Category: Book Reviews

Phoebe's Heron, cover art

Phoebe’s Heron – by Winnie Anderson

Phoebe’s Heron ticks all the right boxes for me: a bright young girl, in a loving family, confronting complex issues. I enjoyed the role played by boom-town Denver in the 1900s as an effective backdrop and contrast to the semi-isolated mountaintop life in the new home in the Colorado Rockies foothills where uprooted Phoebe’s coming of age unfolds. In the mountain setting, Phoebe has plenty of free time to develop a friendship with a local boy, Jed, and his affable dog, Mike. However, it turns out that Jed and his father are market hunters, who shoot wild birds for their feathers. [Click on book cover above to read the full review …]

Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea – by Lauren Wolk

The early chapters of Beyond the Bright Sea unfold at a subdued pace, but one that manages to reveal stunning information: a newborn’s unexplained arrival on an isolated island in the North Atlantic, an austere but tender-hearted man who discovers the baby strapped to a boat and takes her as his responsibility, and a trusted neighbor woman whose steady presence anchors the unmoored pair into a sort of family. That purposeful pace sets the hook before the story accelerates. [Click on book cover above to read the full review …]

Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk

Wolf Hollow – by Lauren Wolk

Much is made, among readers and writers, of the power of a memorable opening line. In the case of Wolf Hollow, debut novelist Wolk manages to hook readers in the first ten words of a two-page prologue: “The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.” Line after line, page after page, character after character, the story builds, strengthens, deepens, and never disappoints. [Click on book cover above to read the full review …]

Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story, by Janet Halfmann

Seven Miles to Freedom – by Janet Halfmann

The story of Robert Smalls is most likely not known by many. Born to a house slave in 1839, he would go on to accomplish one of the most daring escapes of the American Civil War. Seven Miles to Freedom is a biography, but because of its picture-book format and striking oil paintings, this book should appeal to all ages. This is a gem of a title, a perfect choice for Black History Month.

A Night Divided, header image

The Berlin Wall – Books for Young Readers

Last year, author Jennifer A. Nielsen visited my school. Her book, A Night Divided, carried me back to my visit to Berlin in 1984, when the wall still sliced the city in two. At first, I saw little to like. The air was thick with the residue of coal-burning, bombed-out and bullet-pocked buildings were stark reminders of World War II, and a huge concrete wall with barbed wire, minefields, and guard towers snaked through the middle of the city. But somehow Berlin, so steeped in history, won my heart. Thanks, Jennifer Nielsen, for reminding me of this adventure in my life, and for the many other books on Berlin that tell stories of our humanity, stories we must not forget. [Click on book cover above to read the full article & list of books …]

The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War That Saved My Life – by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

When I first read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I passed right by the second sentence: “This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.” Yet somehow the sentence lodged itself in a dark recess of my brain. Only as an adult, did I begin to understand the huge impact that the London evacuation during World War II had on a generation of children. Now, I work in an elementary school library. When I unpacked The War that Saved my Life, it went to the top of my Must Read list. [Click on book cover above to read the full review …]

The Birchbark House, cover art

The Birchbark House Series – A Beautiful Glimpse of Ojibwe Family Life in the Mid-1800s

Louise Erdrich is one of our finest writers, winner of many literary prizes for her adult fiction. The daughter of an Ojibwe mother and a German-American father, Erdrich’s novels explore Native-American themes with memorable characters, storytelling, and often, a graceful touch of magical realism. Her children’s books, especially The Birchbark House series, also explore Ojibwe history, and are likewise deeply steeped in a wonderful storytelling tradition. As Horn Book noted, “Readers will absorb the history lesson almost by osmosis; their full attention will be riveted on the story.” [Click on image above to read the full article …]

enchanted air: two cultures - header

Two Kids’ Books Explore Cuban-American Relations in the 1960s

The history of our relationship with Cuba is a complex one.

Now, thankfully, we have recovered to the point where the two countries have begun to explore better relations. Here are two kids’ books set in the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, going beyond the fears and hysteria of the political conflict to look for the common hopes and dreams of young individuals trying to make sense of the complicated time. [Click on image above to read the full article …]

Barbed Wire Baseball cover, art by Yuko Shimizu

Books that Keep the Past Alive – Stories of Japanese Internment Camps and Baseball

Philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” For most of us, knowledge of the past does not come from textbooks but from stories – stories told when generations gather around the dining table, in movies or on the flickering TV set in the family room, in historical novels that pull us into a bygone era. Years ago, I read Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s memoir Farewell to Manzanar and was incredulous that discover that the United States ran concentration camps during World War II and locked up American citizens. [Click on baseball-player image above to read the full article …]

Sweet Home Alaska, by Carole Estby Dagg

Sweet Home Alaska – A Review of a New Deal-Era Novel

The chapter titles of Sweet Home Alaska are early indicators of the complexity and wry humor in this delightful novel. Chapter One, “Terpsichore Johnson Cooks Dinner,” begins in November 1934 in Little Bear Lake, Wisconsin, where single-minded but musically-challenged “Trip” is as much at odds with herself as she is with the expectations of her loving family. Some 50 short chapters later, Terpsichore (Terp-SICK-oh-ree) has led readers on a journey to discover the ups and downs of a new life in Palmer, Alaska, in a Depression-era homesteading community. [Click on book cover above to read the full review …]

Let Them Play - an American civil-rights baseball story

9 Baseball Books for Young Readers Hit Home Runs for Social Justice

Sports lore everywhere boasts legends of athletic prowess and humorous anecdotes, but baseball’s field of intriguing characters and stories is unparalleled in depth. Baseball books for young readers are not only a way to explore the sport, but also can introduce them to fascinating stories that consider important questions of racial diversity, gender equality, and the true meaning of the American Dream. Here’s are nine books to start discusses and help young readers learn about social justice as well as about baseball history. [Click on book cover above to read the full post …]

Hattie's War, a middle-grade Civil War homefront novel by Hilda & Emily Demuth

Hattie’s War – A Review of a Civil War-Era Story

Eleven-year-old Hattie loves to play baseball, but is told it’s a “gentlemen’s game” (as it was considered in the 1860s when this story takes place). When Hattie’s mother commandeers the family’s backyard baseball field to plant a vegetable garden, Hattie steams. She likewise resents the fact that her younger brother gets to help out in her father’s shoe shop, but she is not allowed to assist because it’s not a “lady’s sort of job.” [Click on book cover above to read the full review …]

The Storied Past is Looking for Books

The Storied Past is looking for good books of historical fiction to recommend to young readers . . . and to adults who are in a position help…