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.

The Brave Princess and Me by Kathy Kacer

The Brave Princess and Me

Kathy Kacer, Author

Juliana Kolesova, Illustrator

Magination Press, Historical Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8 and up

Themes: Princess Alice of Greece, Deaf, WW II, Jewish Girl, Nazis, Compassion, Bravery

Opening: There once was a princess who lived in Greece. Her full name was Victoria Alice Elizabeth Julia Marie, but she was called Princess Alice. When she was young her family discovered that she was deaf.

Book Synopsis:

In 1943, the Second World War is raging, and the Nazi’s have taken control of most of Europe — including Athens, where Princess Alice of Greece lives. Princess Alice is kind and accepting of different types of people. Something the Nazis are not. Born deaf, she knows what it is like to be discriminated against.

With the arrival of the Nazis, all the Jews living in Greece are in danger, including young Tilde Cohen and her mother. On the run, they must find a safe place to hide. When they arrive unannounced, on Princess Alice’s doorstep and beg her to hide them, the princess’s kindness is put to the test. Will she risk her own life to save theirs?

Why I like this book:

I love true stories about women who were heroes during the war, without even realizing it. They did what they knew was morally right in their hearts with little thought of the consequences. Princess Alice’s story is engaging and will encourage readers to wonder if they had the courage to risk their lives to save someone. The illustrations are stunning and perfectly match the mood of the story.

Princess Alice’s story is narrated by Tilde Cohen. The narration is quite wordy, but it fits the period of the story beautifully. Readers will want to know the details. Tilde and her mother are given a two-room apartment with a small kitchen. Every afternoon Princess Alice has tea with them and they talk about happy times in Greece before the Nazis invade. Through Tilde we learn that the princess can read lips in three different languages, but keeps it a secret. Everyday the princess leaves to help feed the poor and visit the sick.  When the stakes get high and two Nazi soldiers pound on the door and ask the princess if she’s hiding Jews, Princess Alice uses her deafness to trick the soldiers and make them think she’s not smart and can’t understand them.

Make sure you read the fascinating backmatter about Princess Alice’s life at the end of the book. She was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, the mother of Prince Phillip (husband of Queen Elizabeth), grandmother to Prince Charles, and great grandmother of Princes William and Harry. The author includes photographs of Princess Alice — with additional surprises. There is also information about Tilde Cohen’s family.

Resources: Encourage children to interview their parents and grandparents and ask them about family history. Write or record the information. I remember my grandmother and great aunt writing me letters about growing up in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but I lost the letters. I know information, but it is the stories about their every day lives I wish I knew. Good family project.

Kathy Kacer is the author of numerous books that tell true stories of the Holocaust for young readers of all ages, including The Secret of Gabi’s Dress, The Magician of Auschwitz, and To Look a Nazi in the Eye. A former psychologist, Kathy has travelled the globe speaking to children and adults about the importance of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive.

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.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Survival Tails: Endurance in Antarctica by Katrina Charman

Survival Tails: Endurance in Antarctica (Vol. 2)

Katrina Charman, Author

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, Dec. 11, 2018

Pages: 272

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Sled Dogs, Antarctica, Perilous Voyage, Survival, The Endurance, History

Synopsis:

Sled dog Samson can’t wait to be part of Ernest Shackleton’s historic voyage to Antarctica in 1914. Samson wants to feel the snow under his paws and the wind on his face as he races across the ice fields. Most of all he wants to help his humans chart the unexplored continent. Fellow sled dog Bummer just wants to get through the voyage in one piece. Why face down a dangerous, icy wasteland when he could stay inside his kennel, warm and safe?

When their ship, the Endurance, becomes trapped in sea ice, the dogs and men have no way home. Their journey becomes not about glory, but about survival in unthinkable conditions. Samson, Bummer and the other dogs will have to put aside their differences and band together to rescue their humans — and themselves.

Why I like this book:

What an impressive way to engage teens in history than to hand them a suspenseful, action-packed animal adventure about the infamous Endurance expedition to Antarctica. Katrina Charman well-crafted novel weaves animal fantasy with a true tale about survival in brutal conditions. Her novel is daring, thrilling and dangerous. The dogs face cracking ice, the loss of their ship, leopard seals, killer whales, starvation, and a drifting ice floe that carries them away from land. Survive they must. This epic tale is packed with grit, courage, determination, teamwork, friendship and humor.

A handful of black and white drawings add significantly to the vivid and urgent survival setting. They show the sled dogs working as a team to save lives, the treacherous conditions, the ship being crushed by ice, whales following the life rafts, and the rescue.

The narrative is told in third person from the dogs point of view, with Samson and Amundsen competing for lead dog. Readers will like Samson because he’s wise, steady, loyal and tough. He compassionately encourages other dogs, like Bummer, to find their strengths. Amundsen is the bold Alpha dog who challenges Samson and is mean. But the high-stakes of surviving their desperate situation outweigh their differences. There are lighter moments with Sally and her four playful puppies, and the ship’s feline, Mrs. Chippy.

Katrina Charman  provides very detailed information at the end of the story about the real journey, with a time-line that matches each chapter and offers real-life information. There is a section with information about the 64 dogs selected for the expedition and their names and detailed information about the expedition, the crew of 26 men and their positions, including Frank Hurley, the official photographer and George Marston, an artist who captured the expedition through his paintings.

Katrina Charman lives in a small village in the middle of South East England with her husband and three daughters. Katrina has wanted to be a children’s writer ever since she was eleven, when her school teacher set her class the task of writing an epilogue to Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Her teacher thought her writing was good enough to send to Roald Dahl himself. Sadly, she never got a reply, but the experience ignited her love of reading and writing. She is the author of the Survival Tails: The Titanic, the first volume in the series. Survival Tails: World War II, will be released in August 2019. She invites you to 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 library copy.

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.

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.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Hattie Big Sky9780385735957_p0_v1_s260x420Hattie Big Sky

Kirby Larson, Author

Random House Children’s Books, Fiction, 2008

Awards: Newbery Honor Books

Suitable for Ages: 12-17

Themes: Homesteading, Prairie, Montana, Prejudice, Friendship

Publisher Synopsis: Alone in the world, teen-aged Hattie is driven to prove up on her uncle’s homesteading claim. For years, sixteen-year-old Hattie’s been shuttled between relatives. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she courageously leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. With a stubborn stick-to-itiveness, Hattie faces frost, drought and blizzards. Despite many hardships, Hattie forges ahead, sharing her adventures with her friends–especially Charlie, fighting in France–through letters and articles for her hometown paper.

Her backbreaking quest for a home is lightened by her neighbors, the Muellers. But she feels threatened by pressure to be a “Loyal” American, forbidding friendships with folks of German descent. Despite everything, Hattie’s determined to stay until a tragedy causes her to discover the true meaning of home.

Why I liked this book:

  • It is based on Kirby Larson’s great-grandmother successful attempt to homestead in Montana in  1918. She heard the story long after her great-grandmother passed and began researching and reading diaries of people in the area.
  • Larson writes a powerful and authentic story about the harsh realities of life and work for any homesteader, let alone 16-year-old Hattie Inez Brooks. The setting is so realistic that readers will feel like they are there with Hattie digging and placing every fence post in the frozen earth to stake out her claim, plowing the fields and sharing in her adventure every step of the way.
  • The narrative is rich and visual. The story is packed with details of Hattie’s care for her livestock (a cow, horse and chicken) planting, harvesting, extreme weather, worry over paying bills and saving enough money to pay off her uncle’s claim, experiencing prejudices and making true friendships.
  • Great characters make a book and Larson has succeeded with Hattie, a brave, intelligent and independent character from the start. Her credibility grows as she learns to draw deep within herself to deal with raw reality of the hardships she faces, including the loss of her claim at the end. Even that doesn’t defeat her because what she may have lost she gained in deep friendships, values and knowing she gave homesteading her very best effort.
  • The plot is filled with suspense, tension and action, which will keep readers quickly turning pages.
  • Hattie is a hero and a great role model for teenage girls.  This books belongs in every middle grade and high school library.
  • Larson wrote a sequel, Hattie Ever After, in 2013. Readers can follow Hattie to see where her dreams lead her and if she finds her place in the world. I will soon review the sequel.

Kirby Larson is the author of Hattie Ever After, Duke, Dash, The Fences Between Us and The Friendship Doll.  Check out Kirby Larson’s website and my review of Dash.