The story of the struggles and achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen is told in vivid informational poetry.
Pre–World War II efforts aimed at improving the opportunities for African-Americans in the military faced strong opposition, but flight programs such as Tuskegee’s had a strong advocate in Eleanor Roosevelt, and she convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to support them. The preparation was vigorous, under the direction of white officers who were also affected by the racism of the time: “For them, choosing Tuskegee / means never making general, / but making history instead.” The poems explore all aspects of the time spent in training, including the restrictions of a small Southern town as well as outside news. After the U.S. entered the war, the pilots were eventually allowed to participate and served with great distinction. Carole Boston Weatherford does a masterful job of portraying the era and the prevailing attitude among African-Americans, who believed they could overcome racism with excellence. Her skill with language provides clear voices for the trainees, and cultural specifics provide additional texture and deepen understanding of the young men. Even African-American military nurses make an appearance. The epilogue places the Tuskegee Airmen in context with other, defeated legal racial barriers. This excellent treatment is enhanced with useful backmatter: author’s note, timeline, and list of additional resources. Jeffery Boston Weatherford's scratchboard illustrations complement the text.
A masterful, inspiring evocation of an era.
(Informational poetry. 9-12)
Ten-year-old Raymie Clarke of Lister, Florida, has a plan to get her father to come back home.
Raymie feels “alone, lost, cast adrift.” Her father has run off with a dental hygienist. She is determined to learn how to twirl a baton, win the title of Miss Central Florida Tire 1975, and get her photograph in the newspaper. Her father will see it and be so proud that he’ll return home to be with her. Raymie and her quirky new friends, Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski, have all lost parents and seek ways to move on with their lives and to protect one another along the way. DiCamillo’s third-person narrative is written in simple words, few exceeding three syllables, yet somehow such modest prose carries the weight of deep meditations on life, death, the soul, friendship, and the meaning of life without ever seeming heavy, and there’s even a miracle to boot. Readers will approach the tense and dramatic conclusion and realize how much each word matters. Raymie may not find answers to why the world exists or how the world works, but she can hold onto friends and begin to see more clearly the world as it is. Raymie’s small town is populated by quirky, largely white residents, many of them elderly, all distinct characters in their own rights.
Once again, DiCamillo demonstrates the power of simple words in a beautiful and wise tale.
(Historical fiction. 9-14)
After a rocky start, Cindy (Zomorod to her parents) finds a comfortable niche in her California middle school until political upheaval and revolution in Iran reach the United States, threatening her future and her family’s safety.
Moving to Newport Beach, she renames herself Cindy, to avoid hearing teachers stumble over Zomorod (“emerald” in Persian), prompting the ridicule of kids like Bill (whose name means “shovel” in Persian). Her engineer dad, who loves to talk about the oil industry, and unhappy mom, who won’t learn English, pose bigger obstacles to fitting in, as she trenchantly describes: “It’s not like I don’t love them. I just want to hide them until they stop being embarrassing.” Few Americans in the 1970s know Iran, often wrongly assuming it’s populated by Arabs or that her family is Mexican. Acquiring a peer group, Cindy’s introduced to Scouting and sailing. Her parents are no fans of the shah, but their hopes for Iran’s future are dashed with the Islamic Revolution and its brutal aftermath. They fear for the safety of friends and family in Iran, then for their own as they experience the best and worst of their adopted culture. Cindy narrates in the present tense, her affection for Iran just as palpable as her engagement with the moment.
On her own journey to maturity, Cindy deftly guides young readers through Iran’s complicated realities in this fresh take on the immigrant experience—authentic, funny, and moving from beginning to end.
(Historical fiction. 8-12)
The son of the Irish ambassador to Germany poses as a member of the Hitler Youth in order to support the Allies during World War II.
Just like his parents, 13-year-old Michael O’Shaunessey, from the politically neutral country of Ireland, becomes a spy in Nazi Germany. When a downed British pilot alerts him to the existence of Projekt 1065—an effort by Nazi Germany to build a faster warplane that works without propellers—Michael discovers that his classmate Fritz’s father is designing the plane, which gives him remarkable access to the blueprints. Michael’s photographic memory comes in handy for remembering enemy codes and formulas. When, as a junior Gestapo, he joins the group assigned to assassinate a Jewish physicist who is working on developing an American atom bomb, he becomes embroiled in a complex drama of espionage and betrayal. Through Michael’s narration and an accessible story and characters, Gratz sheds light on the connection between Fascism and bullying, the moral dilemmas of war, and the lesser-known, common use of children for serious tasks by the Nazi regime. He doesn’t shy from challenging his readers, offering them a coming-of-age story that concludes that sometimes good people must be sacrificed or wrong things must be done in order to win a larger battle.
A rare insider’s glimpse into the Hitler Youth: animated, well-researched, and thought-provoking.
(Historical fiction. 10-14)
Gidwitz strikes literary gold with this mirthful and compulsively readable adventure story set in medieval France.
In a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, this multiple-narrator fairy tale relates the adventures of Jeanne, a white Christian peasant girl who has prophetic visions; biracial white/black William, a Muslim-born monk-in-training with preternatural strength; and Jacob, a Jewish boy with incredible healing powers. While some townspeople hail them as saints for their gifts, other, narrow-minded Christians drive the children from their homes on a journey that takes them from the church of Saint Denis to a confrontation with Louis IX and his mother in Paris. While the three protagonists initially come together out of necessity, the heartwarming friendship they form celebrates a common humanity that transcends the bounds of race, religion, and social class. The author creates a richly designed medieval world, filled with imperious knights, farting dragons, foreboding forests, and soulless fiends, in which nothing is as it seems, including the tellers of the tales. As the story grows darker and more intricate, the dubious cast of narrators lends greater complexity to the sequence of events, forcing readers to question everything that they believe regarding each character’s exploits. Gidwitz’s lighthearted touch nonetheless provides for insightful commentary on the dangers of narrow-mindedness and zealotry that will resonate with modern readers.
A masterpiece of storytelling that is addictive and engrossing.
(Fantasy. 11 & up)
Twelve-year-old Joseph Johnson searches the Northwest frontier for his missing horse and a new family.
When first his mother and beloved little sister die of typhoid, and then his father dies in a wagon accident, Joseph is left in the care of a drunkard, his Indian pony, Sarah, his only remaining family. When the drunkard sells Sarah to a swindler, Joseph reclaims his father's pistol, takes the money given for the horse, and sets out in pursuit, on foot, through unforgiving wilderness. He wants Sarah back more than almost anything—but he sees the stars as the campfire his family members sit around, and he plans to be the person they taught him to be. So when he finds a starving, abandoned Chinese boy, Ah-Kee, Joseph spends part of his horse money to feed him. Ah-Kee joins him on the trail, and together they battle grizzly bears, survive river rapids, cling to the outside of a steam train, and deliver a pioneer woman's baby—all without speaking a word of each other's language. Told in Joseph's authentic voice, this is true adventure with strong underpinnings of moral courage and love. Gemeinhart shines truth on difficult situations, such as Joseph’s shooting an outlaw, and the ending brings Joseph home: "There was plenty of sadness in the story, I reckon, but it wasn't sad all the way through."
Two Dominican children, one in the Dominican Republic and one in the United States, find their lives intertwined following the 9/11 attacks.
Elizabeth, a 12-year-old girl living in the Dominican Republic, seizes each of life’s moments and milks all the joy she can find out of them. Then her life and family as she knows them are brought to a halt after the terrible events of Sept. 11, never to be the same again. Thousands of miles away lives 8-year-old Brandt, who finds his life and family also torn apart by the destruction of the twin towers. Following the attack, Brandt and his 13 year-old brother, Jared, move to Elizabeth’s island to escape the sadness that has consumed their lives since the tragedy. Brandt and Elizabeth find an immediate kindred connection with each other, and they go on to try to heal themselves and their families. Alternating chapters in Elizabeth’s and Brandt’s voices describe how the fall of the twin towers affects two Caribbean families so deeply, making readers feel it too. Beautifully placing moments of loss and grief on the page, Joseph turns tragedy into poetry and gives hope even in the darkest parts of these stories, linking the lives of the characters with almost musical orchestration.
This book will break readers’ hearts and then put them back together, in the best way.
(Historical fiction. 10-14)
A young English World War II refugee finds magic tending the winged horses who live in the mirrors of her sanatorium.
Emmaline May (her age is never given, though readers can extrapolate that she's older than 8, younger than 13; as well, she's not described as white, but, along with everyone else in the novel, probably is due to its setting) misses her parents, her older sister, and the horses that helped with the deliveries of her family's bakery. The horses were lost in the Blitz, and now Emmaline, afflicted with a disease she calls the "stillwaters," lives without her family in a former manor home–turned–pediatric hospital. Only she can see the horses in the mirrors; only she can see the mare with a damaged wing who comes to live in the walled garden. The Horse Lord leaves a note detailing what Emmaline must do to save the mare's life, and she embarks upon a quest made increasingly difficult by her declining health. Emmaline's narration is unreliable, flawlessly childlike, and deeply honest; her faith in magic brings her solace and, possibly, healing. The magical realism is reminiscent of the Chronicles of Narnia, Elizabeth Goudge, or a child's version of Life of Pi.
The right readers will love this to pieces.
(Historical fiction. 7-11)
Sometime in prehistory, a crippled boy and his wolf companion face coming-of-age challenges.
Twelve-year-old Kai was not supposed to live. Born with a crippled foot, he would be a burden to his community, so his father left the infant Kai near a wolf den. Instead of killing him, though, the wolves nurture him. When Kai’s mother discovers her infant is still alive, she brings him back to the family, where he grows up bullied and considered cursed. One day, Kai brings home a weak, motherless wolf pup to raise—an unheard-of event. Beckhorn skillfully explores the early beginnings of the human-wolf interaction that led to modern-day dogs in heartwarming scenarios that show the growing bond between Kai and the pup, Uff. But when Uff is threatened by the community’s leader, Kai and Uff set out to try to survive on their own in the territory of the feared Ice Men. Painting her prehistoric world with now-extinct animals, pristine landscapes, and descriptions of survival techniques that will fascinate readers, Beckhorn also makes it an accessible one by giving Kai the fears and doubts of many adolescents searching for their roles in life. As Kai faces challenges, he comes to believe in his unique talents and, ultimately, in himself.
This bracing, well-told story, laced with themes of self-responsibility, compassion, and honor, is both vital and nourishing.
(Historical fiction. 9-14)
Evil comes to rural Pennsylvania in an unlikely guise in this novel of the American homefront during World War II.
Twelve-year-old Annabelle’s coming-of-age begins when newcomer Betty Glengarry, newly arrived from the city to stay with her grandparents “because she was incorrigible,” shakes her down for spare change in Wolf Hollow on the way to school. Betty’s crimes quickly escalate into shocking violence, but the adults won’t believe the sweet-looking blonde girl could be responsible and settle their suspicions on Toby, an unkempt World War I veteran who stalks the hills carrying not one, but three guns. Annabelle’s strategies for managing a situation she can’t fully understand are thoroughly, believably childlike, as is her single-minded faith in Betty’s guilt and Toby’s innocence. But her childlike faith implicates her in a dark and dangerous mystery that propels her into the adult world of moral gray spaces. Wolk builds her story deliberately through Annabelle’s past-tense narration in language that makes no compromises but is yet perfectly simple: “Back then, I didn’t know a word to describe Betty properly or what to call the thing that set her apart from the other children in that school.” She realizes her setting with gorgeous immediacy, introducing the culture of this all-white world of hollows, hills, and neighbors with confidence and cleareyed affection.
Trusting its readers implicitly with its moral complexity, Wolk’s novel stuns.
(Historical fiction. 9-13)