty of action keep the story moving, while Joey’s worry and self-doubt make him a well-rounded character. Black-and-white illustrations further illuminate the details in Joey’s new and exciting life. Readers will be pleased to see every indication of a sequel. VERDICT A great choice for those who prefer their unlikely heroes in animal form.–Amanda Raklovits, Champaign Public Library, IL

appleblossomthepossumSloan, Holly Goldberg. Appleblossom the Possum. illus. by Gary A. Rosen. 288p. Dial. Aug. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780803741331; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698155008.

Gr 3-6 –Mama Possum has done her best to impart wisdom to her newborn “A” possum brood—Antonio, Alisa, Abdul, Ajax, Alberta, Angie, Allan, Alphonse, Atticus, Alejandro, Augusta, Amlet, and the littlest possum, Appleblossom. There are many rules that must be followed in the possum world—never be seen during the day, avoid cars (metal monsters), people, and especially the hairies (dogs). Mama Possum teaches the youngsters how to theatrically play dead to avoid the many calamities facing them daily. Mama tells the babies they are solitary creatures and need to fend for themselves, but when she disappears, the A clan doesn’t feel ready to face the world. Appleblossom and two of her brothers, Amlet and Antonio, band together and share stories of their new adventures out in the world. Curious Appleblossom finds a human home with a seemingly nice creature (a little girl named Izzy), but it also houses a terrifying beast of a dog named Columbo, who is intent on sniffing and destroying. When Appleblossom accidentally stumbles down the chimney into the house, it is up to her family to save her. An unlikely friendship and bond forms between Izzy and Appleblossom, and the possum must choose between family and friendship. Sloan has masterfully created an intensely satisfying and humorous tale that makes possums seem utterly adorable. Rosen’s charming illustrations pair beautifully with the text, as he draws the possums with intertwined tails, pink noses, and vivid expressions. VERDICT A perfectly sweet animal tale, with just the right blend of humor, excitement, and uncertainty.–Michele Shaw, Quail Run Elementary School, San Ramon, CA

HarriettheinvincibleredstarVernon, Ursula. Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible. illus. by Ursula Vernon. 208p. (Hamster Princess). Dial. Aug. 2015. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780803739833; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698403970.

Gr 3-5 –From the creator of the “Dragonbreath” series (Dial) comes a new fairy tale heroine in the form of a hamster. Princess Harriet Hamsterbone is not like ordinary princesses who are known for trailing around the palace looking ethereal and sighing a lot. She is, however, brave and intelligent and excels in other hamster princess skills, like checkers and fractions. Harriet is also invincible, due in part to a curse put upon her at birth by the evil wicked fairy god mouse, Ratshade. The curse dooms Princess Harriet to fall into a Sleeping Beauty–like slumber at the age of 12 but leaves her unable to die until then. Rather than worry about the inevitable, Princess Harriet lives life without fear—cliff-diving and Ogre-cat fighting, all with her trusty quail friend Mumfrey at her side. When the curse backfires, leaving all in the Kingdom in a deep slumber except Harriet and Mumfrey, it is up to the fierce little hamster to find a willing prince able to help her break the curse and save the kingdom. The artwork is large and in graphic novel–style, with sparse colors, similar to the “Dragonbreath” illustrations. Move over, Babymouse, there’s a new rodent in town! VERDICT Vernon has created a spunky heroine readers will cheer for and who will leave them eagerly searching for the happily ever after in the next installment.–Michele Shaw, Quail Run Elementary School, San Ramon, CA

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