Recent Read: The Fences Between Us

18 04 2012


The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis by Kirby Larson

This is a new title in the relaunched “Dear America” series.  Each of the books in the series takes on a different time period in American history and tells about the events of that time period through the eyes of a fictional girl living then.

The Fences Between Us is set in Seattle, Washington in 1941 on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Piper and her older sister Margie are living with their single father, the minister of Seattle’s Japanese Baptist Church. Her older brother Hank has just enlisted in the Navy and is stationed at Pearl Harbor when the attack takes place.  In the days and weeks following the attack Piper and her family worry about Hank as very little news reaches them about his whereabouts.  They also watch as the Japanese-American members of their church are treated poorly in response to the Japanese attack.

As time passes, the American government sends these Japanese-Americans first to Camp Harmony, a converted fairground near Seattle, and then to a “permanent” relocation camp in Idaho called Minidoka.  Rather than just sadly observe his congregation and close friends being sent away, Piper’s father decides to go with them to Idaho, taking Piper with him.  While there Piper becomes closer to classmate Betty Sato and her family and develops a better understanding of what it’s like to be an outsider.

I’ve always liked this series, and I really would have loved it if it had been around when I was a kid.  The diary format is such a great way to make history come alive for kids.  This title is another superb addition to the series.


Recent Read: Bird in a Box

18 04 2012

Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney

I didn’t go into reading this book with any expectations really.  I knew that it was historical fiction that had something to do with the boxer Joe Louis.  Well, I ended up loving this book.

The book does indeed involve Joe Louis, the so-called “Brown Bomber.”  The story takes place in the late 1930’s, just before he begins his reign as heavyweight champion of the world, and focuses on three young people who share Joe Louis as a common thread in their lives.  Hibernia loves to sing and uses her voice to raise money for the boxer’s prizewinning fight.  Willie is a boxer-in-training who is inspired by Louis’ gift.  Otis has wonderful memories of listening to Joe Louis’ matches on the radio with his parents.

Each of these three characters tells their part of the story in their own words.  As the book progresses, their lives begin to intertwine.  Pinkney effectively creates a unique voice for each of the three characters.  She also fills the story with rich, sometimes flawed, adult characters.

Each character grows as they journey together through the book.  The obstacles they overcome are mirrored in Joe Louis’ obstacles to become heavyweight champ.  Each of them has to find courage within him or herself in order to reach goals.  On top of the wonderful plot and great character development is Pinkney’s lovely writing.  She so beautifully conveys the emotions of the characters, both the highs and lows.

I think I finished about the last third of the book in one sitting.  I could not sleep before finding out what happened to Hibernia, Willie, and Otis.  And strangest of all – even though I don’t really know much about boxing, I found myself pulling for Mighty Joe in his great fight to become heavyweight champion right along with all of them.

Wonderful book!

Recent Read: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

8 02 2012

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier

Ten-year-old Peter has a lot to deal with – he’s a blind orphan who has had to learn how to survive by becoming a thief.  However, on one particularly auspicious day, he manages to steal a mysterious box from a traveling peddler.  Inside the box, which he is able to unlock easily due to his spectacular thieving abilities, are three sets of eyes.  When he places the first set of eyes in his empty eyesockets (sounds a little disturbing, I know, but you just have to go with it), he finds that he has been transported to the home of a Professor Cake.  It seems that Professor Cake actually made the special eyes and sent the “peddler” to find Peter.  Peter is destined for adventure, and each set of the fantastic eyes that the Professor made will give Peter a different ability to help him on his way.

What is an adventure without a sidekick?  Peter’s sidekick is Sir Tode, a knight who has been bewitched into a part horse-part kitten creature.  Together the two set off to save the Vanished Kingdom.

While this story draws on several genres – adventure, mystery, fantasy – it is truly unique.  Auxier’s writing is clever and witty and had me laughing throughout, even though there are some pretty terrible things that happen in the story as well.  This is not for the squeamish – which you probably could have figured out from the putting the fantastic eyes into empty eyesockets bit, right?  Well, not to give anything away, but there are also some action-packed battles in the book that are pretty exciting, but quite bloody, too.

I would recommend Peter Nimble to any young reader who likes their fantasy packed with action and adventure.

Recent Read: Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie

9 01 2012

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg; illustrated by Matthew Cordell

In addition to just being a sweet story, this book is a great title for those kids just beginning to move from easy readers to chapter books.  The chapters are short, and there are illustrations throughout the book.

Young Eleanor is dealing with several transitions and having a rather difficult time of it.  Her beloved babysitter Bibi has moved away, leaving Eleanor feeling very alone.  She is also on the cusp of a new school year, something that brings anxiety to many a child.  Now she must learn how to cope with such stress in the absence of Bibi.  Can her new babysitter Natalie help?

This is a great, realistic story that many children can relate to.  Even though Eleanor is a little sad and anxious during the story, both author and illustrator add in bits of humor and hope for readers along the way.

Recent Read: Pie

7 01 2012

Pie by Sarah Weeks

This book was a nice change from the more intense The Dead and the Gone.

Set in the small town of Ipswitch in 1955, Sarah Weeks has created a scrumptious (sorry, couldn’t help it) tale with Pie.  When Alice’s beloved Aunt Polly passes away, Alice is devastated and just wants Polly back, but the rest of the town can’t wait to get their hands on Polly’s award-winning piecrust recipe.  Polly has been the recipient of the “Blueberry Medal” numerous times, and now everyone else wants a crack at the title.

It seems Polly had other ideas though.  She has left her piecrust recipe to her enormous cat Lardo, and Lardo is now under Alice’s care.   When Lardo disappears and other myterious occurrences take place, Alice and her friend Charlie begin to investigate.

This fun read does deal with the mystery of Aunt Polly’s missing piecrust recipe, but it’s more importantly a story about family, dealing with loss, and even developing your individual talents.  Just for added fun, Weeks has included pie recipes at the beginning of each chapter for the reader to try.  Simply delicious!

Recent Read: Amelia Lost

6 01 2012

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming

In this wonderful nonfiction title, author Fleming draws on a multitude of resources to provide a thorough overview of Amelia Earhart’s life and the search that took place after her disappearance.  Fleming alternates straightfoward biographical chapters with short chapters describing the search for Earhart and her plane after she failed to arrive at her intended stop on Howland Island in the Pacific.  These fascinating chapters about the search often focus on young people around the US who claimed to have heard a distress call from Earhart in the hours and days following her disappearance.

While Amelia Earhart, and more specifically her mysterious disappearance, are fascinating subjects already, Fleming enhances the tale with photos and news articles from her research.  Fleming also presents Earhart as a real person, even one with flaws.  While sharing with readers what made Amelia special and a pioneer in aviation, she doesn’t shy away from some of Earhart’s more negative aspects, such as her resistance to learn how to use her radio equipment, an error in judgment that may have contributed to Earhart’s death.

I would highly recommend this title to young readers and anyone interested in Earhart, aviation history, or women’s history.  This title is also being buzzed about as a possible Newbery contender.  I guess we’ll find out later this month!

Recent Read: Horton Halfpott

30 11 2011

Horton Halfpott: or, the Fiendish Mystery of Smudgwick Manor, or, the Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset by Tom Angleberger

I’m a big fan of pretty much everything Abrams is publishing these days.  I really loved Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and I was excited about reading a new book from him.  This one did not disappoint.  While definitely different from Origami Yoda, it was a very entertaining read in its own right.

The titular hero, Horton Halfpott, is a kitchen boy trying to support his family by working in the manor home of the Luggertuck family.  The Manor is a miserable place to work, until one day, when Lady Luggertuck’s corset is loosened, the strict rules of the manor seem to be loosened as well.  In the midst of all the hubbub caused by the corset-loosening, a priceless family heirloom, the Luggertuck Lump, goes missing, and the family calls in famous detective Portnoy St. Pomfrey to solve the mystery.  St. Pomfrey, who is not quite the expert in detection that he has made everyone believe he is, enlists the help of the manor’s stableboys to solve the crime.   While others suspect Horton of taking the Lump, his friends the stableboys know he is innocent and set about to find the true thief.

The book has a large cast of characters, including the Luggertuck family, their many servants, and other guests to the manor, but each character is distinct and has a particular role to play in the story.  The story is a mixture of mystery, historical fiction, and even a little romance, but above all, it is very funny.  The narrator of the story speaks directly to the reader, somewhat in the manner of A Series of Unfortunate Events, and in this aspect reminded me a bit of the also very well-written The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood.

Overall, this was a really entertaining read, and should appeal to kids who like their humor a little on the dark side and tongue-in-cheek.  They’ll be rooting for underdog Horton to overcome the obstacles in his way as he tries to clear his name and get ahead in life.