Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

Review of What the Night Sings, by Vesper Stamper

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

What the Night Sings

by Vesper Stamper

Alfred A. Knopf, 2018. 266 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 27, 2018.

Wow. This is a Holocaust novel. They tend to be powerful. But not all of them have me closing the book saying, “Wow” – stunned by hope.

To be fair, the book begins as World War II is finishing. Gerta Rausch is in Bergen-Belsen as the British are liberating the camp, holding her bunkmate, sick with typhus, in her arms:

The soldiers begin removing the dead. There are so many. How could I not have noticed them lying right next to me?

And suddenly – Rivkah, too, is gone.

I feel her final breath wisp across my lips. They pull her from me, but I can’t let her go. She is my last connection to the living world. I clutch her arm, her hand, her fingers. I sing the lullaby after her, my foster mother. I know no one else in all of Bergen-Belsen, either from Auschwitz or Theresienstadt. Everyone has come and gone, piles of shells pulled in and out of waves, and I’m still here, a skeleton of a sea creature, dropped in this tide pool, living, watching, still living.

This book is about living – and trying to figure out how to make a life – after the war. Gerta is sixteen years old and in a displaced persons camp on the site of the old concentration camp. Her only family – her Papa – died during the war in the furnaces.

Gerta had trained to be an opera singer like her stepmother, her stepmother who watched while she and her papa were taken to the cattle cars. Gerta did manage to bring her papa’s viola with her – and got assignments to play in the camp orchestras. They played while people were sorted, for life or for death.

Part of the power of this book is that it includes illustrations. The book size is larger format than most novels, and many of the illustrations take up entire double-page spreads, though some are next to the text. The picture that hit me the hardest was a picture of a smokestack on the side with smoke going all the way across the top of the two pages. Those pages conclude with these words:

“Come with me,” the woman says softly, pragmatically. “You’ve been sent to the orchestra, yes? Well. Join your very lucky sisters. Music has saved your life today.”

“Where’s my papa?” I plead with her. “I want my papa!”

She signs and points ahead. “See that chimney?” she says, still softly, but so that I will clearly understand. “See that smoke? There’s your papa.”

But I said that it’s a book that left me with hope. Though the book does explain the dark setting, Gerta must make the hard choice to keep living. And to love. And it’s not easy.

I especially appreciated the Author’s Note at the back, because it put a bow on why the book felt so applicable to my life – I, who had never experienced anything remotely like the Holocaust. She explained that in high school she developed a deep identity as a musician.

There’s a problem with that, however. When you decide early on who you “truly are,” it can trick you into thinking that you were destined to live by a certain script. And when you’re out on your own and you realize that there is no script, you might panic.

Several years ago, I was rear-ended by a texting driver, which resulted in my arm being partially paralyzed. I completely lost the ability to play guitar – I had been a touring musician – and it took me a full year of rehab before I could reliably draw again. I had to relearn everything, even how to lift a fork to my mouth. This wasn’t in the script. A huge element of my deeply ingrained identity had been smashed. Like Gerta, I had hinged my future on a set of expectations, which depended on life’s machine running with no glitches. Being disabled cast a pall over every area of my life: my ability to drive, hold a baby, cook, hug or shake hands, let alone create art and music. How could I live my life? Without my script, who was I?

Perhaps that puts all the more power into Gerta’s story – and the art Vesper Stamper created to go with that story.

A stunning book about starting over when everything and everyone is gone. About finding joy again, about choosing life and choosing love.

vesperillustration.com

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Source: This review is based on a book sent from the publisher.

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 Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan

Saturday, March 16th, 2019

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

by Patti Callahan

Thomas Nelson (HarperCollins), 2018. 406 pages.
Review written March 16, 2019, from a library book.
Starred Review

It was good to again have a novel keeping me up late at night reading (we’re talking 3 am), and since it was a novel for grown-ups instead of all the children’s books I read last year for the Newbery – it kept me up late more than one night. This wasn’t necessarily a good thing – except that it was nice to be pulled into the world of the novel that thoroughly.

This book tells the same story as one of my favorite movies, Shadowlands with Anthony Hopkins, but of course the book went into much more detail. It’s the story of Joy Davidman and how she fell in love with C. S. Lewis and married him. But they didn’t have long together, because she got cancer.

I don’t feel like I’m giving away too much, even though the marriage happens at the end of the book – because anyone who knows that C. S. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed about his much loved wife will know this is coming. And, oh yes, the book is called Becoming Mrs. Lewis. So it’s not a surprise that they fall in love. The story is in the exquisite way they fall in love.

The book opens with Joy Gresham’s salvation experience. Although she’d been an atheist, in a moment when she was feeling desperate, stranded at home after a call from her drunken husband, thinking he was either committing suicide or with another woman – she suddenly felt the presence of God.

God didn’t fix anything in that moment, but that wasn’t the point of it all. Still I didn’t know where Bill was, and still I was scared for his life, but Someone, my Creator it seemed, was there with me in all of it. This Someone was as real as my sons in their beds, as the storm battering the window frames, as my knees on the hardwood floors.

After she became a Christian, she had many questions about her faith, and then read an article about C. S. Lewis which led her to read and reread all of his books (the ones written by 1950). She talked to the professor who’d written the article, and he urged her to write a letter to C. S. Lewis, thinking he could answer some of her questions about her relatively new faith.

And so began their long and avid correspondence.

The book includes excerpts from their letters, though I was disappointed to learn at the back that we don’t have existing copies of the actual letters. Patti Callahan used his other writings and talks to simulate their correspondence. But she did have a set of poems of longing that Joy had written during that time and dedicated to Jack. Some lines from the poems are at the head of each chapter.

In so many ways, this is a novel of longing. Because Joy fell in love with Jack long before he fell in love with her – but their friendship blossomed from the start. First, it was in their letters. They each found a correspondent who understood and to whom they could really open up.

Joy and her husband were both writers and were having trouble getting work finished. Joy had some health troubles and decided to go to England. She could stay with a friend who was living in London, research a book she had begun on King Charles II, and even get her teeth fixed and get medical care she’d been putting off because medical care in England was almost free even to tourists, and she couldn’t afford it in America. Her cousin Renee and her two daughters had been staying with them since her divorce, so Renee could hold down the fort while Joy tried to get back on track in England. And she could finally meet Jack, to whom she’d been writing for three years.

And in England her friendship with Jack deepened. And her husband ended up having an affair with Renee.

But it’s all told in much more exquisite detail than that. Joy already had a firm and deep friendship with Jack on that first trip to England. She went back to her home in America to get her sons and straighten things out – and file for divorce.

But divorce wasn’t easy to get in the 1950s. She was still technically married when she moved back to England with her boys. After the divorce did go through, the authorities had extended her visa too often, and she was going to have to move back to America. A civil marriage in name only to Jack allowed her to stay. In the Shadowlands movie, this was her idea. In this book, it’s Jack’s idea, because he doesn’t want her to leave. She was typing his manuscripts for him and essentially collaborating with him on the book Till We Have Faces.

But even after her divorce had gone through, the Anglican church still wouldn’t permit their marriage – and Jack scrupulously wouldn’t allow himself to fall in love with her. He’d written The Four Loves by then, and was keeping things as philea brotherly love. Even though she was obviously precious to him.

There’s a wonderful chapter where Joy comes to peace with this. She has long loved him, and he’s not loving her back. They’ve written Till We Have Faces together.

It was as clear as if someone had walked into the room and ripped the veil off my soul, forcing me to stare into its darker depths. Much of what I’d done – mistakes, poems, manipulations, success and books and sex – had been done merely to get love. To get it. To answer my question: do you love me? Even as I gave love, was I trying just to gain it? Had it really taken the fictional Orual to show me the truth?

In my bedroom, I fell to my knees on the hard floor and rested my head on the edge of the mattress, pressing my face into the softness.

The face I already possessed before I was born was who I was in God all along, before anything went right or went wrong, before I did anything right or wrong, that was the face of my true self. My “bareface.”

From that moment on, the love affair I would develop would be with my soul. He was already part of me; that much was clear. And now this would be where I would go for love – to the God in me. No more begging or pursuing or needing. It was my false self that was connected to the painful and demanding heart grasping at the world, leading me to despair. Same as Orual. Same as Psyche. Same as all of humanity.

Possibly it was only a myth, Jack’s myth, that could have obliterated the false belief that I must pursue love in the outside world – in success, in acclaim, in performance, in a man.

The Truth: I was beloved of God.

Finally I could stop trying to force someone or something else to fill that role.

The pain of shattered illusion swept through me like glass blown through a room after a bomb.

All had been turned around. No longer was the question Why doesn’t Jack love me the way I want him to? But now Why must I demand that he love me the way I want him to?

I was already loved. That was the answer to any question I held out to the world.

This was a beautiful time in my life to read this. I’m divorced and have an empty nest. After finishing the Newbery reading, I decided I no longer have an excuse not to go back online – but for various reasons I’m not setting my heart on quickly finding a good match there.

So to read about the peace she got, loving this good man who didn’t think it was right to love her back – that peace passed on to me. Yes. I, too, am loved. I, too, am doing my work, living my life, caring about my friends – all under God’s hand.

And when did C. S. Lewis finally come around? When did he finally marry her before God? After she was diagnosed with cancer and given only a few months to live.

But this book is not a tragedy. In fact, it’s one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve read in a long time.

And though I’ve told a lot of what happens, because it’s really not a secret (And watch the movie Shadowlands if you haven’t already!) – the beauty of this book is in how it all happens, the beautiful details along the way. You’ve got wise gems from C. S. Lewis as they discuss their faith – and lots of wisdom from Joy Davidman as well.

It’s an exquisite and slowly unfolding love story between two remarkable people, but it’s also full of wisdom about life and about God’s working in the world and observations about what it was like for a strong woman to make her way in the world in the 1950s. I’m afraid the worst effect of the book was that it made me want to pack up and just move to England. (Finding an Englishman to marry me might be a problem, though.)

ThomasNelson.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 Mad Wolf’s Daughter, by Diane Magras

Friday, March 8th, 2019

The Mad Wolf’s Daughter

by Diane Magras

Kathy Dawson Books (Penguin), 2018. 280 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 7, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#2 Historical Children’s Fiction

As this book begins, Drest tries to warn her brother and her father that she sees boats coming to their lair, but they’re convinced she’s dreaming. They know different when attackers burst upon them.

Her father, the war band leader, gets her to flee and hide. But she sees him and all her brothers taken away. She is determined to save them – even if it means reviving the knight who got thrown down a cliff by one of the other knights.

This is a wonderful historical fiction novel – set in medieval Scotland about a young girl who’s small but fierce and resourceful. Her brothers have trained her well. But she only has six days to get to the castle to save her family, and her journey is not uneventful.

You come to love Drest’s fierce, fighting spirit, which is tempered by compassion for those who need help.

Here’s where Drest approaches the knight at the base of the cliff:

Tears sprang to Drest’s eyes. “Your toad-witted people took my da and my brothers. And I didn’t throw you down here; one of your own men did.”

The young knight’s voice quivered. “What a filthy lie. Those are my most faithful men.”

His despair gave Drest courage. She crept closer. “Maybe some of them, but not the one who was up on the cliff with you. I watched him fight and push you down here.” The mist was thickening around them. Drest looked back to find the trail. “Do you know where they’ve taken my da?”

The young knight’s eyes widened. “To Faintree Castle. Do you even know who we are?”

“Nay,” said Drest, “why should I?”

“Everything in this part of the lowlands – including this headland – belongs to Faintree Castle.”

“Is that the truth? Strange. I’ve always known that my da owned this headland and all the lowlands.”

That’s only the beginning of Drest’s surprising adventures.

Fair warning is that while this book finishes at a good stopping-place, not everything is resolved, so I trust there will be more adventures to come. But this book has enough to make this lass become a legend.

dianemagras.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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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 Courting Darkness, by Robin LaFevers

Monday, March 4th, 2019

Courting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 503 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 25, 2019, from my own copy.

When I heard that Robin LaFevers was writing another book in the world of His Fair Assassin, I put the book on pre-order from Amazon right away. Although I loved re-entering that world, and the author’s writing is still magnificent, and once again I learned things about medieval Brittany – I was a little disappointed with this book compared to the others.

First, although there was lots of sex, I didn’t think this one was as romantic as the others. One couple may have fallen in love, but they’re certainly not admitting it yet. But it also didn’t come to as good a stopping-place as each of the first three books did. There’s a lot that’s still unresolved, and the book ends on something of a cliff-hanger. Which is all the more annoying when the next book hasn’t been written yet.

But please don’t think I didn’t love reading this book. I have a feeling that I will appreciate it all the more once more books are written in this series. I still intend to preorder the next book — may that day come soon.

And back to the assassin nuns. In this book, we meet Genevieve, another girl sent out from the convent of St. Mortain, the god of death. Years ago, Genevieve was sent with Margot to the court of France and told they’d be called on when needed by the convent. They have heard nothing since. Now they’re in the household of Count Angouleme, and Margot is about to have his bastard. Then Genevieve finds someone forgotten in a dungeon….

That story is alternated with what’s going on with Sybella, who was featured in Dark Triumph. Now she has custody of her younger sisters, but her vicious brother still wants them all in his power. The Duchess of Brittany can protect them – but will she still be able to do so after she becomes Queen of France? Sybella needs to protect the duchess on her journey to reach the king, but it is probably best if the king and the power behind the throne – the king’s sister – don’t realize that Sybella is a trained assassin and a daughter of Mortain, the god of death.

And is the duchess even doing the right thing becoming Queen of France? Or has she given up her power to rule her own people?

The story is once again absorbing and fascinating. It once again is firmly based in historical fact – so that we begin to think there really may have been assassin nuns serving the Duchess of Brittany. If I was a little disappointed, it was only because I wanted another like the first three. But hadn’t I been delighted in how different each of the first three books was from the others? Also, I suspect once I get over the cliff-hanger ending – by reading the next book – I will be all the more happy with this new series.

[Ah! Amazon says it will be a Duology. So if I think of this as half of one complete story — it’s a lot more satisfying.]

And now that I’m not reading for the Newbery – I may just go back and enjoy the His Fair Assassin trilogy all over again.

robinlafevers.com
hmhco.com

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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 Snow Lane, by Josie Angelini

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

Snow Lane

by Josie Angelini

Feiwel and Friends, January 2018. 197 pages.
Starred Review
This review written December 7, 2017 from an advance reader copy.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Historical Children’s Fiction

I’ve often complained that I’m not really represented in children’s books, because there simply aren’t too many books with large families. I’m third of thirteen children. And even when big families are portrayed, they often romanticize them as a big barrel of fun.

The narrator of this book is Annie Bianchi, the youngest of nine kids. I like her reaction when people ask her if it’s fun to always have someone to play with.

Someone to play with? When you’re the youngest of nine kids, you aren’t a player. You’re the ball.

(I am now very frustrated I can’t post that quote on Facebook for my siblings to laugh at now in December 2017 when I’m writing this review. All in good time.)

Annie is ten years old as this book begins. Her oldest sister is nineteen, so, whew! Those kids are consistently much closer together than my family. You figure out very early on that some of her older sisters are just plain mean to her. Not cutesy mean, but abusively mean. This makes the book less pleasant, but it’s also more realistic.

The book is set in 1985. I’m not sure why it’s not set in the present. Things were mentioned that happened in 1985, such as the launching of the space shuttle Challenger and the Cabbage Patch doll craze, but that’s probably a little more fun for those of us who lived through those years than for kids today.

Not that my family was as bad as the Bianchi family, but Josie Angelini gets a whole lot of things right about big families: The overall, pervasive neglect, sibling rivalry on a whole new level, what a big sister leaning over you from an upper bunk looks like, shoes with holes in them, hand-me-down clothes, not having people over so they won’t see your house, mess on a whole new level, older siblings playing a parental role, and nobody monitoring your school assignments. Yep, I strongly suspect the author has personal experience with big families. (Sure enough – I checked her blog and she was youngest of eight. Yes, she gets it.)

Reading this book was really sad for me. Some things happened that were much worse than anything I ever faced, but some of the feelings they pulled up – let’s just say I could relate, all too well.

So the writing is brilliant. She nails the description of a big family – overall, as well as including quirky and real individual characters. But despite the tough things that happen, you can’t help but liking Annie.

Annie’s somewhat scatterbrained and has trouble reading because she’s dyslexic. But she’s a quick thinker and in the Academically Creative and Talented class. In that class, they start off fifth grade with a question about Destiny. So Annie spends the year trying to figure out her destiny. While dealing with friends and her crazy big family and how the worlds of school and home can overlap – or not.

The story does build to a crisis. Some big decisions and revelations are made. The book ends on a note of hope, and you find that you’re rooting for Annie Bianchi, who’s a good listener, a good sister, and a good friend.

josephineangelini.com
mackids.com

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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 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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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/night_diary.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/year_of_borrowed_men.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

What did you think of this book?

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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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/refuge.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

What did you think of this book?