Monday, November 23, 2015

MMGM- Historical Fiction

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

25648333Joiner, Sara K. After the Ashes
October 15th 2015 by Holiday House
ARC from Baker and Taylor

In 1883, Katrien has always lived on Java with her father, who works for a Dutch company. Her mother is dead, but her Aunt Greet lives with her, and her uncle Maarten also resides nearby. Katrien is very interested in the study of insects, and has all but memorized Darwin's Origin of the Species. She goes into the jungle with her good friend, Salmet, whose mother works for Katrien's family. Greet doesn't think that Katrien should spend so much time with a native boy now that she is getting into her teens, and tries to have her socialize with Birgitta, with whom she attends school. The two constantly antagonize each other, even though Birgitta is interested in botany. When the nearby volcano, Krakatau, starts spewing ash, no one seems very alarmed except for Katrien's neighbors. The DeGroots, who have heard of other volcanoes on the island, decide to go back to the Netherlands, but Katrien's father won't have it. When the inevitable happens, Katrien and Birgitta both manage to survive, and with each other's help, manage to make their weary way across the devastation that ash and tsunamis wreak on Java. Will they be able to put the horror of their experience behind them?
Strengths: This was a very well researched book on a little known topic (unless one has read Pene du Bois' Twenty-One Balloons!), and even managed to capture the narrative style of the times. Bringing in a variety of Dutch experiences in Java, as well as discussions about the relationships between the Dutch and the native people, gives this a well-rounded perspective. Katrien's bent toward science will interest a few more people, and the very human experience of fighting with someone with whom she is forced to be friends may interest readers who like books with friend drama.
Weaknesses: I want to see a finished copy of this before I buy it. The font is very small and close, and given how hard it is to get students to check out historical fiction, the standard Holiday House cover and crowded formatting will make this a challenge to get into the hands of students.
What I really think: If this had a better cover, or were shorter, I might be able to pitch this. I enjoyed it, but just don't see it doing well in my library.

23529761Cerrito, Angela. The Safest Lie
October 1st 2015 by Holiday House

Anna and her family live in Poland, and when her parents realize that the ghettos are rapidly being emptied, they agree to send Anna off to the country, where she will pretend to be a Catholic orphan. Irena Sendler is the woman who chooses the children, and she places Anna in a Catholic orphanage. There, Anna learns to take care of younger children, and also learns that she must believe her fictitious back story if she is to survive. She is eventually sent to live on a farm with a family. They are very nice to her, and Anna is conflicted-- how can she enjoy her new life knowing that her parents are in danger. At the end of the war, she is taken back to Poland, where she finds out the fate of her family.
Strengths: The inclusion of real life characters is always interesting, such as Leni Riefenstahl in Lasky's The Extra and Max Schmeling in Sharenow's The Berlin Boxing Club, so having Irena Sendler was a nice touch. The details of the various places Anna lives are clearly well researched and add depth to the narrative.
Weaknesses: Sendler appears all too briefly, and my students ask more for books on the concentration camps than for children in hiding.
What I really think: I'll buy this because I always need more Holocaust books for our 8th grade, but it wasn't anything spectacular. Holiday House really needs to stop putting bad 1980s style covers on their books, and using smaller than needed font, too!


  1. I like THE SAFEST LIE cover better. The first one is a bit too cluttered. Too bad about the font size problem. I can already see students faces scrunching up as they put it back on the shelf. I love the topics covered in both so I will be giving these a future read for myself. Thanks for sharing.

  2. After The Ashes does sound good, and I'm sorry for the small text as you described. How interesting that Sendler appears in The Safest Lie. I always admire the beautiful ways that people during that time saved their children. What a tragic time. like today with the refugees. Happy Thanksgiving, Karen.

  3. Thanks for your reviews here. I wonder sometimes if font just seems smaller to me these days since I am aging and am challenged to read anything on a label. I have a couple of girls who devour anything like The Safest Lie, so I'll pick it up eventually in paperback. (Unless I have retired first)

  4. Anonymous12:33 PM EST

    It's a shame when stories are "ruined" by presentations. As always, I enjoy your honesty in your reviews.

  5. I agree with you about the covers. I liked The Safest Lie. I definitely will be reading After the Ashes. In spite of a small font (I agree it's a bad idea), it's such a fascinating event that I will look past that. Thanks for the post.

  6. The Safest Lie sounds like the kind of book that would interest me - great to read your candid thoughts about them, as well. And yes, I do judge a book by the cover - so great points raised about book design/typography/layout.