Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

Review of The Orphan Band of Springdale, by Anne Nesbet

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

The Orphan Band of Springdale

by Anne Nesbet

Candlewick Press, 2018. 433 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 25, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Historical Children’s Fiction

Reading The Orphan Band of Springdale made me happy. I liked the main character, Gusta Neubronner, and seeing the world through her eyes was a delightful experience.

The book begins as her father puts her on a bus – and leaves! He told her where to sit and put her suitcase onto the rack above her, and then got off the bus. Instead of getting back on, two men in uniforms came onto the bus looking for him.

The setting of the book is 1941 in Maine. Gusta had lived with her parents in New York City. Her father, who was born in Germany and hated the Nazis, was a union organizer. But anti-German sentiment being what it was, as well as anti-union sentiment, he had become a fugitive. Her mother got a job and couldn’t take care of Gusta, so she was sent to her grandmother in Springdale, Maine.

Now, Gusta’s mother had told her a story about her grandfather, who built the house in Springdale. He had been a sea captain and found a chest full of real wishes. They looked like coins that sparkled mysteriously. He didn’t believe it at first, and made frivolous wishes, which all came true.

“He said that after a day or two, he suddenly realized the seriousness of the situation. These were actual wishes, and he was wasting them. He would pick up one of those odd little coin things and wish for his sardines (for example), and after that, he said, he could tell that Wish was all used up. It didn’t sparkle anymore, he said. It just looked empty.”

“How can a coin be empty?”

“I don’t know. That’s how he described it. And of course that made him realize he couldn’t keep wasting those Wishes; he needed to think it all through more carefully, make wishes that counted. And then – right that very day – something really terrible happened: the ship he was on hit a reef and sank.”

The entire chest with Wishes sank in the sea. But one Wish remained, in his pocket.

“A single Wish,” said her mother. “One last Wish left. He kept that Wish safe, and he brought it back home with him. And you know what? He never used it, his whole life long. That’s what he told me, anyway, and I knew him when he was very, very old.”

He’d put the Wish in a box on a shelf, somewhere in the house. Can Gusta find it while she’s there? Can she use it to solve some problems?

And there are some problems while she’s there. Her father’s a fugitive. She meets her grandmother, who now runs an orphanage, and other relatives, including her uncle, whose hand was injured working in the mill and now needs an expensive operation or he can’t work. Gusta knows that the law is on his side, but without a union there, what can one person do?

But the most fun is the oldest girl in the orphanage, Josie, and Gusta’s cousin Bess. Gusta has brought her father’s French horn with her. When she plays it, she’s letting out her heart. Josie has a beautiful voice. Together they form the Honorary Orphan Band of Springdale (Josie being the only one who’s an actual orphan).

I laughed delightedly when I read this paragraph when the band finally performs:

They played “Angeline the Baker” and “Hard Times in the Mill” and a couple of cheerful, quick-moving songs they had made up themselves, and it’s safe to say no band composed of French horn, ukulele, voice, and bean jar ever had a more enthusiastic reception anywhere.

You’ll learn a little history reading this book about life on the home front just before the United States joined World War Two. But mostly you’ll have fun reading about some good-hearted characters in difficult circumstances trying to set things right – with or without a Wish.

candlewick.com

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Review of Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

Truly Devious

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 420 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 General Teen Fiction

This book is a little unfair. There’s no Book One printed in bold on the cover – so how dare it finish up with those dreaded three words, “to be continued”? Well, it does.

Stevie Bell is a junior in high school, and she’s been invited to attend Ellingham Academy, where an eccentric millionaire established a school for bright kids and gives them a unique education – for free.

But Ellingham has a mystery associated with it. 80 years ago, the wife and child of the eccentric founder were kidnapped, and the wife’s body was found. One of the students as well was found dead – but the daughter was never recovered. The kidnapper sent a note signed “Truly, Devious.”

In the present day, Stevie is obsessed with true crime – and she wants to solve the mystery of Ellingham Academy.

The mystery and the story is woven well. Every few chapters, we’ve got a flashback to a scene that happened in 1936, when the kidnapping took place.

Stevie’s obsessed with the old mystery – so she’s not exactly prepared to find the body of one of her fellow students.

Now, there’s a fun surprise at the end, but I can’t exactly tell you if the clues are helpful or how well the mystery is woven – because of those dread words, “to be continued.” I am very annoyed that I can’t read the second volume right now. [Reader, the good news is that since I couldn’t post this in 2018 when I read it as part of my Newbery reading, now all three volumes are published, and you can read them all together!]

But I will say that I enjoyed every minute leading up to those dread words. (The surprise at the end is perfect!) The characters are quirky. The setting is well-drawn. Stevie even gets to look at some papers and other items from the time of the kidnapping.

Here’s the letter from Truly Devious:

Look! A riddle! Time for fun!
Should we use a rope or gun
Knives are sharp and gleam so pretty
Poison’s slow, which is a pity
Fire is festive, drowning’s slow
Hanging’s a ropy way to go
A broken head, a nasty fall
A car colliding with a wall
Bombs make a very jolly noise
Such ways to punish naughty boys!
What shall we use? We can’t decide.
Just like you cannot run or hide.
Ha ha.
Truly,
Devious

I can’t wait to get more clues in the next book!

maureenjohnsonbooks.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 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 Louisiana’s Way Home, by Kate DiCamillo

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

Louisiana’s Way Home

by Kate DiCamillo

Candlewick Press, 2018. 227 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 27, 2018, from an advance reader copy.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Historical Children’s Fiction

This is the first time Kate DiCamillo has returned to a character from one of her earlier books, and I find I like this second book even better than the first – but you don’t have to have read Raymie Nightingale to enjoy Louisiana’s Way Home.

Louisiana’s crazy granny has finally really gone nuts. She gets Louisiana up in the middle of the night and drives north. They cross the state line into Georgia, and still don’t stop.

But then Granny starts moaning. She needs a dentist. What’s a girl to do? Louisiana is nothing if not resourceful and drives the car herself until she finds a dentist in Richford, Georgia.

But after Granny has all her teeth removed, they need a place to stay. She arranges payment with Louisiana’s beautiful singing voice.

But Louisiana wants to get back home. And there are still more adventures, good and bad, ahead of her. And she finds out that the story she’s been telling of the Flying Elefantes is not precisely true.

As always, Kate DiCamillo’s characters are quirky yet lovable. (Either that, or quirky and annoying, like the organ player.) There’s a lot of warmth and compassion in this book – and Louisiana is up against great big odds.

Now, the final situation resolved itself maybe a little too easily – but I was happy with the result and happy with Louisiana’s choice.

And when all is said and done, she does find her way home.

Perhaps what matters when all is said and done is not who puts us down but who picks us up.

katedicamillostoriesconnectus.com
candlewick.com

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Review of Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth, by Sheila O’Connor

Friday, April 3rd, 2020

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth

by Sheila O’Connor

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018. 356 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 24, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Historical Children’s Fiction

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth is a story told through letters. The setting is 1968 in a small town named Lake Liberty. Reenie Kelly is staying at her grandmother’s house with her big brothers Billy and Dare. She has just gotten a paper route and she’s determined to show that an eleven-year-old girl can do just as good a job as any boy. She wasn’t able to meet Mr. Marsworth, since he didn’t come to the door, but she puts a friendly note in his milk box.

Mr. Marsworth answers with a friendly note in the milk box back to her. He doesn’t want to meet her, but says, “Any child of Betsy Kelly’s will be a perfect papergirl, I’m sure.” He sends a P.S. with his sympathy about her mother’s recent death from cancer.

I know it’s been some time since your mother passed away, but she was among the best this world has known. Such a strong young heart. How terrible that she left this earth too soon.

So begins a wonderful correspondence. Reenie is nothing if not loquacious, and she doesn’t have friends yet in Lake Liberty, so she pours out her thoughts to Mr. Marsworth.

She does already have another pen pal – a soldier named Skip fighting in Vietnam. But she doesn’t like to send him any bad news. And some bad news like trouble with bullies does start to come up.

But Reenie’s biggest worry is that her oldest brother Billy has turned 18 and that he’ll get drafted. She is trying to save money on her paper route so that he can afford to go to the University of Missouri. If he doesn’t go to college, surely he’ll get drafted. She doesn’t realize that their family is bankrupt because of paying for her mother’s cancer treatments.

Mr. Marsworth agrees with her that she should try to keep Billy from being drafted. It turns out that he was a conscientious objector during World War I and spent time in prison. The town still dislikes him for that. Reenie gets Billy to go to Minneapolis to talk to the folks at the Draft Information Office about how to become a conscientious objector. But when Billy writes a letter to the Tribune, the whole town turns against them and their troubles with bullies get much worse.

So that’s the basic outline of how things begin. But leaves out the charm, the life and spunk of Reenie’s letters, and the gentle wisdom coming from Mr. Marsworth. You fall in love with both of them. I was moved to tears before the book ended, and in a good way.

sheilaoconnor.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Review of Prairie Lotus, by Linda Sue Park

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

Prairie Lotus

by Linda Sue Park

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2020. 261 pages.
Review written March 23, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Prairie Lotus is a beautiful story of a half-Chinese girl, Hanna Edmunds, settling with her Papa in a town in Dakota Territory in 1880. They plan to open a dress goods shop. Hanna had learned to sew from her Mama, who died back in California, and dreams of also sewing dresses for the ladies of the town.

But Hanna encounters lots of prejudice for being a “Chinaman.” The people of the town don’t want to send their children to school with her, and even people who seem nice ask terribly ignorant questions. So besides trying to make friends in a new town, missing her Mama, and trying to make the shop a success, Hanna hopes that people will even allow her to live there.

Hanna has some encounters with some Indian women and children. She sees the settlers’ attitudes toward Indians with the perspective that these are people who look like she does, with black hair and dark eyes.

I couldn’t help but love Hanna, with her passion for making beautiful dresses, her willingness to think the best of people, and her determined spirit. Here’s a book that all children can picture themselves as being part of, experiencing a town on the frontier.

Prairie Lotus is written as both a tribute and an answer to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. The author notes in the back that she grew up loving those books.

Even at the height of my passion for those books, there were parts that I found puzzling and distressing. The character of Ma was most problematic. Her values of propriety and obedience over everything else seemed to me both misplaced and stifling.

And Ma hated Native Americans. In several episodes throughout the series, she expresses that hatred. While I could not have articulated it at the time, I harbored a deeply personal sense of dismay over Ma’s attitude. Ultimately it meant that she would never have allowed Laura to become friends with someone like me. Someone with black hair and dark eyes and tan skin. Someone who wasn’t white.

I appreciated that she did a lot of research to make sure she gets the encounters with Native Americans right.

I also chose to include a few lines of Dakota dialogue. I felt strongly about including those words in an effort to counteract previous generations of innumerable children’s books that have never depicted or even acknowledged Native languages, and the stereotypes of Hollywood that reduced Native communication to grunts and pidgin.

She concludes the Author’s Note like this:

Prairie Lotus is a story I have been writing nearly all my life. It is an attempt to reconcile my childhood love of the Little House books with my adult knowledge of their painful shortcomings. My wish is that this book will provide food for thought for all who read it, especially the young readers in whose hands the future lies.

She has not only succeeded in this goal, but she’s also written a main character her readers will love. They will imagine themselves back in LaForge, wanting to be Hanna’s best friend. But children won’t feel cut off from that imagination by the way they look.

lspark.com
hmhbooks.com

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Review of Front Desk, by Kelly Yang

Friday, March 20th, 2020

Front Desk

by Kelly Yang

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2018. 296 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 31, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2019 Winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Historical Children’s Fiction

My parents told me that America would be this amazing place where we could live in a house with a dog, do whatever we want, and eat hamburgers till we were red in the face. So far, the only part of that we’ve achieved is the hamburger part, but I was still holding out hope. And the hamburgers here are pretty good.

Mia’s parents were well-respected in China, but in America they’re having trouble keeping jobs. So when they get a job as motel managers – which comes with a place to stay, rent-free – they are excited. But the owner of the motel promises them one rate of pay – then changes the deal after they’re signed up. He makes them pay for any repairs needed out of their own pay, so what they take home becomes less and less. Since it takes all her parents’ time to clean the rooms, Mia ends up running the front desk.

Mia learns a lot at the front desk about how America works, especially from the regulars – the people who live in the motel long-term. But she also learns from her new best friend at school – Lupe, who is also a recent immigrant to America. Unfortunately, the son of the motel owner is also in her class. And he isn’t much nicer than his father.

When friends from China come by needing a place to stay, Mia’s parents are happy to put them up in an extra room – only Mr. Yao mustn’t find out.

When Mia sees injustices around her, she learns how to help – by writing. Her mother says she’ll never catch up with the native English speakers. Her mother was an engineer, so she wants Mia to focus on math, where she can help. But Mia dreams of helping her whole family with her writing.

Mia’s only ten, but she’s feisty and she’s friendly, and when she sees a problem, she doesn’t rest until she’s done something about it. Reading about Mia and her family was a delight.

kellyyang.com
arthuralevinebooks.com
scholastic.com

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Review of Gittel’s Journey, by Lesléa Newman, pictures by Amy June Bates

Monday, March 9th, 2020

Gittel’s Journey

An Ellis Island Story

story by Lesléa Newman
pictures by Amy June Bates

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019. 44 pages.
Starred Review
2020 Sidney Taylor Picture Book Award Honor

Gittel’s Journey is the story of a young girl traveling by herself to America from Poland with her mother’s Sabbath candlesticks. The story is based on the true stories of the author’s grandmother and adopted aunt.

Gittel had set out with her mother, but her mother is turned away because of an eye infection. She tells Gittel to go on without her and gives her the address of her cousin. But when Gittel arrives in America after a long journey, the ink has worn off the paper because she has kept such tight hold of it.

Fortunately, Gittel finds kind helpers in America for a happy ending.

The story is simple, but catches the reader’s imagination with the idea of a young girl crossing an ocean alone. The beautiful water color illustrations and loving care taken in the book’s construction make this book a work of art with a classic feel.

amybates.com
abramsyoungreaders.com

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Review of Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

Where the Crawdads Sing

by Delia Owens

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018. 370 pages.
Starred Review
Review written January 27, 2020, from a library book

Where the Crawdads Sing came out in 2018, when I was busy reading for the Newbery committee and didn’t have any time for adult books. But the book is still tremendously popular and always on hold, so I decided to get on the list for it and see what all the fuss was about.

I was not disappointed. This is a book with a mystery and a dramatic courtroom scene. But it is mostly a poignant story of a girl who’s been abandoned over and over again, has had to figure out life on her own, but who lives a beautiful life understanding the natural world and all its wonders.

The Prologue of the book tells us about a dead body in a swamp in 1969. Then the main body of the book opens in 1952 when Kya is six years old and her mother walks away from their shack in the marsh and never comes back. One by one, her older sisters and brothers leave as well. She gets a few years with Pa before he starts drinking again and one day never returns. So Kya has to figure out how to survive in the marsh from ten years old.

She’s a resourceful little girl. And she knows the marsh like nobody else. She knows how to hide from people like truant officers – after trying exactly one day of school in the town. She figures out how to cook and how to get food and supplies. And she knows all the creatures and birds that share her home.

Meanwhile, interwoven with scenes of Kya growing up are stories of the investigation of the dead body in the swamp. The body was a popular young man in the town, a star football player when he was in high school. He fell from an old fire tower. But there are no footprints in the mud leading up to it, not even his own. Gossip starts to mention that he once spent time with the Marsh Girl.

This is also a story of the men Kya eventually meets. One is a beautiful love story – but like so many other people in her life, he lets her down. And then there’s the story of the young man she turned to out of loneliness.

All along the way there are beautiful descriptions of life – all sorts of life – in the marsh. There’s poetry about it and we come to understand Kya’s wild heart. It’s also a wonderful story of how she builds a beautiful life. Of course, that will all be threatened if she’s convicted of murder.

Here’s the first paragraph of the Prologue, giving a small taste of the nature writing woven throughout this book:

Marsh is not swamp. Marsh is a space of light, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky. Slow-moving creeks wander, carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long-legged birds lift with unexpected grace – as though not built to fly – against the roar of a thousand snow geese.

deliaowens.com
penguinrandomhouse.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 Potter’s Boy, by Tony Mitton

Wednesday, February 5th, 2020

The Potter’s Boy

by Tony Mitton

David Fickling Books, 2019. First published in the United Kingdom in 2017. 246 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 16, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8 Children’s Fiction

The Potter’s Boy surprised me by its loveliness and its wisdom. I read it quickly, trying to decide before the deadline which book to nominate for a Cybils Award, and ended up wishing I’d had time to slowly absorb its contents and pull out wise quotations from it.

There’s a dragon on the cover, but I’m not quite sure it’s a fantasy book. There is an episode with a dragon, but that part may well be a dream or vision. Most of the book is a roughly historical tale set in a country similar to ancient Japan.

Ryo, our hero, is the son of a potter who loves his work, and Ryo is apprenticed to him. But one day, brigands attack their village, and a traveler defeats and confounds the brigands. Ryo asks the traveler to teach him to fight like that. The traveler tells him to wait a year, until he is thirteen, and then to seek the Hermit on Cold Mountain.

The book tells the story of Ryo’s journey when he does, in fact, go to the Hermit on Cold Mountain to be trained. So it’s an educating-a-young-person story, but this one takes some surprising turns.

All along the way, Ryo is trained in mindfulness and even nonviolence (which seems surprising for a fighter). It isn’t identified as Buddhism until the author’s note in the back, though some Japanese terms are used in the teaching.

But it’s all so lovely. A compelling story of a young person’s journey and coming of age – but also full of wisdom.

Just a warning — there is a terrible tragedy in the second half of the book. How Ryo deals with that tragedy is where this becomes not a typical fantasy tale. But please don’t expect all sweetness and light.

There were plenty of wise quotations in this book, and here’s an example:

The important thing is to live and to love, and, if possible, where possible, to make something good from time to time. It may be something you can see and touch and hold on to, like a pot or a fine garment or a painting. Or it may be something more ephemeral, such as good food, which is made and gone in a short space of time. Or it may simply be the art the skill, the knack, of making people happy, or cheerful or at their ease.

It does not matter so much what it turns out to be, but I urge you, if you are reading this, whoever you are, to ask yourself, “What do I make or do that is good, that brings beauty, pleasure, or happiness into the world?” And if you can find no answer to that, seek inside yourself to find the seed, the grain, of something that might fulfill that purpose. We cannot all be great artists or musicians, scientists or storytellers. We cannot reckon to be the best at what we do. But we can, each one of us, look inside ourselves to find a leaning, a direction, that suggests to us how we might make something of worth, while we are here. Is this not true?

An uplifting story of finding one’s calling.

scholastic.com

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Review of White Bird, by R. J. Palacio

Monday, January 27th, 2020

White Bird

by R. J. Palacio
inked by Kevin Czap

Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. 220 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 29, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #6 in Children’s Fiction
2020 Sidney Taylor Book Award Winner

This beautiful graphic novel written and illustrated by the author of Wonder is framed as a story told by the grandmother of a boy who’s a bully in Wonder. But his grandmother tells him the story of how she was hidden in a barn during the Holocaust – and that story will touch anyone’s life.

The boy who helped her escape and whose family saved her life had been crippled by polio. So the other children mocked him, and Sara did not stand up for him against that bullying, even though she’d sat next to him for years because their last names both started with B.

The story of Sara’s escape, and then the constant fear of discovery, and the way Julien and his mother helped her keep her courage up – but at great risk – all makes gripping reading. The story is not true, but there is information at the back telling about how it is all based in fact.

In the present, Julien’s grandmother tells him this was the boy he and his father were named after – someone who showed great kindness when any kindness felt like a miracle. The image of a white bird found throughout the book and the lessons drawn about standing up to evil and showing kindness make this a story that will resonate.

rhcbooks.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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