Wednesday, July 18, 2012


By Jeanette Ingold
Published by Harcourt, Inc.
Copyright © 2005

Moss Trawnley is 17 and he is doing everything he can to keep his family afloat. Considering that he is living during the tail end of the great depression and he still has his job at an airfield in Texas he feels pretty hopeful. He is able to send money home to his family in Louisiana every month, he is planning to go to radio repair school, and he has girlfriend named Beatty. However, when Moss suddenly loses his job his dreams seem to be turned on end.

After locating his father in Montana, Moss decides to sign up for a hitch with the Civilian Conservation Corps where he will get 3 squares and a cot and two-thirds of his pay will be sent home to help his family. Moss endures extreme weather and troublesome cabin mates, but he also learns what it takes to be a good man and a leader. He learns the meaning and value of hard work, helping others, and of loyalty.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s initial New Deal programs designed to put the nation’s young men to work during the Great Depression. They were charged with among other things the tasks of reforestation, dam and reservoir construction, and park restoration. Ingold tells a fascinating story that shows why a young man might join the CCC and what camp life might be like. 

More than just being an overview of the CCC though, she creates a likeable protagonist for us who is coping with internal and external conflicts. And she highlights the proper way to deal with those conflicts. While reading Moss’ story you are waiting for him to lash out because it is the natural first instinct, but he learned from his experience what happens when you do that. Moss is a flawed character but he is good at heart, accepts subtle direction, and learns the best ways to lead. 

In addition to Moss she shows young men and women who have many different talents and passions. I thought it was great that there were young men who loved to read and were good in the kitchen and that there were young ladies who were pilots and were interested in the family farm. It is a reminder that it is our abilities and interests that should guide our work and passions, not our sex.

While the characters in this story tend to be 17 and older, I feel that youths 12 and up would enjoy this story. This book would also be well used in middle/high school language arts classes to make a cross curriculum connection with U.S. History in particular the Great Depression and the New Deal era.

Friday, June 29, 2012


By Hope Larson
Published by Atheneum
Copyright © 2010

“Mercury” is, for me, the embodiment of a great graphic novel. Larson tells a strong story that is realistic with just a hint of magic. And her illustrations show so well just what can be done in simple black and white.

Josie Fraser has her heart set on her best friend’s brother Jonathan, until a stranger by the name of Asa Curry comes to the farm. He seems like a good God fearing young man and he is handsome to boot. He has come to propose a business venture with Josie’s father, he wants to form a partnership with him and mine for gold on his property. Josie falls in love with him and they plan to marry, but she soon learns that Asa isn’t what he seems.

150 years later Josie’s descendant, Tara Fraser, is living with her Aunt in the same town. Tara’s mother has been working in Alberta since their house burned down back home. Her mother wants to sell the family property and have Tara move to Alberta with her, but Tara is less than enthused about this idea. That house and property had been in Tara and Josie’s family for a long time, and Tara isn’t ready to give up on it.

As we read Josie’s story slipping into tragedy and sadness, we simultaneously get to read of Tara’s story rising from tragedy and sadness into hope that has its roots in the Nova Scotia Gold Rush.

Hope Larson takes us to a place that most of us have never been, or even thought of going, and she takes us to a time and event that we didn’t even know happened. I had no idea that there was a Nova Scotia gold rush, but there was one in the 1860’s and beyond. In truth there is still small scale gold mining there today. I love stories that can inform and transport you to such events.

In addition to the story the artwork is wonderful. The black and white frames really move the story along and Larson has a real knack for conveying emotion with facial expressions. Another thing that I noticed from page one is that her drawing style seems to be slightly influenced by Jeff Smith, writer and illustrator of the Bone graphic novels. (One of the best, if not the best, graphic novels ever.) I absolutely love Smith’s style and I love Larson’s just as much.

Mercury is suitable for most teens and the characters are very relatable. If, like me, you love graphic novels that are heavier on story and relatable characters rather than on out of this world color graphics and superheroes, then Mercury is definitely for you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Real Benedict Arnold

By Jim Murphy
Published by Clarion Books
Copyright © 2007

The name Benedict Arnold in America over the last 230 years has been synonymous with the words “turncoat” and “traitor”. He turned on the men who trusted him and he turned on his country. Had the British been quick about following his suggestions his traitorous plans may have even succeeded in defeating the American Revolution. 

The question many people fail to ask though,is why? What led Benedict Arnold to turn on America, the country he had been fighting so hard to establish? Those who do ask that question might quickly reply that it was greed, but the truth of the matter isn’t that simple.

Benedict Arnold came from a highborn family that had fallen on hard times. For every step forward they would take two steps back and it was often through no fault of their own. Benedict Arnold had a strong desire to return his family name to prominent stature. He worked hard starting an import business which made him a prominent member of society in New Haven, Connecticut. He even became a member of the Freemasons. The War for Independence provided another avenue for Benedict to increase his family’s stature. Many forget that he was a hero of many revolutionary battles. Among his accomplishments were the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga, victory at the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain, the battles of Danbury and Ridgefield in Connecticut, and the Battle of Saratoga. And though he did not succeed He kept the British quite busy in his invasion of Canada.

Though Benedict Arnold was a great military leader, maybe even better than George Washington, he had a heightened sense of pride which made it difficult for him to handle the slings and arrows of his opponents in the American congress and other American Military leaders. What one comes to realize in reading this book is that Benedict Arnold did not betray America out of Greed, but he betrayed it out of pride in his personal honor. Though he had done so much for the Revolution his honor and reputation were constantly being attacked, and he never received the material and military support he needed from congress and his commanding officers to do his job effectively.

“The Real Benedict Arnold” is a fascinating study in what made one of America’s greatest military leaders choose to become one of its most vilified historical figures. I could not help but ask myself while reading this book: if I was in Benedict Arnold’s place what would I have done? While his actions are considered reprehensible, one comes away with a better understanding and maybe even a little compassion for the American Traitor. While not an exhaustive text on the subject, it is a well researched and thought out. Even the adult reader with casual interest in the subject will find it enjoyable.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

By Chris Crutcher
Published by Harper Tempest
Copyright © 1993

Is the world good or is the world bad? I guess it depends on who you ask and how far they look. For people like Sara Byrnes and Eric Calhoun it’s not always such a great place. Eric and Sarah Byrnes have been social misfits since they were young children; him fat and her terribly scarred. 

For Eric being on the high school swim team has helped him lose weight and become more accepted, but there is nothing Sarah can do about her scarred face and arms. Sarah Byrnes is still Eric’s best friend though, and now she is in the psychiatric ward of the hospital in what seems to be a catatonic state. The real puzzle is why she is there, and finding out can be the difference between life and death. Sarah Byrnes current emotional state and inability to trust anyone, even her best friend, makes it really hard to help her before time runs out.

While Eric is struggling to reach and help Sarah Byrnes, competition for supremacy of body and mind is heating up on the swim team and in his Contemporary American Thought class with Mark a fellow swimmer and student who is not quite stable.

The Author does a wonderful job of getting us into the minds of our main character, and through him helping us to understand the supporting characters and their backgrounds. He also tackles some hard subjects like religion, abortion, and suicide. A young adult novel obviously is not going to answer or solve these problems but it will cause adolescents to think critically about these issues. The mystery remains though, what happened to Sarah Byrnes and what is going to happen to her. It is definitely worth the read to find out.

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

By Wendy Mass
Published by Little, Brown and Company
Copyright © 2006

Jeremy Fink is about to turn thirteen and he has never been more than two blocks from his apartment unaccompanied. He has a fixation with time travel, he hates change, he loves candy (especially mutant candy), and he has fish named cat, dog, and ferret. Other than that he is relatively normal for a boy whose father died five years ago.

Lizzy, his neighbor and best friend, is completely the opposite. She is a tomboy who eats healthy, has a penchant for lying and stealing (nothing valuable mind you), collects stray playing cards, and says what she thinks. She once again, is relatively normal for a girl whose mother left when she was young.

Their summer seems like it is going to be the same old hat, until Jeremy receives a package in the mail that his father he had been saving for his thirteenth birthday. It is a strange box with four keyholes and on the lid is written “The Meaning of Life”. There is only one problem. The people who sent the box lost the keys and Jeremy’s thirteenth birthday is only a month away. So Jeremy and Lizzy set out on a quickly derailed adventure to find the keys to “The Meaning of Life”.

Wendy mass has written a touching and enjoyable coming of age novel that focuses on healing from the loss of parents and living in the now. Jeremy Fink has spent so much time trying to figure out how to change the past that he hasn’t spent nearly enough time living in the present and looking to the future. His search for the keys and the contents of the box help him to begin that transition.

Friday, June 15, 2012

My Life in Pink & Green

By Lisa Greenwald
Published by Amulet Books
Copyright © 2009

Who knew that the words makeover and green went so well together? “My Life in Pink & Green” shows us that you are never too young to look good and save the planet, at least in a small way.

Young Connecticut tween Lucy Desberg loves her family’s pharmacy and she loves the makeup and beauty products they sell there. But Lucy’s life isn’t all lip gloss and nail polish; the pharmacy and her family are struggling to make ends meet. It looks like they are going to lose their house and their business if things don’t change. Lucy isn’t sure what she can possible do to help until two fortuitous events happen. One, she helps the most popular girl in school with a major hair dilemma, and two, she joins Earth Club with her best friend Sunny. Soon she realizes that the way to save the pharmacy is to go “Pink & Green,” or in other words, focusing on beauty and environmentalism. The only problem is her mother, and grandmother, don’t take her ideas seriously, so Lucy is going to have to make them take her seriously.

“My life in Pink & Green” is a great story that relates how even young people can be proactive and ambitious and maybe even play a small role in saving the world. It is great to read a young female protagonist that knows what she wants and knows what she needs to do. It is also great that even though Lucy and Sunny do have crushes that boys are not the thrust behind their plans. Having a first crush is just a secondary theme and plot line.

Lisa Greenwald has written a story with realistic people and places, and realistic problems. Now, do I believe that the solution to the story’s problem is realistic? No, as an adult it seems just a little far out on the limb for me, but not utterly impossible. I also think that Lucy acts and talks more like a sixteen year old than a twelve year old, but what do I know, I’ve never been a 12 year old girl.  Those things being said I liked Lucy’s story. Whether farfetched or not, it is encouraging youths, especially young girls, to make a difference, to have ambitions, and to shop locally. This is a must read for tween and teen girls everywhere.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Gardener

By Sarah Stewart
Illustrated by David Small
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux
Copyright ©1998

It is the Great Depression and Lydia Grace Finch is being sent to live with her unsmiling uncle in the big city until her parents get back on their feet. Lydia may have to leave her country home, but she is determined to continue gardening just like her grandmother taught her. She uses this skill deftly to make her Uncle’s Bakery beautiful and to create a surprise for him that will make him smile.
This is a touching and light hearted book that subtly and quietly teaches so much. This picture books is great for the home library, but it would also make a great companion to an elementary school Great Depression history lesson.