THE SECRET SCHOOL

A strong-willed young woman pursues her educational dreams in this Andy Hardy–esque tale of a rural school in peril, circa 1925. When Miss Fletcher’s mother’s illness calls her away from her teaching position at a one-room Colorado schoolhouse, the school board president is transparent in his pleasure at the prospect of closing the school. Fourteen-year-old Ida Bidson is not—closing the school will mean missing the exams that would qualify her to go on to high school, effectively dashing her hopes of becoming a teacher. But all is not lost: the students vote to continue secretly, with Ida as their teacher. While the plot is entirely predictable—the mean school board president finds them out and tries to shut the school down, only to be defeated in a climactic public meeting—the characters are well-developed and appealing. Ida is a diminutive spitfire who steers the family’s broken-down car while her little brother crouches on the floor to operate the gas and the clutch; her best friend Tom is a tinkerer whose home printing press saves the day; and even the most obstructive student in school is rendered sympathetically and with depth. Avi (Prairie School, p. 494, etc.) effectively conveys Ida’s difficulty in balancing her new role as teacher within her already busy life as student, family member (and therefore helper on the family’s sheep farm), and friend, and the details of one-room education are genuinely fascinating. This isn’t heavy stuff, but it gives a glimpse into a past where, although the form of education may have been very different from today’s, the problems facing the schools and students will be all too familiar to modern readers. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-15-216375-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

NUMBER THE STARS

The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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