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Wanderville by Wendy McClure

Today’s guest reviewer, author Sara Kras, weighs in on Wendy McClure’s Wanderville.

Doesn’t every child dream of living on their own, away from pesky adults? Wanderville, written by Wendy McClure (Razorbill, $16.99, ages 8-12), lets kids do just that. This story starts with a bang introducing the reader to two of the main characters, Jack and Frances. Even though they are from two completely different backgrounds, they both wind up on an orphan train.

Wanderville by Wendy McClure, Razorbill, 2014.

This little-known fascinating slice of American history is brought to life through Wendy McClure’s descriptive writing. (She’s also a senior editor at Albert Whitman and Company.) Her extensive research transports the reader back to the era of the late 19th and early 20th century when orphan trains were used. The orphan train program gathered over 200,000 East Coast orphaned or homeless children and transported them into rural Midwest areas.

Terrified of being “adopted” to work on a farm with inhumane conditions; Jack, Frances, and her seven-year-old brother, Harold, escape from the train just before coming into town.

They soon stumble across Alexander – an orphan child who had escaped the local farm. Alexander had started his own “town” called Wanderville. The town is comprised of a fountain or creek, a hotel or a soft place to sleep under the trees, and even a courthouse or rock with a log. Food and supplies are gotten from the real local town through “donations” or stealing.

The children soon find themselves in lots of trouble when Harold is captured and taken to the inhumane farm to work. Jack, Frances, and Alexander have to figure out how to save Harold as well as the other children. This books shows how clever and resourceful children can be without adult supervision. I’m sure any child would love to read this book where children are in control. It looks like there will be a book two of Wanderville coming out in Fall 2014. So the story continues…

Click here for lots of Wanderville extras, too!

Read a Publisher’s Weekly interview with Wendy McClure by clicking here.

– Reviewed by Sara Louise Kras,, author of 32 books including her latest chapter book titled The Hunted: Polar Prey (Speeding Star, $14.95, ages 8-9).


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An Interview With Author Sara Louise Kras

Today Good Reads With Ronna is delighted to share an interview with L.A. resident, Sara Louise Kras, author of
The Hunted: Polar Prey, a new fiction early chapter book.

Sara Louise Kras
Sara Louis Kras, author of The Hunted: Polar Prey, from Speeding Star, 2014.

If you didn’t get to read our review of The Hunted: Polar Prey, please click here for the link.

Sara, welcome to Good Reads With Ronna, and thank you for agreeing to give us a glimpse into your writing life!

Interview with Sara Louise Kras:

GRWR: When did you make up your mind to be a writer?

SLK: When I was around 30 years old. I got my feet wet by enrolling in a mail order course called “The Institute of Children’s Literature.”

GRWR: You’ve written over 30 nonfiction books for children. What made you decide to try your hand at fiction?

SLK: I have been trying to get published in fiction since I began writing children’s books. I started with picture books with no success. Then I tried middle grade with no success. After 21 years, I finally got a contract for my fiction early chapter book, The Hunted: Polar Prey. For some reason, writing non-fiction was easier for me. It only took me seven years to get published with my first non-fiction, Giant Lizards.

GRWR: On average, how long does it take you to write a non-fiction book vs. a chapter book?

SLK: The time frame is about the same, one year. However, the edits for fiction books can go on for years.

GRWR: The Hunted: Polar Prey takes place in the Arctic. Please tell us some of the other exotic and/or remote locales you’ve visited? Which one is your favorite and why?

SLK: I’ve visited many countries in Africa, Europe, Central America, South America, and Asia. I can’t pick just one. I loved Italy, Japan, China, Maldives, Botswana, South Africa, Peru. I have fond memories of the majority of countries I’ve visited. However, I rarely return to a county. There are so many more to see! Unless, I have to go back to a country for research, of course.

GRWR: Please tell our readers how The Hunted: Polar Prey came to be written.

SLK: I read a newspaper article about scientists who became shipwrecked in the Arctic. While there, polar bears began to close in on them. I also read a book titled Ice Drift by Theodore Taylor. I put the two ideas together to come up with [the story of] a boy who has to save his mother while she is floating on an iceberg and being hunted by a polar bear.

GRWR: The book is told via several voices: the main character, Jeremy, his mom, Jeremy’s Inuit friend, Felix and the bear. Why did you decide to write the story this way?

SLK: Because I become disinterested with one character. It gave me the chance to bring in all my interests into the story. It was fun to be a polar bear, a twelve year old boy, a mother, and an Inuit all at the same time. I love nature and animals. I love action and adventure. And I love spirituality. It was also fun to piece the story together through all the different viewpoints. It was like putting together a puzzle.

GRWR: Did you base the human characters on people you know or are they completely made up?

SLK: They are completely made up. I tried to put myself in the characters’ shoes. It was fun to shift gears.

GRWR: I love how you weave in facts so seamlessly into your story – for example Inuit language and traditions and how a helicopter is maneuvered. How long does it take to do this research?

The Hunted: Polar Prey by Sara Louise Kras, Speeding Star, 2014.

SLK: I was able to ask at the Eskimo museum in Churchill about Inuit traditions. The Inuit words were gotten from the book Ice Drift mentioned above. In regards to the helicopter, my husband loves helicopters. So we’ve ridden them many times including while visiting Churchill, Canada.

GRWR: Do you typically make research trips?

SLK: Yes. I’ve made many during my years as a children’s writer. My first research trips were to several of the national parks in the United States as I did a national park series. My other research trips included: Cambodia, Honduras, Botswana, Antigua/Barbuda and Galapagos Islands.

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The Hunted: Polar Prey by Sara Louise Kras

Bundle up Because Sara Louise Kras is Taking us
to the Arctic in her new Fiction Book, The Hunted: Polar Prey

The Hunted: Polar Prey by Sara Louise Kras, Speeding Star, 2014.

Sara Louise Kras, a local L.A. author, makes it easy for kids to forget the warm California sun when she transports them to below zero weather “way up north in the Arctic on the Hudson Bay” in The Hunted: Polar Prey (Speeding Star, $14.95, ages 8-9). With over 30 non-fiction books under her belt, Kras has now forayed into fiction, quite convincingly so, with this early chapter book. I have no doubt that even the most reluctant of readers will find it hard to tear themselves away from The Hunted: Polar Prey with its 21 short, fast-paced chapters and a story inspired by an article Sara once read (see Author’s Note in the back matter to find out more!). The action revolves around the “Global Warming Research Station,” a place that Kras has actually visited in Canada, and where the book’s main character, Jeremy, lives with his scientist parents.

The story is brought to life by alternating four characters’ perspectives. The book opens with the first chapter devoted to the polar bear, low on nourishment, and waiting by an air hole to catch a seal. He grows frustrated when the seal first eludes capture. Kras sets the tone immediately by introducing us to one very angry bear. Readers then meet Jeremy, the story’s 12-year-old protagonist. Kids will get a sense early on, of not only what the main character is thinking, but also what the polar bear is thinking. They’ll learn about fascinating polar bear behavior without even realizing it. The other chapters share viewpoints of Paula, Jeremy’s mom and Felix, Jeremy’s Inuit friend.

Chapter Two of The Hunted: Polar Prey has Jeremy getting a cell phone call from his mom alerting him to a crisis. The ice floor she was getting samples from cracked sending her drifting out into the Arctic sea. She quickly gives Jeremy her coordinates so he can organize a rescue. But how? His father’s away in Churchill stocking up on supplies and, at age 12, what can Jeremy possibly do to save her? One of Sara’s talents, evident from Chapter One, is her economy of words. She never puts in too many or too few words, again something reluctant readers will appreciate. The story’s the thing here and it moves along as quickly as a snowmobile. Kras also provides the right amount of drama and description to keep it moving forward without over-embellishment.

Once Jeremy learns his mom is floating away and facing imminent danger without provisions or a weapon, and limited cellphone battery power, he knows he must face reality and figure out a plan. The only possibility is enlisting the help of Felix, Jeremy’s Inuit friend along with his dad, Mr. Tugak, to help. The catch is, that even if Mr. Tugak has access to a helicopter, he has stopped flying since a crash shook his confidence and spooked him enough to believe that a horrible curse had been cast over him. Things continue to get interesting as Paula’s piece of ice cracks some more and the polar bear we read about in certain chapters has begun to smell fresh meat. He gets closer and closer as fear begins to envelop Jeremy’s mom.

Kras cleverly incorporates Inuit words like tuvag, or sea ice, into the story and readers learn the immense power of tuvag and how it can kill, hence the urgency in finding Jeremy’s mom. She also explains that, since Mr. Tugak believes an evil spirit haunts him, a shaman advises him to change his name so the spirit can no longer find him. Somehow though, this is not enough to get him back into the helicopter. Fortunately, it’s the thought of not helping his son and his son’s friend that drives him to take action. As the threesome attempt first to locate Paula before they can even try to rescue her, it becomes apparent that this is a life or death situation, a race against time and nature.

Rather than spoil the story by giving away the ending, I will say I was very satisfied with the outcome and the realistic touches Kras did not hesitate to include. These elements are what will pull your reader in and keep him reading. The Author’s Note in the back matter gives details about the inspiration for the book and also gives some insight into polar bears’ behavior and how to find out more.

Come back next week to read my interview with Sara Louise Kras and learn more about polar bears, what else Kras has written and what we can expect to read next.

– Ronna Mandel

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