Posted in picture books

The Girl Who Could Fix Anything – Great STEM Bio!

The Girl Who Could Fix Anything: Beatrice Shilling, World War II Engineer, by Mara Rockliff/Illustrated by Daniel Duncan, (Sept. 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536212525

Ages 5-9

Beatrice Shilling, a British World War II engineer, gets her time in the spotlight in this picture book biography. As a child, she “wasn’t quite like other children”, preferring tools and tinkering to usual childhood pursuits. After working for another female engineer as an apprentice, she went to school for engineering and eventually landed a position at the Royal Aircraft Establishment… to write handbooks about plane engines, not to work on them. Eventually, she did get to work on engines, and when World War II broke out, Beatrice was put in charge of a team that traveled to airfields and demonstrated winterizing planes to fighter pilots. She went on, with her team, to figure out an engine problem that fighter planes encountered during a dive, saving countless lives. Another great story about a female figure in STEM, The Girl Who Could Fix Anything tells Beatrice Shilling’s story; Daniel Duncan adds humorous reactions to Beatrice’s being “othered” as a woman in a traditionally “man’s field” and brings thrilling air fight moments to life to add some excitement. Beatrice is drawn as a determined, thoughtful woman, while men around her don’t always quite seem to know what to make of her. Endpapers show a variety of airplane parts, blueprint style. An author’s note and additional resources make up the back matter.

 

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

Stealing Home tells a story of the Japanese-Canadian Internment

Stealing Home, by J. Torres/Illustrated by David Namisato, (Oct. 2021, Kids Can Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781525303340

Ages 9-13

It’s 1941, and Sandy Saito is a happy Japanese boy, living with his family in Canada, and a big baseball fan. He obsessively follows the Asahi team, a Japanese-Canadian baseball team, and the pride of his community. But the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in December, and Sandy’s life as he knows it is forever changed: he and his family are moved to an internment camp, and separated from their doctor father, who’s placed “where he needs to be”. As Sandy and his brother try to adjust to their new life, they find some comfort in their favorite sport; Sandy tries adopting the mindset of taking whatever pitch comes your way.

An emotional graphic novel, Stealing Home may be an awakening for some readers who thought that only Japanese Americans were put into internment camps; this was not the case. Canadian families were also separated more often than American families; males were often relocated to labor and POW camps. In Stealing Home, Doctor Saito was initially relocated to a camp where he could look after men at these labor camps; after being reunited his family, he continues working as a physician to the camp community. Hope and baseball intertwine throughout the story as Sandy tries to cope with his family’s new life, his mother’s grief, and his father’s continued distance from his children. Baseball is a beacon of hope and, ultimately, the great uniter. Sandy reflects, looking back, that “Baseball did not discriminate against us. It did not impose any limits on us. It helped us forget everything that was wrong in the world, even if just for one moment in time”.

Back matter by author and former internee Susan Aihoshi looks at the history of the camps, the racism Japanese Canadians endured, the Asahi, and further resources. An excellent graphic story and companion to novels like George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy.

The University of Washington has excellent resources available on the Japanese Canadian internment, as does the Canadian Encyclopedia. Curio.ca offers a lesson plan on the Asahi baseball team, and you can visit the Asahi Baseball Association’s website to learn more about the team.

Stealing Home is a first-round CYBILS middle grade graphic novel nominee.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Codebreaker Elizebeth Friedman gets a book and a giveaway for Women’s History Month!

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars, by Laurie Wallmark/Illustrated by Brooke Smart, (March 2021, Abrams), $18.99, ISBN: 9781419739637

Ages 7-9

This picture book biography on code breaker Elizebeth Friedman is a great way to kick off Women’s History Month!  Beginning with her early years as a Shakespeare-loving student and working for an eccentric millionaire, she meets fellow code aficionado and scientist, William Friedman. The two marry, and their expertise in codes and ciphers led to their groundbreaking work in cryptology during World War I. Friedman traveled two worlds, raising her family away from the city and answering the government’s call for help, whether it was to break smuggler’s codes during Prohibition or ferreting out Nazi spies and Japanese spies during World War II. The FBI took credit for the work she and her team did, and she was sworn to secrecy. Her secrets were declassified 35 years after her death in 2015. Laurie Wallmark, a STEM/STEAM biographer for women in STEM, has written several books I’ve brought to my Girls Who Code sessions, including Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (2017) and Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (2015). She has a great way of factual storytelling that show each of her heroines breaking barriers while juggling the weight of societal expectations. Ms. Wallmark does Elizebeth Friedman a great justice and brings her story to a new generation of girls.

Brooke Smart’s watercolor and gouache paintings sprinkle Friedman quotes throughout and have humorous moments, including a page where a line of coded language wraps itself around an angry group of Nazis as Friedman gazes off sagely on the companion page; one spread has Friedman leading a team of young men through ticker tapes, curling all over the page, likely pointing out how to break codes. She combines the realistic with the imaginative, encouraging readers to let their minds go where coding takes them. Back matter includes an explanation on codes and ciphers, cryptography, and a crack the code exercise, along with a bibliography and timeline of Friedman’s life. An excellent biography on a ’til-now virtually unknown figure in history.

Check out the Code Breaker, Spy Hunter book page on author Laurie Wallmark’s webpage where you’ll find a trailer, cool activity sheets, and more!

 

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark has written picture-book biographies of women in STEM fields ranging from computer science to mathematics, astronomy to code breaking. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Cook Prize Honor, and Parents’; Choice Gold Medal. She is a former software engineer and computer science professor. She lives in Ringoes, New Jersey. You can find her at lauriewallmark.com.

On Twitter: @lauriewallmark

Facebook: @lauriewallmarkauthor

Instagram: @lauriewallmark

 

Brooke Smart loves telling stories through her illustrations, especially stories about brave women from history. She has always loved to read, and growing up she could be found nightly falling asleep with a book on her chest. Illustrating books as a professional artist is a lifelong dream come true. She is living the busy, tired, happy, wonderful dream in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, their three kids, and their naughty cat named Sunshine. Learn more about her at brooke-smart.com.

Instagram: @bookesmartillustration

 

 

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Code Breaker, Spy Hunter courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers (U.S. addresses). Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway!

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

More graphic novels to add to your shelves and your TBR

I have been reading a metric ton of graphic novels over the last year. I mean, I’ve been reading comics and graphic novels forever, but I found them comforting this past year in a whole new way. When my mind couldn’t focus on words and putting thoughts together, graphic novels were there to guide me through, with artwork and words coming together for storytelling. And there are such great books coming out now! My Kiddo and I are reading them together (most of the time… there are some that aren’t appropriate for him just yet) and sharing laughs and talking about big things, little things, lots of things. Here are a few of the books I’ve read over the last couple of weeks: these are a little less appropriate for littles, much better for teens and young adults.

Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel, by Andrea Grosso Ciponte, (Feb. 2021, Plough Publishing), $24, ISBN: 978-0-87486-344-4

Ages 12+

In 1942, a group of students joined together to oppose Hitler and the Nazi Party. They questioned the system and distributed leaflets encouraging their fellow Germans to do the same. The White Rose engaged in passive resistance in a time where speaking against the government carried a death penalty; by the time  the short-lived movement came to a halt in 1943 when the core members were arrested and sentenced to death by guillotine by the Nazis, their actions set a resistance in motion. Freiheit! chronicles the story of the key members of the White Rose: siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst. The narrative was tough to follow at moments; more of a collection of memories than a cohesive, linear narrative. That way of storytelling works for some, so keep that in mind when considering it for your library. The moody, often murky artwork gives heavy atmosphere to the pacing.

If you’re interested in further reading on the White Rose, the National WW2 Museum has an article on Sophie Scholl, the Jewish Virtual Library has an essay on the group, as does Smithsonian Magazine. There are lesson plans on the resistance available online: ELT-Resourceful has a lesson plan on Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, geared toward ESOL students; Study.com has study aids, and A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust has a detailed lesson plan for grades 6-12 complete with Sunshine State Standards.

 

Windows on the World, by Robert Mailer Anderson & Zack Anderson/Illustrated by Jon Sack, (June 2020, Fantagraphics), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1-68-396322-6

Ages 17+

Based on the screenplay from a 2019 film, Windows on the World is, on the surface, a story about a young man searching for his father in the aftermath of 9/11; upon reading, you realize that it’s also a blistering commentary on America and its treatment of undocumented people. Fernando is a young man living with his family in Mexico, watching September 11th unfold on TV; for his family, the terror hits hard: Balthazar, Fernando’s father and the family patriarch, works at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. Fernando’s mother refuses to believe he’s a casualty of the attack, a belief seemingly confirmed when she swears she sees him on a newsreel, escaping the Towers. Fernando heads to New York to learn his father’s fate, but discovers a very different America: He must pay coyotes – predatory smugglers who take immigrants across the US/Mexico border – to sneak him into the country. When he arrives in New York, he discovers that his father, undocumented, working in the States and sending money back to Mexico to support his family, has disappeared into the morass of people. Because he was undocumented, he isn’t on any of the employee lists, as he didn’t “officially” work in the Towers. Fernando has no money and no place to stay, so he takes to the streets, encountering racism and danger as he desperately tries to locate his father. A strong commentary on how America, as Solrad magazine states, went from “9/11 to Build The Wall”, Windows on the World is a hard, necessary, relevant look at racism in America.  Content warnings for younger readers.

Windows on the World has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

The Cloven, by Garth Stein/Illustrated by Matthew Southworth, (July 2020, Fantagraphics), $24.99, ISBN: 9781683963103

Ages 13+

Garth Stein, better known as the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain and co-creator of the TV series Stumptown, released his first graphic novel; number one of a planned trilogy. James Tucker is a young man who’s different: he’s a genetically modified science project, created in a lab, and he’s a cross between a human and a goat, a species called The Cloven. Tuck just wants a normal life, but he’s on the run and searching for answers. Flashbacks flesh out Tuck’s story and the story of the Cloven project, which reminded me of the Weapon X program that created Wolverine’s offspring, X-23/Laura Kinney.  Artwork makes great use of moody lighting and shadows to help tell the story. A skillfull mix of science fiction and thriller, teens will love this book and want to see where Tuck’s story takes him.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Big Graphic Novels Roundup!

I’ve been reading a LOT of graphic novels during this quarantine. They relax me, and I know my graphic novels sections (both kids and teens) see a l lot of action, so I always want to make sure I’ve got the best stuff on my shelves for them – and that I know what I’m talking about when I hand books to readers. Let’s see what’s up:

Go To Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood, by Lucy Knisley, (Feb. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250211491

Ages 12+

These are adorable meditations on new parenthood by Lucy Knisley, whose graphic novel Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos let us peek into the world of her pregnancy with her baby, known as Pal. Go to Sleep is a book of sketches Lucy Knisley created during Pal’s first year, and they are moments that every parent and caregiver will recognize, from diaper “blowouts” (oh, so many diaper blowouts) and breastfeeding through teething to tummy time and those moments where we can’t wait to get some alone time… only to spend that time gazing at our sleepy little one, and waiting for them to wake up and do it all again. Black and white, filled with love and humor, Go to Sleep (I Miss You) is perfect for your parenting bookshelves (and for older siblings, as my eldest reminds me).

In this sci-fi alternate history, we visit 1943 Los Angeles, home of the Zoot Suit Riots. Siblings Flaca and Cuata meet a five-foot tall lizard when he saves them from some unsavory sailors one night, when they got out dancing. They hide him in their home and discover he’s part of a race of underground lizard people. He wants to get back to his family, but there are soldiers and mysterious government men wandering the sisters’ neighborhood, on the lookout. To sneak him back to his home, the Flaca and Cuata dress the lizard up in one of Flaca’s zoot suits and head off on an adventure. Yellow, black and white artwork give a stark, noir feel to the story, which is both sensitive and funny. Marco Finnegan provides smart commentary on racism, gender roles and the counterculture of the period. Teens will enjoy this sci-fi take on a moment in U.S. history that isn’t discussed enough.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls Girl on Fire (Volume 1), by Jeremy Whitley/Illustrated by Jamie Noguchi, (Aug. 2020, Papercutz), $12.99, ISBN: 9781545804933

Ages 10-14

Tara Smith is a girl who live with a lot of rules: her parents demand it. Two of their biggest rules? No friends her own age, and always keep her bracelet on. One day, though, Tara’s routine gets thrown into a tizzy, and she loses her bracelet; that’s when the trouble begins. Things get even crazier when she seemingly bursts into flame in the middle of school! Tara learns that she’s not human at all: she’s an alien, and captured by the government, sent off to a school where she can’t put her human classmates in danger, and that’s where she learns the truth about herself. She’s an alien, and her parents – also aliens – likely kidnapped her at a young age. Now, she’s surrounded by other alien students, not all of whom are exactly friendly toward her race. An exciting start to a new middle grade-middle school graphic novel series, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is written by Eisner award nominee Jeremy Whitley, who you may know from his Princeless series and Marvel’s The Unstoppable Wasp. Don’t miss this first volume, which has some nice social commentary set within a very cool sci-fi story.

 

A Map to the Sun, by Sloane Leong, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250146687

Ages 12-18

A strong story about sports and teen relationships, A Map to the Sun starts with Ren and Luna, two girls who meet on the beach during their middle school summer break. Luna disappears without saying goodbye when she suddenly moves, but returns two years later, expecting to pick up where she and Ren left off. But Ren is hurt, angry, and full off mistrust, especially since her older sister’s issues have made life nearly unbearable for her. A new teacher decides to form a women’s basketball team at the high school, bringing Luna, Ren, and a group of other girls who are tagged as the misfits in school. As they practice and improve, we get glimpses into each of their lives and see how succeeding in one arena changes how they react and are perceived in other spaces in their lives. The color palette is bright and beachy; lots of oranges, yellows, and purples, but some of the coloring made it difficult for me to tell characters apart (I read an ARC; this will likely be tightened up in the finished book). The story is strong, and highly recommended for teens and a solid choice for realistic fiction readers. A Map to the Sun has a starred review from Shelf Awareness.

Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge, by Grace Ellis/Illustrated by Brittney Williams, (Aug. 2020, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1401296377
Ages 7-11
DC’s latest middle grade original graphic novel stars our favorite journalist-in-training, Lois Lane. Here, Lumberjanes co-creator Grace Ellis and Goldie Vance artist Brittney Williams create a tween Lois Lane who’s all about creating a viral video for a #friendshipchallenge. The only thing is, she’s kind of driving her best friend, Kristen, crazy with the challenge. Kristen is going to be going to sleepaway camp after the big neighborhood barbecue and bike race, and Lois is desperate to get her video make before Kristen leaves. But words gets out that the new bike store in town may be planning something shady for the bike race, and the fireworks planned for the barbecue go missing. Sounds like a mystery that the two best friends will have to solve – if they don’t drive each other crazy first. Lois’s intensity comes off as almost abrasive at first, but she’s relatable as a kid who’s single-mindedly focused on her task and upset at having to share her best friend – a best friend who is going away for the summer – with a new girl in town. Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge is a fun summer story.
Displacement, by Kiku Hughes, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250193537Ages 12+

Teenager Kiku travels to San Francisco with her mother to look for the place her grandmother, Ernestina, lived before she and her parents were sent to an internment camp during World War II. Kiku’s mother wants to learn more about her mother’s life pre-camp; Ernestine wasn’t given to talking about it often. As Kiku traipses alongside her, she finds herself being transported back in time, living alongside her grandmother as she, too, becomes a displaced person living in two Japanese internment camps. Powerfully written and beautifully illustrated, Displacement tells the story of the Japanese-Americans who were forced out of their homes and their established lives and stripped of their civil liberties. Kiku – and we – learn things from observing the day-to-day life in camp like human rights abuses that are quickly hushed up and the acts of resistance some engaged in, like the “No-Nos”, who answered “No” to two controversial questions on a loyalty questionnaire the Army had all incarcerated citizens answer. A tribute to the power of memory and, sadly, the power of intergenerational trauma, Displacement belongs with George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy and Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the canon of great graphic novels that belong on every reading list and every shelf.

Ages 14+
This is a weird, wild noir story that I’d hold for my readers who are always looking for something different. It’s Barcelona, 1942, and Laia is a pregnant woman working as a scriptwriter for a radio advice program. Her husband goes missing, a serial killer is on the loose, and Laia retains the services of a private detective to track down her husband… but she’s got secrets of her own. Read this one a couple of times; the story reveals itself with more than one reading. The drastic black and white artwork places you in the middle of this macabre detective story with a wry sense of humor. Got hard-boiled detective novel readers? Give this one to them, too.
Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

Blog Tour- Bear and Fred: A World War II Story

Inspired by the true story of a boy and his teddy bear, this story of survival during the Holocaust is achingly, lovingly translated into English for a new generation of readers.

Bear and Fred: A World War II Story, by Iri Argaman/Illustrated by Avi Ofer/Translated by Annette Appel,
(May 2020, Amazon Crossing Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-542018210
Ages 7-10

Told by Bear, a stuffed toy bear belonging to a young boy named Fred, Bear and Fred tells the story of a young Dutch Jewish boy and his family when they go into hiding as the Netherlands fall under the Nazi shadow. Bear is the only toy Fred takes with him and provides comfort as Fred is shuttled first, to his grandfather, and then to a “nice lady” to stay with when his parents leave and go into hiding elsewhere. When the War ends, Fred and his family reunite, and Bear stays by Fred’s side, until Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, contacts Fred, having heard about his story, and asks to borrow Bear to teach children. In her author’s note, Iris Argaman describes how she discovered Fred Lessing’s story when she saw Bear at Yad Varshem and contacted him, asking to write his story. There’s a photo of the actual Bear.

Originally published in Hebrew in 2016, Bear and Fred tells the story of the Holocaust from a child forced into hiding, without his parents, with only his stuffed bear for company. Having Bear narrate Fred’s story adds a touching depth to the story; it’s the story of a best friend. Moments like having Bear’s paw dry Fred’s tears when he misses his family, or having Bear describe his own feelings of being scared in Fred’s backpack or, the fear of being left behind, provides relatable moments for kids to latch onto and create valuable moments for discussion. Annette Appel’s English translation reads beautifully, with all of the emotion intact. Avi Ofer’s digital illustrations rely on simple colors to tell the story: the characters are grey-blue, washed out figures, with bear’s yellow-brown coloring allowing him to stand out, designating him the narrator, and the family a memory.

A strong book to have in younger historical fiction collections.

 

Iris Argaman is the author of a number of books for children, including Bear and Fred, which was awarded the Yad Vashem Prize in Israel and the Giovanni Arpino Prize for Children’s Literature in Italy. She lives in Israel, where she is a lecturer on children’s literature, holds writing workshops, and writes activity books which promote museum education.

Avi Ofer is an illustrator and animation director born and raised in Israel and now based in Spain. His work has been exhibited in art shows and screened in festivals around the world.

Annette Appel is a translator of books for young readers and truly enjoys the challenge of making stories written in Hebrew accessible to English speakers.

“Translated from Hebrew, it reads seamlessly and beautifully presents a family caught up in war…Without in any manner diminishing the actual horrors of World War II or any current fighting, the author enables a child to grasp in some small manner the impact of conflict on a family. Moving and accessible.” —Kirkus Reviews

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

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Rosie: Stronger Than Steel, like the ladies around her. Plus, a giveaway!

Rosie: Stronger Than Steel, by Lindsay Ward, (April 2020, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-15420117947

Ages 4-8

In a nod to history, and a fitting way to send off Women’s History Month, Rosie: Stronger Than Steel salutes the American and English women who took care of business during World War II. Most of us know the iconic Rosie the Riveter, symbolic of the women who went to work in factories during the War, but not many of us in the States have heard of the British Women’s Land Army, tthat encouraged women to work in agriculture, keeping he Women’s Land Army was a British civilian organisation created during World War II so women could work in agriculture, so that Britain – an island nation that largely relied on imported food – could grow their own crops and be self-sufficient.

Rosie is an ode to the power of women working together. Created as a poem – part rhyme, part evocative verse – from the point of view of a tractor named Rosie, built in America by female factory workers – Rosies – and sent overseas to join the Women’s Land Army. She’s green, with a painted rose, and filled with a strong sense of purpose as she works with the women in Britain to plow fields, grow crops, and feed her new nation. She has a mantra that she clings to, repeated throughout the story: “I plow and I dig. / I dig and I plow. / No matter the job, / This is my vow. It spurs her on, as she plows in the shadow of fighter planes, through mud and muck. When the war ends, she mentors new farm machines, until the day she thinks it may all come to an end when she gets stuck in the mud… but wait! No one is going to abandon our Rosie! Like the Little Engine That Could, Rosie is truly stronger than steel, and roars back to life. A testament to women coming together to achieve great things, Rosie: Stronger Than Steel is an inspiring story about collaboration, cooperation, and determination. An author’s note tells the story of the American factory workers – our Rosie the Riveters – and the British Women’s Land Army. There’s an abbreviated  World War II timeline across the bottom of the author’s note spread.

Lindsay Ward’s colored pencil and cut paper artwork is colorful, bright, and filled with images of women (including Rosie!) working together, determined. Her art is so different here, from her colorful, cartoony artwork we see in her Dexter trilogy and Brobarians: here, we see realistic women and farmland, with a sweet-face, cartoony tractor; a blend that shows her versatility as an artist as well as an author. I really enjoyed Rosie: Stronger Than Steel and love this introduction to women’s history, for younger readers.

Rosie: Stronger Than Steel has starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.

Lindsay Ward is the creator of the Dexter T. Rexter series as well as This Book Is Gray, Brobarians, Rosco vs. the Baby, and The Importance of Being 3. Her book Please Bring Balloons was also made into a play. Lindsay lives with her family  in Peninsula, Ohio, where she often sees tractors from the 1930s and 1940s. Learn more about her online at www.lindsaymward.com.

Twitter: @lindsaymward

 

Reviewers love Rosie!

★“More than the sum of its parts, this is a wildly successful and well-researched shaping of the picture-book form to true historical sheroes.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★“This ‘little tractor that could’ sort of tale pays tribute to the iconic Rosie the Riveter persona from the US and the British Land Girls of the Women’s Land Army during WWII. Fans of Loren Long’s Otis, Virginia Lee Burton’s Katy, and like sturdy, dependable workhorses will welcome Rosie into the fold, but the historical perspective adds an unusual dimension to her story.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Vocabulary is rich, and the younger set will appreciate the intermittent rhymes. The style of Ward’s colored pencil and cut-paper illustrations reflect the period of the tale. ” —School Library Journal

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Rosie: Stronger than Steel, courtesy of Two Lions (U.S. addresses). Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

American Girl Trio: Melody, Nanea, and Julie

Everyone is pretty aware of American Girl, the toy and book phenomenon that sent kids running to the stores for an experience – tea party, clothing selection, matching outfits – before Build-a-Bear got involved. The American Girl novels have big fans in every library where I’ve worked, but I never thought to pick up and read any of them for myself. But I received three from the publisher, so I figured, what the heck? Let’s see what these are about. I have to say, I’m pretty happy with them.

The three books that I received seem to be a repackaging of American Girl’s BeForever line of historical novels. The original books look to have been published in 2016-2017; these new releases have updated cover art and the interiors are very emerging reader friendly, with both color photos and artwork throughout, making it even more appealing and reader-friendly to emerging chapter book readers.

Melody: No Ordinary Sound (American Girl: Melody), by Denise Lewis Patrick, (Aug. 2019, American Girl), $7.99, ISBN: 9781683371403

Ages 8-12

It’s 1963 in Detroit, Michigan, and 9-year-old Melody just found out that she’s going to be singing her first church solo for the Youth Day celebration. Her older brother wants to be a Motown star, while their dad wants him to go to college and pick a more stable career; her older sister comes home from college with stories of protests, marches, and registering Black voters, and her cousin’s family arrives in Detroit, because racial tension in the American South has made it almost impossible to earn a living. As Melody and her family awaken to activism, a horrific church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama takes the lives of four children and leaves Melody speechless. She has to find her voice and sing for those who can’t.

No Ordinary Sound is such powerful historical fiction for intermediate and middle grade readers. I’ve enjoyed Denise Lewis Patrick’s books in the past, so I read this American Girl book first, and am so glad I did. Her characters experience three pivotal events in civil rights history – the Detroit Walk to Freedom; the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, and the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama – and encourage readers to see these events from a personal point of view, developing a deeper understanding of more than just the facts. Denise Lewis Patrick provides a slice of life story, where readers experience the everyday racism Melody and her family and friends experience; from being banned from buying a soda at a soda machine to being shadowed by store security at stores where they’ve been longtime customers.

No Ordinary Sound was a great introduction to the American Girl historical fiction series of books, and I’ll be sure to include this series in booklists and booktalks about civil rights and historical fiction. Melody’s books have their own page on the American Girl website, where you can read first chapter excerpts.

Civil Rights Teaching has lesson plans and resources about teaching the Civil Rights Movement, as does Facing History and Ourselves. The Grammy Museum has a lesson plan on teaching the impact of Motown. Education.com has a free, downloadable worksheet on the History of Motown, and TeachRock.org has a lesson Assembling Hits at Motown. PBS Learning Media has a teaching guide and primary source materials on The Great Migration, and National Geographic has an educator’s guide.

 

Nanea: The Spirit of Aloha (American Girl: Nanea), by Kirby Larson, (Aug. 2019, American Girl), $7.99, ISBN: 9781683371380

Ages 8-12

Nanea is a 9-year-old Hawaiian girl; she’s the youngest in her family, and feels frustrated that she can’t do grown-up things, like help in her family’s store. When Pearl Harbor is attacked by Japanese aircraft on December 7, 1941, Nanea discovers that she has to grow up quickly. Her father is a mechanic at Pearl Harbor, and rushes to help out; her older brother is an Eagle Scout, and heads to the site to hand out food and provide aid. Nanea’s Uncle Fudge is taken into custody because he’s Japanese, and Nanea is thrust into a different world with blackouts, curfews, and fear. She and her two best friends work to make themselves useful, especially when “nonessential personnel” must leave the island, which puts her friend at risk. With the spirit of aloha – love, understanding, and compassion – Nanea focuses on kokua – good deeds – to help everyone around her.

The Spirit of Aloha was another strong historical fiction piece. Kirby Larson has written likable, relatable female protagonists, and she’s done historical fiction before, so I was confident I was going to read a good story. Here, we have the main event, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as a means to show how war makes children grow up overnight. Nanea sees her life change in moments: the bombing itself; the rounding up of Japanese people and the detention center; her fears for her father and brother as they head into the middle of the disaster to help; curfews and blackouts curtains, and the overall loss of a relatively peaceful, carefree existence. At the same time, she focuses on her culture’s principles of love, compassion, and good deeds. Kirby Larson adds touches of Hawaiian culture here, like the meaning of hula and tossing leis into the water to assure a return to Hawaii, and there’s a glossary of terms at the end. Nanea is biracial, with a Hawaiian mother and a Caucasian father, and this adds an additional facet to Nanea’s story, as she communicates with her mainland grandparents to let them know what’s going on in Hawaii.

The Spirit of Aloha is a good introduction to World War 2 historical fiction for younger readers. You can find excerpts and more about Nanea on the American Girl website.

Scholastic has a teaching guide on the attack on Pearl Harbor; Teachers Pay Teachers has some free, downloadable resources developed by fellow educators; the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum has a lesson plan on developing visual literacy by analyzing photos from December 7, 1941. The New York Times has a lesson plan on using primary sources to teach the Japanese Internment, as does the Library of Congress.

 

Julie: The Big Break (American Girl: Julie), by Megan McDonald, (Aug. 2019, American Girl), $7.99, ISBN: 9781683371328

Ages 8-12

Nine-year-old Julie has just moved to a new neighborhood and started at a new school after her parent’s divorce; she, her mother, and older sister live in an apartment above her mother’s new store. She starts at a new school and hears they have a basketball team, which is great! She loves basketball! The coach, however, makes no bones about it: the team is boys only, and he’s never going to let a girl play on his team. Julie, empowered by her tennis-playing older sister who tells her about tennis star Billie Jean King and Title IX, the law prohibiting gender discrimination in any educational programs receiving Federal financial assistance (read: public schools can’t refuse any boy or girl from playing on an athletic team). Julie embraces her newfound activism and takes to the streets, getting people to sign a petition to let her play.

The Big Break is a snapshot of the 1970s, when the second wave feminist movement was still pushing for equal rights in the workplace and in our schools. An interesting subplot with a Vietnam vet, who helps focus Julie’s activism by petitioning against the closing of a veteran’s hall, reminds readers that the ’70s were also about coping with the fallout from the Vietnam War and the vets who returned to homelessness, and a lack of necessary mental and physical health services. Julie’s sister is a burgeoning feminist who follows the Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King Battle of the Sexes and tells Julie about Title IX, which opened the doors to school athletics for girls. At the same time, Julie is coping with her parent’s divorce – much more scandalous in the 1970s than it is today – and her feelings of grief and frustration with both her parents. Her mom appears to be a free spirit, with a ’60s-early ’70s flower child aesthetic; she’s a divorced woman entering the workplace and starting her own business venture: a store dedicated to handcrafted clothing and items, often repurposed. Julie’s pilot father often misses school events because he’s called to fill in for another pilot, and doesn’t initially support her bid to play on the boys’ basketball team.

The Big Break is by Megan McDonald, who everyone also knows as the author of the Judy Moody and Stink series! Here, she gives readers a glimpse into the 1970s, where things are so different, and yet, still the same. Girls still get grief from boys in the athletic sphere. Homeless veterans are still not getting the services they need. People now use Title IX to protect transgender and nonbinary students. And girls are still discovering and embracing their voices in activism. You can read more about Julie on her American Girl page, including first chapter excerpts.

TedEd has a lesson plan on Title IX that’s friendly to younger students. NEA Today has a good article on ways Title IX has helped women and girls; PBS has a video on Title IX; Scholastic Kids Press has an article on how Title IX changed girls’ sports. Teaching History has resources on teaching the Vietnam War.

 

Each book comes with a peek into each girls’ life: maps of their neighborhood, pictures of their families, a glimpse at someone’s room. Back matter includes overall information about each American Girls’ moment in history. American Girl makes teachers guides, readers guides, and printable activities available.

 

 

Posted in Historical Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Red Ribbon finds hope in the heart of despair

The Red Ribbon, by Lucy Adlington, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536201048

Ages 12+

Ella is a 14-year-old young woman who lands in Auschwitz-Birkenau after being picked up on the way home from school. She lies about her age to be placed in the Upper Tailoring Studio; a dressmaking studio within the camp, where the skeletal women Ella calls “Stripeys”, referring to the prisoners’ striped uniforms, make dresses for their clients: the wives and girlfriends of the SS officers, and the female SS officers themselves. Ella has dreams of being a dressmaker and finds herself more than up to the task, but her friend Rose points out that there’s a fine line between doing what’s necessary for survival and collaborating with the enemy, no matter where one’s true passion lies.

The Red Ribbon looks at some big issues taking place during the Holocaust: there really was a dressmaking studio, where prisoners repurposed clothing taken from the arriving prisoners to make clothing for the SS wives, girlfriends, and officers. There were prisoners who acted as “prominents”: they oversaw other inmates and could be almost as cruel and demanding as their jailers. Ella’s talent for dressmaking gains her notice from one SS officer, an 18-year-old named Carla, who leaves her small gifts for trade and invites her to share birthday cake with her one time and viciously beats her another, calling her inhuman. Rose acts as Ella’s conscience, seeing through the illusion Ella desperately wants to create: an illusion where her grandmother is still safe at home and waiting to hear from her; an illusion where her dressmaking talent is valued, and the Auschwitz “Department Store” is a kind of thrift store and not a pile of stolen goods from stolen lives. Ella’s desperation to hone her dressmaking talent borders on collaboration, but she refuses to acknowledge it until a heartbreaking moment when her beloved grandmother’s sewing machine lands in front of her in the Studio. It smashes Ella’s naivete, but she and Rose bolster one another, and the women around them as they pray and wait for liberation.

There are some devastating moments in this story, and Lucy Adlington’s words weave beautiful, terrible visions. Prisoners tell each other to “Look down at your sewing, not up at the chimneys”. One prisoner is so desperate for news about her children that she asks about an SS officer’s son: “Tell us about the little boy –  how old?  My son was three when they took us.”

The book equally captures desperation and determination; hope and despair. It’s a good add where collections need YA fiction that discusses The Holocaust. Display and booktalk with Antonio Iturbe’s The Librarian of Auschwitz, The Diary of Anne Frank and John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (I’ve seen this title in both Juvenile and YA collections); Elie Wiesel’s Night and Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key, and Art Spiegelman’s Maus. The Jewish Book Council has an excellent list of Holocaust-related YA books. There is a creative writing resource available for free download from The Hay Festival.

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

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery is keeping watch

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery, by Allison Rushby, (July 2018, Candlewick Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9780763696856

Recommended for readers 9-12

Flossie Birdwhistle is a ghost, but that’s beside the point. She’s got a very important job as Turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery; making sure her fellow souls are at rest and cared for. She’s a young ghost – she’s only 11- and while some may have something to say about that, she’s good at her job. Right now, her big concern is World War II, currently raging over Britain, and disturbing her dead neighbors. Flossie encounters the ghost of a German soldier up to no good, so she starts investigating, and learns that he’s somehow managed to bridge the gap between the worlds of the dead and the living. She has got to stop him before he – and the enemy army – can destroy Britain!

This is thoroughly enjoyable historical fiction with a nice dose of the supernatural. Flossie has a nicely sketched out backstory, and we learn just enough about her fellow ghosts and familiars to keep us satisfied and turning pages. I like how author Allison Rushby incorporated Hitler’s well-documented fascination with the supernatural into the story, making this a “what if” type of alternate history novel for younger readers, and I like Flossie’s determination and ability to think while under (often literal) fire. Mystery and ghost story fans will enjoy meeting Flossie and friends. Want to give readers a fun website? Let them visit the actual Highgate Cemetery’s webpage, where they can find war graves (including soldiers from WWII), take a virtual tour of the cemetery, and visit a few luminaries.