This first book was in the top ten of the best fiction books of 2013, thus meeting the award challenge from Myra, Iphigene and Fats at the blog, Gathering Books.
The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death, And A Boy Called Eel - written by Deborah Hopkinson
Deborah Hopkinson has interwoven her story of Eel, a thirteen-year-old homeless boy, a “riverfinder”, into the true story of Dr. John Snow’s discovery in the mid 1800’s that cholera is a water-borne disease. It is a middle-grade book and the plot events happening to the young people in the story seems fanciful, yet I enjoyed it as it also told of this terrible time when most people thought the “blue death” came from air, the horrible miasma from unclean and close living, mostly in poorer areas of big cities. “Riverfinders” were both adults and children on the streets, smelly and filthy because they earned what pennies they could by going through the muck by the river to find the few things, like pieces of coal, they could sell. They slept where they found a place that seemed safe; earned it or fought for it. What a life! Eel’s life took different turns in the story. Luckily for him, he had gone to school for a while before both his parents died. He knew how to read and write! In this story, he ends up working as Dr. Snow’s assistant, and it turns out to be helpful to Dr. Snow and to Eel’s life. You’ll need to read the book to discover more about London at this time, and the brief few days when cholera struck and killed over 600 people. Middle grade students will enjoy the intrigue and the setting very much.
Goodbye Stranger - written by Rebecca Stead
Thanks to Net Galley for allowing me to read this book before the actual publication, August 5th! As I think about how to review this book by Rebecca Stead, I first wonder about the title of multiple meanings. Can it be that Stead has written a book that as the reader reads, the characters are no longer strangers, to the reader, to their friends (and frenemies, too) and most important, to themselves. It’s definitely a growing up book, with alternating voices of Bridge and Sherm as well as a stranger who jumps in once in a while with her (his?) own adventure. We don’t discover the ‘who’ until almost the end. All the parts of growing up today are there, like social media problems; and quite a bit is there that has always been, young teen friends changing in different ways, divorce adding to some problems and finding out what kind of person one is adding to other challenges. It’s a mixed-up story like all of Stead’s books, compelling because one is lead on by the story structure of mystery and the authentic voices of the characters, growing up with friends, leaving old friends behind. One voice asks: “Is the new you the stranger? Or is the stranger the person you leave behind?”
A young boy in the US loves his bicycle, “Big Red”, but he outgrows it, and decides to donate it to an organization that ships bicycles to Africa. The bicycle’s new owners are shown in several communities, and its usefulness is one to note for the children in the US especially. The first owner is grateful because “Big Red” helps a young girl to move more quickly to her family’s sorghum fields and then to market. That’s not the only home for this bicycle, and children will be interested in seeing its travels on a map at the back of the book. The author has also added ideas for recycling bicycles. Illustrations by Simone Shin are colorful and details, showing the contrast among the communities.
I Like Old Clothes - written by Mary Ann Hobermann and illustrated by Patrice Barton
Originally published in 1976, this edition has new illustrations, sweet little kids wearing and celebrating loads of old clothes. Written in verse, each page shows some new thought about the clothes, old and pretty party clothes, outgrown “Sweaters and shirts/That are brother-and-sistery”. My favorite lines are “Not-so-new clothes,/Where were you clothes.” One focus is the history of the clothes, the wondering of where they’ve lived and who wore them? I imagine wonderful conversations after reading this book to a group of young children.
Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green - written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Anne Kennedy
With cute, happy animals, Eileen Spinelli has shown a way to introduce going green to young children through a story of Miss Fox leading her class in doing many things that help the environment. She begins by riding her bicycle to school, and the kids see her and ask if she might have a flat tire. No, she says, but then explains that cars pollute the air, and she’s decided to drive less. Soon the class all have some ways to help, and also notice ways outside of school when they visit others. The illustrations are colorful and filled with action, a fun book.
Next: At the urging of my students, I'm reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. So far, quite intriguing. I can see why some have loved it. After that, Pam Munoz Ryan's Echo!