Escape By Night is told by Tommy, a 10-year-old boy in Georgia during the Civil War. His father is a pastor whose church has been transformed into aEscape By Night is told by Tommy, a 10-year-old boy in Georgia during the Civil War. His father is a pastor whose church has been transformed into a temporary hospital to accommodate the large number of wounded Confederate soldiers returning from the front. When he sees an arriving soldier unwittingly drop a book in the street as he is being carried into the hospital, Tommy picks it up to return it to him. When Tommy realizes his new friend is, in fact, a Yankee soldier in disguise, he must make a decision whether to help the man escape to the North before he is discovered by the authorities or turn him in and watch him go to prison as an enemy.
With short chapters and easily accessible language Escape By Night serves as an introduction to historical topics such as the Civil War and moral topics such as slavery. There is a moment when Tommy's new friend asks Tommy a question about slavery that Tommy puts into his 10-year-old logic and gets a simple and obvious answer:
"Do you think Henry wants to be free?" Red asked.
"Yes," Tommy said, without hesitation. "Henry has someone telling him what to do all the time. I hate it when my sisters tell me what to do."
An adult reader understands that slavery is a much deeper issue than just being told what to do, but for a young reader just learning about the concept of slavery and the Civil War, Tommy's reasoning is easy to understand and identify with. Tommy's insight about using the principles we so often speak about using only words is also significant:
It wasn't only for Red's benefit that this had happened. IT was for Tommy, too. Just a few days ago mercy was something you talked ab out in church, not something you actually did.
This is a great way to show how beliefs can translate into action, rather than simply talk about them--which becomes important when having discussions with young readers about the relationship of stories to real life: what we can learn from them about ourselves and each other.
In summary, Escape By Night is a quick read that may work in classrooms (perhaps in conjunction with Kizzy Ann Stamps by Jeri Watts--another 2016-17 Lovelace nominee about a young black girl in 1963 at the very beginning of school integration) as a springboard for history or social studies lessons. It may also provide a quick independent read for students in Grade 3 (or beginning of Grade 4)....more
Raymie's father has run off with a dental hygienist but Raymie is convinced that if she can just win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire CompetitionRaymie's father has run off with a dental hygienist but Raymie is convinced that if she can just win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire Competition her father will be so proud of her he will immediately return home. In pursuit of this plan Raymie is taking baton-twirling lessons where she meets Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski. Louisiana lives with her grandmother, barely subsisting on whatever food they can scrounge up and faints frequently when overwhelmed. Beverly is angry and loud, yet has surprisingly compassionate insights into other people.
The part of Raymie's story that's both the most compelling and the most effective is the way in which Ms DiCamillo is able to show how deeply responsible Raymie feels for both her father's actions and the fact that her mother is visibly struggling with sadness and anger and betrayal. Raymie pushes her own feelings of hurt and abandonment aside in order to "fix" what she believes to be the problem. Raymie's logic is absolutely in line with young people who are caught in the wake of adult choices and behaviors. In fact, we can all identify with Raymie's belief in her ability to "fix" the situation--a situation she desperately wants NOT to have happened. She wants to bring her father home to her and her mother, to create again the family she wishes would exist. Hence, the baton-twirling lessons and the unlikely companions she encounters.
The book description of Raymie Nightingale says these three new friends find unexpected ways to come to the rescue. I did not get that impression when I read the book. The underlying theme of Raymie ultimately realizing that life cannot be manipulated in the way she would like it to be and that some things simply have to be accepted is clearly and effectively communicated. The actual story of RaymieNightingale, however, felt disjointed and vague. The "rescue" mentioned in the description didn't fit into the plot in a cohesive way or make much sense on its own.
I didn't completely dislike Raymie Nightingale, but I was disappointed in it. I found the brilliance of neither character nor plot development that I have come to both expect and enjoy from Kate DiCamillo's extraordinary body of work. Unless you really have nothing else you'd rather read, I'd pass on this one and re-read (or experience for the first time!) any of her other books....more
The Case of the Stolen Sixpence is the first in the Maisie Hitchins mysteries series by Holly Webb. Maisie is 12 years old and lives with her grandmotThe Case of the Stolen Sixpence is the first in the Maisie Hitchins mysteries series by Holly Webb. Maisie is 12 years old and lives with her grandmother in the boarding house she owns and operates. Maisie desperately wants to be a detective like the famous Gilbert Carrington. When George, the butcher's delivery boy, is fired for stealing Maisie is sure he didn't do it. And she sets out to prove his innocence by finding the true culprit.
With her rambunctious dog Eddie, determination and deductive reasoning Maisie begins her first real detective case. She is helped along the way by the eccentric old man and an actress who live in the boarding house as well as a young friend. The scene in which she disguises herself convincingly as an old woman will have young readers falling over themselves with delighted laughter.
The Case of the Stolen Sixpence is a perfectly crafted mystery for ages 6-9. The plot is simple enough to follow without being ridiculously easy to solve. The characters are funny and interesting and easy to relate to. I highly recommend this as a read-aloud at home for bedtime or in a primary classroom. I look forward to reading more of the series. ...more
Margaret's father has been wrongly convicted of arson and murder, found guilty by Judge Lucas Biggs. Knowing her father is innocent, Margaret is devasMargaret's father has been wrongly convicted of arson and murder, found guilty by Judge Lucas Biggs. Knowing her father is innocent, Margaret is devastated. Encouraged by her good friend Charlie and his grandfather (who has a deeper connection to her family--and the Judge's--than Margaret or Charlie realize) Margaret dares, for the first time, to use her unusual gift: the ability to travel through time. It is a genetic trait of the O'Malley family, one which they take an oath to respect and NOT to use.
Margaret, Charlie and Grandpa Josh believe Margaret can travel back to Judge Biggs' youth in an effort to help him become in the present the good-hearted man he could have been. But "history resists," as Margaret is told by her great-aunt in the past. And she finds this to be true. The roots of the conspiracies, personal anger and ugliness that lead to her father's conviction are much deeper, darker and more twisted than Margaret could have imagined.
Margaret's trip into the past has elements of both failure and success--as do many events in our own lives. The specific goal Margaret sets out to accomplish is not necessarily the one she achieves. Margaret begins to see people, her life and the lives of her family in a new, compassionate and inspiring light.
Saving Lucas Biggs is an interweaving of science fiction, fantasy historical and contemporary fiction. It was more than I expected as a reading experience. It is a classic story about what it means to care about each other written in a fresh, unexpected and compelling way. I loved that the plot did not necessarily rely on time-travel or supernatural events or devices to resolve the conflicts in Margaret's life.
Saving Lucas Biggs could be an excellent read-aloud for upper elementary or middle school students. IT could also be used as a family bedtime reading selection for older children as it provides a springboard for appreciating those we love and discussions about values and what standing up for your beliefs might look like for you. ...more
The Night Gardener is one of the most skillfully creepy novels I have ever read. When the story opens we are in 19th-century Victorian England and weThe Night Gardener is one of the most skillfully creepy novels I have ever read. When the story opens we are in 19th-century Victorian England and we meet young Molly and her brother Kip. Kip is lame and uses a crutch made by his father named 'Courage.' Maggie is full of brilliant stories about fantastical creatures, people and adventures. They are in the midst of a journey by wagon to a home where they have been hired as a maid and a groundskeeper by the owner who was in town on other business. We learn they are refugees from the potato famine in Ireland (people who were not looked kindly upon or treated well by the English when they fled starvation in their homeland). Their parents are not with them but the reader is not clear in the beginning what has happened to separate the family; we are aware only that Molly knows more than Kip and is trying to protect him from the truth.
Along the road they meet an old storyteller named Hester Kettle. Hester is an unsettling character in that you are never really sure if she is wise and misunderstood or has darker motives. She warns the children about the 'Sourwoods' they are about to enter to arrive at their place of employment and succeeds in spooking them. Without money or food and no prospects to get any unless they have jobs, they have no choice but to proceed.
The mansion is built around a dark--almost black--tree. The tree is actually partially inside the house. The Mistress and the two children--a little girl named Penny and an older, sullen boy named Alistair--are all unnaturally pale with dark hair and huge, dark eyes. The persistent unhappiness and secretiveness of the family makes Molly and Kip uneasy.
One night Molly and Kip see a tall, strange figure in the house and on the grounds at night. The figure carries a shovel and a watering can. When they encounter Hester kettle again and she tells them the tale of The Night Gardener they begin to suspect their nagging fears about the evil in the Windsors' home is justified.
The Night Gardener is the story of loving hearts and selfish ones. It is the story of the human struggle to face our fears or run from them, the choice between getting what we want because it soothes us in the moment or living our lives fully for both the present and the future. Molly clearly speaks her ultimate understanding of the difference between the two:
"I think I figured it out." She sniffed, looking up at the stars. "Hester asked me what the difference between a story and a lie was. At the time, I told her that a story helps folks. 'Helps 'em do what?' she asked. Well, I think I know the answer. A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens 'em. And a lie does the opposite. It helps you hide.
Jonathan Auxier says he was inspired to write The Night Gardener by the Ray Bradbury story Something Wicked This Way Comes and works like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. I think it also has the spine-chilling, raise-the-hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck suspense of Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher. The darkest aspects of 19th-century Victorian England is brilliantly captured and yet strikes a chord with contemporary readers through the extraordinarily well-developed main characters. If you love subtle scary stories that build incredible suspense and finish with a heart-pumping, edge-of-your-seat good versus evil showdown then The Night Gardener is for you! ...more
Heart of a Samurai was my 6th grade son's choice for our bedtime reading since it is a Lovelace Division II (grades 6-8) nominee this year. Our entireHeart of a Samurai was my 6th grade son's choice for our bedtime reading since it is a Lovelace Division II (grades 6-8) nominee this year. Our entire family was drawn into the story of Manjiro. His story begins when, as a 14-year-old boy, he and four other fishermen are caught in a terrible storm and shipwrecked on Bird Island in the Pacific Ocean.
When they are rescued it is by an American whaling ship. Due to Japan's isolationist policies, after leaving Japan, no one is ever known to have been allowed to return. Because their country has had no contact with other countries and people Manjiro has been brought up to believe Americans are almost more monster than human. You can imagine his terror at being taken aboard an American vessel with so many men who look very different from the people he has known all his life.
Manjiro's journey takes him across the Pacific to the Hawaiian islands and then on to Massachussetts at the invitation of Captain Whitfield. The Captain and his wife welcome Manjiro into their home. He is given an education and loved as a son. Then Manjiro does the unimaginable and decides to try and return to Japan.
The consensus in our family is that the best part of Heart of Samurai is knowing that Manjiro and his story are true. Manjiro is believed to be the first Japanese person to set foot in America. He is also believed to have given input and advice to Japanese leaders which ultimately resulted in an end to Japan's isolationist policy in March of 1854.
Heart of a Samurai was a winner with our family. If you are interested in history, accepting differences and stories reflecting the determination and resilience of an extraordinary young person then Heart of a Samurai is the perfect Lovelace read for you. ...more
I was ecstatic to see a new novel from Gary Blackwood! And (for the most part) I was not disappointed.
Curiosity is the story of Rufus, a twelve-year-oI was ecstatic to see a new novel from Gary Blackwood! And (for the most part) I was not disappointed.
Curiosity is the story of Rufus, a twelve-year-old born with a curvature of the spine and an inborn ability to play chess. Rufus lives in early 18th Century America. His mother died giving birth to him and he has been raised in the parsonage, where his father is employed as the Parson. He has a nanny, a large home, plenty to eat and as such is mostly sheltered from the unkindness of those who would mock or be appalled by his physical appearance and struggle.
Rufus' entire life is upended when it becomes evident that his father has unwisely invested his money and neglected his Parson's duties, resulting in the loss of his job--and with it the only home Rufus has ever known. Penniless and in debt, Rufus' father is thrown into Debtors' Prison and Rufus is ultimately placed in a boys' home that is little better than a prison, itself.
Here Rufus' story merges with historical figures when he is taken from the Home by a man who has seen Rufus play chess at the local Chess Club and defeat grown men who consider themselves exceptionally skilled players. Rufus finds himself living with the Curiosity Showman and Master of Mechanical Wonders Johann Maelzel, owner of The Turk, a mechanical, chess-playing marvel. The secret of the Turk, of course, is the person inside its hidden cabinet playing the actual chess game. Rufus becomes that person.
Maelzel is a brutal master, as is his engineer, Jacques (at first). Rufus' character remains genuine throughout the book. He grows from a meek child into a young man who realizes he is allowed to choose which circumstances of his life he will accept with grace and which he will challenge for the sake of his own self-worth.
Blackwood is a master of historical fiction, able to weave a story with intriguing characters and engaging storylines that are the true definition of "page-turners!" I was a little dissatisfied with the ending of Curiosity. It felt a little abrupt to me--especially given that the rest of the book is extraordinarily well done is both character and plot. It is not enough however to take away from the way Curiosity makes 19th Century America and the Curiosity entertainment era come alive in a gripping, thoroughly enjoyable reading experience.
I highly recommend Curiosity and Blackwood's other phenomenal historical fiction series: The Shakespeare Stealer--one of my all-time favorites! ...more
I liked a lot of moments in The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. The author's decision to portray Becky Thatcher (the classic charaI liked a lot of moments in The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. The author's decision to portray Becky Thatcher (the classic character from Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer) as a bold and daring spitfire of a young girl in 19th Century America is perfect. Becky's character is well-defined and three-dimensional in thought and feeling.
In Twain's classic she is a secondary figure--primarily a nuisance--to Tom Sawyer. She truly comes into her own in Lawson's re-imagining. Before the arrival of Becky and her family into town, her brother has died from illness and the way the author was able to weave in the struggle of Becky's mother with her grief--and Becky's frustration with it is skillfully done. it is this element in particular that allows the book to resonate to a greater degree with contemporary young readers than its predecessors.
I enjoyed the way the author brought Sam Clemens (Mark Twain, himself) into the story as a character--even if it became forced in a couple of places. I was also delighted by the role of the Widow Douglas, which enhanced the scope of her character from the original Twain story. I do, however, have a BIG issue with the way Lawson has reversed the characters of Tom Sawyer and his cousin (brother in this version) Sid. It was unnecessary given that she kept two male characters with the exact same personality traits as in the original Tom Sawyer. The switching of Sid and Tom smacks of a disdain for Twain's work not found in the rest of Becky Thatcher. I am not opposed to reimagining a classic character in a new way as long as it serves the new story well. In this case it does not. I am disappointed that new readers may be introduced to Sid and Tom in this light--especially since Lawson thought enough of Twain's characters to change nothing but their names.
My own disappointment aside, young readers with no exposure to Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer will not see a discrepancy in story where Sid and Tom are concerned. Particularly young female readers will love The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. This might be a fun read-aloud in conjunction with a version of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer both for the benefit of two good stories and the opportunity to discuss the differences in approach to character.
If The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher sounds interesting, or you have already read & enjoyed it you may also like Lucy Maud Montgomery's classic Anne of Green Gables, Audrey Couloumbis' The Misadventures of Maude March and The Case of the Deadly Desperados (first in the P.K. Pinkerton series) by Caroline Lawrence (which also includes Samuel Clemens as an engaging character). ...more
I am split in my opinion of Deborah Wiles' Revolution. The main character is Sunny, a 13-year-old white girl living in Greenwood Mississippi in the suI am split in my opinion of Deborah Wiles' Revolution. The main character is Sunny, a 13-year-old white girl living in Greenwood Mississippi in the summer of 1964. 14-yr-old Raymond Bullis, a young black man living in the Baptist Town--the "colored" area of the small city occasionally trades narrations with Sunny. Sunny lives with her father, her stepmother, older stepbrother, Gilette, and her younger stepsister, Audrey. Raymond lives with his parents; his older sister has died before the beginning of the story due to a ruptured appendix when no white doctor would treat her at the hospital.
The summer of 1964 was dubbed "Freedom Summer" as those who were fighting for equality between races in the United States went en masse into the southern states--particularly Mississippi--to encourage and help black Americans register to vote. There were a lot of young college-age students (white and black) who often stayed in the homes of the local black residents.
Sunny's mother left when she was an infant and when she sees a young "agitator" named JoEllen--who happens to be staying with Raymond's family during the summer--she is struck by how much she resembles the only picture she has of her mother at age 18. Sunny's drive to meet and then be around JoEllen also leads her to become embroiled in JoEllen's and Raymond's actions during that difficult summer.
Revolution seems to want to tell us a story of the advent of Civil Rights in the southern United States through the different perspectives of Sunny and Raymond. There are many moments where the book succeeds in doing just that. Unfortunately the story often gets lost in or sidetracked by rhetoric--which is never as effective a teacher or communicator as personal stories.
At 495+ pages Revolution takes too long to get where it is going. It abruptly interrupts the stories of Sunny and Raymond to divert attention to nonfiction pieces about the politics of the time as well as well-known (and not-so-well-known) historical figures important in the Civil Rights movement in the United States. When the book DOES return to Sunny and Raymond the pacing is very slow. The pacing doesn't hit a nice stride until about page 400.
Revolution could perhaps be a nice addition to an upper middle or high school classroom discussing the Civil Rights movement in historical, cultural or sociological context because it offers a teacher the opportunity to bring examples of personal narratives into factual material. On its own, Revolution tries to do the same thing in reverse. It is, ultimately, unsuccessful if it is indeed intended for a young adult audience. It is a shame because once trimmed of its excesses Revolution is a moving story of two young people: one fighting for the right to feel he can stand among others replete in himself as an individual alone, and one realizing she can allow compassion and empathy into her life, which opens everyone involved to a greater life.
At its heart Revolution has the power to open its readers up to the idea that fear, and the hate born from it, can be defeated by courage and compassion. My concern is that they will neither find nor read Revolution independently. Young people will probably benefit most from Revolution when they are led to it--and through it--by a passionate teacher or other older role model. In this guided context or as an independent reading choice for someone passionately interested in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's in the U.S. Revolution will have its greatest impact. ...more
I loved Matthew Kirby's The Clockwork Three, so when I saw Icefall come up on the Lovelace nominee list I was thrilled!
The book cover seemed to indicI loved Matthew Kirby's The Clockwork Three, so when I saw Icefall come up on the Lovelace nominee list I was thrilled!
The book cover seemed to indicate the story would take place in a bleak northern landscape with fjords and Viking warriors--maybe Norway hundreds of years ago--and somehow I got the impression from the book jacket summary that the story was going to be bleak and slow-moving like the cover art. I figured I would force myself to read a few pages before bed to start and wound up realizing at 2am that I should probably try to sleep a little.
Icefall is a compelling story that definitely pulled me back to the book whenever I had a few minutes to read. Our main character is Solveig. She is the middle child of the King, having a beautiful older sister, Asa, and a young brother who will inherit their father's crown, Harald. At the opening of the novel Solveig and her siblings (along with a few members of the royal household) have been sent to a small stead far from their kingdom in order to keep them safe while their father fights a war. When Solveig's father sends his Beserker Guard and their Chief, Hake, to join his children in their hiding place for protection Solveig and the others are appalled.
Icefall manages to weave a pulse-pounding adventure of traitors and betrayal, loyalty, friendship and the discovery of our own unexpected strengths parallel to a story about the power of stories. When Solveig begins to train with Aldric, her father's skald (storyteller), she learns both the mechanics of telling a story and the qualities of stories themselves. Solveig's abilities reveal new truths about stories and their vital role in our lives to herself AND to Aldric.
Along the way Solveig experiences the pain and shock of betrayal as well as the warmth of true friendship and love. She learns truth, deception and love can be difficult to sort out in our lives, especially when we have been hurt and do not believe in ourselves.
I found this book to be a superbly moving read on many levels. I fell in love with Solveig almost right away, and with many of the others through her. Icefall does not have an engaging cover or a super exciting book jacket blurb so young readers may need a little push to start this one. Once started, Icefall is difficult to put down. For these reasons Icefall might be a great read-aloud choice at home or in older elementary and middle school classrooms. ...more