Mackall, Dandi Daley. The Secrets of Tree Taylor
May 13th 2014
by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Tree's father is a doctor in their small 1960s Missouri town where everyone knows everyone else's business, so when their neighbor, Mr. Kinney, has an accident with a rifle, Dr. Taylor is the first one on the scene. Tree thinks that the shooting is suspicious and wants to find out what really happened, even though Mrs. Kinney seems quite happy that her husband isn't coming home. Tree wants to use her investigation as the basis for a story for her high school newspaper, so that she can beat out a classmate for a position on the Blue and Gold, since her fondest dream is to be a news reporter. Of course, her other fondest dream is to be kissed by Ray, a boy with beautiful blue eyes, and over the course of the summer, she at least gets to speak to him. She also spends time with her best friend, Jack, dances to rock and roll music, and gets involved a bit in the politics of the time.
Strengths: This describes the 1960s very well, and is worth buying for that alone. The feeling of change is palpable and sad, and there's a tiny bit of mystery to keep the reader turning the pages. The romance will be the draw for most readers, however. I liked how Tree got to know Mrs. Kinney and came to like her during the course of her investigation. Very sad at the end. For some reason, this put me in mind of Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding even though I don't think the two have any similarities at all!
Weaknesses: It's apparent from the very first that Mrs. Kinney shot her husband, and it's hard to believe that Tree is really SO naive that she thinks anything else at all.
McClure, Wendy. Wanderville.
January 23rd 2014
Jack, whose brother dies in a garment factory fire in the early 1900s, and Frances and her brother Harold, who are living in abject poverty, are sent on the Orphan Train out to Kansas. On the way from New York City, they are ill treated by the organizers, and hear horrible stories of the families who take children in. The three decide to run away and manage to find a community of other children who band together and try to survive. Book two is coming out in the fall of 2014.
Strengths: McClure, who wrote the delightful The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie has a strong appreciation for what makes historical adventures so appealing, and brings in a wide variety of historical details that would make a good introduction to the genre for younger students.
Weaknesses: There were some historical details that seemed vague to me and would have been more effective if explained more. Was Jack's brother involved in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire? Was there actually a city of children who managed to survive? And were the families who took in Orphan Train children really that evil. (Think the Joan Lowry Nixon series as well.) I have a friend whose great grandfather and his siblings were sent from Wisconsin to Iowa after the death of both parents to live with a family unrelated to them, and they were well treated and ended up marrying into the family in several cases.