Marsden, Carolyn. When Heaven Fell
February 13th 2007 by Candlewick Press
When Binh's grandmother gets a letter from the daughter that she sent to America during the war, the family hopes that a visit from Di Hai will bring wealth to their family in Vietnam. Binh doesn't go to school because the family can't afford it, but sells fruit in the market to help the family get by. Binh's grandmother doesn't regret sending her daughter to America, especially since she was the daughter of a white soldier and would have been given grief in Vietnam, and she is glad to know that Di Hai has had a good life. Once Binh's aunt shows up, the family awaits presents and money eagerly, but nothing is forthcoming. The family is put out because much of their resources have gone into making the woman comfortable and well fed, but she doesn't seem to understand how difficult their life is. Eventually, Binh tells her that she expects to go to America with her aunt. Di Hai, who is an art teacher and lives a modest lifestyle, is shocked, but begins to realize how much of a difference her money could make in their lives, and eventually she agrees to send Binh and her cousin to school so that they can then in turn help the family.
Strengths: Marsden does a wide variety of multicultural books, always bringing in good details of ordinary life and customs of the different cultures. This is an easy to read and appealing story. I don't know how I missed it, but will certainly look for a copy.
Weaknesses: One would hope that Di Hai wouldn't be quite so clueless, but I'm sure that she would have her own emotional issues about finding her birth mother, and those are not really addressed, although the baby lift is described well.
Carlson, Natalie Savage. A Grandmother for the Orphelines
September 1st 1980 by Harpercollins Childrens Books
Could not find the cover of this fifth book in the series, but it looks very much like this cover, by illustrator Paul Cox. The book itself showed up in a box from Half Price books that the local Kiwanis brought to our school.
At the happiest orphanage in France, the girls are sad because Genevieve has the audacity to plan on getting married, and intends to leave! Josine eavesdrops on the plans and riles the others. First, they insist that Genevieve get married at the local church so that they can go to the wedding, and then insist that she has the reception at the orphanage itself, again, so they can go. Genevieve agrees, and Madame Flattot gets permission from the orphanage governor, who suggests that the traditional collection for the poor taken at the reception can be given to the orphanage! Things go along fairly smoothly, with another girl from Breton, Kelig, being engaged to help. However, Josine has her heart set on a grandmother. After a few false starts and a Christmas Eve trip to the barn to hear the animals talk, the orphelines find a poor but respectable couple who agree to come to the orphanage and work for one salary.
Strengths: Excellent example of midcentury children's literature-- everything is rosy, everything is a moral tale, even though (unlike years earlier) some of the children might not be perfect angels. Definitely one of the reasons I wanted to grow up and run an orphange when I was young.
Weaknesses: Hard to believe today. Children demanding where the wedding will be? Total strangers being taken in to a home full of vulnerable children? I could have used a bit more background on the French setting.
What I really think: Can't see this one doing well today. And sure enough, not one library in my district has this book.