Kerr, Philip. The Winter Horses
March 25th 2014
by Knopf Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Tayloe
During World War II, Kalinka's entire family and village have been destroyed by the Nazis, and she has run far from that location and ended up on the steppe, where she is befriended by several horses. Max is the caretaker of a animal refuge that had been founded by a German man, but which has fallen on hard times. Nazis are now billetted at the refuge, and Max is in the good graces of the commander, who loves horses. However, he has orders to destroy all of the Przewalski's horses. They are endangered, and Max has worked hard to keep their numbers up, but the Nazis think that they are wild Gypsy horses and need to be exterminated. It doesn't hurt that they can also be used for food, which is hard to come by. After the Germans kill most of the horses, Max is bereft but still wants to stay alive, since he had been imprisoned during the Bolshevik Revolution and was badly injured. However, when Kalinka shows up with two of the horses, he tries to help her recuperate from her deprivations and make plans to get herself and the horses to safety just as the war is coming to a close.
Strengths: This was a fantastic story of a very unusual facet of the war! The Przewalski's horses were actually listed as extinct for several years; there is an interesting article about them here. Kalinka's story of survival is heart rending, but her encounters are not all terrible. This is an exciting addition to Holocaust stories because it can also be enjoyed by readers who like horse stories and outdoor survival tales.
Weaknesses:I didn't know that Philip Kerr also wrote as P.B. Kerr! I love the Children of the Lamp series, and it was interesting to see him take a turn at historical fiction. What a great start! (Okay, not a weakness.)
Vigilante, Danette. Saving Baby Doe.
March 20th 2014
by Putnam Juvenile
I really, really want to like this one. The cover is awesome, and I love that it has Latino characters, but the whole concept of two teens finding a baby fell flat for me, and the description of the blood (from a cut) running down Anisa's legs and making the police think she had given birth to the baby was uncomfortable. When Lionel's mother is concerned lest he actually get into trouble by getting a girl pregnant, she gives him a birth control talk that includes a condom and a banana.
As long as you know that these scenes are in the book, you can choose whether or not it is something that you are comfortable handing to students. I'm not seeing enough interest for the story in my library to overcome that in my case. I did really like this author's The Trouble with Half a Moon.
From Goodreads.com: Lionel and Anisa are
the best of friends and have seen each other through some pretty tough
times--Anisa's dad died and Lionel's dad left, which is like a death
for Lionel. They stick together no matter what. So when Lionel suggests a
detour through a local construction site on their way home, Anisa
doesn't say no.
And that's where Lionel and Anisa make a
startling discovery--a baby abandoned in a port-o-potty. Anisa and
Lionel spring into action. And in saving Baby Doe, they end up saving so
Danette Vigilante crafts an accessible, heartfelt
and much needed story for the middle grade market featuring Latino