Book Review: Wolf Hollow

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 11.37.49 AM.pngWolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk is set in western Pennsylvania in the fall of 1943. It is the story of twelve-year-old Annabelle, whose peaceful world is upended when a cruel girl joins her school.

This new girl, Betty, first threatens Annabelle, then her younger brothers. When Toby, an outsider and World War I veteran, tries to protect them, he becomes Betty’s new target. Many in the community are inclined to believe Betty’s lies. Annabelle, though, is determined to prove Toby’s innocence.

The very first sentence sets the tone for this novel that is both beautifully written and disturbing: “The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.”

It’s not an easy read–either in a reading level sense or in an emotional sense. I wouldn’t recommend it for every middle grade reader, but for the right reader, it offers a brave and relatable heroine, a tense story, and plenty of food for thought.

Remembering 9/11

Monday will be the 16th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. All adults remember that Tuesday. Where they were when they heard the news. How they felt. What they did.

But kids can’t remember, of course. Mine weren’t even born yet. For them, 9/11 is history. Not all that different from Pearl Harbor or Gettysburg or the Alamo.

Fiction is a great way for kids to learn about other times and places. Novels about the recent past are rare, though.

Luckily for today’s kids, there are two new middle grade novels that address the events of September 11 and the impact they had on the people of the United States.  These novels fittingly manage to be both sad and hopeful.

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 11.54.33 AMTowers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a contemporary novel, set in Brooklyn fifteen years after 9/11.

Dèja has just moved into a homeless shelter with her sick father, her overworked mother, and her two younger siblings. The 5th grade teacher in her new school assigns a project relating to September 11.

Although she’s lived in New York her whole life, Dèja knows nothing about 9/11, and she wonders why she should care about something that happened before she was born. With the help of her new friends, Ben and Sabeen, she learns how those events still affect her country, her city, and her family.

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Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin is an historical novel set during September 9-11, 2001 and September 11, 2002.

It focuses on four middle schoolers of different genders, races and religions: Will in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Aimee in Los Angeles, California, Sergio in Brooklyn, New York, and Naheed in Columbus, Ohio.

It’s the story of these four individual kids and the challenges they’re facing before the events of 9/11. It’s about the ways their lives intersect in unexpected ways. And it’s about the difference between “before” and “after”.

Book Review: Code Talker

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 12.02.30 PMCode Talker by Joseph Bruchac is the story of a Navajo boy who serves in the Marine Corps during World War II, sending messages in an unbreakable code based on his native language.

The narrator and protagonist, Ned Begay, is fictional, but the main events in the book really happened. Blaine and I both enjoyed learning more about this little-known piece of history.

The book is presented as a story told by Ned as an old man: “Grandchildren, you asked me about this medal of mine. There is much to be said about it. This small piece of metal holds a story that I was not allowed to speak for many winters. It is the true story of how Navajo Marines helped America win a great war.”

He then goes back to his childhood. He left home at age six to attend a state-run boarding school where he was forced to cut his hair and required to speak only English. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, he was fourteen years old and too young to fight, but two years later, he joined the Marines. After boot camp, he was sent to code school to learn a code based on the Navajo language. He and his fellow Navajo code talkers played a key role in many battles in the Pacific theater, including on Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. After the war, he returned home and became a teacher, but for many years, he was not allowed to tell anyone about his work as a code talker.

Bruchac says in the Author’s Note that the book “can be read as a parable about the importance of respecting other languages and cultures.” Some of the most interesting parts of the book are its explorations of the differences between Navajo, white American, and Japanese cultures.


Book Review: Paper Wishes

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 9.52.38 AMPaper Wishes by Lois Sepahban is the story of ten-year-old Manami Tanaka, a Japanese-American girl whose family is forced to move from Bainbridge Island to the internment camp at Manzanar in the spring of 1942. Manami can’t bear to leave her dog behind, so she tries to smuggle him under her coat, but the soldiers discover him.  In the desolate prison far from home, Manami misses him desperately and loses the ability to speak.

Although this book deals with difficult topics, it is appropriate for younger elementary school readers. Events are seen through Manami’s point of view, and the story has a hopeful tone.

If you read this book with your child, I also recommend taking a look at Ansel Adams’ photographs of the internment camp at Manzanar.

Book Review: The Rock and the River

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-11-51-28-amThe Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon is a coming-of-age story set in Chicago in 1968. Thirteen-year-old Sam Childs is caught in the middle. His father is a civil rights leader and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His older brother is a member of the Black Panthers.

“You can’t be the rock and the river,” his brother tells him.

Blaine and I both enjoyed this book. It raises complex issues for discussion—both societal (race, class, police violence) and personal (family dynamics, relationships, growing up). And like the best historical fiction, it teaches the reader a lot about the time period in the context of a compelling story.