“Friends Forever” by Amy Ariel

July 31, 2012

Local St. Paul author Amy Ariel has written a charming novel that gives a glimpse of what life was like in St. Paul in 1912 and how that view might seem both familiar and alien to a contemporary child.  In the process, the reader is transported, just like the character of Hannah, back to a world that makes us appreciate what we have now and anticipate with curiosity what may come in our future.

Our narrator is Abigail, a thirteen year old girl writing in 1916.  She usually lives in St. Louis, but regularly spends summers with her aunt in St. Paul.  Because her aunt has given her a journal for her birthday, Abigail has chosen to write about her own life and about an unusual day in 1912.  On that day, an oddly dressed girl suddenly appears in the yard of Abigail’s aunt, changing the views of both girls forever.

Hannah, it turns out, was simply enjoying time in HER yard, 100 years in the future.  Hannah is shockingly dressed by Abigail’s standards – she is in a sundress, in her bare feet.  Once the two girls figure out the situation, they arrange to “normalize” Hannah for 1912 and spend some time getting to know each other.

The book provides a lovely sense of how things change and yet stay the same.  Both girls are Jewish, and the practices that Abigail observes are familiar and comfortable to Hannah.  Each girl talks about doing volunteer work at Neighborhood House; they just are dealing with different immigrant communities.  Each has been taught to respect all people, regardless of how their race, religion, or gender.  And each enjoys getting ice cream at the local soda shop.  But eventually the fun must end so that Hannah can return to her own time and family – and so that she can discover an important surprise.

Ariel provides an interesting view of the Progressive Era in Minnesota from the eyes of the characters in this book.  We meet Abigail’s aunt who has broken the usual expectations by becoming a professor, her Irish boarder Rose who aspires to be a doctor one day, and Rose’s mother who works cleaning house in what will eventually become the Governor’s mansion.  These touches make the time period accessible for students who are curious about what St. Paul might have been like in a different time period than is often covered by their studies in school.

I would comfortably recommend this book for both boys and girls in this geographic area because the voice is unique and engaging.  Regardless of the background of the students, this book helps readers learn how much impact a person’s actions can have on the history to come.

Disclaimer:  I personally know both the author and the publisher of this book.  Neither has asked me to read or review it.

 


 

“Into the Unknown” by Stewart Ross, Illustrated by Stephen Biesty

July 27, 2012

Exploration across human history has made us and revealed us as who we are: curious, adventurous, daring.  “Into the Unknown:  How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air,” written by Stewart Ross and illustrated by Stephen Biesty, does an excellent job of capturing this side of humanity.

Ross has chosen an interesting spectrum of people to discuss, and not all of them are familiar household names.  Because of his focus on journeys he deems “amazing,” he can choose pe...


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“The Unforgotten Coat” by Frank Cottrell Boyce

July 5, 2012

How does a child respond to a new classmate who is an immigrant from a very different part of the world?  Frank Cottrell Boyce tackles this topic in his engaging and thought-provoking short novel, “The Unforgotten Coat.”  Using first person narration and photographs, Cottrell Boyce draws the reader into the story of Julie – the “good guide” – and Chingis and Nergui – the new arrivals from Mongolia.

This book addresses many themes that teach...


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“If You Lived Here: Houses of the World” by Giles Laroche

July 4, 2012



“If You Lived Here:  Houses of the World,” written and illustrated by Giles Laroche, provides lovely and informative looks at various houses throughout history and the world.  The collages give intricate details that draw a reader in and make the accompanying text that much more interesting.

I have a few minor observations though.  When I first looked at the book, I was confused by the very first house.  Nothing in the title or on the cover made clea...


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“Never Forgotten” by Patricia McKissack, Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

July 2, 2012

A book with richly textured illustrations and text, “Never Forgotten” tells a story mostly absent from the history of the African slave trade – the story of the people who were left behind.  The imaginative and lyrical language of Patricia McKissack combines with the evocative and compelling images by Leo and Diane Dillon to create a story that assumes mythic depth.

The tale opens with the blacksmith Dinga choosing to raise his newborn son (whose m...


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“Waiting for the Magic” by Patricia Mac Lachlan, illustrated by Amy June Bates

June 27, 2012

“Waiting for the Magic” is a sweet take on the ubiquitous talking animal story.  Mac Lachlan’s tale with believable characters, both human and animal, is enhanced by the charming illustrations by Amy June Bates.  The novel’s central message is that, for true communication to take place within a family, people need to listen.  And here, in the family of human characters of William and Elinor, listening enables a person to hear the animals as well.

As the book opens, William and El...


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“Around the World” by Matt Phelan

June 26, 2012

Okay, I am starting with my quibbles first.  “Around the World” is categorized both by our list and by my local public library as a “graphic novel.”  Yet most of the book is based on fact and research.  This left me wondering – is the category labeling a result of the form, or is there some fictionalizing going on that isn’t immediately apparent?

The unifying theme, such as it is, in “Around the World” is the idea of traveling around the world as individuals.  Phelan taps...


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“Soldier Bear” by Bibi Dumon Tak

June 21, 2012



“Soldier Bear” is an entertaining but curious amalgam of fiction and history.  Set mostly during World War 2, “Soldier Bear” follows a group of Polish soldiers, displaced by the Nazi invasion of their homeland, and their animal mascot, Voytek the bear.

This book is billed as fiction, but draws on an actual historical event.  The author includes photos of Voytek and some of human and animal friends.  As an adult, the choice to call this fiction made me wonder—how much is true?  ...


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“Bread and Roses, Too” by Katherine Paterson

June 20, 2012

 like historical fiction.  Sometimes children like it too.  But often, I find, children’s historical fiction reads as if it were written according to some curricular checklist, to fit a particular set of standards in the most careful and efficient fashion possible.

“Bread and Roses, Too” by Katherine Paterson seems just such a novel.  Here’s the checklist I envisioned.

  1. Will it appeal to both boys and girls?  Yes, it will, because it ...

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“Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word” by Bob Raczka

June 19, 2012


Like Marilyn Singer’s “Mirror, Mirror” before it, Bob Raczka’s “Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word” uses a special, somewhat gimmicky hook to interest reader in poetry.  Singer uses the form of the reverso (see my review here), while Raczka creates poems out of single words.  In each case, the poet’s self-imposed restrictions provide a special challenge to making meaning and art.

Raczka’s technique inherently limits the poem’s topic, length, and depth. ...


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About Me


Lydia Schultz I am a school librarian and part-time college English teacher. I hope to review many of the books I read, both in the context of my research about children's books as well as in my pursuit of recreational reading. I want to share what I read--so what else is new?

Please feel free to contact me.  I welcome hearing feedback and advice.  If you would like to comment on a particular post, click on the title of the post and a comment box will appear after the post when the page reloads.

Thanks!



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