Archive for the ‘Orphans’ Category

SevenStoriesUpWhile there is a necessity for realistic fiction and fantasy in young adult literature, whether it be middle grade or high school, there is also a tremendous need, in my opinion, for readable fiction that doesn’t delve into issues or take you on unimaginable flights of fantasy. While Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder has a touch of fantasy (time travel), it is the heartwarming story of two young girls.

I’ll start by saying that I’ve been Facebook friends with Laurel Snyder for a while, but I don’t know how I got there…probably through some other author Facebook friend. We’ve never met, but I did see her at the Kids Author Carnival at the Jefferson Market Library where she played Pictionary with a group of middle grade kids. She was lively and animated and, based on that alone, I bought Seven Stories Up. I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

It is 1987 and twelve year old Annie and her mother, Ruby, who live in Atlanta drive to Baltimore because Annie’s grandmother, Molly, is dying. Molly lives in the old hotel that her parents owned, way up on the 7th floor. Molly and Ruby have not gotten along for quite a while.

It’s late and while Ruby is in with her mother, Annie gets ready for bed. Under her pillow she finds an old sleeping mask, the elastic all stretched out and the beads falling off. She puts it on and, magic, she wakes up in her grandmother’s bed in 1937, when Molly herself was twelve.

Now we all know that when a time traveller interacts with a past time, it changes the present. But that’s not the main part of this story. The story is about two 12 year old girls becoming friends, living life and leaving an everlasting impact on each other. It’s about someone from the 1980s learning what the ’30s were actually like, while leaving a 1930s girl with a little taste of the future.

Annie and Molly are charming characters and they act like true 12 year olds…they get into mischief. Snyder’s portrayal of 1930s Baltimore is startling in many respects. She brought to mind things I hadn’t thought about and will certainly provide food for thought for readers.

So, if you want to sit back and smile while reading, Seven Stories Up might just be the means to do that.


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Are you in the mood for just the right amount of magic and puppetry and suspense and thievery? SplendorsAndGloomsIf that’s the case, then you’re in the mood for Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz, whose previous book, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village was a Newbery Award winner. Splendors and Gloooms is no slouch either, being a 2013 Newbery Honor Book.

Since I’m having trouble these days describing books, I’ll take the description off of the Association for Library Services to Children website: “Lizzie Rose, Parsefall and Clara are caught in the clutches of a wicked puppeteer and a powerful witch in this deliciously dark and complex tale set in Dickensian England, where adventure and suspense are interwoven into nuanced explorations of good versus evil.” It is deliciously dark and scary. You can feel the London fog wherever Lizzie Rose and Parsefall travel.

Parsefall is the perfect Dickensian ragamuffin and Lizzie Rose is his prim and proper, although poor, partner in crime, both dominated by greasy, master puppeteer Grisini–a perfect name for him. When these three perform at Clara’s twelfth birthday party and she  disappears soon thereafter, the plot thickens. How the bigger than life Cassandra, the powerful witch in her remote castle, enters into the story is for readers to find out. Even Ruby the spaniel is adorable.

Readers will feel like they are living through an 1860s London winter.They’ll certainly feel like they are part of the story, not merely reading it. They might find themselves shouting out loud, “No Parsefall, don’t do that!” or “Watch out. Grisini’s hiding there!” Even I was afraid of Grisini.

My daughter recommended this book to me, before it was voted an honor book, indicating her good taste in books. For some reason, Splendors and Glooms, to me, was a middle school version of Night Circus because they had that same foggy aura (although their subjects are somewhat different).

So, my 2013 has started off with a bang. I’ve finished Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool and now Splendors and Glooms. Next up is Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone which is getting great reviews and The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver which has gotten great reviews. And then coming down the pike soon is Beth Kephart’s Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent, a prequel to Dangerous Neighbors. I know, also, that Susan Campbel Bartoletti’s new book, Down the Rabbit Hole: The Diary of Pringle Rose, is due out in March.  If my reading keeps up at this pace, 2013 is going to be a banner year.

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For some reason, I always have trouble summarizing a Sharon Creech book and The Great Unexpected is no exception. So, maybe I’ll just give you a sample from the book.

Naomi and Lizzie are 12 year old best friends in Blackbird Tree. On the first day of school their teacher gave an assignment to write about their families. “So the next day, we straggled in with our precious essays about our ragtag families. She made us read aloud. Well, the first five people, that is. Angie lived with a foster family with eight children and four donkeys and seven cats and three snakes. Her real parents were still in jail. Lizzie lived with her foster parents, who were definitely going to be her adoptive parents…Her real mother had had headaches…; her father died ‘of the maximum grief’. Carl lived with his uncle, who lost both his legs in a car wreck, and so Carl had to do all the cooking and cleaning and grocery shopping and it wasn’t too bad except when his uncle got ahold of the liquor. Delano said he wasn’t allowed to write about his family while they were under investigation. And then there was me. I told about my mother givng birth to me and on the second day of my life, she looked at me and said, “Gosh, I feel peculiar,” and then she dropped me on her stomach and died of a blood splot that went where it wasn’t supposed to go. I started to tell about how my father died of an infection, but the teacher stopped me.”

What does this have to do with anything? Well, one day, Naomi is walking in the woods and an unfamiliar boy falls out of a tree and knocks her over. This opens the door to Ms. Creech introducing interesting characters in both Blackbird Tree on this side of the ocean as well characters in Ireland “Across the Ocean”. And there is a connection, that, through fantasy and innuendo and wonderful writing, Ms. Creech makes credible and fun. And, I’m sure you can guess, by the sample of the book I gave you, it’s all about family.

Sharon Creech is one of a handful of authors, who writes wonderful books for that hard to write for age, 8-12, along with Joan Bauer (who maybe writes for a slightly older age bracket), Kathi Appelt, Rebecca Stead, to name a few. Give your children and yourself a treat with The Great Unexpected.

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