"Skeleton Tree is a powerful and tender story. Kim Ventrella knows when to be playful and when to break your heart." -- Cassie Beasley, New York Times bestselling author of Circus Mirandus
"Ventrella's comforting storytelling reveals a magical world where a skeleton can grow and where a family's love for each other can provide healing." -- School Library Journal
"[An] emotional roller coaster tempered by a touch of magic and a resilient, likable protagonist." -- Kirkus Reviews
"Quietly powerful; dark yet whimsical . . ." -- Booklist
Twelve-year-old Stanly knows the bone growing in his yard is a little weird, but that's okay, because now he'll have the perfect photo to submit to the Young Discoverer's Competition. With such a unique find, he's sure to win the grand prize.
But, oddly, the bone doesn't appear in any photos. Even stranger, it seems to be growing into a full skeleton . . . one that only children can see.
There's just one person who doesn't find any of this weird--Stanly's little sister. Mischievous Miren adopts the skeleton as a friend, and soon, the two become inseparable playmates.
When Miren starts to grow sick, Stanly suspects that the skeleton is responsible and does everything in his power to drive the creature away. However, Miren is desperate not to lose her friend, forcing Stanly to question everything he's ever believed about life, love, and the mysterious forces that connect us.
Gr 3–6—Stanly Stanwright is living an ordinary day in his ordinary home when out of the blue he sees a skeleton bone emerge in his backyard. Perplexed and excited, Stanly soon discovers an entire skeleton growing up from the ground. Stanly is determined to take a picture of the skeleton and submit it to the Young Discoverers' Competition. He is certain he will win and then his dad will have to come home. Unfortunately, as fascinated as he is by the skeleton, Stanly has a bigger problem: his younger sister, Marin, is sick. She's spending more time in the hospital and has to rely on an oxygen tank. The presence of the skeleton becomes increasingly foreboding in Stanly's mind. Touches of the extraordinary lift the mood of this somber story. Stanly's narration is honest and authentic as he deals with his father's abandonment of the family, his mother's long work hours, and his sister's declining health. When the physical embodiment of death enters their world, an actual skeleton, Stanly's frayed life feels like it is coming apart. There are no easy answers offered, but Ventrella's comforting storytelling reveals a magical world where a skeleton can grow and where a family's love for each other can provide healing. VERDICT Swinging between anger at his situation and palpable grief that his sister is dying, Stanly and the mysterious skeleton will resonate with young readers. Purchase where stories dealing with illness and grief are needed.—Sarah Wethern, Douglas County Library, Alexandria, MN
When white, zombie-obsessed, 12-year-old Stanly discovers a human skeleton growing up from his backyard—beginning as a single fingertip—he sees opportunity.Photographing and writing about this, he reasons, may lead to winning the Young Discoverer's Prize, which will bring Dad back from 1,500 miles away, and then his little sister, Miren, might stop getting sicker. This ambitious debut story of magical thinking keeps a mostly light tone despite the worsening gravity of Miren's health throughout. It is peppered with whimsical asides and anatomical jokes in addition to homespun tales from Ms. Francine, part-time cook and child care helper from Kyrgyzstan. Stanly tries to keep his (literally) growing secret confined to his OCD-diagnosed best friend, Jaxon (who has a "cloud of black hair" but is otherwise racially unidentified). Miren quickly finds out, but although she can't keep a secret, overworked, underpaid, and worried Mom is literally unable to see the skeleton, dubbed Princy by Miren. Conversely, the wise, folkloric Ms. Francine reacts, from the first phalangeal breakthrough, "like she was remembering something sad and happy all at once." The close-third-person narrative doggedly expresses Stanly's struggles with conflicting thoughts and emotions—but also keeps action rolling. Stanly copes well with problems ranging from the mundane (ineffectual cameras) to the extraordinary (photographing an evasive skeleton) to the heart-wrenching (a gravely ill sister; burdened parents). The emotional roller coaster of a contemporary white family in crisis, tempered by a touch of magic and a resilient, likable protagonist. (Fiction. 9-12)