Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Jacobson
On the first morning of a camping vacation in Acadia National Park, 11 year old Jack wakes up in his tent alone. His mother is gone... and the car is gone. At first, he thinks that maybe she will be back later that day (she has disappeared for short times before), but as a few days go by he realizes that he will need to find his way alone. Afraid to seek any adult help because he might be separated from his mother permanently, Jack sets out to find her. He is quite a resourceful fellow, and soon he is making his way across the state to see a live elephant before heading home. Along the way, he has several close calls and adventures... 4 stars.
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
Honestly, despite recommendations from several library friends, I put off reading this one for a long time because I knew it involved a mean old man who is abusive to his dog and the cat family under his porch. Now I am so glad I picked it up and gave it a chance! This book is about so much more... there's the stray mom cat who seeks shelter one night and ends up finding Ranger, a sad old hound dog chained under his owner's porch deep in the Louisiana Bayou. The kittens come along, and they form a family. They are reasonably happy there together as long as the kittens stay "in the underneath" where old Gar-Face won't see them... but kittens are curious by nature and eventually they are caught. What happens next sets off a chain of events that are heart-wrenching, then magical. Definitely 5 stars!