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

Different Days looks at German internment during World War II

Different Days, by Vicki Berger Erwin, (Oct. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510724587

Recommended for readers 9-13

Eleven year-old Rosie lives with her mother, father, and younger brother, Freddie, in Honolulu, Hawaii. They love their home, their family, their lives, until December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor is attacked and everything changes, seemingly overnight. Rosie’s parents are of German descent, but are American citizens who have lived in Hawaii for most of their lives. It doesn’t matter. They’re rounded up by the military, along with Rosie’s Aunt Etta; they’re detained as German spies, their possessions confiscated. Rosie and Freddie are left alone, and suddenly, their schoolmates and neighbors don’t seem as friendly as they used to be. They’re sent to live with their emotionally distant Aunt Yvonne, who tells her neighbors they are refugee children and never admits to her own German ancestry. Luckily, Aunt Etta is released and takes the children, but this is just the beginning of the struggle: her family’s home has been sold; their possessions and properties now “in storage” or gone, and the children at the new school they attend are quick to call them Nazis. Rosie longs for her family to reunite and for things to stabilize, but these are very different days.

Different Days is based on the true story of 11-year-old Doris Berg, who watched the attack on Pearl Harbor from her home in Honolulu. The next day, her parents and aunt were taken into custody and sent to internment camps. Like Rosie and Freddie, Doris and her sister were sent to an aunt that refused to acknowledge their familial link, and lost her home and possessions. Rosie is a strong, resilient character who wishes she were like her heroine, teen sleuth Nancy Drew, so she could solve the mysteries facing her: who was responsible for informing on her parents and having them detained, and who is this shady Mr. Smith who allegedly “manages” her family’s disappearing property and possessions? She endures the prejudice of those around her, and focuses on small victories, whether it’s having something to eat that day or knowing she’ll visit her mother soon. The novel takes readers into the story of one family affected by the internment of German “persons of interest”; a moment in history not often discussed. The book includes information about Doris Berg and her family’s ordeal, and further information. Different Days is a good addition to historical fiction collections and is as relevant today, when we seek to label others and blame an entire nationality/ethnicity/religion for the actions of a few.

Vicki Berger Erwin writes for both children and adults. You can find out more by visiting her website.

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Posted in Preschool Reads

The Tiny Tale of Little Pea

The Tiny Tale of Little Pea, by Davide Cali/Illustrated by Sébastien Mourrain, (Sept. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771388436

Recommended for readers 4-7

So begins the tale of Little Pea, who could sleep in a matchbox, ride a grasshopper, and wore his doll’s shoes, while his clothes were lovingly hand-sewn by his mom. When it’s time for Little Pea to go to school, he realizes just how small he is. He’s too small for his desk. Too small to play the flute. Definitely too small for gym class. But is Little Pea’s confidence shaken? No way! He finds his own place in the world, painting postage stamps and living in a home that fits him just right.
Little Pea is a cute story with a main character who has a lot to say about resilience. He doesn’t let his perceived weakness stop him from living life on his terms; it’s a strong message for kids who hear, “You’re too little for that” once too often. Self-acceptance, creativity, and individuality drive the story, and every reader can take something away from it. Sébastien Mourrain comes up with wonderful scenes to demonstrate Little Pea’s size, bringing to mind some of my favorite parts of E.B. White’s Stuart Little. It’s a sweet story that will add to a storytime or individual reading.
Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Goodnight, Boy is beautiful and raw

Goodnight, Boy, by Nikki Sheehan, (July 2017, One World), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-78607-210-8

Recommended for readers 12+

The novel of a boy and his dog is brutal and beautiful, all at once. JC is a Haitian child who’s already experienced a brutal life on the streets and orphanages of Haiti when the earthquake strikes. He’s adopted by a rescue worker and her husband and brought to America, but when his new mother is back in Haiti, his stepfather locks JC and his dog, Boy, in a kennel. The story, told in the form of conversations JC has with Boy, unfolds and we learn about JC’s life, and the terrible moment where he and Boy were banished to the kennel.

Goodnight, Boy goes to dark places, but JC’s voice is strong, clear, and stands as a beacon for Boy and for readers. He always holds out hope that things will get better, taking comfort in the smallest moments of light, like hearing children play or seeing balloons from the kennel. As he tells Boy – and us – his story, we learn about grief and loss, but we learn about perseverance and hope, all the same. An intense read, Goodnight Boy is a strong addition to YA bookshelves and can easily cross over to adult reading. It’s a great book for discussion.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads, Realistic Fiction

What is it that Lou can’t do?

louThe Thing Lou Couldn’t Do, by Ashley Spires, (May 2017, Kids Can Press), $17.95, ISBN: 9781771387279

Recommended for ages 3-7

Lou and her friends are adventurers! They run faster than airplanes, build mighty fortresses, and rescue wild animals. One day, though, Lou’s friends decide to make a nearby tree the location of their pirate ship, and Lou balks. She’s never climbed a tree before. She likes her adventures to be down, on the ground. Her friends scurry up the tree, but Lou’s not going. What will it take for Lou to get up that tree?

Kids will recognize themselves in Lou, whose got a vibrant imagination, a great group of friends, and a healthy fear of a climbing a tree, which – let’s be honest – can be a pretty scary thing. Like most kids, Lou tries to divert her friends’ attention by suggesting “not-up-a-tree games” and stalling (changing her shoes, claiming an injury, spotting an asteroid heading right for them). With her friends’ encouragement, Lou does attempt that climb – and when she doesn’t make it, her friends are right there for her, heading for a playground to continue their game. Is Lou defeated? Nope. She’s going to try again, maybe even tomorrow. Showing a child overcome her fear and her self-reliance when she doesn’t succeed the first time sends a positive message to kids who may struggle with anxiety over new situations; surrounding her main character with supportive friends sends a message to all kids, to support one another and to compromise.

The digital art is fun and will appeal to all kids; the group of friends is diverse and no one is relegated to “girl” or “boy” roles here – they’re all pirates, race car drivers, or deep sea divers. They’re kids, playing together, like kids do.

I loved Ashley Spires’ award-winning book, The Most Magnificent Thing, and her Binky the Space Cat series has been a winner at any library I’ve worked at. I love her positive messages of self-reliance and the power of imagination, and I can’t wait to get this book on the shelves next to my other Spires books. A great book for elementary collections and kids who are learning that it’s okay to be scared sometimes.

Check out Ashley Spires’ website for more of her artwork and information about her books.

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

An imaginary friend will always have your back in Crenshaw

crenshawCrenshaw, by Katherine Applegate (Sept. 2015, Macmillan), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250043238

Recommended for ages 9-13

Newbery winner Katherine Applegate is back, following up the award-winning The One and Only Ivan with Crenshaw, the tale of an imaginary friend who knows when his boy needs him.

Jackson’s family is having a rough time of it. His dad is chronically ill, and his mom is having a hard time making ends meet. They’re hungry and they’ve sold their furniture and are looking at the possibility of living in their minivan. Again.

And just like that, Crenshaw appears. Jackson’s childhood imaginary friend is a huge cat who just shows up when he’s needed. And Jackson needs something to believe in; something to cling to. Will Crenshaw be enough?

Katherine Applegate brought me to tears with The One and Only Ivan, and here, she continues her talent for drawing readers in with an emotional tale of friendship and resilience. Applegate addresses a social issue we don’t read much about, but exists: homeless families, transient families, and the effect this has on the children. She also shows us that all friends matter – even the ones we create to get us through the rough times.

Crenshaw will be out in September. Get it on your classroom and library shelves. This would be a great book to recommend and read for a social issues lesson and discussion. My sons’ elementary school takes part in the annual Penny Harvest program, where students collect pennies (or greater denominations, but every penny helps), and then decides on organizations to donate the total to. Wrapping this book reading around a Penny Harvest program or a canned food drive could lead to a meaningful discussion about helping others and bringing attention to families in need.