Hill, Kirkpatrick. Bo at Ballard Creek
June 18th 2013, Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Nominated for the Cybils by Katie Fitzgerald
1920s Alaska, Bo has been abandoned by her mother and has come into the
care of Arvid, a blacksmith, and Jack, a cook for a mining company. The two burly men make a home for Bo with the help of the other people in the community. Bo's best friend, Oscar, is Eskimo, and Bo likes spending time with his mother and sister as well. She enjoys the retired "fancy ladies" Lilly and Yovela, even though they are much too fond of trying to curl her hair and dress her up. Most of the chapters are just descriptions of the seasonal activity that occurs in the small town throughout the year. When a small boy who does not speak shows up, Bo is taken by him, and after an aunt is located but doesn't want the boy, Grafton is also adopted by the kindly Arvid and Jack. Sadly, the shutting down of the Ballard Creek mining company means that the family has to move away, but they carry fond memories of their community with them.
Strengths: This reminded me of the All-of-a-Kind Family books, most likely because it was rich with detail about everyday life in a setting with which I wasn't familiar. I loved how Bo, at age five, was in charge of making the biscuits. There is clearly a lot of research into the way of life at the time. The characters are delightful, and the LeUyen Pham illustrations are superb and add considerably to the story.
Weaknesses: A bit slow paced, and most likely a hard sell to students older than sixth grade. When my third grade class spent the entire year studying Alaskan history in 1973, though, this would have been an awesome read aloud.
Parry, Roseanne. Written in Stone
June 25th 2013, Random House Books for Young Readers
Nominated for the Cybils by JoneMac
Again in the 1920s, but this time on the northern Pacific coast, Pearl's father has been killed in a whale hunting expedition. Her Native American family refuses to send her off to a trade school, so she is able to stay with her family, although she wishes she had known her mother (who died when she was young) and had learned the traditional weaving of her mother's tribe. Things are financially hard for everyone in the area because of the lack of whaling opportunities, so people are having to take nontraditional jobs, like Pearl's Aunt Susie, who runs the post office and scandalizes everyone by living alone. Collectors from museums frequently contact Pearl's family, asking about totem poles and ceremonial masks that they could buy, and smaller carvings, baskets, and woven goods are sold as well. When Mr. Glen comes to town and stays with the family for a while, Pearl uncovers an even more sinister purpose than just taking artifacts away from the area, and tries the best she can to preserve her people's pride and way of life.
Strengths: Again, lots of research, and I really appreciate the afterword where Ms. Parry says that her students when she taught in this area wanted stories about people "like them", so she wrote one. Pearl's fiestiness is historically accurate as well, and I really enjoyed the epilogue that talked about her long and splendid life.
Weaknesses: Slow and sad. So sad. While I breezed my way through Bo at Ballard Creek, I had to keep setting this down because I just couldn't read any more horrible things. Even the cover is depressing! It's nice to see books set in different cultures, but that doesn't make them exempt from the standard rules of middle grade fiction-- the best titles have adventure and humor galore.