Friday, January 29, 2016

Newbery Honor Book 2016: The War that Saved My Life

The War that Saved My Life
Written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Published January 8, 2015

The Newbery award winners for 2016 were announced a couple weeks ago, and ever since, I've been anxiously waiting for them to become available at the library.  I cruised through Echo (written by Pam Munoz Ryan), and then dug into The War that Saved my Life.  Both are historical fiction novels focusing on adolescents living during World War II, and each focused on similar social issues, but I came away with incredibly different feelings after reading each of them.  

Ada is ten years old and living in London with her mother and her younger brother, Jamie.  Ada's mother is extremely abusive towards Ada, and resents her for having a club foot.  It only takes an initial introduction to her mother for the reader to be disgusted by her.  Ada is not allowed to leave the apartment because no one would want to see such a handicap.  As a result, Ada has not been to school, cannot read or write, has little interaction with other children, and does not know the meaning of simple words, such as grass, etc.  On top of this, she is physically abused, receives limited food, receives extreme punishments, and is the target of many verbal attacks.  

When Jamie comes home from school, and tells the family that children are being evacuated out of London due to the war, Ada takes the opportunity to escape out of her atrocious life with her mother to live in the country.  She takes Jamie to the school where children are meeting up to head to the country. For the first time ever, Ada catches a glimpse of herself in a mirror.  Not knowing that it was her own reflection, she describes herself as "the nastiest girl" she has ever seen.  

When they arrive by train in Kent, they are looked over by families that are there to take the evacuees home.  Ada and Jamie are the only ones that are not chosen, so the organizer takes them to the home of a woman who does not want to take care of children, but ends up doing so anyway.  Susan Smith is still in the process of grieving her best friend when Ada and Jamie show up in her life, and the rest of the story covers the journey that the three of them take in learning to take care of each other, and try to form positive relationships despite depression and anger resulting from abusive relationships.

I have such mixed feelings in regards to this book. 

 I loved the growth and miracle that occurs in Ada as she gains freedom and care while living with Susan.  The war really does save her life by giving her the opportunity to escape at least temporarily from her home life.  Susan has a pony that Ada is immediately attached to, and gains a lot of independence through the ability of riding and taking care of the pony.  She grows physically, gains friends, and grows intellectually.  Crutches allow her to walk without putting pressure on her club foot.  She shows maturity as she helps in times of war crisis.  I also enjoyed the historical aspect of the novel, and the perspective of children evacuated during war.  

At the same time, I struggled greatly with it.  The abuse that is shown by the mother is extremely disturbing and depressing.  Along with the abuse were other societal issues that I do not think needed to be included, but seem to be increasingly present in children's literature.  Susan was grieving her best friend, and it never comes out completely to describe the nature of her relationship with her friend, but I got the idea that it was her significant other of the same gender.  

Ada struggled emotionally while dealing with trust issues for most of the book, which would be completely understandable after the abuse that she had faced.  There were many joyful moments and victories throughout the book, but I kept hoping for some more resolution throughout the book.  

My Rating: 3 stars (It is not an instant recommendation, and comes with some disclaimers.)
Age: I wouldn't recommend this for elementary school students.  With all of the societal issues included in the novel, especially the abuse, I would recommend older and more mature readers.  

Let me know your thoughts if you've read it!  I'll post my review on Echo soon.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Newbery Highlight: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Written by Jacqueline Kelly
2010 Newbery Honor Book

Calpurnia Tate joins the ranks of girl characters who don't exactly fit the mold of what their families and society expect of them.  Calpurnia is an eleven year old girl living in Texas during the late 1800's, and much to her mother's dismay, the activity that gets her more excited than anything is joining her grandfather on nature exhibitions and experiments in his laboratory.  Poor Calpurnia has six brothers and is the only girl.  Her mother's hopes and dreams of having a girl who succeeds in everything domestic depends solely on Calpurnia, and unfortunately for Mrs. Tate, Calpurnia has no interest in such matters.  

Grandpa Tate is not a man who is normally friendly towards children, and most of the town considers his nature endeavors slightly eccentric, but after seeing his granddaughter's love for nature, he takes her under his wing, and treats her as a partner in his adventures and discoveries.  Together, they even make a discovery in the form of a new species of hairy vetch, or weed.  His encouragement and opinions give her hope that someday she would be able to pursue her scientific dreams, even though society is not very accepting of female scientists.  

All the while, the novel is filled with heart-warming and amusing stories typical of a family during the late 1800's. From her older brother's attempts at courting, to her younger brother's love for pets (including turkeys, which presents a serious problem around Thanksgiving), there is usually something happening at the Tate house.  

Jacqueline Kelly's writing is full of charm and wit.  I love how Calpurnia is a free spirit, but at the same time, is respectful towards her mother, who doesn't quite understand her.  They definitely don't share the same views, and her mother does require her to spend time learning all things domestic, but they are not unkind or disrespectful towards each other.  I feel like so many of the free spirited girl characters in other books are disrespectful, but I appreciated Jacqueline Kelly's approach to Calpurnia.  I imagine there are a lot of girls who find themselves relating to Calpurnia, and I think she is an excellent role model for any young girl finding themselves in interests that are different than what society thinks they should be interested in, including science.

My Rating: 4.5 stars (I would recommend it to anyone to read, and plan on reading the second book in the Calpurnia series.)
Perfect for: 10-12 year old girls (and adults!).

Happy Reading!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Hubert's Hair-Raising Adventure

Hubert's Hair-Raising Adventure

Written and Illustrated by Bill Peet


Bill Peet ranks as one of our family's favorite authors and illustrators.  Peet worked at Disney for 27 years, working as an artist and screenwriter, and as such, his illustrations remind one a lot of early Disney cartoons.  Hubert's Hair-Raising Adventure (published in 1959) was his first of 35 children's books, and has all the elements of a classic picture book.

Hubert, a very conceited lion, is sharpening his claws on a rock when a spark from his nails causes his mane to catch on fire.  By the time the fire is extinguished, he is as bald as bald can be.  Hubert tries to hide to avoid any of the other animals from discovering the situation, but nosy Hornbird can't resist a good juicy and flies in to get all of the details.  Before long, all of the animals have heard and are there to help poor Hubert.  After much thought, Elephant remembers a cure that just might work, and sets off to collect the only ingredient needed: crocodile tears.  

To Elephant's dismay, the mean and crafty Crocodile has no intention of sharing anything.  On hearing the story of how Hubert lost his hair, Crocodile is rolling on the ground with laughter and shedding tear after tear!  Elephant quickly collects the tears and takes them back to Hubert to let them work their magic.  Hubert rubs the crocodile tears on his head, but no one is quite prepared for what happens as a result!

Classic characters, amusing story line and illustrations, and perfect rhyming have made this book one that everyone enjoys reading time and time again.  

Perfect for:  Early Elementary, Late Elementary
My Rating:  5 stars (We loved it enough to add it to our personal library!)

Interesting Fact:  Bill Peet did all of the storyboards for both The Sword in the Stone and 101 Dalmations.  For more information on Bill Peet, visit here.  
Happy Reading!