My Brother’s Secret

Smith, Dan. My Brother’s Secret. New York: Chicken House, 2015.

Set in 1941 Germany, this story depicts the changes that happen when twelve-year-old Karl realizes that life is not so simple. After his father is killed on the Eastern Front and his family goes to live with his grandparents, he starts to see life differently. Is Hitler really a hero? Are the Nazis noble soldiers? Is his older brother Stefan’s decision to join an underground movement courageous? Does he himself have the courage to stand up against everything he has been taught at school? This novel by an award-winning British writer is recommended for readers 12 years old and up.

P.S. Every novel published by Chicken House is worth checking out. Every story is well-written and memorable for its hope in the face of hardships. 

More about Dan Smith and his stories

More stories about World War 2

Emil and Karl

Glatshteyn, Yankev. Emil and Karl. New Milford, Conn.: Roaring Brook Press, 2006.
Left alone after three men drag his mother away and threaten to return for him, nine-year old Karl runs to the home of his friend Emil. But he finds no safety. Emil’s mother is not well and is taken away, leaving both boys alone.  Aryan Karl and Jewish Emil struggle to survive in the dangerous world of Nazi-occupied Vienna, Austria. 
Many novels have been written about the Holocaust. But this one is unusual in that it was first published in 1940, before the United States even entered the war. Written in Yiddish and translated into English by Jeffrey Shandler, it is highly recommended for all readers 10 years old and up.

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Novels of survival in extreme physical environments

A Fine Dessert

Jenkins, Emily. A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015.

A sweet story about one of the oldest desserts in Western culture: a fruit fool made of berries, sugar, and whipped cream. The first dessert is made of wild blackberries in 16th century England, the second in 18th century South Carolina, the third in 19th century Massachusetts, and the last in modern California. A recipe, a bibliography and historical information on both the story and the illustrations are included at the end. An excellent introduction to learning how cultures reflect their times and change over time. Recommended for readers – and their teachers – 7 years old and up.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.