Here are some more of my Cybils reading – two transportation-based fantasies (for a middle grade audience, of course.)
The Train of Lost Things by Ammi-Joan Paquette. Philomel Books, 2018.
Here’s a new book by the author of the Princess Juniper books. Marty’s dad is dying, and while he doesn’t want to admit it, he’s not had the energy to stay in touch with his friends, either. His mother is dealing with it by working harder than ever. On the way back from a trip with her, his beloved jean jacket goes missing – a gift from his father, decorated with carefully accumulated pins representing their memories together. Marty is beside himself, and remembers a story his father told him about a train of lost things – not just ordinary things, but precious lost belongings – that goes around the world. He determines to find it, and heads out at midnight when he hears the whistle. He meets a girl named Dina Khan in the streets, who’s also heard the stories and is desperate to find a locket that the only thing she has left from her mother, who stayed behind in India when Dina was small.
They’re able to board the train – but they soon realize that it’s disorganized and crowded, nearly impossible to find anything. There is a wild girl on the train who explains – after some prodding – that the train is in bad shape because it’s without a regular engineer or conductor. But kids who come on the train to look for lost things, like Dina and Marty, have only until dawn to find them. Can they find their beloved objects and help the train before it’s too late? The whimsy and wonder soften the edges of the very real grief without denying it.
The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle by Christina Uss. Read by Jennifer Barnhart. Penguin Random House, 2018.
Bicycle was named for being found outside the Mostly Silent Monastery in Washington, D.C. as a baby, wearing a shirt with a Bicycle on it. As she grows up in the monastery, raised by Sister Wanda and the monks, she learns about silence, listening, and the eight sacred words, while spending lots of time on her own bicycle, Clunk. She does not learn how to make friends with kids her own age. Sister Wanda decides to solve this by sending her to a Friendship Factory camp over spring break. Bicycle instead runs away with Clunk, having carefully plotted out her journey by map to make it to San Francisco by mid-June, when her favorite Polish cyclist will be making a public appearance. Surely she’d have a better chance of making friends with someone who shares her own interests, right?
One of Bicycle’s first rests on her journey turns out to be on a Civil War battleground, where she meets the ghost of Griffin G. Griffin, who’d love to get back home and find out if his best friend ever made it back to start the fried pie restaurant he’d dreamed of. Bicycle takes him along, even though his constant singing takes some getting used to. As she travels on, she finds many friendly people, including a cookie lady, who teaches her about the power of cookies when you’re feeling like you can’t make it, and a French chef who runs a local food chain called the Slow Down Café. The road isn’t easy – and not everyone is friendly – but Bicycle is determined. Even if there is a mysterious figure in black chasing her…
I listened to this on audio and was charmed. It’s a trick to make a story exciting with only the hint of a villain, but Uss pulls it off. It was very ironic that Bicycle’s difficulties with Sister Wanda came about mostly because Sister Wanda, trained to be quiet and listen, didn’t listen to Bicycle. Even if I’ve never done that well with a bicycle myself, I really felt for Bicycle and her determination to live life her own way. Jennifer Barnhart did a fine job with the narration, faltering only a little with some of the non-French accents, but making unique and recognizable voices for everyone. Highly recommended.
These books have been nominated for the Cybils award. This reflects my opinion, not that of the judging committee.