A Fresh Beginning – of sorts

In May of 2011 Matt and I began to dabble with blogging.  We were shored up by our technology pal, Mrs. Wyman who walked us through every step of the way.  We met in her computer lab weekly.   She shared in our giggles about books post ideas, reading quotes and fond memories of reading and books.  Matt was in 5th grade when we actually launched Kid’s Books 101.  He has graduated 8th grade now and is ready to move on.  I am sorry to lose my book partner,  but I think it is time to consider new possibilities – maybe a reading and review club would be the way to go.  But for now  – I’ve got some books to recommend for summer reading.  Some are new, some are old favorites and some have finally find their way to the top of my TBR pile.

16082948Romeo Blue by Phoebe Stone has been waiting for a year to be read.  Sequel to the Romeo and Juliet Code, this book continues the story of Flissy Budwig Bathburn in Bottlebay, Maine.  She’s been there for two years.   The Bathburn home is truly her own but she still does not fully understand her family’s role World War II.  She knows they are part of the Resistance and she knows they are working from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, but are they safe and will she ever understand why they have made the choices they have made?  Will she ever understand why she feels so alone?

The Bathburn family is pretty amazing:  strong and independent, able and willing, caring and courageous.  They live in a small coastal Maine town.  It might seem as though they must be far removed from everything, but they are not. They are totally involved in the war effort.  You’ll have to read to find out how much they are willing to risk to do the right thing.  Romeo Blue (another name for the Marazine Blue butterfly)  is full of interesting twists and turns that will keep you turning the pages right to the end.  You won’t want to miss a word.  Intermediate and middle grade readers will enjoy the adventure and the characters as they live through the ups and downs of life in wartime.


Bo at Ballard Creek

Bo at Ballard Creekby Kirkpatrick Hill

278 pages of small town adventures for intermediate readers – it would make a fun read aloud for younger readers too.

Jack Jackson and Avrid Ivorsen had arrived in Alaska in 1897 Klondike Gold Rush.  They were both big men – bigger than most and that’s how they met each other.  They helped each other get the large sized clothes they needed.  Once they met, they figured out they were good help for each other – Jack ran the kitchen and Arvid did the blacksmithing for the mine.   They were good company.

One day Arvid was taking a break, standing on the riverbank watching the commotion of the logs and passengers being loaded on a steamship when Mean Millie, one of the good-time girls, walked up him and handed him her baby. Told him to take it to the orphanage in Nulato next time he went to town and walked away.  Arvid had no idea of what to do with a baby, but Jack did.

When the time came to take that baby to the orphanage, Avrid and Jack just walked on by and that was how Bo came to live at Ballard Creek with her two Papas.  She worked in the kitchen with Jack helping out with all she could.  She cut the biscuits and filled the wood box with kindling.  When her chores were done, Bo went to find Oscar – the only other child not yet old enough for school and they’d go visiting.  Sometimes they’d read magazines at Milo’s Roadhouse, sometimes they’d visit Lilly and Yovela or sometimes they’d visit Nakuchluk and Unakserak, the oldest people in town.  Bo could speak English and Eskimo.  She was a friend to everyone and everyone at Ballard Creek looked out for her too.

It is interesting to learn about life at the turn of the century in Alaska.  Interesting to learn how the gold was mined, how the mail was delivered, how supplies were shipped and how traditional ways were married with new customs so that all in the village survived and prospered.

The About the Author blurb says, “Kirkpatrick Hill was born into a mining family:  her father was a miner as was her grandfather.  When she was little the family lived at Cleary Hill Mines near Fairbanks, Alaska – a place much like Ballard Creek.  She says, ‘I almost always write bout true events and my characters are often based on actual people.  I couldn’t make up anything more interesting than things that really happened.’  That means that Ms. Hill has known some wonderfully caring people and they have shared some amazing times together.  Reading Bo at Ballard Creek is a real treat!  I hope many readers will join Bo in her small town and meet all the her friends as well.

Choosing read alouds…

I am looking for new chapter read alouds for the beginning of the year.  I am searching for a book we can read in a week.  I am looking for a book that will remind my newly minted third graders of the joys of reading and of what they can do.  I know some of them have read off and on over the summer and some of them have not.

I grew up in a lake town.  All winter long we skated and went sledding.  When May came, we waited for the ice to go out.  We waited for the first few warm days and then we’d ride to the town wharf for the first icy plunge.  I remember standing there toes curled over the edge, arm arched above my head readying myself for the first deep dive – a little question niggling at the back of my mind, “after all the days, all these months, will I remember how…” Push.  Splash.  Gasp.  Yes!  I am looking for the perfect book to dive in together.  We’ll go deep and swim back to the surface with the exhilarated feeling of our new reading year begun.

The books should be fun, full adventure, conjure questions and beg us to explore. They should be new to most, if not all, of the readers in our class. And they should open the door to the world of reading for all.

8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel [Divided By] 1 Dog = ChaosSo far I am considering 8 Class Pets +1 Squirrel÷1Dog=CHAOS by Vivian Vande Velde.  In it Twitch, the squirrel, lives outside a school.  He begins the story by explaining how much fun he has on the jungle gyms people leave in their yards for him often centered around a snack bar.  While he’s telling about this new “spinney disc” he loses track of time.  He stays out too late and gets chased away by a swooping owl.  To escape the owl, Twitch unfortunately scampers across a dog’s nose.  The dog takes up the chase.  Twitch is desperate to escape he runs into the first place he finds – the open door of the neighboring school.  The dog runs in too, just as the custodian puts the ladder away, shuts the door and leaves for the night.  Twitch and the dog are locked in and the chase is still on.  The classroom pets of the schoolrooms where the action is taking place, tells how the chase is progressing in each chapter – there are eight.  It’s really great fun – and both nothing you and imagine, and everything you can predict at the same time.  The class will be laughing and shaking their heads in surprise as we reach the end.  That’s why I think that might be a good choice.


Emily's FortuneEmily’s Fortune by Phyllis Naylor Reynolds might also be a good choice.  In it Emily, age eight, suddenly finds herself alone save for her turtle Rufus.  Emily’s mother had worked for wealthy, Miss Luella Nash.  Unfortunately, an untimely carriage accident had left her an orphan.  Her neighbors, Mrs. Ready, Mrs. Aim and Mrs. Fire had tried to help.   Emily had an aunt by marriage – her father’s sister in-law and she had an uncle – her mother’s brother.  Emily didn’t know either of them well, but her memory of Aunt Hilda’ was warm and kind, while her memory of Uncle Victor frightful and fearsome.   The neighbor ladies had asked questions, offered advice and in the end had suggested that she go to live with her Aunt Hilda in Redbud.  To get there Emily would have to go on a train to Trumpet Junction and from there catch a stage coach the rest of the way.  She would be alone – could she do it?  Just that would be hard enough, but that is not all Emily has to deal with.  She has to keep out of the clutches of Catchum Child- Catching Services.  She has to hide from those who would like to kidnap her and from her fierce uncle who has recently become interested in what she can do for him.  This book is suspenseful with just the right amount of surprising twists to keep the story moving.  The characters are interesting – the kind of people you’d like to spend time with and the writing is fun.  You’ll read right up to the end before you discover “what in blinkin’ bloomers Emily is going to do.”

Marty McGuire

White Fur FlyingFrom there I could choose Marty McGuire or White Fur Flying and then I bet we’ll be ready to sink our teeth into a more complex read aloud that really gets us thinking – The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, The Vengekeep Prophecies, The Golden Door…  What would you suggest?  What read aloud do you remember most?

The Romeo and Juliet Code

The Romeo And Juliet Codeby Phoebe Stone

291 pages of family, codes, adventure and spies – perfect for intermediate and middle readers (Got to say – I don’t get the cover.  It doesn’t make sense to me at all.)

You’re 11, living in London with your mom and dad.  Your friends think they’re dashing and daring and glamorous – like a Hollywood couple.  Perhaps, but all you know is that they are your everything.  It’s 1941 though and there is a war going on.  Your city is being bombed and most of your friends and their families have fled into the country.  Your dad is an American citizen.  His family is in Maine and so your family decides this is a safer place for you.

You sail across the ocean on the Queen Anne – painted entirely gray, portholes included so no light can escape giving her away to enemy eyes -, drive along the coast of Maine and meet Uncle Gideon, Aunt Florence and The Grams.  After an hour or so you watch your dashing, daring, glamorous parents drive off, knowing they will be traveling back to London and there you are in your new home for now.  Everything is different and strained.

That’s what happens to Felicity Bathburn Budwig in The Romeo and Juliet Code.  The summer is beginning and everything seems bad and wrong.   This new family seems angry with her Winnie and Danny (what she calls her mom and dad) and they won’t tell her why.  On top of that her Danny writes letters to her uncle – she is sure of it though her uncle says she is wrong and doesn’t know his handwriting at all – but her Danny doesn’t write to her.  Felicity doesn’t know where her mom and dad are.  She is alone except for Wink, her bear, who does know how alone and sad and afraid she is.

With time Felicity learns about the Bathburns, her new family, and she comes to understand and love them.  She discovers she loves to cook with The Grams and read with Aunt Miami (Florence decided she needed a younger sounding name – she’s just 22).  Aunt Miami loves Romeo and Juliet.  Felicity, on Uncle Gideon’s recommendation, reads The Little Princess.  She discovers her cousin Derek, recovering from polio, and builds a strong relationship with him as they seek to uncover the mystery behind the letters sent to Uncle Gideon from Portugal, but written (Felicity is certain) by her Danny.

With every page I turned I longed for Felicity to get a letter from her mom and dad.  I celebrated every comfort and every discovery made while I waited for her to find answers to her questions and solutions for her lonely confusions.  You’ll be waiting for them too  – filling with hope as she races to meet the postman, smiling at the variety show rehearsals, and feeling the coziness of a small town while you come to understand how Felicity fits in this place and how she will find a home there.

Perhaps the best thing about reading The Romeo and Juliet Code is knowing that Romeo Blue, the sequel, is sitting in my “to read” pile so I can spend more time with characters I love, in a place I would like to be, discovering more of the mystery and intrigue that surrounds the Bathburn family.  Reviews say the second book might be better than the first.  I don’t know how that could be possible, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

Hero on a Bicycle

Hero on a Bicycleby Shirley Hughes

a different view of of World War II – the tension of being caught in between

In 1944 in Florence, Italy, Rosemary Crivelli, Paolo’s mother… “knew she should remind him of the dangers of what he was doing and forbid him – forbid him – to go out alone again at night, but somehow she could never find the heart to do it…She reflected grimly on the old cliché that wartime, when not terrifying, was a combination of long stretches of boredom and grinding hardship.”

Paolo can’t stand doing nothing.  He sneaks out at night to ride his bike through the city –the tension of breaking the rules brings some excitement to his life. Controlled and commanded by authority that could snap at any moment, Paolo is looking for a way to do something in the chaos that surrounds him.  His father left secretly two years ago to join the resistance and now the Crivelli family is under close watch by the ever-present Gestapo.  Signora Crivelli is British, another reason to be watched closely by Colonel Ritter – where do the true sympathies of the Crivelli family lie.

Paola thinks his rides are secret, but they are not.  Both his mother and 16-year old sister, Constanza know of them.  They hear him leave and the lie awake until he returns well after midnight.  This last time, Paolo was given a message at gunpoint to take to his mother. That one message removes all hope of being left alone to endure whatever ordinary hardships might come their way.  That message brings them into direct contact with Il Volpe, the leader of the Italian resistance and puts them in charge of seeing that the escaped prisoners of war make it back across Allie lines.

Quick thinking and smart decisions barely keep the Crivellies safe through to the liberation of Florence.  They suffer when friends bend and break under the pressure of fear and distrust.  The witness the horrific cruelty and pain of war and the fearless dedication of those committed to their cause.  While I wished for more detail and for the plot to be developed more completely, I appreciate how this original tale, set in a different place and with a unique vantage point, adds to our understanding of World War II.  Intermediate and middle grade readers interested in this topic will like Hero on a Bicycle and will be compelled to turn each page as the tension mounts and secrets unfold.

Odette’s Secrets

Odette's Secretsby Maryann Macdonald

a middle reader must!

Odette’s Secrets begins “I live in Paris…but it is about the change…soldiers march, their legs and arms straight as sticks.  A funny looking man with a mustache shouts a speech.  His name is Hitler.  What are these soldiers?  Why do they move like machines?”  For Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris, nowhere is safe. So when Odette Meyer’s father, an enlisted soldier in the French Army, is sent to a Nazi work camp, Odette’s mother takes measures to protect her.  With the help of her godmother, Madame Marie, and Monsieur Henri Odette is sent deep into the French countryside. There she pretends to be a peasant girl attending Catholic masses with other children. On the outside she is like all the other children.  On the inside, Odette is burning with secrets and questions.  When the war ends Odette must figure out how she can go back to her old life in Paris.  It’s not easy when even the things that are the same –  Mama and Papa, the bed, even the pots and pans – have a totally different feel and understanding.  Secrets are never fully shared even when they are told, especially the secrets that were used for solving problems.

Inspired by the life of the real Odette Meyer, this beautifully flowing free-verse novel is a story of triumph over adversity.  Maryann Macdonald began this project as a biography.  In her author’s note she explains that as she wrote, Odette’s story needed to be told through her feelings and emotion.  Odette needed to speak to us, and through Macdonald, she does.  Her questions and fears, her confusion and understanding, her joy and devastation are artfully shared as her secrets are revealed.  Odette’s Secrets is an astonishing story of determination and care.  The story of how one person was connected to so many others offers a full picture into life at the time – and how life forever after would be changed.  Odette’s Secret is a book to read and read again.

Here’s a link to another blog review with an interview of the author. It’s interesting to know how she came upon this story.


Gingersnapby Patricia Riley Giff

recipes seasoned with herbs and care are always the best – even when ingredients are rationed and scarce.

Janea lives with her brother Rob.  He’s nine years older than she is and has just become old enough to gain custody and take her from foster care.  That’s been their dream since she’s been five and Rob has visited her every Sunday.  Finally they can build a home together.  It is a home of love, stories, shared meals, soup and change. Rob is a cook at the Navy base and he’s about to be shipped out on the USS Muldoon.  He’ll be cooking meals for the sailors and Janea will be living with their landlady, Celine until he comes back.  Rob assures her it won’t be long.  When the war is over and Rob is home they plan to open a restaurant where he’ll make the meals and “Gingersnap” will make the soup.  Gingersnap is the nickname Janea’s mother gave her because of her ginger-colored hair.  The name makes Janea feel closer to her family.

Rob leaves and the days pass by.  Celine thinks that Janea needs to learn manners and perhaps she does.  Janea tries her best to be a quiet, neat girl.  She tries to stay out of the way.  She cares for Theresa the turtle in the soon-to-be dried up pond in their old backyard.  She carries the rock girl with her always – the funny rocky face from one of the last days at home with Rob, when she’d been trying to pick a yellow flower in the pond and become stuck in the mud completely.  Rob had rescued her and found the curious rock that looked like a face. He’d given to her with a quip and that’s when she’s seen the ghost – her but not her.  Curious.

Then the unthinkable – Rob’s ship is sunk and he is lost in the Pacific.  Celine feels burdened by the responsibility of Janea.   Janea feels totally alone.  Both want their old lives back, but have no idea how that can be.  At the insistence of the ghost, Janea goes back to their house one more time.  She finds a box of carefully saved things that must once have belonged to her parents.  There is book of carefully written recipes with a photograph of woman in front of a bakery named “Gingersnap.”  Janea knows right away that this is a key – her grandmother she dares to hope.  There is an address and so Janea, along with Therea for company, sets off to Brooklyn full of hope in search of her place to belong.

You’ll have to read Gingersnap  what happens to Janea when she arrives in the city.  You might become a soup specialist too – Janea shares her recipes with you.  Savor every page – it is delicious.

Button Down

Button Down as you read you’ll learn about family and football, the 1930’s and dedication.  just right for middle readers – when you’re done you’ll be hoping for more stories about the Buttons.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our assumptions and unexamined stereotypes make us act.   And I’ve been wondering how books can help us change. Button Down is the second book by Anne Ylvisaker about the Button family.  They’re from rural Iowa.  During the Depression the Button family may not have much, but they do have each other – and they have the Hawkeye football.

For the first time in Goodhue history their high school football hero is going to State to play ball.  Ned, being a Button through and through is not very talented, but he is dedicated to the game.  As Lester is leaving for college he tosses his ball out and miraculously Ned catches it. He only has seconds to savor his catch before Burton grabs the ball from his hands and claims it as his own.  Burton is Lester’s younger brother and son to the owners of the Ben Franklin.  He claims he can do whatever he wants to a Button, and he does.  But you can’t play football alone.  You need a team to play against so Burton and Ned set up a game – the winner get to keep the Lester’s ball.

Ned and his group can’t practice in the field.  Burton’s team does.  Ned’s team has to play with a newspaper ball wrapped with twine.  It’s the best they have, and not nearly as good as the real thing. It seems there’s no way they won’t get killed.  Sometimes in order to succeed, you need someone who believes in you and that’s when Granddaddy Ike get’s involved.  He can hardly walk.  He can hardly hear and his heart seems to be failing, but he helps Ned understand that winning football is not about what you have or how hard you can hit; it’s also about strategy, plays and doing what they other team doesn’t expect.

“I might have underestimated you,” said Granddaddy.  Figured you were like the rest of this lot, tree roots growing out of the soles of their shoes, tethering them to this one spot of soil, now to kingdom come.  Rather hear about a thing than do a thing.  Hmmmm…”

Nothing is as it seems or as smooth as we wish, but reading Button Down to find out how the game goes is worth every page – when you finish you’ll have a new idea about what it means to have heart and how much is matters to have someone who knows you inside and out and believes in you all the way.  Go out – play the game, if you don’t you’ll never know it you can.

Navigating Early

Navigating Earlyby Clare Vanderpool

a 300 page quest for the largest bear in the Appalachian woods of Maine – at least that what they say at first…

Lost, alone and without bearings.  That’s how Jack Baker finds himself when his dad, Captain John Baker, Jr., leaves him at Morton Hill Academy for boys in Cape Fealty, Maine.  It the day before most boys will arrive and Jack has time to wander and wonder at his new life.  This is a life outside of Kansas, a life without the gentle guidance of his mom, a life filled with questions and regret.

Full of all this emptiness, Jack goes to the beach where he sees a boy filling sand bags as though he is trying to hold the ocean back from the shore.  From that moment loneliness and loss bind them.  Jack is new to everything in the school.  Unfamiliar with this life he has to navigate through a series of challenges and just when Jack is sure he will fail – there is Early, teaching him guiding him, telling him with an odd certainty what to do.

Early, clearly brilliant, doesn’t always go to class often.  He has an odd presence that the rest of the boys tolerate, but seldom include.  He lives in a basement workshop that was once the custodian’s room.  He has a jar of jellybeans for sorting, a sequence of music he listens to and an uncanny way of understanding numbers. They tell him a story through their shapes and colors.

Pi, 3.14, in fact, launches their quest.  Dr. Stanton a famed mathematician has put forth a theory that Pi will end.  Ones have stopped appearing in its sequence and he posits that eventually all the digits will disappear.  Early does not, cannot believe this is true.  The numbers tell Early that Pi is on a quest to discover his destiny and find his family.  On fall break, Early embarks on his own quest down the Kennibec River and across parts of the Appalachian Trail in search of the great black bear, his lost family and his place in the world.  Jack goes along.

Navigating Early is a quest through loss and longing, challenge, heartache and aching loneliness.  You’ll navigate your way through each step of the journey, returning home with hope and wonder, relief, kindness and the best of all friends, “Early Auden, that strangest of boys.”

Keeping Safe the Stars

Keeping Safe the Starsby Sheila O’Connor

set in the 70’s with a background of the Watergate Trials, the turmoil of the Vietnam War and the proliferation of cults and communes, the Stars have already survived a lot  – but there will be more.

Imagine being 13 and finding yourself alone with the responsibility of taking care of your little brother and sister.  You’ve already been orphaned and taken by the state – will it happen again?  The Stars are determined that they will be fine until Old Finn comes home, but the wait gets longer and longer.  Pride just needs to get into town to ask Old Finn what to do.  He’s sick, but one question and then she’ll be able to take care of things.  She is certain of that, except nothing seems to work out as hoped.

Since their mother died, the Star children have lived with their grandpa, Old Finn on the farm he calls Eden. It’s away from everyone and everything.  Old Finn wants it that way.  He likes to keep his business to himself.   But then Old Finn gets sick and  not just a little sick; he develops an infection that sends him far away to the hospital in Duluth.  Left in charge of the farm, Pride and her sister, 9-year-old Nightingale and brother, 6-year-old Baby try to figure out how to feed themselves and wait things out.

That proves challenging.  Pride knows she can’t run a household with no money and only a horse to make the long trek into town. The children decide to start a roadside business.  It seems like it might work at first, but then it starts to attract attention from neighbors and concerned adults. Isn’t it odd that three kids are alone seemingly all the time and their stories seem to fall a little short of the truth.  As things begin to unravel, the Stars know they must get to Old Finn and find help to keep them safe before the state takes them into custody.  That is something they couldn’t bear again.

Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O’Connor helps us understand that even bright, resourceful kids can’t go it alone.  It also helps us know that the adults they depend on need plans.  People do need people in order to make it through.  There are  people full of kindness and understanding- not everyone is bad.   It may not be wise to keep others away – even if you’ve had reason to distrust and fear in the past.   If you are a good soul, and it seems clear Old Finn is that, the others will be there waiting and watching and willing to help when they are invited in.

Keeping Safe the Stars holds you until the very end.  You have a sense of how things will go in the end – but nothing goes as the Stars hope or plan throughout the story so you’re not certain of the ending until it comes.  It is a story that will have you thinking and wondering long after you are done.  The Stars will stay with you for a long while.