Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

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MacLachlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall.  Charlotte Zolotow Books, 1985.  $14.99, 58 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Patricia-MacLachlan/38022587

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Sarah’s visit out West will determine if she will stay on as wife for Papa and mother for Anna and Caleb.

Summary:

Papa had put in an advertisement for a wife in the newspaper.  Sarah has answered the ad and has since exchanged letters with the family.  Now Sarah is coming to visit.  Coming from Maine, things are very different in the West.  Sarah learns about farm life and shares about dunes and the sea on the East Coast.  She sings with the children, shares her sea shell collection, and cuts their hair.  Always overhanging is the question if life in the West is enough for Sarah and if she will stay.  After a particularly bad squall, Sarah asks to learn to ride a horse and go into town by herself.  Will she return?  Or is she buying a ticket to go back to Maine?

Evaluation:

Sarah, Plain and Tall is written in a style that mimics the title: plain.  The language is simple, and the plot straightforward.  But as simple as the writing style, the story is believable for the time period and the characters are endearing.  Caleb is a believable, precocious little boy, full of questions and always speaking his mind.  Pa is hard working and reserved, but his thoughts and feelings are conveyed in his actions.  Sarah is different; she is foreign, headstrong (choosing to wear overalls when Caleb tells her that women do not wear overalls), capable (helping Pa with the roof), and compassionate (crying for a dead lamb and saving her chickens in the squall).  Anna’s constant hope that Sarah will stay echos in each scene she narrates, causing the reader to cling to the hope too that Sarah will stay.  Life in the West is clearly contrasted with life on the East Coast.  Details of the historic time period are accurate and help to create the overall atmosphere.  Though simple like its namesake, the book is a charming read.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 2
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction

Appeal Factors: history, romance, family relationships, life in the West

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Skylark by Patricia Maclachlan
  • The Bread Winner by Arvella Whitmore
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Newberry Medal

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Sarah’s letters to Pa
  • Creating dunes in the barn
  • Sarah in the squall

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Would a mail-order bride work today?
  • How is the sea used in this novel?
  • Does Sarah give any hints whether she wants to go or stay?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it is one that is used in elementary schools.  I was curious about what historical time period it portrayed and how it was portrayed.

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The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

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Barton, Chris.  The Day-Glo Brothers.  Charlesbridge, 2009.  $18.95, 44 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.chrisbarton.info/

Links to Interviews with Author:

  • cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2009/07/author-interview-chris-barton-on-day.html

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: What started out as an experiment to enhance a magic trick soon became America’s brightest new thing!

Summary:

Bob and Joe Switzer never set out to create new colors.  Joe enjoyed magic.  Bob wanted to be a doctor.  But after an accident that left him with seizures and unable to be a doctor, Bob found himself recovering in the basement of his parents’ home.  Joe soon recruited him to help with a magic trick that used ultraviolet lamps and fluorescence.  Soon the brothers were experimenting using chemicals from local universities and their mother’s kitchen mixer.  Their glow in the dark paints were a hit with theater costumers, on posters, in toy displays, and even with psychics to fake out gullible customers.  The brothers continued to experiment and soon developed a paint that glowed in daylight and in ultraviolet light.  Day-Glo was born and quickly put to use during World War II.  After the war, Day-Glo also made its way into commercial products like toys, magazine covers, detergent boxes and even into cultural pieces like Andy Warhol’s paintings.  The Switzer brother had brightened up almost every aspect of American life.

Evaluation:

This nonfiction text was an original story that showcases two creative brothers who invent something without even setting out to do so.  The narrative style of this book is easily followed and enjoyable to read.  Based on first hand interviews with people who knew the Switzer brothers, it includes charming and entertaining details about their experiments (and a glowing angel food cake), their initial successes (with a decapitated Balinese dancer), and their triumphs (with the multitude of ways Day-Glo was used in World War II that helped America win the war).  The language of the text is not weighed down by many technical terms, but rather remains conversational in the telling of a story. The illustrations are retro, calling back to the 1950’s and 60’s and early educational cartoons.  They start out initially in gray scale, but more colors and brighter colors are utilized with each success of the brothers.  The author’s conclusion was also quite touching, acknowledging that one brother wanted to save lives, and one brother wanted to wow audiences, and through their Day-Glo, both were able to achieve these things.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: nonfiction, science, history

Appeal Factors: illustrations, use of color, science, experiments, history

Readalike Titles or Authors:

    • The Boy who Invented TV by Kathleen Krull
    • Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Siebert Award honor book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Balinese dancer illusion
  • Experimenting with every day items
  • Billboard on fire

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does the author imply that Day-Glo has saved lives?
  • How are colors used in this book?
  • What does the author say about problem solving and invention?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this because of the unique subject matter of Day-Glo paint.  The brothers’ story was unfamiliar to me and to many others.  I was also drawn in by the retro illustrations and the clever use of color.

Mister Orange by Truus Matti

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Matti, Truus. Mister Orange. Enchanted Lion Books, 2012.  $16.95, 160 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.letterenfonds.nl/en/author/381/truus-matti

Links to Interviews with Translator:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: To deal with his brother’s departure for war, Linus makes friends with an imaginary superhero and a real life artist.

Summary:

When Linus’ older brother Albie goes to Europe to fight in World War II, Linus is left with Mr. Superspeed, the superhero Albie created, to reassure him that Albie will be safe.  Along with other changes, Linus now takes over the delivery of groceries for the family store.  One of his regular customers is a man he calls Mister Orange for the crates of oranges he delivers.  Mister Orange turns out to be an artist from Holland (based on Piet Mondrian), who left to escape the Nazi oppression of the arts and artists.  Linus soon befriends Mister Orange and they have interesting conversations about art and life.  It is Mister Orange that Linus turns to when he reads a letter from Albie that portrays the reality of war as opposed to the romanticized version that Linus imagined when Albie first left.  Convinced that imagination has no practical use in the world, Linus even stops his conversations with Mr. Superspeed.  Through his friendship with Mister Orange, Linus is able to move past his shattered innocence and find a place for his imagination and himself in the world again.

Evaluation:

The story was written with simple and straightforward language.   Told from the point of view of a child, there is an innocence and wonder about the world as experienced by Linus.  The conversations with the imaginary superhero add to the innocent atmosphere.  This is until his illusions are shattered by the harsh truth about war and about life.  Matti has a beautiful scene where Mister Orange talks to Linus about the value of imagination.  This really conveys his theme also about art and its value.  The characters are likeable and believable.  Linus and his family could be any family with a child off at war.  Their relationships and struggles are true to life and easy to sympathize with.  Mister Orange is based on a real artist, Piet Mondrian.  At the end of the book is additional information and resources about Mondrian.  Overall, this book, while set during World War II was more about art and life than about war.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction

Appeal Factors: art, history, World War II, family relationships, comics, imagination

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Erika’s Story by Ruth Vander Zee
  • Copprenickel Goes Mondrian by Maria Popova

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Batchelder Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Conversations with Mr. Superspeed
  • Reading Albie’s letter about his friend dying
  • Mister Orange’s apartment decor
  • Conversation with Mister Orange about imagination

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Mister Orange says that you have to have imagination to be able to go to war.  Do you agree or disagree?
  • Can art fight wars?  How?
  • Why does the author use the conversations with Mr. Superspeed?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because I thought it was a novel about World War II.  It actually ended up being more about art and an artist.  However, the message about imagination was powerful and the characters were delightful.

Son of a Gun by Anne de Graaf

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de Graaf, Anne.  Son of a Gun. Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, 2006.  $8.00,

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.annedegraaf.com/Home.html

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: “Crazy mad and armed with an AK-47” describes Liberian child soldier Lucky and his sister Nopi.

Summary:

Snatched from their village school meeting, two Liberian children Nopi (10) and Lucky (8) are given guns and trained with other children to do the tasks that adults were too smart or to scared to do.  After Nopi is deafened defending her brother, they escape following other children.  They return to their village and home, which have been destroyed.  So they make their way to Monrovia to their grandparents, where thankfully they are reunited with their parents.  Trouble arises again later when then their parents and grandmother are taken to search for diamonds, leaving the children again on their own.  Nopi ends up being captured by rebel forces, becoming a third wife for a colonel.  Lucky is caught by the government army.  Both have to learn to fight to survive.  With nothing left, Lucky firmly becomes entrenched in the soldier mentality.  After five years of fighting, Lucky realizes the emptiness of his existence and returns home.  Nopi has been surviving in a refugee camp after her escape.  She, amazingly, finds her parents.  Soon the three are also reunited with Lucky, who turns in his gun to go to school.

Evaluation:

Written in alternating point of view, Son of a Gun tells the hopeless story of child soldiers forced to fight in the Liberian wars.  The language is simple and straightforward.  The bloody details are glossed over, but both children experience horrific violence and are expected to carry out terrible tasks.  De Graaf does a good job of showing how the child soldiers find a place and purpose in fighting which exists in a vacuum of opportunities and family.  The alternating points of view of children, as well as the shifts in time, does make the story confusing at times.  The plot is not linear, but circles back to similar events throughout the story.  This book shows a glimpse into the lives of child soldiers that is not so widespread.  Its message about the importance of education and options is clear.  It also does a good job of showing how and why the child soldiers are so firmly entrenched in the fighting.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction, historical fiction

Appeal Factors: history, Liberian wars, child soldiers, promise of a future

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
  • War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon McKay
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Batchelder Award honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The capture at school
  • Meeting James in the midst of battle
  • Lucky’s frame of mind as a soldier

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does Lucky get comfortable in the life of a soldier?
  • What message does Lucky have for James?
  • Why do Lucky and James have such different views about being a soldiers at the end of the novel?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it was about child soldiers in Liberia.  I was interested in this subject because I have never read much about the topic.

Thanks to My Mother by Schoschana Rabinovici

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Rabinovici, Schoschana.  Thanks to My Mother.  Dial Books, 1998.  $17.99, 247 pages.

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

  • 11 year old Suzanne survives the horrors of the Holocaust due to her mother’s quick thinking and determination for her to live.

Summary:

Suzanne is eight years old when the Germans invade the Soviet Union and occupy Vilnius, Lithuania where she and her family lived.  Thanks to My Mother is a memoir told from Susie’s point of view of the next four years.  Although her immediate and extended family stays in her grandfather’s apartment to avoid persecution, all fourteen eventually are moved to the Vilnius Ghetto.  Through a combination of good luck and quick thinking, the family survives in tact until the ghetto is liquidated and they go to the Rossa Cemetery.  There Susie’s mother saves her from being split off to the group of old people and children (who will be killed) by carrying her in a canvas backpack.  Susie and her mother are then transported to Kaiserwald and Stutthof concentration camps, where they live amidst deplorable and horrifying situations where, again, Susie survives when her mother realizes danger is near and creative finds ways out for Susie.  The horrors culminate in an eleven day death march through freezing conditions to Tauentzien concentration camp, where Susie got sick.  She was too sick to be evacuated as the Red Army made advances, and was actually unconscious when they were liberated. They were finally reunited with their single living relative, her uncle.

Evaluation:

This memoir was an difficult read for me.  The details of daily life for poor Susie, her family, and the other families in the camps were heartbreaking.  The writing style is very straightforward, told from the eyes of a child.  As such, there are some instances where an adult audience realizes that Susie’s aunt is pregnant in the ghetto, but Suzanne thinks it’s just food poisoning.  The strength and force of Susie’s mother is amazing.  Trusting her instincts and using creative thinking, she is able to save Suzanne and herself in such dark and dangerous situations.  The details about other characters and their actions drew a truthful, if sometimes depressing, portrait of humanity.  Though there were plenty of cold and detached Germans, there were also those that showed quick glimpses of compassion.  Of the people in the concentration camps, the depth of despair, frustration, fear, and at the same time, love, friendship, hope are overwhelming in the characterization.  This was an intense and difficult read, but rewarding in that both Susie and Raja survive to tell the tale.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 2
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: non-fiction, memoir

Appeal Factors: non-fiction, history, World War II, Holocaust, memoir, mother-daughter relationship, survival story

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • A Child of the Warsaw Ghetto by David Adler
  • Hidden Children by Isaac Millman
  • The Liesel Rosenburg Story by Megan Novack

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Batchelder Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • “Actions” at the Vilnius Ghetto
  • Sneaking Susie into the Rossa Cemetery
  • Batja’s mother having to choose between saving Batja or her younger sister

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • This memoir has been criticized as lacking “redemptive vision.”  Does it?
  • How does this portrayal of the Holocaust and concentration camps compare to other similar literature you have read?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it was a memoir about survival of the Holocaust and the story of a mother’s love for her daughter.  It made me think of a real life version of the movie Life is Beautiful.  As a mother of two, it was heartbreaking to imagine what Susie’s mother went through to keep Susie alive through those horrible things.

Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

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Sheinkin, Steve.  Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal –  the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

Link to Author’s Website:  http://www.stevesheinkin.com/index.html

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

The true story of cutting edge technology, espionage, military commandos, ruthless dictators, and the world’s most dangerous weapon.

Summary:

Written as a spy-thriller, Bomb opens with the moments before Harry Gold is caught in his own home with evidence that he has been involved in the spy game for 17 years.  What enfolds is the enthralling story of how the atomic bomb came to be.  From the minds and labs of scientists, to the spies who sought their secrets, to the commandos sent to destroy enemy progress in the nuclear arms race, and all the political environment that created and supported these tumultuous times.  Key figures in the story include Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, Eugene Wigner, Leo Szilard, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Knut Haukelid, Leslie Groves, Enrico Fermi, Jens Poulsson, Robert Serber, Harry Truman, Dorothy McKibben, Richard Feynman, Moe Berg, and Paul Tibbets.

Evaluation:

This is the kind of nonfiction that would engage younger readers (any readers for that matter).  The narrative style of this book read more like a spy novel or Cold War thriller than dry nonfiction texts that turn readers off of nonfiction.  Facts were told in narrative stories about the characters, anecdotes that were linked together to create the overall picture of the duplicitous race to perfect the atom bomb.  The sub and parallel plots make this read slightly more complex.  Each part of the book was set up to look like a case file, complete with black and white photographs of key people with type written text “paper clipped” to them.  The language used was contemporary and accessible for readers.  The pacing of the book was fast enough to keep readers engaged and the writing suspenseful enough to keep readers turning the page to find out more.  Thematically, readers are encouraged to consider the state of affairs and implications of technology and weapons and the climate (like ours today) where they may come from and be used in.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre:  non-fiction, history, popular history, narrative history

Appeal Factors:  war, weapons, espionage

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos by Jennet Conant
  • American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird
  • The Ultimate Weapon: The Race to Develop the Atomic Bomb by Edward T. Sullivan

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Newbery Honor Book
  • National Book Awards – Finalist
  • Robert F. Sibert Award
  • YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The scene of the “chain reaction” success of splitting the atom
  • The Norwegian raid on the Vemork plant
  • When Lona Cohen was almost caught on the train by the FBI agents

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does the story end the same way it began?
  • Do you think that the Americans who spied for the Soviet Union gave legitimate responses as to why they spied?
  • What elements of the way the story was told or the way the book was written or organized made it seem more like a spy thriller than a nonfiction text?

Why I Chose This:

The title of this book was what hooked me into choosing it for this database.  It received high praise for being different from other nonfiction texts, even from adult readers.  Besides the race for technology to create the atom bomb, the element of “stealing” and spying to get the technology sounded interesting to me.  I was also interested in learning more about this topic.