A beautiful, painful, heartfelt reminder that the past is with us still.

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BROKEN STRINGS

Zayde’s memories profoundly affect his young granddaughter.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the school’s annual musical is to be Fiddler on the Roof, because its themes resonate. Eighth grader Shirli is a very talented singer and actor who is disappointed to be given the lead part of Tevye’s wife, Golde, who has no solo. She believes that her beloved grandfather can help her research background for the play, although she knows almost nothing of his past. Zayde has never allowed any form of music in his home, and when Shirli finds an old, damaged violin in the attic, it causes him great pain. As the play begins to take over Shirli’s life, she shares it all with Zayde, who finds he is able to recount bits of their family history. His mother barely survived the pogroms in Russia. When he was a child, he played violin in his family’s klezmer band. And then came the Holocaust and the hell that was Auschwitz, where he lost them all and was forced to play music as his fellow Jews went to the gas chambers. Shirli’s voice is true and strong as she narrates her own tale of rehearsals, her very ethnically diverse friendships, her deep distress as she witnesses Zayde’s pain, and her joy as he reconnects with his music.

A beautiful, painful, heartfelt reminder that the past is with us still. (authors’ note, acknowledgements) (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-73526-624-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Puffin/Penguin Random House Canada

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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A must-have book for libraries, schools, and churches.

QUEERFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE

A GUIDE FOR LGBTQ+ CHRISTIAN TEENS

A must-read guide for all queer and questioning Christians (and their allies, too)!

Queer youth still face a multitude of challenges while growing up, and these have the potential to be amplified by religious beliefs. Addressing that issue head-on, this guide for Christians seeks to provide counsel, understanding, and gentle guidance across a series of 40-plus chapters that address everything from coming out in a variety of contexts, positive ways to deal with haters, and helping start the conversation about gender-neutral bathrooms at school, to living authentically. The book acknowledges that the advice is sometimes vague, but that’s because the spectrum of queer life is so broad. In this regard, the book excels by speaking to a range of genders and sexual identities; asexuals, nonbinary people, bisexuals, pansexuals, etc., are all addressed with respect and will find useful tips for navigating their early years. The book works better for hunt-and-peck readers as opposed to those reading from cover to cover because some of the information is repetitious, but that repetition may be necessary to counterbalance years of incorrect, inaccurate, or purposely hateful misinformation. The contributors to this fabulous read include mental health experts and religious leaders. Text boxes, pie charts, graphs, and grayscale illustrations support and enhance the main narrative.

A must-have book for libraries, schools, and churches. (note on language, glossary, additional resources, sources) (Self-help. 12-18)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Beaming Books

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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