“Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book.” ~Edward Gibbon


Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

Ten year old Lottie Bromley and her best friend Kitty McLaughlin are inseparable, friends in the midst of war and deprivation in 1940 Bristol, England. However, when Lottie’s father’s research into the possibilities and uses of time travel does separate the girls, Lottie is determined to find Kitty again—and ask forgiveness for having deserted her friend in a crisis.

Time travel is always a tempting story premise, but tricky to handle. It all sort of becomes mind-bending and gives the reader (and the author, presumably) a headache, as in this epic discussion from LOST:

In Once Was a Time, one character’s idea is that one can never travel back in time, only forward, since you can’t change the past because it would change the present and the future too much. Another possible “rule” of time travel is that you can’t time travel to a time during your own lifetime since that would make two of the same person exist in the same time. OF course, these are all theoretical “rules” since Lottie’s father is just researching time travel, not actually engaging in it. And then danger comes in the form of a kidnapping/hostage situation, and Lottie does see a time portal and get the chance to flee into it. She doesn’t know when or where she’s going, but she ends up in Sutton, Wisconsin on August 20, 2013.

A great many pages after that crisis time travel episode are filled with Lottie’s observations on the differences between England in 1940 and Wisconsin in 2013. I found these cultural and time period differences to be fascinating, but I don’t know if most children will agree. There’s also a subplot/theme about bullying and fitting in with the right crowd that may relate to kid concerns, but conversely, didn’t really engage me. So I liked the historical and time travel aspects, and others may get something else out of the same book.

Whatever draws you in, Lottie’s story about friendship and forgiveness and the power of choosing to be a friend is a story worth reading. The fact that Lottie finds a safe haven and a new friend in the library is just extra sauce to an already good stew of a story.

'Thanksgiving Postcards 1' photo (c) 2010, Minnesota Historical Society - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/” I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” ~Abraham Lincoln, October 1863.

We are not in an actual civil war, but we Americans certainly are in need on this Thanksgiving Day, 2016, of the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of this nation and to restore it to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union. Amen and may it be so.

Some hae meat and canna eat, –
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
~Robert Burns

“For, after all, put it as we may to ourselves, we are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet…. Shall we think of the day as a chance to come nearer to our Host, and to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?” ~Rebecca Harding Davis

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.” ~Henry David Thoreau

In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. I Thessalonians 5:18

Psalm 150

Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.

“It is a known fact that the most extraordinary moments in a person’s life come disguised as ordinary days.” ~opening sentence of The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd.

Key to Extraordinary is a lovely, luminescent, literary lodestone of a novel. Okay, so my attempt to write in the style of Natalie Lloyd isn’t exactly great, but this story is beautiful. It’s got heart, and a vivid setting, the Boneyard Cafe in Blackbird Hollow, Tennessee, and a compelling plot, all about buried treasure and finding one’s destiny and saving the cafe.

“Fear is just a flashlight that helps you find your courage.”

The narrator of the story, Emma, is the youngest in a long line of Wildflower Women who fulfilled their destinies by doing something extraordinary to make the world better. Emma is waiting to have her own Destiny Dream and find out how she fits into the heritage of her ancestors.

“You don’t have to go looking for stories across the world. You only have to look out your window.”

Embedded in the story are lots of what I call “nuggets of middle grade wisdom” —proverbs, maxims, and bits of truth that don’t sound too preachy when they’re part of the story. I love that middle grade authors are “allowed” to include these little tidbits of advice and admonition in their stories, and when it’s done well, it makes the story so much more rich and meaningful for me to read.

“Believe your words have power. And use them.”

As Emma goes on a crusade to save her family cafe from the evil, rich developer, Warren Steele, she learns more about the meaning of friendship and family and courage. Yes, the mean developer who is about to take the family business is a trite and over-used plot device, but go with it anyway. I just had so much fun spending time with Emma and her ex-boxer grandmother and her chef-brother and her friends, Cody Belle Chitwood and Earl Chance. The story felt authentically Tennessean and country and as one reviewer wrote (negatively), sort of like a Hallmark special. But I like Hallmark movie specials.

“Sometimes even doing the right thing will leave you with scars. But beauty comes from ashes, too.”

There are so many good quotes from this book that I’ll just leave you with a few more. I’m including these here because there are so many, but look for a second installment of Middle Grade Book Wisdom soon with more quotations from this book and other 2016 middle grade fiction books. Collecting these wisdom quotes is a sort of hobby of mine.

“Everything wonderful is possible.”

“Some books are so special that you never forget where you were the first time you read them.”

“Every lifetime, no matter how long it lasts, is a gift. And to love, and be loved, even by one person during your lifetime . . . that is a treasure no one can take from you.”

I nominated this debut novel for the Cybils Awards, without having read it myself, because Gary Schmidt, author of The Wednesday Wars and Okay For Now, said it was “a journey that every reader needs to go on.” It wasn’t until I read the author’s note at the end of the book that I realized that the inspiration for the story was the The Lais of Marie de France, in particular one story from that collection of twelfth century tales, the story of “Bisclavret”. And that source means something to me because Eldest Daughter, who is a French medieval scholar, wrote her doctoral dissertation and several other academic papers about aspects of the works of Marie de France. So, a serendipitous connection made this middle grade “not-a-werewolf” novel even more meaningful and fun for me.

The book is about a boy named Raul who lives at One of Our Kind boarding school. When the other kids go home on the weekends, Raul takes to the woods and changes into a wolf. But he’s “not a werewolf” because “werewolves are humans who got cursed. I’m not cursed. They have unibrows, and is you cut their skin you’ll see fur, not blood. Two fingertips fit between my eyebrows. I bleed. Werewolves attack people in the woods and eat them. I wouldn’t do that.” Raul is a boy/wolf, but he is determined to keep the woods and the school parts of his double life separated.

However, when a new boy in school also experiences the “woods magic”, and when Tuffman, the sadistic gym teacher becomes involved in Raul’s double life, too, Raul is forced to try to figure out how to reconcile the two parts of his dual nature. This novel is not for everybody. It’s weird. Raul thinks of himself as “not a monster”, but definitely a “weirdo”. Raul also doesn’t talk very much, and his thoughts are somewhat sophisticated and intelligent, but his voice as narrator is characterized by short, choppy sentences and fragments of sentences. He’s alone and a tough guy with a protective nature. And all of those aspects of his personality land him in trouble.

A certain type of kid might identify with Raul and with his story, might wish that they, too, could shape shift into a wolf on the weekends (or anytime). Raul’s wolf life doesn’t take up much space in the story; most of the real plot of the novel takes place in the human weekdays. And I guess that’s appropriate because in the end Raul is a boy who is learning to be human, not a wolf. I enjoyed reading the story of how Raul finds his family and his words and his vocation.

“Doesn’t a little part of you want to be involved in a secret, high-risk plan that’ll have disastrous consequences if it fails? Everyone needs to do that at least once in his life.” ~The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson.

“You must step inside a world to see it honestly. A passing glance won’t do.” ~Furthermore by Taheri Mafi.

“The first step in the path to knowledge is very simple: open a book.” ~The League of Beastly Dreadfuls: The Dastardly Deed by Holly Grant.

“If you don’t forgive yourself for making a mistake, then you get so that you never want to admit that you made one.” ~This Is Not a Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans.

“Lots of things are impossible, right up until they’re not.” ~Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson.

“It’s always better to be in rooms you can get out of easily, if you need to.” ~The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet.

“You should be polite to people on general principle, of course. But if you happen to be wandering through a magical land, and a little old lady asks you for help, you should be extremely polite to her, just in case. Otherwise you may well wake up with earthworms falling out of your mouth whenever you talk, or various other suitably awful fairy punishments.” ~Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic by Ursula Vernon.

“When thoughts wiggle their way in, sometimes it can be very difficult for them to wiggle out again.” ~A Clatter of Jars by Lisa Graff.

“Sometimes things work out differently than you expect, and sometimes that’s when the best things happen. And sometimes a jumble straightens everything out in the end.” ~The Adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels.

“To have power without the proper vision of how to use it makes one blind. Greed makes one blind. Fear makes one blind. It is difficult to see when you walk in darkness.” ~Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance.

“. . . if you only try the things you believe you can do, you’ll only accomplish the things you already knew you could do. But if you give yourself permission to fail, you’re free to try the things that seem completely beyond your reach. And that’s when magic happens.” ~Gears of Revolution by J. Scott Savage.

“Hope is an excellent and necessary thing to have in this world. Hope and bread and good friends.” ~Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman.

“Some mistakes need to be made. Sometimes we have to fall down before we can stand up.” ~Red by Liesl Shurtliff.

” . . . you should never give up. Unless, of course, you’re doing something wrong, in which case you should give up entirely.” ~Red by Liesl Shurtliff.

“Magic is not the answer. Magic may be convenient, brilliant, even dazzling, but it is not the answer.” ~Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman.

“It is hard for a goblin and a human to be friends. Goblin honor and human honor are so very different.” ~The Goblin’s Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton.

Fiction. . . That’s another word for lies. Like stories about jellyfish and the Olympics.” ~The Lost Compass by Joel Ross.

“Remembering is a powerful thing.” ~Ollie’s Odyssey by William Joyce.

“You have to be careful of men who love danger.” ~The Skeleton Tree by Iain Lawrence.

“Being a writer is not easy, you know. It is, now that I think of it, either full of sorrow or full of joy.” ~The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan.

“Sometimes the burdens we lay on others’ shoulders remain long after they are free to drop them.” ~The Eye of Midnight by Andrew Brumbach.

“Perhaps you have heard the famous bit of wisdom about how the breaking of an omelet requires the breaking of eggs? This philosophy, while technically true, does not account for the fact that omelets are universally disappointing to all who eat them—equal parts water and rubber and slime. Who among us would not prefer a good cobbler or spiced pudding?” ~Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

“It is lamentably common among chivalrous sorts that they are more intent on defending a woman’s honor than listening to the wishes of said woman.” ~Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

“A world without stories is a world without magic.” ~Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

“There are ways forward, and then when those ways are closed, there other ways around, and when the trail breaks off or fades out, there are still other secret ways, always.” ~The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet.

“Stories [are] much more than words on a page. Stories [live] inside those who read them.” ~Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

“Should you ever be so lucky as to encounter an author in your life, you should shower her or him with gifts and praise.” ~Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

“The most priceless possession of the human race is the wonder of the world. Yet, latterly, the utmost endeavors of mankind have been directed towards the dissipation of that wonder . . . Nobody, any longer, may hope to entertain an angel unawares, or to meet Sir Lancelot in shining armor on a moonlit road. But what is the use of living in a world devoid of wonderment?” ~Kenneth Grahame, epigraph at the beginning of Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

“Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.” ~Werner Heisenberg, Across the Frontiers, quoted in My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

“[I]t is our actions that determine who we are. Not our genes. Not who our parents may or may not be, but our own choices.” ~Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones.

“Follow your own heart! People always say that. They mean well, I’m sure. But sometimes, we need to overrule our hearts. We need to be brave. We need to be kind because we should, not because it’s easy.” ~Every Single Second by Tricia Springstubb.

Stay tuned for the second installment of “Middle Grade Book Wisdom, 2016”. It wouldn’t all fit into one post.

For preschool and primary age children:
Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen. The third grade girls in Molly’s small town school make fun of Molly, a refugee from religious persecution in Russia, but Molly’s mother helps her to see how they are just like the Pilgrims who came to America in 1620, escaping from persecution to find hope and peace in a new land.

How Many Days to America?: A Thanksgiving Story by Eve Bunting and Beth Peck. A family from an unnamed island in the Caribbean travel in a boat to reach America, and land on Thanksgiving Day. In spite of the hardships of the journey, the family is thankful to be in America.

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams. Two refugee children in a camp in Pakistan share one pair of shoes, until one of the children leaves to go to America.

For middle graders:
Escape from Warsaw/The Silver Sword by Ian Serrailler. One of my favorite books of all time. Four Polish refugee children travel across Europe after World War 2, trying to reunite with their father who has been in a prisoner of war camp.

Diamonds in the Shadow by Caroline B. Cooney. A family in the U.S. sponsor a refugee family from Africa, only to find out that the refugee family is hiding some dangerous secrets.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. Kek, a refugee from Sudan, comes to Minnesota with his aunt and his cousin, Ganwar. Kek’s family all died in the wars in Sudan, except for his mother who is missing and may also be dead. Kek needs a great deal of bravery to make himself a home in this new place of America. Slowly Kek makes friends with a girl named Hannah who lives in his apartment complex, with some of the other immigrants who are in his ESL class at school, and, best of all, with a cow to whom he gives the name, Gol, family.

Dragonwings by Laurence Yep. In 1903, Moon Shadow, an eight-year- old Chinese boy, sails to America to meet his father, Windrider, for the first time. Moon Shadow knows only stories of America, the land of the Golden Mountain and its inhabitants, the demons. He eventually comes to love and admire his father, the small community of Chinese workers in America, and his new country.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. When Salva’s school is attacked, he must flee, seeking refuge in another country. His long trek is harrowing, but eventually he makes it to Kenya and then he is adopted by a family in the U.S.

The Red Umbrella by Christian Diaz Gonzalez. Lucia and Francisco Alvarez are Cuban children whose parents send them to the United States to escape from Castro’s revolucion.

Escaping the Tiger by Laura Manivong. A Laotian family is trapped in a refugee camp in Thailand after escaping from the Communist Pathet Lao regime in their native country. The story is based on the true story of the author’s husband and his family.

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai was a good book about an Afghan family emigrating to the U.S. just after 9/11, and the sequel, Saving Kabul Corner, takes the same Afghan immigrant community into the next decade as they learn to combine American culture with the traditions brought over from Afghanistan to make a new place for themselves in San Francisco.

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix. The story of three girls: Bella, an immigrant from Southern Italy, Yetta, a Russian Jewish immigrant worker, and Jane, a poor little rich girl who becomes involved in the lives of the shirtwaist factory workers in spite of her rarified existence as a society girl.

What excellent books about refugees and immigrants can you suggest?

“‘I read,’ I say. ‘I study and read. I bet I’ve read everything you’ve read. Don’t think I haven’t. I consume libraries. I wear out spines and ROM-drives. I do things like get in a taxi and say, ‘The library, and step on it.'” ~David Foster Wallace


Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, illustrated by Brian Deines.

This nonfiction picture book opens with a bang: our narrator, Tuan Ho, comes from school to his home in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to find preparations being made for a journey. His first reaction is to ask his mother, “Are you leaving me now, too?” A year before Tuan Ho’s father had left Vietnam with his older sister, but then-five year old Tuan and his other three sisters were too young to make the journey as “boat people” refugees from Vietnam. Now, Tuan’s mother tells him that he and two of his sisters will be leaving with “Ma” in the dark of the early morning. It’s a secret; no one must know that they are going. And they must leave Tuan’s four year old sister, Van, behind with family members. “She’s too young to travel.”

The family ride in a truck to the beach. There they are chased and shot at by soldiers as they run to board the boat. On the boat, they face even more hardships: a shortage of food and water, engine trouble, too many passengers, a leaky boat. But the book finally ends with a rescue and a tall glass of milk for the relieved and smiling Tuan Ho.

The illustrations in this book, full color paintings, are absolutely stunning. Canadian illustrator, Brian Deines, has outdone himself in two-page spreads that bring this refugee story to life.

The story itself, a slice of life, begins abruptly without any explanation as to why the family must leave Vietnam. Nor does the main part of the text explain what happens to Tuan Ho and family after they are rescued at sea. However, there are some explanatory pages with both photographs and text at the end of the book that tell readers about the history of the Vietnam War and about the entire history of Tuan Ho’s family and their emigration from Vietnam and eventual reunification in Canada. It’s a good introduction to the subject of the Vietnamese boat people for both older students and middle grade readers. Even primary age children could appreciate Tuan Ho’s story with a little bit of explanation from a parent or teacher about the war and the Communist persecution that they were fleeing.

Another good 2016 entry for my impromptu Refugee and Immigrant Week here at Semicolon.

Yesterday I read this 2016 middle grade fiction novel about a twelve year old French Jewish boy named Gustave and his experience of immigrating to the United States during World War II. Because of this book, and yesterday’s review of It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel, and some other upcoming reviews, it seems to have turned into Refugee and Immigrant Week here at Semicolon. It was an unplanned emphasis, but one that is quite apropos considering the news and the times we live in.

In Skating With the Statue of Liberty, Gustave and his extended family come to the United States from war-torn France, after having hidden and then escaped from the Nazis. The family faces many challenges. They are not allowed to bring adequate funds with them to start a new life, and so they are forced to smuggle in what little money they have. No one in the family speaks English, except for Gustave who has learned a little bit of English in school. Gustave’s father can only get a low-paying job as a janitor. Gustave doesn’t understand many things about American culture and customs, and even in America, he faces instances of anti-Semitism and racism as he becomes friends with a “Negro” girl, September Rose.

I read in the book cover blurb that this novel is a companion to the author’s debut novel, Black Radishes. Now I want to go back and read that one because Skating With the Statue of Liberty was a great story. It feels historically accurate, and yet the themes and scenes are quite applicable to the issues of racism and anti-Semitism that we see in the news today. Gustave struggles with whether he should think of himself as French or American or something else, perhaps Jewish. He discusses with a rabbi his lack of faith in a God who would allow the horror and persecution of Jews in German-occupied France. September Rose’s family struggles with how to support their country and the war effort and also stand against the injustice and discrimination that they face as black Americans.

I found this book, by a Jewish author and based partly on her father’s stories of his childhood escape from Nazi-occupied France, to be well-written, historically informative, and absorbing. The plot doesn’t sugarcoat the issues of prejudice, anti-immigrant persecution, discrimination, and even racial and anti-Semitic violence, but the ending and the growing friendship between Gustave and September Rose are hopeful and encouraging.

I just think kids (and adults) need books like this one and like It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel to help them begin to make sense of what is happening politically and socially in our nation. It may have been a coincidence that I read these two books almost back to back, but it gave me an idea to showcase the many really good books about refugees and immigrants that I have read and loved. So that’s what I’ll be doing this week.