Posts tagged ‘Historical Fiction’

Monster on the Hill

Will Eisner Week 2014Did you know it’s Will Eisner Week this week, from March 1st through March 7th? Neither did I until I stumbled upon the announcement of the celebration in January. Will Eisner Week “is an annual celebration honoring the legacy of Will Eisner and promoting sequential art, graphic novel literacy, and free speech.” Looking for more information? Visit the website. In honor of Will Eisner Week, I’m going to take this opportunity to review graphic novels, which I’ll readily admit I don’t read enough of. My third featured book will be last year’s Monster on the Hill, by Rob Harrell.

Monster on the Hill

 

 

Title: Monster on the Hill
Author/Illustrator: Rob Harrell
ISBN: 9781603090759
Pages: 185 pages
Publisher/Date: Top Shelf Productions, c2013.

“That reminds me. Who do you ‘ave watchin’ over your town while you’re here? One of the retired guys? Jimmy the Gomper?”
“Umm…”
“YOU LEFT YOUR TOWN UNMONSTERED?? ARE YOU CRAZY? The Murk senses these things, Rayburn!! He could be on his way there now! What, did you sleep through town guarding 101?”
“Actually, yes. It was dreadfully dull.”
“He Guys. Check out this rock I found! It looks just like Town Father Stevenso… What’s the matter?”
“We may have a problem.” (70-71)

Rayburn is a horrible monster, who really doesn’t venture into the neighboring 1860s English town and certainly doesn’t ravage it like he is supposed to in order to promote tourism. So a disgraced doctor and a loudmouth newsboy embarks on a journey to give him the confidence he needs. Their journey takes them away from town to visit an old friend. But while Rayburn’s gone, the town might have a real monster to worry about. It’s a race to see who gets back to town first, Rayburn who can protect the townspeople or the Murk who wants to terrorize them.

Rob Harrell’s oversized drawings really pack a punch with this story that plays on just about every genre’s stereotypes. I envision Timothy the town crier/urchin/newsboy as a distant ancestor to Loud Kiddington from the 1990s TV show Histeria!, repeatedly shouting in a cockney English that just begs the word “governor” to pass his lips (and it actually does). The distracted and disgraced doctor Charles Wilkie speaks in a prim and proper manner that brings to mind Giles from Buffy, with his stoic face accentuated by his glasses and white hair covering his head, chin, and eyebrows. When Rayburn fights a venus fly trap like plant, your guess is fulfilled when he promptly gets his head stuck in its jaws and is shaken like a rag doll, being flung up and down, at one point doing the splits across its gaping mouth before emerging triumphant and doing a victory dance mimicking an end zone dance at the Superbowl.

The energetic text is filled with exclamation points, which seem to appear on almost every page. Sound effects are thrust into the pictures comic book style, and I’m sure words like “Ka-THOOMP!” and “YEEAAUGH!” would just improve a read-aloud experience in some story-tellers capable hands. My one quibble with the story is the whole premise of cities reaching out to a monster to continually rampage a village doesn’t strike me as a smart PR move. The monsters are treated like athletes, with trading cards and toys made in their likeness. Maybe it is similar to disaster tours of volcanoes and mob scenes, or maybe it’s like the Godzilla movies where as long as it’s another city, it’s fun to cheer on the monster? All I know is that readers who enjoy those types of things will welcome this over the top addition to graphic novel collections. One idea for a curriculum connection would be to have children design a monster for their own town.

Crow

CrowTitle: Crow
Author: Barbara Wright
Narrator: J. D. Jackson
ISBN: 9780804123952 (hardcover: 9780375969287)
Discs/CDs: 7 hours, 25 minutes, 6 CDs
Pages: 297 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, c2012. (audio: Listening Library, an imprint of Random House Audio Publishing Group, c2013.)

I crept along the stone wall and slipped down into one of the basement window wells. From there, no one could see me, but I had a clear view of the man standing at the top of the steps between two massive columns. He was thin and had shaggy eyebrows and a full silver beard that glinted in the sun. I recognized him but couldn’t remember his name. [...] Today he wore a suit and tie and looked like a refined gentleman, but when he spoke, he looked crazier than Crazy Drake. Spit spewed from his mouth and his face turned red as he shouted, “You are Anglo-Saxons! You are armed and prepared, and you will do your duty. Be ready at a moment’s notice. If you find the Negro out voting, tell him to leave the polls, and if he refuses, kill him, shoot him down in his tracks. We shall win this election, even if we have to do it with guns.” (183-184)

It’s 1898 and has been years since the slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Moses’s father is a respected alderman and reporter in their Wilmington, North Carolina community, and after saving for a year they were able to buy Moses’s mother an organ. But grandmother Boo Nanny is fearful of the changes in the air and the crows circling house, sure that it’s a sign of bad times to come. White folks in the neighboring towns are getting restless and resentful of African Americans succeeding. Red Shirts can be seen throughout the neighborhoods, claiming to be protecting and policing but really working towards taking over the government and intimidating others. Moses’s father won’t tolerate such abuses, but will Moses and his family end up paying for his father’s beliefs? What will happen in a town where simply standing up for what is right is seen as wrong?

The book was a slow start, and J.D. Jackson’s slow drawl, while possibly accurate to the setting and time period, did not improve upon the pace of the book. Short vignettes made up the first part, and you didn’t have anything to pull you along except the superstitions of Boo Nanny until almost half way through the book. Then conflict erupts in a big way, and Moses’s city changes drastically. It’s almost unbelievable the speed of which events and emotions escalate, and maybe that’s intentional as a sleepy story becomes a pressure cooker of confrontations and readers are faced with the improbability of events that are based on actual history. As Barbara Wright reveals in her historical note, “In the twentieth century, the story of what happened in 1898 was largely forgotten by the white community and barely mentioned in history books. That changed when the North Carolina General Assembly created the Wilmington Race Riot Commission to look into the incident. The commission’s 2006 report, which includes photographs, maps, and charts, can be found at http://www.history.ncdcr.gov/1898-wrrc.”; (296) This presentation gives a whole new perspective of racial tensions, and it reminded me of my reaction to the American Girl series featuring Marie-Grace and Cecile, when I learned of pre-Civil War affluent African Americans.

While it probably deserves a place in African American and Black History Month bibliographies, I keep coming back to the almost laborious pacing. Give this book to patient readers, and reassure them that action happens if only they stick with it.

The Lions of Little Rock

Lions of Little RockTitle: The Lions of Little Rock
Author: Kristin Levine
Narrator: Julia Whelan
ISBN: 9780399256448 (hardcover), 9780307968807 (audiobook)
Pages: 298 pages
Discs/CDs: 7 CDs, 8 hours and 23 minutes
Publisher/Date: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, an Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2012. (audiobook by Listening Library, an imprint of Random House Audio Publishing Group)
Publication Date: January 5, 2012

“So what did Miss Taylor say to you?” JT asked.
I shook my head.
“She said Liz isn’t coming back to West Side,” reported Nora, peering over the top of her glasses. “I was standing by the door and heard her. She said Liz is real sick. But I don’t think that’s true, because Liz was in school last Friday and she was fine.”
JT thought for a moment. “My cousin got the stomach flu last week. That can come on real sudden.”
“Yes, but that only lasts a few days,” said Nora.
“Liz isn’t coming back because she’s a Negro,” said Sally.
We all turned to look at her. (62)

Before meeting Liz, twelve-year-old Marlee didn’t have a lot of friends because she didn’t talk to anyone except for her family or her old friend Sally. But her family starts talking less and less as tensions are running high in Marlee’s household, with her parents on different sides of the debate regarding integrating the Little Rock schools. Liz reminded her so much of her older sister that she just felt comfortable talking to her, and Liz started encouraging her to speak up more at school. Then Liz vanishes from school, and the rumor mill is swirling that Liz was actually a light-skinned African-American, sneaking into school and passing for a white girl in order to get a better education. With tempers flaring in this city and acts of violence threatening, Marlee realizes she must pick a side and speak up if she’s going to prevent disaster from striking her or Liz.

This book reads like a younger version of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. It brings the issue of integration and segregation to a level that kids understand, and sheds light on a period of time that even Levine recognizes in her author’s note is not talked about. “When I was in elementary school, my own education about the civil rights era was sketchy at best, but even I learned about the Little Rock Nine. [...] On the other hand, I had never heard of schools being closed to prevent integration, even though I later learned it had happened in my very own state of Virginia as well.” (292-293) I’ve mentioned several times that I enjoy “based-on-a-true story” type books, which I think is why I enjoy historical fiction so much when it’s set around little known events. It’s a fun way for me to learn about history and serves as a launching point to discover more, and I think other readers would agree.

Lions of Little Rock paperbackLevine stays true to the era with language, which I appreciate when an author doesn’t cheapen the story by not using culturally significant words, like “Negro” and the not so nice term for African-Americans. I realize my not using it might look contradictory to some readers, but I don’t need to use the word to lend historical accuracy to a story, which is how Levine uses it. I absolutely love the front of the hardcover, featuring the black and white birds, both of which play a role in the story. While I know there’s lots of talk out there about white-washing covers and not portraying actual photographs of minorities on covers, I think the cover implies the tone of the story that can be found on its pages. The paperback version does have a photograph looking cover (I haven’t seen it in person, and it’s hard to tell by this graphic), but I think it makes the book look intended for younger audiences, which I don’t think would be right. Marlee is a seventh grader in the story, and things do get somewhat violent towards the end, so I would whole heartedly recommend it for middle schoolers but would probably hesitate to go younger. However, I do know some people who would argue that there was no audience filter on the events as they were happening, so why should we filter what they read since they would have experienced it first hand if they had been there. Obviously it’s your call as to who you recommend this book.

All the characters in the book are multi-faceted and very accurately portrayed. The time they are growing up in and the issues they are facing are not simple, and it’s refreshing to see so many characters realistically grappling with their lives. Marlee’s evolution is slow but steady, and we see enough glimpses of her during the school year to witness her thought-process and how major events influence her decision-making. Liz is bold and intelligent, and it’s no wonder that Marlee is pulled towards this new girl packing so much personality and self-assurance. Although told time and again that it would be dangerous to remain friends, just like typical teens they don’t recognize that danger and refuse to heed warnings until it’s almost too late. I want to also recognize the parents of both girls in this novel who work jobs and are out of the house but are far from absent or removed from the situation. Their thoughts and feelings grow, evolve, and change as the situation changes and the school closings continue to stretch on indefinitely with no answer in sight. They discipline their daughters but also support them, worry over their safety, and try their best to be involved and encourage what’s best in their children’s lives.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Julie Whelan’s narration, which is spot-on. It probably helps that the book is told from Marlee’s perspective, which limits the rare male voices to a meager half-dozen at most. Readers get swept away by the story and don’t notice the time passing until you have to change discs. I waited a long time to read this, but you shouldn’t. Put this on every recommended book list you can, whether it is a list of historical fiction, African-American fiction, amazing audiobooks or simply friendship or school stories. It’s a heartfelt, memorable, and eye-opening account of friendship in tough circumstances during a period of time that strongly affected the people who lived through it. The story will stay with you for some time after you’re done reading it, making it a strong contender for reading group discussion.

Liesl and Po

Liesl and PoTitle: Liesl and Po
Author: Lauren Oliver
Illustrator: Kei Acedera
Narrator: Jim Dale
ISBN: 9780449015025 (audiobook), 9780062014511 (hardcover)
Pages: 307 pages
Discs/CDs:  5 CDs, 5 hours and 55 minutes
Publisher/Date: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2011.

“I must take his ashes to the willow tree,” Liesl whispered suddenly, with certainty. “I must bury my father next to my mother. Then his soul will move Beyond.” She looked directly at the place where Po’s eyes should have been, if Po were not a ghost, and again Po felt the very core of its Essence shiver in response.
“And you must help me,” Liesl finished.
Po was unprepared for this. “Me?” it said unhappily. “Why me?” (92)

When a ghost appears in Liesl’s attic prison, Liesl asks for help in sending a message to her recently deceased father. The message Po brings back is anything but cheery, as Liesl father insists that he must go home to the willow tree, and that Liesl should be the one to take him there. Liesl steals the container of ashes from the mantle and rushes off to her old house, leaving her wicked stepmother behind. Little does Liesl know that the box she carries does not contain her father’s ashes, but a powerful magic that accidentally got delivered to the wrong address. Soon joined by the “useless” delivery boy called William who is fleeing his angry alchemist master, the three of them are thrust into events that they don’t quite understand, but nevertheless are intent on preventing in their efforts to improve their lives (or in Po’s case it’s death) for the better.

I thought I’d get behind this newest book about a girl and her ghost by Lauren Oliver. It’s narrated by Jim Dale for heaven’s sake, the one who did all those cool voices for The Emerald Atlas and Peter and the Starcatchers not to mention Harry Potter. But for the first time, I wasn’t feeling it with Dale. His attempts at the female voices fell flat to my ears, which I did not anticipate at all, and I didn’t pick up the suspense or excitement that I think this reading could have had.

But maybe he was tempering his voice to match the gray and bleak environment of the story’s setting. Maybe it was the material, because the story itself fell flat for me. Maybe I’m just not cut out for Lauren Oliver. For plenty of other people the story has really resonated with them. After reading the author’s note in the back, I truly wanted the book to resonate with me too. Oliver reveals that she wrote this story “during a concentrated two-month period.”

At the time, I was dealing with the sudden death of my best friend. The lasting impact of this loss reverberated through the months, and it made my world gray and murky, much like the world Liesl inhabits at the start of the story. [...] And so my fantasies were transformed into the figure of a little girl who embarks on a journey not just to restore the ashes of a loved one to a peaceful place but to restore color and life to a world that has turned dim and gray.” (309-310)

If she had succeeded in doing this, I would have claimed her attempt a success, and that synopsis of the book makes it sound wonderful, but I didn’t really pick-up on that meaning and depth upon listening to the book. But upon reading the author’s note, I feel like I should have gotten A Monster Calls and instead got Casper.

It’s also meant to be a story of coincidences and mix-ups, but it just seemed like Oliver threw a whole bunch of bumbling characters together and loosely tied their stories to each other in a comedy of errors. Yes, mix-ups and coincidences are sometimes the basis for every story, but do there have to be so many of them in one story? For instance, if Liesl’s step-mother was such an evil woman, why did she bother locking Liesl up in the attic in the first place, an attic window that Will noticed but no one else? The Lady Premiere, the evil lady who ordered up this powerful magic in the first place, feels like a minor general “bad character” with almost no motivation for her actions presented to readers. Why in the world would so many people who have no connection to the events at hand continue to chase after the children? It reminded me towards the end of those old-fashioned black and white movies where the whole town is chasing a dog for no other reason than the dog stole and by this point has eaten a sausage.

Kei Acedera’s black and white drawings are appropriately dark and murky, and I thought Po was very well rendered considering the description of a non-gendered, cookie-cutter child-shaped ghost. In fact, all of the characters were instantly recognizable, and while the facial expressions seemed relatively uniform, the postures told the emotions of the characters very well. For fans of Casper, this mad-cap tale of a ghost and it’s girl will find readers, but while it was an interesting story, it just didn’t do it for me.

2 the Point Tuesday — The Seven Tales of Trinket

Each month where I work, the librarians write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be adding my contribution to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Title: The Seven Tales of Trinket
Author: Shelley Moore Thomas
Illustrator: Dan Craig
ISBN: 9780374367459
Pages: 369 pages
Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux, c2012.

“What are you going to do with it?” Thomas asked.
“What do you think?” My fingers trailed yet another direction, over the mountains to the forest.
He looked at me with eyes that widened as he understood my purpose.
“You are not going to follow it!” He spit when he yelled, which made it a good thing that Thomas the Pig Boy yelled very little.
“I am.”
“You are only eleven.”
“Almost twelve. A year older than you.”
“What will you do out there?” Thomas asked, flicking the map with his hand.
“Why, find my father, of course.”
And I will leave this place, and all the pain, behind.
But I did not say this aloud.
Thomas thought for a moment.
“If you go, can I come?” (13-14)

After the death of her mother, strong-willed Trinket heads out to find her father, a wandering bard who never made it back home after his last trip. Accompanied by Thomas, the Pig Boy, and an old map, they are called upon to save a Gypsy seer, rescue a baby stolen by selkies, banish a banshee, trick a fairy and escape a deadly highwayman. Realizing that she could follow her father’s footsteps in more ways than one, she starts practicing to become a bard. The story she really wants to find an ending for though is her own, but no one seems to know where her father went. A story about bards and telling stories based on Celtic folklore begs to be read-aloud. Trinket does not walk an easy road and must make some hard decisions about the true meaning of friendship. Fans of the movie Brave will not be disappointed.

Picture book and early reader author Shelley Moore Thomas shows her experience and talent as a professional storyteller in her first middle-grade novel.

May B.

Title: May B.
Author: Caroline Starr Rose
ISBN: 9781582464121
Pages: 231 pages
Publisher/Date: Schwartz & Wade Books, c2012.

On the fourth day,
I stand at the stove
and, with my finger on the calendar,
trace the days of August.

I’ve known it since last night:
it’s been too long to expect them
to return.

Something’s happened.

My legs fold under me
as I try
to catch
my breath
between sobs.(71)

Twelve-year-old May B. has been pulled from school by her parents and rented out to a new Kansas couple to help them keep their house and get established because the family crop has failed. “We’ll get you home by Christmas” her mother and father keep telling her, as they drop her off at the farmstead and leave her there. But newly married Mrs. Oblinger is from the city and not happy with her new life. When she takes off and her husband quickly takes chase, four days pass before May B. is willing to admit to herself that something’s happened and they’re not coming back. All alone, with winter quickly approaching, she’s frozen with fear and worried about the weather. Should she attempt to walk the miles of uninhabited land to find her parents’ homestead, or should she wait it out, with little food and wood, until her father comes to rescue her four months from now?

This is Little House on the Prairie meets Hatchet, which is confirmed when the author admits in her author’s note that she “fell in love” with the Little House books when she was a child. I was most impressed with how author Caroline Starr Rose maintains the tension surrounding May’s predicament. Short, staccato phrases make for poetry that echoes the nervousness, frustration, and at times depression May must feel.

Her feelings aren’t alleviated any when her only source of comfort is the reader that she smuggled into her pack when she first came to the Oblingers’ property. While she loves school and dreams of being a teacher, it’s quickly apparent that she suffers from dyslexia and struggles with making sense of written words that she can’t read even when she knows what they say. This was a new spin on an old concept, because we always think of learning disabilities as a recent development, but it’s entirely possible that people have gone undiagnosed for years.

I was slightly disappointed when May didn’t do more to ensure her survival. She obviously has knowledge of how prairie life works, since she makes bread and talks about the plantings. But we don’t see many of her efforts in the beginning, and we hear of her boredom more often than not. The fitful presentation mimics what May must be feeling as she quickly loses track of the days and weeks and only has the weather to rely on. At one point she even says “Time was made / for others, / not for someone / all alone.” (135) It makes readers stop and think about what little the days and weeks matter when there is no difference between them. But the day-to-day survival techniques and chores are the one area where I wish there had been more details.

A strong, relatable character allows readers a glimpse of a girl’s survival story in harsh conditions that we have very little experience with today.

Changes for Caroline

Title: Changes for Caroline
Author: Kathleen Ernst
Illustrators: Robert and Lisa Papp
ISBN: 9781593698928
Pages: 84 pages
Publisher/Date: American Girl Publishing, c2012
Publication Date: September 4, 2012

The success of our new farm depends on making a good start this summer. We must have a good harvest if we are to have any hope of surviving next winter. Therefore, I ask that you send Caroline to us right away. We will likely need her for some time to come.
Caroline gasped. She was to go to the farm? Right away? Without knowing when she might return? A band seemed to go tight around her chest. (10)

Things seem to finally getting back to normal, or as normal as they can get with a war threatening to disturb their lives at any moment. Then Caroline and her family receive word that her Uncle Aaron and cousin Lydia desperately need help starting their new farm… and they want Caroline to come and help! Within an hour, Caroline is packed and leaving her family behind to take the ride into the country. Farming is not easy, as they must plow the fields, tend the meager crops, milk the cows, and an assortment of other chores that take them from sun up to sun down. Life is made even more difficult when a thief starts running off with their hard-earned food. When Caroline is left on the farm by herself for the day and she hears noises, she must act quickly to save the food and supplies.

This is my favorite book of the Caroline series, probably because I’m willing to overlook the abrupt ending. It shows every day farm life during this time period. Yes, the war is still going on, but Uncle Aaron and his family are more concerned with getting crops in the ground, milk out of the cows, and food on their table then who is fighting who. Ernst includes little details about farm life, like if cows eat onions their milk tastes and smells funny for a couple of days. We see just how much hard work there is in keeping a farm in running order, and readers witness the camaraderie between farmers as they help each other with their chores. It reminded me of the Little House series, only much shorter and less descriptive. Although the war is still being fought at the end of this book, Caroline’s story ends peacefully and jubilantly as the whole country celebrates Independence Day in ways very similar to what we do today, with speeches, picnics, gun salutes, and music.

Caroline’s Battle

Title: Caroline’s Battle
Author: Kathleen Ernst
Illustrators: Robert and Lisa Papp
ISBN: 9781593698904
Pages: 90 pages
Publisher/Date: American Girl Publishing, c2012
Publication Date: September 4, 2012

“A few dozen British men and some of their Indian allies rowed ashore several miles west of here,” the officer said. “As soon as the wind picks up, though, the British fleet will surely head for Sackets Harbor and try to land a huge force near the village.” [...]
The officer waved his hand toward the shipyard. “I need these men to help defend Navy Point.”
Caroline caught her breath. She saw the men exchanging worried glances and heard them muttering in protest. “We’re needed here, to guard the gun boat!” one of the carpenters shouted.
“With so many of the American troops away, our position is desperate,” the officer snapped. “We need every man to fight.”
“But–but sir,” Caroline stammered, “who will defend our shipyard?” (28-29)

When the British decide to attack the town of Sackets Harbor while the majority of the military is away, every man is called into action to defend against the landing party. This leaves Caroline and her mother to guard the gunboat being constructed in the family operated shipyard. The British cannot be allowed to gain access to the almost completed gunboat, much less the building plans or the navy instructions housed in the office, and Caroline and her mother are ordered to burn the ship if the fighting goes bad. But with signal fires flaring and the sound of gunfire approaching, will Caroline follow orders or her heart when she’s called to action?

One point in the story that really struck me is when Caroline asks her mother “How do you know when it’s right to do what you’re told, and when to decide for yourself?” (44) Her mother doesn’t really answer except to say “It is sometimes very difficult. I try to use both my mind and my heart.” I feel though that this is one of the important things that girls discover or figure out as they are growing up is that sometimes you have to make your own decisions and you’ll have to figure out when that time has arrived.

Another aspect of the story that I enjoyed was knowing that the events in the book are based on actual events. We learn in the Looking Back section that Sackets Harbor was actually attacked just as described in the story and the outcome was exactly what happens to Caroline and her family. Staying that true to history encourages kids to investigate more and makes everything more believable. I was quite surprised about how close she gets to the fighting again, and I think readers will really bear witness to what it was like during that time.

I feel like the cover could have been done differently, since there are very few details for the background. Understandably the lack of details places the emphasis on Caroline and her torch and it’s effective in raising questions about what she is doing and who she is battling. That cover is just very different from the typical American Girl cover, and there is a stark contrast when compared with the others in the series. The plot however is more of the same intriguing and engaging story line that readers have come to expect.

Caroline Takes a Chance

Title: Caroline Takes a Chance
Author: Kathleen Ernst
Illustrators: Robert and Lisa Papp
ISBN: 9781593698881
Pages: 91 pages
Publisher/Date: American Girl Publishing, c2012
Publication Date: September 4, 2012

Caroline’s heart dropped as she followed his gaze. A sloop had just appeared, and she could see a British flag flying from its tallest mast.
“It’s an enemy ship,” she whispered.
Rhonda’s eyes were wide. “It’s making straight for us!”
“It’s not making straight for us,” Seth said grimly. “It’s making straight for the bateau.”
Her heart racing, Caroline eyed the sloop. Seth was right. Although the British sloop was zigzagging to make use of the wind, its captain was clearly heading toward the American supply boat. (21-22)

Caroline and her friends Seth and Rhonda go out to catch some fish, and spot the missing supply boat fleeing from a British ship. During the ensuing chase, Seth decides that he can’t stay out of the war and admits his desire to join the navy. His obligations as post walker prevent him from immediately enlisting, until Caroline volunteers to assume his duty. His route takes her close to an old fishing spot she used to visit with her father, and it’s there she finds more than just memories of happier times.

This book reads like two connected short stories, and it got me thinking that while that’s how most of the American Girl book series play out, with a overarcing problem tying all the books about one girl together, this one just seemed more bisected than most. Again, we see Caroline getting personally involved in the war effort, although with the next book being titled Caroline’s Battle I can imagine that this won’t be the last time. It’s in this book that I think Caroline’s resourcefulness is most apparent, and it makes it obvious how much everyone needed to rely on each other and nature during their times of need. What would the world be like today if we could depend on one another the way Seth depends on Caroline to finish his route? Not my favorite in the series because it seemed predictable in nature, but overall still a fun fast read.

A Surprise for Caroline

Title: A Surprise for Caroline
Author: Kathleen Ernst
Illustrator: Robert and Lisa Papp
ISBN: 9781593698867
Pages: 85 pages
Publisher/Date: American Girl Publishing, c2012.
Publication Date: Sept. 4, 2012

Didn’t the older girls understand? “That means we can go out on the lake,” Caroline said.
“Why would we want to do that?” Rhonda asked.
“We can go skating!” Caroline explained happily.
“What do you think, Rhonda?” Lydia asked. “Shall we go skating?”
Caroline’s smile slipped away. In the old days, the promise of sunshine and good ice would have made Lydia race Caroline out the front door.
“Not today, I don’t think,” Rhonda said. “I like fixing hair. I don’t want to go outside in this cold anyway.” [...]
“We’ll do yours too, if you want.”
Caroline’s shoulders slumped. How could Lydia and Rhonda think that arranging hair was more fun than skating? “No, thank you,” she said. With a sigh, she left the older girls alone and headed back downstairs. (12-13)

Caroline thought that having Lydia and Rhonda staying in her house would be great fun, with constant friends and playmates. But when Rhonda refuses to go skating and Lydia follows her lead, Caroline is left out in the cold. She’s tired of being frozen out by the two of them and being treated like a child when there is only two-year difference in their ages. But sometimes friends have your back when you most desperately need it, when Caroline finds herself on thin ice and turns to them for help.

This book in the new American Girl series focuses on the home front more than the war front, which I’ve always thought made the stories more realistic. While some girls might get up close and personal with the war like Caroline does in earlier (and later) books in the series, most were probably more removed from it. To witness life where the kids play in the snow and ice skate and celebrate Christmas, those stories always seem more real to me, even if they are slightly less “exciting”. We see Caroline struggling again with friendships as her impulsive (and some might say stubborn) nature gets the better of her because she’s so focused on doing what she wants to do when she wants to do it. As always, good lessons for readers are cleverly disguised in an interesting and engaging plot driven tale.

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