Review / A Boy is Not a Bird

20210321ma_0807Book: A Boy is Not a Bird (2019)
Author: Edeet Ravel
Genre: MG, Historical [Soviet Union – 1940s]

Basic plot: Natt and his friend Max are the “two musketeers.” But war comes to his village, and so do the Russians. Suddenly, Natt’s no longer going to Hebrew classes and then his father is arrested. When his mother goes away, suddenly Natt is in the interrogator’s chair. He starts to wonder if Stalin really is the friend of children.

Opening lines from the book …
My best friend Max and I are playing a game called Life and Death on the High Seas. Max came up with both the game and the name. He gets all the good ideas. I’m more of a go-along type of guy.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I loved the friendship between Max and Natt. I think I was particularly drawn to Max because, while Natt buys into the lies being taught at school, Max seems to know something is a little odd about it. I love how Max comes up with various “illnesses” to get out of going to school!

2) I did like how the teachers are not necessarily “evil” in this book. Comrade Martha and Comrade Minsky are shown more in a complex light, especially Comrade Minsky (who we learn *slight spoiler* is also Jewish). While Comrade Martha pushes the Russian and Soviet agenda, she doesn’t vilify Natt, even after his father is arrested. She actually gives him Soviet prizes. I found this interesting and made me think she, like others, is just caught in Soviet web and just tries to do her best to survive.

3) I loved the theme of negative numbers which Comrade Minsky introduces during math class. I loved how it plays into the plot as Natt loses things, one by one… his dad, his house, etc. The book is even separated into sections labeled ‘Minus a House’ and ‘Minus a Town.’

4) I also enjoyed Mr. Elias, Natt’s Hebrew teacher. Later in the story, Natt becomes very close to his little daughter, Shainie (who seems about three or four years old). At one point, they are separated, and the little girls reaction shows how much she adores her big kid friend. I like how the author manages to incorporate her into the very end of the story.

5) The author’s note at the end of the book explains the true story behind this book.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) At times, I was confused by Natt’s age. There are spots where he seems to be twelve (I think that’s his age in the story), but there were other times when he seemed much, much younger. He seemed very naive, especially compared with Max. Since this book is based on true events, it’s possible that this is part of the real “Natt,” but I do think kids these days will have a hard time connecting with him at times.

2) The book also ended a tad abruptly. It seems like there is a lot more to Natt’s story. And in the author’s note, she does mention that it’s supposed to be a trilogy. That’s fine, but I did want just a little more at the end of this one.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I think this story is such an important one. I love historical fiction, and I do have soft spot (if you can call it that) for stories about the Soviet Union since that is part of my heritage. I would recommend this to anybody who’s interested in history. I look forward to reading the next two books to find out what happens to Natt!


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 / We Dream of Space

20210103ma_0014Book: We Dream of Space (2020)
Author: Erin Entrada Kelly
Genre: MG, Historical [1986]

Basic plot: It’s January 1986. The whole school is preparing to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Cash, Fitch, and Bird are three siblings, each with their own troubles. Cash breaks his wrist and has to deal with being held back due to his poor grades. Fitch struggles with the teasing of his friends and trying to avoid a certain girl who keeps calling him by his real name, Henry. And then there’s Bird, the good student who wants to be an astronaut herself but begins to doubt she has what it takes. As the days count down to the shuttle launch, the lives of the three kids seem as doomed as the tragedy that’s about to happen… 

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Rocket launch. Shuttle launch. Pretty much anything to do with the history of NASA and you got my attention. This book reminded me of Planet Earth is Blue, but it’s also so different. Yes, they’re both set during the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, but their focus is different. I enjoyed both very much.

2) I probably identified mostly with Bird, and not just because she’s the only girl in the sibling trio. I got her interest in the topic of the day and her big dreams. I loved her “conversations” her hero, astronaut Judith Resnik. Of course, she not really speaking with the astronaut, but it’s Bird’s way working out what’s true about her own life and situation. Particularly poignant is a quote from near the end of the book after the (Spoiler!) the space shuttle explodes and Resnik, as well as the other astronauts, die. “Is it okay to cry for people you don’t know?” Bird didn’t know Judith Resnik, but that’s how close she felt to the astronaut. (End Spoiler) 

3) I absolutely loved Cash’s character arc in this book. He’s the one who loves basketball but realizes he’s not very good at the game. So, he tries other things, like cooking… until, finally, he figures something out. (I won’t spoil it here.) I loved the scene with his coach near the end of the book.

4) And then, there’s Fitch. He’s Bird’s twin brother (more on that later). He was the hardest of the three (for me at least) to like and understand. And yet, I still enjoyed seeing him develop and grow over the course of the book. In some ways, he has the most courageous arc of the three.

5) My favourite scene (early on in the book) was when the teacher, Ms. Salonga, has the class imagine they are going through the steps of a shuttle launch; that they are the astronauts taking a last minute simulation. This particular chapter is told through Bird’s POV, so we get her imagination full-on. Wonderful scene. Which is, of course, interrupted by one of Bird’s classmates (Dani) bringing her straight back to Earth. My other favourite scene (from near the end of the book) is the picnic. Which I won’t spoil.

6) I though Erin Entrada Kelly did an amazing job of bringing out the era of 1986. Everything about the story (from the basketball references to the video games to the music, etc.) let us know that this was happening in a decade gone-by. 

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) Okay, two little things. Fitch and Bird are twins. But I didn’t figure this out until page 77 when we’re told this. And prior to that, they didn’t feel at all like twins. Granted, I’m not a twin myself, but I have taught several sets of twins, and there’s one thing I’ve noticed. There is this bond that happens between twins. A protectiveness. I didn’t see that in Fitch and Bird, at least not in the first part of the book. It’s hinted at a little maybe in some of the car scenes, but those scenes came rather late in the book. Not a huge thing, but a little thing that bothered me.

2) The parents. Oh, boy! I had a hard time with these parents. By the end, I was hoping for some redemption for Mom and Dad, but there was none. The parents just made me really sad.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I really enjoyed this book and the historical journey it took us on! Overall, it’s a hopeful book, and I’m glad about that (especially in light of the historical events). I highly recommend this book, especially to anybody who likes NASA stories or even just historical fiction. 

*Note: This week (January 28th) marks the 35th anniversary of what happened to the Challenger. I have vivid memories of seeing the footage play out on the TV. I don’t remember if we watched in it real time or not, but that image certainly seared itself on my young brain.


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 / Until Niagara Falls

until-niagara-fallsBook: Until Niagara Falls (2020)
Author: Jennifer Maruno

Genre: MG, Historical Fiction (1960)

Basic plot: Brenda lives in Niagara Falls, Canada. She’s doing a school project on the Great Blondin who’s famous for walking across the falls on a tightrope. When she meets Maureen, the new girl from Toronto, Brenda begins to feel like she’s walking on her own tightrope…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved all the Niagara Falls information in this book. I didn’t actually live there, but we lived close enough that I knew about most of her references. Like Dufferin Islands as a swimming location! (Sadly, you can’t swim there anymore. Really, it was one of the coolest places you could swim!)

2) Maureen was a complex character to like. And yet, she really needs a friend like Brenda! At times I felt bad for her, and other times I wanted Brenda to just get out of there.

3) I liked how the neighbour fit into the story. Especially, with the dog and the CNE. I thought it worked well.

4) The scene with the bicycle at the library! Ooh boy. That Maureen is a tricky one. I love how it slowly dawns on Brenda about how Maureen really got the bike. And even better yet was how it all fit into the plot by the end of the story!

5) I liked that Maureen’s mom, while obviously overwhelmed, isn’t a horrible parent. I was glad that Brenda figures out that she can go to the mom to appeal to her with regards to Maureen and the stolen bracelet.

6) Granny is also a complex character that I grew to love. I was prepared to NOT like her, but she grew on me. I hope she does make it to Scotland!

7) Loved the Krick’s Pickles story line! (Doubly cool that it’s partly true!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) (**Spoiler alert! The chicken pox came on a little too suddenly! Normally, it takes two to three weeks for the spots to appear… rather than the two days in the book! Minor problem.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

Love this book! I found all the Niagara Falls bits to be like a nostalgic walk back in time. But, even if you’ve never been to the Falls, this would be an enjoyable read. The friendship between Brenda and Maureen complicated. Well worth the read!


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

#MGTakesOnThursday / Breaking Stalin’s Nose

breaking stalins noseBook: Breaking Stalin’s Nose (2011)
Author: Eugene Yelchin
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Genre: MG, Historical Fiction

Rating: 5 stars

This book in three words…

Family, Brainwashing, Truth

Favourite Sentence from Page 11…

“Everyone in the kitchen stops talking when my dad comes in. They look like they are afraid, but I know they are just respectful.”

(Yes, technically, I chose two sentences, but I felt that you needed both to get the gist of the situation. Also, please note that Sasha’s dad is one of the secret police. So, yes, the people in the kitchen are terrified of him!)

My thoughts on this book…

I absolutely LOVE this book! The setting is the Soviet Union in the 1930s, and I find a lot of people don’t really know much about this time period in history. In my case, I grew up with these stories about the Soviet Union since my grandmother lived there. She lived through Stalin’s man-made famine in 1932-33 (the Holodomor, if you’re interested in knowing more.) It’s so important that we understand the ways a society can go wrong… that communism and socialism are not the answer.

In the story, young Sasha believes all the lies that have been handed to him in school and by his own dad. He can hardly wait to become a young pioneer to help bring in the great utopian future! So, when his dad is arrested, he thinks it’s all a mistake. Comrade Stalin will be able to set things right! Little by little, Sasha begins to see that things are not quite the way he’s been told. And yes, Stalin’s nose plays a very important part…

Very powerful book. It won a Newbery Honor in 2012.


This post is part of a challenge to celebrate middle-grade books. For more information, go to: https://bookcraic.blog/2020/04/30/mgtakesonthursday-3/

How to take part…

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

 

Review: Genevieve’s War

genevieves-warBook: Genevieve’s War (2017)
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Genevieve and her brother have been visiting their grandmother in France in the summer of 1939. While her brother leaves, she chooses not to go back to the States… What she doesn’t know is that the war is going to be a long one. Including battles with her own grandmother, Meme. Little by little, Genevieve gets drawn in to helping with the French Resistance. She also soon finds an ally in Meme against the Nazi invaders. But Genevieve is not always sure who to trust.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The spunky Genevieve is a fun protagonist. I particularly liked her relationship with her grandmother, Meme. Or should I said non-relationship. Those two are at odds for most of the book.

2) I liked the intrigue. Since the story is about the French Resistance, there is plenty of intrigue. With who Genevieve should trust or not trust… including her best friend Katrin. And hiding her other friend. And then there is the mystery of the sweater!

3) When I was reading, I wanted to know the dates of when things were happening. At first, I thought this might be something to put in my “What’s Not Cool”, but after finishing the book, I’ve changed my mind. I think it’s stronger not to know the dates because (at least for me) the dates would tell me how soon D-Day was coming. The datelessness forced me to live the events of the story not knowing how much longer the people would have to hold out.

4) Events near the end made me cry. Anytime that a book makes me care about the characters… Hey, that’s a win!

5) I loved how everything came together at the end of the story. I like that not all was wrapped up. There were some bittersweet things that happened. And I liked the realism of that.

6) I thought the cover worked with the story.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The book had a slow start for me. Events that I wasn’t sure were all that important seem to drag things a bit.

2) I’m not sure I completely bought Genevieve’s reasons for staying back in France. It seemed a little far-fetched to me, especially in light of her relationship with her grandmother at that time. I wish Patricia Reilly Giff had come up with a different reason.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, I really enjoyed this story. I would definitely recommend to anybody who wants to read more about World War II and the French Resistance.


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: The Detective’s Assistant

detectives-assistantBook: The Detective’s Assistant (2015)
Author: Kate Hannigan
Genre: MG, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Nell is orphaned and is sent to live with her Aunt Kitty. Except there’s one big problem. Aunt Kitty doesn’t want Nell. Reason #1: She’s busy enough as it is as the only female detective of the famed Pickerton Agency. Reason #2: Nell’s father killed Aunt Kitty’s husband. So now it’s up to Nell to show how useful she can be to her aunt. As well, she plans to prove that the fatal shot to her Uncle Matthew (fired by her now-dead father) was an accident. And the only person who can help reveal the truth had to escape on the Underground Railroad to Canada.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love the historical connection to the Pickerton Detective Agency. I had not read much about them before this book. What’s really cool is that Aunt Kitty is based on the real life Pickerton agent: Kate Warne. (And the plot of this book includes some of her cases!)

2) The cases involving Aunt Kitty and Nell are fun to read. I love how Nell helps out! She and Aunt Kitty get to wear some fabulous disguises 🙂

3) And oh! How Lincoln is brought into the story is a history-lover’s dream. (And to top it all, there really IS a historical event that connects Lincoln to Pickerton.)

4) The bickering between Nell and Aunt Kitty is hilarious. I love how Nell keeps calling her “Aunt Kitty” even though her aunt wants to be called “Kate”. And then, when they’re in disguise, Nell always seems to slip up while Aunt Kitty always remains in character.

5) The letters between Jemma and Nell have some fun codes to decipher. I could see kids enjoying the challenge.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) On the other hand, the letters were the most unrealistic part of the book. They talk in code and yet the code would have been too easy to break. (This was the part that grown-up Maria thought a little too much.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – The historical part of this book was great. I loved Spunky Nell and all of Pickerton’s detectives. I especially enjoyed how the climax worked out and how it connects to really historical events. I would definitely recommend this 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

Middle Grade Books for Black History Month

Here are some of my favourite recent reads. I didn’t exactly plan them to be for Black History Month, but that’s how it turned out. These are books I’d recommend reading at any time of the year. Note: I read more than this, but I’ve limited my choices to three books that I really enjoyed.


Finding Langston // by Lesa Cline-Ransomefinding-langston

MG, Historical Fiction – 1940s (2018)

I loved this book! And yes, it contains poetry. (I’m not always too crazy about poetry in books.) So, when a book can get me excited about poetry, I consider that to be a well-written book.

I loved Langston! I felt for him as he attempts to navigate the big city of Chicago after coming north with his father. I love the library! I think as soon as the library made an appearance, I KNEW I was going to love this book. I love the character arcs in this book and the friendships that develop. I loved the discoveries made.

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and it’s only February. [5 stars]


Days of Jubilee // by Patricia C. & Fredrick L. McKissack

days-of-jubileeMG Non-Fiction / Civil War (2003)

I really enjoyed this book that details the events that led up to the Civil War to the Emancipation Proclamation to the 13th Amendment. The authors lay everything out in a clear, easy-to-read way. They also include little stories throughout. One of my favourites involved Mary Todd Lincoln and her dressmaker. Wow! That dressmaker is one smart woman.

And history is not always neat and tidy. People and events are complicated. I liked how the authors didn’t steer away from the complication. But I also like that they didn’t dwell on the ugliness. Instead, they focused on hope for the future.  [5 stars]


Stella by Starlight // by Sharon M. Draper

stella-by-starlightMG,  Historical Fiction – 1930s (2015)

This book opens with a chilling scene of the main character (Stella) witnessing the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross. The main theme deals with fear and how the Klan was trying to intimidate the black families in the community so that they wouldn’t register to vote. The voting scenes were particularly amazing. And I like how Stella starts her own little newspaper (only to be read by one: her!)

I did feel there was a little cohesion lacking in bringing the story together as a whole, which is why I didn’t give the book 5 stars. But it’s an interesting read. And I really enjoyed Stella’s voice.   [4 stars]


YOUR TURN…

Have you read any of these books? Do you have any books that you read for Black History Month? Tell me about them in the comments!

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

Quick Pick Reviews #13

Clementine’s Letter // by Sara Pennypacker

clementines-letterGenre: Lower MG, Contemporary (2008)

My Thoughts: This is another super cute story about Clementine. And she’s ready to conquer the third grade! Especially with her Teacher at the helm of their class. But then comes the news that he’s a finalist in a contest where he might get to go on an archaeological dig in Egypt. But Clementine doesn’t want her Teacher to leave them!

This is where Clementine’s letter comes into the story. I really enjoyed Clementine’s journey in this book. And I liked how the letter is used at the end of the story. She reminds me so much of Ramona Quimby, although I do think I like Ramona just a tiny bit better. Not exactly sure why. [3.5 Stars]


The Moffats // by Eleanor Estes

moffatsGenre: MG, Historical Fiction (1941)

My Thoughts: Definitely is a little old-fashioned… but this book about the Moffat family is a fun read. Mrs. Moffat lives with her four children—Sylvie, Joe, Jane, and Rufus—in a yellow house. Their landlord is trying to sell it… to the great dismay of the Moffats.

My favourite episodes were: 1) about Joe at the dance recital; and 2) how the children end up losing the Salvation Army man out of the back of his own horse and wagon. I also liked how the story does come full-circle at the end with what happens to the yellow house. (I can’t stand those Murdocks… trying to buy the house from underneath the Moffats’ feet!) [3 Stars]


Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

Review: Becoming Mrs. Lewis

becoming-mrs-lewisBook: Becoming Mrs. Lewis (2018)
Author: Patti Callahan
Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic Plot: This is the story of Joy Davidman Gresham and how she came to be the wife of C.S. Lewis. The subtitle kind of says it all: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis

WHAT’S COOL…

1) C.S. Lewis is one of my all-time, favourite authors. And I have always been fascinated by this love story.

2) I loved the little glimpses into the home life of these people. I could just see them sitting at the typewriter, discussing books, and writing over a cup of tea! And I could also see the boys, Davy and Douglas, running off on their adventures.

3) One of my favourite sections of the book is the part when it discusses their collaboration on Till We Have Faces. Not only do I love that book, but I really enjoyed seeing these scenes play out. I knew that she had been instrumental to Lewis in writing the book, but it really was nice to see their collaboration in action.

4) Even though I knew the story and how it ends, I did find myself drawn into the suspense from time to time. This is a really hard thing to do for such well-known stories. Is it done perfectly? No, but at times, it’s done quite well.

5) Love the cover on this book! I thought it nicely captured the essence of the story. 🙂

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wanted a little more subtext in this story. I know that Joy was known to be blunt (and very American). But at times, I felt the dialogue was a little too on-the-nose. Would Joy have brought such things up? Was she never subtle?

2) There seems to be a lot of repetition in this book. I often felt like the plot wasn’t moving very fast and that I’d already read this scene before. (I hadn’t. The scenes were just similar.) Makes me wonder if the author could have cut out some of the scenes.

3) At times, I felt that I didn’t know Joy very well. Yes, the book is written in first person POV, yet I somehow didn’t FEEL for her. At other times I did, but it was a mixed bag.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – An enjoyable read for anybody wanting to know more about this historic couple. Not the quickest read, but that’s okay. I vacillated between 3.5 and 4 stars. I think I went down because, despite the first person POV, I didn’t really connect with Joy of a level of knowing her. I would still recommend this book.


YOUR TURN…

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

Quick Pick Reviews #12

The Christmas Doll // by Elvira Woodruff

Genre: Lower MG, Historical (2000)

christmas-dollMy Thoughts: This story seems to me to be a hybrid of a Charles Dickens/George MacDonald tale… It’s about two little orphans who run away from the workhouse and end up on the streets of London. I did like the relationship the two sisters had, and the boy they meet is a fun addition. I love the element of the doll-maker, so that was definitely a bonus for me.

In many ways, the story isn’t terribly realistic. It almost has a fairy tale quality to it. However, if you know that going in, you can enjoy it for what it is. A very nice Christmas story with a sweet and happy ending. [3 Stars]


The True Gift // by Patricia MacLachlan

Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary (2009)

true-giftMy Thoughts: A sweet story about a brother and sister who are staying with their grandparents over Christmas. Liam feels like White Cow could use a friend, and so he goes out to find her one.

I really liked how the siblings worked together on Liam’s project. While I don’t think this book quite match the magic of MacLauchlan’s Sarah Plain and Tall books, it does stand as a nice and enjoyable Christmas story.  [3 Stars]


Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)