In the 1930’s it was nearly impossible for German and Austrian Jews to obtain visas to gain safe passage to other European countries due to strict immIn the 1930’s it was nearly impossible for German and Austrian Jews to obtain visas to gain safe passage to other European countries due to strict immigration laws. After 1938’s Kristallnacht, the grim reality facing Jews in Nazi-controlled countries became much more apparent, and some humanitarian efforts were made to move Jewish people, mainly children, to safety. In 1938, Sweden opened its borders to 500 Jewish children. A Faraway Island is a fictional story based on these events, and tells of Jewish sisters Stephie and Nellie who are sent by their parents from Vienna to live with strangers on a remote Swedish island. Author Annika Thor creates a realistic slice of 1930’s Swedish country life, and effectively shows protagonist Stephie’s discomfort away from her parents and familiar routines and surroundings of upperclass Vienna. The plot and characters are believable, and show Stephie struggling with small issues, like learning to ride a bicycle, and large issues, like the separation from her sister who is taken in by another family, questions about religion, and worry and frustration with her inability to help her parents. There are a few awkward moments in Schenk’s translation, but none are significant enough to override the plotline or characters.
Children ages and ten and up, particularly those who are fans of realistic historical fiction stories like Montgomery’s Anne books or Wilder’s Little House series, will enjoy A Faraway Island. Similarly, A Faraway Island is the first in a four book series about Stephie and Nellie, two of which are now available in English.
2010 Batchelder Award Winner A Faraway Island. By Annika Thor. Translated by Linda Schenk. Delacorte Press, 2009. 247 pages....more
Bud is a motherless African American boy living on his wits, the contents of his suitcase, and a number of self-imposed life rules in 1936 Michigan. ABud is a motherless African American boy living on his wits, the contents of his suitcase, and a number of self-imposed life rules in 1936 Michigan. After deciding his latest foster home was no place for him, he takes to the road to find his father. From band posters kept by his late mother, Bud deduces that his father must be bandleader Herman E. Calloway. He travels from Flint to Grand Rapids to meet Calloway. On his way to meet his “father” he experiences a Hooverville, gets breakfast from a breadline, gets his first kiss, tries to jump the rails, and meets a redcap union organizer. Finally, he arrives to find a gruff old man...and Miss Thomas, the vocalist, and the boys of the band. After everything he’s been through, it takes home-style cooking and kind people that feels like home to bring Bud to tears.
Bud tells the story, and readers will root for this smart and scrappy underdog. This quick-paced story is told with active language and will engage listeners and readers. Wonderful reading for students in grades 3-6.
2000 Coretta Scott King Author Award Bud, Not Buddy. By Christopher Paul Curtis. Delacorte Press, 1999. 243 pages. ...more
The part-time Indian narrating his story is Arnold Spirit, Jr. He calls himself a part-time Indian because he’s living in two worlds.AUDIOBOOK REVIEW
The part-time Indian narrating his story is Arnold Spirit, Jr. He calls himself a part-time Indian because he’s living in two worlds. ‘Junior’ describes his Indian life as a tribal member living on the poverty-stricken Spokane Indian Reservation with his best friend, Rowdy, who is fighting mad most of the time, his supportive grandmother, his alcoholic parents, and troubled sister. When Junior gets fed up with the hopelessness around him, he decides to transfer to Rearden High School, off the reservation. ‘Arnold’ describes his life at predominately White Rearden, an affluent farming community, as a series of trials for acceptance. Both the ‘rez’ and Reardan have strict societal rules, and Junior/Arnold is constantly fighting against these rules, looking for a life that he can accept on his terms. This fight comes to a head on the basketball court during the games pitting Wellpinit against Reardon. With intelligence, raging hormones, insight, honesty, quick offbeat humor and an incredibly brave outlook, Arnold ‘Junior’ Spirit is one unforgettable character.
The diary is read by author Sherman Alexie. Alexie speaks with a distinctive cadence and lilt, which Junior describes as “...that singsong reservation accent that made everything I said sound like a bad poem”. His voice is filled with raw humor and hurt. It is apparent that Alexie relates strongly with the character he created. This book has been recommended for students in grade seven and up; it will be best appreciated by individuals with the maturity and/or personal experience to understand themes including puberty, alcoholism and loss.
2009 Odyssey Award Winner The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Written and narrated by Sherman Alexie. Recorded Books, 2008. 5 hours. ...more
Two farm families collide in this contemporary fiction novel set during 2006’s Operation Return To Sender, a nationwide sweep targeting illegal immigrTwo farm families collide in this contemporary fiction novel set during 2006’s Operation Return To Sender, a nationwide sweep targeting illegal immigrants. Although most of this story takes place in Vermont, the hearts of many of its characters are in Chiapas, Mexico. The story centers around the friendship that develops between two children of the families. Tyler is the youngest member of his family; the Paquettes are going through a difficult time, and are in danger of losing their Vermont farm. Tyler’s story is narrated, and we learn of his grief in his grandfather’s recent death, his uncertainty about his father who is slowly mending from a farm accident, his fear of losing the family farm, and his confusion about his family’s decision to break the law and hire a family who they suspect of being illegal immigrants from Mexico. In alternating chapters, Mari, the oldest child in the Cruz family, tells her own story through letters to her family. We learn of her missing mother, her family’s chaotic, fearful existence, her father’s efforts to keep his family together, and her grandparents in Mexico.
The sometimes warm, sometimes strained relationship between the two sixth grade friends is well developed. This dramatic story includes a number of complex plot twists. With so much going on, there are times when the motivations of the adult characters seem hastily developed to suit the action. The novel’s strength is in its ability to create understanding of the human and political topic of illegal immigration through its child characters. This book is appropriate for readers in grades 6 and up.
2010 Pura Belpre Author Award Return to Sender. By Julia Alvarez. Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. 324 pages. ...more
Amanda and Leo have spent every birthday together, including the one eleven years ago when they first met in the nursery of the Willow Falls birthingAmanda and Leo have spent every birthday together, including the one eleven years ago when they first met in the nursery of the Willow Falls birthing center. No, they are not twins, but they are good friends that happen to share a birthday...and a magic enchantment. They would be spending their eleventh birthday together, if it wasn’t for the fight they had exactly one year ago to the day. Luckily, they get a second chance to celebrate the day, and a third, and a fourth, and a...well, you get the idea. This book has the feel of contemporary low fantasy films like Freaky Friday, Groundhog Day, and 13 Going on 30, where strange things happen under the cover of everyday life. Fans of these types of movies will enjoy this light-hearted page-turner. The fun in these stories comes from seeing the characters take advantage of their unique situation, and in figuring out the key that will unlock the spell. This book delivers these elements for readers, which makes the pages fly by. It would not be surprising to see a future film version of this formulaic book, which includes likeable but uninspired characters such as ‘the workaholic mom’, the obligatory wild ride on a scooter, Disney product promotion, and a bland lesson about consequences. For fans, Wendy Mass has written two other books aimed at ‘tween readers in a loose trilogy about the enchanted town of Willow Falls, 12 Finally and 13 Gifts.
This graphic novel centers around the lessons that our hero, Aliera, learns in her fencing training. Aliera is dedicated, spending each day after schoThis graphic novel centers around the lessons that our hero, Aliera, learns in her fencing training. Aliera is dedicated, spending each day after school and every Saturday in training to be a fencing champion, with the second-hand foil her mom found at a tag sale. Her focused routine leaves her little time for friends or romance, although it does include time for a weekly role playing game with her cousin. But her focus is broken when she attracts the attention of Avery, the cute new guy at school. Even though he sometimes isn’t exactly Prince Charming, Aliera is still drawn to him...like magic. When she puts on her fencing mask and grabs the second-hand foil on their first date, Aliera is able to see her attraction to Avery is indeed magic...real magic. The foil is really the weapon of the Defender Xenda, Aliera’s alter-ego. Jane Yolen’s fanciful plot is developed by the youthfully snarky voice of teen hero Aliera, and the action filled illustrations of Mike Cavallaro. Cavallaro also makes good use of color to delineate the real and magical elements in Aliera’s world. Aliera is a unique role model, particularly for teen girls in grades 7-12, and should be especially popular with that group. Readers who enjoy this graphic novel should be on the lookout for its sequel, Curses, Foiled Again.
2011 Amelia Bloomer Book List Recommended Middle Reader Fiction Foiled. By Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Mike Cavallaro. First Second, 2010. 160 pages. ...more
Watch out! Little Otter’s back, and ready to play in Mary Casanova’s second story based on this character. Despite close calls with a rabbit, owl, mooWatch out! Little Otter’s back, and ready to play in Mary Casanova’s second story based on this character. Despite close calls with a rabbit, owl, moose and a pack of wolves, Little Otter’s bravery gets him, and his family, safely home. Little Otter is characteristic of kits and kids everywhere. The author and illustrator make the characters and action come alive; Casanova with careful onomatopoeiac phrasing, and Ard Hoyt with expressive illustrations. Hoyt uses a wintery palette of white, brown and blue, accented by yellow glints, to transport readers to a moonlit northern night. Coupled with language as playful as Little Otter himself, this book begs to be read aloud.
2012 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award Nominee in Children’s Literature Utterly Otterly Night. By Mary Casanova with pictures by Ard Hoyt. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011. Unpaged....more
You could say Hard Love is the story of a boy's first love, but anyone who is going or has gone through their teen years knows first love is never thaYou could say Hard Love is the story of a boy's first love, but anyone who is going or has gone through their teen years knows first love is never that simple. In Ellen Wittlinger's Lambda Literary award winning short novel, we hear from John 'Gio' Galardi Jr. as he experiences hard love, first in his strained relationship with his divorced parents and then with Marisol, a fellow 'zine writer.
This novel explores themes relevant to young adults, including self-discovery, testing boundaries, sexual identity, family dysfunction and friendship. Especially well depicted is John's painful self-awareness and increasing self-acceptance.
I was disappointed by how quickly this novel has become dated. Unfortunately, using a paper 'zine format and referencing pop culture icons, such as Tower Records and Ani DiFranco, will likely alienate current young adults. Although a quality work that may 'resurface' as more time passes, I would recommend other more recent works that explore similar themes, such as Will Grayson, Will Grayson.
2000 Lambda Literary Children's/Young Adult award winner 2000 Prinz Honor book Hard Love. By Ellen Wittlinger. Simon & Schuster, 1999. 224 pages....more
August, September, October, November. Four months. Do you remember what happened (know what will happen) to you in those four months when you were (arAugust, September, October, November. Four months. Do you remember what happened (know what will happen) to you in those four months when you were (are) fourteen? For fourteen-year old Mattie, everything changed. BOOKTALK
Life was normal when Mattie woke up on that hot, August morning. Her mother was rushing her to wake up and start work in the family’s coffeehouse. All Mattie wanted was just a few more minutes of sleep. But Philadelphia was waking up. This was the nation’s capitol - people had things to do! They needed their coffee.
So Mattie got up, and started working alongside her mother and Eliza, the coffeehouse cook. Polly, the regular serving girl, hadn’t shown up for work, so Mattie had twice as much work as usual. And then, they got the news. Polly hadn’t shown up for work, because...in the night...she had died...from the fever. That was August.
By September, “the church bells of Philadelphia tolled without cease” to announce the dead. Mattie’s mother had fallen ill. Mattie was being sent to the countryside to escape the disease.
In October, the fever still raged, and people were praying for the killing frosts that would end the epidemic. Finally, the frosts came. Slowly, life was returning to normal. But one in ten people in the city had died. What will life be like for Mattie come November?
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson (LOR-EE HALTZ ANDERSON) is the imagined story of Mattie Cook during the real yellow fever epidemic that swept through Philadelphia. ...more
This dystopian novel for young adults is equal parts creative and creepy. Award-winning writer M.T. Anderson tells the tale of star-crossed lovers TitThis dystopian novel for young adults is equal parts creative and creepy. Award-winning writer M.T. Anderson tells the tale of star-crossed lovers Titus and Violet, in futuristic American slang against the backdrop of a society without remorse. Romeo & Juliet had a better chance of making it.
In Incarceron, novelist Catherine Fisher has created two incredible fantasy worlds. We meet Claudia in the outside world, where the populace lives in In Incarceron, novelist Catherine Fisher has created two incredible fantasy worlds. We meet Claudia in the outside world, where the populace lives in a strictly controlled ‘Era’ that resembles Elizabethan England, complete with court intrigues and rudimentary living conditions for the majority. As the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, Claudia has a high place in society, and must follow strict protocol as the young woman betrothed to the future King.
Those deemed unfit for the Outside were permanently locked into a prison called Incarceron. The outside world has been led to believe that Incarceron is still the utopia created by a group of wise men known as the Sapienti to reform the prisoners. Instead, it has turned into a terrifying world of brute rule and limited resources for the descendants of the original prisoners. Additionally, the prisoners are subject to the caprices of the Prison itself; this experiment gone awry is a self-contained entity that ekes out rewards and punishments as it sees fit.
Inside is the mysterious Starseer, Finn, and his oathbrother Keiro. Unlike other prisoners, Finn sees visions that make him believe that he was born in the outside world. They’ve found a crystal key that they hope will lead them out of Incarceron. Outside, Claudia has stolen a matching key from her father. Claudia and Finn find they can communicate through the keys, and each is shocked by the revelations of the other.
As young adult literature, the overall agreement by critical and casual readers is that Incarceron is a worthwhile reading experience for fans of fantasy. The elements that were most often positively reviewed were the dual protagonists, the interesting plot line that includes one major and several minor twists, and the well-developed setting. ...more
T.J. was a great hero, especially for male teens. He often had to overcome his anger for his own survival, he was athletic but self-motivated, the autT.J. was a great hero, especially for male teens. He often had to overcome his anger for his own survival, he was athletic but self-motivated, the author did a good job of explaining his visceral need to help others, and he had a great support system in his parents, Simet, Georgia Brown, and his girlfriend.
I had a feeling of overload with the bulk of the characters dealing with major problems. T.J.'s dad is most profoundly affected by his past, but that made sense to me because it defines his character, and sets the stage for the ending. For me, there is too much, too neatly tied together, in 220 pages of fairly large print. But for a teen who relates strongly to the Mermen swimming team, the plot is probably just right....more