The young women at St. Etheldreda’s School for Young Ladies might not really like the headmistress Mrs. Plackett, but it is better than their homes. When Mrs. Plackett and her brother are poisoned one night at dinner the girls decide to conceal their deaths so they won’t be sent home. Everything would have worked perfectly except people just keep showing up at the house. Smooth Kitty takes charge and makes sure everyone keeps the story straight. Stout Alice starts impersonating Mrs. Plackett to keep the neighbors and Mrs. Plackett’s suitor at bay. Pocked Louisa is investigating the deaths and believes they were poisoned with cyanide, but who killed them?
I had mixed feelings about this book. I really like the mystery aspect of it. I like the seven independent girls trying to live on their own and figure out what is going on. I laughed several times at the comedy of errors and the constant troupe of visitors to the house. The thing that annoyed me the most however was the girls themselves. Each of them have an adjective attached to their name and that is used repeatedly throughout the book. It got to be pretty annoying and I felt it was used instead of character development. The girls were hard to distinguish between except for their adjective. I also thought it was hard to place their ages. They seemed much older than I am guessing they were. A couple of times it was mentioned someone was 12 (can’t remember which one), but they all were terribly interested in suitors and seemed so much more mature. Maybe it was the Victorian setting, but it just seemed a bit odd. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book and stay up way too late reading it to find out who the murderer was and why they were killed.
Sarah Dunbar is one of 10 black students that are integrating into the white high school in Virginia in 1959. She is a brilliant senior, but gets placed in the remedial classes because they don’t want the black students holding their white students back. Linda Hairston is a white senior at the school who is oppposed to integration. In their French class, they are forced with another white student to work together for a class project. How can they meet without letting Linda’s father know that she is working with a black girl? How can Sarah make Linda understand that the black people deserve an equal shake at education and other civil rights?
This was a coming of age story that was disturbing to read at times because it mirrored the turmoil that was going on during the civil rights movement. Told alternately from the perspective of each girl, it puts you in their shoes to see how their background and family helped to shape their beliefs. Pretty good book, but it had some alternate themes that weren’t what I expected.
The Cherry Street Children’s Home is a pretty nice place to live for both kids and mice. The kids have a safe place to stay, nice meals, schooling and a few chores. The mice have an abundant supply of crumbs to fill their larders, entertainment through the stories they hear told to the children and a wonderful supply of art. The Cherry Street mice are obsessed with art and the accumulation of it. They have specially trained thieves who go out into the orphanage to collect art. Mary Mouse has become one the the thieves after her husband is killed. Unfortunately, one of Mary’s missions goes awry and she is seen by the humans. Caro, a young orphan saves her life, but the exterminators are to be called. The rest of the mice are forced to move, but they leave Mary in exile as punishment. Caro is a perfect example of a model orphan. She is helpful and kind and willing to believe everything the director Mrs. George says.
This book has a lot of references to Stuart Little by E.B. White which really makes me want to read it again. The mice of Cherry Street see Stuart as a hero and someone to emulate. I don’t usually enjoy animal stories, but I like how the mice and the orphans come together in this one. There is a lot going on here: baby snatchings, work house threats, blackmail, despotic rulers, murder. I appreciate that it is all written on a level kids can understand and appreciate. I also really appreciate that Caro didn’t suddenly discover the ability to talk to Mary. It made the story more realistic with the communication barrier.
Tomi is a second generation Japanese-American living in California with her family on their strawberry farm. Her parents are proud of their adopted country and have taught Tomi and her brothers to be patriotic supporters of America. Then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and suddenly their neighbors and friends are looking at them like they are traitors and spies. Tomi’s dad is taken away by the FBI and the family is sent to a relocation camp soon after. Her mom has to step up and become the head of the family since dad is not with them; she is not the meek Japanese wife she was in California. Tomi and her brothers try to make the best of the horrible situation at the camp; they make friends, go to school and settle into life in the camp. They even become friends with some of the local kids. Then the dad is released from the prison camp and sent back to live with the family. Dad is no longer the proud, patriotic man he was; he is now bitter and angry at America for how he was treated. His attitude makes Tomi question what it means to be an American and how she feels about her country.
I like historical fiction books that deal with eras not frequently covered. WWII is a very popular era, but not a lot of books tackle the story of America’s treatment of the Japanese during the war. They were held in these camps without trials or even suspicion of any wrong doing for the duration of the war. They had to leave their homes, jobs, businesses and most of what they owned behind. I enjoyed this glimpse into what it was like to live in one of the relocation camps, but I especially appreciated Tomi’s story once her dad came home. He had every reason to be bitter and his attitude forced Tomi to look inside herself and figure out how she really felt. She couldn’t just conform to what her dad wanted her to think and believe; she had to find out for herself. That is a wonderful lesson and Sandra Dallas handled it really well.
Child abuse, mental illness, bullying, communism and McCarthy, it is all covered in this book. The Paper Cowboy is the story of Tommy who lives with his parents and sisters in Downers Grove, Illinois. Tommy is a well liked kid who never seems to get in trouble except at home. His home life is a mess. Tommy’s mom is extremely abusive and suffers from mental illness. Of course in the 1950s they didn’t talk about these things and really didn’t know a lot about mental illness. Tommy’s mom has lightning flash mood changes and the smallest little thing can set her off to where she beats Tommy with a belt. She has a lot on her plate: her mom died, she just had a baby and Tommy’s older sister was just burned in a horrible accident. The family has to deal with mounting medical bills which they can not pay. Tommy doesn’t talk to anyone about what is going on at home. He just tries to stay out of his mom’s way and take care of his two younger sisters because dad is no help at all.
In the world outside his house, Tommy is kind of popular but really a bully. He particularly picks on Sam McKenzie who’s dad runs the local grocery store. Sam is a bigger kid with a burn scar on his face. Tommy and his friends are terrible to him even though Tommy kind of likes Sam. One day Tommy steals from Mr. McKenzie and gets caught. In retaliation he plants a communist newspaper in the store with devastating consequences. Soon all the neighbors believe Mr. McKenzie is a communist and stop shopping at his store. Tommy wants to help out so he tries to find the real communist. He has taken over his sister’s paper route while she is in the hospital and suspects one of his neighbors. Unfortunately, as he gets to know the people around him he gets more and more confused on what to do with the information he has collected. The real owner of the communist paper surprises him and turns his world upside down. Things also come to a head at home with his mom.
I actually really liked this book. I thought it was a story that doesn’t often get told. I liked the fact that it was set in the 1950s when a lot of things like child abuse and mental illness were a family’s dirty little secrets. Today there would be counselors and social workers and police involved. Tommy was a likable character even though he was horrible at times. I found his growth throughout the story really believable. He starts out very selfish and ignorant and grows up into someone who helps others and forms relationships with those around him. I am also really grateful that Levine didn’t take the easy way out and make the mom’s mental illness and abuse just miraculously disappear. I think it is fairly realistic the way it was handled and I appreciate that. I haven’t read very many middle grade books set in the era of McCarthyism and the communist scares. I’m not sure how concerned your average person was about communists next store, but it does add a certain element to the story.
The Greenwood family spends every summer at their lake house in New Hampshire. Ivy and Holly are cousins and good friends. The summer of 1965 when they are 13 doesn’t seem like other summers. For one thing, Ivy’s parents are fighting all the time and she is afraid they are going to get divorced. Her dad is also constantly fighting with her older brother Randy. Holly’s parents are teaching in California for the summer and weren’t able to join the family. Ivy and Holly are also not getting along as well as they have in the past. They seem to be growing apart and gravitating towards different things. Holly and Ivy start uncovering clues in the mystery of Uncle Jesse and a young Japanese student named Kiyoshi Mori. No one in the family wants to talk about how Jesse died during the war or even about him at all. The girls uncover clues through letters and diaries they find in the lake house.
I enjoyed this story, but found the act of reading the book a bit challenging. Maybe I am just so used to reading middle grade novels with 12 point text (generally), but the fact that this book is printed in 9 point font surprised me. I actually felt like I was reading something that might have been printed in the 1960s. I think that feature is going to turn some kids off who are used to bigger text even when the book is bigger. The story itself was interesting and I really wanted to find out the mystery of Uncle Jesse (I kept getting Full House flashes every time I read that!) and Kiyo. I liked how the girls discovered more and more about Jesse as the story progressed. There is such a big cast of auxiliary characters that I did have trouble keeping them straight. It didn’t help that all the Greenwood siblings had J names (John, Jim, Jake, Jesse and Jenny). I really appreciated the family tree in the front of the book to keep everyone straight. Reading this book actually made me want to find out more about the Japanese Internment Camps and the plight of the Japanese-Americans during WWII.
Arianne and her family live on a horse farm in the 1960s. Arianne’s rock star father abandoned them after her little brother Robbie was born. Robbie is a thalidomide baby with physical disabilities. One night the family goes out to the field to watch the Pleiades and Arianne witnesses a white light jumping in among the horses. Then their old pony Agora becomes pregnant and gives birth to a centaur. The little pony boy, who they name Kai after Chiron, becomes the focus of the family, the stable manager Martha and the vet Dr. Herks. They all pull together to keep Kai safe and away from prying eyes even if it means they lose some of their riders and boarders. Kai is a typical centaur with a horse body and a boy torso and head. He becomes one of the family as he grows at an astonishing rate. Of course no secret this big can stay a secret forever. It is up to the family to figure out how to keep control of the story and to keep Kai safe.
This was an interesting mix of historical fiction and fantasy. I thought it was really smart to set the story in the past because there is no way they would have been been able to keep the secret in the world of today’s technology. I thought it was a great story about a family and the unconditional love they felt for each other. I don’t think I have ever read a children’s book with a thalidomide baby character so this was also a nice piece of history that kids are probably not familiar with. However, I will admit that I was a bit bored by the story. There was nothing wrong with it, but it just seemed very slow story with a lot of repetition.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is the original Zorro, a foppish aristocrat, who in reality rescues French aristocrats from the guillotine and excesses of the French Revolution (seen here at its worst). After the excesses, the story moves into how the Scarlet Pimpernel has pulled of some quite daring rescues, tweaking the noses of the brutal French guards. Then it moves into the love story/romance between Marguarite and her husband. I dislike how far in debt, Margaurite is to her husband, and how high/large his forgiveness needs to be, to reconcile the couple. Then back to more adventure. Though really the quick thing to do, would be to incapacitate Chauvelin. It is an old book and the treatment of women shows the misogynistic flaws of the time. The “smartest” woman in Europe, remains clueless about her husband’s masquerades throughout (my husband noted this). Fun, but could use some updating.
Brenda “Chip” Anderson’s world has come crashing down. Her beloved daddy has died and taken the world she knew away with him. Chip used to spend her days outside exploring nature and climbing trees with her daddy and best friend Billy. Now mama is moving the family from New York to North Carolina to live with a grandma they have never met. Chip’s sisters Charlene and Ruthie immediately fit in with the Southern belle pageant atmosphere of grandma’s house. Grandma was Miss Dogwood 1939 and mama was Miss Dogwood 1961 so of course Charlene will be entered in the pageant and young Ruthie can do the Little Miss Dogwood pageant. Chip decides to enter the Junior Miss Dogwood pageant in the hopes that she will fit in with her family, but even that doesn’t seem to work. Chip is definitely not pageant material and can’t seem to get on grandma’s good side no matter what she does. Her tomboy ways just make her an outsider in her family. Then she discovers Miss Vernie’s School of Charm. Miss Vernie’s isn’t like a regular charm school. Chip and the two other students, Dana and Karen, don’t learn how to eat properly or walk with a book on their head. They spend their days working in Miss Vernie’s garden and learning about themselves. Miss Vernie gives each of them a charm bracelet and as they learn their lessons a charm falls off. The girls have to learn to stand on their own two feet, to find beauty, to blossom.
School of Charm is simply charming. I thought the Southern setting in 1977 really set the stage for the story. The South at that time was a different world from the world Chip left in New York. The women in Mount Airey do seem to be obsessed with the pageant and everything it represents. There are also the racial elements as Dana is the only Black contestant in the pageant. I love the fact that when Chip realizes her plan to fit into her family has failed completely she takes a stand and comes out as herself. She forces her family to accept her on her own terms and quits trying to change to please others. I think this is an excellent lesson for young readers to absorb. The one part of the book that I thought could have been a bit stronger was grandma’s story. We do learn a bit about why she is the way she is, but it comes so late that her character doesn’t recover from her one-dimensional, pageant loving, animal hating, mean lady persona of the rest of the book. Overall though this was a magical book full of spunk and charm that is sure to please.
Murphy has a horrible owner named Carrick, but all he really wants is a home. So when he gets a chance he runs away; he has to live hard on the streets of Nome where everyday new prospectors come searching for gold. One day Mama and Sally get off the boat and they are so different from everyone else that Murphy approaches them. Soon he has the home he has dreamed of, but times are hard in the frontier town. Mama has to work around the clock to make enough for them to survive. Sally dreams of having her own stake and finding gold. When Mama decides they have had enough and are going back to San Francisco Sally and Murphy take off to find their claim. Their journey is full of hazards from wolves to bears to avalanches to Murphy’s old owner Carrick. Murphy has always thought he wasn’t brave, but he has to be brave to protect his family.
This book is told from Murphy’s point of view which makes it a different kind of book. Murphy wants nothing more than to find a home and family and once he has it must decide to be brave and do whatever he can to protect them. I like that the story was based on historical events and that the author included a lot of information about the gold rush, claim jumpers and actual dogs. It is a strong story for reader’s who like animal books.
Tormented by horrific nightmares since the death of her baby five years before, literary agent Lyn Ravenshaw agrees to accompany an author to Wales, where she encounters an eccentric young widow desperately afraid for her own infant’s safety and a reclusive playwright who could be her only salvation
Who’s got time for hair curlers and high heels when you’re busy keeping baby turtles alive?
Chip has always been a tree-climbin’, fish-catchin’ daddy’s girl. When Daddy dies, Mama moves her and her sisters south to Grandma’s house and Chip struggles to find her place in a family full of beauty queens.
Just when she’s wishing for a sign from Daddy that her new life’s going to work, Chip discovers Miss Vernie’s School of Charm. Could unusual pageant lessons and secrets be the key to making Chip’s wishes a reality?
Full of spirit, hope, and a hint of magic, this enchanting debut novel tells the tale of one girl’s struggle with a universal question: How do you stay true to yourself and find a way to belong at the same time?
So I picked up this book because it was on a time travel list. So I was expecting time travel; I didn’t expect to have to wait until the very end of the book to get it. This is a story of two girls separated by hundreds of years but connected by their love and grief over two little boys. Donnelly does an excellent job of bringing their stories together and making them both very believable. What she didn’t do a great job of was making me care about the characters. Modern day Andi in particular was hard to like or connect with. I got that she was grieving over the death of her brother Truman and that she blamed herself for his death. What I couldn’t get past was how unlikeable she was. She was whiny, self-centered and horrible to those around her. French Revolution Alex was easier to like even if she was further away in time. However, at times she too didn’t seem that realistic. She seemed to innocent of what was going on around her while at the same time she was jaded by the events as well. It was a contradiction that was a bit hard to reconcile. I thought the time travel bit at the end was pretty much unnecessary even though I was expecting it. It was basically a way for Andi to work through her grief and come to terms with her life as it is. I wish she had been able to come to that point on her own, but thought the narrative twist worked in its way. The problem with dual storylines is that one is often a lot better than the other and I think that is where this book fell for me. I really wanted more of Alex’s story and the French Revolution and every time it went back to Andi I got bored.
Seventeen-year-old Althea is the sole support of her entire family, and she must marry well. But there are few wealthy suitors–or suitors of any kind–in their small Yorkshire town of Lesser Hoo. Then, the young and attractive (and very rich) Lord Boring arrives, and Althea sets her plans in motion. There’s only one problem; his friend and business manager Mr. Fredericks keeps getting in the way. And, as it turns out, Fredericks has his own set of plans.
Maisie and Felix are off for another adventure through time. This time they are headed to Imperial Russia and the Romanovs. Before they leave they befriend Alex Andropov who is Russian and has hemophilia. Alex smuggles himself along through time and once he gets there he doesn’t want to leave. The three kids spend months with the Romanovs in 1911 traveling from one palace to another. They need to give Anastasia a Faberge egg and get a piece of advice. Unfortunately when they arrived the egg ended up in the Czarina’s possession. Then Alex wanted to destroy the egg so he wouldn’t have to go back to the present time. Felix is also enjoying his time in Russia and bonding with Anastasia. Whereas Maisie is feeling jealous and left out and just wants to get the mission done. There is a lot to figure out.
I still don’t really like this series. I find the kids pretty unlikeable and unrelatable. There are also instances where logic seems to be thrown out the window for no reason. For instance, why does Alex have to destroy the egg? To get back to the future he has to be touching either Maisie or Felix when they give the egg to Anastasia. So instead of trapping them in 1911 he could just not be around when they give her the egg. Seems pretty straight forward to me.
When his mother, a tribal enrollment specialist living on a reservation in North Dakota, slips into an abyss of depression after being brutally attacked, 14-year-old Joe Coutz sets out with his three friends to find the person that destroyed his family.
Susan Marcus is leaving New York and heading to St. Louis, Missouri. It is 1943 and the family is moving so her dad can start a new job. Living in St. Louis is much different than New York. Susan has a hard time accepting the Jim Crow laws of Missouri. She doesn’t like the fact that her new friend Loretta can’t go to the movies, the swimming pool or to restaurants just because she is black. Susan, Loretta and Marlene concoct a plan to fight Jim Crow when they realize that public transportation is not segregated.
I like the fact that this book is set in Missouri and it was interesting to read about the Jim Crow laws that affected this state. Most historical fiction dealing with this time period is set in the South not the Midwest so this is a new and different perspective. I think Susan’s confusion over the difference between New York and St. Louis came off completely realistic. I am sure there were a lot of kids who didn’t really see color if they didn’t grow up being told to notice it. It is a nice message for kids today. However, I did have a couple of issues with this book. There is a lot packed into this very short novel, yet strangely not enough. A lot of the book is taken up with the Jim Crow laws and the issues facing people who are not white. Very little is actually mentioned about the war and the rationing and how this affects every day life. There are a few instances, but you would have thought it would have more of an impact on the characters. I also truly hate the cover of this book and think it will turn kids off. I know you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover but we all do and this one looks too old fashioned for kids today.
Esther’s mom is extremely superstitious. Any little thing can be bad or good luck. Esther never knows when she is going to do something wrong and it seems like her mom doesn’t love her like she does the other kids or like other moms love their kids. Esther never gets hugs and kisses or “I love yous”. She is always trying to think of ways to earn her mom’s love. It is the height of the Depression and things are not looking good in Chicago. When Esther’s dad loses his job, the family decides to buy a farm in Wisconsin and start over. Esther loves the farm and all the animals. She has made a new friend and likes the community. However, her new friend has a mole on her face which to Esther’s mom means she has been marked. She tells Esther they can’t be friends anymore. Esther can’t obey her mom in this as Bethany is her best friend and so very nice. Esther wonders if her mom could be wrong for once about the signs.
This is a nice story about a girl living in the 1930s depression. I liked the story of surviving on less and learning to appreciate what you have. I think the heart of the story is really Esther trying to understand her mom and learning to live with the restrictions her mom’s superstitions place on the family. It is a gentle and slower story than many that are written today; more heart than action.