Friday, June 28, 2013

Dave at Night by Gail Carson Levine

Cover Art for Dave at night Gail Carson Levine is best known for her princess tales.  Her first was Ella Enchanted, but she has written a dozen more, all of which I enjoyed.  But one of my favorite of her books is not a princess tale.  It isn't even an fantasy.  David at Night is a historical fiction about a Jewish boy who is orphaned at age 11 during the depression.  His step mother and relatives are unable to take him so he is sent to the Hebrew Home for Boys in Harlem.  He isn't at the home long before he learns how to sneak out and explore the streets at night.  He happens upon a kindly older Jewish gentleman who introduces Dave to the wonders of Jazz, and the Harlem Renaissance.  I think that Ms Levine does a wonderful job capturing David's voice.  He is spunky, but a believable 11.  I also like the fact that the African American people in the story are the rich and influential ones and that his relationship with a black girl is completely untainted by racism.  It is easy to get tired of reading about oppressed peoples. The book was inspired by the experience of Ms. Levine's own father who was put in an orphanage as a child, and was unwilling to talk about it throughout the rest of his life. After his death, Ms Levine researched the orphanage where her father had lived, and also the time period and culture of the area. I first read Dave at Night years ago when it was first published about 10 years ago, but I was happy to go revisit it again.  It was interesting to compare it to The Little Rock Lions, and also The Help which I am still reading (281 p)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Steel Trapp: The Challenge by Ridley Pearson

Cover Art for Steel Trapp : the challenge Steven (nick named Steel) Trapp is on his way to the national science challenge hoping to win a medal for his amazing sniffing robot. Steel has photographic memory and that is why he remembers a woman who had left her carry-on on the train.  When he tries to return the bag to her, and she denies that it is hers, he unwittingly gets involved with a terrorist plot.  He, and another National Science Challenge contestant, a girl named Kaileigh he meets on the train, put their amazing brains, and science challenge inventions, to the task of unraveling the mystery.  This is a light, fun and fast paced action adventure that will appeal to nerdy kids of either gender.  My only problem with it is that the kids, who are supposed to be 14, act more like they are 11 or 12. They have no romantic interest in each other, and don't mention the awkwardness that would have occurred if 14-year-olds of different genders would have been thrown together as they were. I would bet the editors made Pearson change their age.  The rule of thumb in the editing world is that the main characters are supposed to be 2 years older than the target audience, and this book is definitely targeting pre-teens rather than teens. (324 p)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

Cover Art for The lions of Little Rock Marlee is so quiet, she only talks to a few people in her family, and one friend.  Then a new girl comes to her class, and asks Marlee to be her partner on a history project.  Liz is self confident and smart, and soon she begins to work with Marlee to help her overcome her shyness.  Then one day Liz doesn't come  to class, and Marlee discovers that Liz is really an African American, posing as a white girl so she could go to a better school.  Although Central High School had technically been integrated with the "Little Rock 9" had attended the year before, the grade schools were not integrated, and it was illegal, even dangerous, for Liz to attend school there.  As Liz and Marlee try to secretly continue their friendship, racial tensions rise, as one high school after another shut down to prevent integration. Marlee has to decide if she is brave enough to speak up and make a change in her own community.

There are a lot of novels out there that present the integration struggles in the 50's.  This one is interesting because it deals with the aftermath of the first attempts to integrate, and shows that things did not change overnight. I was interested to see what kind of ending Levine would have for the story, and was gratified to find that she chose the realistic conclusion, rather than the idealistic one.  The story is carefully researched and I think Levine does a good job of showing the emotions, attitudes and motivations behind the historical events.  (298 p)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay

Cover Art for Tall story Andi has only seen her half brother, Bernardo, once, when she was 4 and he was 6, because he lives in the Philippines and her parents have struggled to get his immigration papers.  Her parents are therefore excited when his papers go through and they are able to send for him to come and live with them in London.  When Bernardo comes off the plane Andi is astonished to find out that he is 8 feet tall.  The story is told from both Andi and Bernardo's point of view in alternating chapters.  Bernardo suffers from gigantism, but he was never treated because in his village there was a legend of a giant named Bernardo who saved the village from earthquakes.  When Bernardo (the boy) begins to get tall, those in the village believe he is the reincarnation of the legendary Bernardo. He has longed to join his mother all his life, but when his papers go through the villagers beg him not to go for fear that his departure will bring on an earthquake.  Although the book touches on a lot of serious issues surrounding gigantism, friendship, and family, Gourlay doesn't gets too heavy.  It is certainly a book for children and the reader is never really in doubt of a happy ending.  (295 p)