Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

Review of Blood Water Paint, by Joy McCullough

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

Blood Water Paint

by Joy McCullough

Dutton Books, 2018. 304 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 16, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2019 Morris Award Finalist
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 General Teen Fiction

Wow. This book is amazing.

Now, the central event of the book is a rape – so I, personally, don’t think that’s “presentation for a child audience” [though that is only my personal opinion and I haven’t discussed it with anyone else on the Newbery committee]. But by the time I figured that out, there was absolutely no way I was going to stop reading.

This is a verse novel, which usually I don’t have a lot of patience with. But this verse spoke with a compelling voice that pulled me in immediately.

We have the perspective of Artemisia Gentileschi, who was seventeen years old in 1611 in Rome. Her mother died when she was twelve. She worked for her father, an artist, grinding pigments, preparing paint – and creating paintings for him, even though they bore his name.

In that world, women were used by men. Her mother had told her stories of the ancient heroines Susanna and Judith – they stood up to men and were vindicated, though it was not easy for them. Those stories, woven through the book, are the only parts that are not written in poetry. Yet they quickly make you feel what it must have been like for those ancient women – in a way that men who have never felt powerless cannot understand.

And then a young man hired to teach Artemisia perspective rapes her. And she tells the world what he did – but the resulting trial comes at great cost to Artemisia.

The powerless woman, used by men, stands up to the powerful, like Susanna and Judith before her. Though none of them spoke up without cost.

And the amazing part is that Artemisia is an actual woman, an artist, and her trial in 1611 actually happened.

Being verse, this book is not long. But its effect is long-lasting indeed.

They tell me I know
about perspective now.
Too well.
They say I’m standing
at the start of a long road,
looking out into the distance.
What do I see?

joymccullough.com
PenguinTeen.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Friday, February 8th, 2019

The Book of Boy

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
illustrations by Ian Schoenherr

Greenwillow Books, 2018. 278 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Newbery Honor Book
Review written March 7, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.

[Disclaimer: This review was written before I ever discussed the book with the Newbery committee and after only my first reading. The opinions expressed are only mine, and only my first impression.]

After reading the first few chapters of this book, I thought I’d stumbled on a book that had the same basic story as The Journey of Little Charlie, by Christopher Paul Curtis – except in Little Charlie the young innocent was forced to journey with and help a slave catcher, and in The Book of Boy the young innocent was forced to journey with and help a relic thief.

But I was quite wrong. Although The Book of Boy started out this way, the story that followed was completely different from anything I’d read before.

Yes, Boy is young and innocent. He’s a hunchback and doesn’t like the way people are afraid of him and call him a monster. The book is set in medieval Europe, just after a Pestilence has gone through the land. A pilgrim demands his aid in carrying a pack. Boy thinks they are going to protect a relic of Saint Peter, but it turns out the pilgrim will use Boy to steal more relics.

We learn some interesting things about Boy and about the pilgrim along the way. The pilgrim can’t touch any relics of St. Peter, but for Boy, the relic already in the pack warms him and makes it so people don’t notice his hump. Every morning when Boy wakes up, no matter where they have camped, animals curl up and sleep with him. What’s more, after a while we realize all the talking Boy does to animals isn’t just rhetorical. Animals understand Boy and talk to him as well.

Secundus the pilgrim wants to gather seven relics of St. Peter, and he has a compelling reason. And although he is indeed a thief, he grows under our skin as their journey continues.

But Secundus the pilgrim doesn’t win us over as fully as Boy does. He is indeed a young innocent forced to help with thievery – but he learns things along the way about his own true nature which are most surprising.

This is ultimately an uplifting book, full of details about life in medieval times. You’ll enjoy the company of the good-hearted Boy, who can talk with animals and is very surprising.

Here’s what the Newbery committee had to say about this book: “From Murdock’s first line, readers are swept into an epic quest across Europe in 1350 with Boy and a mysterious pilgrim, adventuring to recover seven relics of St. Peter. Layered characters from goats to nuns, lyrical language, and multiple reveals combine to create this powerful story of redemption.”

catherinemurdock.com
epicreads.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

The Night Diary

by Veera Hiranandani

Dial Books for Young Readers, March 2018. 267 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 3, 2017 from an Advance Reader Copy.
2019 Newbery Honor Book

[Disclaimer: This review was written before I ever discussed the book with the Newbery committee and after only my first reading. The opinions expressed are only mine, and only my first impression.]

The Night Diary is set in a time I knew nothing about: 1947 India, the part that became Pakistan.

Nisha and her twin brother Amil live with her Papa and his mother Dadi and their beloved Kazi, the cook. Their mother died when giving birth to the twins. They are twelve now, and Nisha is writing letters to her Mama in a diary that Kazi gave her.

Nisha’s Mama was a Muslim, but her Papa is Hindu and they live as Hindu, but Kazi is Muslim. Many didn’t want her parents to get married, but they moved to a place where all religions lived together peaceably. That is about to change.

When the British left India, it was decided that they should partition India into two countries – Pakistan for Muslims and India for the remaining religions, particularly Hindus. So Nisha and her family need to move.

Nisha’s father is a doctor and he listens to the ideas promoted by Gandhi. He lingers in their town probably longer than they should. Eventually, their journey to cross the border into India is fraught with danger. They have many brushes with death.

On top of this, Nisha has trouble speaking to anyone who is not family. This will add to her challenges on the road.

This book is based on the author’s father’s family’s experiences at the same time. It adds power that this story of refugees is based in truth.

Sadly, refugee stories are always timely. As are stories about conflict between religions. I like the way Gandhi’s ideas of religions living peacefully together are included – though still showing the nonsensical side of hatred based only on religion.

This is a powerful story, including brushes with death, but it’s all told from a child’s eyes and in a way a child can understand.

Here’s what the Newbery committee said about the book: “Following introspective Nisha and her family as they flee their homeland for an uncertain future, Hiranandani illuminates the 1947 partition of India with unprecedented balance and sensitivity. Through spare evocative diary entries addressed to her late mother, Nisha discovers the complex beauty of her Hindu-Muslim identity.”

veerahiranandani.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Year of Borrowed Men, by Michelle Barker

Friday, January 18th, 2019

A Year of Borrowed Men

by Michelle Barker
illustrated by Renné Benoit

Pajamapress, 2016. First published in Canada in 2015. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a picture book for older readers that’s based on a true story from wartime Germany. The author used a story her mother told her.

Here’s how the book begins:

I was seven when the French prisoners of war arrived at our house.

It was 1944. Mummy told us the government had sent them because all our men were gone to war, and someone needed to keep the farms running. She said we were just borrowing the French men. When the war was over, we would give them back.

The French men do work on the farm. The family is supposed to treat them like prisoners. When they slip up one cold night and let the borrowed men eat with the family, the next day the mother is taken in for questioning and warned that if there is any repeat, she will go to prison.

So they have to keep their distance – but this story is how friendship builds between them, anyway.

And it’s lovely. I like the scenes where they speak to each other in their own languages. Gerda (the narrator) shows them her Christmas doll. They learn that eine Puppe in German is very close to une poupée in French.

Old photographs at the back of the book emphasize the truth of this story.

It’s always inspiring when those who are told to be enemies make friends.

pajamapress.ca

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Refuge, by Anne Booth & Sam Usher

Monday, December 24th, 2018

Refuge

The Timeless Story of Christmas

by Anne Booth & Sam Usher

Little, Brown and Company, 2016. Originally published in the United Kingdom in 2015. 28 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2017

Yes, this is based on the Christmas story, but it focuses on Jesus’ family as refugees when they traveled to Egypt. You don’t have to know anything about Christmas to appreciate this book. And it seems timely whether during the Christmas season or not.

The narrator of the tale is the donkey who carried the family. It tells briefly about traveling to Bethlehem where the baby was born and visitors came.

When the last king left, the scent of frankincense lingering in the air, we all slept and the man had a dream.

A dream of danger.

He woke long before the sun rose and told the woman. She took the baby and kissed him. She smelled his sweet baby breath, and felt his soft, warm baby skin and how his lashes tickled her cheek as he sleepily nuzzled her neck.

“Time to go,” she said.

Here’s how the book ends, over several pages:

And I kept walking, carrying my precious load,
and the woman held the baby close to her heart,
and she and the man talked, about journeys,
and dreams and warnings,
and the love of a baby,
and the kindness of strangers.

And when we rested,
and they were frightened,
they took hope from each other,
and from the baby’s tiny first smile.

And we entered into Egypt . . .

. . . and we found refuge.

The illustrations are water colors with a simple palette – mostly purply-black and white and gold, but with a little blue for Mary. The story is simple and haunting, and presents a way of looking at the Christmas story that had never even crossed my mind.

In addition, the cover of the book informs us that for each book purchased in the United States through September 2017, the publisher donated a dollar to the UN Refugee Agency.

A simple way to talk with your children about refugees and to open your own heart. Yes, all with a simple and beautiful picture book.

UNrefugees.org
lb-kids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Tony, by Ed Galing, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Saturday, November 17th, 2018

Tony

by Ed Galing
illustrated by Erin E. Stead

A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 32 pages.
Starred Review

I’m biased in favor of this book. At the 2017 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta, I heard Erin Stead talk about how they found the manuscript and I saw some images from the art.

Erin and her husband first saw the text as a poem in a newspaper put out by homeless folks. When they tried to find the author, they learned he had just died in his 90s. Their publisher worked hard to get permissions, and the result is this beautiful and quiet picture book.

I certainly would not have seen this poem as a potential picture book text. But seeing it in that form, I have to acknowledge that these words are the perfect vehicle for Erin’s art.

The story (almost the incident) is of a cart horse named Tony who pulled a milk truck. Early in the morning, Tony and his driver would bring milk, butter, and eggs to the author’s house. He was awake, even though it was 3 a.m., and would greet Tony.

The driver told the author that Tony always looked for him. And here are the words for the last five spreads of the book:

wouldn’t miss Tony for the world,
I would reply
sturdily,
giving Tony another pat,

he is such a wonderful
horse, and so handsome.

I am sure he heard
that, Tom would
smile widely,
as he got back into
the truck

and as they pulled away

I knew that Tony
did a little dance.

See how simple? But oh, the beautiful art! The simple curve of one of Tony’s legs, showing the little dance.

The color is a simple green background, with radiant highlights of yellow for the rising sun or light coming out of a building.

And Tony – well, I fully believe that he is such a wonderful horse.

This isn’t a snappy or silly story. This isn’t a fable or a myth. It’s more of a vignette, but a slice of life that reveals love and friendship.

It’s the sort of book that compels an appreciative pause when you’re done.

This is another one where my descriptions don’t do the artwork justice. Check it out yourself!

www.mackids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Shadow Bright and Burning, by Jessica Cluess, read by Fiona Hardingham

Monday, October 15th, 2018

A Shadow Bright and Burning

by Jessica Cluess

read by Fiona Hardingham

Listening Library, 2016. 12 hours, 49 minutes on 10 compact discs.

This is alternate history Victorian England, read with impeccable English accents, reflecting class differences in the accents (even though I wouldn’t know the difference if I hadn’t heard it.)

Henrietta Howel has always hidden her ability to set things on fire and burst into flame without burning. So when a sorcerer comes to the school where she grew up and now teaches, she works hard to keep from flaming out. It turns out the sorcerer is looking for a girl with power over flame not to execute her as a witch, but to fulfill a prophecy about a woman from sorcerer stock who will save the country.

When the Ancients attack that night — seven great horrific spirits from another dimension who have been attacking England for years — Henrietta’s powers are revealed. But she is brought back to London to train as a sorcerer. She discovers a different world than the one where she grew up.

Henrietta’s one requirement is that she must bring Rook with her — a boy who is “Unclean,” marked by scars from an attack by one of the Ancients, Korazoth. Rook and Henrietta have always looked after each other. The sorcerer is willing to take him on as a stable boy — anything to get Henrietta to train with the sorcerers.

She’s up against a lot in London. She’s out of her depth with society. And she’s training in a house full of boys. She must master her powers in order to be commended by Queen Victoria and become an official sorcerer. And then she meets someone who says he knew her father. And she has grave doubts as to whether she really is the prophesied one. But if she isn’t, she’ll lose everything.

There are layers within layers in this book, but it never gets too complex to follow. I am delighted that there is more to come — the back of the book says it’s Book One of The Kingdom on Fire. The author develops a complicated world here with sorcerers, magicians, and witches — and powerful beings besieging England who destroy humankind and take people as their familiars. And in the middle of all that, you’ve got Victorian England trying to keep women in their place and a girl trying to figure out what that place is for her.

This book is imaginative, suspenseful, and gripping. The narrator’s voice and delightful British accent ensured that my commute was enchanting as long as I was listening to this book.

jessicacluess.com
booksontape.com
randomhouseteens.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig, by Deborah Hopkinson

Sunday, October 14th, 2018

Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig

By Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Schwartz & Wade Books, New York, 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review

This charming picture book tells a slightly fictionalized account of what happened when Beatrix Potter borrowed a neighbor’s prized guinea pig in order to paint it. The main fictionalization is that the author changed Beatrix Potter’s age to be a child when this incident happened, rather than the 26-year-old she actually was.

But the story is based on truth – Beatrix Potter kept many different animals as pets – and sad fates befell many of them. And when Beatrix borrowed a guinea pig named Queen Elizabeth from her neighbor, it did feast on blotting paper and string, writing paper and paste – and died.

Deborah Hopkinson shows Beatrix giving her neighbor a painting of the guinea pig as compensation. She says she hopes she kept it because in 2011, a painting Beatrix Potter made of a guinea pig – probably painted the same year as the unfortunate borrowing – sold for more than $85,000.

The book is styled as a letter to the reader, which is appropriate since Beatrix Potter’s first stories appeared in letters. The words and watercolors are charming.

“I would love to draw Queen Elizabeth,” declared Beatrix. “She is truly magnificent.”

Her friend beamed. “Her family is indeed impeccable. Queen Elizabeth comes from a long line of distinguished guinea pigs. She is the daughter of Titwillow the Second, and a descendant of the Sultan of Zanzibar and the Light of Asia.”

You might well think the young ladies were discussing royalty, not rodents. In the end, Miss Paget was so flattered by Miss Potter’s appreciation of the merits of Queen Elizabeth that she eagerly fetched the squealing creature.

“Thank you,” said Beatrix. “I will return her – unharmed – in the morning.”

Alas, it was an empty promise.

I’m not quite sure how Deborah Hopkinson has made a story about animals dying so utterly delightful, but she has managed it!

deborahhopkinson.com
randomhousekids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Gallery, by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Friday, October 12th, 2018

The Gallery

by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016. 321 pages.

Here’s a historical novel set in 1928 during election time. Martha O’Doyle is going to work as a maid in the home of a newspaper tycoon where her Ma is the housekeeper. Ma once worked for the tycoon’s wife, who was known then as “Wild Rose.” But now she’s gone mad and is kept locked up in the attic, with bland food sent to her by dumbwaiter, kept from any excitement.

But is Wild Rose really mad? She’s got a collection of paintings up in her attic room, and periodically she sends certain paintings down to the main gallery of the house. Martha thinks Rose may be trying to send a message.

This book holds a mystery, with clues found in paintings referring to mythology. (Martha researches the stories in the library, of course.) But as well as that, it pictures life in a wealthy home just before the stock market crash, a period I hadn’t read much historical fiction about.

The plot seemed slightly wild and far-fetched – but the author developed the story from old newspaper headlines, so that was probably appropriate. And it does give you a feeling for the time. And the fun of solving a mystery. An Author’s Note at the back tells more about the many historical details and the paintings she worked into the story.

lauramarxfitzgerald.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Under the Sabbath Lamp, by Michael Herman

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

Under the Sabbath Lamp

by Michael Herman
illustrated by Alida Massari

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2017. 32 pages.

Here’s a lovely story about inheritance and traditions. A group of neighbors has a tradition of hosting each other for Shabbat dinner. The first time Izzy and Olivia Bloom host, the children notice there are no Shabbat candles. Then Izzy shows them the Sabbath lamp that burns oil and has been in his family for one hundred fifty years.

There’s a story-within-a-story as Izzy tells about how his great-great-grandfather Isaac moved to America for a better life. But they couldn’t afford for his whole family to come.

As Isaac packed his belongings, Rachel handed him the drip pan from the Sabbath lamp.

“Take this with you,” she told him. “Just as this part is separated from the rest of the lamp, we will be separated from you. When we come to join you, we will bring the other parts, and the lamp will be whole again. Just like our family.”

One by one, the children and his wife joined Isaac in America, and when they were all together, they lit the Sabbath lamp.

When Izzy and Olivia got married, his father entrusted the lamp to them.

I like the way the book brings the tradition into the present with Izzy and Olivia enjoying the Sabbath lamp together with their friends.

karben.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.