Monthly Archives: December 2009

Dancing Through the Snow by Jean Little

Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2009     ISBN: 1935279157

It’s a few days before Christmas, and sixth-grader, Min, is being evicted from yet another foster home, not for anything she did, but because she and her foster mother Enid never hit it off–not that Min planned to try to hit it off with anyone anymore. Abandoned as a toddler by a woman who insisted she wasn’t Min’s mother (though how Min remembers this is unrealistic), Min has no idea who she is. All she knows is that she doesn’t belong anywhere, has no family, and no friends, other than Mrs. Willis from the Children’s Aid, who has always been kind and gentle with her. But even Mrs. Willis isn’t party to Min’s confidences, feelings, or tears–not that she indulges in the latter.

When Min and Enid arrive at Children’s Aid, Enid shuts herself in with Mrs. Willis, and begins to defend her decision to bring Min back. The discussion between the two becomes heated, the door swings open part way, and Min hears almost everything. Part way through this scene Dr. Jess Hart, who has been a Children’s Aid physician, and whom Min recognizes when she had pneumonia, arrives, and sits down next to Min. When Enid finally resorts to blaming Min for somehow failing to make it in her previous placements, Dr. Hart leaps up and bursts into the room, and begins bellowing at Enid, telling her that if Min were an adult she could sue her for slander. She then goes on to announce that she is taking Min home with her immediately–for as long as Min cares to stay with her. Mrs. Willis puts up a feeble protest, after all, who can she find to take Min at the last minute and right before the holidays.

Min is in shock, but remembering Dr Hart as a kind presence from when she was hospitalized, she is ready to go along with her. She realizes she feels safe for the first time.

With some minor ups and downs, Min and Jess (Dr. Hart) adjust to each other, and Min, all too quickly to be realistic, begins to open up . Starting at a new school after the holidays, Min makes friends for the first time. When Jess asks her if she can adopt her, Min is, of course, delighted, and the book ends on this happy note.

The only problem with this book is that it’s a child’s dream come true, and bears little resemblance to the experiences of real children in foster care.

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

The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline, An Enola Holmes Mystery by Nancy Springer

Philomel, 2009     ISBN: 0399247815

Enola Holmes, younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes, puts her disguises and brilliance to work when her landlady receives a threatening note that makes no sense to her, and is subsequently kidnapped. Enola is fast off the starting block, but has to avoid her brother, Sherlock, who she is on the run from, and who has also been called in on the case from another direction. Enola rescues Mrs. Tupper, and manages to flee into the night one step ahead of Sherlock who has finally begun to wonder if he and Mycroft are right about wanting to send Enola to finishing school. Budding cryptologists will enjoy the challenge of over a page’s worth of deciphering.

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

The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth

Hyperion, 2008     ISBN: 1423104943

This book draws the reader from the beautiful cover art into a story full of adventure, danger, and history, as the two main protagonists, Luka and Emilia, members of a Rom family in Cromwell’s Puritan England, seek out the members of four other Rom families for assistance in getting their family out of jail before they come to trial and are all executed. Traveling with them are Emilia’s horse, Alida, their performing bear, Sweetheart, their dog, Rollo, and Luka’s monkey, Zizi.

Emilia has been instructed by their grandmother to reunite the family’s five magical charms, whose separation many years past has brought bad luck on the Rom. Each family is supposed to have one charm, but finding each family, and then convincing them to part with their charms even temporarily is a struggle. Emilia has to leave her horse with one family in surety for their charm, and Luka ends up leaving his violin with another.

On their trail are a group of henchmen led by a man called the thief-taker who is under orders to capture and imprison them with the rest of their family. There are many near misses and their travels are exhausting and nerve-wracking, and are well-plotted to keep the interest of the reader.

A subplot involving Royalist spies and secret meetings about restoring Charles the Second to the throne add to the suspense and danger. Various historical figures play a role in the story and the author provides detailed notes about the history of the time, and about the Rom culture.

This book is highly recommended to readers between the ages of ten to fourteen, and anyone who enjoys historical fiction with some good adventures thrown in.

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

Black Angels by Linda Beatrice Brown

Putnam, 2009.     ISBN: 0399250301

Eleven-year-old Luke breaks into his master’s gun case, steals a rifle, and sets out to meet up with four slaves running to join the Union cause. No one said Luke could come, but he figures they won’t turn him away when he shows up at the meeting place. Something goes wrong, and instead of meeting up with them, he finds two younger children wandering in the woods: nine-year-old Daylily, another slave; and seven-year-old Caswell, a white boy. The two become Luke’s responsibility, much as he resents it at first. It is up to him to organize their survival, hunting for food, cooking, keeping them away from fighting on both sides of the war, and making clear to Caswell that he no can longer throw any privileges around.

Ultimately Daylily becomes very ill, and the three are taken in by Betty, a half-Seminole, half-black spy who has been toasting her bread on both sides, so to speak, and has also been stealing supplies from both armies. Luke is appalled to discover this and when Betty gets caught, and then rescued by the children, she sees the error of her ways–and she also has to send them on Northward now that she’s become known.

As the War is winding up, the three children, who have come to feel like brothers and sisters, vow to meet up again at Betty’s cabin in the woods in ten years. As each of them sets forth into a post-war life, none of them know what their future will bring, but their reunion ten years later shows that each in their own way stayed true to the others.

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Filed under *** A good read, Grades 3 - 4, Grades 5 - 6

The Importance of Wings by Robin Friedman

Charlesbridge, 2009     ISBN: 1580893309

Nothing is right anymore: Roxanne’s mother is in Israel caring for her sick sister, her father is working long hours as a cab driver, and she is left looking after her little sister, Gayle.

Meanwhile, fitting in at middle school is no easy thing, especially without the right clothes and the right hairstyle: the difficult to construct “wings” of the title.

When a new girl moves into the cursed pink house on her street, life becomes more interesting. Liat is also Israeli; she is also motherless, although permanently so, her mother having been killed in a bombing in Israel; she’s tough; and she doesn’t care about what other kids think of her.

Liat puts Roxanne’s troubles into a new light, and Roxanne matures under Liat’s influence.

Unfortunately, the setting of the book in the 1970s, with the TV shows of those years so often mentioned, will not draw in today’s young readers, and the concept of a house with a curse (which does play out once again at the end of the book), is a plot device more suited to a younger audience.

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Filed under * Not recommended, Grades 5 - 6

“Mommy, Mama and Me,” and “Daddy, Papa and Me” by Leslea Newman

Tricycle Press, 2009

ISBNS: 9781582462639 and 9781582462622

Written by the well-known author of  “Heather has Two Mommies,” these two titles are the first board books to focus specifically on same-sex parents. Illustrated by Carol Thompson, they depict loving families in warm, inviting colors, with the brief story about a day in each family told in easy rhyme.

These books will be welcomed by the thousands of same-sex parents looking for books reflective of their families, but all children will enjoy the familiar stories of a day spent with loving parents.

The books have won an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Best Book Award.

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Filed under ***** A must read, Awards, Infant/Preschool