Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud’s got a few things going for him:1. He has his own suitcase filled with his own important, secret things.2. He’s the author of Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.3. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: flyers of Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!Bud’s got an idea that those flyers will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road and find this mystery man, nothing can stop him–not hunger, not fear, not vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself.Bud, Not Buddy is full of laugh-out-loud humor and wonderful characters, hitting the high notes of jazz and sounding the deeper tones of the Great Depression.

 BudNotBuddy2.jpg

This 2000 Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King award-winning book has been sitting on my to-read list for a while. Set during the depression and the historical backdrop of the jazz age, 10 year old orphan Bud has few possessions and little identity. However, Bud is intelligent, resourceful and determined to find his father. Through his journey, complex issues like homelessness and poverty are included. I liked how Bud uses his humour and his lists “Rules and Things for Having a Funnier Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself” to guide his way.

Through Bud’s story, Curtis did a fantastic job at teaching history to juvenile readers. I enjoyed reading the afterword, in which Curtis explains his family connection to the depression, and encourages young readers to listen to family members because “By keeping their stories alive you make them, and yourself, immortal (p.243).”

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself — because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of: a woman with a future. Follow Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (electricity! carpet sweepers! sending out the laundry!), taking readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions.The Hired Girl

I picked up The Hired Girl simply because of all the starred reviews and awards it was receiving. I didn’t read the synopsis before I dove in, and I’m glad. I’m not usually one for historical fiction, or stories that heavily feature religion but The Hired Girl worked for me. I now understand all the hype!

The story is told in diary format by our charming and optimistic narrator, fourteen year old, Catholic Joan Skraggs. It’s 1911, and her father is wicked cruel and demands everyone earn their keep on the farm. Joan loves learning, so when he forbids her from school and burns her books, she runs away in search for a better life. Joan, renames herself Janet Lovelace, pretends she is 18 and lands a job as a hired girl in a Jewish home.

My favourite aspect of the book was the dynamics between Janet and her employers (the Rosenbach family- and of course, Malka.) Although Janet has a strong work ethic, she quickly becomes over-involved and finds herself in trouble on numerous occasions. It’s during these moments when her true age shows. However, since Janet is such a spirited character, it’s hard not to root for her from beginning to end. The strong cast of secondary characters all help Janet learn tough lessons about love, tolerance and respecting religious beliefs.

I loved that The Hired Girl was inspired by the author’s grandmother’s journal. Overall, the story that Laura Amy Schlitz has crafted is an engaging, thought provoking and a definite must read!

Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf

In 1942, eleven-year-old Milada is taken from her home in Lidice, Czechoslovakia, along with other blond, blue-eyed children to a Lebensborn center in Poland. There she is trained to be a “proper German” for adoption by a German family, and all the while she struggles to remember her true identity.

eva

An older book, but an important story and one that shouldn’t be missed. I’ve read other historical fiction books detailing the holocaust, but this book stands out. It was interesting to read about Milada (later renamed Eva) being chosen to attend a special school because of her Aryan looks (blonde hair, blue eyes).

Although the book does offer a glimpse into the horrors of the Holocaust, I think the author did a fantastic job at writing the story for the intended audience of middle graders. The content was handled sensitively yet does not shy away from some more disturbing aspects; like when Eva wonders what the horrible smell is, and is told by her adoptive sister “Prisoners, well, prisoners die. And there isn’t room to bury them. So the smokestacks—“ (p. 134). Understandably, Eva doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. But if readers want to find out more, historical facts are also included in the author’s note.

This book is recommended to readers with interest in historical fiction. That being said, I would not endorse the cover shown on Goodreads. It does not do a great job at ‘selling’ the book. I think the publisher quickly realized this too, as my edition has a more appealing cover.

Moon At Nine by Deborah Ellis

Fifteen-year-old Farrin has many secrets. Although she goes to a school for gifted girls in Tehran, as the daughter of an aristocratic mother and wealthy father, Farrin must keep a low profile. It is 1988; ever since the Shah was overthrown, the deeply conservative and religious government controls every facet of life in Iran. If the Revolutionary Guard finds out about her mother’s Bring Back the Shah activities, her family could be thrown in jail, or worse. The day she meets Sadira, Farrin’s life changes forever. Sadira is funny, wise, and outgoing; the two girls become inseparable. But as their friendship deepens into romance, the relationship takes a dangerous turn. It is against the law to be gay in Iran; the punishment is death. Despite their efforts to keep their love secret, the girls are discovered and arrested. Separated from Sadira, Farrin can only pray as she awaits execution. Will her family find a way to save them both?

moon

Recommended by a colleague, Moon at Nine tells the heartbreaking story of Farrin and Sadira; teenage girls in love in 1988 Iran.  I must say, I learned a lot from reading about the culture and Farrin`s very different set of experiences.  For instance, Farrin`s parents throw dinner parties to drown out the sound of nearby bombings, and she regularly attend school remembrance ceremonies for classmates.

I have grown accustomed to hearing news reports about political upheavals and violent demonstrations, but reading about the characters and knowing that the book is based upon a true story really struck me. Sadira and Farrin`s love is true and strong; and they decide to risk everything (including their safety) to be together.  I loved reading their secret notes, and their strategy to communicate `I love you` by coughing three times.

“So, we will live then,” said Farrin. “We will love and work as though we could die tomorrow. And then we will have no regrets.” P. 96

They remain true to themselves, even though being gay is against the law and punishable by death in 1988 Iran. It`s definitely a story that needs to be told, and a sad reality that being gay is still considered a criminal offence in more than 70 countries.  The final outcome of their story was tough to swallow.

Even though Moon at Nine is a short and quick read; it is one that will stay with you for a long time. I can definitely see this book being used in the classroom to explore cultural and LGBT issues. Ellis even includes Book Guide Questions to start the important and thought provoking discussions to engage youth.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. 

She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.

out of the easy

Set in New Orleans in the 1950s, Out of the Easy was recently named one of YALSA’s Top 10 Fiction picks of 2014.  Although historical fiction does not usually appeal to me, I have come across some recent titles that may change my perception of the genre.  Check out The Diviners (1920s), and In the Shadow of Blackbirds (Spanish Influenza-1918).

The protagonist, seventeen year old, Josie opens the book with “my mother’s a prostitute” and I was immediately hooked.  I loved reading about New Orleans’ dodgy underbelly!  Influenced by her abusive gangster boyfriend, neglect and crime qualify Josie’s mother for the worst mother of the year.  Because of her situation, Josie has become one strong willed, determined, independent lady who earns a living by working in a bookstore and cleaning the brothel.  Readers will be rooting for Josie as she works to escape ‘The Big Easy’ to attend college with her new uptown friend. However, Josie’s dreams are slashed when the mob targets her for retribution of her mother’s actions. Fortunately, Josie has some wonderful  supporters to help her along the way.  My favourite being Willie, the brothel madam.  She is terrifying, but always looks out for Josie. Although many scenes are set in the brothel, Septeys keeps it pretty clean.

Framed by a murder mystery, this novel will keep your interest and stay with you for a long time.  A recommended read to fans of historical fiction.

More praise:

* “With a rich and realistic setting, a compelling and entertaining first-person narration, a colorful cast of memorable characters and an intriguing storyline, this is a surefire winner. Immensely satisfying.” —Kirkus, *Starred Review*

* “[A]nother taut and charged historical novel… Sepetys has also built a stellar cast. Readers will find Josie irresistible from the get-go and will devour the sultry mix of mystery, historical detail, and romance.” —Publishers Weekly, *Starred Review*

* “A Dickensian array of characters; the mystique, ambience, and language of the French Quarter; a suspenseful, action-packed story. With dramatic and contextual flair, Sepetys introduces teens to another memorable heroine.” —School Library Journal, *Starred Review*

 

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?
shadow

After putting down three YA titles in a row, In the Shadows of Blackbirds rescued me from my reading slump! The cover, beautiful writing, and haunting photographs immediately drew me in and captured my interest. This historical fiction novel is set in 1918 during the Spanish Influenza and narrated by sixteen year old, Mary Shelley Black. Named after Frankenstein’s author, Mary Shelley is one brave, headstrong heroine- not even war or Death himself can stop her.

Throughout the novel, it is clear that Winters had done a fair amount of research into the time period.  The setting is described in detail and events historically accurate. Gauze masks, public health warnings, visible coffins and death in the streets are not overlooked. Not only was this an enjoyable read, but also an educational one.  I didn’t realize the extent of confusion and panic the flu created, and the many uses of onions! The inclusion of black and white pictures sprinkled throughout work as a dreary visual reminder of the damaging effects of war.  I now can understand the desperation of mourners seeking comfort from spirit photographers and séances.

The plot revolves around the haunting mystery of what happened to Mary Shelley’s ‘sweetheart’ Stephen.  Winters had me guessing along with Shelley, and I was surprised by the violent and brutal ending.  Despite this, a great cast of characters, historical details, romance , mystery and tragedy all amount to one fantastic recommended read!

If you liked the mystery and suspense of  In the Shadow of Blackbirds, check out The Diviners by Libba Bray.

Review: Infinity Ring- Book 1: A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner

Goodreads: Scholastic’s next multi-platform mega-event begins here! History is broken, and three kids must travel back in time to set it right!

When best friends Dak Smyth and Sera Froste stumble upon the secret of time travel — a hand-held device known as the Infinity Ring — they’re swept up in a centuries-long secret war for the fate of mankind. Recruited by the Hystorians, a secret society that dates back to Aristotle, the kids learn that history has gone disastrously off course.Now it’s up to Dak, Sera, and teenage Hystorian-in-training Riq to travel back in time to fix the Great Breaks . . . and to save Dak’s missing parents while they’re at it. First stop: Spain, 1492, where a sailor named Christopher Columbus is about to be thrown overboard in a deadly mutiny!

Historical fiction for the middle school crowd usually isn’t my thing, but there has been so much buzz about this new series that I was excited to receive it as an advanced reading copy from Scholastic.  As the first book in the multi-author collaboration, it served to lay the background story, introducing the characters and explaining the alternate universe and the importance of the infinity ring.  Some explanations and theories were hard to wrap my head around, but I found Sera’s explanation of the breaks the useful.  She explains, ‘Breaks are great big boulders that have been plopped into the time stream. The stream keeps flowing but it has to veer a little bit from it’s natural course’.  As Sera, Dak and Riq attempt to fix these breaks, readers are treated to tons of humour, adventure and action (including multiple explosions!)

Overall, I think middle graders, reluctant readers, boys and girls, and fans of The 39 Clues would LOVE this book.  Don’t forget to extend the reading experience with the online component- http://www.infinityring.com  I tried it out- tons of fun!  ‘A Mutiny in Time’ is available TOMORROW-August 28th 2012. To hold the reader’s interest, the remaining six will be spaced out and released shortly after one another.  Big thumbs up!

Turtle in Paradise Review

I’m back! The past couple of weeks have been crazy busy! On top of all my other duties, I’ve been preparing for the summer reading club (SRC), doing 53 class visits promoting the SRC, and hiring SRC students! Phew. I finally have time to read fiction again! Hurray! While I’ve been listing to a ton of audiobooks (including the very sweet, Dewey the Library Cat by Vicki Myron), I haven’t been able to focus on my ever-growing ‘TO READ’ list. This weekend allowed me to reconnect with the pile of books collecting in my living room. Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm (2010) called to me first.

 From Goodreads, “Life isn’t like the movies, and eleven-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple. She’s smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending. After all, it’s 1935, and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce. So when Turtle’s mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn’t like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida, to stay with relatives she’s never met. Florida’s like nothing Turtle has ever seen. It’s hot and strange, full of wild green peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure. Before she knows what’s happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she has spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways.”

LOVED:

-For the most part, I loved this book (and I’m usually not one for historical fiction). I think was due to Holm’s ability to weave historical details into the story, making it educational without feeling forced. Not only was the story based on true family tales but also it is clear that research was done to ensure accuracy.  Although this book is intended for a younger audience, I definitely learned about a lot about Key West (now I really want to visit!). Moreover, I appreciated the author’s notes and photographs at the end of the novel that described her inspirations.

-Turtle’s character is relatable. There are so many words to describe her, but above all, she’s a smart, witty and strong 11 year-old.

Here’s a quote from Turtle:

” Our eyes are different, though. I think the color of a person’s eyes says a lot about them. Mama has soft blue eyes, and all she sees is kittens and roses. My eyes are gray as soot, and I see things for what they are. The mean boy on the porch has green eyes. Probably from all the snot in his nose.” (p.17).

Growing up in the Great Depression, Turtle doesn’t expect some Hollywood ending—life isn’t a Shirley Temple movie.  Unlike her mother, Turtle is realistic.  Readers learn that she actually obtained the nickname ‘Turtle’ for her hard, unemotional exterior. Although for the most part Turtle was true to her nickname, at times, we were also shown glimpses of a more vulnerable girl.  I think Holm did an excellent job creating the memorable character that is Turtle.

Disliked:

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I think many readers will agree that the ending wrapped too quickly. It was so abrupt that I had to go back and re-read it because I was so confused how it could just end like that. While I wasn’t that surprised, I would have liked a little more details.

Recommendations:

In my opinion, I would recommend this book to middle school students interested in adventure and historical fiction. Although the cover may appeal more to girls, I think that boys would find the Diaper Gang hilarious and enjoy the adventure when the Gang searches for buried treasure. For those looking for a Turtle in Paradise read-alike, I would recommend the 2011 Newberry Award Winner, Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (also set during the Great Depression).

 

Blog Stats

  • 31,910 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 140 other followers

Goodreads

Check out my books on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3608158-brie