Tuesday, August 17, 2010
A Friendship for Today by Patricia McKissack and Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy are both about young girls with important issues going on in their lives. Both stories are fast paced with a real strong sense of setting, one in 1954 St. Louis and one in modern 2009 rural Ireland.
Scarlett, 13, has been sent to live with her dad in Ireland having been kicked out of yet another school in England. Her mother is at the end of her rope and hopes that this change may make a difference in her rebellious, angry daughter. But why is Scarlett so mad? Maybe she has very good reasons. Living with her dad and his new family will force Scarlett to confront not only her own feelings but those of others including the mysterious boy on a black horse that she meets near her dad's home.
Rosemary, 11, is an only child who is about to be the first African-American student at a new school in her area. JJ, her best friend, was supposed to go with her but he is now battling Polio instead. Rosemary's story follows her first full year in Robertson Elementary. She is not only faced with the challenges of integration but she also has plenty of things going on at home: her parents are not getting along and it is only getting worse.
Any reader will have plenty of action, up and downs, twists and turns to carry them through to the end of both of these realistic stories.
Monday, August 9, 2010
If you ever watched the movie "Groundhog Day" then you will have a better understanding of 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass. This realistic comedy-fantasy tells the tale of two very close friends, Amanda and Leo. Born on the same day, at the same hospital, Amanda and Leo end up celebrating their birthdays together for ten years. Now about to turn 11, they have not spoken for a year due to an unfortunate incident at their last birthday party. Told from Amanda's point of view in the first person, the reader will experience some very strange goings-on as Amanda wakes everyday to discover that it is the Friday morning of her birthday, over and over again. She tries to understand what is happening to her and in the process discovers that she is not alone experiencing this time warp issue. Adventure, disasters, confusion, detective work, friendship and family issues abound as an old legend of her town turns out to be more than just ancient history. A great read for anyone looking for well drawn realistic middle-schoolers stuck in a time rut.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Bartoletti, is a powerful story based on the true experiences of Helmuth Hubener, a young Mormon German growing to manhood in Nazi Germany. Helmut is 17 in October of 1942. He is in Plotzensee Prison awaiting execution for high treason and plotting against the state. Through memories told in the third person, Helmuth tells his story. He grew up with his mom, two half brothers and his grandparents. Extremely bright and bold, he begins to question the Nazi regime and Hitler after becoming a Hitler Youth. Through his eyes the reader will see how the Nazis came to power. The reader will gain understanding as to how regular citizens were lied to and bullied in order to restrict freedoms and to gain control over them. When Helmut gets his hands on a real radio he begins to hear German broadcasts from England about the war. This information is Helmut's tipping point. He must act to get the truth out. He hatches a bold and dangerous plan. Helmut's bravery and strong moral compass will carry the reader through this difficult but important journey. Don't miss the author's notes at the end about Helmut's friends, family and the memorial for him in Berlin.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Trouble by Gary Schmidt is set in present day Massachusetts and Maine. Much darker and more serious than his previous books (Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy), this book explores themes as varied as family, friendship, refugees, car accidents, grief, the power of love and redemption. 14 year old Henry Smith's family dates back to the 1600's. Henry's "father always said that if you build your house far enough away from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you". Henry has grown wealthy and privileged. His older brother, Franklin, is the "perfect son", accomplished scholar athlete destined for greatness. His older sister, Louisa, equally accomplished lives with Henry in the shadow of this brother. A terrible car accident, plunges the family into a turmoil that sets young Henry on a course that will change them all forever. Early in the story, Henry saves a drowning dog that he keeps. Her high spirits and zest for life will prove an important part of Henry's personal growth. Coupled with "Black Dog" as she gets named is the welcome comic relief of Henry's best friend, Sanborn. Both these characters buoy Henry and the reader along through a richly written adventure not soon forgotten.