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!




Booklist: History in Boston!

Everyone thinks about Pilgrims at Thanksgiving, but there are many other time periods where Massachusetts history came into play!  Celebrate the history of Boston and greater Massachusetts with this booklist of Boston favorites.

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Historic Boston Books


phantom islesAlter, Stephen.
The Phantom Isles

Three friends and the librarian in a Massachusetts town must help each other to free the ghosts that have been imprisoned in books by a professor on a fantastical island many years ago.

Aiken, Joan.
Nightbirds on Nantucketnightbirds on nantucket

Having had enough of life on board the ship that saved her from a watery grave, Dido Twite wants nothing more than to sail home to England. Instead, Captain Casket’s ship lands in Nantucket, where Dido and the captain’s daughter, Dutiful Penitence, are left in the care of Dutiful’s sinister Aunt Tribulation.

 elephant in the darkCarrick, Carol.
Elephant in the Dark

Through training an elephant, the first ever seen in early 1800’s Massachusetts, orphan Will begins to feel important for the first time in his life.

daughter of winterCollins, Pat Lowery.
Daughter of Winter

In the mid-nineteenth-century shipbuilding town of Essex, Massachusetts, twelve-year-old Addie learns a startling secret about her past when she escapes servitude by running away to live in the snowy woods and meets an elderly Wampanoag woman.

13 hangmenCorriveau, Art.
13 Hangmen

Tony and his friends, five 13-year-old boys, all live in the same house in the same attic bedroom but at different times in history! None are ghosts, all are flesh and blood, and somehow all have come together in the attic room, visible only to one another. And all are somehow linked to a murder, a mystery, and a treasure.

dead man's lightCorbett, Scott.
Dead Man’s Light

Tommy accompanies his Uncle Cyrus to Dead Man’s Light and is plunged at once into the unsolved mystery of the Light. Full of suspense and mystery, Young Tommy Brackett is in for a real adventure on the New England seacoasts.

guestsDorris, Michael.

Moss and Trouble, an Algonquin boy and girl, struggle with the problems of growing up in the Massachusetts area during the time of the first Thanksgiving.

sacrificeDuble, Kathleen Benner.
The Sacrifice

Two sisters, aged ten and twelve, are accused of witchcraft in Andover, Massachusetts, in 1692 and await trial in a miserable prison while their mother desperately searches for some way to obtain their freedom.

johnny tremainForbes, Esther.
Johnny Tremain

After injuring his hand, a silversmith’s apprentice in Boston becomes a messenger for the Sons of Liberty in the days before the American Revolution.

wonder of charlie anneFusco, Kimberly Newton.
The Wonder of Charlie Anne

In a 1930s Massachusetts farm town torn by the Depression, racial tension, and other hardships, Charlie Anne and her black next-door neighbor Phoebe form a friendship that begins to transform their community.

oh boy bostonGiff, Patricia.
Oh Boy, Boston!

The Polk Street Kids are coming–on their class trip to Boston. They’re going to fly kites on Boston Common, walk the Freedom Trail, and put on a play–with Richard “Beast” Best as Paul Revere.

midnight rideHapka, Cathy.
Midnight Ride

John Raleigh Gates’ job as a post rider on the eve of the Revolutionary War puts him in contact with Paul Revere and a search for a hidden treasure.

joshua's songHarlow, Joan.
Joshua’s Song

Needing to earn money after his father’s death during the influenza epidemic of 1918, thirteen-year-old Joshua works as a newspaper boy in Boston, one day finding himself in the vicinity of an explosion that sends tons of molasses coursing through the streets.

seeing lessonsHermann, Spring.
Seeing Lessons

When ten-year-old Abby Carter attends the newly established school for the blind in Boston in 1832, she proves that blind people can learn and be independent.

salem witchHermes, Patricia.
Salem Witch

Salem, 1692. Elizabeth Putnam and her parents are different from many of the other village folk, and they doubt the superstitions that terrify the town. When Elizabeth herself is accused of witchcraft, her best friend George must make a difficult choice between what his community believes and what he knows to be true.

maggie and oliverHobbs, Valerie.
Maggie & Oliver or A Bone of One’s Own

A dog whose beloved owner has died and an orphaned ten-year-old girl find each other while enduring poverty and homelessness in early-twentieth-century Boston.

boston janeHolm, Jennifer.
Boston Jane

Schooled in the lessons of etiquette for young ladies of 1854, Miss Jane Peck of Philadelphia finds little use for manners during her long sea voyage to the Pacific Northwest and while living among the American traders and Chinook Indians of Washington Territory.

james printerJacobs, Paul.
James Printer: A Novel of Rebellion

Although he has lived and worked as a printer’s apprentice with the Green family in Cambridge Massachusetts, for many years, James, a Nipmuck Indian, finds himself caught up in the events that lead to a horrible war.

mysterious circusLangton, Jane.
The Mysterious Circus

With the help of a mysterious stranger and the magical gift he brought them from India, the Halls foil a new enemy’s plan to build a Henry Thoreau theme park across from their home in Concord, MA.

daughters of the sea hannahLasky, Katherine.
Daughters of the Sea: Hannah

In 1899, a fifteen-year-old orphan named Hannah obtains employment as a servant in the home of one of Boston’s wealthiest families, where she meets a noted portrait painter who seems to know things about her that even she is not aware of, and when she accompanies the family to their summer home in Maine, she feels an undeniable pull to the sea.

horseback on the boston post roadLawlor, Laurie.
Horseback on the Boston Post Road

As war with the French and Indians begins in 1704, Madame Sarah Kemble Knight is instructed to bring twin servant girls Hester and Philena on a perilous journey by horse from Boston to New Haven, Connecticut. When Madame Knight decides to take only one of the sisters, the other risks her life to follow, and the group of travelers must make their way through the menacing and hazardous wilderness.

spirit to ride the whirlwindLord, Athena.
A Spirit to Ride the Whirlwind

Twelve-year-old Binnie, whose mother runs a company boarding house in Lowell, Massachusetts, begins working in a textile mill and is caught up in the 1836 strike of women workers.

taking care of terrificLowry, Lois.
Taking Care of Terrific

Taking her overprotected young charge to the public park to broaden his horizons, fourteen-year-old baby sitter Enid enjoys unexpected friendships with a black saxophonist and a bag lady until she is charged with kidnapping.

son of libertyMassie, Elizabeth.
1776: Son of Liberty: a Novel of the American Revolution

African-American Caleb Jacobson, a sixteen-year-old free man living on a Maryland farm in the 1700s, is torn between loyalty to his fellow colonials and his race when rumors of war begin arriving from Boston.

scurvy goondaMcCoy, Chris.
Scurvy Goonda

At age fourteen, Ted Merritt is eager to replace his imaginary friend, a bacon-loving pirate, with real friends but soon he is led from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, into a world of discarded “abstract companions” who are intent on wreaking vengeance on the human race.

tough timesMeltzer, Milton.
Tough Times

In 1931 Worcester, Massachusetts, Joey Singer, the teenage son of Jewish immigrants, suffers with his family through the early part of the Great Depression, trying to finish high school, working a milk delivery route, marching on Washington, and eventually even becoming a hobo, all the while trying to figure out how to go to college and realize his dream of becoming a writer.

bread and roses tooPaterson, Katherine.
Bread and Roses Too

Jake and Rosa, two children, form an unlikely friendship as they try to survive and understand the 1912 Bread and Roses strike of mill workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

guns for general washingtonReit, Simon.
Guns for General Washington

In the bitter winter of 1775-76, Colonel Henry Knox and his younger brother Will, both of the Continental Army, become frustrated with the British blockade of Boston and decide to attempt to move 183 cannons from Fort Ticonderoga, over 300 miles of mountainous wilderness, to defend the besieged city.

chasing the nightbirdRussell, Krista.
Chasing the Nightbird

In 1851 New Bedford, Massachusetts, fourteen-year-old Cape Verdean sailor Lucky Valera is kidnapped by his estranged half-brother and forced to work in a mill, but while Lucky is plotting his escape he meets a former slave and a young Quaker girl who influence his plans.

what came from the starsSchmidt, Gary.
What Came From the Stars

In a desperate attempt for survival, a peaceful civilization on a faraway planet besieged by a dark lord sends its most precious gift across the cosmos into the lunchbox of Tommy Pepper, sixth grader, of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

mourning warsSteinmetz, Karen.
The Mourning Wars

In 1704, Mohawk Indians attack the frontier village of Deerfield, Massachusetts, kidnapping over 100 residents, including seven-year-old Eunice Williams. Based on a true story.

boy on cinnamon streetStone, Phoebe.
The Boy on Cinnamon Street

Since a tragedy she cannot remember, thirteen-year-old Louise has changed her name, given up gymnastics, moved in with her grandparents, and locked her feelings inside but through her friends Reni and Hen and notes from a secret admirer she begins to find herself again.

fruitlandsWhelan, Gloria.

Fictional diary entries recount the true-life efforts of Louisa May Alcott’s family to establish a utopian community known as Fruitlands in Massachusetts in 1843.

Booklist by Julie G.

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There are plenty of other books about Massachusetts, in the past and in the present!  So if you would like to read about the area where you live, just ask one of our librarians for suggestions!  And Happy Reading!


Old Favorite: Flaming Arrows

When I was a kid, historical fiction was my favorite genre for quite a few years.  The more danger the characters were in, the more I liked the book.  My favorites were books on frontier and pioneer life…the kids in those books seemed to be more self-sufficient and danger-prone than they were at any other time in history!  Plus there was the whole survival thing added on to the danger.  As I read,  shivering in anticipation, I thought how I would manage to deal with being in the same situation…  Of course, being in the safety of my own house, it was easy to second-guess or plan better.

My own frontier survival skills were honed by reading William O. Steele’s books–The Buffalo Knife, Winter DangerThe Lone Hunt, Trail Though Danger.  My real favorites were Tomahawks and Trouble and The Year of the Bloody Sevens, but Minuteman Library Network doesn’t own a copy of either.  So this week’s Old Favorite is my third favorite of Mr. Steele’s titles: Flaming Arrows.

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flaming arrowsIt’s 1785, and Chad Radburn and his family live in one of the Tennessee Cumberland wilderness settlements.  Pappy is a fine hunter and farmer, and Mammy an excellent homemaker. The family’s little cabin is secure and homey for Chad, his sister Sarah and his brother Amos.  All the kids help with chores, but as the oldest, Chad has extra responsibilities.  He even has a musket now, to hunt with and to help his father protect his mother and the younger ones from the Chickamauga raiding parties that sometimes attack the settlements.flaming arrows 2

Chad’s family learns that all the settlers are in danger when one of their neighbors comes to tell them the Chickamaugas are raiding. Mr. and Mrs. Radburn and Chad load up everything they can carry, and take themselves, the younger children and their livestock to the fort. The fort is small and crowded, but it’s safe and welcoming. Or is it?

flaming arrows 3When the Logan family tries to enter, most of the men in the fort want to turn away the mother and her three young sons.  Her husband is Traitor Logan, who sometimes trades with the Indian tribes and is known to have lived with them.  Though the family is skinny and weary-looking and they’re sure to be killed if they’re left outside, the frightened settlers don’t want anything to do with a traitor, even if he’s not with them. But Chad’s father convinces the rest of the families in the fort to bring the Logan family inside.  He promises to take responsibility for them.

When the siege continues for days with no signs of stopping, Chad starts to feel the weight of his father’s responsibility on his own shoulders.  It seems like the Indians know right where to go, and rumblings start about the Logan family.  Is all the danger outside the fort, or is someone from inside helping the enemy?  If peace is to be kept and the settlers are to survive, Chad has to take action.

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William O. Steele was born in 1917.  When he died in 1979, he had written 39 books for children and young adults.  He won several awards for his titles, including a Newbery Honor  for The Perilous Road.  Almost all his books take place along the frontier and feature young pioneers (real and fictional) dealing with the conflicts of making their way in the wilderness.

Flaming Arrows was originally published 1n 1957, when awareness of cultural differences between the native tribes and the settlers wasn’t often acknowledged, let alone recognized.  Indians are portrayed as the “bad guys” with no explanation about why they might be unhappy about being invaded by strangers taking over their land. We know now that there are better explanations for the violence that erupted on the frontier, but people living in those times didn’t have the benefit of our current knowledge and sensitivity.

There is a very good foreword by Jean Fritz  in the modern editions, republished in the 1990s.  She mentions that the history reflects the feelings, the worries and the dangers of the time.  Jean Fritz is a well-known author of historical fiction and non-fiction who was also a contemporary of William Steele.  Anyone reading these titles should definitely read the foreword.  It would be a good jumping-off point for a discussion on historical fiction and the way points of view and “known” history change over the years.

Flaming Arrows, like most of Mr. Steele’s books, is most appropriate for fourth and fifth graders, or for readers interested in or studying frontier life.  They are adventures and survival stories, and can be a little violent, like the times which they reflect.  They’re definitely good for historical fiction book reports!

So pick up any one of William O. Steele’s books if you’re interested in a good adventure story.  And let us 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!

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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?

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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!





Old Favorites: Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander

Do you ever wish you could travel through time? Visit different times and meet famous people like Tutankhamun, Queen Elizabeth the first or Leonardo daVinci? Maybe your great-grandparents? Watch famous events take place?

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Jason had never really thought about time travel. He just knew, when he was sent to his room as punishment for punching his younger brother, talking back to his mother and a variety of other issues, that he wanted to escape. He’s miserable, and he mostly brought it on himself.

His cat Gareth is just dozing away on his bed when Jason throws himself down on it. Seeing Jason’s distress, Gareth climbs into his lap. Feeling sorry for himself, Jason strokes the cat and says (out loud) “I wish I had nine lives.”

And Gareth says “I wish I did too.”

A talking cat is not something you see every day! But Jason takes it completely in stride. He’s disappointed when Gareth explains that he actually doesn’t have nine lives, but then his cat shares a secret: he doesn’t HAVE nine lives, but he can VISIT nine lives.  That could be even better, Jason thinks. Then he asks another question…can Gareth bring anyone with him? The answer is yes…if Jason doesn’t mind taking some risks.

What are those risks? Well, Gareth and Jason won’t be able to talk in front of anyone, Jason will have no special protection, so whatever happens, happens. Jason can’t change his mind in the middle, and he has to stay with Gareth at all times, or risk not getting home again.  Jason accepts, and then boy and cat are off…for Egypt in 2700 B.C.

The rules are not as easy as they might sound, as Jason discovers. It’s not easy for a boy and a cat on their own. As they travel all over the world, having adventures, meeting famous people and discovering  civilizations from Ireland to Rome to Japan to Peru, Jason discovers that maybe getting home might be slightly more difficult than he had originally thought.

As Jason goes through time and space, he finds out more about himself…and also about history. In their travels, Jason and Gareth manage to meet and help several famous people and cats. (Gareth, you see, likes to travel to times when cats were important, or played an important role in some famous person’s life.) Would Leonardo DaVinci have become an artist if Jason and Gareth hadn’t made their way into his life? Maybe, maybe not. You’ll have to read and decide for yourself.

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Originally published in 1963, Time Cat was the first book released by Lloyd Alexander, later famous for the Newbery Award-winning Prydain fantasy series, the Westmark adventure series and several other award-winning books, now a staple in classrooms across America. Because Time Cat is an early effort, it doesn’t receive as much notice, but all his trademarks that earned him such prestige and awards are definitely present.

This is a quick book to read, with lots of accurate information about each of the nine historical time periods Jason and Gareth visit. There’s a little humor, a little danger, and a lot of fun in each historical episode.

If you like cats, historical fiction or time travel in books, you should enjoy Time Cat. Recommended for kids in fourth to sixth grade, or to read aloud to kids slightly younger.  As always, if you’d like more information or other suggestions, ask one of our librarians!



Old Favorites: The Reb and the Redcoats

In honor of the Revolutionary War Wax Museum biography projects going on this week at the Field School, today’s Old Favorite takes place during the American Revolution. Now, there is certainly one old favorite that takes place in the Revolution that everyone knows…Johnny Tremain! But there are others that were popular in their day, that have sadly fallen into relative obscurity… The Reb and the Redcoats, by Constance Savery is one of those books.

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Charlotte Darrington lives in England with her brothers, Joseph and George, and their little sister Kitty. They are currently living with their grandparents and Uncle Laurence  in a large manor called White Priory while their father is away in the Colonies, fighting the rebels. Papa sends their Mamma long letters about his time there, and his children gifts.  Charlotte even receives a doll, taken from a rebel household. Patty’s Patty (Charlotte discovers her name on the back of a flag the young rebel owner pinned to her doll’s dress) is beautiful, even though her mysterious smile seems to create trouble.

The best part of living with their uncle, though, is the Reb.

The Reb is a 15-year-old rebel, captured on board a ship from the American colonies, bearing American war dispatches to France. As a prisoner of war, he’s escaped several times, each time helping his fellow prisoners to disappear; he’s even succeeding in passing the information from the dispatches, via some French smugglers he somehow managed to locate before being recaptured. Charlotte’s uncle is now in charge of keeping him locked up and safely under guard.  This is unfortunate for the prisoner, as Uncle Laurence has returned to England after being seriously wounded in a battle, and has just discovered that his best friend was executed for spying. Not only that, but it’s been rumored that the Reb was present at the time. Because of that, Uncle Laurence doesn’t have any patience for rebels, bad behavior or escape attempts. His arrangements for the young prisoner are treated with dismay by the rest of the Darrington family.

But the Reb is proud too, and refuses to even acknowledge his circumstances, or even Charlotte and her brother’s attempts to speak with him. After being ignored once too often, hot-tempered George flies off in a rage at the rebel, even calling him names.  Charlotte in embarrassed and approaches the Reb with an apology. At first, the boy seems to think she’s trying to make fun of him, but she manages to win him over with her sincerity. She is gifted with his real name (Randal Everard Baltimore) and the wrath of Uncle Laurence. But she also gets a glimpse of a lonely boy with a determination she doesn’t understand.

After yet another failed escape that almost costs the Reb his life, Charlotte knows that she must do something to help him.  Fortunately for the Reb, her plan works, and soon the young prisoner is given limited freedom and the friendship of the Darrington children. But in the long run, will Charlotte’s plan help or hurt their prisoner of war’s chances of returning to America?

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Originally published in 1961, I first found The Reb and the Redcoats in fifth or sixth grade, when we studied the Revolution. To me, part of the appeal was seeing the Revolutionary War from a very different point of view…in the eyes of the Darrington family, the Colonists are not only completely wrong, they’re foolish criminals. After reading all about the fictional Johnny Tremain, and the real Paul Revere, George Washington and other larger than life characters of the Revoltutionary War, it was not something I’d ever seen in a book by an American author!

The book holds up well, even after almost fifty years.  The characters feel real, and I loved the Reb and his almost impossible situation.  A few famous characters make an appearance later in the story, and their actions are viewed very differently in England than they were in America.  Loyalties and Loyalists are different in England than in the rebellious Colonies, but love and friendship are universal.

If you like Historical Fiction, or enjoyed learning about the American Revolution, you should enjoy this book. It has a bit of a slow start, mostly because Charlotte seems much younger than the readers the book is written for, but give The Reb and the Redcoats a try.  If you persevere through the first two chapters, you’ll find yourself intrigued by the story of a fifteen year old soldier with something to prove to himself, his captors and his country.


Old Favorite: Detectives in Togas

Historical fiction has always been one of my favorite genres to read, but there’s no doubt that it’s sometimes hard to recommend to the right book for every reader.  Sometimes, much of the enjoyment lies in understanding the background of the time when the story is taking place.

You probably tend to read historical fiction based on the time you’re already interested in (or assigned!) like the American Civil War, or World War II, or on The Oregon Trail.  In those cases, you already have a little background information, and you either want to (or have to) learn more.

Still, picking up a book set in a time period you know nothing about can be very rewarding. Sometimes, it can inspire a reader to find out more about that time, or discover more books set during that period. Sometimes, they’re just fun reads, where you can pick up some tidbits of interesting information to stun and amaze your friends! Crossover novels–science fiction where kids travel through time, or mysteries that take place in history, or fantasy worlds that are based on actual historical facts–can be the best place to start a love of history.

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Detectives in Togas, by Henry Winterfeld, is a mystery. It’s also set during the time when Rome ruled the world, and Caesar ruled Rome.

Caius is a Dumbbell“.  Not quite what you expect to see from a group of wealthy Roman boys at school. And yet, there is is, scratched on a wax writing tablet at the front of the classroom. Rufus, Antonius, Mucius, Flavius, Julius, Publius (and Caius, of course) are shocked to see it stuck up on the wall, for anyone to see.  But it had to have been one of them who did it. Their tutor, Xantippus, stops the fight that erupts between Caius and Rufus, as words and fists start flying, and Caius claims to recognize Rufus’ handwriting.

Xantippus sends a worried Rufus home with a warning that he will speak with his mother, and sends unrepentant Caius home for starting a fight.  He sends the rest of the boys home to think about their actions…and also with an essay, a writing assignment, and studying as punishment for their actions.

The next day, when the boys return, Xantippus is nowhere to be found.  Rufus and Caius are also missing, although with the fight the day before, none of the other boys are surprised. What is surprising is finding Xantippus tied up in his small apartment, his belongings destroyed. With no idea what the invaders were searching for, the boys help their tutor clean up his home, then are given a real day off!

On their way to the market though, they see “Caius is a Dumbbell!” scrawled in huge letters on the wall of The Temple of Minerva, right outside Caius’ home…which is also the home of his father, Senator Vinicius,  a very important man in Rome. Like Caius, the senator suspects Rufus, and he plans to denounce him.

Crime is more serious in Rome than today’s readers might think, and Rufus is in danger of losing his hands, if not his life, just for being thought guilty. The boys know that their friend is in serious danger, and set out to find and help him.

How is the attack on Xantippus connected? Is the wealthy ex-consul Tellus, who may have had some connection to Rufus’ father, trying to help or hurt the boy? Will Caius help them? Has Rufus disappeared on his own, or is he in real trouble?  As the boys find more and more clues to help their friend, they find themselves deeper and deeper in danger.  Can they work together to save Rufus? Or will their actions doom him?

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The boys in this book are kids you would want on your side if you were in the middle of a crisis. They’re hard-working, funny and persistent, and they’ll do anything to help a friend. Even though they lived a couple thousand years ago, their friendship and school days are similar to what kids today have.

Henry Winterfeld was born in Germany, where Detectives in Togas was originally published in 1953; it was translated into English and published in the U.S. in 1956.  The Mystery of the Roman Ransom was published in 1969 in Germany, and translated in 1971.  A third book about the boys was published in Germany in 1976, but has not been translated into English.  I’ll read it if it’s ever released over here!

The details of Ancient Rome are fresh, and the information feels very naturally part of  the story. All that historical information is just part of the background…and if you happen to learn a few things while you’re reading, so much the better.  In fact, I suspect that anyone who finishes Detectives in Togas will want to read the second book about Rufus, Mucius and their friend–The Mystery of the Roman Ransom, where the boys buy Xantippus a slave and Caius is kidnapped.  You might also try The Roman Mysteries, by Caroline Lawrence.  You’ll be happy you did!  (And hey, it might give you a little headstart when you study Ancient Rome in middle school…)