Category Archives: Grades 5 – 6

Is it Night or Day? by Fern Shuman Chapman

Farrar, Straus, Giroux     ISBN: 9780374177447

This novel is based on the experiences of the author’s mother who, in 1938, at the age of twelve was sent from Germany to Chicago to live with an aunt, uncle, and cousin. Her older sister had been sent separately a year before. Edith travels with a group of other Jewish children, escorted by a young woman who was part of an American rescue effort that placed 1000 children in foster homes in the United States.

Arriving in Chicago, Edith discovers that her presence is only tolerated because her aunt wants someone to do the chores, and because the family receives a small stipend for taking her in. Kept constantly busy with housework, it is weeks before Edith can see her sister, Betty, who has emotionally replaced her with the daughter of her foster family. Meanwhile, Edith is doing everything she can to raise money to rescue her parents.

Chapman makes effective use of a first person, chronological narrative to develop the story. She chooses her scenes well to reveal Edith’s loneliness and isolation as she tries to adjust to her circumstances, and the reader is quickly engaged, and cares what happens to her. Edith comes across as a complex and realistic young person who has much to struggle with. Dialogue is effective and realistic, sometimes painfully so. The ending leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next, and is perhaps the only part of the book where Edith seems older than she really is in the story.

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

The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow

Amulet Books, 2010     ISBN: 9780810984219

Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang have been best friends practically forever.    Like most girls, they want to be popular, and they worry about the pressures of junior high. With the idea of recreating themselves over the coming year they embark on a project to figure out how to become popular. They keep a secret notebook, with Julie recording the results of their various experiments in words and pictures, while the braver Lydia will be the subject (or victim) of these attempts to understand what it is that popularity is all about.

They try to bleach Lydia’s hair with laundry bleach; try to be interested in boys that the popular girls seem to think are interesting – or try to be interested in boys at all; they try to convince their parents’ they need cell phones (Julie has two dads, something that is only mentioned in passing, although they do appear in the story periodically); join sports that they aren’t really interested in; try out for the school play; enter the talent show, etc.

They make some new friends, learn that the popular girls have problems of their own, have a falling out, and come back together again.

The characterizations are spot-on, the graphic format appealing for the age group, and preteen girls will recognize themselves in Julie and Lydia, and laugh at, and with them.

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

2010 Sydney Taylor Book Awards Announced

New York – January, 2010
April Halprin Wayland and Stephane Jorisch, author and illustrator of New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story, Robin Friedman, author of The Importance of Wings, and Margarita Engle, author of Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, are the 2010 winners of the prestigious Sydney Taylor Book Award.

The Sydney Taylor Book Award honors new books for children and teens that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience. The award memorializes Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series. The winners will receive their awards at the Association of Jewish Libraries convention in Seattle this July.

For Younger Readers
Wayland and Jorisch will receive the 2010 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Younger Readers Category for New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.  The Jewish New Year is a special time of year, with a change in seasons, symbolic foods and other traditions. It is also the time for introspection and the ritual of Tashlich, when sins are symbolically cast into a body of flowing water. Izzy thinks about things for which he is sorry. He “compares Tashlich to cleaning out his toy closet, an example of the wonderful way this story conveys to children, at their own level, a contemporary version of the healthy Jewish way we start fresh at the beginning of each new year,” commented Susan Berson, a member of the Award Committee. Incoming Committee Chair Barbara Bietz noted that the “whimsical watercolor illustrations are a perfect pairing for the delightful prose.”

For Older Readers
Friedman will receive the 2010 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Older Readers Category for The Importance of Wings, published by Charlesbridge. Ah, the drama of being in eighth grade! There’s the boy you have a crush on who likes someone else. There’s getting dressed in gym class and being picked last for teams. There’s your parents, who are so unlike Mike and Carol Brady and not even like Ma and Pa Ingalls. And there’s your hair, that won’t go in the popular feathered back style that everyone else is wearing. When an Israeli girl moves next door, Liat “not only shows Roxanne how to give her hair ‘wings,’ but she helps her ‘wing’ her way toward maturity and self-esteem,” asserted Debbie Colodny, a member of the Award Committee. Another Award Committee member, Kathy Bloomfield, affirmed this praise: “With appealing and affecting writing, Ms. Friedman grabs the reader immediately and takes her on a journey of self-discovery, confidence building and empowerment that will leave her hoping for a sequel.” Friedman’s book about male bulimia, Nothing, was named an AJL Notable Book for Teen Readers last year.

For Teen Readers
Engle will receive the 2010 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Teen Readers Category for Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, published by Henry Holt, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.  After Kristallnacht, many Jews tried to leave Germany, but other countries refused the refugees. Cuba agreed to take in some of these people, but at a price. The tension of this era is seen through the eyes of several of the people affected: Daniel, a thirteen-year-old German boy whose parents put him on a boat to “the Americas,” hoping to save his life; Paloma, the daughter of a Cuban official who prefers a dovecote to her home; David, who escaped the pogroms of Russia, sells ice creams, and helps the new refugees; and Gordo, Paloma’s father, who is profiting by charging exorbitant fees for visas to stay in Cuba. “The verse and the different perspectives make the history of Cuba during the Nazi era accessible while illustrating the complicated situations and the twists and turns of political interactions,” noted Kathe Pinchuck, Committee Chair. Ms. Engle is known to readers for her Newbery-Honor book The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, for which she also won the Pura Belpre Award.

Honor Books & Notable Books
Eight Sydney Taylor Honor Books were named for 2010.  For Younger Readers, Honor Books are: Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim by Deborah Bodin Cohen with illustrations by Jago (Kar-Ben), Benjamin and the Silver Goblet by Jacqueline Jules with illustrations by Natascia Ugliano (Kar-Ben), Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber with illustrations by Adam Gustavson (Tricycle Press) and You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? by Jonah Winter with illustrations and an amazing lenticular cover by Andre Carrilho (Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House).   Two works in translation were named Honor Books for Older Readers: Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures by Menno Metselaar and Ruud van der Rol (translated by Arnold J. Pomerans) (Roaring Brook Press/Flash Point, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group) and A Faraway Island by Annika Thor (translated by Linda Schenck) (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House). Lost, a historical novel by Jacqueline Davies (Marshall Cavendish) and Naomi’s Song, a biblical fiction by Selma Kritzer Silverberg (JPS) were named Honor Books in the Teen Reader Category.

The JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible by Ellen Frankel with illustrations by Avi Katz (JPS) was named a Notable Book for All Ages. The Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee was very impressed with Ms. Frankel’s retelling of biblical stories. “She succeeds in creating an age-appropriate interpretation of the most intriguing and familiar stories that allow families to glean the essence of Jewish teachings, ethics, and history,” commented Rita Soltan, Award Committee member. “Readability, faithfulness to ‘idiomatic nuances of biblical Hebrew,’ and softly rendered color illustrations are the main features of this compilation,” noted Susan Berson, Award Committee member.

In addition to the medal-winners, the Award Committee designated twenty-two Notable Books of Jewish Content for 2010: eight in the Younger Readers Category, eight in the Older Readers Category, and six for Teens.  A complete list of Award, Honor, and Notable titles may be found at jewishlibraries.org/blog, and more information about the Sydney Taylor Book Award, may be found online at sydneytaylorbookaward.org. Information about the awards can also be found on the AJL Facebook page at facebook.com/jewishlibraries.

Blog Tour

A blog tour featuring winning authors and illustrators will take place February 1-5, 2010. The schedule will be posted on the Association of Jewish Libraries’ blog People of the Books at jewishlibraries.org/blog.

For more information, contact:
Kathe Pinchuck, Chair, Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee
chair@sydneytaylorbookaward.org
(973) 777-4504

Association of Jewish Libraries | c/o NFJC | 330 Seventh Avenue, 21st Floor | New York | NY | 10001

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Filed under Awards, Grades 1-2, Grades 3 - 4, Grades 5 - 6, Middle School, Preschool - Kindegarten

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