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Review: The Best Man

Th28251377e best thing about children’s book author Richard Peck is that I can crack open one of his books without an inkling of what’s to come and be wowed by his guaranteed belly laugh-inducing ability to tell stories. His newest book, The Best Man, is no exception.

The Best Man is an atypical coming-of-age story built around the salient male role models in Archer Magill’s life. It’s also book-ended by two memorable weddings, neither of which are Archer’s. (He is a member of both wedding parties, though, first as an ill-fated ring bearer and then as the VIP best man.)

Archer’s coming of age is atypical because he doesn’t successfully kill a shark, a boar and an octopus to earn the respect of his chieftain father, free his totalitarian-utopian community from its inability to feel human emotions, or fulfill a prophecy-fueled destiny after years of living as an ignominious orphan. Archer’s quite normal, sweet but clueless. He goes to school and tries to be middle of the pack. His best friend, Lynnette Stanley, is smarter and more interesting than him.

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Up close and personal with a 24 day old peregrine falcon chick. This is what it must feel like to be a NatGeo photographer.

Confession: I became obsessed with peregrine falcons for a time after reading Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain as a child. During recess, I would scan the skies for the definitive peregrine silhouette, widespread wings and long tail feathers, and wonder if I could track the bird to a cliff side nest where I could snatch a chick to raise as my own, as Sam did with Frightful. (Granted, that was probably illegal, even back in my day, and I could never tell kites, hawks, and sometimes, low flying crows apart.)

Nevertheless, I had the chance to live my childhood dream when I got to pet four fluffy chicks that were temporarily removed from their lofty water tower nest for banding. At 24 days old, the chicks were too young to do much except flap their wings and squawk indignantly at being handled in such an undignified manner.

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This is exactly what it looks like. The chick is temporarily placed into a purple plastic pumpkin so it can be weighed on the scale. Females are larger and heavier than males.

Give them another two weeks to grow, and they’ll be soaring and swooping with the best of them.

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In two weeks, these primary feathers will be light, long and strong enough to help this guy or gal reach speeds of up to 220 mph during dives.

I later found out there’s a whole color-coded system for banding peregrines. The chicks I touched were banded with black over red ankle rings, signifying that they were from the eastern U.S., even though they were technically Midwest/Great Plains birds. I should find out what that’s about.

 

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Growing up, one of my favorite books was (and still is) Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars. I was fascinated by the Danish Resistance, and clueless enough not to realize some of the characters were part of the Resistance until Lowry revealed it to us. But I never stopped to think how the Resistance got started. I just assumed they’d sprung up organically once the Nazis invaded.

I didn’t know the true story until I read Phillip Hoose’s The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, and the truth is so outrageous it’s truly stranger than fiction. Hoose’s book is the perfect companion to Number the Stars, adding historical context and depth. It got me thinking about other nonfiction/fiction kidlit pairings that work perfectly. This is my initial list:

calpurnia_tatecharles-and-emmaThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, with Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman.

–if you want to understand the scientist who inspires Calpurnia’s interest in science, Charles and Emma is the perfect biography, especially because Calpurnia would have fit perfectly into Darwin’s life. Darwin raised his kids to have open and inquisitive minds, so Calpurnia is kind of a fictional, surrogate Darwin Jr.
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Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, by Kelly Jones

unusual chickensIs the book about chickens?
Yes. Chickens with superpowers, but they still have chicken-sized brains and behave like normal chickens. Sometimes.

Are there any humans?
Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown and her parents, recently moved from Los Angeles to her late great-uncle Jim’s remote chicken farm. Since Sophie doesn’t have any friends, she soon finds herself taking care of Jim’s special chickens and getting into the spirit of poultry farming.

So this is a book for chicken owners.
Not necessarily. I wasn’t a fan of chickens when I started, but the book did make me want to get chickens of my own. Talk about the Code Name Verity Effect!

Specifically, I want chickens with as much character as Sophie’s flock, unusual powers optional. I’ve met humans with less personality than Henrietta, Chameleon, et al.

Besides, I aced the book’s quiz on whether I was prepared to take care of chickens. According to Redwood Farm, provider of unusual super chickens, I totally deserve some of my own.
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