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.

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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.


Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, Author of Thirsty, Talks About Reading with Her Daughter

December 2, 2009

Kristin Bair O’Keeffee, whose debut novel Thirsty was recently released, has written a wonderful essay about reading to her young daughter. Thirsty is a gritty story about tenacious women and their struggle to find what makes life bearable in the face of domestic abuse, hardship, and death in a Pennsylvania mill town during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The story transports you to its time and place so well you can almost feel the grit from the steel mill as it settles on your own skin. More information about Kristin and Thirsty follows her essay.

Mother/Daughter Reading…Before the Book Club

“In the great green ______,” I read and pause, waiting for Tully, my 22-month-old daughter, to fill in the word.

“Room,” she says.

“There is a ______,” I say.

“Telephone,” she fills in.

And then without waiting for me to read the next sentence, she blurts out, “Red balloon.”

Of course, Tully’s 22-month-old pronunciations aren’t always spot-on. Room sometimes sounds a little like whoom; balloon comes out ba-oon. But every day her tongue finds the right place against her teeth or the roof of her mouth a little more often and words become clearer.

When we get to the “three little bears sitting on chairs,” Tully picks up my index finger and taps it lightly to each of the three bears, in the same way I’ve tapped her finger to the bears for the past year or so since we started reading Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon “One, two, three,” she says.

We continue on like this, filling in words and pointing out favorite objects (the mouse, the bunny, the cow jumping over the moon, and lately, the fireplace). As Tully acquires more vocabulary (at a crazily rapid pace), our nighttime readings grow longer and become more like conversations.

“What’s this?” I ask.

Tully looks at where my finger is pointing. “Hand,” she says.

“Close,” I say. “It’s a mitten.” And then I explain about mittens and hands and winter and cold weather.

Tully—with her steel-trap toddler brain fired up, even as she relaxes against me—listens intently. “Mitten,” she repeats, emphasizing the t sound. “Mitten, mitten, mitten.” And I know that she will remember this word forever. In fact, the next day she will insist that her beloved friends Baby, McGillicutty, and Dora all need mittens. “Cold,” she will tell me as she feels their hands.

I love these long, drawn-out minutes of our day with Tully snug in her pajamas, curled on my lap. The curtains are pulled. Tully has had her bath and bottle. Her teeth are brushed, and she’s given her dad a goodnight kiss. The only thing left is our nightly reading ritual. Sometimes she chooses Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny. Sometimes Mem Fox’s Time for Bed. But more often than not, Goodnight Moon.

As we read, I think about all the fabulous books Tully and I have to look forward to: Fox in Sox, The Snowy Day, Amelia Bedelia, Ramona the Brave, Little House on the Prairie, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and loads of newly published books that I don’t even know about yet.

“Goodnight comb,” I say. “Goodnight _____.”

“Brush,” Tully says, and she uses a pretend brush to brush her hair.

I also think about the day when we’ll be ready to start a book club with other moms and daughters, and as I do, more titles flood my head:

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

The Secret Garden

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Coraline

Someday. But right now….

“Goodnight noises everywhere,” I say.

“The end,” Tully whispers, sleepy and still in my arms.

“The end,” I repeat and I close the book.

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe is the author of Thirsty and an American who lives in Shanghai, China. She is also a happy mom, a voracious reader, an engaging teacher who believes in “telling the best story you can…believing in your writing…and working your arse off,” a fierce advocate for the end of domestic violence, and a writer who spends as much time as possible in writerhead. To find out more, visit www.thirstythenovel.com or Kristin’s blog at www.kristinbairokeeffeblog.com.


Book Review: The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb

June 3, 2009

The Fetch

The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb

Calder left his human life when he was only nineteen, and in the 300+ years since then he has been a Fetch, a being sent to guide humans to the afterworld when they die. Calder enjoys helping people find the peacefulness that comes when their souls move on, and he’s never been tempted to alter the decision of a soul teetering between life and death. That changes in the early 1900s when he ends up fascinated by the caregiver at the bedside of a boy. He wills the boy to live for her sake.

Years later, he ends up at the same bedside, and he decides he must meet the woman who cares for the boy. Calder enters the body of a dying man, trading places with him in the process, and he sets in motion a series of events that threaten to overwhelm the land of the living and unbalance the land of the dead.

On earth, Calder becomes involved with the lives of Rasputin and the Russian royal family shortly before and after they are taken hostage during the revolution. He realizes he must set the earthly world and the spiritual one back to rights, but first he must discover how.

In The Fetch, Laura Whitcomb has created an inventive tale that is part supernatural mystery and romance, and part historical fiction. With Calder we travel from the unrest in Russia, to the first Hollywood movie studios, to New York and London. Larger than life historical figures Rasputin, Anastasia and Alexis join Calder on his quest while also searching for their own peaceful afterlife. Can they succeed? The Fetch leaves you guessing right up to the end.


Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

July 26, 2007

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Madeleine and I have both read The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, but not with our whole mother daughter book club yet. I can’t wait until it’s our turn to pick the next book so we can suggest it. My husband has read it too, and we all thought it was one of the best books we’ve ever read. It’s a tall order for three people whose taste in books doesn’t always match.

The Book Thief deals with heavy subject matter—it’s set in Nazi Germany and is narrated by Death—but the story is so compelling I found myself savoring every page and reading slowly so it wouldn’t come to an end. I’ve never read a fictional book about the daily lives of ordinary people in Germany during World War II, and that is certainly part of what made The Book Thief so interesting.

The main character is Liesel Meminger, a 9-year-old girl sent with her brother to live with foster parents when her father is arrested for communism and her mother expects she will soon follow. Her brother dies on the trip to the foster home, and Liesel steals her first book from the man who digs her brother’s grave. She settles into the household of Hans and Rosa Hubermann and makes a new life in a town very near Munich.

War is everywhere around them—from book burnings, to Hitler youth meetings, to Jews marching through the streets on their way to concentration camps, to food rationing to bombing by Allied planes. And Death narrates the events of Liesel’s life dispassionately, but with wonderful details and with the kind of foreshadowing that made even the hardest events of the book easier to read.

The Book Thief is a rarity among books—a truly original tale that I intend to read again and again. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with high-school aged daughters.

Click here to read an interview Madeleine and I conducted with author Markus Zusak.


New List – Historical Fiction

May 24, 2007

There’s so much great historical fiction for children and young adults these days that it’s difficult to keep this list manageable.

Here are some of the favorites listed by book clubss. Check out Powells.com to purchase any of these titles.

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4th – 5th Grade Readers

  • Bat 6—Virginia Euwer Wollf
  • Boston Jane—Jennifer Holm
  • Our Only May AmeliaJennifer Holm
  • Walk Across the SeaSusan Fletcher
  • Caddie Woodlawn—Carol Ryrie Brink

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5th – 8th Grade Readers

  • A Year Down Yonder—Richard Peck
  • A Long Way from ChicagoRichard Peck
  • PeteyBen Michaelson
  • The True Confessions of Charlotte DoyleAvi

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9th – 12th Grade Readers

  • A Lesson Before DyingErnest J. Gaines
  • In the Time of the Butterflies—Julia Alvarez
  • Night—Elie Wiesel
  • The Crucible—Arthur Miller
  • The Kite Runner—Khaled Hosseini
  • The River Between Us—Richard Peck
  • The Secret Life of BeesSue Monk Kidd
  • To Kill a Mockingbird—Harper Lee
  • Wild LifeMolly Gloss