Category Archives: **** Highly Recommended

Emma’s Poem, The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Claire Nivola

Houghton Mifflin, 2010     ISBN: 978054717845

This beautiful blending of words and pictures tells the story of how Emma Lazarus, author of the familiar words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” grew up wealthy and protected, came to care for, and help the immigrants arriving in America, many of them Jews like her, and how through her writing, she attempted to turn public opinion toward a greater acceptance of these new Americans-to-be.

The book works well to link the past with the present, with the cover showing people of many cultures in the present day, looking out over the water to the iconic figure of the Statue of Liberty. The choice to place a facsimile of “The New Colossus,” with its old-fashioned script on the flyleaf, plunges the reader into the past, and sets the stage for the story to come. The picture of the Statue under construction, followed a few pages later with the completed Statue, bring the story full circle. Even the use of old family photographs with the author and illustrator information serves to show the timeless meaning of the Statue and the poem.

The pictures are full of detail, and the pages laid-out with lots of space, inviting the reader to take time over the story. The author’s note giving more detail about Lazarus’s short life, and the full text of the poem will interest older readers who may want to know more.

The book reflects the importance Jews place on the work of Tikkun Olam, the repairing of the world, as it tells the story of a young Jewish woman who did what she could to make the world a better place for others, and it is also a book that celebrates the fact that ours is a nation of immigrants.

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

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 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

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

Indian Captive by Lois Lenski

a36c05434657b115934374b55514141414c3441I originally read this Newbery Honor award winner (published in 1941), when I was in second or third grade. The book is based on the true story of Mary Jemison, captured by members of the Seneca tribe. One of a number of white children captured by Native Americans over the years who chose not to return to white society, Mary’s story is one of the more well-known because of her own account of her experiences which was first published in 1824 (A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, who was Taken by the Indians, in the year 1775, When Only About Twelve Years of Age, and has Continued to Reside Amongst Them to the Present Time by James E. Seaver).

Over the years, many authors have retold her story for various audiences. Lenski focuses on a period of two to three years in Mary’s childhood: her capture, the couple of years following, and her initial decision to remain wit her captives. Lenski is noted as being the first author to study Seneca life and customs, and to accurately represent them in her account of Mary’s story. Lenski thus avoids much of the stereotyping one would expect to find in a book of its era, and many interesting details of the ways of life and beliefs of the Seneca are presented. Illustrated by Lenski with Seneca symbols and articles used in their life at that time add interest to the story.

Reading this book for the second time, as an adult, I again found it fascinating, but I now want to read her original account.

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