Book Review and Giveaway: Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

March 9, 2010

I’m so excited to be giving away a copy of Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb. I reviewed it here a year ago when it came out in hardbound format, and I really believe it’s a delightful book for mother-daughter book clubs to read. Today, to celebrate one year in print and the release of Autumn Winifred Oliver in paperback, the author is celebrating by giving away one signed copy of her book in paperback to a reader here at Mother Daughter Book Club. Just leave a comment after the review, and you’ll be entered into the drawing. The giveaway ends at midnight, Pacific Standard Time this Friday, March 12, 2010 and it is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. (Please note: the giveaway is closed.) Here’s the review:

Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

Autumn Winifred Oliver has a lot going on for an 11-year-old living in the tiny, mountain settlement of Cades Cove, Tennessee. She’s waiting to move with her mom and big sister Katie to Knoxville, where her dad already lives and works. She’ll miss the beautiful mountains she lives in, but in the 1930s the “big city” offers the allure of indoor plumbing, movie theaters and automobiles, all nearly non-existent in her neck of the woods. Everybody says she does things different, and she keeps reminding herself of that as she gets herself in and out of several pickles.

First, she hears the church bells toll her reputed death—they always toll the number of years for the recently departed, and she’s the only one around who is 11 when she hears them ring. Then she finds out her grandpa almost died, and her mom has decided Knoxville can wait while she moves into his cabin in the woods to help care for him.

There’s also more activity than usual in Cades Cove, a settlement that’s totally cut off from the outside world each winter when the only road in gets covered in snow. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is being created right on the edge of town, and everyone is abuzz about raking in money from tourists. But Autumn Winifred Oliver suspects that everything is not as it seems with the park, and she won’t rest until she finds out the real story.

Autumn is a delightful character with a down to earth voice, and through her eyes we see the beauty of the mountains, streams, and countryside around her home. She is placed within the real story of Cades Cove, Tennessee, and the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You’ll be charmed by the  folk tales, old-time remedies and superstitions woven seamlessly by author Kristin O’Donnell Tubb throughout the story. This is Tubb’s debut novel, and I hope to see more books from her in the years to come. Moms and daughters alike will fall in love with Autumn and her way of looking at the world. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged nine and up.

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Book Review: A Different Day, A Different Destiny by Annette Laing

February 2, 2010

Yesterday, I featured an interview with author Annette Laing along with a giveaway of her two books on time travel for middle grade readers, Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When and A Different Day, A Different Destiny. There’s still time to enter the drawing (until midnight PST tonight) for the books. You can also read my review of Laing’s first book, Don’t Know Where. Here’s my review of A Different Day, A Different Destiny:

Hannah, Alex and George are back in a second time-traveling novel for kids, A Different Day, A Different Destiny by Annette Laing. Readers first met the three in Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When while they traveled from modern-day Snipesville, Georgia, to World War I and World War II England. This time they are headed even further back, to 1851, and all three land in different places.

Alex stays in Georgia, with its slaves, cotton plantations and Savannah businesses. Brandon ends up in a coal mine in northern England, and Hannah finds herself working in a cotton factory in a small Scottish town. This story is grittier and more frightening for the characters than the first. Since they travelled to different places, they can’t share their experience and their fears of returning to their normal time with each other.

They are also finding out about the privations suffered by the lower working class people of the time and the hardships of slaves. Food and extra clothing is scarce, as is time off from backbreaking work. As they each find ways to earn their keep, readers get a glimpse of the social conditions of the time when Western society was shifting from mostly agricultural to mainly industrial work. For the workers, it was a time of exploitation in many ways until they were able to earn more rights through labor laws many years later.

While Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When felt more lighthearted, A Different Day, A Different Destiny has more depth. I felt as though I learned quite a bit about the mid-1800s and what it was like to live then. And I felt the characters, in their second time around with time travel, were more aware of the culture they were temporarily part of. As Hannah, Alex and Brandon travel around and search to find each other as well as figure out what they need to do before they can return home, they learn a lot from being around people with all levels of social standing and they observe expectations people have of members of a certain social class.

Readers will delight in the surprising plot twists that connect this story to the one that came before. And they’ll look forward to seeing how the story unfolds in the next book in the series. I recommend this book and the series to mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 12.


Book Review: — Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When by Annette Laing

January 26, 2010

When Hannah and Alex move to Snipesville, Georgia from San Francisco with their father they are incredibly bored and somewhat resentful. Their mother has died in a car accident, and when they leave California they also leave their grandparents behind. But their dad says he’s being transferred, so off they go to an area of the country totally alien to them.

To occupy their time, their dad enrolls them in summer camps at the local community college, which is where they meet Brandon. None of the kids really wants to be in the camp they signed up for, so they sneak away and hide out in the library. But something odd happens when they leave to go home. The community college buildings disappear, their clothes change, and they suddenly find themselves outside of London during World War II. Mistaken for children being sent by their parents to the countryside to escape London’s bombings, they find an ally in a woman they recognize as a professor at the community college they just left.

So begins the adventures in Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When, Book 1 of The Snipesville Chronicles by Annette Laing. Hannah and Alex are billeted with a local couple who don’t seem happy to have them. Brandon, who is black, ends up being singled out and runs away, then taken to London by Mr. Smedley, who is with the Ministry of Health. When London is bombed, Brandon ends up going even further back in time to 1915 and the days of World War I.

These time traveling kids are lucky: their clothes and accents change and they have money in their pockets. So while their sensibilities are modern, they don’t stick out right away. The professor occasionally shows up to check on them, and she gives them clues about tasks they need to complete before they can go home. Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When is like The Magic Tree House for older readers in some ways. A clue to a former time shows up in their current lives, and suddenly they are transported back to that time to solve a mystery.

I really liked Alex and Brandon’s characters. They were smart and inquisitive, and while they occasionally slipped up and said things that didn’t fit with their times, they were always aware of their mistakes. Hannah was hard for me to like as a character. She didn’t exhibit much curiosity about the time or place she was in, and she didn’t care if the things she said were out of time and place. But I suspect that kids reading this books wouldn’t have the same concerns about Hannah that I did. I think girls and boys aged 9 to 12 are more likely to see this is an adventure and happily read about what all three kids experienced when they went back in time.

Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When gives a great sense of the people of wartime England. The kids realize that while they know Hitler eventually loses, the people around them don’t know that. The bombings and shortages and insecurity everyone feels are very real. Mother-daughter book clubs that read this book can talk about the historical time period as well as the fantasy of time travel.


Book Review: A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

December 29, 2009

Grandma Dowdel’s back, only this time she’s known as Mrs. Dowdel to the Methodist preacher’s family that just moved in next door. The family, which includes three children, has been relocated from Terre Haute, Indiana to take over what is to be a new Methodist church but what is now a run-down building with no windows, a deteriorating roof and no congregation in a small Illinois town.

As family members work to adjust to a new life, gruff old Mrs. Dowdel next door seems to know exactly what each needs. Bob, who tells the story, is the middle child on the verge of puberty. He’s the easy target of bullies and in need of confidence as well as friends. Phyllis, fourteen going on twenty, is appalled at having to start high school in a place where she knows no one. Her obsession with everything Elvis leads her to take up with an unsavory character and start lying to her parents about where she’s going and what she’s doing. Six-year-old Ruth Ann is starting first grade, and she’s searching for someone to look up to. The dad, of course, needs a congregation, and the mom needs help keeping them all functioning well.

Fans of A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder will be happy to read more about Grandmas Dowdel’s schemes to influence her small town and the family next door for the better. She’s just a gruff as ever, but older now. The gifts she bestows are not the kind you can wrap and put under a Christmas tree, but they are the kind no receiver would seek to return. Peck is a master of subtle storytelling, letting the reader reach conclusions about the characters along the way. He’s also superb at bringing bygone times to life, and in A Season of Gifts he deftly captures life in a small town during the late 1950s.

I read this book aloud to the whole family, which includes my husband and two teen daughters. We all loved it, something rare for the four of us with our different tastes in books. I highly recommend it for family reading as well as for children aged nine and up. Buy this book now, even though Christmas has just passed. Then pack it away with your Christmas decorations and be pleasantly surprised when you pull it out next year.


Book Review: Fern Verdant and the Silver Rose by Diana Leszczynski

December 18, 2009

Both of Fern’s parents, Olivier and Lily, are world-famous botanists. In fact, Lily’s uncanny ability to help nearly extinct species keeps her constantly on the go to exotic locations. But Fern isn’t happy always playing second fiddle to plants. For many years she has wanted nothing to do with nature and the outdoors.

That’s especially true once her parents move to the fictional town of Nedlaw (a play on Walden?), Oregon, where Fern feels out of place among the more glamorous students with cosmopolitan working mothers at her school. She’s downright embarrassed by her mother’s clothes, and the fact that her hair always seems to be a bit wild. So when Lily leaves on another trip to help another plant, Fern doesn’t even say goodbye—something she regrets when Lily disappears and is presumed dead.

Soon, though, Fern discovers that she shares a gift her mother passed down to her. Plants can talk to her, and she can talk back. She finds out that her mother is alive, being held captive in a cave somewhere far away by an evil man who wants to manipulate her gift. How will Fern find her, especially when her father has her committed to an institution after he sees her conversing with a willow tree? And how can she make anyone understand her certainty that her mother is still alive, when she can’t tell anyone about her ability to communicate with plants without losing her gift?

Fern Verdant and the Silver Rose by Diana Leszczynski recounts Fern’s adventures as she seeks to save her mother and nurture her blossoming gift. Her travels find her in the clutches of a deranged psychiatrist who hates children, and on a boat at sea with a group of orphans. During her search she is both hastened and hindered from reaching her destination by members of the plant world. Along for the ride is a single petal from the silver rose Fern’s mother was helping when she was kidnapped.

There’s a strong message of respecting nature and all it has to offer, and the book won the 2009 Green Earth Book Award Honor. To be certain, there are many “green” messages, but Fern Verdant doesn’t feel at all preachy as it shows Fern learning how to use her talent for good.

You’ll be happy to accompany Lily on her quest to find her mother, be reunited with her father, help the orphans and save the silver rose. While girls aged 9 to 12 will enjoy Fern’s adventures, their mothers can also appreciate how Leszczynski pokes fun at many aspects of the adult world, including psychiatrists, psychiatric facilities, lifeguards, spy agencies and scientists who may be too smart for their own good. Moms may also be able to prompt discussion of why teen girls often get embarrassed to be seen with their moms, and how moms and daughters can learn to appreciate the things that are important to each of them.


Book Review: Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko

December 16, 2009

It’s 1935 on Alcatraz Island. Al Capone is The Rock’s most famous prisoner among a number of notorious criminals. He’s also a constant fascination for the families of the guards, who live in houses on the island next door to the cellblock.

Moose Flanagan is the son of one of those guards. He’s adjusting to life without his autistic sister Natalie, who has just been accepted into the Esther P. Marinoff School, a place her parents believe will help her learn how to function better in society. Moose is sure Al Capone pulled strings to get Natalie in after Moose wrote a letter asking for his help. When Moose gets a note in his laundry, he knows Capone is asking for a favor back. But how can he fulfill the request without getting his dad fired and the whole family exiled off the island?

Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko is a charming follow-up to her Newbery Honor winner, Al Capone Does My Shirts. You’ll fall right back into Moose’s story and life on Alcatraz, with its strict regulations for prisoners, guards and civilians alike. This time Moose is trying to navigate his conflicted feelings for Piper, the warden’s daughter, and keep all his friends happy. He also has to determine where to draw the line with the cons who perform maintenance jobs in the homes: can he trust these men who for the most part seem like regular people, or should he keep their past crimes in mind when he interacts with them? I highly recommend this book for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 12.


Book Review: Dear Pen Pal by Heather Vogel Frederick

October 20, 2009

Dear Pen Pal

Emma, Jess, Megan and Cassidy are back for another year of reading in their mother-daughter book club in Heather Vogel Frederick’s new book, Dear Pen Pal. Cracking this third book in the mother-daughter book club series is like reconnecting with old friends. The girls are in eighth grade this year, and they’ve learned a lot about friendship and family relationships.

In their ever-evolving lives, as it is with most of us, just when they figure out how to handle one challenge, another pops up. This time the challenges include dealing with a mean-spirited boarding school roommate, changing family dynamics when new family members move in and others move out, and navigating relationships with boys.

The girls are reading Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster, and Frederick once again seamlessly weaves in storylines that somewhat match those of Webster’s classic. The girls and moms learn fun facts about Jean Webster as they gather for book club discussions. The book club members also connect with a pen pal club in Gopher Hole, Wyoming, and it’s fun to read little snippets about the lives of these new girls and their moms through their letters.

I can’t wait to see what the whole gang will be up to in the fourth book of the series when the girls start high school. I highly recommend this whole series for members of mother-daughter book clubs with girls who are 9 to 13.

P.S.—Reading Dear Pen Pal got me to thinking that real life mother-daughter book clubs may enjoy connecting with pen pals too. It seems like a fun way to learn about girls and moms in a different part of the country. So I’ve started a pen pal registry at Mother Daughter Book Club.com, where club members can sign up if they wish to meet members of another club.

See the website page or my previous blog posting for all the details. You can also read what Heather Vogel Frederick has to say on the topic at her blog.