Book Review: The Detective’s Assistant

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 8.52.08 AMYou’ve probably heard of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. But did you know that it hired Kate Warne as the first female detective in the United States in 1856? And did you know that she and other Pinkerton detectives thwarted a plot to assassinate President-elect Lincoln on his way to his inauguration in 1861?

Kate Hannigan weaves these fascinating true facts into the fictional story of eleven-year-old Nell Warne in The Detective’s Assistant. 

Nell is an orphan. Her only chance of staying out of the Chicago Home for the Friendless is to make herself indispensable to her Aunt Kate, one of Mr. Pinkerton’s detectives. Luckily, Nell proves to be both clever and brave. She eagerly dons disguises and helps her aunt solve several dangerous cases. Along the way, she uses her new skills to uncover the truth about her father’s death.

The Detective’s Assistant is perfect for kids who like history and mystery.

 

Book Review: The Wild Robot

Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 1.48.19 PMThe Wild Robot is a charming tale of a robot who washes ashore on an island inhabited only by animals. Larrabee and I took turns reading it aloud to each other.

It’s an easy read with short chapters. It took us a little while to get into it, and Larrabee first pronounced it “a little weird.” But he chuckled when Roz the robot addressed the opossum politely as “Madam marsupial,” and he laughed out loud when she invited all the animals to leave their droppings in her garden. Brightbill the gosling and Chitchat the squirrel won him over. And by the time the RECOs arrived to retrieve Roz, he was riveted.

The Wild Robot is author and illustrator Peter Brown‘s first novel. It contains charming illustrations (like the one on the cover) throughout. Larrabee and I are fans of Brown’s picture books, especially My Teacher Is a Monster!

I recently wrote a craft review of this book for the Middle Grade Lunch Break blog. I hope you’ll check it out.

Book Review: Norse Mythology

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Inspired by Gaiman’s book, Larrabee made his own Mjollnir, the lightning-maker (hammer of Thor) out of cardboard.

In Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman retells the stories of Odin, Thor, Loki, and the other gods, goddesses, dwarves, and giants of the nine worlds. It’s fast-paced and funny–a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Larrabee read this book first and then lent it to me. He loved it, although he reported that “The Mead of Poets” was a little scarring for an eight year old. Especially one who’s written some bad haiku. You’ll have to read the book yourself to understand why.

I’m less familiar with the Norse myths than I am with Greek and Roman mythology, so many of these stories were new to me. I’ve encountered some of the characters in popular culture, though, including in Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants, and Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series, and it was nice to get their full story.

Book Review: Pax

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 9.49.12 AMPax by Sara Pennypacker is the story of a twelve-year-old boy and his pet fox, separated by an impending war. Through the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax, we learn how they came to be inseparable and what they will do to be reunited.

Pax is a profound story and beautifully written. Although it has sad parts, it did not make me cry. Larrabee read it first and then lent it to me, but I wish we’d read it aloud together because it raises important issues about doing the right thing and discovering your own truth.

Sara Pennypacker was interviewed about Pax on NPR.

Thank you to Tom and Aymara for the excellent gift!

Book Review: Most Dangerous

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 8.27.56 PMMost Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War is another excellent history book for middle and high school readers by Steve Sheinkin, the author of Bomb. Blaine, Mark, and I all enjoyed it.

The book tells Ellsberg’s story from his first day of work at the Pentagon, coincidentally the day of the Tonkin Gulf incident, to his decision to leak the Pentagon Papers and his trial for violating the Espionage Act. At the same time, it recounts many events of the late 1960s and early 1970s: the U.S. military escalation in Vietnam, the anti-war protests at home, the Watergate break-in.

To an adult, this is recent history, but to a young person, it’s just history. Yet, it’s incredibly relevant to today’s news. For example, American military action overseas is often criticized as “another Vietnam.” Watergate spawned a long list of “-gate” scandals, including the recent “deflategate.” And in the epilogue, Sheinkin draws a parallel between Ellsberg and Edward Snowden.

Most Dangerous is a fast-paced, compelling read.

Book Review: One Crazy Summer

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-4-38-33-pmOne Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia is the story of three sisters who travel from their home in Brooklyn, New York to spend a month in Oakland, California with the mother who abandoned them seven years earlier. It’s set in the summer of 1968.

Blaine and I both enjoyed this book. It refers to some of the same historical events as The Rock and the River (such as the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the imprisonment of Huey Newton), which led to some interesting discussions.

Most of all, we found the characters and their personal relationships compelling. (For more on that, see the craft review that I wrote for the Middle Grade Lunch Break blog.)

If you want to read more about the Gaither sisters, Rita Williams-Garcia has also written two sequels: P.S. Be Eleven (set in Brooklyn) and Gone Crazy in Alabama (set in rural Alabama).