Old Favorite: Hangin’ Out with Cici

It’s the return of Old Favorites!  This time, with a book for teens.  Or mothers.  Or people who were teenagers in the 70s.  Or the 70s.  Or all of the above!

Do people say that you look–or act, or behave–just like your mother? Do you get tired of being compared to her?  Have you ever wished you could have met your mother as a kid and figure out if when she says “Well, when I was a kid, we did it THIS way!” it was actually true?   Told her that she should be easier on her kids when she has them? Seen what kind of parents your grandparents were?  Meet people you’ve heard of, but who were gone before you were born?

If you’ve ever felt that way, you’ll really like Hangin’ Out with Cici, by Francine Pascal.

* * *

hanging out with cici 3It’s been a long time since Victoria got along with her mother. When she was twelve, things were mostly  fine.  But now that she’s in eighth grade, her mother seems to criticize everything about her, from her messy room to the clothes she wears to her choice in friends.  And she’s SO overprotective!  Victoria feels like she can’t do anything her classmates are allowed to do.   So to retaliate, she picks fights.  She complains.  She even gets caught smoking at school. She causes problems problems that make her mother despair at her behavior, and to ask Victoria if she actually hates her.

hangin out with cici 2Victoria’s grandmother often steps in and tells her that her mother has a difficult job, and that Victoria  should make it easier.  That Victoria’s mother caused her own share of troubles when she was young, so she does understand. That her mother loves her, even if Victoria thinks that all she does is pick at her.  Victoria thinks her grandmother is cool, and that she has to be exaggerating about her mother causing trouble.  Her mother, after all, must have been a perfect kid.  As if to prove her coolness, her grandmother even makes peace between them after the smoking incident, and convinces Victoria’s mother to relax her grounding long enough to let Victoria take the train into the city, where she had plans to go to her older cousin’s party.

Hanging out with cici 1But even that goes wrong, and after a big fight with her sister, Victoria’s mother is already pretty angry with her when she leaves on the train.  But at the party, Victoria gets caught doing something horrible (that she really didn’t do), and her aunt calls her mother.  Victoria’s mother is absolutely furious, after everything, this is the final straw.  Even though Victoria tries to explain, she is told to leave immediately and come home; her mother even mentions boarding school.  Thinking over all the events of the day and everything over the last couple years that led up to the fights with her mother and her bad behavior, Victoria is genuinely regretful.  All she wants is for her mother to like her again. Getting on the train to go home, she wishes she could fix what she did.  She wishes that she could go back in time and change all the things that put her in this place, to change all the behavior that put her at odds with her mother, to go back in time and…   There’s a sharp turn by the train, a pain in Victoria’s neck, and things go black.

hanging out with cic 4She opens her eyes, and she looks at the people around her, who seem to have a very bad sense of style.  The train seems noiser and more crowded.  The station looks cleaner.  When she gets off the train, the conductor calls her “Smiley” and tells her that things can’t be as bad as she thinks–just as he did when she got on the train.  But it can’t be the same man; he’s at least  fifty years younger than the conductor who greeted her when she got on the train.  Maybe they’re father and son?

Victoria soon has bigger problems though.  At first she thinks that everyone in the neighborhood is dressed funny for some big event, then she thinks that she’s in the middle of filming a movie, then she thinks that she’s going bananas.  She grabs on to the first person who looks familiar–a girl about her own age who says her name is Cici.  Cici invites her to join her  and Victoria accepts.  As they spend the afternoon getting into trouble around New York City, Victoria realizes that Cici is just as much a troublemaker as she is.  A kindred spirit!  But Victoria knows that she doesn’t know Cici.  So why does she look so strangely familiar..?  By the time Victoria meets Cici’s mother…a younger version of her own grandmother…it’s obvious that somehow, Victoria has gone back in time.  This new teenage mother is fun, but how can Victoria get back to her own time and her own mother to apologize?

* * *

Hangin’ Out with Cici was published in 1977, and was a hugely popular book at the time.  (At least, in my school it was!)   Francine Pascal, the author, went on to great success as the author of the Sweet Valley High series, followed by Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley University, the Francine Series and the Fearless trilogy.  Hangin’ Out with Cici was her first book, and it was followed by two other books about Victoria–My First Love & Other Disasters and Love & Betrayal & Hold the Mayo.  Neither sequel was quite as popular as the first book, but they would also rank up there as “old favorites” with many people.  Hangin’ Out with Cici was so popular, it was made into an Afterschool Special called My Mother was Never a Kid.

In Hangin’ Out with Cici, Victoria is 14 in 1977; Cici was 14 in 1944.  Going in back in time puts Victoria right in the middle of  World War II, hanging out with her teenage mother dealing with rationing, blackouts, friends and families with fathers and brothers and grandfathers away at war, relatives that are missing or overseas in the middle of the battles (or worse) and everything else that WWII entailed.  Victoria knew that her mother grew up in a time where life was difficult, but the difference between seeing something happen and hearing about something thirty years later is huge. Because of the things she observes and talks to Cici about, Victoria starts to understand more about where her mother is coming from–why she worries and where her strengths originate.  Even though her mother is also a bit of a troublemaker who worries her own mother, she doesn’t mean any harm.  Victoria starts to understand how she’s hurting her mother with her actions. She also has a couple heart-to-hearts with Cici, which reveal some surprising truths about both girls.

As a teenager, reading the book in the 70s, and knowing that my mother had grown up around the same time, it was a real eye opener.  Today’s teens might not have that same awareness, as they’d have to go back an extra generation (or maybe even two!) to find a teenage relative in the midst of World War II.  Still, reading this book might remind today’s teen that  your mother was a kid once, and is still that same kid underneath.  Just with several years of life experience since that time.

The book is out of print, and Weston Library is the only Minuteman Library that still owns a copy of Hangin’ Out with Cici.  (Even so, ours has a terrible binding, and is a little fragile.)   Our copy was in the Juvenile collection, but after re-reading it, I am moving it to the Teen collection.  Some of Victoria’s choices are rather troublesome, so it’s best for sixth through ninth graders.  It’s pretty short–only 152 pages–so it’s a quick read.  It’s a lot of fun though, and would be a perfect choice for a book discussion group for mothers and daughters.

* * *

If you do read and enjoy Hangin’ Out with Cici, stop by and let me know what you thought!






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.

* * *

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?

* * *

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!


Old Favorite: The Sherwood Ring

Part mystery, part ghost story, part historical fiction, part romance.  This is a book that will give you insight into the American Revolution and laugh at the same time.  The Sherwood Ring, by Elizabeth Marie Pope, will  also make you want to run out and find out if your family has an ancestral home, family jewelry or family ghosts!

* * *

Poor Peggy Grahame has spent all her life following her father around the world.  Her mother had died when she was born, and since she was a tiny infant, her father has either dumped her on nannies, at various schools, left her with friends, and once she got old enough or when his money ran out, dragged her around the world with him.  He’s never been affectionate, and scarcely seemed to notice that she was alive. Until the afternoon before he died.

On his deathbed, he apologizes for the years of neglect, and tells Peggy that he’s sending her to live with his older brother Enos at the ancestral family mansion, Rest-and-be-thankful, in New Jerusalem, New York.  He tells her a little about her family and more about the history of the house, including the fact (in a quite matter of fact tone) that it’s haunted. He also tells her that she’d be better off not telling Uncle Enos if she does see one of the ghosts, since Enos has spent his entire life surrounded by antiques, longing to meet the family ghosts.  Peggy’s father also tells her that he wrote to Enos that he was sending her there, and that she wouldn’t be any trouble. He gives her sketchy directions on how to get there, and just a few days later, she’s on her way.

When Peggy arranges for her train to stop at the New Jerusalem station, she discovers that Rest-and-be-Thankful is seven miles away.  Since no one is expecting her and there’s no taxi service, no clerks or workers at the tiny station, she’ll have to walk, toting her luggage, down wet and muddy dirt roads.  Luckily, the train conductor takes pity on her, and manages to have the train stop at a spot where Peggy will only have to walk about two miles instead of seven.  Still, it’s down a rough track, not a real road, and when she comes to a abrupt stop in the track with paths dividing to either side, Peggy is lost.

She’s about to give up in despair when a beautiful girl in a red cloak mounted on a black horse appears behind her and stops to ask if she needs help. Truly grateful, Peggy explains that she’s trying to get to Rest-and-be-thankful, and asks which path to take. The other girl considers, then tells her to take the left-side path, where a few feet down the road, she’ll find a young man repairing a small car that will be able to help her. Peggy turns to look down the road, and when she turns back to thank the girl, she and her horse have vanished into the shadows of the right-side path.

Following the directions, Peggy does indeed find a young man giving a lecture to the car he’s attempting to repair. Peggy can’t miss the British accent, and the young man introduces himself as Pat Thorne, explaining that he’s a student on a grant, studying the history of guerrilla warfare during the  Revolutionary War.  By a strange stroke of fate, before his car broke down, he was on his way to meet her uncle, Enos Grahame.   He offers to take her there, once he’s fixed the car.  As they chat over the engine, Peggy realizes that she likes Pat; he’s very personable and has a fun outlook on life.  He gives her some details on his research grant–though it, he’s trying to solve the mystery of an ancestor, who was involved in the Revolution in the New York area, and he thinks that her Uncle Enos, a noted scholar in the area, might be able to help him.

Arriving together at Rest-and-be-thankful, both are impressed at the sight of Uncle Enos. But what had been a very formal introduction and greeting from the elderly man suddenly turns into something very different when Enos learns who Pat is.  He throws the young man out of the house, forbidding him to come back or to see Peggy ever again. Both Peggy and Pat are confused, but Pat reluctantly leaves, vowing to see Peggy, with or without permission from Enos. Peggy is then relegated, in Uncle Enos’ mind, at least, to the role of a child. He sends her to her room, doing everything but patting her on the head and telling her to play nicely and not bother the grown-ups.

Still confused, but tired from her travels, Peggy heads up to her room.  On the way upstairs to unpack and see what her room is like, she stops in front of a painting on the landing.  It’s a life-sized portrait of the girl in the red cloak and her horse, looking just the way Peggy saw her that afternoon.  But the plaque under the painting reads “Barbara Grahame at the age of sixteen, painted by John Singleton Copley, 1773.”  Peggy has met her first ghost.

Soon, Peggy is trying to please Uncle Enos, get out of the house to see Pat and meeting with Barbara, her older brother Richard, and Peaceable, the dashing spy.  In the process of talking to two of her ancestors and their…friend? acquaintance? prisoner?…she finds out quite a lot about her family history, the American Revolution, the English soldiers stationed in the area, Revolutionary spies, and even (or maybe especially) true love.  Will Peggy manage to put everything together and see what the stories she’s being told really mean?  Will her relationship with Uncle Enos ever get better?  Will he learn to see her as something more than a child?  Will she ever manage to see Pat again? And then there’s the mystery of the Grahame fortune and Pat’s ancestor…are the ghosts trying to tell her something not just about the past, but about the present as well?

* * *

I love this book, from the characters to the dialogue to the historical background.  There are many sly hints about coming events and humorous stories that point out the true sacrifices made during a war…on both sides.  Who knew that tory spies could be just as dashing and bold as patriotic soldiers…and funny besides?  I love the situations that Barbara,  Richard and Peaceable relate to Peggy, each time giving her a clue to something that will help her in the present. Their stories breathe life into history, and make it real.  They also make you want to know them, to join them in their adventures.  (And, as a teenage reader, I have to admit I had a total crush on Peaceable.)

Peggy’s situation is not quite as hopeless as it appears. She has her work cut out for her, taming the crotchety Uncle Enos, but with the help of her ancestors, she has more than luck on her side.

Elizabeth Marie Pope was a professor of English for thirty-eight years. She wrote The Sherwood Ring in 1958, and her second book, the Newbery-Award winning The Perilous Gard (a previous Old Favorite), in 1974.  Although I’m sure she published many academic papers, these were her only two novels.  That’s a shame, because both are probably on my top twenty list of books every girl should read.

Since the fifth grade is currently studying spies in the American Revolution, I would recommend The Sherwood Ring to the entire class.  However, even if you’re not a Weston fifth grader, you would enjoy this book. It is a bit of a romance, as well as a spy story, and a  humorous historical fiction, so it should appeal to a wide range of readers.  This would be best for fifth through eighth grade readers though, and would probably be preferred by girls, although if boys can get past the girly covers, I think they would enjoy it as well.

So give The Sherwood Ring a try, and let me know what you think.  I think you’ll like it!





Teens: War stories for middle schoolers

Under the Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisburg
Tomikazu Nakaji’s biggest concerns are baseball, homework, and a local bully, until life with his Japanese family in Hawaii changes drastically after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Salisbury
Following orders from the United States Army, several young Japanese American men train K-9 units to hunt Asians during World War I

Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell
When her brother is sent to fight in Vietnam, twelve-year-old Jamie begins to reconsider the army world that she has grown up in.

Year of the Bomb by Ronald Kidd

In 1955 California, as “Invasion of the body snatchers” is filmed in their hometown, thirteen-year-old Arnie discovers a real enemy when he and three friends go against a young government agent determined to find communists at a nearby university or on the movie set.

Elephant Run by Roland Smith
Nick endures servitude, beatings, and more after his British father’s plantation in Burma is invaded by the Japanese in 1941, and when his father and others are taken prisoner and Nick is stranded with his friend Mya, they plan a daring escape on elephants, risking their lives to save Nick’s father and Mya’s brother from a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata
In 1975 after American troops pull out of Vietnam, a thirteen-year-old boy and his beloved elephant escape into the jungle when the Viet Cong attack his village.

Code Talker:  a Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac
After being taught in a boarding school run by whites that Navajo is a useless language, Ned Begay and other Navajo men are recruited by the Marines to become Code Talkers, sending messages during World War II in their native tongue.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Bored and lonely after his family moves from Berlin to a place called “Out-With” in 1942, Bruno, the son of a Nazi officer, befriends a boy in striped pajamas who lives behind a wire fence.

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
A black family living in the South during the 1930’s are faced with prejudice and discrimination which their children don’t understand.

Teens: War stories for high schoolers

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick
While recuperating in a Baghdad hospital from a traumatic brain injury sustained during the Iraq War, eighteen-year-old soldier Matt Duffy struggles to recall what happened to him and how it relates to his ten-year-old friend, Ali.

Crossing Stones by Helen Frost

In their own voices, four young people, Muriel, Frank, Emma and Ollie, tell of their experiences during the first World War, as the boys enlist and are sent overseas, Emma finishes school and Muriel fights for peace and women’s suffrage.

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
Robin Perry, from Harlem, is sent to Iraq in 2003 as a member of the Civilian Affairs Battalion, and his time there profoundly changes him.

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
Seventeen-year-old Richie Perry, just out of his Harlem high school, enlists in the Army in the summer of 1967 and spends a devastating year on active duty in Vietnam.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
To get away from her pregnant stepmother in New York City, fifteen-year-old Daisy goes to England to stay with her aunt and cousins, with whom she instantly bonds, but soon war breaks out and rips apart the family while devastating the land.

Sisterland by Linda Newbery
When Hilly’s grandmother becomes ill with Alzheimer’s disease, her family is turned upside down by revelations from her life during World War II.

Postcards from No Man’s Land by Aidan Chambers

Alternates between two stories– contemporarily, seventeen-year-old Jacob visits a daunting Amsterdam at the request of his English grandmother–and historically, nineteen-year-old Geertrui relates her experience of British soldiers’s attempts to liberate Holland from its German occupation.

Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis

Teens Octavia and Tali learn about strength, independence, and courage when they are forced to take a car trip with their grandmother, who tells about growing up Black in 1940s Alabama and serving in Europe during World War II as a member of the Women’s Army Corps.

War Is..Soldiers, Survivors, and Storytellers Talk About War edited by Marc Aronson and Patty Campbell
An anthology of fiction, speeches, poems, and essays about war.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

A novel about U.S. soldiers in Vietnam.

Tamar by Mal Peet
In England in 1995, fifteen-year-old Tamar, grief-stricken by the puzzling death of her beloved grandfather, slowly begins to uncover the secrets of his life in the Dutch resistance during the last year of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, and the climactic events that forever cast a shadow on his life and that of his family.

Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino
When their village is destroyed in the Guatemalan Civil War, Tomasa and her family, except her mother and brother, who have been taken by the authorities, begin the long trek north in search of somewhere they will be safe.

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd
In 1981, the height of Ireland’s “Troubles,” eighteen-year-old Fergus is distracted from his upcoming A-level exams by his imprisoned brother’s hunger strike, the stress of being a courier for Sinn Fein, and dreams of a murdered girl whose body he discovered in a bog.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel–a young German girl whose book-stealing and story-telling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors. Includes readers’ guide.

Ghosts of War:  The True Story of a 19-year-old GI by Ryan Smithson

A personal narrative of a soldier in the Iraq war.

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

During World War II, a light-skinned African American girl “passes” for white in order to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots.