Over and Out by Jenni L. Walsh

Over and Out

Jenni L. Walsh, Author

Scholastic, Historical fiction, Mar. 1, 2022

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Family, Cold War, Berlin Wall, Secret police, Oppression, Family Escape

Synopsis:

Sophie has spent her entire life behind the Berlin Wall, guarded by land mines, towers, and attack dogs. A science lover, Sophie dreams of becoming an inventor… but that’s unlikely in East Berlin, where the Stasi, the secret police, are always watching.

Though she tries to avoid their notice, when her beloved neighbor is arrested, Sophie is called to her principal’s office. There, a young Stasi officer asks Sophie if she’ll spy on her neighbor after she is released. Sophie doesn’t want to agree, but in reality has no choice: The Stasi threaten to bring her mother, who has a disability from post-polio syndrome, to an institution if Sophie does not comply. 

Sophie is backed into a corner, until she finds out, for the first time, that she has family on the other side of the Wall, in the West. This could be what she needs to attempt an escape with her mother to freedom — if she can invent her way out. 

Jenni L. Walsh, author of I Am Defiance, tells a page-turning story of a young girl taking charge of her own destiny, and helping others do the same, in the face of oppression.

Perfect for fans of Alan Gratz and Jennifer A. Nielsen, a gripping and accessible story of a young girl from Cold War East Berlin who is forced to spy for the secret police… but is determined to escape to freedom.

Why I like Over and Out:

Over and Out is a courageous and suspenseful tale that has many heart-stopping moments. Expertly researched, Jenni L. Walsh’s story is based on the true stories of real people. Their stories are woven together into a fictionalized tale that involves danger and a desire to save human lives at the risk of losing their own.

Sophie’s story is set in East Berlin around 1973, during the Cold War. The wall was erected in 1961 and came down in 1989. Readers will get a good glimpse of what life is like for those living there. The government provides/owns everything. Luxuries like cars must be requested. People wear what is available in stores. Food is rationed and people stand in long lines daily to get their allowance. People can’t choose their own jobs, they are assigned. Only one middle-class job is permitted in a family. Mail is opened and read. There are listening bugs planted everywhere. Those living in East Berlin can never visit West Berlin, but the same isn’t true for West Berliners. 

The story is driven by a cast of young and brave characters who are multi-layered. Sophie is smart and clever, and loves science and inventing things. She was born in East Berlin — the day the wall went up — even though her family lived in West Berlin. She and her mother are trapped and assume new identities,  so they can fly under the radar for 12 years. Her mother has polio and uses a wheelchair. Her best friends are Katrina and her babysitter, Monika,18. 

Sophie is approached by by the Stasi (secret police) to spy on her friend, Monika who doesn’t like the job she’s been assigned. Sophie is threatened by the Stasi that if she doesn’t co-operate, her disabled mother will be sent to an institution to live. The Stasi uses psychological mind games on children to get them to spy on teachers, family, and friends. This is the turning point for Sophie and she knows she needs to find a way to escape. 

Sophie narrates the story. Her voice is believable and she is very brave. I loved how the author weaves Sophie’s love of science and invention into her escape plan, along with the help from her best friend, Katrina. Together they have to figure out precise distances, gravity, tension, and torsion for their escape.  And they have to find right light-weight materials that are strong enough to carry them to freedom. Sorry, but I won’t divulge her escape plans. You’ll have to read the book. 

Over and Out begs the question for readers — would you have the courage to plan an escape, knowing the odds are against you? Well many did, as the author shares other escape attempts throughout the book — digging underground tunnels, walking tight ropes, derailing a train, flying an ultra-light plane, hiding in a truck of a car and flying homemade hot-air balloons. 

This riveting and fast-paced adventure is a great addition to any classroom and is a timely and important discussion book.

Jenni L. Walsh is the author of the companion to this book, I am Defiance: the She Dared books: Bethany Hamilton and Malala Yousafzai; and many other books for young readers and adults. Her passion lies in transporting readers to another world, be it in historical or contemporary settings. She is a proud graduate of Villanova University and lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her husband, daughter, son, and a handful of pets. Learn more about Jenni and her books at her website http://jennilwalsh.com,  and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @jennilwalsh.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

 

Brother’s Keeper by Julie Lee

Brother’s Keeper

Julie Lee, Author

Holiday House, Jul. 21, 2020

Pages: 320

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: North Korea, Family life, Communism, Refugees, Freedom, Korean War

Synopsis:

North Korea, 1950. Twelve-year-old Sora Pak and her family live under an iron set of rules: No travel without a permit. No criticism of the government. No absences from communist meetings. Repeat slogans. Don’t trust your neighbors. Don’t speak your mind. You are being watched.

There is no hope for escape…until war breaks out between North and South Korea. Suddenly there is chaos, and everyone is fleeing. The Paks’ plan to get to freedom is simple: they will walk hundreds of miles from their tiny mountain village to the South Korean city of Busan.

But when a bombing changes everything, Sora must get herself and her eight-year-old brother, Youngsoo, to South Korea alone — across rivers, over mountains, around enemy soldiers and border guards, and even through Pyongyang itself, all while staving off frostbite and starvation. Can two children survive three hundred miles of war zone winter?

Why I like this book:

Julie Lee’s Brother’s Keeper is a powerful work of historical fiction that will transport readers to the Korean War in 1950 — also known as the “Forgotten War” — where millions of people lost their lives trying to flee to South Korea. It is a haunting and compelling story of danger, suffering, survival, taking risks and heroism.  It is also a story about family and home.

The setting is vivid and rich in detail. Sora’s family lives in a square-shaped farmhouse with a thatched roof hugging the house like “a mushroom cap.” Their home is surrounded by fields or corn and millet.  All of the homes in her village look the same, but the countryside is lush and the rivers are the center of activity. The communist (under Kim II Sung ) rule with a tight fist and there are rules to follow and neighbors who spy on each other in return for favors.

Sora is a smart, curious and compassionate sister to two younger brothers. She loves school, learning and dreams of going to college and living in America. Sora has a complicated relationship with her mother, who like most Korean women value their sons over their daughters. Sora is angry when Omahni insists that she quit school to watch her baby brother, Jisoo. She also has to learn to cook and care for a household, which will prepare her for marriage. She’s more like her Abahji and shares similar dreams of travel. Youngsoo is a sweet boy who lifts Sora’s spirit with his humor. And he’s always going to catch her a fish. He’s also small and more vulnerable. Protecting him is what she does.

When a bombing separates Sora and Youngsoo from their family, it becomes Sora’s responsibility to keep them alive. Does she return home, or push forward hoping to find her parents? Courageous and resilient, Sora, chooses the treacherous journey south with only a small map of Korea folded in her pocket. Death and danger lurk around every corner. They find abandoned homes overflowing with sleeping refugees; sparse food; lice infestations; frozen rivers that break up while crossing; bombings; broken bridges; sinking canoes; mountains to climb; kidnappers; violence at the Imjin crossing; cardboard houses; and a frightening box car ride to Busan.

Lee’s novel is also based on the harrowing journey her mother made during the Korean War. The author feels that stories like this deserve a place in American history because there aren’t many books about this “Forgotten War” and the resilient Koreans who fled to South Korea.  Many American soldiers lost their lives trying to liberate the country from communism.  This book is a story for teens and adults.

Make sure you check out the backmatter. There is an Author’s Note; photographs of the author’s mother, siblings and parents; a Timeline of the Korean War with historical information; and a glossary of Korean terms.

Julie Lee graduated from Cornell University with a degree in history. After working in market research in Manhattan for more than ten years, she decided to pursue writing full-time. Currently, Julie lives in Georgia with her husband and three children. When she is not spending time with her family, she is working on her next book while pursuing her MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Brother’s Keeper is her debut novel. You can visit Julie at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Daring Darlene: Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet

Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen

Anne Nesbet, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 14, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Silent films, Acting, Kidnappers, Villains, Danger, Adventure, Courage

Synopsis:

Lights! Camera! Kidnapping? When a publicity stunt goes terribly wrong, twelve-year-old Darleen Darling, star of the silent film era, must defeat villains both on screen and off in this edge-of-your-seat adventure.

It’s 1914, and Darleen Darling’s film adventures collide with reality when a fake kidnapping set up by her family studio becomes all too real. Suddenly Darleen finds herself in the hands of dastardly criminals who have just nabbed Miss Victorine Berryman, the poor-little-rich-girl heiress of one of America’s largest fortunes.

Soon real life starts to seem like a bona fide adventure serial, complete with dramatic escapes, murderous plots, and a runaway air balloon. Will Darleen and Victorine be able to engineer their own happily-ever-after, or will the villains be victorious?

Why I like this book:

Daring Darleen is a fascinating peek into early silent films. There is so much to love about Anne Nesbet’s latest piece of historical fiction about a daring 12-year-old heroine and her family of movie makers. Money is low in 1914, so Matchless Studios gives the gives the public what it wants, “chases, plunges, trains, and villains.” And Darling Darleen becomes Daring Darleen. This story is a page-turner with an engaging plot.

The authentic friendship that develops between Darlene and heiress Victorine Berryman, really gives the story its heart. Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. Darleen is a spunky, clever and resourceful heroine who is even more couragous in real life. After she and Victorine are kidnapped, she plots their escape from a seventh-story building window. Victorine is refined and elegant. She loves to read and is quite the world traveler. Telling the truth matters most to Victorine. The girls bond over the loss of Darlen’s mother and Victorine’s grandmother. They have a mystery to solve and together they are relentless. As the story progresses, readers will marvel at Victorine’s growth in self-confidence.

The girls also befriend the elegant French-speaking Madame Alice Guy Blaché, owner of Solax Studios, who helps them uncover a mystery regarding Victorine’s inheritance and cruel guardians. I was delighted that Nesbit includes Madame Blanché in her story, as a tribute to her real-life contribution in early film history. Blanché was the first filmmakers to “tell a story” in film and was the first woman to run a film studio.

Although the novel is a work of fiction, it is based on the “thrilling true story of the rise of the film industry.” And the story is set in Ft. Lee, NJ, where many of the “photoplays” were filmed. Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of the story to learn more about the history of film making, because Anne Nesbit is a Professor of Film and Media history at the University of California.

Anne Nesbet is the author of the historical middle-grade novels Cloud and Wallfish and The Orphan Band of Springdale, as well as three fantasy novels for middle-graders. Her books have received numerous accolades, including multiple starred reviews and appearances on many best book and notables lists. A professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Anne Nesbet lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

*Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

The Summer We Found Baby by Amy Hest

The Summer We Found Baby

Amy Hest, Author

Candlewick Press, Aug. 4, 2020

Suitable for ages: 9 and up

Themes: Family, Friendship, Community, WWII, Secrets, Mystery

Synopsis:

On the morning of the dedication of the new children’s library in Belle Beach, Long Island, eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, find a baby in a basket on the library steps. At the same time, twelve-year-old Bruno Ben-Eli is on his way to the train station to catch the 9:15 train into New York City. He is on an important errand for his brother, who is a soldier overseas in World War II. But when Bruno spies Julie, the same Julie who hasn’t spoken to him for sixteen days, heading away from the library with a baby in her arms, he has to follow her. Holy everything, he thinks. Julie Sweet is a kidnapper.

Of course, the truth is much more complicated than the children know in this heartwarming and beautifully textured family story by award-winning author Amy Hest.  The novel captures the moments and emotions of a life-changing summer — a summer in which a baby gives a family hope and brings a community together.

Why I like this book:

The Summer We Found Baby is heartfelt and genuine, especially as Amy Hest explores the idea of family, friendship and community. Set during World War II in a cozy little town on Long Island, it’s a short novel with a fast-paced plot that will keep readers happily engaged.

The narrative is told from three different viewpoints: Bruno Ben-Eli is a resident of Belle Beach, and Julie and Martha Sweet, the “summer people” who are visiting with their widowed father who seeks a place to finish his book.  The three-some each have their own unique spin on things, which makes solving the baby mystery even more interesting.

The characters are memorable. Bruno is worried about his brother and hasn’t quite figured out girls yet. Julie refuses to talk with Bruno because he reads a letter she’s written. Martha feels Julie is too bossy and finds a doating mother figure in Mrs. Ben-Eli, who happens to live next door.

And there is the big grand opening of the new Children’s Library, which Bruno’s mom is in charge of. Julie takes it upon herself to send an invitation of the library opening to a famous woman she admires. Will she accept the invite? This is a perfect summer read for teens.

Amy Hest is the author of many beloved books for young readers, including Remembering Mrs. Rossi, Letters to Leo, and the Katie Roberts novels. She is also the author of many picture books, indluing Kiss Good Night, When Jessie Came Across the Sea, and On the Night of the Shooting Star. She lives in New York City.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Gold Rush Girl by Avi

Gold Rush Girl

Avi, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 10, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Gold Rush, San Francisco, Tent City, Danger, Independence, Freedom, Friendship

Opening: “Have you ever been struck by lightning?
I have.
I write not of the sparkling that bolts from the sky, but of gold, the yellow metal buried in the earth and the shatter-wit world of those who seek it. That world turned me topsy-turvy, so that I did things I never dreamed I would or could do.”

Publisher Synopsis:

Thirteen-year-old Victoria (Tory) Blaisdell longs for independence and adventure, and she yearns to accompany her father as he sails west in search of real gold! But it is 1848, and Tory isn’t even allowed to go to school, much less travel all the way from Rhode Island to California. Determined to take control of her own destiny, Tory stows away on the ship.

Though San Francisco is frenzied and full of wild and dangerous men, Tory finds freedom and friendship there. Until one day, when Father is in the gold fields, her younger brother, Jacob, is kidnapped. And so Tory is spurred on a treacherous search for him in Rotten Row, a part of San Francisco Bay crowded with hundreds of abandoned ships.

Beloved storyteller Avi is at the top of his form as he ushers us back to an extraordinary time of hope and risk, brought to life by a heroine readers will cheer for. Spot-on details and high suspense make this a vivid, absorbing historical adventure.

Why I like this book:

Avi’s story is electrifying — pun intended! His storytelling is rich and visual and will stimulate your senses. Readers will smell the stench of San Francisco — the rotting boats,  street sewage, drunken and sweaty men, and soaked sailcloth tents. They will feel what it’s like to trudge through thick mud and dense fog. “The land of glittering gold revealed itself as mostly rich in rubbish.” 

What a joy it is to journey with Tory (13) and experience the gold rush through her point of view. With gold fever high, the plot is brimming with excitement, trickery, risks and danger. The research that went into every detail of this story, really gives readers insight into this historical time period. When Tory and her family arrive in San Francisco Bay, she is shocked to see hundreds of ships that were deserted in what was called the Rotten Row. Sea captains and their crews headed towards the gold fields. Make sure you read Avi’s note and map about the shipsof Rotten Row at the end, because it is fascinating!

The characters are multi-layered, but memorable. Tory is a spunky and determined heroine. When her father leaves for the gold fields, Tory is left to care for her young brother, Jacob (9), who is sullen, worries and waits on the beach for his mother to arrive. Because of the high cost of food and supplies, their money runs out. Tory buys men’s clothing and finds work rowing arriving passengers ashore, working construction and doing other jobs. She’s paid in grains of gold and is delighted that she is gaining more wealth in the city than her father is laboring in the fields. Tory is living the freedom and independence that’s she’s longed for. She’s happy, physically and mentally strong.

There many colorful characters in the story. Tory develops a friendship with Thad, who works at a local store and helps her improve her rowing skills. Thad is a calm and quiet and a nice balance for Tory. But he also enjoys taking risks, drinking and gambling. Across the street from her tent, is Senor Rosales, a Mexican café owner. He is a kind “uncle” and does his best to keep an eye on both Jacob and Tory. She also befriends a black boy, Sam, who plays his bugle at a shady saloon owned by an evil man, Mr. Kassel. When Jacob suddenly disappears, it is Sam who tells Tory about seeing Jacob at the Mercury and fears he’s been kidnapped and is being held on a vacant ship. The threesome jump into action to save Jacob’s life. Tory must rescue Jacob before her father returns from and gold fields and her mother arrives from Providence.

Avi leaves the story open-ended. There is so much more he could write about Tory and her friends. After all, San Francisco exists as a tent city. I hope there is a sequel. This book belongs in every school library. Verdict: This book is a winner!

Avi is one of the most celebrated authors writing for children today. He has written published over 70 books. Among his most popular books are Crispin: The Cross of Lead, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Nothing but the Truth, the Poppy books, Midnight Magic, The Fighting Ground and the City of Orphans. having received two Boston-Globe – Horn Book Awards, a Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, a Christopher Award, a Newbery Medal, and two Newbery Honors. He lives in Colorado.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided fee by the publisher in exchange for a review.

The Brave Princess and Me by Kathy Kacer

The Brave Princess and Me

Kathy Kacer, Author

Juliana Kolesova, Illustrator

Magination Press, Historical Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8 and up

Themes: Princess Alice of Greece, Deaf, WW II, Jewish Girl, Nazis, Compassion, Bravery

Opening: There once was a princess who lived in Greece. Her full name was Victoria Alice Elizabeth Julia Marie, but she was called Princess Alice. When she was young her family discovered that she was deaf.

Book Synopsis:

In 1943, the Second World War is raging, and the Nazi’s have taken control of most of Europe — including Athens, where Princess Alice of Greece lives. Princess Alice is kind and accepting of different types of people. Something the Nazis are not. Born deaf, she knows what it is like to be discriminated against.

With the arrival of the Nazis, all the Jews living in Greece are in danger, including young Tilde Cohen and her mother. On the run, they must find a safe place to hide. When they arrive unannounced, on Princess Alice’s doorstep and beg her to hide them, the princess’s kindness is put to the test. Will she risk her own life to save theirs?

Why I like this book:

I love true stories about women who were heroes during the war, without even realizing it. They did what they knew was morally right in their hearts with little thought of the consequences. Princess Alice’s story is engaging and will encourage readers to wonder if they had the courage to risk their lives to save someone. The illustrations are stunning and perfectly match the mood of the story.

Princess Alice’s story is narrated by Tilde Cohen. The narration is quite wordy, but it fits the period of the story beautifully. Readers will want to know the details. Tilde and her mother are given a two-room apartment with a small kitchen. Every afternoon Princess Alice has tea with them and they talk about happy times in Greece before the Nazis invade. Through Tilde we learn that the princess can read lips in three different languages, but keeps it a secret. Everyday the princess leaves to help feed the poor and visit the sick.  When the stakes get high and two Nazi soldiers pound on the door and ask the princess if she’s hiding Jews, Princess Alice uses her deafness to trick the soldiers and make them think she’s not smart and can’t understand them.

Make sure you read the fascinating backmatter about Princess Alice’s life at the end of the book. She was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, the mother of Prince Phillip (husband of Queen Elizabeth), grandmother to Prince Charles, and great grandmother of Princes William and Harry. The author includes photographs of Princess Alice — with additional surprises. There is also information about Tilde Cohen’s family.

Resources: Encourage children to interview their parents and grandparents and ask them about family history. Write or record the information. I remember my grandmother and great aunt writing me letters about growing up in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but I lost the letters. I know information, but it is the stories about their every day lives I wish I knew. Good family project.

Kathy Kacer is the author of numerous books that tell true stories of the Holocaust for young readers of all ages, including The Secret of Gabi’s Dress, The Magician of Auschwitz, and To Look a Nazi in the Eye. A former psychologist, Kathy has travelled the globe speaking to children and adults about the importance of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Allies by Alan Gratz

Allies

Alan Gratz, Author

Scholastic Press, Historical Fiction, Oct. 15, 2019

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Pages: 336

Themes:  Allies, Nazi Germany, WW II, D-Day, Omaha Beach, France, Liberation

Book Jacket Synopsis:

The fate of the world is in their hands.

June 6, 1944: The Nazis are terrorizing Europe, on their evil quest to conquer the world. The only way to stop them? The biggest, most top-secret operation ever, with the Allied nations coming together to storm German-occupied France.

Welcome to D-Day.

Dee, a young U.S. soldier, is on a boat racing toward the French coast. And Dee — along with his brothers-in-arms — is terrified. He feels the weight of World War II on his shoulders.

But Dee is not alone. Behind enemy lines in France, a girl named Samira works as a spy, trying to sabotage the German army. Meanwhile, paratrooper James leaps from his plane to join a daring midnight raid. And in the thick of battle, Henry, a medic, searches for lives to save.

In a breathtaking race against time, they all must fight to complete their high-stakes missions. But with betrayals and deadly risks at every turn, can the Allies do what it takes to win?

Why I like this book:

A brilliant new novel by Alan Gratz that shows the horrific faces of WW II. It’s gripping, suspenseful and chilling.  Packed with danger, adventure and a cast of really memorable characters that make this novel unforgettable. Readers will find themselves deeply engrossed in this fast-paced and powerfully penned novel.

The characters represent many nationalities and are realistically portrayed. Narrator Dee Carpenter is a U.S. soldier headed toward Omah Beach in a Higgins boat. His real name Dietrich Zimmermann, a German immigrant who fled Nazi Germany with his parents when he was five. He’s advised to change his name in case he’s captured by the Nazis. He hides it from his best buddy, Sid Jacobstein, who is Jewish and anxious to shoot some “krauts.” My favorite moment, is when Dee realizes that he may have been the enemy he’s shooting at if he hadn’t fled Germany, and that the enemy is also a human being.

I shouldn’t be surprised, but racism, and anti-Semitism ran high among the U.S. forces because there were many foreign nationals and immigrants fighting for the same cause. Even Sid faces anti-Semitism from other soldiers in his unit. Henry Allen is a black battlefield medic, who is called “boy” and “coon,” by Lieutenant Hoyte, until Henry saves his life and finally sees him as a human being. Eleven-year-old Samira Zidane’s mother is part of the French Resistance. Samira, an Algerian refugee, bravely takes over her mother’s mission when she is captured by the Nazis. Samira cleverly makes it past German soldiers to tell the Resistance fighters that the Allies have begun invasion of France. James McKay is a Canadian paratrooper and Sam, who is allowed to  be a Cree in the Army and have respect from his unit.  But in Canada he isn’t allowed to vote and keep his tribal status.

It will be obvious to readers that the war changed all of those involved. Yet all the allies were united in one mission, to push back the Nazis and free Europe from Hitler’s tyranny and free the Jews suffering in concentration camps.

Gratz has provided a wealth of information for readers starting with a map of the invaded area at the beginning of the book. Gratz’s “Author’s Note” at the end provides deatils about the invasion, the number of soldiers involved from each country, the losses, operational names for all the Allies participating and their missions.  The code name for D-Day was Operation Overlord.

Favorite Quote:

“And the worst part was that Germany hadn’t suddenly “become” racist and evil. The rot had been there, under the surface, the whole time. Hitler’s hate-filled speeches had allowed the seeds of German bigotry to grow like weeds until they choked out anything else that might have flowered there. Dee and his family had just been living in their own little bubble and hadn’t noticed it.”  Page 17

Alan Gratz is the New York Times bestselling author of several award-winning and acclaimed books for young readers, including, Grenade, Refugee, Pojekt 1065, Prisoner B-3087, and Code of Honor. Visit Gratz at his website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Book reviewed from library copy.

Survival Tails: Endurance in Antarctica by Katrina Charman

Survival Tails: Endurance in Antarctica (Vol. 2)

Katrina Charman, Author

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, Dec. 11, 2018

Pages: 272

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Sled Dogs, Antarctica, Perilous Voyage, Survival, The Endurance, History

Synopsis:

Sled dog Samson can’t wait to be part of Ernest Shackleton’s historic voyage to Antarctica in 1914. Samson wants to feel the snow under his paws and the wind on his face as he races across the ice fields. Most of all he wants to help his humans chart the unexplored continent. Fellow sled dog Bummer just wants to get through the voyage in one piece. Why face down a dangerous, icy wasteland when he could stay inside his kennel, warm and safe?

When their ship, the Endurance, becomes trapped in sea ice, the dogs and men have no way home. Their journey becomes not about glory, but about survival in unthinkable conditions. Samson, Bummer and the other dogs will have to put aside their differences and band together to rescue their humans — and themselves.

Why I like this book:

What an impressive way to engage teens in history than to hand them a suspenseful, action-packed animal adventure about the infamous Endurance expedition to Antarctica. Katrina Charman well-crafted novel weaves animal fantasy with a true tale about survival in brutal conditions. Her novel is daring, thrilling and dangerous. The dogs face cracking ice, the loss of their ship, leopard seals, killer whales, starvation, and a drifting ice floe that carries them away from land. Survive they must. This epic tale is packed with grit, courage, determination, teamwork, friendship and humor.

A handful of black and white drawings add significantly to the vivid and urgent survival setting. They show the sled dogs working as a team to save lives, the treacherous conditions, the ship being crushed by ice, whales following the life rafts, and the rescue.

The narrative is told in third person from the dogs point of view, with Samson and Amundsen competing for lead dog. Readers will like Samson because he’s wise, steady, loyal and tough. He compassionately encourages other dogs, like Bummer, to find their strengths. Amundsen is the bold Alpha dog who challenges Samson and is mean. But the high-stakes of surviving their desperate situation outweigh their differences. There are lighter moments with Sally and her four playful puppies, and the ship’s feline, Mrs. Chippy.

Katrina Charman  provides very detailed information at the end of the story about the real journey, with a time-line that matches each chapter and offers real-life information. There is a section with information about the 64 dogs selected for the expedition and their names and detailed information about the expedition, the crew of 26 men and their positions, including Frank Hurley, the official photographer and George Marston, an artist who captured the expedition through his paintings.

Katrina Charman lives in a small village in the middle of South East England with her husband and three daughters. Katrina has wanted to be a children’s writer ever since she was eleven, when her school teacher set her class the task of writing an epilogue to Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Her teacher thought her writing was good enough to send to Roald Dahl himself. Sadly, she never got a reply, but the experience ignited her love of reading and writing. She is the author of the Survival Tails: The Titanic, the first volume in the series. Survival Tails: World War II, will be released in August 2019. She invites you to visit her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from library copy.

Lord of the Mountain by Ronald Kidd

Lord of the Mountain

Ronald Kidd, Author

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, Sep. 1, 2018

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Pages: 296

Themes: Family Secrets, Grief, Family Relationships,  Mountain Music, Self-discovery

Synopsis:

Nate’s family has a secret. And it’s wrapped up in a song. Ever Since Nate Owens saw a needle glide across a 78-rpm record, he’s been fascinated by the science and beauty of music. Before long, he is devouring Popular Science magazines and making his own crystal set radio.

It’s the summer of 1927 when Victor Records producer Ralph Peer comes to Nate’s hometown of Bristol,  Tennessee/Virginia, to audition “mountain music” singers and musicians. There’s no way Nate is going to miss the chance to get inside the studio and learn the mechanics of the recording business. He becomes friends with the technical team, the soon-to-become famous Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. The only problem is, Nate’s preacher father hates music and says it is evil — forbidding it in his home and his church. When he discovers that Nate’s been hanging around musicians and producers, he comes down hard. With nothing left for Nate at home, he decides to take off in search of answers to his family’s troubled past. He carries with him a picture of a grave site that says “Sweet Sister” on it.

Nate hops a train with the help of a man he meets, Bill. Bill quickly educates Nate about the rails — when to get on and off, how to  hide his possessions in his shoes, and the dangers he may encounter. He learns that the homeless are called “hoboes” and that they have “jungle” camps in towns near train routes. They offer a place to sleep, shared food, safety from the police and other thugs.

Nate ends up in Poor Valley, where the Carter Family lives. They welcome him into their home and Nate begins to work for the family. They travel around the mountains in search of songs they can record for Victor Records. Along the way Nate stumbles upon his own past and the secrets that have driven his father to religious fanaticism.

Set during the “big bang” of country music, this exciting historical novel tells of one boy’s journey of self-discovery at a moment when an entire region was finding its voice for the first time.

Why I like this book:

Ronald Kidd has written a captivating novel that cleverly weaves together a 13-year-old boy’s journey to discover the deep wounds that grip his father/family, and pursue his love of music and the science behind the recording industry. Wow, this novel is a treasure for readers who like historical fiction. I learned so much about  the birth of country music, which was known in the late 1920s as “mountain music!” A lot of research went into this novel.

The main characters and minor ones are multi-layered and unforgettable. You get a real feel for the musical details of the period and the fabric of the community –the Carters and hoboes included. Nate is a strong and determined character, not willing to accept his father’s fanatic rantings to his tent congregation. He’s driven by his passion for science and learning. His younger brother, Arnie, wants to be his father. Nate’s mother is gentle and seems to understand Nate’s father for reasons he can’t understand. His best friend Sue Dean, is a lovely balance to Nate, but she also has her secrets. Both their families are dysfunctional.

The setting is vivid and realistic. The plot is bold and adventurous with an ending readers won’t forget.  Readers looking for something new and creative will enjoy this book. This is a perfect book for school libraries.

What a pleasure it was to read Ronald Kidd’s novel. I look forward to catching up with his other novels.  As other’s have mentioned, this novel reminds you of Vince Vawter’s work.

Ronald Kidd is the author of 13 novels for young readers, including the highly acclaimed “Night on Fire” and “Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial.” His novels of adventure, comedy, mystery, and American history have received the Children’s Choice Award, an Edgar Award nomination, and honors from the American Library Association, the International Reading Association, the Library of Congress, and the New York Public Library. He is a two-time O’Neill playwright who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Greg Pattridge hosts the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Sergeant Reckless by Patricia McCormick

Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero

Patricia McCormick, Author

Jacopo Bruno, Illustrations

Balzer + Bray, Historical Fiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes: Horse, Korean War, Animal war hero, Marines

Opening: The small red mare whinnied for her supper.. But Korea was at war. Towns were shattered. Fields were scorched. And the racetrack was abandoned. No one paid attention to the hungry little horse.

Synopsis:

The inspiring true story of Reckless, the brave little horse who became a Marine.

When a group of US Marines fighting in the Korean War found a bedraggled mare, they wondered if she could be trained to as a packhorse. They had no idea that the skinny, underfed horse had one of the biggest and bravest hearts they’d ever known. And one of the biggest appetites!

Soon Reckless showed herself more than willing to carry ammunition too heavy for the soldiers to haul. As cannons thundered and shells flew through the air, she marched into battle—again and again—becoming the only animal ever to officially hold military rank—becoming Sgt. Reckless—and receive two Purple Hearts.

Why I like this book:

Patricia McCormick’s engaging picture book about a hungry little mare adopted by a group of Marines, will win the hearts of both horse and animals lovers, and historians. There aren’t many books written about the Korean War, which will add another layer of intrigue and interest. Reckless saved thousands of lives as she made 51 trips and carried 9,000 pounds of heavy ammunition up the hill into battle while shells rained down around her. She also enjoyed sneaking into one of the soldier’s tents to sleep and interrupting poker games. Reckless was the only animal to ever hold a rank. This story has a happy and satisfying ending.

Readers will be mesmerized by the illustration by graphic designer Jacopo Bruno. They are exquisite and at times life-like. Bruno’s format is reminiscent of a well-loved scrapbook.  Readers can’t help be drawn into the this little-known story of the love of a group of soldiers for this very determined, trusting, courageous, and loyal mare.

Resources: There is an author’s note at the end that talks about Reckless, the war and how the she lived out her days in a grassy compound at Camp Pendleton in California, and a real-life photograph of Reckless receiving her six medals.

Patricia McCormick is a former journalist and a two-time National Book Award finalist whose books include Cut, Sold, Never Fall Down, The Plot to Kill Hitler and the young readers edition of I Am Malala. She lives in New York. Visit McCormick at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.