Most Newbery winners and honor books are fiction. Sometimes they’re non-fiction. On occasion books of poetry are awarded, such as “Dark7999433 Emperor & Other Poems of the Night” by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen (Newbery Honor 2011).

Each of twelve lyrical poems is presented as a double spread. Each explores the mystery of an animal in the night forest and is further explained in a sidebar. In the poem, “Night-Spider’s Advice”, she says “eat your triumphs/ eat your mistakes” referring primarily to those unfortunate insects caught in her web. In the succinct sidebar we learn that most orb spiders, at dawn, eat their damaged webs for the nutrients needed for the next night of silk spinning.

“Dark Emperor”, the title poem, is a dramatic concrete poem written in the shape of the great horned howl. The poem speaks of owl’s “hooked face and/hungry eye” as he hunts a mouse. The sidebar tells us that owl flies silently due to his soft-edged feathers, so that its prey never hears his approach.

In “Cricket Speaks”, cricket tells us all day he is “napping and gnawing.” By “midnight/the trilling hour” he sings a “single/ searing/ unstoppable/ sound.” The sidebar explains how noisy the woods is at night, due to chirping frogs and hooting owls. But the loudest sound is made by the stridulating of the male cricket. One wing scrapes against the other, which has a serrated edge, and this can make a deafening sound. Stridulate. I love this word, which is included in the glossary. I’m looking for as many ways as I can to use it.

The illustrations are ink prints made from linoleum cuts then painted with gouache. The process is more fully described in the book. The resulting artwork is beautifully detailed and invites the eye to scan and discover. You might want to try the art form for yourself.

This book can be used in the classroom to study various forms of poetry, for natural science, for vocabulary, for artwork, but mostly it’s a great read.

I now plan to stridulate. I’m clapping, rubbing, brushing, slapping. No wonder Aesop’s grasshopper plays a violin—or maybe that’s just the Disney version of the “Ant and the Grasshopper”. I’ll supply links on my blog.

1934 The Grasshopper and the Ants – Walt Disney http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wM1DgihKHVI

So…the last four reviews I’ve written have been books that have are all the Newbery Winners of 2011, all books published last year. If you’ve read some of them, you might want to leave a comment telling whether you’ve liked them. In fact, you might want to vote for your favorite. It’s always interesting to discuss books you’ve read. So please let me know. For review those books are

Moon Over Manifest

Turtle in Paradise

Heart of the Samurai

One Crazy Summer

Dark Emperors and Other Poems of the Night

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My choice for the Newbery Award for 2011 would have gone to “One Crazy Summer” (Amistad – HarperCollins 2010) by Rita Williams-Garcia. It is6609764 one of the group of five winners. That is, a Newbery Honor.

In 1968 at the height of the civil rights movement, three black sisters, Delphine, (eleven years old), Vonetta (nine), and Fern (seven) travel from Brooklyn to Oakland, California to visit their mother, Cecile.

Delphine only has fleeting memories of her mother who abandoned them and Papa days after Fern was born. Now Cecile, who calls herself Nzila, writes poems and prints them on a press in her kitchen. She has neither time nor warmth for her children and so sends them to the People’s Center summer camp each day. The Black Panthers run the camp, feed the poor, and educate the children of poor black Oakland to what they called revolution, but we today see as “black pride.”

Through Delphine’s practical eyes we begin to understand a changing world where she, in charge of her sisters, does not want them to make a “grand Negro spectacle” of themselves on the airplane and where the summer camp teachers insist they are “black” when she and her sisters insists they are “colored”.

Through the responsible and straight-forward Delphine, we experience the rifts that occur between “showy crowy” Vonetta, sweet baby Fern, and herself. Each character is distinct and well-developed, and we feel we know and love this family. In fact, we’ll never forget them.

As the story unfolds, and as the girls develop black pride, we begin to discover, through Delphine’s eyes, why their mother left them. We see the fragile connection between mother and daughters build to an honest, aching climax. We see how a political movement affects personal life in the example of one family. This is an emotionally charged and honest—oh so honest—novel. A jewel.

My second “reading” of this book was listening to the Recorded Books production of “One Crazy Summer,” read by Sisi Aisha Johnson. Ms. Johnson’s inflection is a perfect portrayal and support of the author’s voice, giving just enough softness to Delphine’s voice and Fern’s gentle little girl-ness with one half ounce of sass added in. Her adult voices and men’s voices are all spot on. What a fine collaboration between reader and author.

“One Crazy Summer” also won the Coretta Scott King Award, I’m happy to report.

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“Heart of a Samurai: Based on the True Story of Manjiro Nakahama” (Amulet 2010) by Margi Preus won a Newbery Honor in 2011.

7739968In a freak storm at sea, Manjiro, a teenaged Japanese fisherman, is shipwrecked on a barren Pacific island with three companions in 1841. Just short of starving, they’re rescued by an American whaling boat. Amidst the brutal but fascinating whale hunting adventures, we experience the cultural distrust between the Japanese, who had isolated themselves for centuries and see the Americans as stinking barbarians, and the Americans who see the Japanese as godless cannibals.

Fortunately, the ship’s Captain Whitfield befriends the open-minded and curious Manjiro. When he drops Manjiro’s compatriots in Hawaii, he offers Manjiro the opportunity to continue the adventure—whaling–and sail to Massachusetts to be his son.

Manjiro attends school in New Bedford where he works to bridge the mistrust and misunderstanding of his country. When he finally returns to his homeland, the Japanese imprison him, until he’s able to explain to his countrymen the marvels and industry of Americans.

Had Manjiro’s life not been set askew, he would have remained a fisherman in Japan. His adventures led him to become a high-ranking Samurai who helped bridge the differences of two great cultures. The drawings of the actual person, Manjiro, are sprinkled throughout this beautiful page-turning cultural and sea-faring adventure.

“The Secret World of Whales” (NRDC/Chronicle 2011) by Charles Siebert is the perfect companion piece, offering the history and early technology of the brutal business of whaling. Eight thousand years ago, people world-wide risked their lives in small boats to hunt a whale which would feed their village for a winter.

10334325The invention of the harpoon with trailing rope was bad news for the whale. By the thirteenth century, the Basque who live between Spain and France, supplied all Europe with whale meat, blubber boiled down for lamp oil and machine lubricants. Bones, skin, and baleen were used for shoes, fence posts, and whips.

By the nineteenth century, world economy was built on whale products and these stately beings were hunted nearly to extinction. Scientists began researching and discovered that whales’ brains are much like humans. They sing. They’re compassionate. They dream. Work began to save the remaining whales and continues today. The final chapter relates interactions between humans and whales that moved this reader to tears.

I recommend you read both these books.

(end of review, but there’s more)

I hope you’re reading these books and perhaps ranking the 5 Newbery Winner/Honors. Next up are: “One Crazy Summer” and “Dark Emperor”.

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“Moon Over Manifest” (Delacorte 2010) by Clare Vanderpool won the middle-grade literature jackpot, the Newbery Award, for 2011.8293938

In 1936 Kansas, 12 year-old Abilene drops into the town of Manifest. That is, she literally drops off a freight train after years of riding the rails with her daddy Gideon. The Great Depression and the dry scorching dust bowl are both in full swing.

There are two stories here. The second is set in the same town, but 1917 through 1918 when Abilene’s daddy grew up–the time of World War I and the years that the Spanish influenza killed more thousands of people than did the war itself.

Rough and tumble Abilene aims to find out about her daddy’s earlier life, but it’s not easy, in spite of consulting Miss Sadie, the Hungarian “diviner”, who tells stories about and sheds insights into a huge cast of townspeople from 1917. They’re immigrants from all over Europe who worked in the coal mine and whereas it was a hard life it was a happier time for the people of Manifest. Twists and turns in this densely plotted book will surely surprise you.

6871737“Turtle in Paradise” (Random House 2010) by Jennifer L. Holm is the first of four Newbery Honor books and is also set during the Great Depression, but in colorful tropical Key West, Florida.

The 11-year-old protagonist, similar to Abilene, is likeable, smart and hard-shelled, which is why she’s called Turtle. Similarly, she has only one parent who has sent her away, but in this case, a mother who remains in New Jersey where she earns a living as a housekeeper.

Turtle is sent to her aunt’s house and must endure four pesky but industrious boy cousins who run a mobile baby-care operation called the Diaper Gang. When Turtle finds a treasure map it looks like she might end up on Easy Street. I appreciated the stream-lined plot.

The Newbery Award is decided each year by a committee of fifteen hand-picked librarians. Interestingly, they must all agree on the winner, so certainly some negotiations and deal-making must ensue, but I can only guess because it is a secret process. You can bet that the pool of winners and honors will be fine books, but I would have ranked these five books differently. You’ll find out more on my blog.

And here’s the blog part that goes beyond the review…

Both these authors used family stories–their grandparents’ stories–as the basis for their books. And each book explores the value of family.

409184Jennifer Holm is the author of two other Newbery Honor books–“Our Only May Amelia” (Harper Collins 1999) and “Penny from Heaven” (Random House 2006). But she hasn’t won the jackpot (the Newbery Award) which would pretty much ensure89377 that her book would remain in print forever and be in every children’s library collection, probably for the duration of book publishing and/or  the existence of libraries.

The jackpot winner is Clare Vanderpool debut novel, so you can hope and expect more good books to come from this author.

The other three books that I’ll be reviewing in my next posts are “Heart of a Samurai” (Amulet 2010) by Margi Preus; “Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night” (Houghton Mifflin 2010) by Joyce Sidman; and “One Crazy Summer” (Amistad/Harper Collins 2010) by Rita Williams-Garcia. All four novels, from the group of five books are historic fiction. And the two yet to be reviewed are FABULOUS. I think you all should read them or the ones that sound interesting and then we’ll rank them the way we see fit. Deal?

Thanks for reading. Please comment. It’s easy to subscribe and get a notice about these posts once every three weeks.

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News Gazette, Sunday, July 3, 2011

 

MIDDLE GRADE READERS, “Words in the Dust” (Arthur A. Levine 2011) is the story of an Afghan girl with a cleft lip, written by Trent Reedy after serving0-545-26125-2 as a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. He so much wanted to write Zulaikha’s story that he earned a master’s degree in writing children’s literature at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. And for that we can all be glad.

Through a young girl’s eyes we see life in an Afghan family. Zulaikha is ruthlessly teased about the deformity of her mouth as the marriage of her beautiful sister is being arranged. In between doing her daily chores, (patching the walls with cow dung, milking the cow, chasing and bathing willful young brothers, washing family clothes, picking pebbles from rice, cooking meals, and errands to the bazaar where she is harassed by mean-spirited boys,) Zuaikha worries what bride-price she would bring to her father or whether she’ll be married off at all.

Zulaikha’s own mother was killed by the Taliban for the crime of reading, and her Baba’s second wife, seems overly demanding. At the market, Zulaikha meets Meena, her mother’s friend and a professor before the Taliban denied women professions in education. Meena, in secret, teaches Zulaikha to read and write.

At around the same time, the U.S. Army rolls into town, spots Zulaikha at the bazaar, and offers to surgically correct her cleft lip. Baba, although he’s an affectionate Afghan father, must work with the U.S. army captain—a woman who gives orders to men. In Afghanistan, women are worked like barn animals and, in effect, owned by their fathers and husbands. They don’t give orders, they take them.

In spite of her bleak life, Zulaikha, by the end of the story, has the hope of education and much more possibility than her ill-fated beautiful sister, Zeynab, ever had.

Reading this book is a reminder that the U.S. military cares about the plight of Afghan women and children and is helping to build schools for girls in Afghanistan. A portion of the author’s royalties for this book go to Women for Afghan Women found at www.womenforafghanwomen.org

 

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FOR BEGINNING & MIDDLE GRADE READERS AND THEIR PARENTS: Good News. Books just seem to be getting better and better. Writers, illustrators, and publishers are looking for ways to entice new readers to want to read. And along those lines…

8366238Some of our favorite picture book authors are beginning to write “first chapter” books—those are first novels for young readers that are constructed (you guessed it) in chapters and each has about a hundred pages and lots of illustrations. If you’re a middle grader, you already know this and you might think these books are too easy, but it can be fun to have a quick read to help launch your summer reading.

“Trouble with Chickens: A J.J. Tully Mystery” (Balzer & Bray 2011) by Doreen Cronin (who wrote “Click Clack Moo”) begins a riotous new series in which JJ, a retired search-and-rescue dog, helps a family of chickens. JJ is a hard-boiled dragnet-type detective and you have to be pretty old to know what that means. Take my word, JJ is funny.

In  “Lulu and the Brontosaurus” (Atheneum 2010) Judith Viorst (who wrote “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good,7309806 Very Bad Day”) breaks writing rules such as: the narrator should be invisible to the reader. Ms. Viorst directly addresses the reader throughout with arguments like, “nobody knows how dinosaurs sounded, but in my story they rumble”. I love broken rules. And breaking rules. Very refreshing. The writing, the illustrations by Lane Smith (Stinky Cheese Man) and book design by Molly Leach make this a spectacular first chapter book.

8665921“The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless” (Harper 2011), the first book by Illinois writer Allan Woodrow, is a boy’s dream of a disgusting and funny book. Word’s out that girls will read boys’ books, but boys won’t read girls’ books. Too bad, but this is a boys’ book so everyone should read it. And it’s affordable at $5.99. If you order it from Jane Addams bookstore in downtown Champaign, you’ll be supporting independent bookstores and writers.

 

Patricia Hruby Powell (http://www.talesforallages.com/) is a nationally touring speaker, dancer, storyteller, substitute librarian and children’s book author. Check out her blog for discussion of why to buy from independent bookstores and to hear from at least one of the above authors.

 

As you know, authors create characters. Sometimes they invent characters out of thin air or find them by observing life (and people) around them. But I had a hunch, that maybe the author of “Zachary Ruthless”, Allan Woodrow, just might have gotten his character from his own childhood. I mean, he knew his character so thoroughly. Zachary is so rottenly ruthless (to no avail).

So I asked.

PHP: Allan, Where did you get Zachary Ruthless? I mean, are you Zachary Ruthless?

AW: I’m not nearly as evil as he is. While it may be true that Zachary and I have never been spotted together, that’s mostly because I’m a bit scared of him. Don’t be fooled by his blinking eyes and innocent face. If you see him, run. As fast as you can, far away. I, on the other hand, have a heart of gold. Well, not real gold. Fake, tarnished gold (so if you are an evil doer reading this interview, please do not attempt to steal my golden heart).

Find out more about Allan Woodrow at http://allanwoodrow.com/

Doreen Cronin can be found at http://www.doreencronin.com/

Judith Viorst is at http://www.judithviorst.com/

 

 

 

 

 

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7144221News Gazette – Champaign Urbana (section: Living: Books) Sunday, May 22, 2011

Attention fourth through ninth graders (and everyone else), have you ever wondered about Cuba, that mysterious island ninety miles south of the United States, where we, as U.S. citizens, cannot visit? Here are two great books–both by Cuban-American writers, both Latino Pura Belpre honor books, and both historical fiction, but from vastly different eras.

“The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba” by poet Margarita Engle (Henry Holt 2010) is the story of three women living in the tropical paradise that Cuba seems to be in 1851–if it weren’t for the hideous reality of slavery.

Fredericka Bremer is the Swedish suffragette who left behind her wealth and noble title in order to roam the world experiencing cultures different from her own and to support women’s rights. Elena is the twelve year old daughter of European-descent wealthy plantation owners who is trapped inside her home and the system that will soon have her married off to a rich man of her class. Cecilia is the fifteen year old African born slave who translates, English-to-Spanish, for Fredericka, and who is pregnant by the husband her owner (Elena’s father) has selected for her.

In this lyrical book, each woman, in her own voice, describes her transformation as a result of the other two. And particularly due to Elena’s sacrifice, they together have a plan and hopes that will improve their lives and those of the next generation.

 

7453870“90 Miles to Havana” by Enrique Garcia-Gilbis (Roaring Brook 2010) is the story of nine year old Julian and his two older brothers who were sent from Cuba by their parents in 1961 during the revolution in which Fidel Castro came to power. In Florida as part of Operation Pedro Pan, they live in an orphan camp, so crowded that the authorities have given over power to a boy their own age–a particularly cruel bully. If your passion is drawing, he’ll crush your drawing pastels, he’ll make you sleep on the bathroom floor, he’ll have your brothers sent away. Unless you can find a way out.

Both these books are beautifully written page-turners.

 

Read an interview with Cuban-American author/storyteller Antonio Sacre and to join the discussion by responding.

 

Here’s a little run-down on the history surrounding 90 Miles to Havana and a mini-history of Cuba in the 1960’s and beyond: Fidel Castro overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959 to install a new dictatorship. Cubans left their country for various reasons. Many who owned homes were stripped of them and their possessions. They feared for their safety or for their lives.

Because Catholicism was the main religion, the Catholic Church was subdued. Education became a communist (Marxist-Leninist) indoctrination. The Castro regime employed informants to detail their neighbors’ spending habits, to find out who their friends were and to report “suspicious” behavior. All land and businesses were taken away from foreigners and Cuban individuals and corporations to become government-owned. So freedoms were stripped.

 

I asked my friend and colleague Antonio about his experience as a Cuban-American. But first a little Antonio-background.

10170075

Antonio is the kind of guy, who you mention and people (well, actually women, in particular) go, “Ohhhhh. Antonio.” I mean, just the sound of his name—Antonio Sacre. Latino passion. Right? Okay, well now that I’ve possibly really embarrassed him (in a good way), we’ll talk to him.

P: Antonio, why and when did your father leave Cuba? Where did he go? (and what did he do?)

A: My father left Cuba in 1961, two years after the Cuban revolution.  For some Cubans, and especially my dad, it is very painful to talk about why and how they left Cuba, partly because of the betrayal they felt after the Cuban revolution, and partly for the sadness they feel at having everything and every place they loved stripped away from them.  It’s safe to say that Cuba was in pretty bad shape in the 1950s, and the Batista government abused the Cuban people and prohibited their freedoms, so when Fidel Castro promised to change the island, many people were filled with hope. However, things soon took a turn for the worse.

My father was in his early 20s, studying medicine at the University of Havana, and on his way to becoming a doctor.  During his residency, some officials from the Cuban revolution told the doctors and residents at the hospital to teach the revolutionary values to their patients. My dad told them he didn’t really care about the politics, he just wanted to treat his patients. His best friend Glauco felt the same way.  One day, when my dad got to the hospital, Glauco wasn’t there, and nobody knew where he was. My dad found out three days later that he was imprisoned for speaking out against Castro, and my dad feared that he would be next.  He sought refuge in the American Embassy in Havana, and he waited there for 8 months to get papers in order to leave the country as a political refugee.

 

He was sent to Mexico, and eventually to Miami, where he joined other members of his family in the exiled Cuban community in a neighborhood called Little Havana. He lived there for some time, hoping that the Cuban revolution and Castro’s communist regime would pass, but it never did.  He then set about the hard task of learning English, passing the medical boards (a big exam you need the pass to be a doctor in the United States of America) and became a doctor in Boston. My dad met my mom, and American woman of Irish descent, and I was born in Boston.

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His friend Glauco remained unjustly imprisoned without a trial and kept in a Cuban jail for 10 years, and was tormented and hounded by the government after his release. He eventually made his way to New York City, and never was able to complete his studies and become a doctor.  Glauco talks with my father every day on the phone, and they see each other a few times  a year.

 

P: So life was disrupted in really extreme ways for many. But your father was able to make his way in the US, where you were born. You’re all-American but you are a part of a strong Cuban-American community, aren’t you?

 

A: I consider myself a Cuban-American, or as my dad calls me, an American with Cuban parts. One of my storytelling friends says that since I am American with a Cuban dad and an Irish-American mom, I am a ‘lerprecano’, a play on the words ‘leprechaun’, the mythical Irish gnome, and ‘chicano’, a US citizen of Mexican descent.

 

As a child, I spoke Spanish with my father and identified very strongly with his culture. I’m proud of my mom’s Irish culture as well, but her great-8387541grandparents came from Ireland, and many of those stories and traditions have been forgotten.
However, my dad’s mother, my grandmother Mimi, and many of my dad’s relatives lived in Little Havana in Miami.  I spent nearly every summer vacation there, and many of my school holidays as well.  I was just there recently. It also became the setting for many of my stories.  Both LA NOCHE BUENA and A MANGO IN THE HAND are set in that neighborhood, and both were directly inspired by the memories I have of living in that neighbor with the exiled Cubans and their American-born children.

 

P: It soon became illegal for a Cuban to leave Cuba and has remained so, so people left in makeshift boats and rafts. You’ve told me about the balseros. Could you say something about that?      http://balseros.miami.edu/PartIIntro.htm

 

A: On one trip to Miami, in 1994, I was able to talk with many of the Cubans who floated over on boats and rafts. In Spanish, the word for raft is “balsa” and these people were called “Balseros.”  Many of them were dissatisfied with the Cuban revolution, and tried to leave. However, they were not allowed to leave Cuba legally.  So, they left illegally, often at night, often on rafts that they hastily put together.  Many of them died on the journey, but they felt they had no other choice.  It’s an amazing story, one that is still to be told in many places.  I admire the courage it takes risk your life to journey to a foreign land, searching for a better life for your family.  Many immigrants still risk their lives to come to the United States, and many sadly die on the journey.  One thing I say to the students I meet is that immigrants don’t risk their lives and sometimes die to get to this country because they want to. They do it because they have to. This influx of immigrants, from literally every part of the world, has added so much to our country.  From my dad, who is still a practicing doctor in Delaware, to the incredible artists, writers, and musicians, to the scientists and teachers (including Albert Einstein in the 1940s), the list of immigrants who continue to contribute to this country is too long, and I’m concerned about how our country handles immigration now.

 

P: Which is all to say that immigrants in the US is what we’re all about–the USA is a land of immigrants. Thanks, Antonio for talking to us. Antonio’s newest book is A Mango in Hand which is a story of dicho’s or Spanish language sayings. His first book was The Barking Mouse. Antonio’s website is: http://www.antoniosacre.com/

 

 

 

 

Patricia Hruby Powell

http://www.talesforallages.com/

 

 

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8466286ATTENTION, MIDDLE GRADERS. Laugh your way through “The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling,” by Maryrose Wood (Balzer & Bray 2010), a story about three children who have been raised by wolves. Like all good puppies, Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia try to please their people. And who wouldn’t want to please their young governess Penelope Lumley, trained at the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. (You’ll wish you had a governess just like Penelope). (I do).

Penelope’s story is told with tongue held firmly in cheek, meaning it’s a satire, meaning that the author is poking fun at manners and rich people, specifically, but not exclusively, of 19th Century British society.

When Penelope’s students are nipping and rolling on the carpet, or howling and panting in the nursery, she must forgo teaching Latin and Geography in favor of table manners, proper introductions (“may I take your umbrella?”) as well as bows and curtsies, in time to present them at the Ashton Place Christmas Ball. But something goes amiss at the party. Who is trying to sabotage the children’s best efforts causing them to behave wolfishly and creating mayhem? And why?

Even the villains are delightful, in their own ways. For instance, Lady Constance Ashton, their mother figure of sorts, is in favor of sending the children to an orphanage so that they might take their “rightful place as burdens on society.” On another occasion she declares she is “tragically late for a luncheon engagement.” You can use these lines and many others with your friends, as I certainly will be doing.

Sprinkled throughout are pithy dollops of wisdom, having been spoken by the academy’s founder, Agatha Swanburne—such as, “When things are looking up there’s no point in looking elsewhere.”

6609748Forgive me when I say, you’ll be howling for more. And you’re in luck. In #2 “The Hidden Gallery” (2011), the Incorrigibles are whisked away from their country estate to London where they meet Simon Harley-Dickerson who aids Penelope and the children in her search for a hidden gallery in the British Museum. Why must they find it? Who is directing them there? Could Penelope’s long lost parents still be alive?

The entire family will be delighted by a read-aloud of the Incorrigibles after dinner. I take full responsibility if you don’t laugh your socks off.

 

Patricia Hruby Powell (www.talesforallages.com) is a nationally touring speaker, dancing storyteller, substitute librarian and children’s book author.

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This is the first of the middle grade book reviews I will be writing for our newspaper in Champaign Urbana–the News Gazette. This ran Sunday, April 10, 2011 and a new review will run once every three weeks.

 

7668424ATTENTION, MIDDLE GRADERS (yes, you — let’s say third- or fourth- through seventh-graders): Every third Sunday, this book column is for YOU to read.

I was immediately attracted to the book “Storyteller” (Wendy Lamb Books 2010) by Patricia Reilly Giff because I’m a storyteller. What could this story tell me about myself? Isn’t that one reason we read? To find out about ourselves and our world?

Elizabeth is sent away from everything familiar — her father, home, friends, school — to live with Aunt Libby in upstate New York so that Pop can work in Australia for a time. To make things worse, she’s plunked into a new school in the middle of the year.

At Aunt Libby’s house, Elizabeth is attracted to an old framed drawing of Zee, who looks oddly like her. Elizabeth starts asking quiet Aunt Libby, her deceased mother’s sister, about this familiar-looking relative who lived in the 18th century during the War for Independence.

Zee tells the story of her Patriot family, farming on the New York frontier. Those loyal to the British king (called Loyalists) were her friends and neighbors until they burned down her house and farm. Zee, 15, had to flee into the woods, leaving her mother behind.

We the readers, have the privilege of hearing Zee, who has seriously burned her hands, describe her barefoot journey through the forest and mountains northward in search of her brother and father, who she thinks are fighting at Fort Dayton for American freedom.

Alternately, Elizabeth has only the drawing, her imagination and research to patch together Zee’s story. We experience the horrors of war, but thankfully, without graphic sensationalism.

Readers will connect with the more familiar plight of Elizabeth’s loneliness, but they’ll be riveted by the life-and-death adventure of Zee.

As Elizabeth uncovers her family history, she and others realize she’s a storyteller. What Elizabeth finds in an antique shop allows us to see the outcome of Zee’s life, just as Elizabeth discovers the truth herself.

 

Patricia Hruby Powell (www.talesforallages.com) is a nationally touring speaker, dancing storyteller, substitute librarian and children’s book author.

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