Linked by Gordon Korman

Linked

Gordon Korman, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Jul. 20, 2021

Pages: 256

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Hate, Tolerance, Holocaust, Jews, KKK, Self-discovery, Friendship, Community 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Link, Michael, and Dana live in a quiet town in Chokecherry, Colorado. But it’s woken up very quickly when someone sneaks into middle school and vandalizes it with a swastika.

Nobody can believe it. How could such a symbol of hate end up in the middle of their school? Who would do such a thing?

Because Michael was the first person to see it, he’s the first suspect. Because Link is one of the most popular guys in school, everyone’s looking to him to figure it out. And because Dana’s the only Jewish girl in the whole town, everyone’s treating her more like an outsider than ever.

The mystery deepens as more swastikas begin to appear. Some students decide to fight back and start a project to bring people together instead of dividing them further. The closer Link, Michael, and Dana get to the truth, the more there is to face-not just the crimes of the present, but the crimes of the past.

With Linked, Gordon Korman, the author of the acclaimed novel Restart, poses a mystery for all readers where the who did it? isn’t nearly as important as the why?

Why I liked Linked:

Gordon Korman’s inspiring novel is about students working together to make a statement that HATE will not be tolerated in their middle school. Korman’s contemporary story is a timely read for young people. It connects the past, present and future into a powerful and important MUST read novel about hope.

Alternating voices allows readers to really get into the thoughts and emotions of well-developed  and believable main characters — Link, Michael, Dana, Caroline, Pouncey — and many more supporting characters. Link is the popular athlete, known to pull pranks with his group of friends, until a sobering family secret emerges. Dana is the only Jewish girl in school and feels like an outsider.  Michael is president of the art club and Pouncey’s grandfather is rumored to have been a member of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Everyone is suspect, especially after 26 more swastikas continue to appear.

Together the students decide to make a statement and make a paper chain with six million links, each honoring a Holocaust victim. Before long, the entire community, country and world are involved in the paper chain project about tolerance and remembrance — thanks to a popular and questionable  “YouTube” video blogger who covers the events. There are many more moments in this story that demonstrate how kids can make a difference.

The plot is strong, realistic and relevant today.  Kudos to the author for writing a story that introduces readers to the horrors of the Holocaust, racism and the KKK in an understandable way. He shows how the past still can influence the present and how hate is not acceptable. There are many dark secrets and major twists and turns in this engaging mystery. The ending surprised me. The most important takeaway for readers is that the stories of the Holocaust and its victims must be told to each new generation and not forgotten.  

This story has a lot of heart and is one of my favorite reads this year. Although the subject of hate may seem heavy, it is balanced well with the students’ response and Korman’s uplifting writing and sense of humor throughout the story. And of course there is a lot of typical middle school drama in the mix. Make sure you read the author’s note about the story at the end.

Gordon Korman is the #1 bestselling author of such modern classics as Restart, War Stories, Slacker, Whatshisface, Ungifted, and This Can’t be Happening at Macdonald Hall (published when he was fourteen). He lives in New York with his family. Visit Korman 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. 

*I won this review copy of Linked on Greg Pattridge’s website Always in the Middle

 

 

Raquela’s Seder by Joel Edward Stein

Raquela’s Seder

Joel Edward Stein, Author

Sara Ugolotti, Illustrator

Kar – Ben Publishing,  Fiction, Feb. 1, 2022

Suitable for ages: 5-9

Themes: Passover, Seder, Jews, Spain, Inquisition

Opening: “Raquela had a secret. On Friday nights, she followed her parents down to the wine cellar under their house. There, her mother would light Shabbat candles, and her father would say a prayer over the wine. That secret room was the only place the Rivera family could celebrate Shabbat.”

Synopsis:

Raquela longs to celebrate Passover, even though Jews are not allowed to practice their religion in Inquisition-era Spain. King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella punish those who are caught observing Jewish customs or celebrating Jewish holidays. 

Raquela’s papa is the best fisherman in town. He knows that “you must think like a fish” and finds their best hiding places. He understands Raquela’s wish to celebrate a Passover and he has the perfect place.  Before Passover begins, he asks Mama to bake flat matzah and mix some dried fruit with nuts and spices and asks Raquela to gather some other items, including a table cloth.

The next day before sundown, Raquela and Mama quietly meet Papa at the beach and they sail to Papa’s favorite fishing hole. There he creates a unique Passover seder for the family, safe from any spies. And Raquela celebrates her first seder under the starry night. Papa explains the meaning of the foods and tells the Passover story in remembrance of the enslaved Jews in Egypt and their exodus to freedom. He also has a hope that “one day we will also be free in Spain — free to live as Jews.”

Why I like Raquela’s Seder:

Joel Edward Stein seamlessly weaves together two historic time periods of Jewish oppression into a moving Passover story of hope and freedom. His gentle text will engage children and will leave them feelings hopeful. Sara Ugolotti’s beautiful illustrations compliment the story, especially her stunning double-spreads of the family celebrating under a starry night. She cleverly includes some historic scenes of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. And look at that stunning cover!

I must admit, I didn’t know about how the Jews were treated in Spain. Make sure you check out the author’s Historical Note about the Spanish Inquisition, which lasted more than 350 years, ending in 1834. There is also a more detailed discussion about the Passover celebration. This book is certainly one to add to a home library. It is such a moving tale and relevant in today’s world.

Activities: This book would pair well with Pippa’s Passover Plate by our PPBF author/friend, Vivian Kirkfield. Explain the significance of each of the items on a seder plate and encourage your child to draw, cut, and glue their own plates with construction paper.   

Joel Edward Stein is a former staff writer for CTB/McGraw-Hill. A member of the Society of Chidlren’s Book Writers and Illustrators, he lives in Florida with his wife, son, two birds, and a tortoise. His books include A Hanukkah with Mazel, The Pigeon Man, and The Capture of Rafael Ortega.

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.

*Reviewed from a library book.

 

 

Village of Scoundrels by Margi Preus

Village of Scoundrels

Margi Preus, Author

Amulet Books, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Jews, Teens, Underground movements, Refugees, France, WW II, German occupation, Smuggling, Community

Synopsis:

Forging documents, smuggling people over the border, carrying coded messages for the French resistance — the teenagers of Les Lauzes find ways to help the refugees in their midst. For the first years of World War II, the remoteness of their village offers them a certain amount of protection and the townspeople take on the task of sheltering Jewish children rescued form French concentration camps. But as the Nazi occupiers infiltrate every corner of France, the noose tightens, and the operation becomes increasingly dangerous.

First, a French policeman, Officer Perdant, is sent to spy on their doings and uncover the village “scoundrels” — the teenagers, pastors and others who have been aiding the visitors. Little does he know that the villagers watch him. And when the Gestapo arrives with a list of names, the young people must race against time to get their new friends to safety.

Based on a true story, Village of Scoundrels tells how ordinary people opposed the Nazi occupation and stood up for what was right, in spite of intensifying peril.

Why I like this book:

Margi Preus‘ The Village of Scoundrels is a courageous and suspenseful tale that has many heart-stopping moments. Expertly researched, her story is based on the true stories of real people that are woven together into a fictionalized tale that involves danger and a desire to save human lives at the risk of losing their own. Led by their hearts and the will to do good, this extraordinary mountain village of scoundrels — teens, pastors, teachers, farmers and shop owners — stand together and save the lives of 3,200 Jews.

The story is set in Les Lauzes, a village surrounded by beautiful forests and farmland. It has a high school that “promotes peace and international unity” and attracts teens from all over France and Europe. There is no single location for this non-traditional school, as classes are held in many different places throughout the village. The students live in a variety of boarding houses in the village. So it is easy for Jewish children to fit in when they are rescued and brought to the school.

The story is driven by a cast of young and brave characters! There is John-Paul Filon, 17, a Jew who is the master forger of documents, identity cards, and ration books. He even forges a letter so he can attend medical school. Céleste, 16, is a Parisian and has become a courier for the resistance. Philippe, 17, is a red-headed student from Normandy who wears a Boy Scout uniform and helps smuggle Jewish refugees across the border into Switzerland. Henni, 17, and Max, 21, are concentration-camp survivors from Germany and meet again in Les Lauzes. The school provides a home for Henni, before she and Max flee to Switzerland. Jules is the local 10-year-old goatherd who knows the mountains, town and its secrets better than anyone. He passes messages and creates diversions. French Officer Perdant makes Jules his spy and their relationship is quite comic, as he outsmarts Perdant.

Madame Desault is a Jew from Paris, who rescues the children from the French concentration camps and brings them by train to the village. Madame Créneau is the organizer of the network  and finds safe places for the refugees and smuggles children and others to Switzerland.  Pastor Autin preaches peace and practices non-violent resistance.

I always welcome a new WW II book, because I realize that many of the survivors will soon be gone. It is so refreshing to read their stories. Each story offers a different perspective about how ordinary adults and children from many different countries come to the aid of the Jews and make a difference.

Favorite quote:

“We will resist,” Céleste whispered to herself. “Without fear.” After the sermon, Céleste had felt calm. Here was someone who knew what to do. Even if the whole world had gone mad, there was one man who knew what was right and was determined to live it. She felt a sense of purpose. She felt that everyone felt the same way, although no one spoke of it again. They simply began to live it.  Pg. 154

Resources: Make sure you check out the Cast of Characters and a Pronunciation Guide at the beginning of the book. Read the Epilogue, because the author matches her characters with the real-life people who inspired her story. She includes photographs and detailed information about each person. There also is information on the school and guesthouses, the French Boy Scouts and concentration camps. She also includes a timeline and additional resources.

Margi Preus is the author of the Newbery Honor book Heart of of a Samurai and other books for young reachers that include West of the Moon, Shadow on the Mountain and The Bamboo Sword. Visit her at her website and on twitter @MagriPreus.

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.

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.