Monthly Archives: November 2009

White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages

Viking, 2008     ISBN: 0670062359

whitesands“The Green Glass Sea,” about the Manhattan Project, which Suze Gordan’s parents, and Dewey Kerrigan’s father was involved in, is now continued in this new volume by Klages. The war is over, the US is bomb-happy and has imported a bunch of former Nazi’s to work on their rocket program. Suze’s father believes both in the political value, and the scientific value of proceeding with the rocket program, while her mother, having seen the results of the bomb she helped to create, has gone over to the other side, protesting for an end to the program, and for world unity.

Dewey, whose father died in the last book, is living with the Gordan’s, and Suze alternately enjoys her company and is jealous of the relationship that Dewey has with her mother since both are interested in science. With the conflict between her parents growing ever more fierce, Suze feels very much alone. Meanwhile, Dewey lives in uncertainty: the Gordan’s can’t adopt her, because she has a mother somewhere who abandoned her as an infant. Dewey and Suze each make a new friend which relieves some of the stress between them, but the future for all of them as a family is unclear.

Historically accurate and interesting, Klages brings the post-war/early cold-war era to life in every detail, small and large, from “atomic” cleaning products to spinthariscopes (look it up), to rocket testing debris, all of it is there.

The interpersonal relationships are all well drawn. The issues between the Gordan parents as scientists on either side of what will become a fierce issue in the future also anticipate many of the issues that feminists will bring to the fore in the coming years, in particular, about the role and importance of a woman pursuing her own career. Suze and Dewey’s struggles, jealousies, and desires for security both in their personal lives, and in a world that they understand is much more frightening than most of their peers do are very realistic.

Klages wraps up a number of plot lines, but leaves others unresolved, making the reader eager for another book.


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The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

Viking, 2006     ISBN: 0670061344

green glassTen-year-old Dewey Kerrigan, who has been living with her grandmother for some years, is reunited with her father and taken to Los Alamos where he is doing “war work.” When he is called to Washington, she stays temporarily, with the Gordans, a family with two scientist parents, and a girl her own age, Suze. Suze does not appreciate her presence, and when Dewey’s father is hit by a car and killed, Dewey moves in on a semi-permanent basis. Her grandmother is in a nursing home, and her mother abandoned her when Dewey was an infant, so she really has no where else to go.

The girls ultimately become friends, though not without some continued tension between them. One of the things that draws them together is how they are able to combine Dewey’s knack for gadgets and technology, and Suze’s artistic skills to create some one-of-a-kind contraptions.

In the backdrop of the kids concerns is the ever increasing tension as the scientists at Los Alamos rush to create and test the first atomic bomb, which is secretly held out as the hope to put an end to World War II, once and for all.

The characters are well-drawn and full-fleshed, and the historical and scientific information fits seamlessly into the story.

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Filed under **** Highly Recommended, Grades 5 - 6

Songs from the Garden of Eden: Jewish Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes by Nathalie Soussana, et. al.

Secret Mountain, 2009     ISBN: 9782923163468

songsSongs from the Garden of Eden is a book/CD set with Jewish nursery rhymes and lullabies in Ladino, Moroccan and Algerian Arabic, Yiddish, and Hebrew. I haven’t seen the book yet, but have heard some of the songs, which are quite lovely.

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Filed under Infant/Preschool, Preschool - Kindegarten

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

chainsSet in the beginning years of the War of Independence, this book portrays the lives of slaves in the North, and raises interesting questions about how the “founding fathers,” could fight for freedom while owning other human beings.

Thirteen-year-old Isabel and her younger sister, Lucy, have been promised their freedom in their mistress’s will, but her only heir sells them to a Tory couple who live in New York. Their new mistress at first takes a liking to Lucy, but when she sees her having a seizure, she believes she is possessed and gets rid of her one night while Isabel is in a drugged sleep.

Isabel’s only friend is the slave of a Patriot, and he begs her to spy on her new owners who have political connections with important Tories. Isabel is torn about what to do but ultimately provides some useful information to the Patriots. However, their promises of assistance to her go unfulfilled, and Isabel realizes she must act on her own to find Lucy.

An excellent book, with a very good question and answer section at the end that provides historical and moral contexts.

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Filed under **** Highly Recommended, Grades 3 - 4, Grades 5 - 6

The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco

butterflyIn this picture story about the holocaust, which is based on a true story about Polacco’s great-aunt Marcelle, and Marcelle’s daughter Monique, young Monique wakes in the night one night to see a girl about her own age sitting at the end of the bed. When she says something, the girl flees, and Monique believes she has seen a ghost. In the morning her mother dismisses it as a dream, and Monique doesn’t think any more about it, until the girl reappears many nights later. Sevrine is a very real girl, a Jew, hiding, with her parents in Monique’s cellar. The girls secretly become friends, but one night they are seen by a neighbor, and Sevrine and her parents have to flee.

When Monique and her mother are returning from helping them escape, they get separated at a train station where the Nazi’s are searching people. Monique is swept up onto a train car and doesn’t know where she is going. Finally she recognizes the name of a station, and gets off, and walks home, having no idea where her mother is, paralleling the uncertainty about the safety of Sevrine and her parents.

Polacco manages to convey both the terror of life during the holocaust for Jews, and for ordinary citizens, as well as showing the courage of those who took risks to help, in a way that children can understand and identify with.

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Filed under **** Highly Recommended, Grades 1-2, Grades 3 - 4

One of My Favorite Blogs

Bookie-Woogie (, is a blog about books by three kids: Isaac (10), Gracie (8), and Lily (5), and their dad. Dad adroitly draws out the children on what they like about the books they read, what the best, or funniest, or scariest parts are, and how the pictures and text work together as a whole — all without giving away anything important. Dad records the whole thing as dialogue, including flying stuffed animals used to illustrate a point, giggling, and various tangents. The children each draw an illustration of a favorite part of each story, and these are posted on the blog as well.

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The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill, Kool-Aid, and Civil Disobedience: or Reading Can Be a Dangerous Thing

pushcart“The Pushcart War” is one of my all-time favorite books.  For those of you who haven’t read it, get thee to a library or bookstore, and remedy the situation immediately. The book is about the pushcart peddlers in New York City, who become embattled with the Mack Truck drivers who are crowding the streets and blaming the pushcarts for the traffic jams. How the beleaguered little guys join together and beat the big guys with their big trucks is a great story.

I read the book in 5th grade during all the student and racial unrest in the 60s, and it really politicized me, leading to my own petition writing and civil disobedience at school.

The petition was to get rid of our fifth grade teacher after she punished Nancy S. (I guess I won’t name names here) for having a packet of Kool-Aid in her purse. The Kool-Aid thing was a fad at the time: lick your finger and dip it in the Kool-Aid powder and lick it off. People went around with Kool-Aid colored index fingers.

For some reason this bothered our teacher, and she banned Kool-Aid packets in the classroom. One day, for reasons unbeknownst to me, David C. went into Nancy’s desk, into her purse, found a Kool-Aid packet, and ratted her out. Nancy got into trouble, but David did not. Now I was no friend of Nancy’s, who I saw as a snobby rich kid, but I knew that the teacher was punishing her based on illegally obtained evidence. And I felt that David should have been punished for going into her desk and purse and invading her privacy. I have always had strong feelings about fairness, and while I might be shy about sticking up for myself at times, I would never let something like this go by without doing something about it.

Most of the kids in the class signed my petition, including the principal’s daughter, Gretchen, who volunteered to take it to her father. But when my classmates saw how serious I was about this, they chickened out and erased their names from the petition. I was furious and stormed out of the classroom. Gretchen followed me, fluttering around me in dismay, and I turned and punched her in the arm, left the building and walked home, only to be taken back to school by my mother.

My mother was actually proud of me–not for hitting the principal’s daughter or leaving school, but for sticking up for what was right. I got a mild lecture about how the school was responsible for my whereabouts during school hours from the principal and my mother.

And that is how Kool-Aid and The Pushcart War have become linked forever in my mind.

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Filed under ***** A must read, Grades 5 - 6