The Language of Angels by Richard Michelson

The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Karla Gudeon.

I love nonfiction picture books about overlooked and under-reported events and people in history. The Language of Angels is just such a picture book, about Itamar Ben-Avi (Ben-Zion) and his father, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda who were instrumental in the revival and implementation of Hebrew as the official and modern language of the state of Israel.

I knew that when Israel became a nation, that new/old nation adopted Hebrew as their official language. But I had no knowledge at all of the people behind the revival of the modern Hebrew language. When Eliezer Ben-Yehuda moved to Jerusalem in 1881, no one spoke Hebrew as their main, or native language. Today more than three million people speak Hebrew in daily life.

How did Eliezer and Devorah Ben-Yehuda and their son, Ben-Zion, manage to reinvent a language that had been dead as a daily spoken language for over 1500 years? Well, Eliezer started schools where the primary instruction was in Hebrew. And he decided that his children would speak and be spoken to only in Hebrew—a decision which made for a lonely childhood for Ben-Zion, since no one else spoke Hebrew when he was a child. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda also wrote a Hebrew dictionary and enlisted his pupils to help him make up words for modern things such as ice cream cones and bicycles. (Read the book to find out how to add new words to an old language.)

Even with the afterword that has more information about these people and their language-making, I still had unanswered questions. How did Ben-Yehuda get people to agree to have their children educated in Hebrew, an antiquated and unused language at the time? How did someone talk the fledgling government of Israel into adopting Hebrew as the national language? What happened to Ben-Zion during World War II and after? (His father died in 1922.) Of course a picture book can’t answer all the questions one might have about a particular subject, but the fact that this one sparked so many questions is a good recommendation for it.

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Philomena by Kate Seredy

Philomena is sturdy young country girl who lives with her grandmother in a village in the Czech Republic sometime in the early twentieth century. After her Babushka’s death, Philomena goes to the city of Prague to learn to be a servant and to find her Aunt Liska who deserted the family many years ago.

The story is very Catholic, and Philomena receives messages via circumstances that she believes are from the sainted Babushka. This aspect of the story didn’t bother me even though I don’t believe in praying to or receiving guidance from the dead. Philomena does believe that her grandmother is guiding her and caring for her from beyond the grave, and the device creates a gentle logic and organization to Philomena’s journey to the city and her growth from an innocent little girl to a self-sufficient and mature young lady.

“Everybody else in the village went to church every Sunday. First they listened to Father Matthias. Father Matthias was a wise priest who knew all about the weather, the sheep, and the chickens. He told the men of the village when to plant potatoes and corn. He told them what to do when animals got sick. He knew about God and Heaven, of course, but he also knew that people must have enough to eat to be happy, and therefore good, so he taught them to be good farmers. Good farmers have so much to do that there simply isn’t enough time left over for them to do anything that would make God angry with them! The good priest told them about Heaven, to be sure, but he just took it for granted that all his people would go there. He didn’t have to bother to tell them about the other place. He was a very wise man.”

While Father Matthias’ teaching or lack thereof doesn’t exactly fit with my own reading of the Bible and its soteriology, it is refreshing to read about such a good and down-to-earth priest.

Kate Seredy (pronounced SHARE-edy) was born in 1899 in Budapest, Hungary, and she grew up as an only child in the home of her teacher father. After World War II, Ms. Seredy emigrated to the United States and became an illustrator, first of cards and book covers and other low-paying artistic endeavors, then textbooks and books by other authors. Eventually, Ms. Seredy began to write and illustrate her own stories, mostly set in Central Europe, Hungary and this one in Czechoslovakia. The White Stag, based on Hungarian mythology and folklore and not her best book in my opinion, won the Newbery Medal in 1937. Philomena was published in 1955 after several other books, either written or illustrated or both by the talented Ms. Seredy, had won Newbery awards or honors.

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education by Raphaele Frier

I would like to read I Am Malala, the book that Malala Yousafzai wrote about her own life and her activism on behalf of the education of girls around the world. Until I get around to reading that book, however, this picture book biography, translated into English from the French, gives a basic overview of Malala’s efforts and of her sacrifice for the cause of girls’ education and women’s rights.

I learned that Malala’s father is an educator himself and that he supports Malala’s efforts to protect and extend the rights of girls to have an education.

I learned that Malala was only fifteen years old in 2012 when Taliban extremists boarded her school bus and shot her three times. She was able to travel to England for medical treatment at a hospital in Birmingham where she was able to make a full recovery.

I learned that in 2014, when she was seventeen years old, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

And the book also includes some quotes from Malala herself:

“One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world.”

“Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when were in Swat, the nor of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.”

“The extremists are afraid of books and pens.”

“It does not matter the color of your skin, what language do you speak, what religion you believe in. It is that we should all consider each other as human beings and we should respect each other.”

This beautiful book is wonderful tribute to Malala Yousafzai, and it’s a good introduction to her life and work for elementary age children.

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The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden

The first book in my February project of reading the books you all recommended to me from my own TBR list, The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden is, according to the New York Times pull quote on the back of the book, “for little girls who love dolls, women who remember dollhouse days, and literary critics who can recognize a masterpiece.” I must say that having read a lot of more recent fantasy with its emphasis on non-stop action and sometimes crude humor, Ms. Godden’s “masterpiece” was indeed a breath of fresh air and if not a classic, at least a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Tottie Plantaganet is a wise old wooden doll who, even though her “doll age’ is only about seven years old, carries the wisdom of over a hundred years of belonging to little girls and playing with them.

“‘I am as I am,’ said wise little Tottie. ‘I couldn’t be all those things. In all these years, these hundred years, I can still only be me.’ It is very important for dolls that children guess their right ages; some thoughtless children make their dolls vary between six and six months. Mr. Plantaganet for instance was born twenty-eight years old. Tottie was about seven.”

Tottie and her family, Mr. and Mrs. Plantaganet, baby Apple, and Darner the dog, live with sisters Emily and Charlotte Dane. The dolls live a happy life with two girls who love and care for them, and their only wish is for a house that they can call their own instead of the drafty shoebox where they now reside. However, when they do get their own dollhouse, it comes with a new doll, Marchpane, that Tottie knew long ago when she was the property of Emily’s and Charlotte’s great-grandmother. And Marchpane is a home wrecker! What will the Plantaganet family do to counter the selfishness and spite of the conceited Marchpane?

I just thought the writing and the characterization in this 1947 story were so good. Be aware that one of the dolls does come to a tragic, but loving and self-sacrificing, end in the course of the story. Some children might find that aspect of the tale sad or even depressing, but I thought the theme and tone of the story was ultimately uplifting and redemptive.

Did you like doll stories when you were a child? Do boys ever read doll stories? (Maybe if they are disguised as toy stories, like the movie?) What are your favorites?

Here’s a list of some of my favorites in this fantasy sub-genre:

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. Hitty is a wooden doll whose first owner is a girl named Phoebe Preble. Hitty’s adventures over the course of the next hundred years are chronicled in this Newbery award winning book.

Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey. Miss Hickory is a country doll made of an apple-wood twig, with a hickory nut for a head, so when her owner leaves New Hampshire to go to school in Boston, Miss Hickory is worried about surviving the winter on her own. Another Newbery award winner.

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, also by Rumer Godden. This one is on my list for reading this month.

Big Susan by Elizabeth Orton Jones. A family of dolls comes to life on Christmas Eve wondering if they will have a tree or gifts this year from the girl who normally takes such good care of them.

The Doll People by Ann Martin and Laura Godwin. “The Doll People series is about a family of antique living dolls that are made of porcelain and cloth. Each member of the Doll family has the ability to talk, walk, play, and, most importantly, go on adventures.” Books in the series are The Doll People, The Meanest Doll in the World, The Runaway Dolls, The Doll People Set Sail. I’ve read the last one, and on the basis of that reading I would recommend the series for doll lovers. A Guide to the Doll People series.

Mennyms Under Siege by Sylvia Waugh. Greenwillow, 1996. This doll story, the third in a series of five Mennyms books, is not a new book, and it won’t appeal to all readers, even those who like stories of dolls and the creatures living hidden lives alongside human beings. Mennyms Under Siege is much darker and more philosophical than most doll books (but not like the creepy, horror doll books I found in abundance when I looked up this subject), and its concern with the themes of death and thwarted love and over-protection feels almost young adult rather than middle grade.

In the Dollhouse: Doll Books Old and New at Book Aunt.

The Fairy Doll & Other Tales from the Doll’s House, by Rumer Godden at Charlotte’s Library.

And here are two series from the past that I would love to take a look at:

Josephine and Her Dolls by Mrs. H.C. Cradock, published in 1915 in England. Josephine’s “sixteen dolls keep her company, and she makes up story events for them. They include Sunny Jim who goes off to fight the war, two Korean girls and Quacky Jack, a yellow duck in a sailor suit.” More about Mrs. Cradock’s doll books.

The Lonely Doll is the first book in a series by photographer and author Dare Wright, published in 1957. Other books in the series are The Lonely Doll, Edith and Mr. Bear, A Gift from the Lonely Doll, Holiday for Edith and the Bears, The Doll and the Kitten, Edith and the Duckling, Edith and Little Bear Lend a Hand, Edith and Midnight and The Lonely Doll Learns a Lesson.

Have you read any of these doll stories, or do you have other favorite doll stories? Not scary horror story dolls!

Middle Grade Book Wisdom 2016, Part Two

I’ve already filled one post with quotations from middle grade fiction of 2016, mostly from the fantasy books I’m reading for Cybils. And now here’s another installment of proverbs, maxims, and wisdom nuggets from middle grade fiction of 2016. Enjoy, and feel free to tweet.

“Just when you think you don’t have it in you to bloom anymore, you do.” ~The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd.

“You are living an extraordinary life, day by day by glorious day. Never doubt your starry aim.” ~The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd.

“When something seems like an unbelievable coincidence, then consider that it might not be a coincidence.” ~Once Was a Time by Leila Sales.

“Sometimes the greatest power comes from showing mercy. Especially to those who may not deserve it.” ~Neverseen by Shannon Messenger.

“To a truly creative mind, ‘can’t be done’ just means ‘look for another way.'” ~Mysteries of Cove: Gears of Revolution by Scott Savage.

“Our memories make us who we are. . . Choose one moment in every day that is worth cherishing. Welcome that moment into your memory palace, nurture it always, and it will never leave you.” ~Time Traveling With a Hamster by Ross Welford.

“Even magic cannot create something out of nothing. It is possible to change matter from one form into another, but you can’t hold things in the wrong shape for long. Physics doesn’t like it.” ~The Voyage to Magical North by Claire Fayers.

“The only way I know to find inspiration is to put in the time and effort. Art doesn’t appear in the world as a finished masterpiece. It always begins like a lumpy mound of clay.” ~Rebel Genius by Michael Dante DiMartino.

“Three things cannot long be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” ~When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin.

“You can’t run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be.” ~Ghost by Jason Reynolds.

“Don’t forget how to be gentle. Don’t let the hardness of the world steal the softness of your heart. The greatest strength of all is daring to love.” ~Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Jonathan Edwards by Simonetta Carr

I’m spending my Thursdays here on the blog in the eighteenth century, 1700’s.

This picture book biography of the great preacher and theologian, Jonathan Edwards (b.1703, d.1758), is just beautiful. The book is hardcover, printed on lovely paper, large print, with both color illustrations and photographs of important documents and places in Edwards’ life. I want all of the books in this series.

The information about Jonathan Edwards is well-written and organized, and the presentation is, again, just lovely. Mrs. Carr, a homeschool mom and former teacher, tells students about Edwards’ scientific explorations of spiders and Newtonian physics. She explains the ins and outs of the First Great Awakening revivals, and the theological controversies that accompanied those revivals in terms that a tenor eleven year old could understand. She writes about Edwards’ youth and his courtship and marriage to Sarah Pierpont and his friendship and partnership with George Whitefield. The biography is thorough enough, but also with only 60 pages, it won’t exhaust the young readers it’s meant to engage.

At the end of the book Mrs. Carr includes a time line of Jonathan Edwards’ life, a list of interesting facts about Mr. Edwards and his lifetime that didn’t fit into the main narrative of the book, and a facsimile of an actual letter from Edwards to his daughter Mary in 1749. The letter is inspiring, It made me want to copy it and send my handwritten (plagiarized) letter to my own grown children who are far away from home.

Here’s just the beginning of the letter:

My dear child,
You may well think it is natural for a parent to be concerned for a child at so great a distance away, so far out of view, and so far out of the reach of communication; where, if you should be stricken with any dangerous sickness, which should issue in death–you might probably be in your grave before we would hear of your danger. But yet, my greatest concern is not for your health, or temporal welfare–but for the good of your soul.

Though you are at so great a distance from us–yet God is everywhere. You are much out of the reach of our care–but you are in His hands every moment! We have not the comfort of seeing you–but He sees you! His eye is always upon you. And if you may but live sensibly near to God, and have His gracious presence, it is no great matter if you are far distant from us. I had rather you should remain hundreds of miles distant from us–and have God near to you–than to have you always with us, and live at a distance from God.

Isn’t that the most deeply loving letter you’ve read in a long time? Read the entire letter here.

Jonathan Edwards by Simonetta Carr is one biography in the series, Christian Biographies for Young Readers. Illustrated by Matt Abraxas. Published by Reformation Heritage Books in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Other books in the series, all authored by Mrs. Carr with the same stunning illustrations by Mr. Abraxas:

Augustine of Hippo.
Anselm of Canterbury.
Athanasius.
John Calvin.
John Knox.
Marie Durand.
Martin Luther.
John Owen.

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Trends and Themes in Middle Grade Speculative Fiction 2016

Settings where (fantasy) stories come true
The town of Fortune Falls, where superstitions are the laws of nature.
An alternate universe/earth where mythological creature are real.
A congenital condition in which the words that people use to describe you appear in print on your arms and legs.
A Dream Shop in which dreams are bought and sold and made alive.
A summer camp where paranormal talents are the norm.
A wrinkled mountain village where “stories have a way of coming true.”
A world of paintings lives “behind the canvas”.
A library where books involving supernatural elements are “finished” as they are lived out in the real world.

Kids with father issues
Not as many mother issues in 2016, although they do show up in one or two books.
The Luck Uglies: Rise of the Ragged Clover by Paul Durham. Rye must decide whether to follow in her outlaw father’s footsteps or not.
My Diary From the Edge of the World. A hapless and neglectful father leads his family to the edge of the world.
Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson. Benjamin Hogan Putter talks to his dead father and tries to carry out his dad’s dying wishes.
Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones. Jamie’s father is an evil troll, and Annie doesn’t have a father.
The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari. Charlie’s father has “checked out” since his mother died.
The League of Beastly Dreadfuls: The Dastardly Deed by Holly Grant. Anastasia’s father is missing, and only she can find him.
Furthermore by Teherah Mafi. Alice feels rejected by her mother and abandoned by her father.
Baker’s Magic by Diane Zahler. Bee starts with no parents and ends up with two fathers, or at least two father figures.
Edge of Extinction: The Ark Plan by Laura Martin. Sky’s father fled the North Compound five years ago when she was only seven years old, but Sky is determined to find out why and what happened to him.
This Is Not A Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans. Raul feels deserted by his father, who is grieving over the loss of Raul’s mother.
Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart. Rueben is fatherless.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman.
Time-Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. Al can’t accept his father’s death.
Red Moon Rising by K.A. Holt. Rae can’t relate to her father and becomes bonded instead to her captors, an alien race called The Cheese.

Death and Dying
My Diary From the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson. The Dark Cloud of Death is coming to get someone in Gracie’s family.
Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson. Ben’s dad is dead, but dad’s ashes are speaking to Ben from beyond the grave.
The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet. Linny’s best friend, Sayra, is dying, and Linny must find a medicine that will cure her.
The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari. Charlie and his little sister Imogen find a parallel world where their deceased and much-missed mom is still alive.
The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Cylin Busby. Ship’s cat Jacob Tibbs loses his mother in a storm, and other lives hang in the balance when mutineers try to take over the ship.
Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd. Emma lives next to a graveyard and gives guided tours of said cemetery. She also talks to ghosts and misses her recently deceased mother with a feeling she calls The Big Empty.
Time-Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. Al can’t accept his father’s death.
The First Last Day by Dorian Cirrone. Haleigh wants to keep her friend Kevin’s grandmother from dying by going back in time.
Red by Liesl Shurtliff. Red will do almost anything to find the secret of eternal life for her granny.
School of the Dead by Avi.

Science and logic versus stories and magic
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.
The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet. People on the wrinkled, magic side of the river are in an ongoing conflict with those who live on the plain, scientific side.
Curse of the Boggin: The Library, Book 1 by D.J. MacHale. Marcus and his nerdy friend Theo argue over whether supernatural events are real or can be be explained scientifically.

Ethnic Diversity
Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung. Chloe Cho is tired of being the only Asian kid in town, but things are about to get a lot worse when she finds out the secret that her parents have been keeping about her family’s true heritage.
Curse of the Boggin: The Library, Book 1 by D.J. MacHale. Marcus and his two best friends, Annabella Lu, Chinese American, and Theo McLean, African American, work together to solve supernatural mysteries and lay ghosts to rest.
Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den by Aimee Carter. I think the different animal kingdoms in this one are supposed to mirror human diversity, with “mixed heritage” characters.
The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow. A group of ethnically diverse middle schoolers gain individual and oddly specific superpowers.
Time-Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. An ethnic Indian/British (Punjabi) setting and characters in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.
The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz. Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions, William, an oblate who is half-Saracen (African) and half French, and Jacob, a Jewish boy with a gift for healing travel across France in the thirteenth century on a quest.
Rebellion of Thieves by Kekla Magoon.

Magical Child with Hidden Talents, Destined to Save the World
The Harry Potter theme.
The League of Beastly Dreadfuls: The Dastardly Deed by Holly Grant. Anastasia, recently freed from captivity in St. Agony’s Asylum, is half-morph and all-princess. Can she find the Silver Hammer which will help to free her grandfather Nicodemus who can in turn find her father, Fred McCrumpet Merrymoon?
Little D by A. ML. “In a world where magic has been all but extinguished, nine year old Donatella Lou Regent, the last of the famous Regent line, has no idea who she is or the power she holds.”
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier. Sophie and her friend Peter Nimble adventure across the Grimmwald and through the city of Bustleburgh to stop the villains who are planning to stop, destroy and immolate all nonsense (stories, magic, wonder, books!).
The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet. Linny may be the prophesied Girl With the Lourka who will save the people of the divided city of Bend from ongoing warfare.
Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones. Little Annie Nobody is the child who is destined to be a Time Stopper, find the magical garden gnome, bring it back to Aurora, and defeat the evil Each Uisge and the Raiff.
Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart. Poor, lonely Reuben finds a hidden object, an object that bestows great power on its owner, but also an object that is sought for by a lot of very, very bad people, including the arch-villain of New Umbra who is known only as The Smoke. Can Reuben unlock the secrets of his newfound magical powers and save New Umbra before The Smoke finds him and takes his discovery away?
Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance. Seventh grader Claudia Miravista finds that she is a magically talented Artisti who can save her friend Pim from a life trapped behind the canvas of the paintings of the world.
The Lost Property Office by James R. Hannibal. Jack Buckles, finds out, by accident, that he is a Tracker, as was his father before him, and he is the only one who can save his father and the world from the evil Clockmaker.
The Lost Compass by Joel Ross. Chess, the foggy-eyed tether boy, may have a gift that will defeat the evil Lord Kodoc and save the world.
Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson. Sam is the one sent to save the world from the evil Vulture, El Buitre.

Shapeshifting:
Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den by Aimee Carter. Simon and his family are all Animalgams, people born with the ability to change into a certain animal at will.
The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart by Lauren DeStefano. Borderline shapeshifting.
Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones.
This Is Not a Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans. Maybe Raul is not a werewolf, but he does shift into a wolf on the weekends.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman.

Robots and Artificial Intelligence:
Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger.
Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince by Jean Claude Bemis. A Pinocchio-like automaton.
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.
Under Their Skin by Margaret Peterson Haddix.
The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer.

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Cinnamon Moon by Tess Hilmo

On October 8, 1871 the deadliest fire in U.S. history killed an estimated 1500 people, possibly as many as 2500. No one knows exactly how the fire started, but it was fanned by strong winds into massive proportions and consumed an area approximately twice the size of Rhode Island, including the town at the center of the fire.

No, this deadly tragedy was not the Great Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871 that everyone knows about, but rather the Peshtigo Forest Fire, on the same date in and around Peshtigo, Wisconsin, the one that killed many more people and destroyed far more acres of forest than the more famous fire in Chicago. The two children who are the protagonists in Cinnamon Moon are survivors of the Peshtigo Fire. (“The fire jumped across the Peshtigo River and burned on both sides of the inlet town. Survivors reported that the firestorm generated a fire whirl (described as a tornado) that threw rail cars and houses into the air.Many escaped the flames by immersing themselves in the Peshtigo River, wells, or other nearby bodies of water.” ~Wikipedia)

Oddly enough, twelve-year-old Ailis and her younger brother, Quinn, having lost their entire family in the fire, end up in Chicago, a city which is still recovering from its own fire. In the midst of all the destruction and confusion, the family friend who rescued Ailis and Quinn leaves them in a boarding house with the less-than-nurturing Miss Franny, who makes them work for her rather than go to school. In the boarding house Ailis and Quinn become friends with an orphan girl, Nettie, who has been placed temporarily in the care of Miss Franny, and when Nettie goes missing in a city full of human trafficking and exploitation of child labor, Ailis and Quinn must find her and rescue her.

This novel is historical fiction at its best, good for middle graders who are ready for an introduction to the seamier side of life for children and especially orphans in the nineteenth century. Nettie is enslaved and put to work killing rats in the sewers. She lives in a sort of Dickensian Chicago warehouse for captured orphans. Ailis and Quinn find that it’s hard to rescue someone who doesn’t understand the terms and limitations of her enslavement, but as it should be in a children’s book, all ends well for all three of the children. The story is just dark enough to show older middle grade children that this world is not always a safe place without depriving them of hope and faith in at least some of the adult around them.

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The Scourge by Jennifer Nielsen

I am a fan of Jennifer Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy, beginning with The False Prince, and I read her historical fiction book set in East Berlin, A Night Divided, and enjoyed it too. But The Scourge just didn’t connect with me. I felt the prose and dialog were poorly written, and the plot was contrived and didn’t make sense a lot of the time.

Ani Mills is one of the River People who live up-country in a primitive and poverty-stricken culture, and she and her fellow “grubs” don’t have much to do with the townsfolk who they call “pinchworms”. Maybe that minimal contact is the reason that the Scourge, a deadly infectious disease that is rampant in the pinchworms, hasn’t yet infected the River People. When Ani is arrested and taken to the lowlands town to be tested for The Scourge, she knows it must be a mistake. But Ani’s River People are powerless in the governmental system of this world, and Ani may be infected after all. Anyway, she has little or no choice about what will happen to her, but she continues to fight against her fate and her oppressive society and government.

I liked the premise of this book, but it just didn’t go smoothly. I don’t mean that things needed to go well for the protagonist, Ani, or for her friends. Her situation goes from bad to worse, but that’s the way you make a story: take your main character and get her into trouble and then see what happens. However, with Ani, her lows are unbelievably low, and her hairbreadth-escapes are unbelievably fortuitous. The penal colony or quarantine island Ani is sent to is very poorly run, with prisoners running around all over the island with no supervision, yet it’s supposed to be inescapable and quite authoritarian.

Younger readers who want a “Hunger Games” experience, very political, in their reading might like this one and might be willing to overlook the far-fetched solutions and rescues, but I was not.

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All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

Eleven year old Perry T. Cook has lived all of his life at the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in Surprise, Nebraska—in other words, in prison. His mom is the one who committed a crime, however. She lives on Cell Block C. And Warden Daugherty, Perry’s foster mom, is the one who makes it possible for Perry to live in prison with his birth mom, sort of. The warden and the guards and the prisoners and Perry and his mom are all just fine with Perry living at Blue River, but when the new District Attorney gets a bee in his bonnet about the inappropriateness of Perry’s living situation, Perry’s life is turned upside down.

OK, the premise is a little improbable, but it does shine a light on the issue of children whose parent(s) are incarcerated. And All Rise is not just an issue-driven novel; it’s a good story about an extremely patient and compliant boy (Perry) who finally, through persistence and a little luck, manages to get the adults to look at the spirit rather than the letter of the law. Gary Schmidt calls the book “a deeply moving, even inspiring novel”, and the plot and characters remind me of Mr. Schmidt’s books. An innocent boy is caught up in the problems of the adults around him and finds a way to navigate those problems with kindness and perseverance.

There are a couple of problems with the book. First, Perry is a little too innocent and patient, never complaining even when his new foster father is manifestly blind and unfair. But the point of the story is that Perry has been trained to be compliant in his life growing up in a prison, just as incarcerated criminals are trained to be compliant and not necessarily to think for themselves or stand up for their own convictions. There are also a few instances of cursing (God’s name taken in vain) that may add to verisimilitude of a prison setting, but don’t add much to a middle grade novel. However, those instances were only a handful.

I found Perry’s story inspiring and moving myself, and it has a lot to say about the work of forgiveness and about rehabilitation and even our justice system and our foster care system. Children need and long for their own parents; when they are unable to be with their parents because a parent is in jail or prison, the child is serving a sentence along with the parent. And that’s sad. All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook is a hopeful story, however, and one that might help children to understand some things about prisoners and the justice system and children in foster care jut a little bit better.

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