Review by Annie Cronin Romano
It’s been over three years since World War II ended, but fifth grader Glory Bea Bennett still holds on to the hope that her father will return from France, where he was reportedly killed in action. The Merci Train, a boxcar with gifts from the people of France, will make a stop in Glory Bea’s hometown of Gladiola, Texas, and Glory Bea is convinced her father will be the train’s surprise guest. When her father's army buddy, Randall Horton, arrives in town to meet their family, romance blooms between Mrs. Bennett and Randall, threatening to derail Glory Bea's plans for her father's reunion with their family. Simultaneously sweet and heart-wrenching, BLUE SKIES (Simon & Schuster, March 2020) is a middle grade historical fiction novel set in 1948 which examines the effects the war had on home front families. You'll fall in love with Glory Bea's feisty personality, devotion to her family, and unfaltering faith in what her heart desires.
On Writing: Anne Bustard employs light humor and an atmospheric subplot (middle school crushes at the soda fountain counter, anyone?) to assist in presenting the difficult subject of a family recovering from the impact of World War II. Her characters are well-developed and engaging, making this a strong mentor text for middle grade writers working on character development or writing about challenging topics.
For more information on Anne Bustard's work, visit her website at https://annebustard.com/.
Review by Amanda Smith
Hannah Jordan lives in a Gilded Age mansion. Well, actually, she lives in the converted servant’s quarters of a mansion. Her father is the caretaker of The Elms, one of the most esteemed historical properties in Newport, RI. Hannah is a history buff and loves all things antique, but mostly she adores the reproduction portrait of Maggie and longs to spend a day in the rich heiress’ shoes.
Maggie is the twelve-year-old niece of the coal tycoon who built The Elms. Even though she loves her aunt and uncle, she finds her life mundane. Portrait sittings, tea with her stuck-up cousin, lawn tennis, and her aunt’s stifling opinions on what girls can and cannot do leave Maggie wanting.
In FREAKY FRIDAY-like fashion, Hannah and Maggie swap places though a mirror in the mansion. Hannah, who revels in everything 1905, is set on solving the mystery surrounding the heist of the original Maggie portrait, with the help of kitchen boy, Jonah. Both girls believe solving the heist will switch them back. While Hannah plays investigator and has to swallow archaic beliefs about women, Maggie navigates modern technology, encounters vastly different family relationships, and experiences the liberties and opportunities brought about by the women’s rights movement.
In this fun mystery adventure, the reader goes on a time traveling journey with Hannah, and experiences the wonders and restraints of the Gilded Age through the eyes of a modern twelve-year-old. The narrative leads the reader to reflect on today’s privileges and liberties that are often taken for granted. An endearing cast of characters strings readers along multiple twists and turns. They are forced to make difficult decisions and have us rooting for them all the way.
Even though THE ART OF THE SWAP (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin; 2018) has two girl main characters, the adventure and mystery aspect, humorous situations, and a strong male character in Jonah make this a story boys and girls will enjoy. The story sheds light on women’s rights and gender inequality. It had both my sons thinking, noticing, and commenting. THE ART OF THE SWAP is an enjoyable book to read aloud with your kids and a perfect classroom book for 5th - 7th grade that will springboard interesting and important discussions.
Hop on over to our blog here to read how Kris and Jen co-wrote THE ART OF THE SWAP.
A review by Annie Cronin Romano
Set over a ten-month span during World War II, Lois Sepahban's PAPER WISHES follows ten-year-old Manami and her family as they are uprooted from their home on Bainbridge Island, Washington, to the Manzanar Japanese relocation camp in California. Manami is devastated by this move, particularly when her beloved dog, Yujiin, is not allowed to go with them. The emotional trauma of the move and internment causes Manami to go mute. Unable to verbally communicate, Manami turns to drawing and painting as a means of expressing herself. In her efforts to bring Yujiin back to her family, Manami sends some of her artwork up into the winds in the form of paper lanterns, hoping Yujiin will sense her wishes and find her again.
Sepahban thoughtfully and vividly depicts the confinement of Japanese-American families through Manami’s eyes. Told in the first person, PAPER WISHES skillfully captures Manami’s fears and hopes while strikingly depicting the pride and beauty of her family’s traditions, commitment to one another and, ultimately, Manami’s bravery. PAPER WISHES, a middle grade novel for children ages 9-12, unfolds like a fan into a rich canvas of devotion and courage. Do not let PAPER WISHES pass you by!
Lois Sepahban delves into the tensions of wartime mistrust with tenderness and spare yet vividly poetic language. The novel is structured so that each chapter depicts one month, beginning with March and ending in December. The great emotional distance travelled by Manami and her family during this time is conveyed brilliantly by Sepahban, and the pacing is well-balanced and engaging. Sepahban illuminates this important, morally disturbing event in America’s history with delicacy and emotional depth.
For more information on Lois Sepahban’s work, visit her website at www.loissepahban.com.
Review by Kelly Carey
For adults who loved All the Light We Cannot See, here is a middle grade novel for the young reader that similarly embraces the universality of the tiny threads that bind all of humanity together. This 2016 Newbery Honor novel blends a mystical fairy tale, complete with kings, queens, evil witches, spells and curses with the grounding historical reality of Nazi Germany, the Great Depression and the treatment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. On the surface, Ryan uses music, and specifically harmonica music, to connect the stories. But, on completion of this amazingly crafted novel, readers will find a linkage that goes beyond music, time and place.
Echo reels readers in with an opening story filled with enchantment and make-believe. The opening story is left incomplete as Echo introduces three separate tales told through the eyes of three young protagonists. As each protagonist faces their own daunting challenges, the history around their lives becomes relatable and personal. Friedrich is caught in Nazi Germany just before World War II. Mike struggles during the Great Depression, and Ivy’s story plays out after Pearl Harbor. For young readers who devoured the Magic Tree House series, and are ready to jump up a level, Echo is the natural next step in historical fiction for children.
Pam Munoz Ryan’s Echo proves that a single story can jump genres and be more successful for the leap. Her novel is equal parts fairy tale and historical fiction. The combination has an amazingly readable effect.
While the history is there, Pam Munoz Ryan uses poetic, yet solid and simple characters, to show rather than tell the history. As a result, readers become entranced with each character. You will cheer for them and weep for them because they are complete in their humanity, in their flaws, in their hopes and in their struggles. Ryan’s characterization is so full that you know things about her main characters without her ever even telling you. Here is an author who didn’t just create characters, she created souls.
Such simple errands as buying new shoes were not easy—or equal—for African Americans in the years of segregation. When Ella Mae learns first hand that she is not allowed to try on shoes at her local shoe store because of the color of her skin, she and her cousin, Charlotte, channel their disappointment and anger into positive action. They figure out a way to ensure that others in their neighborhood can “try on all the shoes they want” and be treated with the respect they deserve. Author Susan Lynn Meyer’s beautifully written story sheds light on this disturbing occurrence of inequality and shows the grace and dignity of two young girls determined to make a difference for others in their community.
The story is beautifully illustrated by Eric Velasquez, whose rich artwork flawlessly coveys the strength and depth of Meyer’s story. Put together, the text and illustrations reveal the sadness of the inequalities of the past and the brilliance of Ella Mae’s determination to rise above prejudice and affirm the humanity of her race.
NEW SHOES is picture book for children ages 6-9. This historical fiction story is a treasure and shares a vital message of the importance of equality and pride in the face of adversity. A must-have book for every classroom and household!
Meyer’s message in NEW SHOES is powerful yet gently delivered. This historical fiction picture book bravely approaches the inequitable treatment of African Americans from a new angle, showing how important historical lessons can be integrated seamlessly into the picture book format.
~Annie Cronin Romano
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