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Books in Brief: The Last Peach, The Wild Lands, Hummingbird, Marvin & James Save the Day


The Last Peach by Gus Gordon; Roaring Brook Press, $17.99.


Two bugs contemplate the last peach of summer, as other insects give them advice, in this beguiling tale of friendship, laced with humor, from the Australian author-illustrator of "Herman and Rose" and "Somewhere Else." Shall they eat it? There may never be "another peach so lovely. And round. And delicious...." Then again, the peach looks grand on the outside "but you can bet it's all stinky and rotten on the inside." The peach might be delicious; perhaps take just one bite. "But we would probably eat the whole peach and get big tummy aches." What if it is indeed a magical peach that will enable them to fly? (Hang on, we can already fly...) What if they share the peach with all their friends – and don't get any for themselves? There are even fisticuffs over the peach. One bug writes a poem to the peach: "There will never be another as sweet as thee. You warm my heart like my favorite pajamas."

The illustrations are a delicate wonder – the sunlit pages with the juicy peach; the bugs, full of personality, with wings and bodies composed of newsprint with scatterings of French phrases, graceful plants with delicate writing of what appears to be a scrap of a train ticket or a lemonade label. On the front and back inside covers are portraits of 18 different, beautiful, perfect peaches.


The Wild Lands by Paul Greci; [Imprint], 374 pages ($17.99) Ages 14 and up.


Paul Greci has lived in Alaska for 25 years, working as a teacher and a field biology technician in remote wilderness areas, and it is his intimate knowledge of the Alaskan wilds that adds a gritty reality to this dystopian thriller of a 17-year-old boy and his 10-year-old sister walking hundreds of miles across a burned wasteland after the central U.S. government collapses and destructive fires sweep Alaska, sending most residents fleeing.

Greci, author of middle-grade adventure "Surviving Bear Island," offers page-turning suspense as Travis and Jess encounter desperate killers and starving grizzlies and battle the elements, fording dangerous rivers or climbing into ravines, all the while carrying backpacks loaded with glass jars of salmon their mother canned after the government collapsed.

An interesting portrait gallery of characters includes two teenage girls the siblings befriend on their odyssey; charismatic, treacherous Dylan with his weird survivalist ideas and the creepy leaders of a patriarchal frontier community. The ending has the feel of a story that promises a sequel.


Hummingbird by Nicola Davies; illustrated by Jane Ray; Candlewick Press ($16.99)


Zoologist Nicola Davies teams up with a gifted illustrator for this gorgeous picture book chronicling the amazing 2,000-mile journey of the ruby-throated hummingbird, a bird that weighs "less than a nickel."

Davies finds a clever way to humanize the story, linking the start and end of the journey of one particular bird through a girl from New York City and her grandmother in Mexico. The tiny bird finds admirers and sympathetic souls along the way: a sailor noticing it sleeping in the rigging on his boat, a boy taking a picture with his phone, a family admiring the birds sipping from their home-made feeder.

Davies, the queen of science writing for kids, writes with lyric grace: "The hummingbirds ride the green wave, zigzagging from one pool of buzz and blossom to the next." ... "Their feathers flash in the slants of light. Their wings make the sound of their name, beating fast as thought: Tz'unun! Tz'unun!" (Notes on some pages add useful information: For example, "Tz'unun or zun-zun is the word for hummingbird in several languages used in Central and South America.") Jane Ray's delicate, jewel-like illustrations, of the birds feeding from flowers, of tiny eggs in the nest (a nest the size of half a walnut shell) are perfect.


Marvin & James Save the Day by Elise Broach, illustrated by Kelly Murphy; Henry Holt, 104 pages ($15.99) Ages 7 to 10.


This charming easy reader Masterpiece Adventures series continues the story begun in middle-grade novel "Masterpiece," of the miniature world of a beetle named Marvin and his friendship with a boy named James. Beautifully written, with amusing illustrations that endow Marvin and the other beetles with loads of personality, these books have humor, heart, genuine emotion and real suspense. In this one, James is worried his life will change for the worse when his father marries Christina, his friend from the museum. Plus James will have the job of holding the wedding ring at the ceremony. What if he drops it? When the worst happens, Marvin is there to save the day in most satisfactory, dramatic fashion.


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