Category Archives: *** A good read

Fox Walked Alone by Barbara Reid

Albert Whitman, 2009.     ISBN: 9780807525487

This variation of the story of Noah and the Ark features a puzzled, but curious fox who feels compelled to stay awake during the daylight hours in which he is accustomed to sleeping, and to travel, day after day. As he goes along, he meets up with a multitude of animals, walking in the same direction in pairs. Just in case some of these animals were dangerous, Fox followed along at a distance, staying out of sight. As the sky fills with clouds, Fox sees the ark in the valley below him, and meets his mate. The pair file into the Ark just as the rain begins to fall. The story ends with an illustration of the ark sailing in the flooded waters, and then a cameo of the two foxes sitting together under a rainbow. There is no reference to the bible story other than the use of the name, Noah.  The illustrations are cleverly done in Plasticine which works especially well to create texture and depth.  A “Notable” Sydney Taylor Award book.

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Filed under *** A good read, Awards, Preschool - Kindegarten

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

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 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

Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

baskinSimon & Schuster, 2009     ISBN: 1416963782

“Anything But Typical” is told in the voice of twelve-year-old autistic Jason Baxter who is high functioning in the areas of language, but who has difficulty verbally expressing himself. He is in the middle of a trial “inclusion” period in his schooling, where he no longer has his one-on-one aide to help him interpret what is happening around him, but must instead rely on what everyone has been trying to teach him about how to interact with people and how to deal with stresses.

In his corner are his father; his younger brother, Jeremy; Aaron Miller, a boy at school who is friendly toward him; and his English teacher. His mother does her best to accept who he is, but her stress always comes through, and makes Jason more anxious.

Jason’s real outlet is his creative writing, and he participates online in a writing community where he begins corresponding by email with a girl who likes his stories. However, the idea of meeting her is terrifying, and he must use all his resources to cope with the situation.

Well-written and interesting, this book should appeal to middle school readers.

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Filed under *** A good read, Middle School