Maruno, Jennifer. Cherry Blossom Winter
25 September 2012, Dundurn
ARC from Netgalley.com
Michiko's family is struggling during World War II. Since the family was forced to leave Vancouver with the Japanese relocation, they have tried to make a new life, but it is difficult. Her mother does sewing occasionally, her father works in a drugstore, and there has been a school set up for the children. Although they are lacking electricity and books, they have the famous baseball player Kaz Katsumoto as a teacher, and he tries to rally the students together as a team. Many of the non Japanese neighbors are sympathetic and try to help them, including Mrs. Morrison, who is kindly even after her husband is missing in action. Things get progressively worse-- Michiko's grandfather passes away, her mother is pregnant, and her aunt Sadie hopes to get married, which means that if the family has to go back to Japan, she won't come with them. Michiko finds a situation on a farm for the family, and the birth of her sister Hana gives the family new hope.
Strengths: The Japanese relocation is a topic that has only gotten coverage in recent years, so it is interesting to read more on it. There is a first book in the series that I missed, When the Cherry Blossoms Fell.
Weaknesses: This is very similar to the books I have read about this historical period.
Gleitzman, Morris. Now.
5 June 2012, Henry Holt
This sequel to Once and Now takes place in 2009. Fritz, now aged 80, has retired from an illustrious career as a surgeon and is watching his granddaughter Zelda at his Australian home while her parents are off working for Doctors Without Borders. She is having trouble fitting in at school, and is being bullied. She loves her grandfather and tries to make his life better, but her impetuosity gets the better of her. She knows most of the story of Zelda and hopes to be brave like she was, but doesn't feel up to it most of the time. When a horrible fire strikes her area (a fire which she is afraid she caused), Fritz and Zelda must work together to survive, just as Fritz had to work with Zelda's namesake.
Strengths: There are not a lot of books set in Australia, and certainly not many that deal with the problems of wildfires. Zelda's relationship with her grandfather is charming, and it is a nice ending to the series to see that Fritz spent many happy years after his horrible experience during the war.
Weaknesses: While this is an interesting conclusion to the series, this would not be useful to students who need to read a book about the Holocaust.
Myra from Gathering Books asked on Monday what separates young adult from middle grade. I'm sure that there have been entire PhD theses written on this topic, but there are a couple of ways I can tell quickly. The first is PRINT. YA books seem to be written in the tiniest print imaginable, and this is often a deal breaker for middle grade students. The age of the protagonist doesn't necessarily matter, but the tone of the book does. Deeply introspective and slow moving? YA. More action oriented with less navel-gazing? MG. Topic can matter, but it depends on the treatment. Are there a lot of cuss words, graphic descriptions of sexual activity, and then a lot of talking about the problem? YA. Circumspect descriptions, and more attention paid to what is done to alleviate the problem? MG. Middle Grade also tends to focus on characters establishing a personal identity, while YA is more concerned with the place in the world that the character is establishing. YA does seem to be a bit darker, both is topic and in the covers.
Don't know if this helps or further muddies the pond!