Monthly Archives: January 2013

Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials

by Stephanie Hemphill
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Poetry

Personal Evaluation: I’m not really that interested in the Salem witch trial history, but I found it interesting to read what could have been happening. I guess I don’t know that much about it, so I’m not sure whether the accusation that the girls were making it all up was true or not, but it was a different take on it than I remember getting in history class.

What might interest children: My roommate looked at this and said it was exactly the kind of thing she would have loved as a teenager and that it dealt with a non-fiction topic but as fiction which made it more accessible. I think a lot of teenage girls would find this really compelling with the whole Twilight / vampire phenomenon.

All the Broken Pieces

by Ann E. Burg
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Poetry

Personal Evaluation: This was another really sad, moving book. It’s amazing how well you get to know the characters in a novel in verse. Luckily this one leaves you with the makings for a happy ending, but still, I was reading it on my lunch break and had to stop because the lump in my throat was too big.

What might interest children: I think it would definitely get a conversation going at home about the Vietnam War. In fact, this book might be better for grownups who actually have a context for the war. But the characters are so timeless that you don’t even realize it takes place 40+ years ago. You’re just really rooting for Matt and his family. There are some really strong male mentor characters, which is great to see.

Heartbeat

by Sharon Creech
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Category: Poetry

Personal Evaluation: I went to the shelf looking for Love That Dog, which was out but this one was there instead. I love Sharon Creech so I figured any book was good, and I was right. I got a little teary at the end (and a few places in the middle).

What might interest children: Annie has a lot going on: she is twelve years old, loves running and drawing, has a grandfather living with her family who is showing signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia, and her mother is having a baby. Annie loves running with her friend Max, who other girls are starting to notice and talk about how cute he is. Kids (especially girls) who are dealing with any (or multiple) of these issues would get a lot out of this book. It is short and sweet but packs a punch, and really shows how much emotion you can get into verse instead of the same story told in narration and dialogue.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

by Avi
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Historical Fiction

Personal Evaluation: I like Avi’s books in a very middling way and this one was no exception. His writing is good, storylines are solid, he just happens to pick characters and situations that I don’t particularly care for. I have long outgrown the mouse/hamster/rat genre, so Poppy and co. isn’t my favorite. And reading about the sea doesn’t hold the same enchantment for me as for some kids. That being said, I liked Charlotte well enough and the story was interesting enough.

What might interest children: All the adventure of the high seas! Even though Charlotte’s a girl, Avi probably has enough clout with boys from his other books to get them to read this. Plus, every other character in the book is male. There is lots of danger and suspense, and deaths from storms and guns. Charlotte, like Calpurnia Tate, is feisty and a feminist ahead of her time. I like how she handles herself with the all-male crew.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

by Jacqueline Kelly
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Category: Historical Fiction

Personal Evaluation: I love feisty girl books and Callie Vee, our heroine, is definitely a feisty girl.  As the middle of 7 children, and the only girl, she immediately stands apart from her brothers.  Being 1899, she is treated differently by her parents, especially her mother who is determined that being eleven years old means the time has come for Callie to be trained in the ways of providing for a future husband, activities she detests.  She finds an unlikely alliance in her reclusive, science-obsessed grandfather, who pays as little attention as possible to Callie’s siblings.  So many scenes in this book had me laughing out loud (like when Grandfather gives her some whiskey and she hiccups all through dinner, to the delight of her brothers, or when a younger brother offers her one of his beloved kittens for comfort because a favorite kitten was “ indisposed”) and cheering Callie on in her quest to become a famous scientist – or at the very least go to college.  I liked that the book ended on a hopeful note and would love to see a sequel where she takes on the realm of courtship, seeing how she dealt with her oldest, and favorite, brother’s courtship.

What might interest children: This book made me think of a fifth-grader I had once who, in a discussion of serfdom, was really struggling with the unfairness of it. Callie has a similar struggle, and a kid, especially a girl, who is realizing the unfairness of the world will identify with and root for her. It’s also just a downright funny book, and there is plenty of science and nature in it for kids who are interested in that.

by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Historical Fiction

Personal Evaluation: This one could probably also work for “of interest to girls” because on the surface it is a really girly book and much description is given to clothes and rosy cheeks and ribbons and dolls. But at its core it is about how being a kind person, a “princess”, is better than being greedy and rich. The heroine has wealth, loses it, and regains it, and through it all remains a princess in spirit and her kindness to others comes back to her. It also takes place in the London of the 1800s and there are plenty of hints as to how much a sixpence could buy, and the styles of the times.

What might interest children: Sara is so, so good at pretending and telling stories. She is also the kind of person a child would want to be friends with and would really root for her situation of poverty to be resolved happily, which it is. This was a book that my cousin read aloud to her two kids, so read it to keep up with them, and they both (girl and boy) adored it. There’s something so charming about Sara, even beyond the lavish descriptions of her privileged lifestyle.

Lone Star Ranger

by Zane Grey
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

Category: Western

Personal Evaluation: This one is also for adults because there just aren’t many westerns for kids in my library system. This one has the benefit of having a young girl as one of the main characters, and she gets rescued by the hero of the story.

What might interest children: Buck is a likeable character and tries to do the right thing, even though he lives in a world with many fewer laws than ours and doing the right thing is more dangerous for him. He is admirable in that he leaves his parents as a young man and takes care of himself on the run. I imagine that if a girl picked this up, she might identify with Jenny. Overall, though, not really for kids, and again, I don’t see lots of kids wanting Westerns, at least not on the East Coast where I work.

The Running Iron

by Lauran Paine
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

Category: Western

Personal Evaluation: I was skeptical that I would be able to read three westerns in quick succession and have them all be distinct stories, but I was surprised by the different plots the three I read have. This one has Native Americans intermarried with cowboys and the plot revolved around racism and cattle rustling. There is a lot of jargon and cowboy slang that I just don’t know the meaning of, which was sometimes annoying. At the same time, I tried to skim this book but partly it was interesting and partly I’m not familiar enough with any sort of formula there may be so that was very difficult.

What might interest children: I really don’t see kids checking out westerns, so I’m not sure they are interested in the genre, per se. But there is lots of adventure and shooting and horses, which are all popular elements of any kids books.

Mr. Tucket

by Gary Paulsen
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Western

Personal Evaluation: This book is full of danger, adventure, and learning how to “rough it”. Francis finds himself separated from his family on the Oregon Trail but, when it seems possible to catch back up to them, makes the remarkable choice not to. They are different from Paulsen’s Brian books in that he has a mentor, but besides that they are classic Gary Paulsen. My library’s copy actually has the 5 Tucket books in one volume so I sneaked and read the end of the last one to find out if there was a happy ending. I was really pretty skeptical when one of the categories we had to read for this project was Westerns and had trouble finding them, but this one was pretty good. I’m still not convinced they’re worth a whole category in our project, but I consider my horizons expanded.

What might interest children: Lovers of Hatchet and other surviving-on-the-land books will enjoy these. Francis is still just a boy with a rifle, he gets shaky the first time he kills a deer and has to learn the most basic common sense about living in the wilderness, especially among Indians. It would also be a book for kids interested in historical fiction about the 1850s (Little House lovers, etc).

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

by Bette Bao Lord
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Category: Humor

Personal Evaluation: Shirley Temple Wong is hilarious in her earnestness and inspirational in the obstacles she overcomes: choosing her American name, learning English well enough to do well in school by the end of the year; being away from her beloved cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents; befriending the class bully; learning many, many things about American culture, especially how to play baseball. It is a heartwarming tale that also touches on some of the more difficult aspects of growing up, especially in a new culture. Working as I do with such a large Chinese population, I also feel more knowledgeable about Chinese culture – an added bonus!

What might interest children: Baseball! And Shirley’s tomboyishness, and desire to fit in in her new country. Also the way she deals with her bully.