Review / Nazi Prison Camp Escape

20210912ma_3328Book: Nazi Prison Camp Escape (2020)
Author: Michael Burgan
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)

Opening lines from the book …
On a summer morning in 1942, Bill Ash joined the other prisoners trudging across the sandy ground toward a small concrete building.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1)  The book starts with an exciting escape. Bill Ash goes through quite of few of these escapes from the various POW camps where he was prisoner. And the prison tends to move his around a lot, so we get to see lots of prison-break attempts.

2) I loved the theme of the importance of freedom. Ash knows he can sit out the rest of the war and be treated relatively well as a POW (Prisoner of War). And yet he doesn’t do that. He does make the risk of trying to escape. I found that pretty fascinating.

3) (Slight Spoiler) I did find it interesting that Ash isn’t actually part of the “Great Escape” itself since he was in the “Cooler” when it happened! (End Spoiler)

4) That cover art … I was rooting for the men to escape! You can just feel the tension in that cover.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This will appeal to those interested in non-fiction and World War II. I love the history behind it all. Having watched the movie (the book does reference it), reading this book brought that viewing experience back to me.

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

zachbeaverBook: When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (1999)
Author: Kimberly Willis Holt
Genre: MG, Historical (1970s)
Companion Book: Ambassador of Nowhere Texas

Opening lines from the book …
Nothing ever happens in Antler, Texas. Nothing much at all. Until this afternoon, when an old blue Thunderbird pulls a trailer decorated with Christmas lights into the Dairy Maid parking lot.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) The main character, Toby, is quite likable. He’s definitely struggling with his life. His mom has left to try to make it big in Nashville, and Toby doesn’t know quite what to make of it. He tells lies (about the Grand Ole Opry burning down … it was just a little fire!) to explain her continued absence. I really liked Toby’s dad!

2) And then there’s his best friend, Cal. He’s not always the kindest person in Antler, but even Cal has his good points. I love how the two friends (Toby and Cal) grow as people, especially as they come into contact with Zachary Beaver.

3) Which does bring me to Zachary Beaver. (Such a great name, by the way!) In the book, Zachary Beaver is billed as “the fattest kid in the world.” When he comes to town, people stand in line and pay money to see him as they would a gimmick or a sideshow. That was a reality for many sideshow acts that used to travel around. What makes this book interesting is how Toby and Cal (oddly enough for Cal!) eventually get to know Zachary as a real person. And that journey is what I found fascinating. And also, any topic that encourages us to discuss differences and empathy … Yeah, I think that’s important.

4) I also loved that the town is almost its own character, which is fun. Especially as you get to know the different quirky townspeople in this “nowhere” place. And then I loved how those quirky townspeople come together to help Zachary Beaver. There’s Cal’s sister (who just got her driver’s license) for one. And the guy who owns the diner.

5) I thought the connection to Vietnam was handled in a good way. We get this part of the story through letters from Cal’s older brother, Wayne. And I like how Wayne eventually makes a connection to Scarlett and her boyfriend.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) I really had trouble liking the mom. Maybe this was because she was “off-screen” for the whole book. But then again, so was Wayne. But I really liked Wayne and getting to know him through his letters. I suspect with regards to the mom, it has something to do with going off to find yourself and leaving your family behind. I don’t really like that in people, and I have a hard time liking characters like that.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I picked up this book because of the “sequel” Ambassador of Nowhere Texas. It was fun to see the adults from that book as kids in this one. If you are going to read the second book, I would recommend reading this one first!

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Beyond the Bright Sea

20210402ma_0843-copyBook: Beyond the Bright Sea (2017)
Author: Lauren Wolk
Genre: MG, Mystery/Historical Fiction

Opening lines from the book …
My name is Crow. When I was a baby, someone tucked me into an old boat and pushed me out to sea. I washed up on a tiny island, like a seed riding the tide.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Crow is such an interesting main character. At the age of 12, she becomes curious about where she came from and goes about trying to solve the mystery. She writes letters. She visits islands. She even does some of this without any adult supervision.

2) Which brings me to the adults in her life: Osh and Miss Maggie. I love these two characters. They have such love and support for Crow. Osh is like her dad, while Miss Maggie is her teacher. Every child needs an Osh and Miss Maggie!

3) This book has treasure hunts, nearly-desert islands, and mystery galore!

4) It’s fun to piece together the clues as the mystery begins to sort itself out. More clues are added and we finally get our answers. Or most of our answers.

5) I was fascinated by the history behind this story, especially of Penikese Island which housed a leper colony until 1921. How the locals treat Crow (thinking she might have leprosy) was heartbreaking to read about. Since the hospital is closed by the time the story takes place, we only get to “see” the empty buildings, etc. And most of our information (in the book) comes through the letters that Crow receives from the nurse.

6) That book cover is beautiful!

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) When I went back, I finally found the page that lets us know when the story takes place. It’s 1925. But I missed this information (probably because it was on its own page, in small print, and looked like a dedication page) when I first read it. Therefore, I wasn’t sure if this was a historical book or a fantasy? I think the name Crow made me think it was some sort of magical realism. But then, none of those elements came into play! I just wish they had put the “1925” on the same page as the first chapter.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a mystery with elements of the historical and adventure novels. I highly recommend it!

(P.S. Thank you to Rosi Hollinbeck for this book! I won it a gazillion years ago as a giveaway. And finally, I got down to reading it. It’s been sitting on my TBR pile forever!)

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Mystery on Magnolia Circle

20210926ma_3389Book: Mystery on Magnolia Circle (2021)
Author: Kate Klise
Genre: MG, Mystery

Opening lines from the book …
On the last day of school, I fell down the front steps of my house and broke my leg. After the surgery, my doctor said I’d have to wear a cast on my leg for most of the summer. “You might think your world will get smaller,” Dr. Ames said. “But depending on how you spend this time, your world could actually get bigger.”

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I didn’t realize this when I read the book, but after reading the author’s note, I discovered that this book was meant to be a kid-friendly version of the Hitchcock movie: Rear Window. I totally see that now that I’ve read the book. (I happen to really like that movie!) It’s not exactly the same, but the basic premis is there.

2) The main character is Ivy. I love her little “What I learned from that” at the end of each chapter.

3) And then there’s Teddy. I love how he pushes Ivy to do things, well, to make the story more exciting. And he keeps wanted to be called “Ted,” which I totally get. I like how that works its way into the story.

4) The mystery about the boy in van… I was intrigued. And it didn’t turn out quite how I expected. But I won’t give away any spoilers.

5) And finally, there’s the Scott Joplin house connection. I also happen to really like Scott Joplin’s music (rag), and this book made me want to visit his house! Anyway, I enjoyed the little tour and the facts the two kids learn about the composer.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) I almost wished there was more of a Rear Window vibe to the whole story. Like she’s stuck in her house with a view of the whole neighborhood, and she has to send Teddy out … But maybe that wouldn’t quite work…

FINAL THOUGHTS

A fun mystery that’s based on a good movie … I would definitely recommend this book to mystery-lovers. And if you happen to like Scott Joplin’s rag music, you might be intrigued by that part of the story.

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Dead Wednesday

20210926ma_3391Book: Dead Wednesday (2021)
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Opening lines from the book …
No way … This is Worm’s first groggy thought even before he opens his eyes. He actually whispers it to his pillow: “No way.” Because the feeling he wakes up with—the same one he went to bed with—makes no sense: he wants to go to school.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Dead Wednesday is SUCH an interesting title. What in the world could it mean? Well, I’ll tell you. The eighth graders at Worm’s school get assigned the name of somebody who died in a preventable accident (like a texting and driving accident). And then they get to be that person for the day while the rest of the town/school completely ignore them. Like they’re already dead. (That’s the short explanation. You’ll have to read the book for the rest.)

2) I want to go to Worm’s house! His parents run a retreat for writers. I could definitely go there. 🙂 Worm doesn’t like hanging out too much with all the writers, but he used to sing them the tea pot song when he was little!

3) I like how Worm’s dead person comes into the story. He gets assigned a girl named Becca Finch. Now I won’t give any spoilers, but I do like how it all plays out.

4) And then there’s Worm’s arch enemy: Mean Monica. She really not that mean. But one day, she told Worm to “Get a life!” on the bus and he’s tried to avoid her ever since. It was fun to see them interact.

5) The book does extend beyond Dead Wednesday. It’s interesting how the day affects Worm and helps him discover his own life.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) I really like the bottom half of the book cover. The top half has fire works in the shape of what I think is supposed to be Worm’s dead person. It’s just a little creepy/goofy for my taste.

2) I didn’t really get why Worm’s mom was so adamant that he come home directly after school. There’s a fight that he wants to go to, but I don’t think she knows about it. It was a plot point that didn’t really seem to matter one way or other.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Jerry Spinelli is always up for an interesting tale. I did enjoy this one. (It’s not quite as amazing as Maniac Mcgee, but it does have some insightful moments.

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Hand in Hand

20210909ma_3317Book: Hand in Hand (2016)
Author: Jean Little
Genre: MG, Historical (1880s)

Quote from the book …
At long last, they got word that the teacher was on her way. The night before she was to arrive, Martha lay awake, trying to imagine how life would be once Miss Annie Sullivan walked in the door.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Ever since I was a girl, I’ve been fascinated by the story of Helen Keller. When I see a new title I haven’t read before, I am instantly drawn to pick up the book. And this book is definitely in that category. It’s the story of Helen Keller BEFORE the arrival of Anne Sullivan. (The teacher shows up about half-way through the book.)

2) The narrator is Martha Washington, a young Black servant in the Keller household. According the Jean Little’s research, Helen Keller herself mentions the existence of Martha as part of her early life. It was definitely an interesting POV … Martha does really like Helen all that much (she was extremely spoiled as a young child), and yet she is sent to play with and keep an eye on Helen.

3) I could wait for the teacher, Miss Sullivan, to arrive! Again, we get to see her through Martha’s eyes, which is really interesting.

4) I loved Martha’s mother! In the story, she’s the family’s cook. The story opens with her and Martha and the fact that Martha needs to befriend the hard-to-like Helen. I like how the mother pushes her daughter to see that spark in Helen that would eventually come to light.

5) Was Martha present for the famous W-A-T-E-R incident? Maybe, maybe not. But this account puts her right there. Right there where Helen finally has a moment of understanding that will change her life. That part of the story always gets me!

FINAL THOUGHTS

I would definitely recommend for anybody interested in the Helen Keller story. I liked Martha’s POV and it was neat to read the familiar story through her eyes.

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Ambassador of Nowhere Texas

20210815ma_2847Book: Ambassador of Nowhere Texas (2021)
Author: Kimberly Willis Holt
Genre: MG, Near Historical (2001)
Companion Book to: When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

Opening lines from the book …
My grandmother told me she once watched an abandoned house fold inside itself. The roof had caved in, leaving a hollow shell. “A house needs people, Rylee,” she claimed, “or it will die.”

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I like how this book is connected to another book by the same author. While, I have never read When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. (That book seems to be about Rylee’s dad, Toby.)

2) I really enjoyed Rylee’s enthusiasm. I love that they had a snow cone stand! Joe could be a little surly and mysterious at times, but it works with the story. I like how they team up!

3) And then there’s Twig. She’s Rylee’s friend who decides to take a break from friendship with Rylee. I felt for both girls and I did like how the story brings them together by the end.

4) I love how the title worked into the story. Joe is not particularly friendly in the story, especially when he first arrives. Being from New York City, he looks down on “Nowhere” Texas and he asks if Rylee is the town’s ambassador. I love how Rylee decides that, yes, she can indeed be the ambassador for her town!

5) I like that they referred to the attacks as “September 11th”, which is how we tended to do it back then. Later on in the book, it switches to 9/11, which again did seem authentic to me.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) For most of the time when I was reading, I didn’t FEEL like I was back in 2001. I’m not sure she captured the time period. There were hints every now and then (like references to dial-up internet). I wish it had been more consistent.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I lived in New York City during the attacks on 9/11, so I knew I had to read one of the many books that came out this year to mark the 20th anniversary. This one got my attention. (And it does make me want to read the companion book!)

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / War and Millie McGonigle

20210815ma_2849Book: War and Millie McGonigle (2021)
Author: Karen Cushman
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)

Opening lines from the book …
George lifted the slimy creature to his mouth and bit it right between the eyes. I had seen him and the other Portuguese octopus fishermen do that a hundred times, but it still made me shudder. “Doesn’t that taste muddy and disgusting?”

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Millie is not a particularly likeable child at the beginning of the story. However, she does have a character arc and I really liked watching her grow. I loved the little reference to the Secret Garden and how Mary Lennox isn’t the most likeable character at the start of her story!

2) I did like that the story did follow various relationships Millie has… with her younger brother and sister, with her mother, and with a new friend.

3) I love the library scenes! Millie is obsessed with finding books about dying and death, but the librarian won’t let her take out adult books yet. So, she decides to get her older friend to get a library card. The best scene is when Millie gets introduced to a very wonderful book! (“What’s a hobbit, anyway?”)

4) McGonigle is such a fun name to say! One of Millie’s quirks is that she writes her last name in the sand or the mud. And each time she did this, I’d get to say the name McGonigle in my head. 🙂

5) I like that the book doesn’t end in 1945. Most books about World War II think they have to take us to the end of the war. I’m glad this one didn’t. It takes place in 1941-42 and the story wraps up very nicely in its own way. (At least, that’s what I remember. I don’t think the book took us beyond 1942.)

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) The neighbor-lady (mother of Icky) kind of bothered me. I felt she (and pretty much all of her family, with the exception of the niece) were portrayed in a very one-dimensional way. At one point, they demonstrate their evilness by their prejudice against the Japanese. While I agree that such prejudice was NOT a good thing (and the ensuing camps were an atrocity!), these attitudes were a very real part of history following Pearl Harbor. There were “good” and “bad” people who held these views (due to fear, etc.) I think a more nuanced approach would have been stronger. I would have been more interested in seeing Millie struggle with neighbors she actually liked and admired for having these prejudices. What would Millie do? Stand up for what she believes in? Could she say something that might change the character’s mind? So many possibilities.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, I didn’t love this one as much as I think I normally like these books. However, I was satisfied when I finished the book. I like how everything is wrapped up, AND that it didn’t have to include the end of the war.

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Blackbird Girls

20210808ma_2823Book: Blackbird Girls (2020)
Author: Anne Blankman
Genre: MG, Historical (1986/1941)

Opening lines from the book …
Valentina wondered where the birds had gone. They weren’t waiting on the sill when she went to the sitting room window that morning.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) This book is set in the Soviet Union and goes back and forth between 1986 and 1941. Of course, at one point, the characters in each time period merge. I really enjoyed seeing that happen. I know quite a bit about life in the Soviet Union as my grandmother grew up there. The parts set in 1986 were less known to me, but I found them equally as interesting.

2) This book is about Chernobyl. (Can’t you tell from that cover?) I’m fascinated by this topic, although this is the first book I’ve read about the disaster that occurred in 1986. The opening chapters deal with what happened. I was riveted! The author did a wonderful job in pulling us in, especially with regards to all the lies that were being told (or not told) in the wake of the nuclear disaster. The Soviet Union was a place where fear reigned. From the whisper-campaign of neighbors against neighbors to the ever-present threat of the secret police, I felt this story got that right. 

3) I love how the two main characters, Valentina and Oksana, are not at all friends at the beginning of this story. It sets us up for some wonderful conflict between the two. I love the uneasy-alliances trope in books. The book also flashbacks to 1941 where we meet Rifka. She’s Jewish and must escape the arrival of the Nazi army as it invades the Soviet Union. Of course, at one point all three of them come together.

4) The title was quite interesting. I was interested to see how it developed. It has to do with how the two girls end up standing up for one another.

5) I loved the author’s note at the end of the book explaining how this is story is based in part on a friend’s experiences. I usually like authors’ notes, and this one did not disappoint!

FINAL THOUGHTS

There are not so many books about the Soviet Union. Because of my grandmother, I definitely am drawn to them. But I think this is history that we need to know, whether or not we have a connection.

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Leaving Lymon

20210814ma_2840Book: Leaving Lymon (2020)
Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome
Genre: MG, Historical [1940s]
Companion to: Finding Langston

Basic plot: Lymon doesn’t have it easy. With his daddy in prison and his momma gone, he’s being raised by his grandparents. But when Grandpops dies, he and Ma are transported to the world of Milwaukee. Ma isn’t well herself, and soon enough, Lymon ends up with his momma and her new family in Chicago. Meanwhile, Daddy keeps promising to be there for Lymon, but he keeps leaving. The only thing that seems constant is Lymon’s love of music, but even that’s in danger of being taken away from him.

Opening lines from the book …
Ma and Grandpops didn’t tell me nothing ‘cept we were going on a train.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I felt for Lymon! It’s been a while since I read Finding Langston, so I didn’t actually remember this character. (Although, it did come back to me once the two stories merge.)

2) Loved Mr. Eugene, the barber! After Lymon leaves Milwaukee, the person I missed the most was Mr. Eugene. I enjoyed being in his barber shop with Lymon. One of my greatest hopes as I was reading the Chicago parts was that somehow Mr. Eugene would come back in the story.

3) The musical elements of this book was nicely done. While Langston was into poetry, Lymon is definitely drawn to music. His grandfather’s guitar plays a nice role in the story. And when something happens to that guitar… I felt for poor Lymon. But I like how he is drawn to all sorts of instruments, from the trumpet to the piano. You just knew that if he could just have half a chance that music would be a great help in his life.

4) I waited a long time for Langston to come into the story. He isn’t in it for very long. I love his introduction as “country boy”. It was a nice bringing of the two books together.

5) I loved the ending with Daddy and Ma. I won’t spoil it here, but I like seeing hope at the end of a book.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) The story is set through the war years (early 1940s) and yet I didn’t have ANY notion that a war was going on. There were no men walking around in khaki. No mention that the war was over in 1945. Lymon does have a radio, so I’m surprised that he seems completely obvious to this. I’m not saying that he needed to be super aware or anything, but a few references might have help ground me in the early 1940s.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I did not love this book as much as I loved Finding Langston. (That book is a gem!) But I did find Lymon to be quite sympathetic, and I really wanted him to be understood and succeed. Would definitely recommend for anybody who did enjoy the first book.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday