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

Historical middle-grade fiction: Snakes and Stones

Snakes and Stones, by Lisa Fowler, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-1031-3

Recommended for readers 9-12

The year is 1921, and Chestnut Hill, a 12 year old girl, travels with her father and 7 year-old triplet siblings (also named after nuts) across the American south, putting on medicine shows so her daddy can sell his elixir. Daddy’s a snake oil merchant, and Chestnut is sick and tired of living in a cramped wagon, wearing clothes to rags, and going to bed with a rumbling stomach. She’s mad at Daddy from stealing her and her siblings away from their Mama, who must be out of her mind with grief right now. Even when the Hill family meets up with Abraham, a friend of her father’s, who tells her that there’s a lot Chestnut doesn’t know about her Daddy, she refuses to believe it and decides to take matters into her own hands, setting off a chain of events that will change her and her family.

I was happy to see a middle grade historical fiction piece take place in the early ’20s – it’s an interesting time that hasn’t seen a lot of middle grade storytelling just yet. Lisa Fowler has several strong characters here, most notably, Chestnut, who narrates the story. Her father is a seeming ne’er do well, a con man with a heart of gold, who just doesn’t know how to take care of his family; Abraham, an African-American character, allows for a look at the everyday racism and segregation in the South. Readers may get tired of Chestnut’s firm belief that her father’s the bad guy, especially when there’s clearly more to the story that Abraham knows but won’t discuss. While Abraham is a potentially strong character to highlight the racial issues in the Southern U.S., readers may be put off by the way his speech is written, which can be construed as negative stereotyping rather than striving for historical accuracy.

Overall, it’s a story that means well but gets caught up in melodrama and possibly troubling characterization.

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2011)

Recommended for ages 9-13

Wonderstruck tells the stories of two different people in two different time frames whose lives converge in an unexpected way. One story is told primarily through words and one through pictures; those familiar with Mr. Selznick’s Caldecott-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret will recognize his artwork immediately.

The story, alternately told in 1927 and 1977, follows a young, girl named Rose who yearns to leave her New Jersey home and travel to New York City to see her favorite actress and a 12-year old boy, Brian, who is reeling after his mother’s sudden death. New York City, particularly the American Museum of Natural History, plays a major role in the book as we see the stories converge.

Wonderstruck relies as much on Selznick’s artwork as it does his prose in creating this story. The art is detailed and provides a comprehensive narrative on its own; his prose is simply stated and powerful. He weaves these two seemingly unconnected stories together and creates a powerful, emotional tale that readers will not want to put down. It is a love letter to New York City and a loving look at families lost and found.

¬†Brian Selznick’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, won the 2008 Caldecott Medal and has been made into a movie directed by Martin Scorcese. Scholastic’s Wonderstruck website offers features on American Sign Language and constellations, a link to the author’s website, and a sneak peek at the book for those visitors who haven’t gotten the book yet.