Gold Rush Girl by Avi

Gold Rush Girl

Avi, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 10, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Gold Rush, San Francisco, Tent City, Danger, Independence, Freedom, Friendship

Opening: “Have you ever been struck by lightning?
I have.
I write not of the sparkling that bolts from the sky, but of gold, the yellow metal buried in the earth and the shatter-wit world of those who seek it. That world turned me topsy-turvy, so that I did things I never dreamed I would or could do.”

Publisher Synopsis:

Thirteen-year-old Victoria (Tory) Blaisdell longs for independence and adventure, and she yearns to accompany her father as he sails west in search of real gold! But it is 1848, and Tory isn’t even allowed to go to school, much less travel all the way from Rhode Island to California. Determined to take control of her own destiny, Tory stows away on the ship.

Though San Francisco is frenzied and full of wild and dangerous men, Tory finds freedom and friendship there. Until one day, when Father is in the gold fields, her younger brother, Jacob, is kidnapped. And so Tory is spurred on a treacherous search for him in Rotten Row, a part of San Francisco Bay crowded with hundreds of abandoned ships.

Beloved storyteller Avi is at the top of his form as he ushers us back to an extraordinary time of hope and risk, brought to life by a heroine readers will cheer for. Spot-on details and high suspense make this a vivid, absorbing historical adventure.

Why I like this book:

Avi’s story is electrifying — pun intended! His storytelling is rich and visual and will stimulate your senses. Readers will smell the stench of San Francisco — the rotting boats,  street sewage, drunken and sweaty men, and soaked sailcloth tents. They will feel what it’s like to trudge through thick mud and dense fog. “The land of glittering gold revealed itself as mostly rich in rubbish.” 

What a joy it is to journey with Tory (13) and experience the gold rush through her point of view. With gold fever high, the plot is brimming with excitement, trickery, risks and danger. The research that went into every detail of this story, really gives readers insight into this historical time period. When Tory and her family arrive in San Francisco Bay, she is shocked to see hundreds of ships that were deserted in what was called the Rotten Row. Sea captains and their crews headed towards the gold fields. Make sure you read Avi’s note and map about the shipsof Rotten Row at the end, because it is fascinating!

The characters are multi-layered, but memorable. Tory is a spunky and determined heroine. When her father leaves for the gold fields, Tory is left to care for her young brother, Jacob (9), who is sullen, worries and waits on the beach for his mother to arrive. Because of the high cost of food and supplies, their money runs out. Tory buys men’s clothing and finds work rowing arriving passengers ashore, working construction and doing other jobs. She’s paid in grains of gold and is delighted that she is gaining more wealth in the city than her father is laboring in the fields. Tory is living the freedom and independence that’s she’s longed for. She’s happy, physically and mentally strong.

There many colorful characters in the story. Tory develops a friendship with Thad, who works at a local store and helps her improve her rowing skills. Thad is a calm and quiet and a nice balance for Tory. But he also enjoys taking risks, drinking and gambling. Across the street from her tent, is Senor Rosales, a Mexican café owner. He is a kind “uncle” and does his best to keep an eye on both Jacob and Tory. She also befriends a black boy, Sam, who plays his bugle at a shady saloon owned by an evil man, Mr. Kassel. When Jacob suddenly disappears, it is Sam who tells Tory about seeing Jacob at the Mercury and fears he’s been kidnapped and is being held on a vacant ship. The threesome jump into action to save Jacob’s life. Tory must rescue Jacob before her father returns from and gold fields and her mother arrives from Providence.

Avi leaves the story open-ended. There is so much more he could write about Tory and her friends. After all, San Francisco exists as a tent city. I hope there is a sequel. This book belongs in every school library. Verdict: This book is a winner!

Avi is one of the most celebrated authors writing for children today. He has written published over 70 books. Among his most popular books are Crispin: The Cross of Lead, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Nothing but the Truth, the Poppy books, Midnight Magic, The Fighting Ground and the City of Orphans. having received two Boston-Globe – Horn Book Awards, a Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, a Christopher Award, a Newbery Medal, and two Newbery Honors. He lives in Colorado.

Greg Pattridge hosts 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.

*Review copy provided fee by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Riders of the Realm: Through the Untamed Sky by Jennifer Alvarez

Riders of the Realm #2: Through the Untamed Sky

Jennifer Alvarez, Author

HarperCollins, Fantasy, Mar. 26, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Pegasi, Jungles, Giants, Dragons, War, Survival, Loyalty, Bravery, Freedom

Book Synopsis:

After winning the wild Pegasus mare named Echofrost in a contest, Rahkki Stormrunner becomes an official Rider in the Sky Guard army. But Rahkki is terrified of heights, and Echofrost is still difficult to tame. And with Echofrost’s herd captured by the giants and the growing threat of battle looming over the realm, the new Pair will have to work through their fears in order to fly with the army and free the herd.

Meanwhile, back in Rahkki’s village, rebellion is brewing, and Rahkki learns there is a sinister plot to overthrow Queen Lilliam. But the queen suspects Rahkki’s behind it, and he is under intense watch.

As Rahkki and Echofrost travel to Mount Crim to free Storm Herd, Rahkki fears that the greatest danger may not come from the impending battle against the giants, but from within his own clan.

Why I like this book/series:

Fans have waited a year for the release of Jennifer Alvarez’s second novel in the Riders of the Realm series. It was worth the wait. Riders of the Realm: Through the Untamed Skies is an exhilarating and epic journey.  Alvarez’s storytelling is exquisite and her world-building outstanding.

Alvarez has created a matriarchal culture within the Sandwen seven clans, all ruled by a monarch queen. The men in the clan are honored battle warriors. Their flying steeds (Kihlari) are tame and paired for life with a flyer, but their mission is to protect the clans from giants, dragons, huge snakes, and killer plants.

The story is character-driven. Kind-hearted Rahkki, the 12-year-old stable groom for the wild Echofrost, has won the steed in a contest. He built a relationship of trust with her in the first novel. Rahkki’s goal in competing is to save her life and free the Pegasus so she can find her herd. But now they are bound to each other for life. And Rahkki is her Rider.  Princess I’Lenna is the eldest daughter of Queen Lilliam. Unlike her evil mother, the princess is kind, smart, clever and wants to build peace among the clans. She is Rahkki’s best friend and their relationship is crucial to the future of the realm and freeing Storm Herd from the Giants. But there is an uprising building within the clan and Rahkki isn’t sure who are his friends or enemies.

Alvarez ends the book on a huge cliff hangar which will catch readers completely off-guard and leave them imagining the future of the realm and their favorite characters. They will have to wait for the final volume next year.  This will give new readers an opportunity to check out the original Guardian Herd series, where the Pegasus are free.

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez received a degree in English literature from UC Berkeley. She is an active horsewoman, a volunteer for the US Pony Club, and the proud mother of three children. She also is the author of the Riders of the Realm: Across Dark Waters and the Guardian Herd series. To learn more about her winged universe of novels, please visit her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts 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.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon

Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground

T.R. Simon, Author

Candlewick Press , Fiction, Sep. 11, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Zora Neale Hurston, Jim Crow south, Slavery, African-Americans, Community, Friendship

Synopsis:

A powerful fictionalized account of Zora Neale Hurston’s childhood adventures explores the idea of collective memory and the lingering effects of slavery and the Jim Crow south.

“History ain’t in a book, especially when it comes to folks like us. History is in the lives we lived and the stories we tell each other about those lives.”

When Zora Neale Hurston and her best friend, Carrie Brown, discover that the town mute can speak after all, they think they’ve uncovered a big secret. But Mr. Polk’s silence is just one piece of a larger puzzle that stretches back half a century to the tragic story of an enslaved girl named Lucia. As Zora’s curiosity leads a reluctant Carrie deeper into the mystery, the story unfolds through alternating narratives. Lucia’s struggle for freedom resonates through the years, threatening the future of America’s first incorporated black township — the hometown of author Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960). In a riveting coming-of-age tale, award-winning author T. R. Simon champions the strength of people to stand up for justice.

Why I like this book:

T.R. Simon skillfully captures the spirit of famous writer Zora Neale Hurston in this gripping and haunting story of her fictionalized childhood. In alternating chapters, he addresses the harsh realities of race in Jim Crow’s south in 1903, and slavery in 1855. Both Zora and Lucia’s stories are masterfully woven together until they culminate into one profound story. The narrative is rich and poetic and the dialogue is suspenseful and humorous. The plot is gripping and dangerous. The book cover is stunning!

The story is set in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated all black township in the United States. The historical facts about the town, with the only black mayor, is fascinating. It is out in the middle of nowhere. The black community lives peacefully together for many years enjoying their freedom, until trouble comes calling from some white men in a nearby town.

There are many multi-layered characters that are memorable. In the main story, Zora is bold, curious and an adventurous spirit. Her best friend Carrie knows that what ever problem or mystery they are chasing always “courts trouble.”  Old Lady Bronson, who wears soldier boots, lives in solitude, and is the town healer, seer, wise woman and “witch.” Mr. Polk is mute, but has a gentle spirit and a gift for working with horses. The 1855 story characters are very compelling. Prisca, the daughter of a plantation owner, who seems naïve to slavery at first. Prisca’s best friend is Lucia, who she treats as her sister, even though she is a slave. Lucia shares many of the same luxuries as Prisca and can read and write. The truth about Lucia is revealed when Prisca’s father suddenly dies, and she is torn away from Prisca to be sold. Lucia is angry and struggles to not lose herself in her hatred. Horatio is a kind stable boy who plays a significant role in the story.

Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground is stunning, heart wrenching and inspiring. Simon’s deliberate pacing and tension will keep readers fully engaged. There are many surprises for readers. It is an exceptional story, one I plan to read again.

Resources: Make sure you check out the biography of the remarkable Zora Neale Hurston and a timeline that chronicles her life, which are at the end of the story.

Greg Pattridge is the 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.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Riders of the Realm #1: Across the Dark Water by Jennifer Alvarez

Riders of the Realm #1: Across the Dark Water

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, Author

Harper Collins Publisher, Fiction, May 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 417

Themes: Pegasi, Jungles, Giants, Survival, Trust, Loyalty, Freedom

Synopsis: Deep in the jungles of the Realm, the Sandwen clan live among deadly spit dragons and hordes of warring giants. But with their winged battle horses, they manage to keep their people safe.

Twelve-year-old Rahkki is a stable groom for the Riders in the Sandwen army, taking care of his brother’s winged stallion. The Sandwens believe they have tamed all the wild pegasi in their land, and turned them into flying warhorses to protect themselves from the giants. When a herd of wild steeds flies over their village, Rahkki and his clanmates are stunned. Who are these pegasi, and where have they come from?

Meanwhile, a small herd of pegasi have journeyed across a treacherous ocean to settle in a new, and free, land. Led by Echofrost and Hazelwind, the Storm Herd steeds are unaware that the Sandwens are ready to fight. But when the unthinkable happens, Echofrost and the rest of Storm Herd will have to come to trust the Sandwens, or both may not survive.

Opening: Every Sandwen child dreamed of riding. A winged horse, though most never would, and one would rather not.

Why I love this book:

Look at that gorgeous and engaging cover! What teen wouldn’t be drawn to this tantalizing novel?

Riders of the Realm: Across Dark Waters is a thrilling new fantasy by Jennifer Alvarez for the fans of her Guardian Herd series. They will not be disappointed! Riders of the Realm is a brand new journey into an unknown realm for 140 terrified pagasi who have fled Anok in treacherous search for a peaceful home and new life. Readers will be delighted to reunite with Echohfrost, Hazlewind, Graystone, Dewberry, Redfire and Shysong, and the other pegasi, who call themselves the Storm Herd. Her storytelling is magical and flows organically.

The setting and world-building is enchanting, but full of hidden dangers. Alvarez has created a matriarchal culture within the Sandwen seven clans ruled by a monarch queen. Storm Herd lands among the Fifth clan. The men in the clans are warriors. The flying steeds (Kihlari) are tame and are paired for life with a flyer, but they are trained for the military guard to protect the clans. There are huge ants, killer plants, spit dragons and giants who communicate by using sign language.

The plot is exhilarating with epic adventures, action, clashes between the wild and tame steeds, the evil Fifth clan queen, the capture of Echofrost and Shysong, and the warring giants. There is a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter that will keep readers fully engaged in this fast-paced novel.

We also meet Rahkki, a 12-year-old stable groom for his older brother, Brauk, who is a Rider. They have suffered a horrific family loss and take care of each other. When the wild flying herd glides high above their village, Rahkki is excited and his imagination soars as he wonders what else may live outside his world. Rahkki has no hope of ever being a rider, so he spends a lot of time with Echofrost. It is the perfect pairing, since both share a loss. And their relationship is crucial to the fate of both the realm and of Storm Herd. Loyalty, trust and friendship will lead them forward.

Alvarez expertly tells her story in the alternating voices of Echofrost and Rahkki, which offers a rich perspective and a lot insight into this compelling story. For Echofrost, being paired and ridden by a flyer, is unthinkable. For the tame Sandwen Pegasi being wild is an unimaginable. They are honored battle warriors and paired for life with a human.

Alvarez ends the book with a huge cliffhanger that will have readers imagining the future of the characters, the flying steeds and the realm. I predict this will be a favorite and cherished book by middle grade boys and girls. It is a perfect summer read! Readers will have to wait until February 2019, for the release of her second book in the trilogy, which will give new readers the opportunity to check out the Guardian Herd series.

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez is an active horsewoman. a volunteer for US Pony Club, and a proud mother of three children. She’s also the author the Guardian Herd series, fantasy novel starring wild pegasi. Alvarez draws on her lifelong love of animals when writing her books.  Visit Alvarez on 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.

Review copy from the library.

The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz

       World Refugee Day, June 20, 2017

The Only Road

Alexandra Diaz, Author

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Book, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Child Refugees, Immigration, Guatemala, Courage, Hope, Freedom, Multicultural

Awards: Pura Belpre Honor Book and ALA Notable Book

Book Synopsis: Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly he knows Miguel, his cousin and best friend is dead.

Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a  powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed — like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice. Accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother, Tomas, in the United States.

Inspired by true incidents, The Only Road tells an individual story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better Life. It is a story of fear and bravery, love and loss, strangers becoming family, and one boy’s treacherous and life-changing journey.

Why I like this book:

Alexandra Diaz’s novel is powerful and timely. It is about two cousins fleeing from dangerous drug  trafficking gangs in Guatemala and making the treacherous journey north to the United States. There are no guarantees that they will survive. Their story is heartbreaking, but it underscores the problem of why many Central American children illegally immigrate to America.

The richly textured Latino text is peppered with Spanish words and expressions, which contribute to the reader’s experience. At the end of book, there is a glossary of words and expressions used throughout the story.

The story is distinctly character-driven. Jaime’s third person narrative will move readers. Twelve-year-old Jaime is driven by his grief over the death of his cousin. Jaime is brave and compassionate. He’s also a talented artist and sketches his journey. Fifteen-year-old Ángela is  a mother figure for Jaime and to other younger children they meet along their trip. She’s smart, cautious and reminds Jaime they can’t trust anyone. She’s particularly adept at changing her Guatemalan accent to a Mexican accent so she can fool immigration officers (la migra) and town locals. When they need more money for safe passage across the border, Jaime draws portraits and Ángela alters clothing for women.

The plot is multilayered, gripping and complicated. The trip is long and hazardous, which Diaz handles with care. Jaime and Ángela dodge brutal gangs, bandits, and immigration officers. Food and water is scarce. They are herded into a freight car heading north and nearly suffocate from the heat. They rest at safe houses and make friends with other teens who teach them survival techniques. They learn how to hop freight trains (la bestia) and ride on top the cars as they travel north through Mexico to the border of New Mexico. Their final challenge will be to find the right smuggler (coyote) who will help them safely cross the Rio Grande.

Immigration is a hot topic today. The UN reports there are 10 million refugees world-wide. This is an important book for middle school libraries to help students gain a better understanding of refugees, immigration and the reasons they risk their lives to find freedom.

Alexandra Diaz is the author of When We Were, which was an ALA Rainbow List book and a New Mexico Book Award finalist. Alexandra is the daughter of Cuban immigrants and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Make sure you read her Author’s Note at the end of the book that will give you further insight into immigration. Visit Diaz at her website.

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.

Rachel’s Hope

Rachel's Hope9781927583425_p0_v1_s260x420Rachel’s Hope (The Rachel Trilogy)

Shelly Sanders, Author

Second Story Press, Historical Fiction, September 1, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes: Russian Jews, Persecution, Separation, Immigration. Family, Love, Hope

Synopsis: Rachel Paskar flees the antisemitic violence and persecution against Jews in her Russian village and makes the long journey by train across Siberia with her family to a refugee camp in Shanghai. Rachel makes a name for herself as a journalist. After her mother dies in Shanghai, she and her surviving family members save enough money to sail to San Francisco in 1905. Rachel also leaves behind her boyfriend, Sergei, in St. Petersburg. He becomes involved in the revolution against the Tsarist Russians.

Rachel and her family find freedom from persecution in San Francisco, but are challenged with learning a new language and strange American customs, while trying to hang on to their family’s Russian traditions. Rachel works as a maid, meets a group of women’s voter activists, and makes friends with a female journalist who encourages her writing and introduces her to newspaper editors. She meets a student, Alexander, who she cares about, but Sergei remains in her thoughts. What has happened to him and will she ever see him again? Then the great San Francisco earthquake strikes and Rachel and her family lose everything.  Starting over is hard, yet this determined young woman never loses sight of her dream to attend the university.

Why I  like this book:  Rachel’s Hope marks the culmination of the The Rachel Trilogy. You can read my reviews of  Rachel’s Secret and Rachel’s Promise here. Shelly Sanders’ fictionalized trilogy is based on a true story about her courageous grandmother who faces persecution as a Russian Jew, escapes from Russia and journeys to America, where she becomes the first Jewish woman accepted into the University of California, Berkeley’s science program.  Sanders masterfully reconstructs life in early 20th century Russia, Shanghai and America, weaving the personal with the historical into a compelling story that creates a rich reading experience. She is fastidious in her research of different cultural customs and details of every day life (i.e. food, clothing, dwellings, and work conditions). Her heroine is a strong and courageous character.  Her plot is moving as she brilliantly writes two parallel stories — Rachel’s changing life in America and Sergei’s hard life in revolutionary Russia — and gives the reader a clear and realistic portrayal of a period in history that few people know. Yet, Rachel’s Hope brings a positive conclusion to the story of a Russian family immigrating to America where possibilities are limitless. I highly recommend this important series to teachers for use in the classroom. Resources: Visit Sanders’ website for teachers guides on the trilogy and more information.

Shelly Sanders has worked as a freelance writer for almost 20 years. The Rachel Trilogy was an “intense three-year journey” for her. She learned about her grandmother’s story when she was 16 years old, after her grandmother had died. It wasn’t until after Sanders had a family, that she felt a compulsion to get to know her grandmother.

Morning Star

MorningStarCover.inddMorning Star

Judith Paxton, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, September 2011

Suitable for Ages:  Grades 4-6

Themes: Slavery, Underground Railroad, Racism, African-American

Opening/Synopsis“Flower Felt fingers press down on her mouth, gentle but firm.  She struggled awake to see her mother lift them away, touch one against her own lips, eyes wide with silent warning.”   Twelve-year-old Flower, her baby brother and her parents live on a southern slave plantation.  In the middle of the night they flee for their lives following the Underground Railroad north to Canada.  Their only guide is the North Star and very kind people who help them along their journey.  Bounty hunters are in hot pursuit of her family.  Their journey is threatened by danger, illness, injuries, and hunger.

In a parallel story over 150 years later, we meet eighth-grader Felicia, who has moved from Toronto with her mother and grandmother to a small town in Michigan.  Felicia soon discovers she is among the few African-American students in the school.  She makes friends with a group of girls who introduce her to horseback riding and a drama class.   But, she also has to deal with some racism for the first time in her life.  When the teacher assigns the class to research their ancestry, Felicia discovers that her distant family members were slaves who followed the Underground Railroad to Canada.   She also learns about a community of free slaves living in her new town of Plainsville, MI.  Does she have the courage to share her family history with her class?

What I like about this book:  Judith Paxton has written a compelling and memorable story for young people where she interweaves the lives of two very different girls living 150 years apart.  Their stories are told in alternating chapters.  You will feel the strength and courage of both Flower and Felicia dealing with racism in different ways.  Their past and present paths will cross in an unlikely way.  Readers will easily identify with both engaging characters.  Each chapter is a page turner and the story is full of suspense.  This is a satisfying story for younger readers and a great read for Black History Month.

This book has been provided to me free of charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work.

January’s Sparrow

January's Sparrow9780399250774_p0_v1_s260x420January’s Sparrow

Patricia Polacco, Author and Illustrator

Philomel Books, Fiction, 2009

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  African-American, Slavery, Fugitives, Underground Railroad, Freedom

Opening/Synopsis“Sadie, the youngest Crosswhite, shuddered when she saw the paddy rollers thunder into the slave yard on their horses, draggin’ a runaway on the end of a rope behind them.  All the slaves had been ordered to stand at the porch rail that mornin’.”  Sadie was horrified when she realized that the men were dragging and beating January, who was like a brother to her.   He had carved a  sparrow for her days earlier and she knew he was going to run.  Adam and Sarah Crosswhite overheard that two of their four children were going to be sold.  The fled the Kentucky Plantation with only the clothes on their back and in the middle of the night.   They made a harrowing trip across the Ohio River into Indiana and traveled the Underground Railroad north to freedom in Marshall, Michigan.  In Marshall, there was a growing number of Negro families who found support and friendship in the white community.  Sadie’s father and brothers found jobs, and Sadie attended school.  But, the family was always on the look-out for bounty hunters and angry masters searching for runaway slaves.  One day a package arrived with Sadie’s treasured sparrow inside.  Attached to it was a note that said, “I found you.”  What will her family do?  Readers will be surprised by the ending.

Why I like this book:  Patricia Polacco has taken a true story that she discovered a few miles from her Michigan home and written a compelling story for children about slavery and the underground railroad.  In fact the home she lives in was site of underground activity.  In writing this story, Polacco used “dialect modified from slave narratives,” which enhanced the unique voice of January.  Polacco did a lot of research about the Crosswhite family and the amazing community of Marshall, MI, which adds considerably to the story’s authenticity.  Polacco’s vivid and colorful artwork is done with charcoal and watercolor.  She captures the fear, terror, pain and the joy in her powerful, detailed and expressive illustrations.  Visit Patricia Polacco on her website.  You can see a photo of her home built in the 1800s, and learn some interesting facts about famous visitors.

Resources:  Patricia Polacco has a Guide for Educators with Curriculum Connections, Discussion Questions and Classroom Activities, including a Reading Response Journal.  You will need to scroll down the PDF file to find January’s Sparrow.

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

I Have a Dream

Martin Luther King9780375858871_p0_v1_s260x420I Have A Dream

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Kadir Nelson, illustrator

Schwartz & Wade Books, Oct. 2012

Suitable for Ages: 5-10

Themes:  Dr. Martin Luther King, African-Americans, Civil Rights, Freedom, Diversity

Opening/Synopsis:  “I say to you today, my friends, that even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.  I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Book CoverFrom Dr. Bernice A. King:  “My father’s dream continues to live on from generation to generation, and this beautiful and powerful illustrated edition of his world-changing “I Have a Dream” speech brings his inspiring message of freedom, equality, and peace to the youngest among us — those who will one day carry his dream forward for everyone.”

Why I like this book:  Artist Kadir Nelson has taken one of the most powerful and inspirational speeches in history, and created a  beautifully illustrated book set to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic speech delivered on Aug. 28, 1963.   Nelson’s oil paintings are masterpieces  and a feast for the eyes and soul.  I was mesmerized by the strength and power in each painting.  Now a new generation of children will have the opportunity to learn about this great civil rights leader.

Resources:  There is a CD that accompanies this book.  The entire speech is printed at the end of the book.  With the inauguration of President Barak Obama, our first African-American President,  falling on Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Day, it is right to combine the two.  In honor of both, tomorrow, January 19, has been named a National Day of Service, and Americans are being urged to get involved in a local community service project.   Just check on the website for information

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