Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The War that Saved My Life

Author:  Kimberley Brubaker Bradley

Rating:  *** (3 stars out of 3 possible, "A")
              Highly Recommended

Audience:  Middle School

This is excellent historical/WWII fiction.  It's summer, 1939 and London is preparing for German bombardment by sending children off to country families.  Ada and her brother Jamie live in a shabby flat with "Mam," their impoverished and abusive mother.

Ada is 11 or 12 years old, crippled by a club foot and Mam's frequent reminders of her shameful condition.  Ada walks so poorly, she can barely drag herself to look out a window to the street scenes below.  She has never been outside.  Jamie, 6 or 7, has the run of the neighborhood although Ada has informed him he'll be forced into school soon.  Jamie is her eyes and ears, her link to the outside world.

When Ada realizes Mam plans to send only Jamie for country evacuation, she becomes determined to learn to walk so she can escape with her brother.  Upon reaching the Kent countryside, they are fostered by Miss Smith, the unlikely protagonist who provides the siblings with just the right blend of compassion and accountability.

Without revealing more of the unique plot structure, I assure you your family will not miss lessons of empathy, self-esteem, gratitude and forgiveness.  Ada and Jamie suffer many of the same stressors and emotions that foster and/or adoption families experience today, but these events are explored in a safe, positive environment, making this book an outstanding choice for middle schoolers adjusting to contemporary challenges.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Family Romanov

The Family Romanov:  Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia

Author:  Candace Fleming

Rating:  ** (2 stars out of 3 possible, "B")

Audience:  High School

While thoroughly enjoying a Russian fantasy/folklore (Egg and Spoon), I stumbled upon this new nonfiction book for teens covering the same turn-of-the-century time period:  The Family Romanov.

Winner of the Orbis Pictus Award (outstanding nonfiction for children) and the Sibert Honor Award (distinguished informational book), Candace Fleming's book satisfies all of one's curiosity about the tragic Romanov family, while providing plenty of 1905-1917 Russian history.

The reader feels both compassion and frustration with the oblivious Romanov family, Russian politics, class struggle, and the destiny of a continent.  The book is an enjoyable way for high school students to collect background knowledge in the perils of imperialism and the risks of revolution.

The book is sometimes advertised for middle school ages, but while the story is fascinating and compelling, it is equally dark and graphic for younger ages.  Few details are spared when the Romanov family is brutally gunned down in an Ekatarinaberg basement.  Their remains are carelessly disposed of by a regime based on secrecy and terror.  Final details are not brought to light until the Iron Curtain falls in the 1990s.  Now, even current events cause today's reader to wonder how Russia can mend the past and prepare a better future for all her peoples.