Spy Runner

Yelchin, Eugene. Spy Runner. New York: GodwinBooks, Henry Holt and Company, 2019.
In 1953 America, 12-year-old Jake is keeping his eyes open for Russian spies. His father has been missing in action since the end of the war in 1945, so when his mother invites a mysterious boarder into their home, he is suspicious. Why do the stories about his father not make sense? Why is his mother so affectionate toward this new man? Why is his principal so afraid of two strange men who visit the school? What is going on? This dramatic page-turner – evoking all the secrecy and paranoia of the Cold War – will appeal to curious readers 11 years old and up. 

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More novels by Eugene Yelchin:

Yelchin, Eugene. Arcady’s Goal. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2014.

“When twelve-year-old Arcady is sent to a children’s home after his parents are declared enemies of the state in Soviet Russia, soccer becomes a way to secure extra rations, respect, and protection but it may also be his way out if he can believe in and love another person–and himself.” – CIP. Recommended for readers 11-years-old and up. [Communism; Foster children; Russia; Soccer]

Yelchin, Eugene. Breaking Stalin’s Nose. New York: Henry Holt, 2011.
This novel, a Newbery Honor book, tells the story of ten-year-old Sasha who adores his father who works for the secret police in Stalinist Russia. But his perspective changes when he discovers secrets about his deceased mother and his father is unexpectedly arrested, leaving Sasha homeless in the middle of winter.  While easy to read, this powerful story is best suited for brave readers aged eleven and up. [Communism; Fathers and sons; Homelessness; Russia; Secrets] 

Yelchin, Eugene. The Haunting of Falcon House. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2016. 

“In 1891, twelve-year-old Lev Lvov travels to Saint Petersburg, Russia, to assume his duties as Prince, but must first use his special gift to rid the House of Lions of a ghost.” – CIP. Written by Prince Lev Lvov with pictures drawn in his own hand; translated by Eugene Yelchin who writes in the preface, “when I was a schoolboy in St. Petersburg, Russia,…I came upon a bundle of paper held together with frayed twine….Some years passed….Resolved to faithfully restore Lvov’s original narration, I set to work. To carry Prince Lev’s feelings across to the reader, I became inwardly connected to the young prince…” A spell-binding story for readers 11 to 14 years old. [Aunts; Extrasensory perception; Haunted houses; Orphans; Princes]

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The Fountains of Silence

Sepetys, Ruta. The Fountains of Silence. New York: Philomel Books, 2019.
In 1957, wealthy eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, an aspiring photographer from Texas who is visiting Madrid with his parents, discovers the quietly dangerous world of Franco’s Spain as he becomes friends with Ana, a hotel maid. Political intrigue, romance, and history all combine in this compelling story by an accomplished author. An extensive bibliography and black-and-white photographs supplement this 472-page novel highly recommended for readers 13 years old and up. [Dictatorships; Franco, Francisco; Photography; Secrets; Spain] 

More young adult novels by Ruta Sepetys:

Salt to the Sea

Sepetys, Ruta. Salt to the Sea. New York: Philomel Books, 2016.

Fleeing the invading Russian army near the end of the war, refugees try to escape aboard a military transport ship transporting German evacuees. Told from alternating points of view and based on the true story of the Wilhelm Gustloff, this award-winning 389-page emotion-laden novel is highly recommended for mature readers 13 years old and up. Includes a map. [Germany; Historical fiction; Poland; Refugees; Survival; WW 2; Young adult fiction] 

Picture 10

Sepetys, Ruta.  Between Shades of Gray. New York: Philomel Books, 2011.
“In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother, and brother are pulled from their Lithuanian home by Soviet guards and sent to Siberia, where her father is sentenced to death in a prison camp while she fights for her life, vowing to honor her family and the thousands like hers by burying her story in a jar on Lithuanian soil. Based on the author’s family, includes a historical note.” – CIP.  Due to the vivid description of some scenes, this novel, while highly recommended, is more suitable for mature readers in grade 8 and up. It may also be appreciated by readers of The Diary of Anne Frank and The Upstairs Room. [Historical fiction; Labor camps; Lithuania; Russia; Siberia; Survival; WW 2; Young adult fiction]  

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Dream Within a Dream

MacLachlan, Patricia. Dream Within a Dream. New York, Toronto: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2019.
Many of Patricia MacLachlan’s novels are about children in some way abandoned by their parents. In My Father’s World, a Fiona and Finn grieve the death of their father.  In Arthur, For the Very First Time, Arthur is sent to live with his aunt and uncle for the summer. In Dream Within a Dream, Louisiana and her younger brother Theo are left with their grandparents on a small island while their parents travel around the world studying birds. In each case, the characters learn to see life from different perspectives. They learn more about themselves and their own talents. And they become stronger and more courageous. This pattern could become tiresomely repetitious, but the vivid writing and unique characters make each novel a new delight. Happily recommended for readers 9 to 12 years old. 

What makes Patricia MacLachlan’s novels such a pleasure for so many students?  Lots of conversation. Heartwarming relationships. Courage in the face of adversity. Short sentences and paragraphs. Big print and wide margins. 

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The Good Thieves

Rundell, Katherine. The Good Thieves. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019.

After Vita’s grandfather is swindled out of his home, she and her mother sail to New York City to take him back to England. But once they arrive, Vita comes up with a new plan: to reclaim the family mansion. With the help of newfound friends – two circus performers and a reluctant pickpocket – she sets out to accomplish her mission. Katherine Rundell accomplishes her usual magic with this latest novel set in the 1920s. Mixing the sadly all-too-real and the impossibly-foolhardy-and-unrealistic, she once again tells a rollicking tale of adventure which will inspire readers 10 to 14 years of age. Highly recommended!

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Note to teachers: Katherine Rundell’s novels are so well-written that you might like to use one as a class novel. Characterization and setting are always vivid. Plots move quickly. There are numerous sentences that reveal complex themes. And the style of writing is so brilliant that it dances across the pages. 

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The Starlight Claim

Wynne-Jones. Tim. The Starlight Claim. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2019.

Sixteen-year-old Nate sets out during the March spring break to spend a few days alone at his family’s remote cabin on Ghost Lake. His parents think he’s off to prove his survival skills, but he’s really going to look for his friend Dodge who disappeared the previous November. A surprise awaits: two escaped inmates are hiding out in his family’s cabin and a snowstorm is imminent. Will Nate be able to survive the storm? Will he be hide from the criminals? And why is his estranged grandfather involved? This long-awaited sequel to The Maestro is recommended for readers 13 years old and up.

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Three Rancheros: a series by Kate DiCamillo

Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2019

The third in a trilogy about three friends, Beverly, Right Here tells the story of fourteen-year-old Beverly who runs away from home and gets a job in a neighbouring town.

Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2016

The first in the series was Raymie Nightingale, about a girl who misses her father, who hopes if only she can win a beauty contest, he will come home.

Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press, 2018

The second story was Louisiana’s Way Home in which the main character’s grandmother wakes her in the middle of the night to tell her they’re leaving town right now and never coming back.

Three elegantly written novels, set in Florida, with a consistent theme:
Life is not always the way it should be. Your parents may not have enough energy or interest to properly care for you. The people you depend on may not always be dependable. You probably will have to make important decisions all on your own. But there is hope. Someone will come along – even if only for a moment – to give you words of encouragement and wisdom. Life will never be the way you’d hoped it would be, but it will still be good. And remember: you are loved.

Highly recommended for readers 10 to 14 years old.

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How I Became a Spy

Hopkinson, Deborah. How I Became a Spy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019.
In World War 2 London, thirteen-year-old Bertie tries to solve a mystery: what has happened to the owner of a coded notebook? Eleanor, an American girl, and David, a Jewish refugee, join him and his dog Little Roo as they race to prevent a double agent from telling secrets to the Nazis. Told from the first-person point of view, this surprisingly cheerful story will appeal to readers 11 to 13 years of age.

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