When I was in junior high, I enjoyed reading stories, writing to pen-pals, keeping a journal, and creating poetry. Fast forward a few years and now I blog about these passions: reading and writing. But now my “pen-pals” are my blog readers with whom I share book reviews, writing tips, insights on the process of writing historical fiction, and an occasional poem or two. Please leave a comment and join this conversation on literacy.
What better way to hook your readers than have your main character almost drown as she rescues an endangered Key deer and is fished out by a cute guy--all in the first 10 pages of your book? Those are the ingredients that author Bonnie Doerr uses to keep 5th-8th grade girl readers from putting down this illustrated eco-mystery.
Kenzie Ryan and her newly-divorced mother (Maggie) have just arrived in the Florida Keys. While Maggie is starting her job as a nurse, Kenzie is supposed to be unpacking boxes and setting up housekeeping in their grandmother’s cottage. Instead, she is quickly consumed by an obsession to discover the poacher who is killing the miniature Key deer who make the Big Pine Key their home. Kenzie’s anger towards the unknown poacher is joined with a desire to clean up the litter-strewn island. These two themes intertwine and constitute the backbone of this entertaining and informative book—and become the focal point for the Keys Teens Care group which Kenzie helps form.
Science and language arts teachers will be excited to find a contemporary mystery that can be used across the curriculum. Teachers and students will both be happy with the end notes which provide more history and information about the Key deer and their fragile island environment.
Bonnie Doerr lives in North Carolina but her intimate knowledge of the picturesque Florida Keys comes through on every page. When I wrote to her and complimented her on how well she described this extraordinarily unique setting she said: “I actually consider the setting to be a character in my work. Since I have an environmental theme, I need readers to care about the environment before they will care about any wrong or crime associated with it. I often say I hope readers feel like they're on vacation in the Florida Keys when they read my work. A free vacation with no bugs, no sun burn, and no crowds!” Here is one example of that well-honed description: “Cars poured out of the shopping center under an ever-threatening sky. Clouds darkened and billowed upward. Armies of great mushrooms, brewing thunderous time bombs.” (p. 192.)
Whether you read this as an adult or recommend it to your students, I have a challenge for you. How many ways can you find that Ms. Doerr uses the word “sting?” I found two. She told me of a third. Is there a fourth hidden in these pages? Read the book to find out! (Leap Books, 2009)