One Year in Coal Harbor

One Year in Coal Harborby Polly Horvath

215 pages for intermediate and middle readers looking for a place to fit in and feel good.

Last year after I finally got around to reading Everything With a Waffle I decided to add Polly Horvath to my “favorite authors” list.  Her writing has strong characters deeply connected to place and I like that.  I loved Primrose Squarp – spunky, independent, creative and resilient. (Love the guinea pig scene – both at The Girl on the Red Swing and in the school guidance counselor’s office.  It’s still making me snicker.)  I was glad that things worked out happily for Primrose, but I was sad to leave her behind. So you can only imagine how happy I was to learn Polly Horvath had written One Year in Coal Harbor – more time with Primrose, Uncle Jack, Miss Bowser and Bert and Evie.

Primrose is at home with her mom and dad and thankful for everything she has.  She is trying to think of how she can help Miss Bowser and Uncle Jack spend more time together now that Miss Honeycut is gone.  She’s busy with Mallomar and collecting recipes, though what she’d really like is a good friend her age.  Primrose learned that people treat you differently when you’re in foster care.  It’s as if they think it’s your fault or that you have something that might rub off on them if they get too close.  Primrose could hang out with Eleanor, but she wasn’t really much of a friend.  They were together because neither of them had anyone else, not because it was fun.  Then Ked came along.  He was foster kid staying with Evie and Bert in Coal Harbor for a while.  He and Primrose get along right from the start. Ked is interested in the peaceful quiet of Jackson Road.  He’s a kind gentle soul, who seems to know what to do to make others feel appreciated.  For instance, he’d never tell Evie he doesn’t really like mini-marshmallows, nor would he ignore the seer though he is unkempt and unusual.

Just as Ked arrives so does Dan Sneild.  His arrival seems to upset the balance.  Miss Bowser and Uncle Jack argue all the time.  Primrose’s plans seem to make it worse. Logging comes to Mendolay Mountain – a clear cut and nothing will be the same again.  Ked is going fishing with her dad all the time.  Eleanor seems to like the cat poet more and more.  Nothing is going right and Primrose is feeling alone and angry.  She forgets to tell others how glad she is to have them as her friends, and then Ked’s dad comes for him.  He moves north and Primrose doesn’t have the opportunity to say good-bye.  She doesn’t want to anyway.  She’s too angry.  But then there’s a news report telling of a boy who’d been abandoned on the ice.  No one knew where he was – though it was said no one could survive the cold.

Caught in chaos, surrounded by guilt and grief, Primrose has to figure out what to do.  Her Uncle Jack says, “although we can’t keep undeserved bad things from happening, we do have control in making undeserved good things happen.”  She has to find her way through the hurt and happiness, change and tradition to find a place where she feels satisfied that she has done all she can to make the world a good place.

Read One Year in Coal Harbor to find out how Primrose meets that challenge.  Along they way you might learns some things that will work for you – you might even find a good recipe too!

The Great Molasses Flood

The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919Boston, 1919

by Deborah Kops

Babe Ruth had just helped the Red Sox win the world series.  World War I had ended the previous November. The battle against Spanish Influenza was over and the schools had reopened.  Soda fountains had reopened, people were out on the streets and it seemed as though life might just finally be returning to normal.

In the North End, between the elevated railroad tracks and the Paving Yard, stood a huge steel tank.  It dominated the skyline.  In mid-January it had received another shipment and was now full with 2,319,525 gallons of molasses.  That weighed as much as 13,000 Ford cars – a sizable weight.  During the war the molasses had been made into alcohol that was used for making ammunition.  Now it was being distilled into rum by the company that owned the tank, the U.S. Industrial Alcohol Company (USIA).

January 1919 was a time of change.  The troops would be coming home and efforts were being made to make that as soon as possible.  Only one more state was needed to ratify a constitutional amendment for Prohibition to begin. Commercial Street was a busy place. Business was was bustling in and out of the North End.  Passengers made there way between North and South Station.  Firemen worked in the firehouse.  The fireboat was there.  It was laundry day, and being surprisingly warm on the 15th, many lines were full. The North End Park was nearby.  People of all ages were out enjoying the unseasonable warmth.   Children snuck in and around the tracks collecting what wood they could find to use at home to keep warm and to cook.    When they passed by the tank they’d  scrape off some of the sticky goo that oozed from between the seams.  It wasn’t like candy, but it was sweet enough.

The day was off to a great start.  Around noon folks heard a devastating blast.  The tank split open and  a wave of thick brown glue barreled through the North End, sweeping up or wiping out everything in its path.  The force of the molasses swept buildings off their foundations, slammed people against trestles and curbs or trapped them for long hours under debris and sludge.  Not everyone was lucky enough to escape the tide as it chased them down.  The whole area was awash with the sticky, brown goo that soon turned to fetid fermenting ooze- the devastation great.

How had it happened?  Was it a bomb?  Had Anarchists, unhappy with the outcome of the war, planned this attack?  Boston had been bombed a couple years before.  Was it an accident?  How would city clean-up and rebuild?   Would they?   How could the loss of businesses, livelihoods, homes and lives be repaid?

From this event of devastation and disaster nearly 100 years ago there are many lessons to be learned and many parallels to be drawn between similar happenings today.  I knew nothing of the molasses flood until a read of this book.  Once aware, I began noticing references to it everywhere.  You’ll be interested to read of the people affected by this blast – their lives were never the same and were never better.  This point in our history is a pivotal moment.  We should be looking to see how can we use this information to ensure the same does not happen to people caught in disasters in the present.   I don’t think we have yet.  Read The Great Molasses Flood and see what you think.  UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, is credited with a quote:  “If you don’t have the time to do it right the first time, when are you going to have the time to do it right again?”  I know I can’t stop a deluge of molasses, but thoughtfulness always matters, big or small.  There aren’t many do-overs in life.


The Shimmers in the Night

The Shimmers in the Nightby Lydia Millet

the second of the Dissenter’s trilogy

Will the Elementals take over the world?  Have they already?  Do those committed to saving Earth and our environment have a chance?  It’s hard to tell.  The Shimmers in the Night, centers on Jax and Cara as the new school year begins.  Jax has gone off to a institute for brilliant, unusual kids.  He is going to be working through some challenges and test with other children like him to find out what his full capabilities are.  He may stay there.  He may come home depending on what they discover.   Just as Hayley has put up with Cara’s unusual habits and tastes, Cara is trying to do the same for her.  That’s what friends are about after all.  They join the swim team, which means weekend meets, travel and  overnight stays.  Hayley can go as long as her mom chaperones and that means she and Cara will have some very close supervision.  (Hayley’s mom doesn’t trust anyone very much.)  Another friend, Jaye is on the team along with Max’s girlfriend, Zee – she different but okay in Cara’s book.  She nice to her and doesn’t treat her like a little kid and that’s cool.

Once the swim team get set in the hotel and learn the order of the races, Cara gets a text from Jax begging her to come and get him.  He says things in the institute are not right.  Everything is strange and he is uncomfortable and afraid.  Cara enlists the help of her friends to cover for her and she goes off to find Jax and bring him back. Right from the start everything goes wrong.  Fire is the element called to destroy Earth this time and Cara is confronted with Burners who create intense heat and fire.  They consume souls and hollow out their victims in their attempt to altered Earth’s environment so their live will be supported, but all other life will be consumed.   Through visions, shape-shifting and the incredible power of friendship Cara, Hayley, and Jaye are able to find Cara’s mom for a time and foil another part of plan to limit life on Earth.  Cara remains convinced that a world that is open to and healthy for all life is worth fighting for.

There are some great sequels and second books in series to be read.  Here’s my pile.  The Shimmers in the Night was first.  I’ll let you know what happens in the rest as I work my way through them.  So many amazing books to read!

Mysteries According to Humphrey

Mysteries According to Humphreyby Betty Birney

You’ll be happy happy happy you read it

One day Mrs. Brisbane was reading an exciting Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Red Headed League, to the class and is teaching the students of Rm. 26 to be word detectives. The next day she was missing.  Humphrey doesn’t understand how this could be.  When she left the night before she said “See you tomorrow.”  She’d never broken her word before.

Mrs. Brisbane is gone.  Mr. E is the substitute teacher who doesn’t seem to be teaching or helping his friends learn.  Humphrey must help them on his own.  He must collect the clues and bring Mrs. Brisbane back.  He must find out what happened and how he is involved.  Mrs. Brisbane’s first note said, “I was all because of Humphrey.”  It seems that one mystery leads to more.  Humphrey is unsqueakably confused but is as determined as Sherlock Holmes to put all the pieces together until all the mysteries are solved and Mrs. Brisbane is found.  Finally then Og, Humphrey and all the students in Rm. 26 can be GLAD GLAD GLAD.

To find out more about Humphrey, Betty Birney’s love of mysteries and Sherlock Holmes and even some silly Frog jokes click here to go to Betty Birney’s website.

Splendors and Glooms

Splendors and Gloomsby Laura Amy Schlitz

400 pages of eerie delight and gruesome mystery

Splendors and Glooms is a creepy, captivating story; dark and light at once.  Gaspare Grisini, is a devilishly evil puppeteer who owns two children that do his bidding and work:  Lizzie Rose, noble and true and Parsefall, a talented scamp.  They perform marionette shows around the streets of Victorian London, an “icy stew of mud and straw, horse manure and urine.”

It is at one of these shows that their paths cross with Clara Wintermute, the daughter of a well to do doctor.  Clara’ life, though blessed, is far from happy. Her four siblings have all died of cholera and she bares the secret shame of surviving.  Secrets and lies, combined with magic and morbid cruelty unite the children in a fight for survival and a desire to live with honest care and love.

The final part of the story develops through the tale of the dying witch, Cassandra.  She has drawn her lasting power from the fire opal that is now consuming her very life.  As she tries to save herself she calls them all from the city.  Grisini, Lizzie Rose, Parsefall  and the magic that surrounds, consumes and saves them.  Spells are woven and broken as the children discover only they can undo the folly and malevolence placed on earth by the blinding greed of adults.

This book makes my skin crawl.  The image rich language brings history to life – every bit of it; the feel, the sound, the smell.   Poverty is here, desperate and raw – in striking contrast between those with warm food and gifts and parties.  Those with

means and those without is strongly is a vivid image in this book for me.  That children can be bought and sold because there is no one to care for them, and then once bought, there is no public eye to their continuing care and well-being makes me wonder.  Have times changed all that much?

Read Splendors and Glooms for its unique story, its incredible language, it’s vivid look into history and lingering images that stay with you long after you are done reading.  Will you be inspired to learn more, to take action and to recognize the need to kindnesses in our lives no matter how small?


Liar and Spy

by Rebecca SteadLiar & Spy

180 pages of interesting questions – can you be friends with a liar?

Perhaps the only thing good right now in Georges (yes, with an s) life is the fact that he stayed at the same school.  His dad lost his job, his family sold their house, they moved to an apartment and his mom started working doubles at the hospital.  He never sees her any more and that’s tough.  No dinners at home.  Dad’s often goes to visit her, but Georges chooses to leave her Scrabble tile messages.  He’s not much for hospitals.   The move means everything is in turmoil and everything he has relied on to stay grounded is difficult to find.

Doing laundry in the new building, Georges and his dad notice a sign for a Spy Club.  Thinking it is a joke, dad pencils a question – what time’s the next meeting.  Georges gets and answer and that’s how he first meets Safer and then, Candy.   Is there really a mystery in the building?  Could the man in black be a criminal?  What story is true?  How can anyone be sure?

As Georges answers his questions, you’ll answer your own. Can you really live a lie?  Can you actually be friends with a liar?  Are friends what it takes to face reality?  Read Liar and Spy to see what you think – can anything good ever come from a lie.