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.

Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

 girl in yellow dress book cover

​BIBLIO:2000 Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., ages 8 and up, $17.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN13: 978-0-439-12041-8

A charming riches to rags tale about a young girl named Esperanza quickly grabs the heartstrings of its readers. This also can be categorized as a coming of age novel as the reader follows Esperanza for her whole thirteenth year. The focus of this story is on Esperanza and her family from El Rancho de La Rosas and from the Labor Camp. The book starts by showing Esperanza’s privilege and her excitement about her thirteenth birthday. The reader is introduced to her loving Papa and graceful Mama and quirky Abuelita. The servants Hortensia, Alfonso, and Miguel are also introduced as loyal workers and close family friends. Tragedy occurs when Papa is attacked by bandits on the edge of their property. The whole ranch falls apart and Esperanza’s uncles look to gain power and money from their brothers’ demise. When Mama rebuffs Uncle Luis’s proposal he burns down the vineyards and their beloved home. He also makes it difficult for them to escape to the United States.
Alfonso’s brother works in the migrant camp and arranged for all of them to arrive but Abuelita is too weak to accompany them and must stay under the peril of the uncles. The group successfully move to the migrant camp and Esperanza struggles to adapt to living in the poverty of migrant labor but also in the midst of the great depression. She quickly realizes how little she knows about life but she has her new family Josefina, Juan, Isabel, Lupe, Pepe, and those she traveled with to teach her and she soon becomes rich with experiences.
Throughout the novel there are a lot of tribulations in addition to those mentioned. Mama gets sick and depressed and must live in the hospital away from Esperanza and their family. Esperanza begins to work with the women of the family in the sheds to pack produce and support her mother’s medical bills and those who care for her. There is also a lot of talk about striking, the Oklahoma migrants coming from the Midwest in hopes of a new life after living in the dustbowl. There is also an underlying theme of social prejudice and sketchy government behavior such as the Deportation Act.
This book is touching and worth reading. It won the Pura Belpre Award and for good reason. It shows fabulously the life of a minority group in a realistic and personally touching way.

Some Kind of Magic

Some Kind of Magic by Adrian Fogelin

shadows, book cover

BIBLIO: 2015,Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, Ages 10 to 14, $15.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 978-1-56145-820-2

Part crime-solving part coming of age, this novel features the four friends Justin, Cass, Jemmie, and Ben along with Ben’s kid brother Cody on their adventures as their last summer before high school kicks off to a boring start. Set in Tallahassee within a week countdown to Cody’s birthday, the story centers around the “magic hat” Cody finds that leads them to an abandoned shed on the site of a house fire that serves as their new secret hangout. A subplot of the novel is finding out what happened to the brothers’ Uncle Paul. It doesn’t take long for them to find out how the house fire, Uncle Paul, and the hat all connect. In the end Ben has an accident and Justin proves to be a hero as everything resolves. Teenage drama runs throughout the story with romance, family troubles, obesity, interracial friendships, and the uncertainty of a new school all being relatable to the reader. The novel does become very unrelatable when the “magic” is brought in. As this novel is designed for middle schoolers, the youngest will say they’ve outgrown it and the oldest really have. While the hat’s magical powers are symbolic of imagination and confidence, the characters’ expressed belief and the title can be deterring to potential readers. This is great for teachers to use to reassure students going to high school or for the kid sibling always tagging along. Some real issues and learning lessons are presented and can be effectively used for discussions in the classroom. For more adventures with these characters look for Fogelin’s novels, Crossing Jordan, The Big Nothing, and My Brother’s Hero.

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