Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Oh, to be in England, now that April's there!

Updale, Eleaor. Johnny Swanson.
Johnny's life in rural 1929 England is difficult, but it's about to get worse. He's picked on by classmates, and his hard-working, widowed mother works as much as she can cleaning houses to keep up with the rent, but it's not enough. Johnny, having been fleeced by an ad himself, decides to start placing ads in the paper for people to send in a shilling or two for advice, to which he replies with things that are not very helpful. He invents an "Aunt Ada" to cover his tracks at the newspaper and post office. Just as things are looking up a bit (his mother gets a job at a TB sanitarium and money comes in from his ads), a local doctor is killed and Johnny's mother is arrested.

With the help of Hutch, the local shopkeeper, Johnny tries to investigate, and comes across a nasty plot involving the doctor's wife and a TB vaccine that is being developed. Also instrumental are Olwen, a classmate whose family died of TB, and a reporter.

Strengths: A lovely picture of post WWI England, a time that is rarely covered in books. The village characters are great fun, and their interactions amusing. Is the world a better or worse place without people like nosy Miss Dangerfield? The mystery, which of course only Johnny can solve, is fraught with enough peril to keep readers going.
Weaknesses: Students may not pick this up on their own, and need to know that the mystery doesn't start until well into the book. Updale's other series, Montmorency, is well received but needs to be handed to students and explained.

Stone, Phoebe. The Romeo and Juliet Code
Felicity wishes that she were still in England, but London during the Blitz is not a place for children to be, so she is sent to live with her American father's family in coastal Maine. The family is a bit eccentric, including The Gram, theatrical aunt Miami, uncle Gideon (who was in love with Felicity's mother) and Derek, a boy Felicity's age who has had polio. Felicity pines for her mother and father, and doesn't know what they are doing during the war, although this is later revealed, as are many other family secrets I don't want to spoil.

Strengths: This was well-written, and evocative of Lowry's Autumn Street and Hunt's Up a Road Slowly, with a touch of The Secret Garden.
Weaknesses: While I have a huge demand for books about WWII, they are always for stories that involve either combat or concentration camps. Even Peck's On the Wings of Heroes does not circulate. What we really could use is something set in the Pacific Theater. Anyone know of anything? Warriors in the Crossfire was good, but did not involve soldiers as much as citizens.


  1. Anonymous6:40 AM EDT

    Regarding Romeo and Juliet Code: You're right that there is not much demand for homefront books. I loved On the Wings of Heroes, but can't sell that or Lisle's Art of Keeping Cool, though I have gotten some students to read Avi's Don't You Know There's a War Going On?

    The cover is also unfortunate. My complaint is accuracy - it looks like a contemporary friendship/maybe romance book AND no way were Converse available in colors back then! Additionally, do you think Felicity would've worn jeans? I don't.


  2. I had trouble with the cover, as well. It made it look like the 1960s or modern day. This really should have had a spooky coastal house or something! And I'm glad I'm not the only one having trouble pushing home front books!

  3. Agreed on the Romeo and Juliet cover--but I prefer homefront books myself. As a child, Rilla of Ingleside (WWI Canada, I know) was a favorite. Anyway, I love this pairing of books for review!