Sergeant Reckless by Patricia McCormick

Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero

Patricia McCormick, Author

Jacopo Bruno, Illustrations

Balzer + Bray, Historical Fiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes: Horse, Korean War, Animal war hero, Marines

Opening: The small red mare whinnied for her supper.. But Korea was at war. Towns were shattered. Fields were scorched. And the racetrack was abandoned. No one paid attention to the hungry little horse.

Synopsis:

The inspiring true story of Reckless, the brave little horse who became a Marine.

When a group of US Marines fighting in the Korean War found a bedraggled mare, they wondered if she could be trained to as a packhorse. They had no idea that the skinny, underfed horse had one of the biggest and bravest hearts they’d ever known. And one of the biggest appetites!

Soon Reckless showed herself more than willing to carry ammunition too heavy for the soldiers to haul. As cannons thundered and shells flew through the air, she marched into battle—again and again—becoming the only animal ever to officially hold military rank—becoming Sgt. Reckless—and receive two Purple Hearts.

Why I like this book:

Patricia McCormick’s engaging picture book about a hungry little mare adopted by a group of Marines, will win the hearts of both horse and animals lovers, and historians. There aren’t many books written about the Korean War, which will add another layer of intrigue and interest. Reckless saved thousands of lives as she made 51 trips and carried 9,000 pounds of heavy ammunition up the hill into battle while shells rained down around her. She also enjoyed sneaking into one of the soldier’s tents to sleep and interrupting poker games. Reckless was the only animal to ever hold a rank. This story has a happy and satisfying ending.

Readers will be mesmerized by the illustration by graphic designer Jacopo Bruno. They are exquisite and at times life-like. Bruno’s format is reminiscent of a well-loved scrapbook.  Readers can’t help be drawn into the this little-known story of the love of a group of soldiers for this very determined, trusting, courageous, and loyal mare.

Resources: There is an author’s note at the end that talks about Reckless, the war and how the she lived out her days in a grassy compound at Camp Pendleton in California, and a real-life photograph of Reckless receiving her six medals.

Patricia McCormick is a former journalist and a two-time National Book Award finalist whose books include Cut, Sold, Never Fall Down, The Plot to Kill Hitler and the young readers edition of I Am Malala. She lives in New York. Visit McCormick at her website.

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 website.

The River Boy by Jessica Brown

The River Boy

Jessica Brown, Author

Finch & Fellow Publishing Home, Historical Fiction, 2016

Pages: 148

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Montana Frontier, Abuse, Friendship, Adventure, Imagination, Courage, Hope

Synopsis:

Nine-year-old Clara is worried about spending a lonely and boring summer on her family ranch in Montana, which is two miles outside of town. It is 1909 and she lives with her parents and two older brothers on a ranch that her grandfather built after the civil war. Everyone pitches in to keep the ranch operating — weeding cornfields, planting gardens and caring for the livestock.

Feeling that “hollow” space inside her, Clara heads to her special place, the grassy banks of the river. There in the middle of her river, she spots a boy sitting on a big rock. Josiah invites her to join him and lends his hand. He asks Clara if she knows what the rock is here for?  “It’s for people who  know how be still,” says Clara. He smiles at her and at that moment, Clara knows they will be friends. Josiah is unlike anyone she has ever met before. He enjoys exploring nature,  is full of full of ideas and has a huge imagination. They decide to write a book together and hope to travel all over town and countryside to collect people stories.

As their adventure unfolds, Clara realizes that Josiah has dark secrets. He lives with his sister and father, who is an abusive alcoholic. Clara hopes that if Josiah can publish his book, he will be able to move to somewhere safe. They run an advertisement in the town newspaper and invite people to submit their stories. But they butt heads with the publisher, Dr. Lowell, who is furious and prints a retraction. It will take much gumption for Clara and Josiah to fight for their book. And there is a town full of people who each have a story to tell. The town’s folk come together and send their stories to Clara and Josiah and stand up to the arrogant Dr. Lowell. Ultimately Clara realizes that sometimes assumptions about people may not be correct and it may take time to look deeper to truly get to know what drives behavior.

Jessica Brown has penned an original novel about the power of a story to connect people despite all their differences. It is a heartwarming tale full of hope with believable characters you will love, rich dialogue, and vivid imagery appropriate to Montana in 1909.  The pacing is perfect with short chapters. Brown creates a satisfying and story about friendship and courage for young readers. It reminds you a bit of Sarah, Plain and Tall, one the author’s favorite childhood books.

Jessica Brown  loves to cook, hike, read, and go on road trips with her husband and son. She grew up in Texas and has since lived in Indiana, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, England, Ireland and New Zealand. Her graduate studies include English, creative writing and spiritual formation. She has written a memoir, The Grace to Be Human, which will be released this year. Visit Jessica at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the permanent host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*The author provided me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Duck and Cover by Janet Smart

Duck and Cover

Janet F. Smart, Author

Saguaro Books, LLC, Historical Fiction, 2017 (Paperback)

Pages: 162

Amazon Digital Services LLC  (eBook)

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Adventure, Friendship, West Virginia, Bay of Pigs, Russians, Cubans

Opening: “I Survived the long drive from Cleveland. Now if I could just survive the Russians, I’d be OK.” 

Synopsis: After his dad dies in an accident at work, twelve-year-old Teddy Haynes and his mom come back to live with family in rural West Virginia. They hope to start over, but some people say the Russians are going to blow up the United States.  How can they start over if the world comes to an end?

He finds his life filled with talk of bomb shelters, a cat and dog that don’t get along, clinging two-year-old twin nephews, and a pretty girl he’s too shy to talk to. To help cope with their fears, Teddy and his friends convert an old cave in the woods into a bomb shelter. Will they be able to work together and pull through the tense-filled months during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962?  And will Teddy be able to overcome his grief from the loss of his father?

What I like about this book:

Janet Smart has written a moving and sensitive novel that will teach generations of readers about the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962. She balances the tension with a good dose of humor to lighten the anxiety the kids feel. This nostalgic read will be a stroll down memory lane for many adults as they recall “duck and cover” school drills, during an uncertain time.

The narrative is written in first person. The story is character-driven. She gives the reader deep insight into Teddy’s loss, fears, his active imagination, and his coping skills. Teddy’s a determined protagonist with big dreams of becoming an astronaut one day. He tries to encourage his friends to have dreams, because most of them, like Bobby, know they will head into the coal mines like their ancestors.  His best friend, Melvin, has a limp from polio and wears a smile that stretches clear across his face. Melvin is good for Teddy because he’s optimistic, cheery, light-hearted, logical, has a flair for using big words and enjoys a good prank.  Skeeter likes to write and organize things. So she’s handy to have around as they plan their bomb shelter, even though Teddy is uncomfortable around a girl he’s sweet on.

The theme of the war weighs heavily upon their minds. But the plot focuses on brave friends who decide to take action. It is about their big adventure of building a shelter in a “haunted” cave. They scavenge through junk yards for chairs, mattresses and wood. They fill it with first aid supplies, flashlights, canned goods and water.  There is a lot of suspense for the foursome and some uncovered secrets.

Smart’s novel would make an excellent addition to any school library. It’s also a timely read with threats around the globe.

Janet F. Smart lives in picturesque West Virginia. She is the mother of three grown boys. She enjoys writing for children, bringing her thoughts, dreams and imagination to life. A flicker of a childhood memory was the inspiration for this novel. Visit her at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the permanent host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Genevieve’s War by Patricia Reilly Giff

Genevieve’s War

Patricia Reilly Giff, Author

Holiday House Book, Historical Fiction, Mar. 30, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: WW II, France, Underground movements, Intergenerational Relationships, Love, Courage, Friendship

Synopsis: French American Genevieve, 13, and her older brother, André, are spending the summer of 1939 in Alsace, France, helping the grandmother they’ve never known with the family farm. Mémé turns out to be prickly, tough, disagreeable, and a taskmaster.

At the end of the summer, André returns to New York. Genevieve is set to leave on the Normandie, on what may well be the last passenger ship leaving France before the anticipated invasion of France by Germany. But on the day she leaves for the ship, she impulsively changes her mind and decides to stay in Alsace to help her aging grandmother run the farm. The farm is close to the German border and there are times when she questions her decision. But there is no turning back because World War II has begun and the Germans are infiltrating Alsace. Genevieve and Mémé soon become part of the Resistance when her friend Rémy commits an act of sabotage and they shelter him in an attic room, one story above a bedroom that a German soldier has claimed. In the years that follow, Genevieve learns a lot about survival, trust, the value of friendship, love, and belonging.

Why I like this book:

Patricia Reilly Giff”s beautiful work of historical fiction is impressively written and well-researched from beginning to end. Genevieve’s journey is a captivating and compelling journey about survival, taking risks, doing what is right, and learning who is trustworthy. Not only will teens enjoy this story, so will adults.

Giff’s novel offers readers a different perspective on WWII. It is convincingly narrated by a very Americanized girl of French descent, who is caught up in the middle the war and assisting the Resistance. Readers will fall in love with Genevieve, observe her growth, maturity and transformation over six years and her love and devotion to aging Mémé.  Genevieve is a strong, thoughtful, brave, and wise protagonist. Her story is one of triumph, both personally and for her community.

The setting if vivid and rich in detail. The plot is exciting, full of tension and fast-paced. Giff manages to capture what life is like in an occupied country. Genevieve and Mémé have hidden half of the vegetables they canned from their garden in a secret place behind an armoire. When a German officer billets at their house, there is constant fear. He takes the livestock, the pony and cart and food. The winter is brutally cold, their secret food stash runs out and they live on thin soup and hot water. Yet they are committed to helping the Resistance at great risk. Along the way Genevieve unravels mysteries about her deceased father and family. There are many surprises in this story.

Resources:  There is an Educator’s Guide available for Genevieve’s War with pre-reading suggestions, classroom discussion questions, curriculum connections and internet suggestions. You can download it from the publisher, Holiday House.

Patricia Reilly Giff is the author of many highly acclaimed books for children, including Lilly’s Crossing, a Newbery Honor Book and Boston Globe-HornBook Honor Book, and Pictures of Hollis Woods, a Newbery Honor Book. Her works for works for younger reader include the best-selling Kids of the Polk Street School series and the Hunter Moran books.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Thank you Greg for keeping MMGM active while author Shannon Messenger is on tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which was released November 7.

Mari’s Hope by Sandy Brehl

Mari’s Hope (Book 3 in the Odin’s Promise Trilogy)

Sandy Brehl, Author

Crispin Book, Historical Fiction, Sep. 5, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Norwegians, WW II, Underground resistance, German occupation, Dogs, Bravery, Courage

Synopsis: Mari’s Hope is set in a small village in occupied western Norway during the final years of World War II.  Thirteen-year-old Mari has been assisting Dr. Olson for over a year, studying by day, and making home visits to treat villagers in the afternoons and evenings. She wears her hair in a long girlish braid so that the German soldiers ignore her activities. She also plays a role in her family’s efforts in the local resistance, despite ever-present dangers, especially from the a soldier named Goatman and from Leif, her one-time school friend, now a German collaborator.

Mari’s Hope delivers the dramatic conclusion to the middle-grade historical fiction trilogy begun with Odin’s Promise, awarded the 2014 Midwest Book Award for Children’s Fiction, and Bjorn’s Gift, published in 2016.

Why I like this book:

Sandy Brehl writes a powerful and authentic story about the harsh realities of Mari’s life in her village of Ytre Arna, under the watchful eyes of Germans. Brehl’s writing is a richly detailed and visual story of danger, bravery courage and hope. A lot of research went into this series.

The setting is realistic and readers will feel the bone-chilling cold as Mari trudges through snow and dark Norwegian nights to care for patients in their homes, dodges patrolling soldiers, maintains her strength on a daily diet of clear broth soup with a few bits of carrots or turnips, and makes some harrowing and risky trips for the resistance.

Great characters make a good story and Brehl has succeeded with Mari, a mature, intelligent, independent and caring character from the start. Her credibility grows as she proves her trustworthiness and takes on many dangerous missions. Leif, a childhood friend who joined the Germans, is a nice balance in the story. Leif watches out for Mari, but she doesn’t trust him. But who can you trust during war?

Brehl focuses on the strong sense of community that emerges among the Norwegian villagers as they stand strong against the invading Nazi troops, who have come as “Viking Brothers” claiming to protect their neutral Norway from the Allies. The plot is tense and dangerous as Mari’s parents, brothers and sister along with neighbors launch a very strong underground resistance to thwart the German plans — with some humor at times. They also help local Jewish members escape. There is also an overriding theme of love of family, love of community and love of country in this story.

New readers to this series will enjoy Mari’s Hope based on its merits. It is not necessary to read the first two books to understand the story. I know I will be catching up with the first two volumes of this exciting  trilogy. Below is a synopsis of the first two books.

Resources: Check out the Author’s Note at the end to learn how she beautifully weaves together fiction with historical and real-life events. There is also a glossary at the end the helps readers with Norwegian expressions. Visit Sandy Brehl on her website for more information about her trilogy.

Odin’s Promise is a story of the first year of German occupation of Norway in World War II as seen through the eyes of a young girl. Eleven-year-old Mari grew up tucked under the wings of her parents, grandma, and older siblings. After Hitler’s troops invades Norway in Spring 1940, she is forced to grow beyond her “little girl” nickname to deal with harsh new realities. At her side for support and protection is Odin, her faithful elkhound. As the year progresses, Mari, her family, and her neighbors are drawn into the activities of the Norwegian underground resistance.

Bjorn’s Gift is the second book in the trilogy and continues the exciting adventures of Mari, who faces growing hardships and dangers in her small village in a western fjord. German occupation troops and local Nazi supporters move closer to her family’s daily life, and her classmate Leif becomes active in the Norwegian Nazi youth party. Mari struggles to live up to her brother Bjorn’s faith in her, as she becomes more involved in risky resistance activities, trusting only her family and a few close friends. Across Norway, oppressive laws are imposed in the months from late 1941 to early 1943, with dire local consequences. Still, difficult decisions force Mari to admit that many things in life are not easily sorted into good or bad, and she begins to wonder if Hitler will ever be defeated and whether the occupation of Norway will ever end.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Ebb Tide by Michelle Isenhoff

Ebb Tide (Volume 3 – Ella Wood Series)

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

CreateSpace Independent Publishing, Historical Fiction, Apr. 24, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 14 – adult

Themes:  Love, Family Relationships, Civil War, Slavery, Abolitionists, Pursuing educational dreams, Courage, Hope

Opening: Emily felt the explosion before she heard it. Her ribcage thrummed like the plucked strings of a guitar, then the sky split open, pouring sound and fury down upon the world below. Her bones bucked against the sudden pulse of energy. Glass fractured. Horses plunged and screamed, slamming vehicles together with a crunch of wood on wood. Escape mocked them. Everyone in Charleston had joined the mad rush to safety.

Book Synopsis: When the Union navy fires on Charleston, Emily must flee to Ella Wood — and to a father who has never forgiven her for attending the Maryland Institute against his will. There, she grapples with Jack’s secret plans for the plantation and his final admonition that she carry them to fruition. But as a woman back under the authority of her father, evoking even the slightest change might prove too much to hope for. In the meantime, old jealousies place Emily’s life in danger, and her desperate hopes for Jovie’s safe return begin to fade. As the war rumbles to its conclusion, she must draw upon every ounce of courage in a final bid for love and freedom.

Why this book is on my shelf:

Ebb Tide brings Michelle Isenhoff’s Ella Wood trilogy to a heart-pounding conclusion. It is powerful, emotion-laden novel with secrets and many unexpected outcomes. Ebb Tide brightly shines as her finest literary accomplishment to date. The prose is beautiful, the language is rich and the dialogue lively. The trilogy has been an ambitious undertaking for the author and fans will be deeply satisfied with her third novel. It is my favorite!

Character development is Isenhoff’s strength. As Emily faces the destruction of Charleston, the uncertainty for Ella Wood, the loss of loved ones and shattered dreams, her ferocious spirit and determination will leave readers breathless. The rich cast of characters are tender and lovable, while others are abusive and gritty. And Isenhoff doesn’t let you rest until all of their fates are known — a monumental effort considering the large cast of characters central to Emily’s journey from debutante to accomplished artist. Readers will be satisfied.

The high-stakes plot is riveting, dangerous and deliberately paced with nonstop adventures. There are tragic incidents at Ella Wood. Emily’s responsibilities increase as the Union Army presence threatens livelihood at Ella Wood. There is a shortage of food, clothing and shoes. Finishing her studies in Baltimore seems out of reach. And Jovie is missing in action. Ebb Tide also has more tender moments with romance, weddings, births, and the reappearance of important characters from earlier books.

Ebb Tide is impeccably researched and offers readers a penetrating look into the emotional landscape of the south, its role in the civil war, customs, culture, the suppression of women’s rights, the searing treatment of slaves and freedom for other slaves. Michelle Isenhoff’s website has links to a pictorial representation of many of the people, places, and events that are featured in Ebb Tide and to her behind-the-scenes research.

** Readers can download a free Kindle copy of Ella Wood until June 15 on Amazon.  

Ella Wood Novellas: In July readers can get to know three prominent characters better: Lizzie, Jack and Jovie. This upcoming series of novellas, available exclusively for Kindle, will fill in additional details in the Ella Wood trilogy’s main story line. Experience Lizzie and Ketch’s escape north. Follow Jack into the Confederate army. And find out exactly what happened to Jovie after Gettysburg. Visit Isenhoff’s website for details.

Michelle Isenhoff is the author of Ella Wood and Blood MoonThe 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 FindulTaylor Davis and the Clash of KingdomsThe Color of Freedom; and The Quill Pen.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Ashes: The Seeds of America Trilogy

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America Trilogy is one of my favorite historical fiction trilogies for tweens, teens and adults. Today, I am reviewing the final book in the trilogy, Ashes, but will include brief synopsis of the first two books, Chains and Forge, because it gives the reader a perspective of the revolutionary war that is relatively unknown and not talked about — the important role of black soldiers in the creation of our nation and their hopes and dreams. Although, you could read Ashes and still understand the story, you would miss the rich alternating voices of the characters Isabel and Curzon and their journey that began in 1776 with Chains and ends in 1781 with Ashes. I strongly suggest you read the three books in order.

ashes-51oxtesd6l__sx336_bo1204203200_Ashes: The Seeds of America Trilogy, Book #3

Laurie Halse Anderson, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: American Revolution, Black Soldiers, Slavery, Freedom,

Book Synopsis: “Freedom for one, freedom for all?  That’s the question that burns in Isabel’s mind as she and Curzon forge on through chaos and fear toward the dream that’s kept them alive for so many years: freedom.  But her dream of living not as a “runaway” but as a free person with land and a family of her own seems impossibly far away. That dream hinges on one thing: finding her little sister, Ruth.

It’s been three years since Ruth was stolen from her. Is she even alive? And if Isabel can find her, how will they make it safely through the war between the Patriots and the British that rages on as dangerously as ever in 1781, while bounty hunters try to kidnap them at every turn! In the American Revolution, one must pick a side in order to survive.  But how can you care about a nation’s freedom when the very same nation has kept you in chains?

Why I like this book:

Laurie Halse Anderson is a skillful literary author. Her language and dialogue is exquisite. Her novel is bold and breathtaking. Her settings are unimaginably descriptive and believable. It is easy to get lost in the realistic plot where you can smell the sweat of laboring men digging trenches, hear the nearby exploding cannon balls and feel the bone-chilling cold of nights in the camps. The pacing keeps readers fully engaged.

Thoroughly researched, this engaging novel offers readers a fresh perspective on the role the black community played during the war, including women and children. Each chapter is introduced by a quote from significant historical figures during the war that helps provide insight into the attitudes of the war: Gen. George Washington, James Madison,  King George III,  Abigail Adams to her husband John Adams, Thomas Paine and many other regiment leaders, judges and slaves. It is a very effective tool that gives readers a greater sense of the overall mood of that period of history.

Although the story is about the war effort where Isabel, Curzon and Ruth are firmly planted in the middle, there is a stronger theme running through this final book for the threesome — freedom from slavery and not just from England.  The memorable characters are all dealing with secrets and inner demons that drive their story forward and require sacrifice, courage, trust, resilience and an unwavering commitment to each other.

chains-51yupuz0efl__sx334_bo1204203200_Chains, Book #1, 2008

National Book Award Finalist

Synopsis from the author’s website: If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl? As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight…for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom. Check out Sue Kooky’s review today of CHAINS at her website Kitty cat at the Library.

forge-51eqo8p14ul__sx334_bo1204203200_Forge, Book #2, 2010

Synopsis from the author’s website: Blistering winds. Bitter cold. And the hope of a new future. In this compelling sequel to Chains, a National Book Award Finalist and winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson shifts perspective from Isabel to Curzon and brings to the page the tale of what it takes for runaway slaves to forge their own paths in a world of obstacles—and in the midst of the American Revolution.

The Patriot Army was shaped and strengthened by the desperate circumstances of the Valley Forge winter. This is where Curzon the boy becomes Curzon the young man. In addition to the hardships of soldiering, he lives with the fear of discovery, for he is an escaped slave passing for free. And then there is Isabel, who is also at Valley Forge—against her will. She and Curzon have to sort out the tangled threads of their friendship while figuring out what stands between the two of them and true freedom.

Laurie Halse Anderson is descended from many soldiers who fought in the American Revolution. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous ALA and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. You can follow her on Twitter @Halse Anderson, or visit her at her website. Anderson has prepared teacher guides and other activities for teachers.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

last-cherry-blossom-9781634506939_p0_v2_s192x300The Last Cherry Blossom

Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author

Sky Pony Press, Historical Fiction, Aug. 2,  2016

Pages: 240

Suitable for Ages: 11-13

Themes: Hiroshima, Children of war, WW II, Love, Loss, Traditions

Opening: “Get under your desks — now!” Yakamura-sensei shouted above the lonesome wail of the air raid siren.

Book Synopsis:  Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her five-year-old cousin, Genji, are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage.  And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden from its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s firsthand experience surviving the atomic bombings of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding them that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.

Why I like this book:

Kathleen Burkinshaw’s debut novel is powerfully penned, authentic, emotionally raw and deeply personal. It is a captivating journey about life, love, secrets, pain, loss and hope that will tug at your heart long after you put the novel down.

Even though there are frequent air raid drills and black-out curtains, traditional Japanese life continues with a strong sense of community. The first half of the story focuses on family, cultural traditions, food preparation, ceremony, ritual, and the beautiful cherry blossom and New Year’s festivals. There are family secrets, the angst of adolescence and enduring friendships. Readers will easily fall in step with the pace of life in Japan before it begins to change.

The story is character-driven, with Yuriko narrating. Reader’s will be captivated by Yuriko’s curiosity, spirit, and strong will, which is nurtured by her papa, who publishes the newspaper. Their bond is tight and he tells her bedtime stories of their samurai ancestors and how they are the last branches of their family tree. Yuriko shares secrets and a love of jazz music with her best friend Machiko.

The plot picks up momentum as more soldiers are being sent to war and not returning home. Rumors spread that there isn’t enough scrap metal to build Japanese planes. The Emperor sends out propaganda that the Japanese are beating the Allies in the Pacific.  But, the Americans bomb Nagasaki.  Air raid sirens are going off many times daily. And in a blink of an eye there are war planes flying low overhead.  Sirens sound. There is an eruption of bright light and loud sounds. Yuriko’s world implodes that tragic day.

This is a dark period in humanity’s history 71 years ago. Children will learn that Japanese children shared the same fears as the children in Allied countries during World War II.  Her novel speaks to the enduring will to survive. It is my hope that Burkinshaw’s novel will help readers humanize historical events that have radically changed our world and take them more seriously as they become our future leaders.  The author’s mother shared her story because she felt “the use of nuclear weapons against any country or people, for any reason, is unacceptable.”

Resources: There is a very helpful glossary of Japanese words and expressions that are used throughout the novel, an Author’s Note, and Statistics About Hiroshima.

Kathleen Burkinshaw wrote The Last Cherry Blossom based on her mother’s story of growing up in Hiroshima during World War II. She was twelve years old when the bomb was dropped on Aug. 6, 1945. Visit Kathleen Burkinshaw at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post. 

Note: Watch for Multicultural Children’s Book Day, which will be celebrated on Jan. 27, 2017. Hashtag: #ReadYourWorld.

Blood Moon by Michelle Isenhoff

Blood Moon 517wv6vKojL__SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Blood Moon (Ella Wood) Volume 2

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

CreateSpace, Historical Fiction, Jun. 5, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 14 and up

Themes: Love, Family Relationships, Civil War, Slavery, Abolitionists, Pursuing educational dreams, Hope

Opening: “Brilliant orange sparks streaked across the night sky, snatched by the furious wind and flung onto rooftops to spring up as new geysers of flame. Building by building the fire magnified, towering over the cringing city, devouring the waterfront. Emily raced toward the inferno, compelled by visions of those she loved.”

Synopsis: Charleston lies in ruins and war between the North and South is imminent. Yet, Emily Preston refuses to give up her dream of becoming an artist. She defies her overbearing father and secretly enrolls in an art correspondence course under a male pseudo name, a step toward fulfilling her dream of studying at a Maryland university. When her father discovers her disobedience, he demands she leave Ella Wood to find her own living arrangements. Emily is now free to pursue her education, but she has many hurdles to overcome to support herself and earn her tuition for college. A love-triangle forms, betrayals are uncovered, family secrets abound, and Emily faces loss. Uncertainty looms big in her heart, as war threatens her dreams and the people she cares about most.

Why I love about Blood Moon:

Convincingly penned from beginning to end, Blood Moon is inherently absorbing and skillfully presented, establishing Michelle Isenhoff as an exceptionally talented novelist. Readers who have invested themselves in Isenhoff’s Ella Wood series, will be thrilled with the second volume in her latest sequel, Blood Moon, which continues Emily Preston’s transformation from Southern Belle to a determined young women who will stop at nothing to chase her educational dreams.

Blood Moon is richly textured and impeccably researched as it offers a vivid portrayal of the emotional landscape that bring Emily’s tale to life. It also sheds light on the penetrating truths of South Carolina’s role in the civil war, customs and culture, the suppression of women’s rights and the unforgivable treatment of slaves.

Her characters are vividly drawn and the many period details with which she fleshes out her story never feel forced or melodramatic. Emily, Thad, Jovie, Jack and Uncle Timothy are real. Some are gritty and abusive while others are tender and sweet, but most of all they are very much alive. I could feel the pain of loss, betrayal and hopelessness when Emily’s dreams are shattered and, yet through it all there remains a true bond of friendship and selfless acts of love.

Blood Moon is stunning, wrenching, and inspiring. Isenhoff’s sweeping imagination adds to a multi-layered, compelling, harrowing, and realistic plot. Her deliberate pacing and tension keep readers fully engaged and invested in Blood Moon.  There are many surprises for readers. It is truly an exceptional story and the characters will stay with you long after you finish Blood Moon.

The third volume in the series, Ebb Tide, will be available in the Spring of 2017Ella Wood is  available free to readers on Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and Kobo.  Ella Wood is a sequel to Isenhoff’s middle grade novel, The Candle Star.

Michelle Isenhoff is the author of Ella Wood; 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.

Echo

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Pam Munoz Ryan, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Feb. 24, 2015

Winner of the 2016 Newbery Honor

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Harmonica, Music, Destiny, Nazi Germany, Pennsylvania orphans, Mexican-Americans, WW II, Japanese-Americans, Family relationship

Opening: “FIFTY YEARS BEFORE THE WAR TO END ALL wars, a boy played hide-and-seek with his friends in a pear orchard bordered by a dark forest.”

Synopsis: Otto runs into the forbidden forest to hide from his friends. He becomes lost and is rescued by three sisters who are imprisoned in a circle of trees by a witch’s spell. The sisters are musical and they each impart a different tune into Otto’s harmonica. He promises to help free them by carrying their harmony out into the world and passing the harmonica along to other musicians who will add their musical gift. Decades later, the harmonica graces the lives of three children who are living in horrific situations: Friedrich, who has a birthmark and doesn’t fit in 1933 Nazi Germany; Mike and his little brother Frankie, who are finding a way to survive a deplorable orphanage during the depression in Pennsylvania; and Ivy, a Mexican-American girl in California, whose brother is a soldier and her family is caring for a farm left by a Japanese family who is sent to an internment camp.

Each child is already musically talented and they become linked together as destiny places Otto’s  harmonica into their hands. They each recognize that the harmonica is powerful and like no other instrument they’ve heard before. Playing it brings each of them courage, hope and joy during dire times. The thread that binds them together comes together in a magnificent ending.

Why I like this book:

  • Pam Munoz Ryan literally sweeps me off my feet with her thrilling and brilliant storytelling.  Her writing is polished, her narrative inspires one to believe in the power of music to heal and change lives, and her plot is complex.
  • Ryan thinks outside the box as she writes her masterpiece, Echo. Although there is an element of fantasy in Echo, I am delighted that the book is a great work of historical fiction that will engage many teens. It focuses on Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the Great Depression, Mexican-American itinerate farmers, World War II, and the anti-Japanese sentiment in America.
  • The author led me to care about four very different and memorable characters in a very human way. The book begins and ends with a fairy tale with Otto’s encounter with three mysterious sisters. The novel is told in three parts, each devoted to Friedrich, Mike and Ivy’s stories. The children face dire challenges as they struggle to keep their families together: rescuing a father from prison, protecting a brother in an orphanage, and dealing with poverty, discrimination and keeping a family together. The author builds tension and momentum by leaving their stories unfinished, until the story comes full circle.
  • I am a musician, so the idea of a harmonica infused with the melodious spirits of the three sisters  captivated me and I wondered how it would play out in the story. Each of the three children add their own energy and wisdom to the harmonica as they play it and pass it along. The thread that ties their destiny together is revealed at the end in a resounding crescendo that is spellbinding and beautiful. This novel captures my heart and I will read it again.

Pam Munoz Ryan is the author of over thirty books. Her most recent novels include the award-winning The Dreamer and Esperanza Rising. She is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Human and Civil Rights Award and the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for multicultural literature. You may visit Ryan at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.