Tag Archives: historical fiction

Book Review: Refugee

Refugee by Alan Gratz

refugee

Published by Scholastic in 2017

Alan Gratz is incredible at telling a historical story in a way that forces you to care about the characters, with a storyline that never drags. Refugee is the story of three teenagers a different times. Josef lives in Germany in 1939, Isabel lives in Cuba in 1994, and Mahmoud lives in Syria in 2015.

Josef’s father is sent to a concentration camp and is released if his family leaves Germany. Josef and his family get on a ship and he notices how his father has changed. As they get closer to Cuba, there are rumors that they may not be let into the country. Where will they go? What will happen to them?

Isabel’s father is being targetted by the police. Isabel teams up with a neighbor and her family to take a small boat to Miami. If they get caught before they hit the beach, they will be sent back to Cuba.

Mahmoud’s family is apartment is destroyed by a mortar strike. He and his family leave Syria to get to Turkey and then Greece. Mahmoud has learned that you survived in Syria by not being noticed, but that may be the death of them as refugees.

Although these stories take place at different times, they have common threads. And I’m struck by how Gratz weaves these stories together and shows how easily everyone’s tables can turn.

There was one thing that annoyed me. Each character has a different religion, and instead of having the Muslim character talk about Allah, the Jewish charcter talk about G-d, and the Christian character talk about God, he has them all talk about God. A part of me realizes that he is trying to show that all these characters are very similar, but I worry that he’s not being thoughtful of these character’s identity.

Overall, I loved this book! It is a fast paced story that tries to humanize a crisis that is hard for our students to wrap their mind around. In the author’s note, he makes a point to tell readers what they can do.

Quotes:

“What if her life was a song? No, not a song. A life was a symphony, with different movements and complicated musical forms. A song was something shorter. A smaller piece of life. This journey was a song,” (p. 155)

“You can live life as a ghost, waiting for death to come, or you can dance.” (p. 239)

“It was better to be visible. To stand up. To stand out.” (p. 282)

*I recieved this ARC from the publisher, I recieved no monetary compensation for this review. Quotes may change in the final publication.

Advertisements

Book Review: Catch You Later, Traitor

Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi

catch you later

Published by Algonquin Young Readers in 2015.

“I felt like I was looking though a kaleidoscope. Every turn I made, things changed: shape, color, and the connections between them. It’s a strange world when you can’t put names to the colors you’re seeing.” (p. 140)

Avi sends us to the McCarthy years with 7th grade Pete. His teacher begins targetting him because of something his dad said. Then he’s being followed by and FBI agent. This is the perfect chance for him to emulate his favorite radio show. In between action, Pete reflects as if he is a 1950’s gumshoe detective.

In addition to the adults causing grief, Pete’s friends abandon him. He only has his friend Kat left. As a way to get back at them, he decides to rebel by supporting the Giants instead of the Dodgers. The rest of the school is caught up in Dodger fever and can’t understand him.

At home, things are getting complicated. It turns out Pete’s dad DID go to ONE communist meeting when he was young. Pete begins questioning everyone. His uncle, the blind man he reads the paper to, his dad’s friends, and his dad’s coworkers.He tries to learn about his family history, and who is his dad visiting every Wednesday?  But then he wonders is someone following him? Why is there always a car following him? Is it the FBI? Someone else?

This book will keep readers on the edge of their seats and teach them about an era they may not be familiar with.

FTC disclaimer: I recieved this book through interlibrary loan. I recieved no monetary compensation for this review.

Book Review: Chasing Secrets

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

chasingsecrets.jpg

Published by Wendy Lamb Books in 2015.

Middle grade students will love this historical fiction story! Flash back to 1900’s San Francisco where there may be a plague outbreak. Lizzie realizes that their cook hid his son in her house to keep him safe, but now Jing, the cook is stuck because they quarentined Chinatown. Lizzie works to connect Jing and his son, but it’s difficult when you are an 11 year old girl. And it also turns out that there may be more to this plague than meets the eye.

This story has a great pace, great characters, and allows the reader to think about gender boundries and racial boundries.

Quotes:

“Just remember there’s a price to pay for secrets. Trust is what holds us together, Lizzie. Secrets tear us apart.” (p. 168)

“How can you decide one life is more valuable than another?” (p. 227)

Book Review: Anna and the Swallow Man

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

anna and the swallow man

published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers published in 2016.

Many school librarians have students who are voratious readers of holocaust books. I am in a school with many students who embrace those books. I am always on the look out for books that they will enjoy. I’m especially on the lookout for a variety of perspectives, because no two holocaust books are the same. This book is the story of a girl whose father is taken to concentration camps when the Polish academics were rounded up. Before she realizes what happened, she meets the Swallow Man. The Swallow Man speaks a variety of languages, including the language of Birds. Anna joins him on his journey across Poland, and he teaches her the language of Road.

Throughout the course of their travels, they meet a Jewish man named Reb Hirschl. He is a clarinet player who loves life and is filled with joy. The Swallow Man may be guarded and careful, but Reb Hirschl is a man who is boisterous and carefree. Anna enjoys her travels with both, but tension is brewing.

This story of survival has many layers that younger readers may have trouble noticing without prior knowledge. The Swallow Man is very keen on noticing the difference between Germans and Russians. The Swallow Man also claims that he is on the run from those that would use him to destroy the world (race for the atom bomb), and struggles with mental illness. He speaks in metaphors, which sometimes get confusing. There are also some scenes that allude to the potential for sexual assault. (The Swallow Man protects Anna from a peddler who was fixated on her.)

It feels like this book was written for adults, but was marketted toward middle grade and young adult. It reminded me of several books by Nicole Krauss. I enjoyed it, but I don’t know if my students would jump into this book the way they do other books placed in this time period.

Quotes:

“To be found is to be gone forever.” (p 46)

“People (including wild beasts in disguise) are more confident in their decisions when they think they have changed their own minds.” (p 70)

“Poland is, despite (or perhaps, in part, because of) all her bloodshed, a country of singular magic. Everything in the world exists in Poland, and exists in an old and silent way that is somehow more than natural.” (p 74)

“Some secrets, though widely known, are better kept hidden away.” (p 89)

“Regret is like golden jewelry: at the proper moment it may prove immeasurably valuable, but it is rarly wise to adertise its presence to strangers.” (p 93)

“Here in front of her was indisputable evidence that the world was not everywhere on fire, and was in fact, growing kinder in places.” (p 147)

“She learned late the way in which the rest of the world understands stories, not as absolute, irrevocably factual truths that simply don’t exist, but as flaccid allegories or metaphor.” (p 192)

 

FTC Disclosure: I recieved this ARC from the publisher…I recieved no monetary compensation for this review.

Book Review: Echo

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

echo

Published by Scholastic Press in 2015

This is a book that touches your soul and inspires you to walk up to the next person you meet and tell them to read this book. A beautiful narrative that weaves it’s way through time and stories reminds us of the powers of stories, and that every person has a story worth telling.

The story begins with Otto, who finds himself thrust into a fairy tale. He meets 3 girls, stripped of their names and cursed by a witch, and they tell Otto their story. The girls, Eins, Zwei, and Drei, give Otto a harmonica. Every player of the harmonica will have their souls connected, woven together through time. The girls will not be free until they save 3 souls on the brink of death, and their only tool is that harmonica.

Part one focuses on Friedrich, a boy in 1930’s Germany. He has a birthmark on his face, and that has caused people to judge him. Friedrich’s father is active in the music community. When Friedrich is bullied at school, his father pulls him from school and gets him an apprenticeship at a harmonica factory. He works with the harmonicas and is tutored by employees.

Hitler is beginning his rise to power, and Friedrich’s sister and others joined the Hitler youth. His father is taken away for being outspoken. Freidrich is working with his uncle to secure his safe return from the labor camp Dachau. Will they succeed?

Part two tells the story of Mike and Frankie in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania in 1935. They are orphans living at Bishop’s Orphanage, their grandmother chose that orphanage because of it’s piano. One day, a man comes to the orphanage and asks someone to play the piano. Mike and Frankie play a beautiful tune and the mysterious man offers to take them to be adopted by a woman named Eunice Dow Sturbridge. Then, things get odd. Mr. Howard, the man who got them from the orphanage, has been caring. Mrs. Sturbridge avoids the boys.

They soon learn that Mrs. Sturbridge has a son who died, and that her father had put it in his will that she had to adopt a child after his death, preferably a musical child. Mrs. Sturbridge was agreeing to the terms of the will, but still suffering from the depression of losing her child. Mike makes a deal with her, that no matter what, she’ll keep Frankie. Mike will be able to find a job and survive until he turns 18.

After the deal is stuck, Mrs. Sturbridge starts acting like a parent. Mike feel proud knowing his brother will be safe. Then, just when he thinks things are stable, Mike finds a document, questions the deal, and an accident occurs.

Part three takes us to California in 1942. Ivy’s family moves from a work camp and to a new home. Her father gets an interesting opportunity to watch over someone’s farm. Ivy asks where the farm owners have gone. The Yamamotos have been sent to internment camps because of the United States being at war with Japan. Ivy has to get used to a new school, a place where Mexican Americans are sent to special schools, the chance that she may be staying at a farm where they may have been spys, her brother joining the army and judgemental neighbors.

These paths are then woven together in a lyrical ending. This book pulls emotions out of the reader in every part. This book is a must read book!

Quotes:

“Your fate is not yet sealed.

Even in the darkest night, a star will shine,

A bell will chime, a path will be revealed.” (p. 23)

“And you will be forever joined to us, to all who have played the harp, and to all who will play it, by the silken thread of destiny.” (p. 24)

“Sometimes an instrument does that to a person. Makes the world seem brighter, with more possibilities.” (p. 295)

“Everybody has a heart. Sometimes you gotta work hard to find it…if there’s something you want or need to know from grown folks, you gotta step up and ask for it mannerly. Plead your case.” (p. 317)

“[in regards to Carnegie Hall] They say that all the musicians who have performed here have left a wisp of their spirits behind.” (p. 548)

 

Book Review: The Madman of Piney Woods

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis.

madman of piney woods

Published by Scholastic Press in 2014.

Benji lives in Buxton, Ontario. Red lives in Chatam, Ontario. In between their two towns is the Piney Woods. A mysterious man lives in the woods. Some folks know him as the “South Buxton Lion Man,” others know him as “the Madman of Piney Woods.”

Red lives with his father who is a judge, and his grandmother who immigrated from Ireland. His goal is to become a scientist.

Benji lives with his parents, and siblings Patience and Stubby. Benji loves exploring in the woods and wants to become a newspaper reporter.

The boys keep having interactions with the “Madman of Piney Woods.” Until tragedy strikes in the forest.

Overall, I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would have. Christopher Paul Curtis has a way with writing and character development.

Memorable Quotes:

“The old soldiers say you never hear the bullet that kills you. They say that as if there’s some comfort in those words.” (pg 3)

“Our memories are always in the process of falling apart; they’re constatnly fading. Keep that in mind when people tell you about the past. Your friends aren’t necessarily being malicious or trying to frighten or decieve you. They’re probably doing their best to recall, but even the sharpest memory becomes more unreliable with the passage of time.” (pg 91)

“The woods are like a pond: Nothing can go throught them without leaving ripples; you only have to be able to read the ripples to know what has moved.” (pg 94)

“It’s the same twenty six leters, taught to most of us, but only a few can make those letters fall into words and do tricks and lift bricks and move mountains.” (pg 119)

“The spoken word allows for more room for the magician, a lot more space for flash and distraction and deception. As writers, we cannot afford to do that. We need to be bold and allow the truth to shield us.” (pg 162)

“There was no stopping this.  In the same manner that water in the Niagara River gets to a certain point and its fate is sealed, the Madman was unstoppable in pulling us into his nightmare.” (pg 182)