Anya's War was not what I expected. I knew it was about a Jewish family around the time of World War II--but this family moved to Shanghai, China, wheAnya's War was not what I expected. I knew it was about a Jewish family around the time of World War II--but this family moved to Shanghai, China, where they could live freely as Jews. And in China, the coming war is presented from a different perspective. The main threat comes not from the Nazis, but from the Japanese.
Even so, the tension that comes up most often in the narrative (other than family squabbles) is not from the Japanese military invasions, but rather the obvious and occasionally awkward contrast between Jewish and Chinese culture. Both are painted as fairly superstitious, rule-based ways of life, but the rules for each are very different. Anya doesn't seem to have a very firm grasp of the religion she practices, and breaks her Jewish rules many times over the few days chronicled in the book. And occasionally, she will wish that she had paid more attention to Li Mei's Taoist charms and rituals, in the off chance that they might actually work.
The narrative is strong, and the tensions in the book constantly propel the reader forward to the end. But there are some weaknesses in the book too. For one thing, there is relatively little character development. Anya and her mother both change a small amount, and there is an absolutely beautiful passage when Mr. Rosen is talking about loving and caring for his wife. But on the whole, all these different events come and go, and the relative effect on the characters is surprisingly minimal.
Another weakness in the book is the title. I honestly don't know what it refers to. In the story, World War II has not officially started, and though the growing tension and persecution was the main reason they moved, it is not clear that the title refers to that. I thought for a while that the issue of the Chinese "throwing out" their baby girls might be something that Anya herself would "wage war" against, but this is not the case either. She cares for the one baby girl, but doesn't seem to think about starting any kind of campaign to save the lives of Chinese babies. When the bombs went off, I thought that it could be the start of fighting or of some war, but the bombs turned out to be an accident when transporting unstable Chinese bombers to a safer location. It may seem picky, but I do think that the book as a whole would be a lot stronger if it had a title that clearly connected with the story. Without a clear connection between the title and the story, I have a very hard time discerning what is the main point of this story.
But even without a "main" point, reading this book could be fruitful. The book is based off of the author's (Andrea Alban) own experience, and provides a truly unique view of some Jews' experience in the late 1930s and early 1940s. I certainly learned a lot about Jewish and Chinese culture! I would say that you should approach this book as something light, interesting, and slightly educational, but don't expect it to be a page-turning thriller or a life-changing drama.
This book was a really good read on the heals of Anya's War by Andrea Alban. While Anya's War was set in 1939, The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is set in theThis book was a really good read on the heals of Anya's War by Andrea Alban. While Anya's War was set in 1939, The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is set in the 21rst century. Lucy, who is just entering the sixth grade and is ready to rule the school and the basketball court with her pro free throws, is disappointed (understatement) to find out that she's going to have to share her room with her great-aunt. (Who, incidentally, lived through the time illustrated in Anya's War.)
Lucy's spells out the reasons for her frustration in the book: One. She was promised her own room for the first time in her life, and she was ecstatic to be able to finally practice her interior decorating skills to make it look the way she wanted. With someone else sharing it, it seemed hardly worth the effort... in fact, after her great aunt arrives, her interior decorating style degenerates into something she describes as the "I can't find my math homework" look."
Number Two. Lucy was still grieving. Her grandmother used to live with her, and she and Lucy were basically best buds.
Still another problem was (Number Three) that Lucy was woefully lacking in the Chinese element of her Chinese-American life.
But things change and people grow and learn as they do in all good stories. Lucy's wall of her desk and dresser and bookcase, that she constructed down the middle of her room before her Yi Po arrived, is gradually breached and then taken down completely. She learns that Chinese school isn't so bad. And with the help of her friends, she begins to see Yi Po not as embarrassingly oriental, but as an interesting person (who can make killer dumplings!) In fact, it is Yi Po and her group of Ma Jong players that eventually make possible Lucy's dream of coaching the 6th grade team against the teachers in the fundraiser student/faculty game.
This is a fun book and easy read for mid-grade students and presents some good opportunities for talking about other cultures and ethnicities within the United States. I'll definitely be looking forward to the next book from Wendy Wan-Long Shang!
I wouldn't say that this is an especially life-changing or inspiring book. And I certainly don't think that its pseudo-spiritual ideas reflect the reaI wouldn't say that this is an especially life-changing or inspiring book. And I certainly don't think that its pseudo-spiritual ideas reflect the reality of what God has made and given us in creation. But I do believe in angels and even though I don't know what form they take in the world, this is a truly sweet story that has certainly made me think about how well I listen and learn from others. And of course, it also makes me consider the power of kind words and actions and a few moments of sincere listening and understanding.
In Beyonders, Brandon Mull sketches situations and characters that I have not often seen in modern fiction. Life and death are weighed in nearly everyIn Beyonders, Brandon Mull sketches situations and characters that I have not often seen in modern fiction. Life and death are weighed in nearly every decision. And though the two main characters (Jason and Rachel) are completely average Americans, their character is strong and they learn the value of choosing right instead of personal gain. Of course, those kind of decision making skills are definitely not seen in mainstream American teenagers--so one might rationally ask if there is any semblance of reality in the book. But there is! Jason and Rachel make decisions at first based on their one main goal--to get back home. Their decisions to do right often coincide with their best chances of learning how to return to America. And through the book, they learn to value trust and honesty, self sacrifice, and recognize the power of doing the right thing regardless of the consequences.
I found this book completely fascinating for many reasons. The first is that the characters are very unique. Take the emperor for example. He is an evil wizard, completely invincible as far as we know. He holds power by singling out his strongest opponents and either winning them over to serve him or bribing them to stay out of his way by an invitation to "The Eternal Feast." The feast is held at a beautiful castle called Harthenham, and is essentially Heaven on Earth. The emperor provides every comfort and every beautiful thing from the bedroom, to the grounds, and of course--the food. It is essentially a prison, for no one that has ever gone there has left. But it is a prison that few people would refuse if they were given the option. With this ultimate bribe, the emperor keeps his fiercest opponents at bay. And the very few that refuse this elegant bribe on principle? Well, the emperor recognizes their strong moral character and he invites them to serve him as part of his inner circle of advisers. For those that accept there is no chance of betrayal--they basically have an eye implanted into their body, and every step and conversation is watched. For those that refuse, they are not killed--for that would be martyrdom and martyrs spawn too many new recruits. No, the emperor simply breaks them physically and mentally and then turns them loose so that all who oppose him will see how their hero suffered and failed. This is how Lyrian came to be the land without heroes.
But Jason and Rachel learn that a hero is not necessarily spectacularly strong, nor stunningly courageous, nor strikingly handsome. A hero is someone who chooses what is right no matter what. They are given this challenge, and in a world where they basically have nothing to lose, they learn true heroism. This is the main strength of this book. It shows young teenagers the value of doing good and making selfless decisions.
This book captivated me right away. The story telling is fast paced, and there is an urgent tension that propels the book forward from the first chaptThis book captivated me right away. The story telling is fast paced, and there is an urgent tension that propels the book forward from the first chapter to the very end.
The first few chapters of the book reminded me very much of Anya's War. The protagonist (Rosy) is part of a foreign community in Asia. In this case, she is part of the ruling British community during the time that the Indians start protesting for their freedom under the leadership of Gandhi. This is certainly a clear difference is station and background, since Anya was part of the Jewish community who had to flee their homes to China in order to live. But you can see the striking similarities.
I believe the two things I appreciate the most about this book is the realism of the tension between characters, and the admirable way that Rosy approaches her decisions. The conflict between father and daughter and between the two sisters is so easy to understand that I could instantly visualize the awkwardness and feel in my heart the arguments that the characters left unsaid. Because of her amazing descriptions and masterful painting of character, Gloria Whelan drew me into the story, and as I read I felt like I became each character. And because of that, when resolution came, it was all the more joyful and exciting. On the second point, Rosy makes many decisions throughout the book that happen to be small acts of amazing courage. One of them is when she saves the baby from being crippled. Another is when she decided to help nurse the cholera patients on the steamer to England, a very dangerous job since cholera is so contagious. And in England, she decided to try to help her loving aunt to make her own small acts of courage--like opening her own checking account, and ultimately booking a passage for India. And yet, through all of these decisions, she usually tries to understand everyone else's point of view.
Tugs Button is a buck-toothed, overall clad, accident prone child living in the middle of Iowa in 1929. Not only that, but the entire clan of ButtonsTugs Button is a buck-toothed, overall clad, accident prone child living in the middle of Iowa in 1929. Not only that, but the entire clan of Buttons is about as unlucky as they come. They have to beware when there's pie on the counter because for some cosmic reason, that always means that calamity has already or is about to strike!
Anne Ylvisaker has woven a simple but charming story, but the real selling point of this book is the quirkiness of the Iowan characters and the real struggles that Tugs experiences as a little girl. We see some of her inner thoughts as she writes a brief essay about America and how the current president (Herbert Hoover) grew up in Iowa and experienced the very same things that she, Tugs Button, was experiencing. She wants to fit in with the wealthier, prettier girls; so she gets her mom to bob her hair and puts on her only dress. But she soon abandons her plan to fit in as she pursues her quest for truth. We experience with her the overwhelming delight of discovering that another little girl, whom she has watched and admired, wishes her to be a close friend above all others. With Tugs' success winning the essay contest and the three-legged race and the raffle for the Kodak Brownie camera.... it seems that the luck of the Buttons is turning, at last.
What a ride this story is! I had only read the first few chapter when I sat down with it last night, but I literally did not get up or put it down untWhat a ride this story is! I had only read the first few chapter when I sat down with it last night, but I literally did not get up or put it down until I had finished it! Diane Stanley writes as though it is historical fiction, which I suppose it is since the time setting (though unclear) is probably during the Middle Ages during the feudal system. Though we have never heard of the countries of Westria or Austlind, we easily imagine them to be somewhere in France, Germany, or Austria many ages ago.
It takes talent to tell a story giving the aura of a particular time and place without specifically stating it. But I think it takes even more talent to believably insert the element of fantasy and weave it throughout the story so that it bonds seamlessly with the historical fiction.
For what else but fantasy could you call a particularly magical silver bowl that calls to the servant girl who polishes the silver and shows her scenes from the past and the future? The bowl, in fact, was made by the girl's grandfather, who was magical himself and was forced to put inside the bowl 100 curses specifically designed for the royal family. The silversmith was clever though, and put in a Guardian to watch over the curses -- to let them out when it was safe, and to keep them inside the bowl when they grew too dangerous. It is the Guardian who calls to Molly and warns her of the plot against the King of Westria.
I'd love to share this story with all the young people I know (and some of the older ones as well!). This book is definitely going onto the list to be purchased and reread over and over again!
This is an amazing debut novel by Thanhha Lai. While I think that you will immediate become engrossed with little Hà's story and the events that bringThis is an amazing debut novel by Thanhha Lai. While I think that you will immediate become engrossed with little Hà's story and the events that bring her to America, the first thing that you will notice is that the book is written as a series of short free verse poems in 10-year-old Hà's journal.
What I really love about this book is the language. Free verse novels seem to be creeping into style (consider Out of the Dust, written by Karen Hesse about the dust bowl in Oklahoma, which won the Newbery Award in 1998.) Lai paints gorgeous pictures with her words, somehow getting more meaning and beauty out of each little phrase than most authors could get out of an entire book! (perhaps a slight overstatement there...) But truly, this book makes me appreciate language and words. And when you consider that Thanhha Lai moved from Vietnam to Alabama just like Hà and had to spend years learning and correcting her English, this gives great hope for Hà, who is frustrated with English grammar and thinks that "whoever invented English should learn how to spell."
Rachel Neumeier's book, The Floating Islands, is a fantastic combination of inventive fantasy lore and the much more real-world problem of pending intRachel Neumeier's book, The Floating Islands, is a fantastic combination of inventive fantasy lore and the much more real-world problem of pending international battle. For the land where Trei was born (Tolounn) is famous for its army that always follows orders and will stop at nothing. The emperors are hungry for more conquests, but the Floating Islands stand in the way. But when they figure out a way for their mages to harness the energy from huge steam engines, they attack the Floating Islands, and push away (using magic) the wind dragons, which are keep the islands afloat. The islands begin to sink, and the Tolounnese soldiers throw up ladders to invade.
But what can Trei and his small band of kajurai novices do? And for that matter, what is Trei's cousin Araene, supposed to do? They are both orphans, the only family that they have is each other. But girls live a very regulated life on the islands, and Araene has a hard decision to make when her parents die of the fever. Should she let Trei leave the kajurahi and his dream of flying in order to be her guard and chaperone? In a moment of confidence, Araene chops off her hair, "becomes" a boy, and uses her incipient magical ability to join the mage's school. She always wanted to be a chef, but when she started tasting magic as various spices and flavors, she decides that whatever it might lead to, she does want to stifle her new ability. But when she arrives at the school, she promptly breaks all the rules, the most serious of which was taking an egg from the fire dragon living in the heart of the school and promising to quicken the young dragon. And yet, this very egg, Araene's magical ability, and Trei's flying ability coupled with his past knowledge of Tolounnese manners might be just what the Floating Islands need to regain and establish their independence from the ambitious Tolounnese.
I don't know if it's possible, but I may actually love this one even more than the first! Jeanne Birdsall is a fantastic writer, and the Penderwicks aI don't know if it's possible, but I may actually love this one even more than the first! Jeanne Birdsall is a fantastic writer, and the Penderwicks are wonderful, real characters. The four sisters, all so different, but completely family in every way, are what make each of the stories SO charming--no matter what the plot is, if the Penderwicks are in it, it will be fascinating and full of laughs! I really appreciate the classic style of these books, and after reading this one, I can't wait to read the latest...and then go back and read them all again! ...more