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Publishers Weekly Review
Morpurgo (The War of Jenkins' Ear) spins a tale as compelling as it is unusual in its setting and plot. The story unfolds in journal entries and watercolor illustrations made by 14-year-old Laura Perryman in 1907 and 1908. She tells of her life on storm-battered Bryher Island, among Britain's Scilly Isles, where her family's survival depends on the mercy of the elements and, especially, the sea. This winter is particularly harsh, with the family's cows sickening and dying, the weather destroying houses and boats, the food stores dwindling and Laura's twin brother, Billy, running away to join a ship's crew. All anyone can hope for is a shipwreck, that the people of Bryher might salvage its cargo. As bleak as Laura's days are, she is gentle enough to protect a sea turtle that might otherwise serve as food, and hopeful enough to dream of rowing in the island gig despite repeated declarations that a girl will never be allowed to handle one of the oars. Laura gets her chance in a dramatic storm and shipwreck, and she helps save the island. A hearty, old-fashioned survival tale that should appeal equally to both sexes. Ages 10-14. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal Review
Gr 3-5The diary of Laura Perryman, 14, describes the fateful year of 1907 on the Scilly Isles off the southwest coast of England. Laura yearns to row in a gig alongside her father and the other men when they salvage ships that run aground, but he refuses to let her do so. Conflict within the family increases when her twin brother runs away to sea; she blames her father for his flight. A violent storm in the autumn destroys most of the islanders' homes and the residents consider leaving forever. As a feeling of hopelessness engulfs Laura, she finds a large turtle beached on the sand. Symbolically, her feelings of helplessness will be mitigated if she can save it, and her grandmother aids her in this quest. As December approaches, another storm hits and a wreck is sighted. Laura finally gets her chance to row, and her brother is among the rescued seamen. The goods aboard the Zanzibar restore prosperity to the island, and Billy's return signals new harmony within the family. The action in this short novel builds slowly toward the final chapter. Billy declares at the end, like Dorothy, ``...there's nowhere else in the world quite like Scilly, nowhere like home.'' To believe the happy ending is to subscribe to the explanation offered by Laura's grannythe rescued turtle is repaying a debt. Bright watercolor illustrations scattered throughout do much to enliven the text. In all, a story that's well written but that has limited appeal.Joanne Kelleher, Commack Public Library, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Gr. 4^-6. Spare but lyrical, this short novel begins with a first-person framework story in which a man revisits the Scilly Island home of his great-aunt Laura after her death. There, he finds that she has left him the diary she kept when she was 14. It was the year her brother ran off to sea, the year that misfortune visited and revisited her island home, the year that she and her grandmother saved a turtle stranded by the sea, the year the sea saved her neighbors and restored her family through a shipwreck. Throughout the book, Francois Place's small watercolor paintings reflect the innocence, pain, and grace of the story. The illustrated diary format has its appeal, giving immediacy to a setting removed in time and place, but the story's main strength lies in the telling. --Carolyn Phelan
Horn Book Review
Illustrated by Emily Martindale. Susie's mother is not cut out to be a prairie dweller; she fears the vastness, clings to her city memories, and takes to her bed in bouts of depression, unable to understand Susie's love of the prairie's beauty and solitude. In a lovely brief story that can be compared to both Dakota Dugout (Macmillan) and Sarah, Plain and Tall (Harper), we come to applaud young Susie's efforts to rouse her mother and encourage her to share a different view of their world. When an Icelandic family, the Eirikssons, stop for the night on their way to establish a farm in Montana, Susie relishes their company, but her mother cannot understand how they can look forward to yet another move to an even more remote area. In the end, Susie finds the perfect way of putting the prairie space in perspective for her mother, a simple act that begins to make a difference. Told in a highly readable text that is almost poetic at times, the story has a satisfying roundness that will elicit contented sighs from young readers. e.s.w. H Carolyn Coman What Jamie Saw This brief novel explodes into the reader's consciousness from the very first page with its startling image of a baby hurtling across a room. Nine-year-old Jamie is traumatized by this episode when his stepfather, Van, grabs Jamie's crying baby sister and throws her. His mother, coming into the room, catches her just in time, then grabs her son and daughter and takes off. After that night, the three of them go to live in the wintry New Hampshire woods in a tiny trailer lent by a friend. The horrifying incident seems to put this fragile family into suspended animation: Jamie's mother, Patty, doesn't make him go to school, although this year in the third grade he has a teacher he likes; and Patty stops going to her job bagging groceries at the IGA. Most days, Jamie entertains his little sister and his mother with his favorite pastime - performing tricks he has learned from his book on magic. An occasional venture into the world produces more trauma. Patty takes Jamie to a school fair, but both of them turn skittish when they see someone who resembles Van. Then one day, Mrs. Desrochers, Jamie's teacher, intrudes on their hideaway and has a long talk with Jamie's mother. After that, he has to go to school, and his mother attends some meetings with "a group of women who were trying real hard and needed to talk," she explains. When Van finally does come, Jamie and Patty together muster the courage to face him and make him leave. Jamie is surprised at how small and harmless the man seems after all. Coman's poetic prose is unsentimental and concise. The elements of plot and characterization meld into a finely balanced blend. This is a powerful story that probes with painful insistence at the insidious nature of fear and its consequences. n.v. Jane Leslie Conly Trout Summer When their father leaves them to pursue his latest pipe dream, Shana and her younger brother, Cody, move with their mother from rural Virginia to a metropolitan area where they live in a townhouse surrounded by malls and superhighways. Although Shana takes some solace in a larger school that offers more challenging courses than were available back home, Cody has trouble making the adjustment, so they jump at the chance to live in a cabin in the woods for the summer. While their mother is at work during the day, Shana and Cody, both happiest in the outdoors, explore the nearby river and woods. Early on, they cross paths with a crotchety old man who calls himself a forest ranger and seems intent on protecting the wilderness primarily by scaring people away. When the children refuse to be bullied by him, they earn his grudging respect. Old Henry teaches them much about the river - where the trout spawn and where the best fishing is. He even teaches Cody to canoe the treacherous white waters. For most of the summer, Shana, unwilling to acknowledge their father's desertion, struggles to maintain the fantasy that the family will be reunited in spite of increasing evidence to the contrary. While both children undergo their share of trials, the most difficult is acknowledging the demise of their family as they had known it. For Shana, the time spent alone in the woods allows her to look deep within herself, to discover her talents as a writer, and to mobilize the strength she will need to face new challenges. Major and minor characterizations in this quietly affirming novel are revealing and especially well drawn, and the intelligent, probing first-person voice lifts it a notch above the typical survival story. n.v. H Christopher Paul Curtis The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 This impressive first novel begins as a lighthearted, episodic family story narrated by ten-year-old Kenny Watson. Most of Kenny's problems revolve around his older brother Byron, at thirteen "officially a teenage juvenile delinquent." Although he makes life miserable for Kenny, Byron is constantly in trouble: lighting fires, cutting school, and having his hair straightened into a "conk" against the express wishes of his parents. These early chapters are hilarious, especially the one in which the narcissistic Byron gets his lips frozen to the side-view mirror of the family car while giving himself a kiss. But the tone changes after the Watson parents decide that they've had enough of Byron's "latest fantastic adventures" and drive the family from Flint, Michigan, down to Birmingham, Alabama, where they plan to have strict Grandma Sands shape Byron up. There Kenny has his first encounter with the darker elements lurking under the surface of life. Although he has been warned away from one particular swimming hole because of whirlpools, Kenny disobeys and almost drowns, pulled under by the "Wool Pooh" (Winnie-the-Pooh's evil twin, a Byron fabrication intended to scare Kenny away from the dangerous swimming hole). As the book moves further from the comic to the tragic, the Wool Pooh makes another devastating appearance, this time at the bombing of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church, where four little girls are killed. Kenny sinks into a deep depression, and - not so unexpectedly - it is Byron who pulls him out, with reassurances that his "baby bruh" is going to be all right, and with ruminations on the unfairness of life: "Kenny, things ain't ever going to be fair. How's it fair that two grown men could hate Negroes so much that they'd kill some kids just to stop them from going to school? . . . But you just gotta understand that that's the way it is and keep on steppin'." Curtis's control of his material is superb as he unconventionally shifts tone and mood, as he depicts the changing relationship between the two brothers, and as he incorporates a factual event into his fictional story. His use of the "Wool Pooh" as the personification of evil is effective and chilling. Curtis has created a wholly original novel in this warmly memorable evocation of an African-American family and their experiences both terrible and transcendent. m.v.p. Betty Levin Fire in the Wind Meg lives in Maine with her family, her grandmother, and her uncle's family. She wants to watch over and protect her older cousin Orin because he is "backward," but she is burdened by this responsibility and gets into many fights at school defending him. When she sees Orin setting a fire, just as an enormous wildfire approaches their house, she keeps his act a secret. Orin saves Meg and her brother from the wildfire, but she cannot forget her cousin's destructive behaviors. When she finally tells her family what she saw, Meg discovers that Orin was actually a hero. He had set a backfire, and although the house burned down in the raging wildfire, his fire is probably what saved their barn. Through this realization, Meg frees herself from responsibility for her cousin. Complex family relationships undergo many other changes as Meg and her relatives struggle with the aftermath of the devastating wildfires that in 1947 burned great portions of the Maine woods. The book's vivid setting and details of life during and after a terrifying fire are memorable, and the balance of a tense plot with strong characterization makes this a powerful read. m.v.k. Susan Rowan Masters Summer Song Since his wife died, Gent, Etta May's grandfather, has neglected his prized rose collection, especially the rose called Summer Song that was his wife's favorite. Etta May, whose mother left her to be raised by her grandparents, now finds that she has become the caregiver as her grandfather retreats further from life. Then her mother unexpectedly returns to take up Gent's care, and while Etta May is glad she's come, establishing a relationship is difficult. When her mother abruptly leaves again, Etta May, who must face her grandfather's deteriorating health alone, feels doubly deserted. The plot deals realistically with a fractured family and a teen who at first bears the responsibility for her grandfather and then is shut out when no one tells her about his surgery. The understated struggle for control is resolved as Etta May faces the fact that while she cannot control life, she can affect parts of it, such as having Gent's bed moved to the nursing home so that he can die "in his own bed" as he has always wished. The rural setting is clearly articulated through Etta May's narration, and the characterization is consistent in this bittersweet family story. e.s.w. Alice Mead Junebug g Junebug approaches his tenth birthday with fear because he will be forced to join a gang by the older boys in his housing project. He is a quiet boy who survives in the "dark old cement-block place with nasty words spray-painted on the walls" by watching out for himself and his younger sister, spending afternoons in the storage closet converted to a library by a volunteer from the Baptist church, and dreaming of learning to sail. On his birthday, Junebug launches fifty bottles, each containing a note about his wish to be a sailor. While Junebug works on his dream, he is confronted with the possibility that his mother will move the family out of the project. He is apprehensive about leaving the world he is familiar with, though he looks forward to a childhood in which he is not surrounded by drugs, fights, and fear. The novel is a hopeful one, in spite of the vivid portrait of the housing project's grim realities. Junebug and his mother and sister are sympathetic, caring characters whose actions prove to readers that strong convictions and warm hearts can make small changes. Junebug takes on adult responsibilities and worries, but he retains an optimism and capacity for dreaming that finally allow him to earn the sailing lessons he longs for. m.v.k. Michael Morpurgo The Wreck of the Zanzibar Illustrated by Francois Place. The story begins as a family gathers in Great-Aunt Laura's island cottage after her funeral to receive the elderly lady's few bequests. She has left her diary to her grandnephew, Michael; as he reads it, we begin a backward glance at an earlier time. Michael has grown up unable to solve the mystery of his great-aunt's wooden tortoise, Zanzibar. Where did it come from? And how did it get to Laura's front yard? In a beautifully executed tale enhanced by delicate watercolor sketches, we learn of a terrifying shipwreck, of Laura's brother, and of her greatest dream and how it was realized. The slight volume makes a solid impact on the reader, who will finish the book with a satisfied smile. e.s.w. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson Possibles At Sheppy Lee's sixth-grade graduation, Mama tells her, "This is a day to celebrate." Having lost her father to cancer just two weeks earlier, Sheppy hardly feels like celebrating. Instead, she buries her head in her brother Ranger's chest. Papa had always told Sheppy to believe in the miracles, the "possibles," but it turned out that the doctors had been right; there were no miracles for Papa. Because of tight family finances, Sheppy cannot go to summer camp as usual with her best friend, Tessa, but must take a job "lady-sitting" for an irritable twenty-six-year-old with a broken leg. Besides, Sheppy and Tess haven't been able to talk as they used to anyway; since Papa died, they haven't been "on quite the same beat." Sheppy's normally close family has also been fragmented since the death, and there seems to be an unspoken rule in the house not to talk about Papa. Left to herself, Sheppy changes and grows considerably in her first two weeks on the job. By playing games with and reading aloud to Constance Montgomery, Sheppy eventually brings "Miss M" out of her shell so that they are able to confide in each other about their troubles. Sheppy also develops a long-distance friendship with Parker Ford, a former classmate who has teased her for years but now turns to Sheppy as a friend in whom he can confide his own family problems. During this time, Sheppy stumbles on hidden notebooks full of poetry that Papa wrote. The poems help Sheppy to grieve and to realize that in some way Papa will always be with her, as part of her. Mama explains, "It's a private thing, finding your way through grief." In the end, the family begins to find their way together again, and Sheppy writes in a letter to her father, "It's hard without you, Papa. But I think we're going to be okay." Sheppy is a likable character, and Nelson deftly portrays all three family members coping with loss, both separately and together, in this poignant and ultimately hopeful story. l.a. Nava Semel Flying Lessons Translated by Hillel Halkin. In the small citrus-growing village in Israel where three generations of her family have settled, eleven-year-old Hadara is the only one whose mother has died. In her mind she dreams of being able to leave her village - and her sadness - by learning how to fly like a bird. Monsieur Maurice, who has just arrived and opened a shoemaker's shop behind her house, tells her that people from his island home know the secret of flying. In her frequent visits to his shop, they talk constantly about how to fly. Hadara studies birds and practices jumping until one day, during a long drought-filled winter while her father is away, she decides she is ready. Climbing to the top of one of the tallest trees in the grove, she thinks, "There was no more down anymore, no more earth, and no one buried beneath it," and she jumps into the air. Her friend Arele, finding Hadara lying on the ground with a seriously broken leg, gets her to the clinic. At the same moment, rain starts, ending the disastrous drought. When her cast comes off at the end of the winter, Hadara learns that Monsieur Maurice has left the village and that all his stories of flying were a metaphor for the concentration camp where he learned his trade and where he lost everyone he loved. Although Hadara resents his leaving and her failure to fly, she comes to realize that, in fact, "He had tried to teach me how to fly with both feet on the ground." Semel's sensitive story, told in poetic language, is given an eloquent and masterful translation. h.b.z. William Sleator Dangerous Wishes In a sequel to The Spirit House (Dutton), the story of the bad luck that has surrounded the Kamen family ever since a Thai exchange student visited them several years ago is continued. The Kamens and their son Dom have come to Thailand for a lengthy visit. Misfortune befalls them as soon as they land: they are not met at the airport, they have difficulty finding their rental house, their new maid seems fearful, and the chandelier falls on the mother, injuring her. Lek, a young street vendor who speaks English, helps them. Soon Dom tells Lek the story of the lost jade carving that seems to be at the root of their problems. Dom thinks that if it is returned to a shrine in Bangkok, the curse will be lifted. Lek himself has a lucky object, a gift from a dead friend, which seems to grant his wishes - for shoes, clothing, and a vendor's cart - but only at the expense of someone else's misfortune. Lek and Dom find a common bond and form a tenuous friendship. Together they go to Lek's country village to search for the jade figurine and sort out their problems with lucky and unlucky objects. The spirit world is very much alive in Thai beliefs, and Dom and Lek find themselves pursued by a malevolent spirit; they barely escape with their lives but manage to restore the recovered figurine to the shrine. As with many of Sleator's novels, the book ends on a disquieting note: will Dom and Lek escape further bad luck? The Thai setting is firmly constructed, the shaky friendship between representatives of two quite different cultures is believable, and the rapidly escalating chase sequence is riveting. Vintage Sleator. a.a.f. Vivian Vande Velde Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird It seems as if all the world has suddenly turned to rewriting folktales. It is certainly true that folktales are satisfying just as they are, yet bear exploration and reworkings of their themes extremely well. This collection has both amusing and touching versions of some old favorites. One of the most delightful is "Straw into Gold," featuring Rumpelstiltzkin as an attractive young elf, the king as a self-centered egoist, and the miller's daughter as a girl who comes to understand the difference between straw (the shallow king) and gold (the generous elf). Extremely amusing is "The Granddaughter," with an annoying Little Red Riding Hood who drives both Granny and the wolf, a friend of Granny's, up the wall with her nonstop instructions on how everything should be done. The wolf tries to help Granny by taking her place and putting a good scare into young Red Riding Hood. But it all miscarries, and in a slapstick final scene, Granny, the wolf, and Bob the woodcutter lock her in a closet and go merrily out for a picnic. "Mattresses" retells "The Princess and the Pea," pointing out what aggravation the princess caused, always wanting more mattresses and eventually alienating the handsome prince and his family. Some short items give alternate endings to well-known tales, such as "the Gingerbread Man turns out to be carnivorous and eats the fox." Imaginative and entertaining. a.a.f. Jane Yolen, Editor Camelot: A Collection of Original Arthurian Stories Illustrated by Winslow Pels. All myths, folklore, and legends provide matter for retelling, but it is astonishing how fertile a field the King Arthur story is. The tales collected in this book touch on many aspects of the Arthurian legend - the sword in the stone, Merlin's life, and Queen Guinevere, among others. An outstanding inclusion is Anne McCaffrey's tale of the boy Galwyn, gifted at languages and in dealing with horses, who is harshly treated by his uncle, a barge captain. His success at helping Lord Artos find the horses he needs for battles transforms Galwyn's life in the story "Black Horses for a King." A very amusing tale is "Holly and Ivy" by James D. Macdonald and Debra Doyle, detailing the practical joke on the part of Lancelot and Gawain that lies behind the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Fans of Terry Pratchett will be happy to find his story "Once and Future," showing how the Wizard Mervin (that's right, Mervin) built the sword in the stone out of copper wire, soft iron, and a tide mill. The collection also includes a very T. H. White-ish story by Kathleen Kudlinski, "The Changing of the Shrew," in which a young Arthur tries on various animals for size. The illustrations are suitably medieval and fantastic and contain the agreeable device of a strip across the bottom of each painting that further elaborates the Arthurian theme. A treat for King Arthur fans. a.a.f. From HORN BOOK, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Kirkus Book Review
A great-aunt's childhood diary opens a window to the past in this introspective, deeply felt story by Morpurgo (The War of Jenkins' Ear, p. 1284, etc.). The year 1907 is a hard one for the Perrymans: 14-year-old Laura's beloved twin brother Billy runs away to sea; the only milk cows die; and great storms devastate the islands. Starvation is a real threat, but when Laura finds a stranded leatherback, she hides it until she can help it back to the sea. Salvation comes in the form of a shipwreck: From a cargo vessel, the islanders salvage live cattle, lumber, goods, and Billy, home to stay. Place's small, frequent watercolors feature windswept littoral scenes and lonely figures, echoing the text's focus on the Perrymans' grief and the isolation of the island. Laura takes an active role in the rescue; her courage lights up a small, tidy drama. (Fiction. 10-12)