Thursday, April 29, 2010

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix ****

Although I'm due for an adult book, my school librarian friend suggested this one to me. I thought I'd give it a try & I'm glad I did!

I know the whole crazy-future-government thing has been done many times before in both adult and children's literature (Below the Root, The Handmaid's Tale, 1984, etc.), but this is a fresh look at it from the perspective of a 12 year old boy.

Luke is a forbidden third child, prohibited by the government and hidden in his family's attic. Luke has no friends, and has never left the farm he is raised on. What little freedom he has is lost when the woods next to his house are torn down and a new subdivision is built. Now he can never leave the house again.

But one day, he sees a face in a window of one of the new houses. Is this another illegal child? Luke takes the biggest risk of his life--he sneaks to the neighbor's house to find out. What he learns turns his world upside down.

This is the first book in a series called the Shadow Children, and I can't wait to read the next one!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Emma's River by Alison Hart ****

It's always neat to read a book set in your home state, especially if it's not written about very much. I've lived most of my life in Missouri, and most of that in St. Louis. So to have a book about a girl from St. Louis that rides on a riverboat up the Missouri River in 1852 is a nice change from all the books about westward expansion that only begin after leaving Missouri.

Emma is 10 years old & is travelling with her mother & a family friend on the riverboat Sally May up to St. Joe, Missouri to meet her father. From there they have plans to travel west to California and seek their fortune in the gold boom. Emma has finagled her mother into allowing her pony, Licorice Twist, to come also, despite the extra stress this causes the family. Emma is worried that Dr. Burton, the family friend, isn't going to make sure that Twist is taken care of properly on board the Sally May, so she sneaks off to the lowest level of the steamboat to take care of him herself. There she meets Patrick, an Irish stowaway, and befriends him.

The details are expertly given on riverboat travel at the time, and I learned quite a few things about them. I didn't know that there were steerage passengers on steamboats also at that time, though after learning that it didn't surprise me that they were treated so poorly. I did know of the dangers of riverboat travel, especially the nasty habit they had of blowing up, after learning a few years back about Mark Twain's younger brother who died in a riverboat accident. They would try to race each other and get to their destinations fast, so they pushed the edge of their steam engines quite a bit.

I was a little disappointed in the ending of the book since it ended so happily--all of the main characters not only survive the blast, but decide to travel west together. But that could be because I'm a jaded adult reading a children's book!

All in all, it was a well done historical read, one that would help children really get into the past and understand what went on.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DeCamillo *****

Lot of stars, I know. But this is the type of book I just loved as a kid, & evidently still love as an adult!

Edward Tulane is a rabbit, 3 feet tall, made of china. Abilene, 10 years old, is his mistress. She dresses him in silk suits, little leather shoes, & hats with two holes cut out of them for his ears. But Edward doesn't love her--he cares for no one other than himself.

But when he goes on an ocean cruise with Abilene & her parents, Edward is suddenly thrown overboard. And his life changes forever.

Not only is the story beautiful & sad, but the illustrations are so moving that they leave you breathless. There are several full color plates in the book, but I think my favorite picture is of the young boy Bryce, pausing while hoeing a garden, looking up at Edward. His expression is wonderful, & he looks rather similar to my own son.

This story about love, both giving & getting it, is appropriate for children at about the 4th grade level. There are some heartbreaking moments in the book that would be hard for a younger child to grasp.

I heartily recommend this jewel of a book.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Lobotomy by Howard Dully ****

Howard Dully was given a lobotomy in December 1960, when he had just turned 12 years old. His step-mother hated him & wanted him gone from her life, & this was her way of doing that. When that brutal procedure didn't make him non-communicative & immobile, he was made a ward of the state of California & lived the rest of his childhood & young adulthood in mental hospitals. As Howard writes in this book, he always wanted to know "why?" What had he done so wrong to warrant these actions against him?

When he was approached by two producers from NPR to do a 22 minute story about lobotomy, Howard finally found out what had happened to him. And the horrible truth, which was that he was a typical 12 year old boy, with no justification except his step-mother's lies for what was done to him.

To say this is a moving book is to put it mildly. The horror & outrage that I felt when reading this, & the fear that filled me when I realized that sometimes the medical community is not only incompetent but twisted, was breathtaking. How could this happen? How could this happen?

After reading the book I looked up Howard's NPR story online. If I thought the book was moving, it was nothing compared to hearing Howard himself finding out & dealing with what was done to him.

I think the thing that made the biggest impression on me was the realization of the power we, as adults, hold over children. We make so many choices for them, & not just for our own kids, but those we deal with in our jobs & in the community. We owe them the responsibility of doing what is best for them at all times, in all ways. As Howard points out, he was helpless against what was done to him. But no one stood up for him: not his father, not the doctors, not the nurses, no one.

With Holocaust Remembrance Day fast approaching (April 11), we remember to say, "Never again." Let's remember that when we deal with children also. Never again.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gabriel's Triumph by Alison Hart ****

This was a very satisfying sequel to Gabriel's Horses, & again for me it has a lot to do with the horse racing aspect of it. Hearing about the races, the crowds, & the excitement makes me anxious for the Kentucky Derby!

It's 1864, and Gabriel is traveling north to Saratoga Springs to race at the most famous racetrack of the day. He meets many hazards on the train ride there & in the barns of the racetrack itself, but also meets up with his old friend Jackson & makes a new one. His goal is to become a famous jockey, while overcoming the prejudice he experiences by being a free black man during the Civil War.

I enjoyed the second book in the Racing to Freedom Trilogy, & can't wait to read the third book now. I'm also looking forward to reading Emma's River, Alison Hart's newest book, & which the author was kind enough to send to me! How cool is that?!? Thanks again, Ms. Hart, & happy reading everyone!