Audio Review: The War That Saved My Life

Whoo-hoo!  Another audio book review!  One to go on our “top ten” list, too.

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The War That Saved My Life
By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, read by Jayne Entwistle
6 CDs, 7 1/2 Hours

war-that-saved-my-lifeAda and her little brother Jamie live in a one-room flat in London with their Mam.  It’s 1939, and a war with Germany is looming.  Ada doesn’t know much about the war; because she has a ‘bad foot’, Mam doesn’t allow her to ever leave their room, even for school.  She has grown up staying in the flat all day, sitting for hours in the chair by the window, watching Jamie play with his friends and waving at neighbors she’s never met.  Unless it’s a day that Mam is angry with her, then she’s stuffed into the cupboard under the sink or not given any food.

One day, Jamie comes home with the news that the children from their neighborhood are being evacuated to the country because the government is expecting London to be bombed.  Mam scoffs, but decides that one less mouth to feed might be a good thing.  She’s not letting Ada go though. No, Mam says Ada has to stay and get bombed, if it comes to that. Both children protest, but Mam locks them in and leaves for the pub.

No one at school knows Ada even exists, but she’s determined to go away with Jamie. Her practice standing on her bad foot comes in handy for their escape. When the morning comes to evacuate on the train, she steals her mother’s shoes and limps, then crawls, then gets a lift from one of Jamie’s friends.  Ada and Jamie make it to the country…only to be left out when everyone else is chosen.  Not one villager seems to want two dirty children with no belongings.

Then Lady Thornton, the woman in charge of the evacuated children, takes them in hand and leaves them to stay with Susan Smith, in a big old empty house.  Even though Miss Smith claims she is unkind and unfit to care for children, living with her is better than living with Mam.  As Ada and Jamie start exploring the world around them, fall in love with horses (Ada) and planes (Jamie), they start to trust Susan.  But will Susan want to keep them?  Will the war reach them, even in the country?  Will their Mam come to take them away, as the other refuge children are taken back?  And what about spies?

A little bit adventure, a little bit coming-of age, a little bit historical fiction, this is an amazing story about strength and courage and family.  The War That Saved My Life was a 2016 Newbery Award Honor Book Winner.

war-that-saved-my-life-audioThe sound recording of The War That Saved My Life is simply wonderful.  I loved the narrator, Jayne Entwistle.  She did a terrific job finding each character’s voice, and I was truly impressed at how she could infuse her voice with emotions.  You could hear the laughter and the tears in her voice as Ada spoke.  This audio book is right up there in my top ten recordings of children’s books.  It also won the 2016 Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audio Production, so I’m not the only one to think that way!

The War That Saved My Life is for kids in grades 5 – 8, although I think adults would enjoy it just as much as their kids do.  The sound recording would be great to share on a family car trip, although it might be difficult for a child younger than nine or ten, because of some tough subject matter.  (In addition to the consequences of being at war and the loss of loved ones, Ada and Jamie’s Mam is a thoroughly horrible person, and her treatment of the children might be difficult to hear.)  Listening to it as a family though, would provide some great groundwork for discussion about war, and families, and strength of spirit.

Some read-alike suggestions:  Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm, Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt.

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Remember, if you would like recommendations for book or books on CD, ask one of our librarians.  Or check out some of our earlier recommendations here at BellaOnBooks!





Fun Summer Reads #2

Looking for something fun to read this summer?  Try one of our Fun Summer suggestions!

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The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain, Book One)
by Lloyd Alexander

Say you were a lowly assistant pig keeper in a castle, but you wanted to be something grander, something more important.  Might you–perhaps–neglect your charge?  Even if she was Hen Wen, the only oracular pig in all of Prydain? And instead try to learn sword making, sword-fighting, and other skills that befit a true warrior?

Because that’s what Taran does.  He longs to become an expert swordsman and have adventures.  But book of three 70instead, he’s watching a pig.  It’s true, she’s the most special pig in the kingdom, but wallowing in the mud isn’t Taran’s idea of an adventure.  But when Taran’s on duty and all of the animals in Caer Dallben react to an approaching danger with terror, Hen Wen is so frightened she digs under her fence and escapes into the forest.  Taran follows her.  His plan is to rescue her and bring her back, but instead he manages to fall into the adventure he always craved.

With the dreaded Horned King on the loose and King Arawn gathering the forces of evil, Taran is soon book of three 80in the middle of an adventure.  But it’s not as easy being a hero as it might sound, and adventures are not as exciting when you’re in the middle of them as they are when you’re hearing them as legends.  Taran’s bravery, cunning and, yes his swordsmanship, is put to the test…along with his connection to Hen Wen and his ability to think on his feet.

The Book of Three is the first book in an award-winning Chronicles of Prydain series, partially based on Welsh legends, with some of the best characters in children’s literature.  A book that I read and re-read as a kid, with a quest that keeps its thrilling life or death drama.

::Kelly::book of three 1

Four Audio Reviews — Adventure!

It’s always hard to decide how to post audio reviews.  Should I rank them according to how I liked them?  But in that case, should it be best to worst or worst to best?  Do a grab-back and pick?  Should I pick the order in which I listened to them?  Maybe a random combination?

It’s never easy.  This time, I’ll start with the earliest one I listened to, save the best one for last, and mix up the order of the other two.  Hey, it makes sense to me.

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The Genius Wars
By Catherine Jinks, Read by Justine Eyre
10 CDs; 11 Hours, 55 Minutes

genius wars2Cadel Piggott is a genius.  He’s not exactly modest about it, it’s something he’s known all his life.  He was hacking into high-security computers by the age of eight, and his skills only developed with age.  Cadel as a child was able to do things that no one else could do.  Unfortunately, he was also a criminal, working under an evil mastermind at the direction of Prosper English, the man he believed to be his father.

Now though, things are finally going his way. At fifteen, Cadel is in his first year at University. He’s living with his foster parents Detective Saul Greeniaus and his wife Fiona, and finally escaping his past.  He has friends, interesting classes, and nothing to worry about.

Until Prosper English is sighted on several surveillance cameras in nearby Sydney, walking across the city as if he hadn’t a care in the world.  Cadel knows that his testimony would put Prosper English in jail for the rest of his life.  Is Prosper in Sydney to get revenge on the boy once believed to be his son?  Cadel certainly thinks so.  When his best friend Sonja is attacked and ends up in hospital, Cadel knows that he has to take desperate measures.  Soon he’s abandoned his new life as a law-abiding teenager and hacking into computer networks, revisiting all his illegal skills and traveling around the globe to protect his new family and friends.

Will Cadel find Prosper English before Prosper English finds him?

genius wars audioThe CD for Genius Wars was very entertaining.  Most of the characters are from Australia, and all the accents sounded varied enough to come from different areas of that country.  There were also British, Canadian and American characters, and they all had accents that sounded true.  Maybe it was the accents that threw me off, but I believed I was listening to a Australian teenage boy reading the story, not a Canadian woman.  (I guess it helped that Justine Eyre has an Australian father, grew up in the Philippines, was educated in Britain and works in both the US and Canada…obviously, her ability to mimic various accents is something that comes to her from experience!)

Being set in Australia, there were some words and phrases that might be troublesome for American listeners, but their meanings were fairly obvious.  I did have to look up “wardriving”– a term which made no sense to me, although I could tell what it was through the story.  (It might be what we call geocaching…but not quite.)

Genius Wars is the third book in a series, preceded by Evil Genius and Genius Squad.  Although I didn’t read the first two books, it wasn’t difficult to come in on the third book.  I’m sure I missed things, but the story hung together tightly and made sense.  I did wonder about a few past connections (and I want to read the two earlier books anyway) but I think anyone who picks up Genius Wars cold will enjoy it as an adventure novel and not worry about what they might have missed.

Genius Wars has plenty of action, loads of dangerous situations and some skillful detective work. It also has quite a bit of humor, which helps alleviate the tension.  Hackers and computer geeks will probably love it, although some of the terms went over MY head!

I’d recommend Genius Wars (and both Genius Squad and Evil Genius) for middle school and high school readers.  Kids a little younger who are familiar with computer terminology who like a fast-paced, involved mystery might enjoy it too.  Our copies of all the books and the books on CD are in our Teen Collection.

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The False Prince
By Jennifer A. Nielsen, Read by Charlie McWade
7 CDs; 8 hours, 14 minutes

false princeSage lives by his wits on the streets.  Officially, he lives at Mrs. Turbeldy’s Orphanage for Disadvantaged Boys,  but that’s only for another few months, until he’s sixteen and is kicked out.  Sage believes in being prepared, so he helps get extra points with Mrs. Turbeldy by “acquiring” a few things she needs for herself and the boys in the orphanage.  It’s not his fault that other people call it stealing.  When Sage is caught by the henchman of a foreign noble after stealing a roast from a butcher in the market, he has no idea how much his life is about to change.

Conner offers Mrs. Turbeldy money for Sage, and she sells him to the noble. Sage takes issue with this and tries to escape…unsuccessfully.  When he wakes up, he’s tied in the back of a wagon, surrounded by three other boys.  All four look remarkably similar, as if they could be brothers.

Conner explains that he’s looking for a boy, one who can learn quickly and keep his mouth shut. It seems that there is a problem with the throne in Conner’s country, and he’s looking for someone who could play the part of a missing prince.  Prince Jaron was rumored to have been killed by pirate four years ago, but if found, he would be heir to the kingdom. And Conner wants to place whichever of the boys who learns his part best to take Jaron’s place on the throne.  He makes it brutally clear to the boys that the only alternative to participating in his plan is death.

So Sage quickly starts working to be Prince Jaron, along with Roden and Tobias.  As Conner and his henchmen plot, the three boys work hard at swordplay, court intrigue and other royal skills.  But Sage has a plan, and it doesn’t necessarily involve Conner.  With Prince Jaron’s title and kingdom and his own identity on the line, how far will Sage go?

false prince audioThe CD recording for The False Prince is well-done, with just the right pacing.  I loved the voice of the narrator, Carlie McWade. He sounded like a young man, stressed by circumstances and secrets.  He managed to make all the characters sound a little different, with different tones and speeds for their voices.

The False Prince is the first part of a trilogy, but it doesn’t leave you hanging. It’s a complete story in and of itself, but you will want to read the second book, The Runaway King, which came out earlier this year. The third book will be out next year.

The False Prince is a fantasy adventure, and perfect for a family car trip.  I would recommend The False Prince to readers in fifth through ninth grades, and the book on CD would be great for families from fourth grade up.  There is much going on in the story, so if you don’t listen carefully, you might miss some clues to the secrets and lies going on behind the scenes!  There is a bonus interview with the author that is quite interesting, and a missing scene from the book included on the CD.

Our copy of The False Prince as a book is located in both the Juvenile and Teen collections; the CD is in the Juvenile collection due to space issues.

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100 Cupboards
By N.D. Wilson, Read by Russell Horton
5 CDs, 6 hours; 23 minutes

100 cupboardsHenry York has spent all twelve years of his life with overprotective parents in Boston. How overprotective?  Henry had to wear a helmet to play outside, he wasn’t allowed to play sports, and at twelve, he was still riding in the back seat of their car, buckled into a booster seat.  When his parents were kidnapped on a business trip, Henry was put on a bus to Kansas, where his aunt, uncle and cousins live.

Arriving in Kansas, Henry is surprised at how different things are.  Uncle Frank has him ride home in the back of his pickup truck–no safety seat, not even a seat belt!  His Aunt Dotty is warm and welcoming, and not the least bit smothering. And his cousins– Penny, Henrietta and Anastasia—seem happy to meet him and want to take him right outside to play baseball and explore.

The girls have happily (mostly) sacrificed their attic playroom to give Henry a bedroom.  There is a spare bedroom in the house, but it had belonged to their grandfather, who died two years earlier.  He had locked his room, and since that day, no one has been able to get into the room. They’ve tried picking the lock, breaking the windows, chainsawing through the door…but both the door and windows are impervious to everything.

In the attic, Henry starts to hear strange noises from inside the wall, and suddenly plaster starts coming off.  Henry becomes curious and digs, and finds a post office mailbox under the plaster.  Henrietta sees it the next day, and the two of them set to work, pulling off the plaster.  Once it’s gone, they find a wall of 100 cupboards–all different sizes, shapes and types–revealed.  None of them will open.  But where would they go, anyway?  The other side of the wall looks over the field outside.

But then, one does open. And Henry discovers that on the other side is not the field, but a post office somewhere else. When an envelope and postcard appear in the mailbox that are obviously meant for him, Henry decides that he has to find out what is going on with the cupboards. With Henrietta’s help, he finds a key, and suddenly they are both traveling through the cupboards to mysterious places.  Why are the cupboards in the attic?  Where do they all go?  Henry and Henrietta find themselves and their family in terrible danger as they try to solve the mystery.

100 cupboards audio100 Cupboards is the first book in a time-travel/fantasy trilogy.  I found the story to be intriguing and interesting.  However, I had a very hard time with the narrator of this particular book on CD.  Although he did a great voice for a couple of the villains that appear later in the book, his voices for the rest of the characters sounded all the same to me; whiny and irritating. Uncle Frank and Anastasia were the only two that sounded different, and their voices were even more annoying.  People’s voices were drawn out, and the emotions I felt they might be feeling were not evident in the reading.

Now, voices and reading are a very subjective thing, so this may be something that doesn’t bother other listeners.  And I really did want to find out what was going on in Henry’s attic bedroom, so the problems I had with the voices didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story.  I did feel irritated with some of the actions of the characters, and I don’t know if it was because of the story or because of the narration.  But I do feel it’s a fair warning for discerning listeners!

This book is appropriate for third through sixth grade readers, and the audio recording would work with those ages as well.  100 Cupboards is in our Juvenile collection.

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Three Times Lucky
By Sheila Turnage, Read by Michal Friedman
7 CDs, 8 hours

three times luckyMoses LoBeau, rising sixth grader, lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, population 148.  She lives with The Colonel and Miss Lana, on account of her Upstream Mother losing her during a hurricane eleven years ago.  Mo counts herself lucky to have been found floating downstream on a pile of debris, a tiny newborn, and being found by the Colonel, especially with his memory problems.

Mo helps run Tupelo Landing’s only cafe, which Miss Lana runs and the Colonel owns.  Some days she’s even responsible for opening it and creating the menu.  One summer day, the cafe is the reason Mo can’t go fishing with her best friend, Dale.  He’s a good friend though, and helps her at the cafe instead. And because they’re running the cafe, they’re among the first people in town to meet Detective Joe Starr of Winston-Salem, traveling through to Wilmington to solve a murder.  He stops to ask questions in the cafe though, and angers the Colonel.  Mo is skeptical of Joe Starr’s intentions, and Dale is downright scared, what with him having “borrowed” Mr. Jesse’s boat for their postponed fishing trip and not yet having returned it.  Crime is crime, right?

Summer goes on. Mo sends some more letters in bottles, trying to find her Upstream Mother, Dale returns Mr. Jesse’s boat, and both of them help Dale’s brother, Lavender, with his race car.  Miss Lana is away, but the Colonel helps with the Cafe.  Mo’s sworn enemy, Anna Celeste (otherwise known as Attila) even manages to not be so annoying.  Although the Azalea ladies and Grandmother Miss Lacy Thornton are gossiping about Miss Lana’s absence, things seem to be going about the same as they always go in Tupelo Landing.

But when Mr. Jessie is found murdered, Joe Starr is right there, investigating the murder.  Mo and Dale establish the Desperado Detectives with the intention of helping.  Mo is right there in the middle of everything, finding clues, interviewing witnesses and detecting, even if Joe Starr doesn’t seem to appreciate her assistance.

But when Dale comes under suspicion, and Miss Lana disappears, things have definitely taken a turn for the worse.  If Mo can’t help, who else can?  Mo is determined to find out who killed Mr. Jesse, and maybe, in the midst of all the turmoil, find out who she really is.

three times lucky audioThree Times Lucky  is absolutely wonderful: a little slice of quirky southern life.  Mo is someone I would have wanted to know when I was twelve.  After finishing the story, I wanted to drive straight down to Tupulo Landing and meet everyone that I had just read about!  I loved Three Times Lucky as a story, but the audio recording makes it even better!  As you listen, you absolutely believe you are listening to Mo, complete with her adorable southern accent.  The characters come to life as you listen through their accents, cadence and tones.  Even though Mo is narrating, each person has their own voice.

I especially loved the southern flavor of the town, which is evident in the text, but it’s something that comes alive through the audio recording.  The little idiosyncrasies of southern flavor were more apparent read aloud than they were in the visual text.  There is such a feeling of place that it felt like I was listening to a conversation at Mo’s Cafe.  I listen to books on CD in my car, so every time I had to stop and turn it off, I felt like I should be talking with a southern accent!

I’m not sure what else to say about Three Times Lucky other than it was great.  If you’ve ever listened to Turtle in Paradise, Three Times Lucky reminded me of that book, with a strong sense of place and the perfect marriage of story and narrator.  This book was a Newbery Honor book in 2013, and it was definitely a real winner.

Three Times Lucky is the perfect book for a family car ride.  The book is probably best for fourth through sixth grade readers.  There are some elements of the murder mystery that may make it difficult for the youngest readers, but on the whole, the audio recording works for everyone.   Three Times Lucky is my favorite audio recording of this entry and my favorite of the year, so far!

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And there you have it.  It took me almost as long to write this as it did to listen to one of the CDs!  I hope you’ll try one of these and enjoy!


Two Audio Reviews that will make you think

Summer is a great time to listen to audio books, whether you’re driving back and forth to the beach, to camp or to visit relatives.  Audio books make the trip go faster and, if the whole car is listening, give you something to talk about along the way.

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Okay For Now
by Gary D. Schmidt, Read by Lincoln Hoppe
8 CDs, 9 hours, 18 minutes
Winner of an Odyssey Honor Award for Audiobooks

Doug Swieteck is not in the least bit happy when his father’s temper causes him to lose his job. Instead of just finding another one in the city, his father calls an old buddy, Ernie Echo, who gets him work at the papermill he works for in upstate New York. So Doug, his mother and his older brother have to give away everything that doesn’t fit in a pickup truck and move.  One of Doug’s classmates shows up as Doug’s mom is giving away her plants and gives Doug a jacket signed by his hero, Joe Pepitone.

But even Joe Pepitone’s jacket can’t save the day. Stupid Marysville is a small town, and The Dump, as he calls the family’s new home, is disgusting. Doug has to share a tiny room with his brother, the criminal mind. He has to hide Joe Pepitone’s jacket from him too, or the criminal mind would take it and trade it for something else.

On the first stupid Saturday in stupid Marysville, Doug ends up on the steps of the local library, where he meets Lil Spicer, who teaches him how to drink a really cold Coke. She also gets him a job with her father, delivering groceries for Spicer’s Deli. On his route, Doug meets some of the characters in Marysville, like  and Mrs. Windemere, an elderly playwright with a penchant for different ice cream flavors every week.

And in the library, Doug discovers a treasure–a book of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. The book is in a glass case, but Doug is fascinated by the Arctic Tern, whose eyes seem to see more of life than Doug could have imagined.

But life in Marysville is challenging with a family like Doug’s. His brother, the criminal mind, is suspected of robbing several local stores. His father is spending more time with Ernie Echo than with his family. And Doug’s mother is thinking of her oldest son, serving in Vietnam.  Doug’s life in Marysville is filled with ups and downs, love and loss, discoveries and and learning how to see what life is really all about.  His time there changes his life, but his presence in Marysville changes the lives of the residents just as much.

I loved Okay for Now, and I adored the audio recording. The book is set in 1967, and full of details about life in the 60s.  (For instance, Doug earns $5 for a full day of deliveries, and the library is only open on Saturdays.) This was the year of the Apollo Lunar Landing and of Vietnam war protests. It was a turning point year in many ways, and Doug manages to survive things that kids today would consider horrible treatment.

I do have to admit, it took me the full first disc to get into the story. I didn’t like Doug’s accent (he sounded like an imitation Vinnie Barbarino) and I was tired of listening to “So what?” and what Joe Pepitone would and wouldn’t do. But I stuck with it, and I’m extremely glad that I did.

This is a book that could lead to some great discussions for book groups or for families. I would recommend it to middle school and high school readers, but certainly a sophisticated fifth grader could read and enjoy it.  It is recommended for listeners ages 10 through 16, and would be a wonderful sound recording for a family trip, especially with middle school students.

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No Passengers Beyond This Point
By Gennifer Choldenko, Read by Becca Battoe, Jesse Bernstein and Tara Sands
5 CDs, 6 Hours, 6 Minutes

Finn Tompkins is the middle child (and only boy)  between two very different sisters. His older sister, India, is into fashion and gossip and dating–a typical 14 year old.  His younger sister, Mouse, is a genius who has a unique outlook on life and an interest in science and planets.  They live with their mother, who is a teacher. Their father died after a car accident on the way to the hospital before Mouse was born.

When a series of bad decisions leads to their mother losing their house to foreclosure, she decides that Finn, India and Mouse will go live with their Uncle Red. Although she’ll join them eventually, she will have to complete the school year and stay with their aunt in town. It’s evident to the entire family that four more people just couldn’t all fit into Uncle and Aunt’s tiny house.

No matter how hard India argues that she HAS to stay with her friend Maddie…no matter how much Finn wants to stay and play basketball with his team…no matter how much Mouse cries and begs to stay with their mother, she remains firm. The kids are put on the plane to Red Fort and Uncle .

But when they arrive at the airport, it’s not Red Fort.  It’s not even Denver, or Colorado.  The man waiting for them in the airport turns out to be a boy disguised with a mustache. He drives a pink feathered taxi.  The kids are delivered to Red Bird, where crowds of people cheer and celebrate their arrival. India, Finn and Mouse are each given a small wooden puzzle piece and told the only way to return home is for all of them to decide they want to go home, and to join their wooden pieces together. They’re also given a clock, and told that they have 13 hours to decide, but that time will go differently for each of them.  Then each one is brought to all their new house, designed specifically to their interests, with an adult parent-substitute who will provide for all their needs, sometimes even before they ask.

India loves it (she has a direct line via computer to Maddie), Mouse is happy (her new “mom” has all the time in the world for her, plus she loves science experiments), but Finn questions where they are and what’s going on. His questions lead to him being kicked out of his house and trading time for information.

The more Finn discovers, the more he realizes that he has to find his sisters and get home. Unfortunately, it won’t be as easy as Finn thinks, because there are a lot of obstacles in his way, and the biggest one might be India.  And the clocks are ticking down…

No Passengers Beyond This Point was a very interesting book to listen to. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on until halfway through the book, and without the actual print copy I couldn’t flip through to see if I was right! It wasn’t until the very last chapter that the full story is revealed in a very clever fashion.  This really IS one of those books where to say too much is to give away the story.  However, I am very curious to know what other readers or listeners think!

I loved that there were multiple narrators for this book–each chapter is from the viewpoint of India, Finn or Mouse, and each had a different narrator.  This was much more effective than a single narrator would be, and gave each of the siblings a unique voice.   The pacing was great.

No Passengers Beyond This Point is recommended for listeners ages 8 to 14. I’d say the book is accessible to kids in grades four through six.  If you like adventures and puzzles, try this book. It’s enjoyable both on tape and in print.  It would also be a great discussion book for a parent-child book group.

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Try either of these audio titles on your next trip, and see what you think!


Old Favorites: The Avion My Uncle Flew

I’ve always enjoyed mysteries, as well as books that take place in a different country–especially if it was a place I’d like to visit.  But I think that when I originally picked up this book to read, way back in fifth grade, it was because of the funny word in the title. “Avion”?  What was that?  The plane on the cover did kind of hint at what it might be, but I wasn’t sure.

When I read the blurb on the back of the book to see what it might be about, it looked exciting–a boy building a plane, spies and France!  Even better, the last few pages (yes, I check the last few pages…mostly to see if the main character’s name is still there…it’s a thing) seemed to be in French.  I recognized the language from the books at my grandparents’ house.  That was that. I just had to read The Avion My Uncle Flew, by Cyrus Fisher.

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Johnny Littlehorn lives on a ranch in Wyoming with his mother and the ranch hands. His father would normally live there too, but he’s been away for over three years, fighting overseas.  While he was gone, Johnny tried to help out on the ranch. With so many men away, there are never enough ranch hands and so much work.  During a terrible snowstorm, Johnny had set out to help by rounding up cattle. Unfortunately, he was thrown from his pony and hurt his leg very badly.  Badly enough that he may never walk again. His mother brings him to all sorts of specialists, but Johnny ends up confined to the house in a wheelchair, waiting for his leg to heal, and for his father.

Johnny’s father had been wounded during the war, and ended up serving his remaining tour as a liaison in France. He had contacts that some of the soldiers didn’t, since Johnny’s mother had been born in France, and her brother Paul still lives there.  When he hears about how his son is dealing with the accident, Johnny’s father returns to Wyoming, but only to bring Johnny and his mother back to France for a year. The bonus is that there are excellent Army surgeons over there, and they think they can fix Johnny’s leg.

Once they get to France, the surgeons do fix Johnny’s leg, but he still has a long recovery ahead of him. And unfortunately, his father’s job with the Army is sending him to London for a few months. Johnny’s parents decide that dank and gloomy London wouldn’t be a good recovery spot, so they decide to send Johnny to stay with his Oncle Paul, in St. Chamant.

France isn’t exactly what Johnny would have thought. First of all, there’s the conversation he overhears in the park. Then Albert, the man who is helping his father is seen meeting with the mysterious Monsieur Simonis…who was also in the park. When Johnny confronts the men, they deny what they said and make him look foolish to his parents.  Afterward, they get Johnny alone and threaten him if he tells anyone.  Johnny is sure that the men are up to no good, but it seems to be related to the house his mother and uncle own, and the whole family thinks that the crisis is over.

When Johnny gets to St. Chamant and meets Oncle Paul, he immediately likes the man. Paul is young, in his early 20s, and is building an experimental plane…and he wants Johnny to help. Paul tells Johnny that by the time his parents return in two months, Johnny will be running to greet them.

Building a plane is hard work, as is recovering from surgery to his leg. Moving from a wheelchair to crutches isn’t easy, but Johnny has a goal in mind–riding a bicycle.  His plans are complicated though, by Albert and Msr. Simonis popping up again.  When some of his new friends tell him of the rumors of a Nazi spy still in the area, Johnny wonders if the spy and Msr. Simonis are the same person.

Danger threatens the small town just as Johnny starts to feel at home.  Can he and his new friends manage to figure out the danger and save themselves?

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The Avion My Uncle Flew takes place when in was written…in 1946, just after World War II ended.  It’s an interesting view of  France, since people are still affected by the events they’ve just lived through. It also means that the spy mystery has an immediacy that makes it imperative for Johnny and his friends to solve.

Best of all, throughout the book, Johnny learns French words from his uncle and friends, so that by the time you reach the end, Johnny writes an essay on his year in France–in French–and the reader can understand the whole thing!  As a kid, I found that extremely cool. As an adult, I’m amazed that Cyrus Fisher manages to make it work so well.

The Avion My Uncle Flew fits into a lot of different genres–it’s a mystery, historical fiction, a foreign language book and an adventure.  Johnny builds a plane and recovers from a serious injury.  He makes new friends in a new country.  It’s a reunion between a family who has been through several different traumas. And it’s a great story.  It won a Newbery Honor for one of the best books for children in 1946.

The Avion My Uncle Flew would be great for anyone interested in speaking or learning French, and boys especially should love the story of the airplane. The language is rich, and it is pretty long. I’d recommend it to fifth through seventh grade readers, although it could appeal to kids both older and younger.  I wish it was available as a sound recording, because it would make a great story for family car trips.

So, give it a try, and let me know what you think!


Happy 2012!

It’s January, and for children’s librarians, that means one thing:  Book Awards!  Right now, librarians all over the country are pouring over their lists of best books of 2011.  We’re all trying to predict what books published in 2011 will win the 2012 awards for distinguished  literature for children and teens in a variety of fields.

Come in and see our Best Books of 2011 displays, and vote for your favorites for the Newbery and Caldecott Awards.  Will you be right?  Find out on January 23rd!  That’s when the American Library Association will announce the official winners!

For now, here are a list of our favorites:

Caldecott Possiblities:

 A Butterfly is Patient, By Dianna Aston, Illustrated by Sylvia Long

Naamah and the Ark at Night, By Susan Bartoletti, Illustrated by Holly Meade

The Adventures of Mark Twain, by Huckleberry Finn, By Robert Burleigh, Illustrated by Barry Blitt

Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic, By Robert Burleigh, Illustrated by Wendell Minor

The Money We’ll Save, Written and Illustrated by Brock Cole

A Dazzling Display of Dogs, By Besty Franco, Illustrated by Michael Wertz

Blue Chicken, Written and Illustrated by Deborah Freedman

Say Hello to Zorro, Written and Illustrated by Carter Goodrich

Perfect Square, Written and Illustrated by Michael Hall

Red Sled, Written and Illustrated by Lita Judge

Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the True Story of an American Feud, By Suzanne Tripp Jurmain, Illustrated by Larry Day

Neville, By Norton Juster, Illustrated by G. Brian Karas

I Want My Hat Back, Written and Illustrated by Jon Klassen

All the Water in the World, By George Ella Lyon, Illustrated by Katherine Tillotson

Me…Jane, Written and Illustrated by Patrick McDonnell

A Ball for Daisy, Written and Illustrated by Chris Raschka

Stars, Written by Mary Lynn Ray, Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Blackout, Written and Illustrated by John Rocco

Where’s Walrus?  Written and Illustrated by Stephen Savage

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, By Joyce Sidman, Illustrated by Beth Krommes

Grandpa Green, Written and Illustrated by Lane Smith

Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat, Written and Illustrated by Philip Stead

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of the Macy’s Parade, Written and Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

 * * *

Newbery Possibilities:

The Mostly True Story of Jack, By Kelly Barnhill

Chime, By Franny Billingsley

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, By Jeanne Birdsall

Small Persons with Wings, By Ellen Booraem

Jefferson’s Sons, By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Dragon Castle, By Joseph Bruchac

The Cheshire Cheese Cat, By Carren Agra Deedy

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart, By Candace Fleming

Dead End in Norvelt, By Jack Gantos

Tuesdays at the Castle, By Jessica Day George

True (…sort of), By Katherine Hannigan

Small as an Elephant, By Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Inside Out & Back Again, By Thanhha Lai

The Friendship Doll, By Kirby Larson

A Monster Calls, By Patrick Ness

The Aviary, By Kathleen O’Dell

Words in the Dust, By Trent Reedy

Bluefish, By Pat Schmatz

Okay for Now, By Gary D. Schmidt

The Emerald Atlas, By John Stephens

Hound Dog True, By Linda Urban

Breadcrumbs, By Anne Ursu

Pie, By Sarah Weeks

 * * *

Remember, any new book published in 2011 in the US is eligible!  Please come by the library to vote, and feel free to add any suggestions you might have.  If you’d like to share here, just let us know which book YOU think might win an Award!



Old Favorites: Gone-Away Lake

Have you ever had a vacation that you never wanted to end?  Days that went on forever,  full of exploration, excitement and friends? Real connections with brothers and sisters, cousins or new friends?

That’s the kind of summer that Portia, Julian and Foster experience in Gone-Away Lake, by Elizabeth Enright.

* * *

Portia Blake and her younger brother Foster have always spent the summers with her cousin Julian, Uncle Jake and Aunt Hilda Jarman. Julian is an only child, and he looks forward to the summer months with other kids in the house.  This will be the first summer for Portia and Foster without their parents along though…they’re going to Europe from June until August.  Portia and Foster are even traveling by train alone. The story starts when the kids are on the train, visiting the dining car and anticipating the long summer months with all the freedom to spend doing whatever they want.

Things will be even more exciting this summer for all three kids, including Julian, because Uncle Jake and Aunt Hilda have just bought a new house, deep in the country, with woods out back, a brook running through the property, and even a tree swing for Foster. There are new puppies, a room for Portia with a canopy bed, bunk beds for Foster and a deck for everyone to share.  Portia falls asleep that night to the sounds of running water, owls and whippoorwills.

The next day, Julian and his cousins set out with a picnic lunch, determined to explore the woods. They’re having a great time finding insects, bird-watching and even spying a fox. The best thing, however, is when they’re eating their picnic lunch and they find the slightest hint of an inscription engraved on the old mossy rock they’re leaning against. Julian scrapes off the moss, and they find:

15 JULY 1891

They have no idea what it means, but it certainly makes them curious! Julian, Portia and Foster move on, looking for something, anything that might explain what Lapis or Philosophorum, Tarquin or Pindar mean.  Trudging through tall grass and mud, with clouds of mosquitoes and gnats swarming around them isn’t easy, but a bit of further exploration leads to a swamp, then a ghost town of abandoned homes, which had to have been quite elegant  in their day. Exploring the abandoned cottages leads them to  a mysterious noise, which then brings them to an elderly couple living by themselves, in the middle of this abandoned resort, on the banks of a vanished lake.

Portia and Julian are suddenly in the middle of a mystery, a riddle and even some treasure hunting as they return time after time to the gone-away lake. Between their explorations and the stories from their new friends, this summer is shaping up to be one that neither of them (or Foster, who doesn’t share all their adventures)  will ever forget!

* * *

Originally written in 1957, Portia and Julian are probably older than the parents (and maybe even the grandparents?) of today’s readers.  Minnie Cheever and Pin Payton (the elderly couple) are in their 70s/80s, and remember 1891…so it might be stretch for kids of today to understand some of their references to crank cars, petticoats, driving bonnets and buttonhooks. (They’re not referred to as historical, just something kind of old-fashioned.)   But  if you’re looking for a nostalgic read about kids having the best vacation ever, Gone-Away Lake (and the sequel, Return to Gone-Away) would be perfect.

I’ve heard people refer to these books as “that great story where nothing happens”. It’s true that there’s not a lot of action, but the descriptions and sense of place are wonderful, and the friendship that develops between the two sets of relatives, 70 or so years apart in age, is both eye-opening and intriguing.

Gone-Away Lake won a 1958 Newbery Honor Medal. It’s a great story to listen to on CD or read aloud, especially if you’re camping or in a vacation cottage by a lake with no electricity.

It’s a terrific book, full of surprises for  readers of all ages. Recommended for fourth through sixth grade. For listening to, you can go a little younger. The vocabulary is wonderful, so even older middle school readers might enjoy the rich language.