Child of Spring

Child of Spring by Farhana Zia

leaves and ring book cover

BIBLIO: YEAR,PUBLISHER, Ages 9 to 13.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 9781561459049

Set in rural India this story is about Basanta. She is a wonderful, spirited, young girl who has a lot of growing up to do, while already having more responsibilities than the average American child. Basanta and her mother must work at Messaab’s wealthy estate. They take care of Messaab and little Bibi and the family’s housework. In the evening they return to their Bunti, a collection of huts they call their community. Basanta has many friends including Lali, Bala, and her animal friends Kalu the dear dog and Dinoo Kaka the crow. There are other kids in the community that Basanta interacts with regularly, like the mischievous brothers Raju and Paki, snake-like Rukmani, and the kind boys Ganga and Ramu. Basanta is rich in life but working in a world of wealth she quite frequently envies her mistress little Bibi and her luxurious presents. Throughout this story Basanta learns many lessons such as kindness, people’s ability to change, friendship, wit, and honesty. Many surprises come up in the little community both good and bad and the story ends with the festive celebration of Divali.

I would recommend this book to young girls and boys who want a taste of another culture. I think this book gives a great snapshot of what a normal girl’s life may look like all the while presenting universal themes and morals. There are many positive connections to be made with this book. The story doesn’t follow the traditional book structure so much as it accounts Basanta’s life. This sweet, easily read book is worth looking into.

Aim

Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

boy under tree next to truck book cover

BIBLIO: 2016,Calkins Creek an Imprint of Highlights, Ages 9 to 13.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 9781629796734

Times were tough in the year 1941, the United States faced the looming possibility of entering the second world war. That year was even harder for Axel Bledscoe Junior. In July of that year his Pop dies and leaves him man of the house, only beginning ninth grade. Junior must help his mother with his elderly grandfather Hammer, who had moved in just prior to his father’s passing.

Junior struggles in school and with his family life. He realizes as he talks to Pop’s old friends and family in Brookford, that his father was much more than the drunk he had become and gets a fuller sense of the childhood his Pop grew up with, especially Granddaddy’s rearing.

Struggling to find his identity, and how his father’s qualities plays into it,Junior gets into all sorts of trouble with his new friend Dudley. Junior wants to be handy,loving, and neighborly like his father in his fondest memories but keeps falling short. With the support of his neighbors and his mother, he learns to face the consequences of his actions and vows to earn the respect he desires for himself and his family. This is a truly touching coming-of-age story and flawlessly reflects the historical aspects of life on the cusp of World War II.

I would recommend this book for boys from the ages of 9-13. The plot and language is simple and the text easy to read. While basic on the surface this book can foster introspective growth. A great read for the summer.

More titles in the Series:
boy laying in grass book coveryellow cover, girl sitting book cover

The Crystal Ribbon

The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim

girl flowers eyes book cover

BIBLIO: 2017, Scholastic Press an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., Ages 12 through 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade
ISBN: 9780545767033

An utterly engrossing first novel, Lim has created an adventure set in the rural area of China under the Song Dynasty. The main character Jing comes from a poor farming village and lives in with her two brothers Wei and Pan, her Baba, Aunt Mei, and Grandmama. This comfortable life changes soon after Jing’s eleventh birthday.

The adventure begins when Jing’s family goes to the village shrine to offer homage to the local jing spirit and the village’s protector The Great Golden Huli Jing. This jing spirit was said to be a great golden fox with five tails. Shenpopo, the village shamaness read’s Jing’s fortune saying that her life will be filled with hardship but good will come from it and that she will find her place eventually, and that she must rely on hope and faith to see her through.

Shortly after, Aunt Mei arranges Jing’s marriage to three year old Juan’an, the son of a rich dressmaker in the near city Xiawan. Distraught, Jing must got to the Guo’s household and babysit her young husband and act as servant to her new family. She befriends the cook and the pet nightingale Koko. In her new life she suffers very much by the hand of her in-laws. While living there, she encounters several magial jing spirits.

A little less than two years after she arrives in Xiawan the family becomes financially troubled and plans to resolve their debt by selling Jing to the city’s chinglou, the courtisans’ residence. The luxurious lifestyle doesn’t appeal to Jing, as she sees it for the empty life it is. With the help of some friends she escapes and travels home.

On the road she reunites with Koko and gains a new acquaintance, Kaizhen. They rest at the town of Dolan and reveals the evil jing spirit that controls the villagers. After an epic battle Jing finds herself in her village, Huanan. She must decide what to do with her newfound freedom and the wisdom she has collected in her time away from home.

This book is emotional, and has a lovely element of culture. The book is a well paced book that works well as on a summer reading list. I would recommend this book to 12-16 year olds. I enjoyed this book and thought it was very similar to Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan.

Lucy Long Ago

Lucy Long Ago: Uncovering the Mystery of Where We came From by Catherine Thimmesh

hominid book cover

BIBLIO: 2009,HMH Books for Young Readers, Ages 8 to 13.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 9780547051994

Thimmesh brings Lucy, the ancient hominid, to in an easily readable book. This novel introduces basic paleontology and anthropology concepts to the novice reader. Scientific approaches to fossilization, excavating, casting fossils, dating fossils, reconstruction in all senses of the word, are explained in layman’s terms. There is a fascinating discussion about Lucy and how she fits into the evolutionary theory and the human’s ancestral tree. Even more fascinating is the sculptural representation of Lucy that John Gurche took fifteen months to create. The intricate and time-consuming description of his work sounds marvelous to look at in person, even though the pictures in the book do it plenty of justice.

The book is thin, consisting of only sixty-three pages including a list of sources and the index. Addressing six simply posed questions this book breaks up complicated and disputed theories into simple to understand statements. There are many high quality photos in the book ranging in size from one fourth of a page all the way up to a double page spread. Accompanying the photos are simple representations of some of the scientific procedures, such as how to cast a fossil, and how sediment buries the bones and fossilizes them.

As interesting as this book may be to look at, it lacks the substance needed to entertain most people. I would recommend this book to girls and boys in grades 5-8. This book was written with a certain narrative-like feel and did not contain enough hard facts to be used as a supplemental academic material or for any real curious reader looking for anything of substance. I would not recommend this book as you could probably find out more from an article in a magazine like National Geographic. It would not be worth the money and time spent to put it on the library shelf.

Zel

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

girl with leaves book cover

BIBLIO: 1996 Dutton Children’s Books/ Penguin Books , ages 12 to 15, $15.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Middle Reader.
ISBN: 0-525-45612-0

This is a retelling of the classic fairytale Rapunzel. The narrative switches between the three main characters Zel (Rapunzel), Konrad, and Mother (the witch). The plot starts a few day prior to Zel’s thirteenth birthday when she and Mother go to the marketplace. There Zel meets Konrad at the smithy’s when she is admiring and comforting his horse Meta. Konrad gives Zel the gift of a goose egg and they become smitten with each other. Mother, sensing that there is this new part of Zel’s life is threatened and whisks the young girl off to a hidden tower. Konrad searches for the next two years for the girl he fell in love with at first sight and Zel longs for the boy she found so charming. The plot reaches a turning point approximately fifty pages from the end of the novel as the end of the two years approaches. Konrad has finally found his mystery girl, mentally disturbed after months and months of isolation. They spend the night together and Konrad promises to return and free Rapunzel. Mother comes for her daily visit and Rapunzel reveals that she loves a young man and stands up to her mother. Mother uses her witch’s power over the plants to banish Rapunzel to a beachy region far away from their home in the Alps. Konrad comes back to find the witch and jumps and lands on thorns becoming blind. For the next three years the lovers are still separated, Rapunzel gives birth to twin girls and Konrad resumes his search while still blind. He eventually is able to travel to Rapunzel’s new home and they reunite and Rapunzel cries into his eyes, healing them.
This novel closely follows the classic, gruesome version of Rapunzel. The narrative is split into three parts, Zel’s, Konrad’s, and Mother’s. There are eight parts, four of which focus on each character and their interpretation of rejection, loneliness, obsession, and love. Napoli works very hard to create layers of reality and is skillfully subtle in some of her ideas such as puberty and physical maturity, religion, abuse, and morality. She is able to draw out some of these themes because the tale of Rapunzel is quite familiar and reinterpreting it can mean changing such details. This book would be a good suggestion for reluctant readers because of the basic plot. It is also a fair book to read individually.

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender in a spacesuit book cover

BIBLIO: 1977 Tor/ Tom Doherty Associates LLC, ages 13 and up, $5.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-0-7653-5070-2

Ender’s Game is a book set in the future on a very different Earth. The International Fleet trains children in the hopes to fend off the Buggers, an alien race that tried to invade twice before. The story follows the young genius Ender Wiggin as he goes through battle school and command school in space. There is a subplot that follows Valentine and Peter Wiggin as they influence politics on Earth. The plot cuts between the mind of Ender, conversations Colonel Graff and other adults, and the subplot of the other Wiggin children.
Ender struggles as an outsider, still managing to make friends along the way such as Alai, Bean, Petra, Dink, and others. He has to fight in battles and in simulations, winning every one along the way. The twist is that when he plays the simulator game Ender does not realize that he is actually controlling a real fleet. The reason being that Ender is empathetic but competitive and if he knew that is was really he would be crushed.
This book written well and great for students who want a challenge. It would also be great as a way to examining topics such as population, children soldiers, empathy, competitiveness, etc.

More titles in the Series:
spaceship book covertower book coverspace station book coverspaceship cover satellite book cover
The parallel series:
 two boys playing video game book cover boy and earth book cover white and red book cover two people and stars book coverrocks book cover

Shadows Alive (no cover available)

Ruby Holler

Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech

cabin in the woods book cover

BIBLIO: 2002 Joanna Cotler Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, ages 9 through 12, $16.89.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 0-06-027733-5


This book is about twin orphan Dallas and Florida. They are thirteen years old have been in the foster system since infancy. Bouncing into families’ homes and right back to the Boxton Creek children’s home is the only cycle the twins have ever known. They reveal some of the terrible realities they experienced regarding bad foster parents and the home they always return to.
Before long, Tiller and Sairy, an older couple bring them back to their home in Ruby Holler. Slowly the twins realize what it’s like to be loved and cared for unconditionally. Although they talk about running away they each end up on separate adventures. Florida and Tiller adventure down the river and Dallas and Sairy take a hike over the hills. Through all of it the four characters realize that Ruby Holler is truly their home and their doubts get answered along the way.
The caretakers of the Boxton’s children’s home try to stir up trouble trying to find the treasures that Tiller and Sairy hide in the woods of their home. Z, their neighbor, acts as a double agent until the older couple and the twins return. Other troubles stir up the plot such as both sets of adventurers get lost, Tiller’s heart attack, the twins trying to run away and acting like goofballs, and plenty more.
This book, while sweet and whimsical addresses some serious questions and topics children might not be aware of and connects to them in a personal way. It talks about orphans and the corrupted system, aging among parents, coping with nightmares and bad memories, the confusing reality of raising children at all stages of development, being your own person, along with any number of extra things.
Uniquely, this novel does not have a resolute ending. It does not reveal if Z is the twins’ father, or if the twins got adopted for sure, or what happens to the Trepids and the children in the home. After all, that is what the real world is like.