Sugar is a spunky 10-year-old living on the Wills’ River Road Plantation in Reconstruction Mississippi. She is named after the cane she toils in and despises. Her father was sold when she was a baby, and her mother died two years earlier after years of brutal labor finally took its toll. It is 1870, and while slavery has been abolished for five years, questions and economic concerns remain for these freed men, women and children. Coretta Scott King Honor Winner Jewell Parker Rhodes brings this tenuous time to life in Sugar.
The Beales, fellow sugar workers, have become her surrogate grandparents, and the other workers are protective of Sugar as the only child in their midst, yet barely tolerant of her rambunctious ways. As the community dwindles in number, Mr. Wills, the owner, needs more help and brings laborers in from China which initially concerns Sugar and her friends. But Sugar is quickly intrigued by these men and longs to make new friends from a foreign land outside of River Road.
As Sugar develops friendships with Billy Wills, the owner’s son, and the Chinese workers, she is exposed to worlds far different from her own. Billy lives a life of luxury, but is just a boy looking for adventures and a friend in Sugar. The Chinese men work hard but also share their traditional tales, food and toys. Rhodes deftly describes all of Sugar’s sensory experiences, while offering a realistic portrait of her hard realities and the unique cross-cultural community created for a time on this Mississippi plantation. Sugar is a most appealing and memorable heroine who manages to muster enough courage to step away from the only world she’s ever known in an effort to live her mother’s dying words of: Do. See. Feel.
Gingersnap, by Patricia Reilly Giff, introduces Jayna and her brother, Rob, who are living in upstate New York in 1944. Their parents were killed in a car accident, and Rob, a Navy man, was able to remove Jayna from foster care to create their little family. Both are wonderful cooks, with Jayna specializing in soups, and they dream of owning a restaurant of their own one day.
But World War II is still raging in the Pacific and Rob gets called to duty, leaving Jayna in the care of their landlady, Celine. Between Celine’s falling hairpieces and constant harping on good manners, Jayna can’t imagine a worse guardian. When a telegram arrives informing her that Rob’s ship has sunk and he is missing, a distraught Jayna decides to run away. She needs to get to Brooklyn to find a woman named Elise, who may just be her grandmother. Elise operates a bakery named Gingersnap--which is coincidentally Jayna’s nickname. Jayna packs her bag, an old recipe book, and her turtle named Theresa. She is guided on the journey by the helping hand of a partially visible girl ghost who first appeared when Rob shipped out.
Jayna meets Elise and becomes part of the fabric of her Brooklyn neighborhood. As Jayna gets to know Elise, she longs for this wonderful, gentle woman to be her grandmother. The two work together and Jayna’s soups become a popular fixture at the bakery. These simple, yet yummy sounding soup recipes appear between each chapter and reflect Jayna’s mood and situation. Jayna’s voice is real and while the setting is historical, the separation of families and feelings of displacement are easily understood today. As Jayna struggles to maintain hope for her brother and find a family, readers rooting for this spirited little girl will be delighted with the last recipe in the book - Welcome Home Soup.
Newbery Award-winning author Karen Cushman has returned to children’s literature with an exceptionally well-crafted tale. In Will Sparrow’s Road, Cushman departs from her characteristically self-sufficient heroines, instead casting a young boy into the role of survivor/protagonist. Will’s is a story of survival, of unlikely friendships and self-discovery and what it means to find one’s place in the world. Runaway Will Sparrow wasn’t always a liar and a thief. There’d been a time when he’d been the village schoolmaster’s son, with a mother who smelled of lavender. That was before his mother abandoned him and his drunken father traded him to an innkeeper for ale. Escaping the innkeeper and his threats, Will finds himself on the road, penniless, hungry and alone. But the road, as life, is not a solitary one and Will soon finds himself in the mixed company of scoundrels and tricksters, the marginally honest and the roughly kind.
When chance brings him to the Oddities and Prodigies tent at a local fair, Will finds himself in a most peculiar company. A disgruntled dwarf, a girl with the face of a cat, a pig named Duchess, and other individuals strange to Will’s experience round out the motley band. Things are not always as they seem however, and soon Will finds himself discerning villains and friends from the most unlikely of quarters.
Devotees of Cushman’s previous historical fiction for children, such as Matilda Bone and The Midwife’s Apprentice, will not be disappointed in this spirited new coming of age story set in Elizabethan England. With her keen eye for detail and meticulous historical research, Cushman paints a realistic depiction of that world, never attempting to sugarcoat the hard-won lot of her characters. Recommended for readers who have enjoyed Avi’s Crispin series, and similar historical tales.
For over seven decades, generations of young readers have delighted in the stories of Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny, known collectively as The Boxcar Children. But before four orphans found their way from an abandoned boxcar to a new life with their loving grandfather, they had another life and adventures yet untold. In The Boxcar Children Beginning: The Aldens of Meadow Fair Farm, Newbery Medal-winning author Patricia MacLachlan offers a new beginning to a classic series.
The Alden family of Meadow Fair Farm is not wealthy, but they have always managed. What they lack in economy they balance with the support of strong family ties and good humor. Readers will be charmed by the gentle tone and tranquil setting of the farm life and the new friends encountered as the Alden children enjoy their last season at home before embarking on a more challenging journey. MacLachlan possesses an uncanny gift for mirroring the voice of Gertrude Chandler Warner. Her narration and characterizations strongly reflect the simple, straightforward and unassuming style of the original. Those who have read any of the nineteen volumes of The Boxcar Children will be struck by the similarity of style between the two authors.
Her ability to engage young readers without overwhelming them is particularly evident in this story. The Boxcar Children Beginning prequel serves as a wonderful introduction to the rich and bountiful series, while neatly avoiding the hazard of saddening young readers when it comes to the reason for their leaving the farm. The transition from life on the farm to life in the boxcar is made all the smoother by MacLachlan’s inclusion of a continuation teaser, borrowed from the original first volume. This prequel is recommended both for younger readers who have yet to enjoy the beloved series, and for current fans curious about the children’s life before the boxcar.
There are few things more pleasing to a librarian - or to a parent - than spotting a kid giggling over a book. Imagine how satisfying it would be to see a kid laughing and engrossed in a nonfiction book about the Revolutionary War. No exaggeration: children have walked into walls while reading Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, a series of historical graphic novels.
Nathan Hale (1755-1776) was this country's first spy, traveling behind enemy lines to find information about British troop strength prior to the invasion of Manhattan. He was not a very good spy, and so One Dead Spy: The Life, Times, and Last Words of Nathan Hale, America’s Most Famous Spy begins as he is about to be hanged. Like Scheherazade, he manages to delay his appointment with the noose by telling the story of the war to his executioners, a goofy hangman and a supercilious British officer.
Nathan Hale (1976- ) is best known as the acclaimed illustrator of the graphic novels Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack. Here he takes writing credit as well. His art is lively and meticulous, rigorously researched and clearly drawn. Sieges, daring raids, and night crossings may seem like perfect material for the graphic novel treatment, but Hale manages to make even panels describing troop movements exciting. One Dead Spy is the first book in the series, and Big Bad Ironclad!: A Civil War Steamship Showdown, chronicling history of the Monitor and Merrimac, is also available. Look for two new Hazardous Tales to be published this summer.
Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis honors seventeen civil rights heroes in the beautifully illustrated collection, When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders. While Lewis’ poems celebrate well-known leaders such as Coretta Scott King and Mohandas Gandhi, he also uses this as an opportunity to present lesser known heroes to today’s children. These include Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy activist. and Dennis James Banks, Co-founder of the American Indian Movement and Anishinabe political activist. The verses bring to life the spirit of these men and women who impacted the world at large and each is accompanied by a beautiful artwork from four of today’s most celebrated illustrators.
Activism is at the heart of Crow, by adult author Barbara Wright, her first novel for children. It’s the summer of 1898, and Moses Thomas of Wilmington, North Carolina is looking forward to a fabulous summer vacation. But things don’t go as planned when his best friend finds a new pal, his father and grandmother intensify their squabbling, and his mother works long days as a maid for a rich white family. He also grows increasingly aware of the escalating tension between the African American and white communities. Moses’ dad is an alderman in town and works for the African American newspaper. The African American middle class in Wilmington is growing, but not everyone is pleased with the power wielded by this population, and a White Declaration of Independence is issued. Leading African American figures, including Moses’ father, are told to leave town. The resulting riots bring devastation to the community and directly impact Moses’ family and future. Told from the realistic point of view of a courageous young boy, this story combines historic details of the disenfranchisement of the African American community in one town with a moving coming of age story.
Tuberculosis has been called the greatest serial killer of all time, and remains a crisis in many countries. Two new books for children tackle this scourge and shed light on the incredible pain suffered by its victims and the horrors of treatment.
In 1940, thirteen year old Evelyn (“Evvy") Hoffmeister is sent to Loon Lake Sanatorium, a treatment facility for tuberculosis patients in Breathing Room by Marsha Hayles. Evvy is frightened by her new surroundings and must learn to adapt to the harsh rules – no talking, no visitors, strict bed rest. Evvy soon finds her place and makes friends with the other girls in her ward. Hayles provides a fascinating glimpse into the medical technology of the day, such as the pneumothorax which blew air into the chest, or thoracoplasty, the surgical removal of a rib which would supposedly allow a lung to collapse and heal. Period photographs add depth to the story and an author’s note provides additional information. Evvy’s voice captures the resentment, fear, determination, and hope of a young patient fighting an insidious disease with no real cure.
Evvy could very well be one of the young ladies pictured in the dramatic cover photograph of Jim Murphy’s Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never Ending Search for a Cure. This is an impeccably researched narrative nonfiction title complete with photographs, prints, and source notes. Murphy starts with the history of this deadly germ and offers evidence of tuberculosis in a 500,000 year old fossilized skull. Murphy also details the many ineffectual treatments in ancient Egypt and Greece before following the course of the dread disease through Europe and America. Finally, readers learn of the social history and impact of tuberculosis. Examples include chapters describing the warped nineteenth-century romantic view of the disease, and the difficulties encountered by African-Americans and immigrants in their search for treatment. The research, photographs, notes and easy narrative flow make this biography of a disease a fascinating read.
This year, April 15th meant more than the usual tax deadline; this year the date marked the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. In commemoration, scores of authors have already risen to the challenge of supplying children with new stories surrounding that fateful journey. Among so many new titles from which to choose, the selection process can present a challenge, particularly for parents or teachers whose intent may be not only to entertain but to educate young readers. To this end, Canadian author Julie Lawson’s Ghosts of the Titanic is a well-suited choice. Told through a dual perspective narrative, the book follows the converging chronicles of two seemingly disparate characters, separated by a century and connected by a mysterious inheritance.
Kevin Messenger: Class clown, history buff…about to embark on the mystery of a lifetime
Kevin is a precocious boy; talented and likable, but easily distracted and outspoken at home and at school. A frequent source of frustration for his parents and teachers alike, he is also a Titanic fanatic and can’t resist a good mystery. So when his father suddenly announces that the family has inherited an oceanfront property on the other side of the country – from a man they’ve never met – Kevin is only too eager to unravel the mystery of their enigmatic benefactor, Angus Seaton.
Angus Seaton: Ordinary sailor, witness to Titanic's aftermath…haunted madman?
Angus at 17 is barely more than a boy himself when he is assigned to Titanic victim recovery. Sailing out of Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1912, the crew of the MacKay-Bennett is tasked with the recovery and identification of the hundreds whose lives were lost. What he encounters there in those long days of retrieval will haunt him for the rest of his life, in more ways than one.
An engaging mystery, peppered with elements of the supernatural, Ghosts of the Titanic is an absorbing read. Yet despite the fictional nature of the narrative, Lawson manages to integrate an impressive amount of historical detail about recovery methodology and the lives touched in the days and weeks following the calamity.
Christopher Paul Curtis delivers again with a Depression-era historical fiction in The Mighty Miss Malone. Readers will delight in getting to know the mighty 12 year old Deza Malone (a character in Curtis’ Newbery winner Bud, Not Buddy) and her family. Brother Jimmie is small but has a beautiful singing voice, and Mom and Dad just want the best for their kids. The family is a tight unit and even has a motto: “a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful.” Deza is smart and spunky and even while her family is struggling with unemployment and illness, she has an optimistic outlook and a strong sense of self and her future. The family’s strong bond is tested when Mr. Malone seeks work in Flint, Michigan. But Deza, Jimmie and their mother decide to follow him and travel with him on his journey. There are hardships, but this story is filled with humor, a strong sense of history and place, and truly wonderful characters. Readers wanting more should check out the reading guide provided by Random House.
One of the frames Curtis uses to share Deza’s story is the boxing match of 1936 which saw German Max Schmeling face off against the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis. This match took on great significance because of Adolf Hitler’s increasingly powerful Nazi Germany. All Americans, and in particular African-Americans, pinned great hope for their future in this boxing ring. When Louis lost, African-Americans’ spirits sank even lower as they grappled with the Depression. In 1938, the two met in a rematch in Yankee Stadium in front of 80,000 fans, and Louis was victorious. The win helped boost morale across the country. Matt de la Peña shares the story of the second match in A Nation’s Hope: the Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis. Kadir Nelson’s remarkable illustrations highlight this story which was a watershed cultural event. Of special note to locals – Baltimore Colts’ legend Artie Donovan’s father was the referee during this match!