Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: Agnes’s Place

Agnes’s Place, by Marit Larsen/Illustrated by Jenny Løvlie, Translated by Kari Dickson, (March 2021, Amazon Crossing Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542026758

Ages 4-7

Agnes wakes up every day in her familiar home, with her familiar life, but no one said it was always exciting. When you don’t have anyone to play with, and you’re the “only child in a place full of adults who never have time” it can be quite sad. So when a new little girl moves into the building, Agnes is thrilled and sends her a message – it’s really just a drawing of the swings at the park, and the word, “Here!”, but it should get the message across, right? After a few days of waiting, Agnes is disappointed and a little frustrated – not only did the little girl never respond, but now she’s taking over things that Agnes used to do, like play with Amadeus the cat, feed the birds, and fetch Emilia’s newspaper from the mailbox! Will Agnes and the little girl, named Anna, ever meet and get to play together?

Originally published in Norwegian (2019), Agnes’s Place is about so many childhood emotions: the feelings of being sad and ignored by the adults, the excitement and anticipation of making a new friend, and the frustration of feeling rebuffed. But it’s also about how one person can change someone’s life by just showing up: and that’s what Anna does for Agnes. Who knows if Anna understood Agnes’s message? She didn’t sign it or mention where she lived! But when the two finally meet in the building stairwell, all frustration and sadness go out the window, and all it takes is one outstretched hand to bring two children’s lives to a better place. Digital media illustrations are bright and cheerful, showing the two girls living their separate lives in a wash of color, until they meet and enter a fantastic, happy new world where they enter together. A lovely story about the magic of new friends.

A love letter to new friendships and apartment living.” –Kirkus Reviews

Marit Larsen is a Norwegian songwriter and musician. Agnes’s Place, her debut picture book, was first published in Norway and will also be published in Denmark and Italy. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. Learn more about the author at www.maritlarsen.com.

On Instagram: larsenmarit

Jenny Løvlie is a Norwegian illustrator. Her previous picture book, The Girls, written by Lauren Ace, was the winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. She currently lives in Cardiff, Wales. Learn more about the illustrator at www.lovlieillustration.com.

On Instagram: lovlieillustration

Kari Dickson is a literary translator from Edinburgh, Scotland. In 2020 she won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for best children’s translation for Brown, written by Håkon Øvreås and illustrated by Øyvind Torseter. She holds a BA in Scandinavian studies and an MA in translation.

Amazon Crossing Kids aims to increase the diversity of children’s books in translation and encourage young reading from a range of cultural perspectives.

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Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Astrid the Unstoppable gives #kidlit a new fiery redheaded heroine

Astrid the Unstoppable, by Maria Parr, (Nov. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536200171

Ages 7-11

“The Little Thunderbolt”, as she’s nicknamed, Astrid is a 9-year-old girl who lives in the town of Glimmerdal, Norway, with her farmer father and her marine scientist mother, who’s often away on research adventures. She spends most of her days with her best friend, Gunnvald, who also happens to be her 70-something year-old godfather; she also spends quite a bit of time aggravating the mean old Mr. Hagen, who runs a resort – ADULTS ONLY! – nearby, but Astrid can’t be bothered to be upset when he yells at her: she’s got too much living to do! She’s a fun, spunky, free spirit, until Gunnvald has a terrible fall that lands him in the hospital. Secrets are revealed that send Astrid into a tizzy, but not for long: she relies on her new friends to help her set things right.

Astrid the Unstoppable is like the books I read when I was a kid. Classics like Heidi (a book which also plays a part in Astrid), Pippi Longstocking, and Caddie Woodlawn, all seem to have inspired Maria Parr and her beloved Astrid. She’s smart, yet not afraid to be vulnerable; she’s got a wonderfully upbeat personality and view of the world, and she’s not afraid to speak her mind, whether it’s to another child, or an adult who’s behaving badly. She’s got great relationships with most of the adults in the book, and even the ones she doesn’t see eye-to-eye with can’t stay too mad at her. She’s got an infectious personality, in all the best ways.

Astrid the Unstoppable is kidlit done right, and Astrid herself will be a character kids will be reading about in school and on reading lists for years to come. Make sure to add this one to your to-buy lists, and talk up our classic female characters, too: don’t let anyone be left out! Perfect for your more sensitive readers. The book has been translated into 19 languages and adapted for the stage (so why not look into some reader’s theatre with your copies?)

 

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Mari’s Hope brings Odin’s Promise to a beautiful close

Mari’s Hope, by Sandy Brehl (Sept. 2017, Crispin Books), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-883953-89-8

Recommended for readers 9-12

The conclusion of Sandy Brehl’s Odin’s Promise trilogy is finally here! Mari’s Hope continues the story of Mari, a Norwegian girl living under the German occupation during World War II. Mari, who was 11 when the story began, is approaching age 14 when the latest book begins. Her family is active in the resistance, and Mari’s involvement increases as she is older now, willing and able to take greater risks. She works with the local doctor to care for the sick and elderly in her village, Ytres Arna; travels to the city of Bergen to procure more medicine – and information – for her village, and tries to stay out of the way of the Nazi officers who live in her home; particularly the one she calls Goatman, who is a drunk and a thief.

Written in third-person narrative with first-person journal entries from Mari to her brother, Bjorn, Mari’s Hope is written with the same gentle strength as the previous two entries in the series. We see Mari grow over the three books from girl to young woman – a change that has come too quickly under the occupation – and deal not only with being a member of the Norwegian resistance, but with the stress of worrying about her brother; grieving her dog, Odin, killed by Nazi soldiers in the first book; struggling with a former friend who threw in his lot with the NS – Nasjonal Samling – Norway’s version of Hitler Youth. The family and neighbors stick together, sharing what little they have to provide for one another, whether it’s to have a birthday party for Mari or a holiday dinner for Jul. There are tense moments that kept me turning pages, sometimes biting my lip with concern, and there are moments where I just needed a moment to process my relief. Sandy Brehl never whitewashes the German’s devastation; rather, she states it quietly, eloquently, and leaves it there for Mari – and us – to process and move on.

The Odin’s Promise trilogy is a gorgeously written series of books that take us into a part of World War II history we don’t often hear about. Hitler invaded Norway with the lie that he was sending soliders to “protect” his “Viking brothers”, but proceeded to strip all freedoms from them and tried to supersede his vision of Aryan superiority over their rich culture. Odin’s Promise, Bjorn’s Gift, and Mari’s Hope tell this story through the experiences of one village, one family, one girl, who pushed back. I love spending time with Mari and her family; while I’m sad to see this story end, the beauty of books lies in knowing I can meet them again whenever I want to.

Odin’s Promise received the 2014 Midwest Book Award for Children’s Fiction. It was also noted as one of A Mighty Girl’s Best Girl-Empowering Books of 2014 and one of Foreword Magazine’s Ten Best Indie Middle Grade Novels of 2014.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Bjorn’s Gift continues the story of a family under Nazi occupation

bjorns-giftBjorn’s Gift, by Sandy Brehl, (Oct. 2016, Crickhollow Books), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-883953-84-3

Recommended for ages 9-13

A couple of years ago, I was a first round Cybils judge for Middle Grade realistic fiction, so I had the chance to read a lot of new, independent fiction that I never would have discovered otherwise. One of the books, Odin’s Promise by Sandy Brehl, is the story of a young girl and her beloved dog, Odin, living in Norway during the Nazi occupation during World War II. The sequel – the second in a planned trilogy! – continues the story of Mari and her family, living under the tightening yoke of the Nazi invasion.

We see Mari, her family and friends, staying strong as the Nazis move into Mari’s home and encroach on every facet of her life. Her friend, Leif, is thrilled to be a member of the Unghird – Norway’s answer to Hitler Youth – and insists on reminding Mari that she should be honored to receive his attention. The families are faced with increased rationing, book banning, and watching friends and neighbors disappear under the Nazi regime, yet engage in quiet acts of resistance; Bestemor still has her radio to receive BBC broadcasts, her father shelters refugees in the attic; and, most importantly, Mari’s brother Bjorn is a full-fledged member of the resistance. Although absent throughout the story, Bjorn’s presence is strongly felt through Mari’s journal, taking the form of letters to him, and his carved toys that give Mari and her friend, Per, the strength to carry on.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Odin’s Promise yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a reminder that the Nazi occupation and their reign of terror against anyone of the Jewish faith or those who would dare to disagree with their policies was not limited to Germany. It’s an uplifting story about how everyone makes a difference in face of overwhelming odds. And Bjorn’s Gift is every bit as heart-rending and inspirational as its predecessor. I was so happy to revisit Mari and her family, and am so grateful to know that I will get to meet them again in one more novel.

Put this series in your classroom libraries and your historical fiction collections. Display and booktalk them with books that offer a wide range of information about children during World War II, like Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Hitler Youth, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, Sharon McKay’s End of the Line, Eleanor Coerr’s Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and Karen Levine’s Hana’s Suitcase.

Odin’s Promise was the winner of the 2014 Midwest Book Award for Children’s Fiction. You can find discussion guides for both Odin’s Promise and Bjorn’s Gift at author Sandy Brehl’s website.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Zaria Fierce brings Norse myth to modern adventure!

Take a timid girl, put her in a seemingly impossible situation, and you’ll find out what she’s really made of. Zaria Fierce, a 13 year-old living with her adoptive family in Norway, finds herself up against trolls and magical creatures of all sorts when she heads to school one morning and is confronted by Olaf, a troll – you got it – from under a bridge. She thinks she’s outsmarted the big creep, but he gets the last laugh when he kidnaps her best friend, Christoffer. Now, it’s up to Zaria and her friends to save Christoffer, but Zaria’s in for a wild ride with some big revelations along the way!

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Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest, by Keira Gillet/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan, (2015, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750017

Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest lays the groundwork for a new series that brings elements of Norse myth to modern day. Neither Loki nor Odin are stirring up trouble here, though – we’ve got the trolls making trouble, some elves, and dwarves, enchanted forests, and magic items aplenty here. There are secrets revealed and some big decisions Zaria must make – and they’re not always the right ones. She’s a girl with a lot of heart and has friends who quibble with her and each other, but would do anything for her. 

zaria fiere_2

Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Swordby Keira Gillet/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan, (2015, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750031

The story continues in Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword. Armed with a better understand of who she and what she needs to do, Zaria and her friends are back and trying to fix a major mistake she made while trying to free Christoffer. We’ve got pirate ships and giants in this story, and a very creepy doppleganger making some trouble for Zaria. Can she get hold of the enchanted Drakeland sword and foil Olaf’s plans?

The stories are written and illustrated in a manner that recalls fantasy and adventure stories I read as a kid. The black and white fantasy sketches are beautiful and creepy – I love the white stag and the deliciously creepy Olaf – and brings a lot of imagination to the page.

Self-published by the author, the books can be purchased via Amazon (I’ve linked each title to its Amazon page below the cover shots). You can find a book trailer and Zaria Fierce coloring sheets on Keira Gillett’s website, sign up for her newsletter, and get a countdown to the next book in the Zaria Fierce trilogy. Keep an eye out for an author interview with Keira Gillett, right here, very soon!

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

World War II fiction reminds us that there are stories outside of Germany and the U.S.

A lot of WWII fiction takes place in Germany or the U.S., with good reason – Germany and the U.S. were two big players in the war, after all. But how many people remember that the Nazis occupied Norway? Or that Anne Frank wasn’t the only little Jewish girl with a story to tell, coming out of Amsterdam?

I recently read two great books taking place during World War II, both nominated for the first round of Cybils consideration.

Odins-PromiseOdin’s Promise (2014, Crispin Books, $13.95, ISBN: 978-1-883953-65-2) by Sandy Brehl, looks at life in Norway under Nazi occupation. All signs of nationalism are illegal, but young Mari’s family finds a way to resist – and it becomes a family-wide effort.

Mari and her dog, Odin, find themselves under Nazi scrutiny on a few occasions. Fiercely protective of Mari, Odin is severely beaten by the soldiers, which only strengthens Mari’s resolve to get these men out of her country.

Odin’s Promise is a novel that also gives us a glimpse – briefly, but skillfully – into what life was like for young Nazi soldiers, shuttled to a country where they were actively hated, and “assigned” to families. Not every soldier wanted to be there, and not every soldier was personally detestable, no matter how awful their agenda was.

The story is a slow build to several outcomes – some bittersweet, some awful, some happy – and it’s the story of a young girl’s coming of age in a brutal time.

Sharon E. McKay’s The End of the Line (2014, Annick Press, end of the line$12.95, ISBN: 9781554516582) is based on a true story that I’ve never heard before, but blew me away.

Beatrix, a 5 year-old Jewish girl in Amsterdam, is on the run with her mother. Her Christian father has been taken away, and her mother tells her to trust no one. But when her mother is taken off the train by soldiers, what is she to do? Two elderly brothers, Lars and Hans, who work for the railroad, take the girl home and feed her. They realize what’s happened to her mother and see the heartbroken, malnourished little girl, and decide, with the help of their neighbor, Mrs. Vos, that they will keep her, telling neighbors that she is their niece.

This is an amazing story of what happens when a community comes together to take care of a child. The brothers and Mrs. Vos protect, feed, and clothe Beatrix. They make sure she receives an education, including a religious education, so that she can answer Christian questions if she’s pulled aside at any time.

The End of the Line is one of those stories that makes your heart feel like it’s beating out of your chest with each turn of the page. It’s wonderfully descriptive with emotion, and brings home how the people the Nazis supposedly felt kinship with (like the Norwegians) suffered under their watch. You’ll be angry, you’ll be horrified, but ultimately, you will feel incredible love and relief. I loved this book.

I’ve had a recent spate of middle graders coming into my library and asking for historical fiction related to both the Holocaust and World War II. In addition to Jane Yolen’s Devil’s Arithmetic and Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, I’ll be recommending these titles.