Ella Wood by Michelle Isenhoff

Ella Wood2940151472746_p0_v1_s260x420Ella Wood

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

Michelle Isenhoff, Publisher, Historical Fiction, May 10, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 12-16

Themes: Morality, Civil War, Slavery, Family relationships, Love

Opening: The sight of blood had a powerful effect on Emily Preston. It was merely a trickle of red oozing from a black woman’s finger, but it rocked the very foundation of her upbringing.

Synopsis: After spending a year living with her abolitionist uncle in Detroit, Emily Preston is no longer a spoiled Southern belle, but a thoughtful 16-year-old whose views about slavery have been dramatically altered. Her heart wants to believe that the slaves living at her beloved Ella Wood are treated well, but she sees signs that things are amiss. Emily has changed in many other ways. She’s really not interested in social parties, suitors and marriage proposals. Although she is drawn to some brief romantic encounters with suitors Thad and Jovie, she harbors a secret dream of attending university like her brother, Jack. This wish creates conflict between Emily and her traditional and controlling father. With the war looming between the North and South and her father’s involvement in politics, Emily’s independent spirit begins to take flight.

What I like about Ella Wood:

Michelle Isenhoff proves her skill as an outstanding literary author in her recent YA novel Ella Wood, a sequel to her MG novel, The Candle Star. Taking Emily’s story to a more mature level is an ambitious undertaking for Isenhoff, who is responding to her readers’ request to know more about Emily’s journey. Ella Wood is the first novel in this new trilogy.

Ella Wood is bold and profound, and heartbreaking and breathtaking all at once. Highly researched, this captivating work of historical fiction offers a penetrating look into South Carolina’s role in the civil war, the elite plantation owners, the customs and culture, and the horrific treatment of slaves.

Readers will care about her distinct and memorable characters. Emily is strong-willed and determined to fight for what she believes, unlike her mother, a proper Southern lady who bows to her husband’s demands. Brother Jack has top grades at the university, but runs with the wrong crowd. Suitor Thad is dashing, exciting, and mysterious, while Jovie is a solid Southern gentleman and supports Emily’s ambitions. Emily’s loyal slave and friend, Lizzie, carries many sorrows and deep-seated secrets.

Isenhoff’s plot is realistic, gripping and full of tension. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged. I am completely invested in this book and enjoyed every moment I spent with Ella Wood. The ending is unexpected and feels a bit rushed for me. It left me with many questions. I look forward to the second book in the Ella Wood Trilogy, which will be published in 2016. I highly recommend Ella Wood!

Michelle Isenhoff is the author of the The Candle Star, Blood of Pioneers and Beneath the Slashings (Divided Decade Collection); Song of the Mountain and Fire on the Mountain (Mountain Trilogy); Taylor Davis and the Flame of Findul, Taylor Davis and the Clash of Kingdoms; The Color of Freedom; and The Quill Pen. Visit Michelle Isenhoff at her website.

The War that Saved My Life

The War that Saved Life9780803740815_p0_v2_s260x420The War that Saved my Life

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jan. 8, 2015

Pages: 316

Suitable for Grade Levels – 4 – 7

Themes: WW II, Evacuation of children, London, Siblings, Family relationships, Disabilities, Identity

Opening: “Ada! Get back from that window!” Mam’s voice, shouting. Mam’s arm, grabbing mine, yanking me so I toppled off my chair and fell hard to the floor.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother, Jamie, is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute — she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan — and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But, in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

What I like about this book:

  • Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s story tugs at her reader’s heart-strings from the first page. It is a captivating journey about pain, love (lost and found), freedom from the past and victory over obstacles. The narrative is in Ada’s voice.
  • The setting is vivid and realistic, from Ada’s window perch to the beautiful English countryside, Susan Smith’s home, the airfield, and the community that love and support the siblings. The story is rich in detail of how WW II changed British family life. And there are spies and bombs. The author did a lot of research.
  • The story is character driven.  Readers will be captivated by Ada’s spirit and strong will.  She is a survivor and makes her escape from her one-room prison, Mam, and Hitler’s bombs.  In Ada, we see how abusive relationships can be more crippling than her clubbed foot. Ada shows signs of detachment when she finds it hard to trust and get close to Susan. Instead she bonds with a pony named Butter even though she wants to believe in love and acceptance.
  • The strong plot is fast-moving with unexpected surprises and twists that have the reader quickly turning pages.
  • The War that Saved My Life is a story that will stay with you long after you put it down. Once I finished the story, I wasn’t ready to let it go. I thought about the characters the next day and reread the last four chapters the next evening. For me, this is a book worth reading!

My Favorite Ada lines: I was greeted with smiles and shouts of “There’s our little spy-catcher! or “There’s our good lass!”  It was if I’d been born in the village. As if I’d been born with two strong feet. As if I really was someone important, someone loved.”

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, a longtime Anglophile, first became interested in World War II evacuees, when her mother read Bedknobs and Broomsticks out loud at bedtime. Her historical fiction has garnered great acclaim: Jefferson’s Sons received four starred reviews, Ruthie’s Gift was a Publishers Weekly Flying Start, and For Freedom was an IRA Teacher’s Choice and Bank Street College Best Book of the Year. Visit Bradley at her website.

Taking Flight

TTaking Flight9780385755115_p0_v3_s260x420aking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina

Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince, authors

Alfred A. Knopf,  Memoir, Oct. 14, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12-17

Themes: Michaela DePrince, Ballet, War orphan, Sierra Leone, Adoption, Vitiligo, Courage, Hope

Synopsis: Michaela DePrince was born in 1995 in war-torn Sierra Leone and named Mabinty Bangura.  She was born with Vitiligo, a medical condition that causes blotchy spots on her skin. To the villagers she was a curse and called a spotted leopard. However, she had loving parent who taught her to read, write and speak four different languages. When the rebels killed her father and her mother died, her uncle sold her to an orphanage, where she became #27 .  She was starved, abused, and faced incredible dangers from the rebels. One day she found a picture of a ballerina in a magazine which affected her life forever. At four, she and her best friend Mia were adopted by an American family. The family encouraged her love of dancing and made it possible for her to study at the Rock School for Dance Education and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre.  She is now a member of the world-famous Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam.

What I like about this book:

  • The heart of this story is the strong mother/daughter relationship which translates into a remarkable collaboration and a gripping memoir about Michaela’s journey from Mabinty Bangura, a war orphan in Sierra Leone, to a 17-year-old professional ballerina.
  • The story’s real strength lies in Michaela’s lifelong passion to become a ballerina and her remarkable determination to break through racial barriers to dance classical and neo-classical ballet with a professional company.  She shows great discipline and sacrifice to be the best.
  • The narrative about Michaela’s journey is compelling and unforgettable. Taking Flight is written in such a manner that young readers would be able to handle the details of war and be interested in learning some history about West Africa.
  • The story is simply told in prose, but is filled with satisfying detail. The pacing is perfect and the book is a page-turner.  This book is ideal for any reader, but young black ballet dancers will especially find hope in Michaela’s story.
  • I found Taking Flight a joy to read because of its authenticity and honesty. Michaela thought America was wonderful until she began to notice the bigotry she experienced while living with her white family, especially when they went out in public. But it took true grit to face the racial discrimination and profiling she encountered in the ballet world. She heard comments that “black women are too athletic for classical ballet…to muscular…and aren’t delicate enough to become  world-class dancers.” She still struggles with “the racial bias in the world of ballet.”
  • There is a section of photos in the middle of the book documenting her life — from the African orphanage, her new home and family, to her ballet training and dancing. These photos will help young readers better grasp her life.

Resources:  Michaela DePrince starred in the ballet documentary First Position, which can be found in many libraries.  She hesitated to be featured but decided that it was something that she could do to help African-American children who dream of dancing.  She felt she had a responsibility to write a memoir and share the “hardy dose of hope” she had been blessed with.  Visit Michaela DePrince at her website.

The Whispering Town

The WhisperingTown9781467711951_p0_v1_s260x420The Whispering Town

Jennifer Elvgren, Author

Fabio Santomauro, Illustrator

Kar-Ben Publishing, Historical fiction, 2014

Suitable for ages: 7-11

Themes: Denmark, German Occupation, Jews, Holocaust, World War II

Opening: “There are new friends in the cellar, Anett,” Mama said when I woke up. “Time to take breakfast down to them.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: It is 1943, in Nazi-occupied Denmark. Anett and her parents are hiding a Danish Jewish woman and her son, Carl, in their cellar until a fishing boat can take them across the sound to neutral Sweden. Worried about their safety, Anett thinks of a clever and unusual plan to get them safely to the harbor.

Why I like this book: The Whispering Town is based on a true story. Jennifer Elvgren’s text is simple and will teach children about the Holocaust and the heroes who risked their lives to help. It is a great introduction book to the Holocaust. This is a compelling story about the courage and compassion of a girl, her family and village to defy the Nazis and house and guide Danish Jews to Sweden. The story is narrated by the main character, Anett, who is very mature and learns to keep a very big secret. Anett is courageous and clever. She knows how to sneak extra food from the right people who are helping on the underground. When the Nazis begin knocking on doors, the stakes rise. The Jews must be moved. A problem occurs when it is too dark to sneak the Jews through the town. The villagers like Anett’s idea and “whisper” the Jews to the fishing boats. Fabio Santomauro’s artwork suggests an air of secrecy with his dark and muted tones and black lines. This is an important book to add to a school library as it focuses on the courage of a community.

Resources: Visit Jennifer Elvgren at her website. Kar-Ben Publishing has resources on the Holocaust. It is growing Jewish library for children.

Dash

Dash9780545416351_p0_v1_s260x420Dash

Kirby Larson, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Aug, 26, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Japanese-American Children, Evacuation, Relocation, Concentration Camps,  Dogs, WW II

Synopsis: After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Mitsi Kashino is separated from her home, friends, schoolmates, community and her beloved dog, Dash. There is a lot of fear in America. Because Mitsi is of American-Japanese descent, she and her family are forced to pack their suitcases and are evacuated from their home.  They are relocated to two different concentration camps that are overcrowded, unhealthy, and surrounded by tall fences. Mitsi is forced to leave her dog, Dash, with Mrs. Bowker, an older neighbor who cares for him. Mrs. Bowker sends Mitsi weekly letters from Dash. Mitsi’s strong family ties and her letters from Dash give her hope that one day she will be reunited with her pet.

Why I like this book: Kirby Larson has created a strong heart-felt connection for her readers with Mitsi’s attachment to Dash. Dash adds an authentic touch to this deeply emotional story about a dark period in America’s history. Larson shows Mitsi going to school, playing with her two best friends until the attack occurs on Pearl Harbor occurs. Mitsi feels the prejudice from her best friends who begin to bully her with facial expressions, racial slurs and nasty notes. Larson’s characters are well-developed. Mitsi’s voice remains determined  and strong even when she’s struggling and balancing so many issues. She finds solace in her artwork and writing.  Larson’s depiction of life at the internment camps is very realistic with over-crowded living conditions, long lines, heat, dirt, fleas, smelly latrines,  and minimal food (oatmeal and Vienna Sausages). The plot is engaging, heartbreaking, and packed with adventure. Larson’s powerful story is based on the true story of Mitsue “Mitsi” Shiraishi, who loved her dog, Chubby and left him behind with a neighbor, who wrote the real “Mitsi” letters from Chubby. I highly recommend this important story about the resilience of the human spirit.

Kirby Larson is the acclaimed author of the 2007 Newbury Honor book Hattie Big Sky; its sequel, Hattie Ever After; The Friendship Doll; Dear America: The Fences Between Us; and Duke.  Visit Kirby Larson at her website.

Lost Girl Found

Lost Girl Found9781554984169_p0_v1_s260x420Lost Girl Found

Leah Bassoff and Laura DeLuca, Authors

Groundwood Books, Fiction, March 2014

Suitable for Ages: 13-17

Themes: Lost Girls, Education, Persecution, Refugees, Sudan, War, Survival, Courage, Hope

Pages: 192

Synopsis:  Poni lives in Chukudum, a small village in South Sudan. Poni wants an education and is encouraged by her mama. She is smart and has no interest in marriage. She beats away the boys who show her any attention. She will not be forced into a marriage like her best friend, Nadai. Instead she watches the boys, becomes a fast runner and swims in the forbidden Kinyeti River. One night the bombs start falling over her village and Poni flees for her life. She can’t find her family and journeys with other refugees to a camp in Kenya, where conditions are deplorable. She escapes from the camp for a chance to pursue her dreams.

Why I like this book: Leah Bassoff and Laura DeLuca have written a very powerful and gripping novel about a strong-willed girl, Zenitra Lujana Paul Poni, who against all odds, survives the trauma and atrocities of the Sudanese war to pursue her dream of getting an education.  Poni is one of the Lost Girls of Sudan. Unlike the Lost Boys, the stories of the Lost Girls are rarely told. Poni narrates the story and her voice is smooth, strong and determined, no matter the challenges she faces. You can’t help but cheer for her. This is the first book I have read about the Lost Girls of Sudan, so I was particularly interested in the story behind this story. Poni is actually a compilation of many resilient girls and women who survive, receive the education, and give back to their country. A lot of research went into telling Poni’s remarkable story. Bassoff and DeLuca met at a conference for Southern Sudanese Women. DeLuca, an anthropologist, knew the Sudanese people, the language  and the culture. She helped Bassoff with the details and accuracy. Their collaboration results in a realistic portrayal  that honors these incredibly resilient women so that students will learn about what child refugees, mostly orphans, endure in war-torn parts of the world. Lost Girl Found is a page-turner and belongs in every middle and high school library.

Resources: The authors have listed films, documentaries and books about the lost children at the end of the book. There also is a beautiful author’s note, information on the Lost Children of Sudan, a map and a brief timeline of Sudan from 1955 to 2011, when the Republic of South Sudan gains independence and is founded. Visit Leah Bassoff at her website.

All royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to Africare, a charitable organization that works with local populations to improve the quality of life for people in Africa.

Gifts from the Enemy

Gifts from the Enemy9781935952978_p0_v2_s260x420Gifts from the Enemy

Trudy Ludwig, Author

Craig Orback, Illustrator

White Cloud Press,  Biography, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Alter Wiener, Poland, Jews, Holocaust, Survivor, Courage, Kindness

Opening: “There are those who say that what I’ve lived through never happened. But I’m here to tell you that it did. My name is Alter Wiener and I am an ordinary person with an extraordinary past.”

Synopsis: Alter Wiener was a 13-year-old boy living with his family in Chrzanow, a small town in southwest Poland. His home was filled with love, laughter, food and books. Every Friday they shared their Sabbath dinner with a student or homeless person. When the German Nazi soldiers invaded and occupied Poland in 1939, Hitler ordered his army to imprison and kill millions of Jews. Alter’s father and older brother were taken when he was 13. The Nazis came for him when he was 15. He was moved to many different prison labor camps where the conditions were deplorable.  The prisoners wer treated cruelly, given very little food and forced to work long hours. Years passed and he found himself working in a German factory. One day he began receiving a daily gift from a stranger who he thought was his enemy. Her kindness gave Alter the hope to survive.

Why I like this book: Trudy Ludwig has treated Alter Wiener’s story about surviving the Holocaust with great compassion and dignity. Since it is a picture book, she doesn’t go into detail about the atrocities that occurred during WW II.  Instead she focuses on the fact that not all Germans were filled with the hatred and risked their lives to help the Jews. Gifts from the Enemy is an excellent introduction to the Holocaust for young readers. It also is a timely classroom book for children to understand the dangers of hatred, prejudice and intolerance. It is critical that as a society we begin to encourage kindness, compassion, and goodwill among our children so they will have the tools to stand up to social injustice and make sure genocide is a thing of the past. Craig Orback’s illustrations are breathtaking and realistic. His oil paintings capture the fear and darkness of that time in history.

Resources: There is a beautiful afterword from Alter Wiener, who wrote his memoir From a Name to a Number: A Holocaust Survivor’s Autobiography. Trudy Ludwig provides a wealth of resources for teachers to use in the classroom. She includes information about the Holocaust, questions for discussion and recommended activities for young readers. You may want to visit Trudy Ludwig on her website. She is a nationally acclaimed speaker and author whose work helps empower children to cope with and thrive in their social world. Craig Orback  has illustrated over 20 children’s books, including The Can Man and Nature’s Paintbox.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.