The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

By Janet Fox

Viking Books, 2016.

Genre: Fantasy and Historical Fiction    Pages: 388     Grades: 5/6 and Up

My two favorite genres are historical fiction and fantasy. That’s why I loved this book it takes place during World War II in London. Bombs are beginning to fall and the people of London are sending their kids away to safer places. Katherine, called Kat, her brother Robbie and younger sister Amelie are sent away to an Academy that was set up in Rookskill Castle in Scotland. Their father said it would be a great place for them all during the war.41ijyi-d4ul-_sx329_bo1204203200_

As they are packing her Aunt gives Cat a chatelaine—which are charms that are strung and are worn around the waist. Each, Cat was told had some magical power. As her aunt tries to explain its powers, Cat dismisses her as a little crazy.

Upon arriving at the old castle they are met by Lady Lenore who is very odd. She lays out the rules and tells the children their lessons will begin the next day. That’s when the book takes a creepy turn. The children are locked in their rooms and when they sneak out they find there are rooms, halls and secret passages everywhere. There are real people who appear like ghosts and there are the weird and crazy noises that come from within the walls.

This story is filled with dark magic, spies and puzzles.  The final chapters will keep readers on their edge of their seats for sure!

I only wish the author would have given more history about the war—like what a blitz was, what countries were in the war, how spies were used and how disruptive the war was to families all over the world.


The Bicycle Spy

The Bicycle Spy

By Yona Zeldis McDonough

New York:  Scholastic, 2016

Historical Fiction    193 pages     Grades 5 and Up

This is a great, quick and easy middle grade read!  This story takes place during WW II in a small French town called Aucoin, where Marcel and his parents lived and ran a bakery. Marcel loved school and the Tour de France, a famous bike race held every year in Paris. In fact, he would often ride his bike through town dreaming about one day being in that 7ba33f7282-e4b3-4410-9ebb-62037b5c5d0b7dimg400great race. This year, 1943, the race was canceled again due to the war. Although German soldiers occupied much of France Marcel’s little town was more neutral, in fact, some people were part of the French Resistance Movement. But you had to be careful because your friends or neighbors could be Nazi sympathizers.  Marcel attended school, rode his bike and often made deliveries for his parent’s bakery.  What he didn’t know was that some of his friends and family were in great danger and he might be the only one who could help them! This is a great book for younger middle school students as it will give them a perspective of on World War II that they might not be familiar with. A book of courage and friendship.

Yona Zeldis McDonough Website

Paper Hearts

Paper Hearts

By Meg Waviott

New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2015.

Pages 337

Genre: Historical Fiction

Grades: 6 and Up

Is the story of two girls, Fania and Zlatka both from Poland and both Jews. Although they did not know one another and they came from different ghettos they became family for each other when their own families were murdered at the hands of Hitler and the Nazi regime.

Fania and Zlatka met while at Auschwitz Concentration Camp, a notorious “work camp” where a million Jewish people died.  The story is written in verse, so it reads like a paper-hearts-9781481439848_hrdiary—a diary that unveils the horrors of daily life among a group of twenty resilient, courageous and defiant young women.  The paper heart was a “birthday gift” given to Fania as an act of total defiance by the women who lived and worked side by side. If any of them were caught while making it or if Fania would have been caught with it in her possession it would have meant certain death. The paper heart survived and is in a Holocaust Museum in Canada.

This is a historical fiction book and the author note at the end of the book tells the reader the facts upon which this story is built and the fate of the twenty women who shared the darkest days in world history. It is a compelling read—don’t miss it!

Stay Where You Are And Then Leave

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave

By John Boyne

Grades 5 and Up

Genre:  Historical Fiction

One of my all-time favorite movies as a child was, The Little Princess starring Shirley Temple and this book brought back those fond memories.  If you are older like me, you might remember that Sarah (Shirley Temple) has been searching hospitals for her father who has been reported killed in action in World War I. But, Sarah knows in her heart he is not dead and the wicked boarding school mistress cannot stop her from sneaking out and looking stayfor him. So, I searched online and found the four-minute ending to the movie—sweet memories.  To my surprise I see YouTube has the entire movie—here’s the link in case you want to watch it:

As I was saying, John Boyne’s book has a similar theme!  Alfie will never forget his 5th birthday—it is the day his father, Georgie enlisted in World War I.  He thought if he enlisted he might have better duty than if he got drafted.  Alfie’s life changed forever on that day—his mom had to get two jobs so they could keep their house and have food to eat, Alfie cuts school to secretly become a shoe shine boy and the world engaged in war that was supposed to last for six months and ended up lasting for over four years and three months—which seemed like forever for Alfie. Letters from Georgie came regularly for a while, then not so often and then not at all.  Alfie’s mom said that Georgie was on a secret mission and could not write but Alfie now nine, knew better.  Alfie, like Sarah from The Little Princess took on a mission to find his father. I enjoyed the book and I hope students will have a sense of how difficult times were when young men go off to war. 


Ginger Snap

By Patricia Reilly Giff

Lamb Books, 2013.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Reading new books, listening to older ones—then I went to book warehouse and bought a used copy to add to our library!  I love Patricia Reilly Giff books—they are good wholesome stories perfect for 5th and 6th graders (and me too)!

Set during the height of World War II, in 1945 in Upstate New York Rob is preparing to join the war effort in the Pacific. Rob has mixed emotions about heading off to war as he will be leaving his only family member, a younger sister, Jayna. Jayna will have to leave their home and stay with the crabby and mostly disagreeable landlady. As Rob is getting ready to leave he shares with Jayna that perhaps they have a grandmother alive in 7ba88124e6-f531-41e0-a336-5f52fd0252d67dimg400Brooklyn as he found a recipe book with a woman’s name and the bakery she owns. He says when he comes back they will go and investigate.  However, Rob goes missing in action when his ship comes under attack.  Jayna is distraught and she sees a spirit that encourages her to head to Brooklyn to see where she fits in.  Jayna packs up the recipe book, her turtle Theresa and heads off in quest of family.  Join Jayna as she deals with heartbreak and hope in this compelling story of family and friendship.

Wolf Hollow

Wolf Hollow

By Lauren Wolk

New York: Dutton Children’s Book, 2016.

Pages 291   Grades: 5 and Up  Genre: Historical Fiction

This was a fabulous story about eleven-year-old Annabelle whose family are farmers and live out in the country during World War II.  Annabelle gets up does her chores, goes to school and comes home and finishes her chores—a rather quiet existence until Betty Glengarry moves in with her grandparents. Betty is like your worst nightmare—a mean, mean bully!  The local vagabond, Toby, steps into save Annabelle from Betty and befriends Annabelle.  Toby is what we call today homeless veteran of WW I who suffers from Post wolf-hollow-by-lauren-wolkTraumatic Stress Disorder. Annabelle’s mom says that he is odd and to keep her distance—even though she herself often sends food to him. A friendship grows between Toby and Annabelle and Betty begins to become more violent and blames the terrible things that are happening on Toby.  It is hard for the people of Wolf Hollow to understand what is happening and Annabelle is having difficulty expressing herself and so begins a web of deceit—she begins to lie. Come along on this action packed historical novel as Annabelle tries to find courage to speak up for what is right!

Raymie Nightingale

Raymie Nightingale

By Kate DiCamillo

Somerville: Candlewick Press, 2016.

Grades 4 and Up   262 Pages

You will not soon forget the three girls in this delightful story of friendship, family troubles and a quest raymie-nightingaleto win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire Competition!  Raymie, Louisiana and Beverly meet at their first baton twirling class—where the instructor Miss Ida Nee calls off class because the girls were too dramatic—Ida Nee reminds me of Sue Sylvester in Glee!  Raymie tells the story of how her father runs off with a dental hygienist without even saying goodbye to her. She knows in her heart if she would win the competition, become famous her father would surely come back. Louisiana needs to win so that she does not get sent to a foster home and Beverly—she just wants to sabotage the competition.  You will laugh and cry as their friendship grows and they slowly begin to have faith in one another and find strength when they begin to  share their struggles.

A great story not to be missed! 

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel

By Firoozeh Dumas

New York: Clarion Books, 2016.

Grades 6 and Up.  Pages 378.

This is the story of Zomorod Yousefzadeh told in first person by an eleven-year-old who is just trying to fit in, again!  Zomorod is settling in from her fourth move between Iran and California in the 1970’s.  She is really tired of being the new and different student; so she decides to make changes by taking an American name, Cindy.  This she believes will allow her to make an easier transition into school so that each class she does not have to give the origin of her given Iranian name—which makes her stand

I found it delightful and humorous that Cindy wants all the American experiences she can get—food, school, camp, scouts, holidays and that her parents are wanting to maintain their Iraqi culture.  No surprise that there are a lot of parental clashes! At Thanksgiving, Cindy wants to have an American Thanksgiving dinner but she compromises with her parents as they settle on cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie with their dinner.  As they open the can of cranberry sauce the author describes that the “sauce” does not come out of the can. They shake and shake can until all at once it plops out in one big piece—fearing that it is spoiled; they just throw away the can shaped blob.

The 1970’s are a tumultuous time in Iran and for relations with the United States.   The author does a great job of helping the reader to understand the role of the oil industry, the political leadership in Iran and the Iran Hostage Crisis. The latter which causes her family much distress as her father, an oil engineer loses his job in America. Then random acts of hatred begin to occur—blaming her family on the hostage situation—subtle at first and then a dead hamster with a note to go home!   Iran is in so much turmoil they cannot return home and so they are stuck in the United States with their fear, and their family and life falling apart. 

Lucky for Cindy, she has a caring and compassionate friend, Carolyn that helps her to make sense of her world and those who Cindy has touched rally around the family.  When Cindy tells Carolyn they are returning to Iran because they have no job and no money she and others join forces to help Cindy’s family to pick up all the broken pieces and put their life in the United States back together again!

It is a wonderful story that will make you laugh and have an appreciation for those Americans that have a different heritage from our own.  They all have a story to tell!  

Somewhere Among

Somewhere Among

By Annie Donerth-Chikamatsu

New York: Atheum Books for Young Readers, 2016.

Grades 6 and Up    Pages 433

This is the story of Ema, told in verse. She is the daughter of an American mom and Japanese father. There is a lot going on in this story maybe too much for the younger readers. donwerth-chikamatsu

 Ema’s mom is expecting but has miscarried in the past and is now on bedrest at the childhood home of her father.  Ema is binational, bilingual and bicultural. But being between two very different countries and cultures is very difficult for 11 year old Ema. She often talks of the difference between the grandparents—the ones from California are loving and giving and the ones from Japan who are very stoic, strict and simple.  The lifestyles couldn’t be any farther apart.  As Ema tries to make sense of her world—her mom’s difficult pregnancy, the events of 9/11, the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the current sinking of a Japanese ship, being the new kid at school and being bullied– she tries to blend the two cultures together to understand the tragic events.  Although, I think there was way too much going on in this book—I enjoyed the journey.  Experiencing the Japanese holidays, the cultural differences, family structure and education helped me to appreciate how difficult it is to be different and to be more understanding of those who are culturally trying to fit in.


Nine, ten: A September 11 Story

Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story

By Nora Raleigh Baskin

New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016.

Grades 5 and Up  Pages 197.

Just how can this story be Historical Fiction? All of my middle students were officially not born when the events of 9/11 took place—it is so hard for me to imagine—time passes so quickly!

Nora Ra26875689leigh Baskin’s new book Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story looks at this event,
two days prior from the perspective of four young children from New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California who don’t know each other –at least not yet!    They all have struggles in their lives—absent parent, death of parent, new school, being Muslim and yet the tragedy of 9/11 binds and unites them all in a way the reader will not soon forget!

Anyone who has lived through 9/11 can tell you exactly what and where they were on that fateful day when we watched in horror as first one then two planes flew into the World Centers, one into the Pentagon and the final one into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  Nine, Ten will gently and thoughtfully introduce a new generation to the events of September 11, 2001.