Books by Elvira Woodruff

FEARLESS by Elvira Woodruff
Released: April 1, 2008

Woodruff spins a labored but engrossing tale around a lighthouse, its builder and a cataclysmic storm—all three drawn from history. Penniless and starving in Portsmouth in the wake of the sinking of their father's ship, Digory and his little brother Cubby are rescued by Henry Winstanley, a well-to-do merchant and inventor who has built the first lighthouse out on Cornwall's treacherous Eddystone Reef. A close rapport quickly develops, so that when Winstanley heads out to make repairs on the lighthouse in the teeth of a gale aptly dubbed the "Storm of the Century," Digory overcomes his fear of the sea and follows with a shipment of candles. The author lays portents and warnings into the plot with a heavy hand, builds to a wild and devastating climax and then wrenches events around to a more or less happy ending. Winstanley was a fascinating individual who doesn't get his due here, but Digory, despite his continual fretting, is a protagonist who actually seems to be his given age, and there's enough natural and human drama to carry readers along. (afterword, map) (Historical fiction. 10-12)Read full book review >
SMALL BEAUTIES by Elvira Woodruff
Released: Sept. 12, 2006

When Darcy is born after six sons, her grandmother says she will hold the heart of the family in her hand one day, and so she is named. As she grows, she notices things on their land in Ireland: a spider web sparkling with dew, cloud castles in the air. Darcy Heart, who has no pockets, takes a few stitches out of the hem of her dress so she can gather a flower petal or a butterfly wing. But the potato crops fail and there is no food. The agent of the Crown takes their cow and pigs (for they cannot pay rent), levels their cottage and offers passage to America. In a cramped cellar in New York City, Darcy takes out a bead from Granny's rosary, a stone from their hearth and dried blossoms of heather and buttercup, to remind them all of home, holding in her hand the heart of the family just as Granny predicted. Rex's pictures in charcoal, pencils and oils are strongly designed, with good use of the golden light of mist, memory and longing. Cityscape and cramped ship's quarters contrast with Darcy's green lane by the thatched cottage and the glow from its hearth. A little history in a lovely story. (author's note) (Picture book. 6-9)Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 2003

A young boy aids a prison escape in this adventurous historical fiction. Forrest lives at the Tower of London, which in 1735 has a jail and execution grounds. He helps his Ravenmaster father bring food to their prisoner and tend the Tower birds. When their newest prisoner turns out to be the faithful daughter of a Scottish Jacobite rebel, Forrest begins to question the terrible things he's always heard about Scots. He befriends Maddy, and when her father and uncle are murdered trying to escape, he swears to help her—despite an inevitable treason conviction if he's caught. Pet raven Tuck and loyal chimney-sweep Ned figure into Maddy's escape, and the neat ending is not unwelcome after unpleasant details of indentured children, adult corruption, and merciless law. Occasional cheapness ("'there would surely be no war'" if children never grew up) is outweighed by courage, friendship, and the earnest, fast-moving story. (map, author's note, history of the Tower, glossary, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 9-12)Read full book review >
THE CHRISTMAS DOLL by Elvira Woodruff
Released: Nov. 1, 2000

Imagine that 150 years ago, Charles Dickens decided to write a book just for little girls: a touching tale of not one but two deserving orphans, runaways from the workhouse who are starving in the teaming streets of Victorian London. Through luck, pluck, and assorted amazing coincidences, they find a streetwise older boy (an honest version of the Artful Dodger) to help them and a kindly doll-shop owner, Miss Thimblebee, who gives the oldest sister a job and eventually provides a loving home for both girls. Dickens, of course, never wrote a tale of two sisters, but Woodruff (George Washington's Socks, 1999, etc.) has spun just such a magical story, expertly incorporating a dash of Dickens with extensive historical research in the early Victorian era into her well-crafted plot. Ten-year-old Lucy and her six-year-old sister Glory are desperately trying to survive in the crowded slums of London when they find an old doll in the mud next to the Thames River. The plot turns on this particular doll, which is sold for a penny, later refurbished in the doll shop, and then chosen as the Christmas doll for the ailing daughter of Queen Victoria's gardener. The story is told in short chapters with the author employing another Dickensian device—much cliffhanging chapter endings. Young readers who like the American Girls and Dear America series will enjoy this fast-paced historical novel, and mothers or grandmothers will enjoy reading it to girls too young to read by themselves. A "dollightful" surprise for Santa to tuck under the Christmas tree . . . perhaps in the arms of an old-fashioned doll. (Fiction. 6-11)Read full book review >
THE MEMORY COAT by Elvira Woodruff
Released: March 1, 1999

Through the experiences of two children, Rachel and her orphaned cousin Grisha, readers learn why Russian-Jewish families fled to America for refuge at the turn of the century, the arduous 14-day journey they faced on the ocean, and the critical physical inspections that occurred at Ellis Island that could determine their futures. For Rachel's family, their moment of peril comes when Grisha, whose eye has been scratched, is marked for deportation with chalk on the back of the ragged jacket that was sewn by his mother. Rachel quickly thinks to turn his jacket inside out and he is examined again, by a kinder doctor, and is allowed to stay with the family. Dooling's dramatic oil paintings reflect the fears and hopes of not only Rachel's family, but of all immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island hoping for freedom from religious persecution and for more prosperous futures. Woodruff (The Orphan of Ellis Island, 1997, etc.) includes information about on her inspiration for this book, the atrocities of life in Russia, and the history of Ellis Island since its opening in 1892. (Picture book. 7-10) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 15, 1998

Can You Guess Where We're Going? (32 pp.; $15.95; Nov. 15; 0-8234-1387-X): Woodruff's book is a treasure hunt for a destination, with hints rattling like hail all around readers. Gramps is taking Jack out for the day, but he's not letting on just where they are headed. He does give Jack clues—impossible clues—e.g., there will be monkeys there, and perhaps they can bring some home. Sea turtles, pastries, mountains, dragons, and knights also come up in conversation. Throughout the journey, Fisher drops additional hints in color-mad, busy illustrations that feature a lot of books. When the two finally pull up in front of the library, it comes not as a surprise but as a pleasant inevitability. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

Readers don't have to have read Dear Levi (not reviewed) to enjoy this sequel, a gripping historical novel that covers two boys' journeys from innocence to manhood. In 1853, young Levi and his buddies, Possum and Jupiter, create a daredevil's club, through which they attempt to outrun bulls, jump off cliffs, and investigate strange occurrences in their small Pennsylvania town. The tone shifts from the humor of boyhood scrapes to tragedy when Jupiter's little sister, Darcy, is captured by slave traders. Jupiter and Levi head south to find her, a journey that is particularly eye-opening for naive Levi. The action unfolds through his letters to his brother Austin; these range from laugh-out-loud funny to poignant. Powerful emotions are subtly and expertly conveyed, from Levi's amusing embarrassment in dancing class, to his guilt for Darcy's kidnapping, to his horror at the slave auction. Woodruff combines swift pacing, historical detail (Harriet Tubman makes an appearance), humor, suffering, depth, and precise characterizations, for wholly satisfying page turner. (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1997

A colorless adventure through time as an orphan discovers something about his past. Fifth-grader Dominic is on a class trip to Ellis Island, thinking about how he has outgrown his unfashionable shoes and how different he is from his well-off classmates. A friendless orphan and frequently relocated foster child, Dominic has recently made an embarrassing mistake that makes him eager for the next upheaval. He longs for a family of his own; after he is accidentally locked into the park building, he makes contact with a long-dead relative and travels back to Italy in 1908. There he meets three orphan boys; desperately poor and hungry, two of them eventually make passage to the US on a ship, after illness kills the other. The boys are needy, but Dominic marvels at their sense of family, and it is eventually clear that they are his ancestors. Dominic returns, with precious knowledge of his roots, to a brighter present in the form of a new foster family. Woodruff includes details about the adventure that make it compelling, but the story is drily told and often heavy-handed. (map, glossary, bibliography) (Fiction. 9-12) Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1994

Saddled with a boastful stepbrother he dubs ``Mr. Gifted,'' Andy's self-esteem has evaporated until he touches a mummy case. Somehow galvanized, he creates a brilliant mummy painting that elicits gasps of admiration, makes wishes that seem to come true, and substantially improves his grades. Is Andy being helped by the mummy's ka (soul), or is he helping himself? The story can be read either way. Woodruff lays on her serious themes with a heavy hand (Andy describes at length his feelings about himself, other characters, and his dead mother), but she has a delicious way with comedy: Andy's torn between wishing for baseball cards or world peace, and his best friend's Egypt project is a hamster mummy reverently laid out in a Cracker Jack box complete with the unwrapped prize as ``a supreme gesture of respect.'' Predictable but likable, though the premise has been mined with more suspenseful results (e.g., in McMullan's Under the Mummy's Spell, 1993). (Fiction. 9-11) Read full book review >
THE WING SHOP by Elvira Woodruff
Released: April 15, 1991

An ordinary story about a boy trying out several pairs of wings takes flight in its delightful illustrations. Matthew, who has just moved, wants desperately to revisit his old home; he finds (or imagines) a magical shop that loans him the wings of a gull, a butterfly, even an airplane. Each has its problem (bat wings hang him upside down), easily solved with a wish. Spotting the old house at last, Matthew is dismayed to find it has a pink porch and is now willing to go home to supper. In his usual riotous style, Gammell depicts the cheery, imperturbable child in a pleasing array of amusing situations. His fantastic cityscapes, with lurching brick towers that might be nightmarish were they less obviously born of good-humored fun, are a new addition to his repertoire of unique images. The rather long text is uneasily superimposed on the grand illustrations. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >