Friday, April 27, 2012
The theme of “moving” comes up frequently in works of children’s literature, and rightly so—for many kids, moving translates to losing everything they know and love, starting over with seemingly nothing.
In No Small Victory, Bonnie’s family has been hit hard by the Great Depression, and they are forced to move quickly, without taking time to slowly say their goodbyes to the only home Bonnie has ever known. She’s the new kid in her one-room schoolhouse, unfamiliar with the strict male teacher, and faces many of the same challenges as adolescents today, but in a historical setting that distances the events from immediate reality while still modeling lessons and behavior.
The story also addresses issues of money and debt, particularly that of a family who struggles valiantly to pay down their bills. In today’s economy, these are problems with which many families struggle. Bonnie serves as a character to identify with for someone in a similar situation.
Despite being a bit of an underdog, Bonnie uses her smarts to become a heroine. It is Bonnie who creates the rhyme that saves her peers from bullies when they acquire lice, and it is Bonnie who wins the spelling bee to defeat the big older bully from the neighboring town!
A story of family, of friendship, and of wholesome triumph, No Small Victory is a book I recommend without reservations. With this story, Crook has won no small victory!
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Marjorie Cowley gives you little buildup before plunging immediately into the issue: A drought has come over Mesopotamia and Jomar and his sister Zefa must leave their farm and family to travel to Ur. Without food, the family has no choice but to send them away. Jomar’s father has arranged an apprenticeship for him with a goldsmith, but twelve year old Zefa must find other work—she’s not part of the arrangement.
Like many historical fiction novels for young readers, child characters are forced by dire circumstances into adult roles: Jomar, as the older sibling, bears the responsibility both to protect his sister and to find her work in the city. Zefa, however, proves herself a responsible young woman, saving them on multiple occasions with her compassion, bravery, and musical ability. The story truly belongs to Jomar, however, as he learns to care for his sister, to thank those who sacrifice for him, and to act with understanding and wisdom. Ultimately, it is the genuine self-sacrifice and honesty of both siblings that saves them from harm in the big city of Ur.
Cowley’s writing is filled with historical details about the social structure, city design, government, religion, and trade of ancient Mesopotamia, even describing the earliest application of the written word—as receipts! The author’s note at the end also includes historical information, describing the religion of Mesopotamia and the means by which scholars study this ancient society.
As a history teacher, I’m pleased to include this book in my collection of young adult historical fiction. Cowley’s work is engaging and historically accurate, a wonderful combination for budding (or not-so-budding) historians!
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
See Also: Rip Squeak and His Friends
The adventures of Rip Squeak continue when Euripides arrives in his newest costume: a pirate's hat, coat, belt, and leggings. Euripides has also brought a book about pirates, treasure, and even more treasure. The biggest surprise, though, is a treasure map they find in the book. Rip, Jesse, Abby, and Euripides set off on their new adventures to find the treasure, properly attired in pirate-wear. Abby is scared, but her friends guide her across logs and through thickets.
As the friends journey on, they begin to encounter animals with their own special kind of treasure. They come across ants who gleefully cart away the cookies Euripides gives them. They also meet Mother Duck and the three little ducklings that make up her treasure. This encounter prompts Rip to come to the realization that "a treasure can be something different for each of us." The final character they encounter is a dragonfly who recognizes the map and the spot that marks the treasure. He doesn't think, though, that it is much of a treasure. Nonetheless, the four friends press on. When they round the corner they find...a pirate ship! They climb aboard and raise the pirate flag Euripides has brought along. That's not enough, though, and Jesse fashions her own flag out of a scarf with a big red heart on it so that even though "we pretend we're real pirates, every one will know we're friendly." Once again, Rip has set out for adventure, but "with the greatest treasure of all--his friends!"
The themes of friendship, imagination, and adventure continue to feature prominently in Rip Squeak's journey. The encouragement and patience that Rip Squeak, Jesse, and Euripides show Abby is heartwarming and worth emulating. This is a beautiful second book of a series, and I look forward to the third.