Another Audio Review: Full of Beans!

Full of Beans
By Jennifer L. Holm, Read by Kirby Heyborne
3 CDs, 3.5 hours

full of beansBeans Curry has plans.  It’s 1934, and the country is in the Great Depression.  There’s no money anywhere for fun things; Beans’ family is just managing to squeak by.  His mother is taking in mending, and his father has left Key West to find work in New Jersey, so he can send money back to the family. Beans’ plan is to find a way to  make a whole lot of money so he can get his father back home, give his mother time to relax, and get some funds so he can go to the movies every week.

His first venture leads to him being cheated by Winky; the restaurant owner had promised Beans a dime for finding and cleaning cans for his business, but when Beans and his brother Kermit show up with the cans, Winky says it was fifty cans for a dime.  Hot, sweaty and angry, Beans casts out his net wider.  Several schemes with  his friends Pork Chop and Too Bad don’t go as  planned.  But when Beans hooks up with rum-runner Johnny Cakes, he suddenly has a lucrative job!

Too bad that it’s illegal.

Is the promise of money more important than honesty and friendship?  Can a kid from Key West find a way to survive?  Beans finds himself caught in the middle of some big lies and some small ones.  But he also discovers that keeping your eyes open and seeing what’s around you can lead to some pretty important discoveries…and some surprising sources of income.

full of beans audioFull of Beans is a sort of prequel to the Newbery-Award Winning Turtle in Paradise.  (Beans is Turtle’s cousin, and although Turtle is the main character, Beans has a major part to play.)  Beans is a character with a lot of character and an authentic voice…and Kirby Heyborne does a great job of translating that voice on CD.  In Full of Beans, Beans and his friends come to life, and you can practically feel the heat of Key West around you as you listen to the narration.

This is a relatively short book, and would be great to listen to on a short car trip.  If you’re going to Key West, you should definitely read or listen to this book…there’s a lot of history about how Key West developed, and what the residents did to help that happen.   Kids in grades three through six would enjoy reading this book, and it would be a good listen for kids as young as six through adults.

And if you listen to the audio, look at the book as well.  The afterword, with pictures from Key West in the 1930s, is well worth checking out, and so is the list of internet resources, with links to finding more information.



Booklist: Living in America! Books about Immigrants

Stories about Immigrants Living in America

1835150Applegate, Katherine.   Home of the Brave
Kek comes from Africa. In America he sees snow for the first time, and feels its sting. He’s never walked on ice, and he falls. He wonders if the people in this new place will be like the winter – cold and unkind. In Africa, Kek lived with his mother, father, and brother. But only he and his mother have survived, and now she’s missing. Kek is on his own. Slowly, he makes friends: a girl who is in foster care; an old woman who owns a rundown farm, and a cow whose name means “family” in Kek’s native language. As Kek awaits word of his mother’s fate, he weathers the tough Minnesota winter by finding warmth in his new friendships, strength in his memories, and belief in his new country.

51tq+Tcm9dL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_Arato, Rona.  Mrs. Kaputnik’s Pool Hall and Matzo Ball Emporium
Treat yourself to a visit to the wackiest restaurant ever! Ten-year-old Shoshi and her eight-year-old brother, Moshe, arrive in New York in 1898 from Russia with their mother and Snigger, the baby dragon that saved them from an attack by Cossack soldiers. Five years earlier, their father had also come to New York to make his fortune, but no one has heard from him since. With the help of Snigger, they set out to solve the mystery behind their father’s disappearance, helping to free the Lower East Side from the tyrannical rule of gangster Nick the Stick along the way. A tale that blends history and fantasy with a journey of discovery, adventure, and fun!

51n4sYUMGFL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_Burg, Ann.   All the Broken Pieces : a novel in verse
Two years after being airlifted out of war-torn Vietnam, Matt Pin is haunted: by bombs that fell like dead crows, by the family — and the terrible secret — he left behind. Now, inside a caring adoptive home in the United States, a series of profound events force him to choose between silence and candor, blame and forgiveness, fear and freedom.

jjjjCrossan, Sarah.  The Weight of Water
Carrying just a suitcase and an old laundry bag filled with clothes, Kasienka and her mother are immigrating to England from Poland. Kasienka isn’t the happiest girl in the world. At home, her mother is suffering from a broken heart as she searches for Kasienka’s father. And at school, Kasienka is having trouble being the new girl and making friends. The only time she feels comforted is when she’s swimming at the pool. But she can’t quite shake the feeling that she’s sinking. Until a new boy swims into her life, and she learns that there might be more than one way to stay afloat!

indexEngle, Margarita.  Enchanted Air
Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

hundred dressesEstes, Eleanor.  The Hundred Dresses
Eleanor Estes’s The Hundred Dresses won a Newbery Honor in 1945 and has never been out of print since. At the heart of the story is Wanda Petronski, a Polish girl in a Connecticut school who is ridiculed by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue dress every day. Wanda claims she has one hundred dresses at home, but everyone knows she doesn’t and bullies her mercilessly. The class feels terrible when Wanda is pulled out of the school, but by that time it’s too late for apologies. Maddie, one of Wanda’s classmates, ultimately decides that she is “never going to stand by and say nothing again.”

6261530Giff , Patricia.  Wild Girl
Lidie lives in Jales, Brazil, where she’s free to ride, to be a wild girl, and to dream of going to live with her father and older brother, Rafael, in New York City. Finally Lidie is 12—time to leave Brazil for New York. Meanwhile, a filly is born and begins her journey to a new home. Lidie’s father runs a stable at a famous race track, and Rafael is training to be a jockey. As much as they want to make Lidie feel welcome, they still think of her as the little girl they left behind. They don’t even know what a strong rider she is, and that she’s determined to befriend and ride the wild filly her father has just bought: Wild Girl.

51UnPzofEWL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Hilton, Marilyn.   Full Cicada Moon
It’s 1969, and the Apollo 11 mission is getting ready to go to the moon. But for half-black, half-Japanese Mimi, moving to a predominantly white Vermont town is enough to make her feel alien. Suddenly, Mimi’s appearance is all anyone notices. She struggles to fit in with her classmates, even as she fights for her right to stand out by entering science competitions and joining Shop Class instead of Home Ec. And even though teachers and neighbors balk at her mixed-race family and her refusals to conform, Mimi’s dreams of becoming an astronaut never fade–no matter how many times she’s told no.

519zY1IldDLKarwoski, Gail.   Quake! : Disaster in San Francisco, 1906
It is before daybreak on April 18, 1906. Jacob Kaufman slips out of the wooden boarding house where he lives with his immigrant father and little sister Rosie, his father’s harsh words still ringing in his ears. Suddenly the ground beneath his feet begins to rumble, buildings collapse and the street splits wide open as Jacob runs to find safety from a devastating earthquake. Fires engulf the city. He returns to find his father and sister… but there is nothing left of the building but a pile of sticks. Jacob and his dog join the throng of other people searching for shelter, food, fresh water…and loved ones who are missing. An Author’s Note at the end carefully separates fact from fiction, giving young readers a glimpse into one of the worst earthquakes in modern history.

25685200Kelly, Erin.   The Land of Forgotten Girls
Erin Entrada Kelly, the author of the acclaimed Blackbird Fly, writes with grace, imagination, and deepest heart about family, sisters, and friendship, and about finding and holding on to hope in difficult times. Two sisters from the Philippines, abandoned by their father and living with their stepmother in Louisiana, fight to make their lives better in this remarkable story for readers of Cynthia Kadohata and Rita Williams-Garcia, and for anyone searching for the true meaning of family.

9780061962783Lai, Thanhha.   Inside Out & Back Again
When the Vietnam War has reaches her home at Saigon falls. Ha and her family are forced to flee and they board a ship headed toward America. Ha discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family.  A wonderful debut novel, winner of several awards.

gold-threaded-dressMarsden, Carolyn. The Gold-Threaded Dress
In Thailand she was named Oy, but here in America the teachers call her Olivia. Other things are not so easy to change, however. When Oy draws a self-portrait that has brown hair and eyes round as coins, her classmate Frankie makes fun and calls her Chinese. And the popular girl, Liliandra, barely speaks to her, until she learns that Oy has something very special: a Thai dancing dress from her grandmother, shimmering with pink silk and golden threads that make her look like a princess. Will Oy risk shaming her family to win Liliandra’s approval – and be part of the club she has envied from afar? With compassion and rare insight, Carolyn Marsden tells a simple tale about a young girl who searches for acceptance in a complex culture, while learning to treasure all that she is.

51klrxdysFL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_ Meyer, Susan.   Skating with the Statue of Liberty
After escaping the Germans in Nazi-occupied France, Gustave and his family have made it to America at last. But life is not easy in New York. Gustave’s clothes are all wrong, he can barely speak English, and he is worried about his best friend, Marcel, who is in danger back in France. Then there is September Rose, the most interesting girl in school, who doesn’t seem to want to be friends with him. Gustave is starting to notice that not everyone in America is treated equally, and his new country isn’t everything he’d expected. But he isn’t giving up.

5122LGDfErL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_Mobley, Jeannie.   Katerina’s Wish
Katerina has a dream. It’s her papa’s dream, too. Her family came to America to buy their own farm. But a year later, Papa is still working in the dangerous coal mine. Each day, the farm seems farther away. Then Katerina is reminded of the carp that granted three wishes in an old folktale. When her younger sisters hear the story, they immediately make wishes. Trina doesn’t believe in such silliness—but what is she to think when her sisters’ wishes come true? A farm is still too big to wish for. But, with the help of the neighbor’s handsome son, Trina starts building her dream with hard work and good sense. Then tragedy strikes, and it seems that nothing Trina wishes for will ever come true again.

girl in the torchSharenow, Robert.  The Girl in the Torch
After her father is killed in a pogrom, twelve-year-old Sarah and her mother immigrate to America–but when her mother dies before they get through Ellis Island, and the authorities want to send her back to the old country, Sarah hides in the torch of the Statue of Liberty.


Booklist prepared by Hope K.

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?

* * *

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!