Finding Langston

Dear Reader,

Have you ever felt alone? Have you ever felt misunderstood by those who love you? Have you ever found hope in unexpected places? Then you know how the main character feels in this outstanding novel for readers 9 years old and up. Told in present tense from the first person point of view, the sentences come alive with the cadence of the main character’s Southern speech. If you like stories by Patricia MacLachlan, you will love this 104-page novel. 

Cline-Ransome, Lesa. Finding Langston. New York: Holiday House, 2018.

After the death of his mother in 1946, eleven-year-old Langston moves with his father from Alabama to Chicago. Living in a lonely apartment building and bullied at school, Langston finds refuge in the school library where he discovers the magical poetry of Langston Hughes.

More stories of moving

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More stories set in the past

More stories about people of African heritage

Poetry by Langston Hughes

A post about the power of poetry

Happy reading!

Ms. R. 

Cinnamon Moon

Dear Reader,

Ailis and her brother are orphans living in a boarding house in Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871.

If you’ve read Sweep by Jonathan Auxier, you’ll remember how children were snatched by unscrupulous men to work as chimney sweeps.  In this novel, children are also enslaved, this time by devious men who force them to work as rat-catchers in the sewers of Chicago. But twelve-year-old Ailis is fiesty and brave. She is determined to save herself and her brother from a grim future. 

Cinnamon Moon is not a difficult novel to read as far the reading level is concerned.  The narration is written in present tense and from the first person point of view, so the story feels up-to-date in its style. Furthermore, the font is a comfortable size and the lines of print are well-spaced. But the story itself is serious and based on historical facts which are explained at the back of the book. However, rather than being discouraging or depressing, this novel is filled with humour and hope. I think the history will interest you and the ending will inspire you.

Hilmo, Tess. Cinnamon Moon. New York: Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar, Straus Giroux, 2016. 

P.S. Always watch for books by Tess Hilmo: they’re invariably well-written. 

More historical novels

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The Player King

Dear Reader,

You have already enjoyed many stories about characters who set out to search for something. Perhaps you have also read or watched movie versions of these famous quests:  Homer’s Odyssey, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.  Many folktales and fantasy novels focus on a hero’s journey to find someone or something.

Here is another story that tells of a quest. But this one is not a fantasy novel. This novel is based on something that actually happened long ago in England.

Avi. The Player King. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017.

During the 1400s, two families fought to gain control of the English throne. In 1485, Henry proclaimed himself king and defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field. But Richard’s supporters did not want to give up the power they’d enjoyed. So they found a boy, Lambert Simnel, and convinced him to pretend that he was the true heir to the crown. All so they could keep their wealth and prestige. This really happened. This novel is a spell-binding tale that tells how a young penniless orphan might have been convinced that he was someone important, someone who was worthy of becoming the king. 

By the way, even though the topic is quite serious, this 195-page book isn’t difficult to read. The margins are generous. The lines of print are widely spaced. Many sentences and paragraphs are very short. There is also lots of conversation. You will undoubtedly race through this novel to find out what happens!

Ms. R.

P.S. Any story by Avi is well written. Later you might like to read Crispin, another story from the Middle Ages about a boy on a quest to discover his true worth.

More historical novels

Sweep

Dear Reader,

You asked for more stories about mythology. I know you are firmly attached to the Rick Riordan novels. That you would prefer to keep reading them on and on until there are no more left to read, so I’m gratified that you are willing to try some other authors. And I’m impressed that you so quickly read the four novels in Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark is Rising’ series. Would you be willing to try a different type of mythology?

You’ve already enjoyed Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse mythology in the Riordan stories. And you’ve explored the world of King Arthur in Cooper’s stories. Now could you try a novel about a mythological creature from Jewish folklore: a golem, a creature made from inanimate material and brought to life in order to serve as a protector?

Auxier, Jonathan. Sweep: the Story of a Girl and Her Monster. Toronto: Puffin Canada, 2018.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster is set in 1870s London. Nan Sparrow is a chimney sweep, forced to climb up chimneys and clean out soot. Remember that this is over a hundred years ago, before the age of electricity, and houses have fireplaces. And every fireplace has to be regularly cleaned. Clambering up those narrow chimneys is the job of young children forced into labour due to poverty. The golem in this novel is – of course – a mythological creature. But the setting is real. Life really was as difficult for some children as depicted in this story. So you’ll be learning more about what it felt like to live during Victorian times, as well as enjoying more of your favourite genre right now.

One more thing. Your faith – the Sikh faith – emphasizes that one’s life is to be of service to others. Several times in Sweep, you’ll see this sentence: “We save ourselves by saving others.” I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

By the way, I’ve requested more mythology books for you from the public library. Be watching. You should get a message very soon that they’re ready for pick up. Happy reading!

Ms. R.  

P.S. Always keep your eyes open for books published by Puffin. They tend to be extremely well written. 

A story of friendship

McCully, Emily Arnold. Clara: The (Mostly) True Story of the Rhinoceros Who Dazzled Kings, Inspired Artists, and Won the Hearts of Everyone…While She Ate Her Way Up and Down a Continent. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016.
If Emily McCully writes and illustrates a book, pick it up. Everything she creates is good. And this almost-true biography is no exception. Clara – an orphaned rhinoceros – was adopted by a sea captain in 1741. The two of them travelled throughout Europe for 17 years, amazing audiences and becoming fast friends. While now we would never dream of exhibiting an animal in such a manner, this story of affectionate friendship between a person and an animal is nonetheless intriguingly heart-warming. Included is a map of Clara’s journeys and an author’s note with further information. Highly recommended for curious readers of all ages. 

More historical stories

More picture books

True stories of animal intelligence

The great achievement…

Almond, David. Harry Miller’s Run. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick, 2017, c2008.
Eleven-year-old Liam wants to get outside and start training for the big race coming up. But his mother wants him to help an elderly neighbour move into a nursing home. What starts out as a frustrating day turns into an amazing adventure as Liam listens to Harry tell about the great race he ran from Newcastle to South Shields when he was a young lad himself.
This joyous novella – by a multiple award winning author – reads like a true story. I kept checking the flyleaf to find out more about the background. There was nothing.  But this heart-warming story by a masterful writer will live in readers’ memories as if it really happened to someone we ourselves must have met somewhere. Whimsical illustrations by Salvatore Rubbino – creator of picture books about London and Paris – add to the charm of this unpaged book highly recommended for readers 9 years old and up.  

A serious David Almond novel about refugees

A humorous David Almond novel about a runaway

Stories of summer

P.S. Always check out the books published by Candlewick. They’re reliably beautiful. 

Seeing goodness…

A multiple award-winner and New York Times bestseller!

Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. The War I Finally Won. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers 2017.
Do you need courage to have hope? Can you know something but not believe it? How do you learn to overcome fear? The story of Ada and Jamie, evacuated from London in The War That Saved My Life, continues in this 385-page novel recommended for readers 12 years old and up.
The story begins with surgery to repair Ada’s clubfoot. But surgery can’t repair the sense of rejection she still feels from years of abuse. And surgery can’t teach her how to trust anyone except herself. It is steadfast love from her new guardian and her own determination to learn that transforms Ada from a fearful 11-year-old to a confident 14-year-old ready to embrace the goodness of life.

More stories set in World War 2

More books about abuse

Stories about foster children

P.S. Part of the brilliance of this novel is its quiet complexity. While told from the limited point of view of Ada, the reader sees that we all have limited points of view. And sometimes our lack of knowledge limits our ability to see clearly. Lady Thorton is stand-offish due to limitations imposed by her childhood. People in the village mistrust Ruth – a Jewish refugee – due to ignorance of events in Germany. Susan assumes she will be rejected by a friend’s family, and Maggie thinks her mother doesn’t care about her. Over and over again, we see that life may have been terrible in the past but it can still be good in the future. And we are all lovable.