Changes coming to MOBIUS soon! Find out more.

The Midtown Carnegie Branch Library will be closed for renovations beginning May 6, 2024. Find out more.

Search Options


Season 2, Episode 6

Connecting to Ourselves and the World Around Us

May 13, 2021

On this episode we discuss middle grade and teen stories that explore the power of the human spirit and the importance of connecting to the natural world. Book Recommendations for Tween and Teen Readers.

Titles Mentioned in This Episode

h Find title on Hoopla


Charity 0:01 Welcome to the Planet Book podcast. I'm your host, Charity, a youth services associate with the Springfield-Greene County Library District. On each episode, you'll hear guests talking about their favorite tween and teen books. Thanks for joining me today. On this episode, I'm joined by Sarah, a youth services associate with the Springfield-Greene County Library District and today, she's sharing her favorite new books for the tween and teen readers out there. Sarah, thanks so much for being with me today.

Sarah 0:32 Thanks for having me.

Charity 0:34 So you are going to share some books that I have not read so I love talking about books that are new to me, so I can add them to my to-read list. So you've got both a middle grade and YA title, which I think is going to be fun. So what's the first book that you brought to talk about today?

Sarah 0:47 Sure. So the first book I have is Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk, and she is the author that brought us the Newbery Honor book Wolf Hollow, which I unfortunately have not read yet, but I'm super excited about reading it. It's recommended for grades four to six. So the story is Ellie is a 12 year old girl living with her family in Maine and the wilderness of Echo Mountain. After the stock market crash of the 1930s her family has no choice but to leave the city, and they literally walk up the mountain to try to start a new life. They had to learn all the basic survival skills of living in a wild place like living in a rustic house that was built by our dad, planting their own food, hunting, trading among their few neighbors that they have. But Ellie found an inner strength and a love for the nature that literally keeps her going because there's not really any joy or time for play in her world. Her childhood is kind of over. And on top of all this at the beginning of the story, we learn that a terrible accident has recently put her stoic father in a coma. And Ellie's older sister and mother have placed the blame on Ellie. And this is a constant current of disapproval and just resentment, just clouds over their relationships. And Ellie desperately wants to fix her father, and she wants to listen to her heart and her natural skills to find a cure for it all. We learn early on also that Ellie is not just strong and independent, but she has a gift that allows her to be in tune with nature. We learn that she can feel what animals are feeling just by the touch or even just being near them. So she gains incredible empathy for each soul of nature that she encounters whether it's a fish, a dog, a bee, a flower or water. So on this quest for a cure, she crosses paths with the mountain's mysterious character, and she goes by The Hag, because that's what everyone calls her. But of course, Ellie gets to know her as this harsh and eccentric old woman who also has healing secrets that Ellie needs, and in time they learn just how much they both need each other. So it's a great story about strong, fiercely intuitive women, the power of human relationships, and how the connection with nature is just part of our physical and spiritual survival.

Charity 3:07 Wow, it sounds like there are so many great elements in that story. I love that combination of, sounds like the setting plays a big part and kind of that adventure and survival aspect as they figure out how to work the land and survive there. But also, it sounds like it's got a little bit of magical realism, too. So that's an interesting combination, in addition to all of those big themes that it's kind of dealing with. What kind of reader do you think would go for this book? Like, would you recommend it more for older tweens?

Sarah 3:35 Um, you know, I really feel like this is a historical fiction. That's the genre it's considered. But I do think it's great for that four to six grade level just, there's so much independence and growing into yourself and learning yourself that I think is great for that time period and age. I also think that I was a big fan of Lois Lowry growing up and I feel like Lauren Wolk and her share a lot of the same writing styles. And if you've never read The Giver quartet, they're older books, but they're still just amazing. And they all, the themes are very much the same about nature and healing gifts and connection and ultimate human life. So I would highly recommend that quartet. They all have their own little settings, but they're connected in all in the same way. Also, I felt like The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Bradley was a good choice as a read alike because it again, another strong, independent 12 year old who's just thrown into this harsh environment, and she's kind of left to her own devices to figure it out. Any of those reads I think would be great. If you've never read them to read them or if you have read them, I think you'll really enjoy this Lauren Wolk book.

Charity 4:51 Wow, I love those tie ins. I loved The War that Saved My Life and Lois Lowry and The Giver and that series, those are such wonderful books. So knowing that this one is kind of along those same vein, makes this an automatic, put on my hold list so that I can read it. That's so great. All right, what's the next one you've got?

Sarah 5:11 Okay, this one I am super excited about and maybe I'm like, really late in the game to discover this guy. But this is Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan. It's a science fiction YA, and actually found out about him because I read The Arrival, which is an award winning graphic novel, by Tan also. We only have one copy in our system, which I'm hoping we can remedy that. But it made me want to read more by him. And that's when I discovered this book. So and this book actually just won the gate, I'm sorry, the Kate Greenaway medal for illustration for good measure for sure. So this is unlike any book I've ever read. So imagine if Chris Van Allsburg who wrote Polar Express and Jumanji wrote longer books for teens. This is like the best way I could describe this. It's a series of short stories about animals living in a fictional, anonymous city. But it's in a surprising and bizarre way. It's not stated whether this is one world, it's one particular city. But all these fantastical creatures live in this urban setting. So there are fish swimming in the sky. There are crocodiles that live on the 87th floor of an office building. There's a giant white yak that serves as a mass transit vehicle for businessmen. In one haunting story, we have mystical fish that are collected as personal pets and they slowly morph into miniature versions of their owners and then eventually form their own community and cities. These stories are just mesmerizing, they're beautiful, but also haunting, and hilarious sometimes. And sometimes they're just shocking. In addition to the captivating storytelling, the illustrations are just incredible. I wish some of these pages I could just buy for artwork they're that amazing. It's Shaun Tan just has this ability to open these windows into our everyday lives and show us this other perspective. And it's in each story it's like that. You read a few pages about a story and sometimes it's maybe a short prose, and then you turn the next page and there's this incredible picture that's illustrating this animal in this strange setting. So it's like it's just very strange and yet also inviting. So I'm really excited to see more of his work. He's done a lot of illustrations for children's picture books, too, as well, but he has several for YA also. Any kindred spirits of the animal kingdom will probably enjoy this book. But be warned it's not fairy tale tales with warm and fuzzy endings.

Charity 7:56 That sounds so fascinating. And I love your kind of tie in to that is Van Allsburg. Because I know that there are teen readers out there who would remember reading some of those books. And so if they still like those books, like they can kind of graduate up to like the teen version of those kinds of stories. It sounds so fantastical, but and almost whimsical and light hearted, but at the same time, it sounds like some of those stories might get a little dark or intense.

Sarah 8:23 Yeah, for sure. This is not a book that should be in children's. There's a little bit of language to it, themes are just much darker. And it's meant to really look in depth at the human spirit and our connections with animals. I mean, some people would say this is an environmentalist message and this is climate change. This is a lot of different things. So it's kind of left up to your interpretation. This is some darker stuff looking into the human spirit and nature. So you just have to read it. I have not read anything quite like this before.

Charity 8:56 Ah, those readers who may be aren't yet quite into, let's say, graphic novels. Are they still going to enjoy this one since it sounds like the illustrations do play such a big part?

Sarah 9:07 I would say if they enjoy graphic novels, I think this is a really good, maybe, transition to chapter books. Because the stories are very relatively short. The longest one was maybe five pages. They move along pretty quickly. And then some were really short. There may be just one page and there's a couple of them, they're just a prose and then there's a picture. So it's not exactly it's certainly not a graphic novel, but it's certainly not just a regular chapter book at the same time. It was hard to find readalikes for this because it's so unusual. But I did look into Patrick Ness who has written The Ocean Was Our Sky, which is also about human and animal connections. So it sounded similar. And also the illustrations on it even looked similar to what I've seen in this Shaun Tan book. He also writes a series Chaos Walking, which is about animal and human connections and in different worlds. So those might be good read alikes, or if you have read them before, this might be a good one to check out. So…

Charity 10:11 Wow, I love that they're short stories. You don't see that too often in the sci fi genre. And so I feel like, you know, some readers, they don't want to slog through like a 300 or 400 page, sci fi novel and so I love that this is short stories, and you can read a story and be can be done with it. But it sounds like it is so engrossing and I'm gonna have to put this on hold because I want to see those illustrations. It just sounds incredible. Sarah, those are wonderful choices. Thank you for sharing those books with us today and for being on the podcast.

Sarah 10:40 For sure. This was so fun.

Charity 10:42 This was wonderful. Well thank you for joining us for another episode of the Planet Book podcast. Check out the library's website at for these and other great book recommendations. And follow us on Facebook for the latest news and events. This has been a production of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Thanks for listening.

Let us help you find your next read! Click for details.

Contact Us

Feedback, thoughts, ideas for episodes? Let us know!