Tree Castle Island

Our rating: ***

Jack loves the Okefenokee swamp where his Uncle Hamp lives. He’s just built his own canvas canoe and he has permission to stay out in the swamp with it, so he goes exploring. But when an alligator causes a shipwreck and Jack is stranded, he discovers a secret about himself that he never thought was possible.

Tree Castle Island starts out with all the components of a leisurely paddle through the swamp and then, like a meandering river, turns to the plot about halfway through. Though the story is interesting and the author masterfully works into the story all kinds of facts about wildlife in a swamp, the ending feels a bit rushed. For a story with a problem that builds and plagues the characters for a solution for so long, it certainly feels abrupt to have the solution spelled out in one short chapter with no real resolution.

Charlie’s Raven

Our rating: ***½

Charlie loves to spend time with his naturalist grandfather. But his grandfather, now handicapped, is ailing, and Charlie is desperate to find something that will make Grandfather better. He remembers an old Indian tale about ravens being healing birds and decides to catch a raven chick. The young raven soon becomes part of the family, providing Grandfather and Charlie plenty to study and enjoy.

This is a great book for learning more about ravens—the different calls they use, various odd behaviors, their body language, and so on. The story is well written and engaging, to say the least. (I sat on the floor by the bookshelf and read the first half without getting up!) The only problem is that Indian myths and mysticism are predominant. Now, ravens being healing birds is shown to not be accurate, but there are still multiple references to ravens having supernatural powers. Charlie’s good friend Singing Bird is an Indian, and her family likes to demonstrate the old ways so people can see what they were like. I just wish they would differentiate a little more between showing what it was like and actually believing it. Enjoy with care.