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
Based on Carol Ryrie Brink’s own grandmother’s experiences, Caddie Woodlawn was first published in 1935 and awarded tReviewed first on Redeemed Reader
Based on Carol Ryrie Brink’s own grandmother’s experiences, Caddie Woodlawn was first published in 1935 and awarded the 1936 Newbery Medal. Eleven-year-old Caddie Woodlawn, the middle child in her large family, is a red-headed tomboy who rebels at her mother’s and older sister’s attempts to make her more ladylike, preferring instead the wild adventures she has with her two close brothers. Those adventures include such unladylike actions as swimming, ice skating, and rescuing the school from a prairie fire. Caddie doesn’t realize it, but she is also demonstrating her own unique gifts along the way as she compassionately spends her money to help some poor children, patiently learns how to repair watches at her father’s side, and keeps “Injun John’s” dog for him after bravely warning him of the white settlers’ unrest.
What makes a book like Caddie Woodlawn stand the test of time? It’s authentic. Not only is it grounded in a real woman’s memories of life on the frontier, it tackles issues that are real and true for all times: race relations and judging people from other cultures before getting to know them,* freedom and responsibility, when it’s worth sacrificing your home for a new adventure (and when it’s worth staying put!), how to love your family members through the easy times and the hard times, and how to grow up into the person God made you to be. Caddie grapples with each of these throughout the book, and she ends the book ready to become a woman—not a simpering, frail creature, but a strong, multi-skilled pioneer who is ready to love, protect, and serve her future family. *Note that many find the terminology used in this book for American Indians to be offensive. Certainly we wouldn’t condone someone saying “Injun” or “savage” today, but this would have been standard white settler vocabulary during the time period. It’s worth pointing out that Caddie herself is a great example of someone who does not let cultural stereotypes and fear keep her from seeing her American Indian neighbors as people just like herself.
Caddie Woodlawn is a great choice for a family read-aloud because her rambunctious spirit is often echoed in young listeners, be they boys or girls! Caddie Woodlawn is also a wonderful follow-up to the Little House books; it is a harder and more complex read than the first few Little House books. A fun read about a boy learning to embrace his own unique gifts during a similar time period is The Great Turkey Walk. Many parents (and grandparents!) today will remember reading Caddie Woodlawn during their own childhoods. It’s time to revisit this classic.
Another solid work of historical fiction from Avi. I'd bump this up to 4 stars for thought-provoking material, but the voice of the narrator bugged meAnother solid work of historical fiction from Avi. I'd bump this up to 4 stars for thought-provoking material, but the voice of the narrator bugged me. I felt like metaphors and similes and figures of speech were poured over me like waves upon sand, like rain falling from the sky, like a slap in the face. I almost put the book down after the first few chapters....
Thankfully, the plot kicked in and the aforementioned thought-provoking material began to show itself. An interesting choice for readers interested in the 1950s, McCarthy-ism, the Red Scare, this is part mystery, part philosophical exploration of what it means to be loyal to your family, to trust your family, to weigh loyalty to government when/if it conflicts with your family, and similar issues. 12-year-old Pete wrestles with all of these as he learns more about his dad's past, learns what it's like to be unfairly judged and treated because of rumors about you and your family, and is unfairly separated from his best friend when she is sent to boarding school.
It all works out nicely in the end. Everyone learns a lot, the right people stand up for themselves, and Pete grows up a bit. ...more
So much of my opinion on a book is colored by what I've read in close proximity to given title. Unfortunate on the one hand, but on the other, sometimSo much of my opinion on a book is colored by what I've read in close proximity to given title. Unfortunate on the one hand, but on the other, sometimes it helps me not be swayed by emotive writing and instead do a true compare/contrast with other representations in the field.
So that might explain why I am not wowed by this--and I'm clearly in the minority. This is one of the times I wish I could give a 3.5 stars.
4 stars for: *kudos to Ms. Bradley for giving us a terrifically satisfying ending that is NOT all roses and "happy ever after"--there is lots left to wonder about, but the important things have been settled *good piece of WWII historical fiction that is not Holocaust related, but WAR related: the bombs in England, the war effort, the reality of what the soldiers are going through, the reality of what the people at home are trying to do for the war effort *in general, a very, very difficult subject (physical special needs coupled with severe emotional abuse) handled in a way that kids can actually read about
3 stars for: *Oh my goodness, this was SO depressing. Even when Ada was experiencing a better life, it was still so very depressing.... *while I get that some mothers are really that cruel, especially in the beginning, I'm not entirely sure why the mother continued some of her old behavior near the end--when it was clear that she could have been abusing Ada differently (i.e. putting her to work--that seems to make more sense to me given what little we know of the mother). *Ada's voice was inconsistent for me--overall, I think it worked, but there are moments where it just got to me (maybe this is back to that depressing element, I'm not sure).
Not a bad book at all, but not one I'm convinced everyone needs to read either....more
Very conflicted here. Bullet points will have to suffice:
What I liked (4-5 stars): *each individual historical fiction story was engaging, especially tVery conflicted here. Bullet points will have to suffice:
What I liked (4-5 stars): *each individual historical fiction story was engaging, especially the first two *nice, believable diversity (didn't feel like "diversity for the sake of diversity") and a good range (not just ethnic, but physical and socio economic) *harmonica element unique *emphasis on power of music well done *mood throughout book was captivating
What I didn't like (3 stars): *the ending! Um.. WAY, WAY, WAY too convenient. I almost think if we'd started at that concert and then backed up to see how each main character had gotten there, it would have been more believable. Instead, it felt too forced and convenient *the Latina girl's story was a touch weak. I felt that the historical stories started off strong and began to fizzle by the end of the third one *the 3 sisters?? released for what?? to what?? still confused by them and their need to be in the story...more
A solid work of historical fiction set in a small town in NC just prior to the Civil Rights. The deep south (Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia) comes to mA solid work of historical fiction set in a small town in NC just prior to the Civil Rights. The deep south (Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia) comes to mind when we think of segregation and Jim Crow, but NC was the scene of many, many Civil Rights activities and issues. Similar in some ways to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Stella by Starlight focuses on an African American girl and her family, the Jim Crow laws in effect, the hateful/scary actions of white community members in the KKK, and the hard work and dreams of many in the African American community. What I liked in this book was the depiction of the church at work for its members--the encouragement they gave to one another, the tangible help they gave each other, the prayers lifted up. Not all white members are portrayed as racist; there are several figures in the white community that attempt to be more even handed. In one poignant scene, Stella realizes that even white people that appear to have it all together outwardly are sometimes still struggling with their own rough issues.
Stella dreams of being a better writer, and there are several examples in the book that are "hers." It does seem that historical fiction heroines are often wannabe writers, so while I appreciated her voice and the evidence that writing is hard work, I still got tired of it by the end. ...more
Stunning book. Simply stunning. E. B. Lewis never disappoints, but his illustrations seemed especially perfect in this book. His detailed author's notStunning book. Simply stunning. E. B. Lewis never disappoints, but his illustrations seemed especially perfect in this book. His detailed author's note describes how he photographed real people from a small town in SC as the basis for these illustrations. They even dressed in period costumes. The text is not as strong (4 stars), but it works and, in combination with Lewis's illustrations, captures a significant moment in the history of slavery in this country. Juneteenth is still celebrated today!
It's hard to imagine in this day and age of instant news--or near instant--from around the globe that some African American slaves in the 1860s could have missed the announcement that they were now free. But that is indeed what happened. Johnson tells of the moment they learned of their freedom through a young girl's voice.
Detailed author's and illustrator's notes in the back coupled with a time line, a glossary, and other back matter make this book a perfect one for a unit study or a companion to a study of the Civil War/1860s American history....more
Perhaps it was the timing of this book for me, but it was slow going. Rufus as a protagonist didn't engage me much, and he seemed a bit passi3.5 stars
Perhaps it was the timing of this book for me, but it was slow going. Rufus as a protagonist didn't engage me much, and he seemed a bit passive. His best trait seems to be "making the best of a bad situation." I guessed the ending well in advance, felt like the last couple of chapters were just isolated recountings of the various ends of the various characters, and thought the middle section could have been edited down. Interesting subject matter and unique; well written prose; but in the end, not dynamic and memorable....more
A weak 4 stars I confess--5 stars for the first 2/3 of the book; 3 for the last 1/3.
How do you classify a book like this? Historical fiction? Myth? FaA weak 4 stars I confess--5 stars for the first 2/3 of the book; 3 for the last 1/3.
How do you classify a book like this? Historical fiction? Myth? Fairy tale? Adventure? Magical realism? A little of everything?
I loved the first 2/3 of this book. The last 1/3, I was just sort of "meh" about. I've been mulling over the shift, and I've decided it's because the line between myth and historical fiction gets blurred. Astri tells herself the stories of her Norwegian culture in an attempt to process what's happening to her. This is quite well done, and her life does indeed mirror certain elements of the stories. She's very clear about what's different, though, and her character felt very realistic. Don't so many of us story-lovers do the same thing? Out of hope, especially, we remind ourselves of our stories--perhaps the current situation will turn out like one of those old wonderful stories we cling to. And Astri's life is hard, so hard. It's no wonder she escapes into the land of myth.
But when she and Greta get on the boat--actually, once the horse enters the picture--the line gets fuzzier and fuzzier until the ending is magical realism all over the place. I'm not sure how I wanted the book to end, but it wasn't satisfying as written.
Note for concerned parents: there's one scene about 1/3 the way through the book where the goatherd that Astri has been sold to comes into her bed somewhat aggressively, and Astri uses a knife to defend herself. This may trouble younger, precocious readers. The remaining sinister elements feel very much in keeping with fairy tales and fantasy that many younger readers enjoy....more