This works well as an introduction to illuminated manuscripts and the idea of monasteries and such. But it fails in a particularly glaring sense: sincThis works well as an introduction to illuminated manuscripts and the idea of monasteries and such. But it fails in a particularly glaring sense: since it's about a MONK and the book that starts the whole adventure is the PSALMS, I expected a teensy bit more about the monk's religion/beliefs instead of just surface events. Artwork is lovely....more
My review of this is biased from having just finished Towers Falling prior to this one. And both are excellent, but for different reasons. They make aMy review of this is biased from having just finished Towers Falling prior to this one. And both are excellent, but for different reasons. They make an admirable pair. I liked this one better, so maybe a 4.5?
This one chronicles 4 kids in the 48 hours leading up to and including 9/11. What I liked: four very different characters (nicely and believably diverse) who all have a connection to the events (either a mom was spared the events b/c she didn't go to her meeting or a family is Muslim and feels persecution or a family lives in Shanskville, etc.). The super ordinary lives of these four middle grades students highlight just how abrupt the events of 9/11 were for those of us who lived through it--something that the target audience for this book won't understand without a book like this. It was a hard read in some senses for someone old enough to remember that day, and Baskin captures that shock quite well. I completely empathized with her reactions since I, like her main characters, didn't lose anyone in 9/11, but I reacted as an American. All the uncertainty, the terror, the overwhelming desire to locate/connect with each of my scattered family members, the numb watching of the TV....
And that's the takeaway here: regardless of their appearances or back stories, each of the four main characters is an American. It's a refreshingly patriotic and hopeful ending without being sappy. We don't learn much about how the four characters are affected in the aftermath, but I think that's partly the point of the book: to show how abrupt and shocking the actual events were, NOT to show what's happened since then. Instead, the four are shown as survivors who've been affected, yes, but are proud to be Americans and are anxious to honor the fallen....more
I enjoyed this, but it's not a "must read." Illustrations (as always with Pyle) are outstanding and add to the feel of the story. A good springboard fI enjoyed this, but it's not a "must read." Illustrations (as always with Pyle) are outstanding and add to the feel of the story. A good springboard for discussing virtue, good v evil, and how to respond to the unfairness of life. But it will be a challenging read for many!...more
Our second time to listen to this book, and we enjoyed it just as much! Great in audio format. Story is slow and steady, but rewards the patient readeOur second time to listen to this book, and we enjoyed it just as much! Great in audio format. Story is slow and steady, but rewards the patient reader/listener as they learn along with Robin about patience, the value of diligence and the growth of character. It's also an excellent introduction to the Middle Ages....more
I wanted to like this book more than I did. The sentences, the words--the craftsmanship in this sense is marvelous. Beautiful writing. But the book isI wanted to like this book more than I did. The sentences, the words--the craftsmanship in this sense is marvelous. Beautiful writing. But the book is pretty hopeless when all is said and done. The girl is young in the book, but she's looking back on the events of this year in her life and the reader sees the events through that older perspective. It's deep, melancholy, full of the coming-of-age sense in which a person learns the life is hard, life isn't fair, and life is messy. Frankly, I don't think middle schoolers need many reminders of that, nor do I think they want to read tons of books that wallow in despair. I wish there had been more hope in the ending because the book had such promise!...more
A fascinating account of the way an African American minister finds a way to legally educate the young African American kids in his St. Louis communitA fascinating account of the way an African American minister finds a way to legally educate the young African American kids in his St. Louis community when the law (in 1847) made such schools illegal in the state of Missouri. Strong work ethic, very pro education, AND respectful of the law = themes we can certainly use more of in this day and age! Illustrations are a wonderful fit for the time period of the text. Good back matter explaining the inspiration for the story, more info on the real minister, and good clarification of Hopkinson's research (and what she was NOT able to find out). Bibliography with works for kids included!...more
A delightful story with good kid appeal. A "teacher" story in which the teacher (Miss Agnes) is the one who saves the day and teaches EVERYONE (includA delightful story with good kid appeal. A "teacher" story in which the teacher (Miss Agnes) is the one who saves the day and teaches EVERYONE (including a deaf girl, the older folks in town, etc.)....more
I'm on the fence between 4 and 5 stars; kids voted for 5 stars. This was a gripping read aloud for my third and fourth graders! A nice piece of WWII hI'm on the fence between 4 and 5 stars; kids voted for 5 stars. This was a gripping read aloud for my third and fourth graders! A nice piece of WWII history that's more positive/less "scary" than the Holocaust narratives, but full of heroism and danger nonetheless....more
What It Is: Middle grades historical fiction/mystery
What It’s About: A group of young Roman schoolboys get embroiled in aFirst reviewed on Literaritea
What It Is: Middle grades historical fiction/mystery
What It’s About: A group of young Roman schoolboys get embroiled in a mystery when one of their own, Rufus, is accused of writing “Caius is a Dumbbell” on a sacred temple, their schoolmaster (Xanthos) is beaten up and robbed, Rufus is thrown in the notoriously terrible Roman prison, and nothing seems to add up. Set during Ancient Rome’s heyday, the novel covers quite a bit of cultural and historical information along the way as the boys team up with their schoolmaster to solve the mystery of “who dunnit” so that they can secure Rufus’s release from prison before he is sent off as a slave.
What Works: Lively pacing keeps the story moving along, and the mystery isn’t completely clear until the very end. Myriad cultural and historical details are inserted cleverly and casually; the book does not feel like a textbook in the least, but astute readers will learn a lot about Ancient Rome in the process.
What Doesn’t Work: The book was originally written in the 1950s, and it feels like it in parts. Some terms (like “oriental”), some clunky writing and choppy parts, and the near absence of female characters hint at the novel’s age. That’s not necessarily a negative; it depends on the audience! Those who enjoy old-fashioned fiction will likely enjoy this more than those who prefer a more crisp, contemporary style (with more nuanced characters).
What I Think/Recommend: This is a fun addition to any study of Ancient Rome (which is why this title lands on so many curriculum lists that involve Ancient Rome!). It works equally well as a read aloud or independent read, but it won’t hold up to the same level of careful literary study that other novels might. There is one scene where the villain dies a violent death; it is mentioned, but not graphic. At other times, other violence is alluded to (including the death of some children). The complexity of the mystery, especially when coupled with all the Roman names and customs, is another a factor that keeps this book firmly in the middle grades range and not as a read aloud to much younger children, particularly sensitive ones.
Note: This title appears on several Christian homeschool curriculum lists (or informal lists from within the Christian homeschool community). It’s worth pointing out that this is not a Christian title in any sense and would work just as well as part of a public school library collection....more
What It Is: Historical Fiction set in 1960s Anniston, AL
What It’s About: Billie Sims has her eyes opened to the latent prFirst reviewed on Literaritea
What It Is: Historical Fiction set in 1960s Anniston, AL
What It’s About: Billie Sims has her eyes opened to the latent prejudice around her when the Freedom Riders’ bus gets mobbed at its stop in Anniston (her home town). She starts to see how she has been [unintentionally] racist towards her family’s maid, particularly as she gets to know Jarmaine, the maid’s daughter. The girls end up sneaking off to ride a bus to Montgomery so they can see the Freedom Riders and Martin Luther King, Jr. in person. That night, they are part of the infamous scene where a mob traps the congregants of First Baptist Church along with the Freedom Riders and MLK.
What Works: This particular event (the mob at the bus in Anniston) doesn’t get a lot of press in the Civil Rights-related works for middle grades, and it’s worth bringing it to our attention. The church members’ demonstrated faith in Montgomery is also notable. Historically, the African American community has often found strength to persevere from their Christian faith, and that doesn’t come through in very many novels. The girls’ trip together was a nice touch, too. Neither of them could have made that trip without the other; both of their races were required for the different situations.
What Doesn’t Work: The writing style is a bit clunky at times, veering into telling instead of showing. This happens a lot in first person narratives, particularly when the author is trying to communicate a particular “message.” Billie’s awareness of her own prejudice feels a little heavy-handed. In addition, I kept thinking of a book like Stella By Starlight or Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in which the main characters are African American instead of white. Seems to me it’s worth hearing that side of the story to balance out these little white “messengers of change.”
What I Think/Recommend: I would very much love to see a middle grades narrative nonfiction piece about these events, and since the author actually had some interviews with Janie Forsyth (a white girl mentioned in the book) and the African American organ player’s son, it seems to me that there’s a good start to such a book. Either way, Night on Fire is a fine addition to a library’s holdings on similar-themed books.
I received this book from Albert Whitman in return for a fair review....more
Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart. Scholastic, 2016. 240 pages.
What It Is: Horses + adventure + Western + voice + diFirst reviewed on Literaritea
Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart. Scholastic, 2016. 240 pages.
What It Is: Horses + adventure + Western + voice + diversity + grit + courage + all. the. feels = a great read. (Or, a fast-paced adventure novel about a boy and his horse (set in Washington state in the 1890s)).
What It’s About: There are plenty of orphan stories, horse and boy stories, and Western adventures. Gemeinhart manages to roll them all up in one along with a young Chinese boy, some bonafide villains, and lots of wilderness survival. Joseph is on his own, bravely tracking down his beloved pony. He befriends a Chinese boy named Ah-Kee. Their friendship is natural and crosses language barriers because they both understand sorrow and longing–not to mention their shared boyishness and humor. The last couple of chapters are a bit over the top, but this is an adventure novel and they flow with the rest. A great read all in all.
What Works: the main character’s moral integrity, the manner in which diversity is handled, and the constant action and adventure.
Joseph’s moral integrity rings true and is clearly based on the teaching he had from his parents. He’s not overly religious; rather, he consciously chooses to the do the right thing (often at great cost to himself), he consistently treats others–no matter their race/gender/appearance/behavior–with respect, and he shows real courage.
Gemeinhart never lets us hear Ah-Kee actually speak because Joseph can’t understand him. I love this: how many young Chinese boys in the 1890s would have spoken English anyway? This lets us see Ah-Kee through the white character’s eyes rather than a 21st century white man’s attempt to understand what Ah-Kee might have been feeling/thinking. Kudos, Mr. Gemeinhart, for walking this delicate tightrope of historical fiction so well. The Native Americans seem to be treated with similar respect, but the section focusing on them is much shorter.
This is a book that will hook readers and keep them on the line until the very last page. The ending is just right, too–happy, but not without its own pathos. This grown-up reader shed some tears. The last couple of chapters are a bit over the top, but this is an adventure novel and they flow with the rest. A great read all in all.
What Doesn’t Work: Not much! Personally, I could have done without the frequent “3rd commandment violations,” but they’re easy to skip over in a read aloud and flow with the Western-sounding talk.
What You Need to Know: towards the end, especially, there’s one fairly violent scene as Joseph confronts an outlaw. Guns are fired, people are wounded, etc. If you have especially sensitive children, perhaps wait on this one a year or so.
What to Use it For: Recommended for 4th grade and up (3rd as a read aloud, depending on your children’s maturity). A good choice for independent reading lists, for “strewing” about the house in hopes someone will pick it up, for working into a historical study, or for class/group discussion....more
A very fun romp in which a resourceful orphan finds herself helping rescue President Taft's niece, revealing a nefarious plot and its masterminds, andA very fun romp in which a resourceful orphan finds herself helping rescue President Taft's niece, revealing a nefarious plot and its masterminds, and befriending a newsboy in Washington, D. C. Solid characterization, great voice (the prose is quite hilarious at times), and a lovable cat-as-sidekick make this a fun read. There isn't as much depth as some of Larson's other novels.... ...more
I really liked this book, but I went into it with extra high hopes. I really, really loved The Great Wall of Lucy Wu and wanted this book to essentialI really liked this book, but I went into it with extra high hopes. I really, really loved The Great Wall of Lucy Wu and wanted this book to essentially be a boy version of that.
It is, and it isn't.
Strengths of the book: Vietnam era without hovering on much political "stuff." Kids today will totally find themselves in the kids in this book. Chinese-American dynamics are well done: you know that it's a factor in the family's experience, but it's not overdone, or even the point of the book. LOVED the development of the son and dad's relationship. Loved the ending: hopeful, but not neat and too happy, happy. Interesting treatment of depression and its effects on the loved ones around the depressed person. Beautiful picture of love from the father--even though he is totally undemonstrative. Classic middle grades themes of: accepting others and learning to understand them/where they're coming from even when they're different from you, starting to separate your identity from that of your parents, struggling with adversity on your own but still with the family safety net, etc. Baseball is the tie that binds in this book--this is not another book about a nerdy kid who loves math or loves to read. It's about a baseball loving kid, a baseball loving culture, and baseball!
Weaknesses: some all-too-common tropes in the book (such as, bully has drunk father and lives in poor community). The gender equality angle sort of comes out of nowhere--the context totally fits, but I still felt like it wasn't what the heart of the story was about. Still musing over it. (But it's well done overall, and both boys and girls will enjoy this angle of the story)....more
Lynch's illustrations are a wonderful fit for the story he tells of John Howland, the Mayflower, and that harsh first winter for the Pilgrims4.5 stars
Lynch's illustrations are a wonderful fit for the story he tells of John Howland, the Mayflower, and that harsh first winter for the Pilgrims. Much more than a Thanksgiving story, this text-heavy book is a great read about early American history and the Mayflower's voyage. Lynch's text, from the perspective of young Howland himself, doesn't shy away from the Pilgrims' faith, the harshness of their experiences, or the ways in which they may have not dealt well with the Native Americans. Illustrations match the mood of the text expertly; they appear frozen in time, like a painting of the scene might appear. I was pleasantly surprised with this one because I've not felt Lynch's previous books to be this strong (his previous artwork--this is the first book he's written and illustrated).
End matter includes brief author's note and short bibliography--which includes some titles for young readers. This book would have been stronger if the distinction between historical fiction and actual history were made a bit clearer (citations for dialogue and the like).
Recommended for stronger readers, third grade and up. (or average middle grades readers)...more
While there’s more to it than simple cooking finesse, one German baker put his baking talents to heroic use during the American Revolution, receiving high praise from George Washington himself!
Christopher Ludwick was passionately committed to his new country’s freedoms and reward for personal industry. When Revolution loomed, he left his thriving bakery to offer his jovial, rotund self to General Washington. Seeing the hunger etched on the troops’ faces, Ludwick put on his apron rather than weapons and set to work. Ludwick was instrumental in showing foreign soldiers kindness and wooing them to America’s promise.
Charming illustrations in the style of gingerbread cookies enhance this cheerful, patriotic look at the service ordinary people provide when they serve where God has gifted them. Ludwick went the extra mile with General Washington himself, providing thousands of pounds of bread for their starving former enemies at war’s end. *Note: Endpapers include a gingerbread cookie recipe; in addition, see excellent author’s note at end...more
Larson is a talented author, but her treatment of the Japanese-American experience is not as strong as it might be.Read full review on Redeemed Reader
Larson is a talented author, but her treatment of the Japanese-American experience is not as strong as it might be. Camp conditions are portrayed clearly, but the end of the book leaves Mitsi’s family settling in, happy for small victories (such as their new ability to keep their pets). The camps are not condoned, but perhaps the picture would be more effective if there weren’t quite so many loose ends tied up so neatly. Still, this is a worthy addition to the genre of middle-grade WWII novels, not least because it does treat the Japanese-American experience in the camps on our soil. A suitable read for younger readers who are just beginning to learn about this troubling period in history, Dash will work well alongside other Holocaust stories for the eight- to ten-year-old crowd and should prompt some thought-provoking questions in its young readers. ...more
Bottom Line: This historical novel-in-verse delicately explores cross-cultural friendship against the backdrop of theReviewed first on Redeemed Reader
Bottom Line: This historical novel-in-verse delicately explores cross-cultural friendship against the backdrop of the lost Roanoke Colony in the sixteenth century.
Alis lands with her family on the New World beach, eager to be off the ship that held them captive for rough months at sea while they crossed the Atlantic. Weary and discouraged, they are miles from where they’d hoped to land. Father hopes to find Uncle and the crew that sailed months previously. I did not dream of seeing him so soon. Surely he and the other soldiers will set things right.
Kimi watches from the banks, hiding as only her people know how to do. Silently, she observes the strange ones disembark, marveling that they’ve come back. Are they spirits from the dead? Father said they were people like us, only with different ways. But how can I believe him? Father is dead.
Using verse and alternating perspectives, Rose weaves a delicate story of two girls who become friends despite the enmity between their two communities. Kimi and Alis delight in learning each other’s language and in discovering more about each other’s culture as they grow as close as sisters. Simultaneously, readers watch the two communities spiral into a seemingly unavoidable conflict: miscommunication (some intentional, but much stemming from two disparate languages and cultures), fear of the “other,” and deadly actions on the part of a few outliers fan the flames high. Kimi and Alis are caught in the middle, each trying to desperately save the other’s life as well as those of her family.
Kimi and Alis both must make hard decisions, decisions that force them to choose between their friend and their families. The verse format intensifies the emotional undercurrents even as it serves to highlight the similarities and differences between Alis and Kimi. While no parent hopes a child will choose friendship over family, we are told in Scripture that sometimes doing the right thing will require just that: choosing right over family. We also become part of a new family when we become part of the family of God; that new identity often forces a separation from our old ways of life. Readers will have much to discuss when Alis makes her final decision: Did she do the right thing? Would you make the same choice in her position?
A great resource for bringing the Civil Rights and its many issues home to young readers today. Trying on shoes is something early elementary kids wilA great resource for bringing the Civil Rights and its many issues home to young readers today. Trying on shoes is something early elementary kids will readily grasp, and the thought that people might be barred from trying on their shoes to see if they fit before buying will help them appreciate how ridiculous those laws were! The story also shows two young girls finding a creative way around this law, finding a way to serve their own community, and experiencing the joys of a job well done. Illustrations have a snapshot feel to them--like an image is frozen in time. Colors are rich, and they are nicely done....more