A Secret Shared

MacLachlan, Patricia. A Secret Shared. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2021.
Thanks to the wonders of DNA testing, Norah and Ben stumble upon a secret. Their younger sister, Birdy, is adopted. Should they tell their parents what they’ve discovered? Should they tell Birdy? This 145-page present-tense novel, printed in a relatively large font with widely spaced lines and short paragraphs, is a wonderful story for readers 8 to 12 years old. As with all Patricia MacLachlan stories, the language flows gracefully and the ideas linger in the mind long after the book is closed. Highly recommended, of course.

More novels for younger readers

A Place to Belong

Kadohata, Cynthia. A Place to Belong. New York: Atheneum, 2019.
Twelve-year-old Hanako, her younger brother, and her parents have been incarcerated in internment camps ever since the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942. Although the war is now over, her family is still not wanted in America, so her parents give up their American citizenship and move to Japan. Her grandparents are overjoyed to see them, but Hanako doesn’t feel at home. She is too American to blend into Japanese life. And the poverty is overwhelming.
This 399-page novel is an outstanding addition to the historical fiction genre. The facts of post-war Japanese life are smoothly embedded in an emotionally powerful story – with an unerring sense of voice – highly recommended for competent readers 11 years old and up.

P.S. This is a superb novel for a small group study. Numerous thought-provoking sentences will promote connections between the story and readers’ own lives…

“‘When I walked away last time…I never looked back….I was scared it would make me change my mind'” (90).

“‘…you must forgive….I see and hear many bad in world, many bad….but there is also many good. So we move forward in life, neh? When we can, we move forward'” (105).

“This was the thing about being spoiled: you had to rise above it” (136).

“There was not enough; this was a fact. The world was filled with facts that could not be changed. She had learned this during their camp days. There were many, many, many facts” (158).

“‘Maybe same thing make you sad, make Japanese children happy'” (189).

“‘You did the right thing….You may cry. But don’t forget that you did the right thing'” (204).

More stories set in Japan

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Last of the Name

Parry, Rosanne. Last of the Name. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2019.
After surviving a horrific voyage, twelve-year-old Danny and his older sister Kathleen arrive in New York City. But the prejudice against Irish Catholics is as bad in America as it was in Ireland. Determined to stay together, the siblings find work as house maids. But they can only stay as long as Danny can keep pretending to be a girl.  This novel – set in 1863 and based on historical facts – is highly recommended for competent readers 11 years old and up.

More stories set in New York City

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More novels by Roseanne Parry:
A Wolf Called Wander
Written in Stone

Pesky Siblings

Today is a sad and gloomy day. It’s raining outside and I can’t play basketball. But today is a great day to spend an hour reading my novel: Hideout by Gordan Korman. Before I start reading, though, I’ll finish my schoolwork. 
When I am done reading, I will play a new game with my sister because she talks all day long without stopping. For the game, we’ll sit on my bed and I’ll tell her, “Whoever stays silent the longest wins.”  Then, I’ll turn off the light and not talk to her. We’ll see what happens! I bet I’ll win! 
Later, I’ll go down to the garage and dribble my basketball for half an hour or so. This is the most rainy it has been for the past two weeks.
P.S. I played the silent game with my sister. She lasted for 20 minutes. I won! – Manshan in grade 6

 

The Secrets of Blueberries…

Nickerson, Sara. The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose & Me. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2015.
Twelve-year-old Missy and her older brother Patrick convince their parents to let them get a job picking blueberries. But Missy acquires much more than money during the summer. She learns how people change. How life doesn’t stay the same. And sometimes there is no one to blame. Sometimes things just happen.
This 323-page novel with a relatively large font and well-spaced lines of print is easy to read. It flows smoothly with lots of conversation and short paragraphs.
Some novels written from the first person point of view seem too self-centred. This story, though, suits this approach. The difficulties of adolescence, the frustrations of life, the slow change of perspective on life are all empathetically portrayed in this introspective story recommended for readers 11 to 14 years old.

More stories of summer

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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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

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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.