Among the many entries celebrating this event’s centennial, librarians and teachers should welcome this historically...

CHRISTMAS TRUCE

Veteran children’s author Aaron Shepard (The Baker’s Dozen, 2010, etc.) tells the true story of how World War I troops on both sides of the trenches spontaneously observed Christmas 1914 together.

Drawing on documentary footage and soldiers’ letters and diaries, Shepard creates Tom, a composite British soldier writing his sister about this extraordinary event. Stilted language sometimes sits side by side with a conversational tone: “In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!” A long passage describes life in the trenches—the fear, the waiting, the rain, the mud. Fittingly, the realistic illustrations start in shades of mud brown, relieved pages later by the frosty blue hues of a magical sight—twinkling lights from a row of Christmas trees on the German line. Shepard weaves in reminders of time and place: “Stille nacht, heilige nacht….This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but [a soldier friend] knew it and translated: ‘Silent night, holy night.’ ” After trading their countries’ favorite Christmas carols, “there we were in No Man’s Land, over a hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!” In a subsequent illustration, a bonfire casts its glow over the frosty gathering. They exchange family photos, mementos and newspapers, and Tom muses, “These are not the ‘savage barbarians’ we’ve read so much about. They are men…like ourselves.” Noting that the soldiers will dutifully resume fighting after this Christmas outbreak of peace, Tom offers food for thought: “All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough.” An author’s note places this event in historical context and dispels some popular misconceptions.

Among the many entries celebrating this event’s centennial, librarians and teachers should welcome this historically accurate telling for ages 9 and up.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-938497-62-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Shepard Publications

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2014

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Simple, bella, un regalo permenente: simple and beautiful, a gift that will stay.

HOW TÍA LOLA CAME TO (VISIT) STAY

From the Tía Lola Stories series , Vol. 1

Renowned Latin American writer Alvarez has created another story about cultural identity, but this time the primary character is 11-year-old Miguel Guzmán. 

When Tía Lola arrives to help the family, Miguel and his hermana, Juanita, have just moved from New York City to Vermont with their recently divorced mother. The last thing Miguel wants, as he's trying to fit into a predominantly white community, is a flamboyant aunt who doesn't speak a word of English. Tía Lola, however, knows a language that defies words; she quickly charms and befriends all the neighbors. She can also cook exotic food, dance (anywhere, anytime), plan fun parties, and tell enchanting stories. Eventually, Tía Lola and the children swap English and Spanish ejercicios, but the true lesson is "mutual understanding." Peppered with Spanish words and phrases, Alvarez makes the reader as much a part of the "language" lessons as the characters. This story seamlessly weaves two culturaswhile letting each remain intact, just as Miguel is learning to do with his own life. Like all good stories, this one incorporates a lesson just subtle enough that readers will forget they're being taught, but in the end will understand themselves, and others, a little better, regardless of la lengua nativa—the mother tongue.

Simple, bella, un regalo permenente: simple and beautiful, a gift that will stay. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-80215-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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A YEAR DOWN YONDER

From the Grandma Dowdel series , Vol. 2

Set in 1937 during the so-called “Roosevelt recession,” tight times compel Mary Alice, a Chicago girl, to move in with her grandmother, who lives in a tiny Illinois town so behind the times that it doesn’t “even have a picture show.”

This winning sequel takes place several years after A Long Way From Chicago (1998) leaves off, once again introducing the reader to Mary Alice, now 15, and her Grandma Dowdel, an indomitable, idiosyncratic woman who despite her hard-as-nails exterior is able to see her granddaughter with “eyes in the back of her heart.” Peck’s slice-of-life novel doesn’t have much in the way of a sustained plot; it could almost be a series of short stories strung together, but the narrative never flags, and the book, populated with distinctive, soulful characters who run the gamut from crazy to conventional, holds the reader’s interest throughout. And the vignettes, some involving a persnickety Grandma acting nasty while accomplishing a kindness, others in which she deflates an overblown ego or deals with a petty rivalry, are original and wildly funny. The arena may be a small hick town, but the battle for domination over that tiny turf is fierce, and Grandma Dowdel is a canny player for whom losing isn’t an option. The first-person narration is infused with rich, colorful language—“She was skinnier than a toothpick with termites”—and Mary Alice’s shrewd, prickly observations: “Anybody who thinks small towns are friendlier than big cities lives in a big city.”

Year-round fun. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 978-0-8037-2518-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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