ANGEL ON THE SQUARE

A young Russian aristocrat comes of age during the Great War and the Russian Revolution. In 1913, 13-year-old Katya’s life is good: she is about to join the Tsar’s household with her Mama, who has just been appointed Lady-in-Waiting to the Empress. Her best friend and foster brother Misha, a young intellectual with revolutionary leanings, cannot dampen her enthusiasm with his talk of the people’s privations and dire predictions of war, but over the course of the next five years, Katya witnesses the outbreak of war and both revolutions, and is eventually reduced to the life of a peasant. Trying to encapsulate this particular sweep of history in 300 pages is no easy task, and Whelan (Homeless Bird, 2000, etc.) clearly struggles with the challenge of establishing sympathy for the Tsar’s family while at the same time allowing her protagonist to understand the depths of the social injustice that ultimately brings about her downfall. This results in a character who ultimately observes but never acts. When the royal family heads to the army’s headquarters, they do so in luxuriously appointed railroad cars; on the same train, soldiers travel to the front in empty boxcars. Katya is “embarrassed by our show of luxury. I wondered what the soldiers thought of us as they watched us climb into our comfortable quarters, trailed by servants and piles of luggage.” While this is possibly psychologically consistent and clearly serves a narrative purpose, it is unsatisfying. Still, the novel serves as an introduction, if inevitably oversimplified and largely devoid of political discussion, to a complicated and important period in world history, and from a perspective that will naturally appeal to kids whose exposure to the events is from animated videos. (glossary) (Fiction. 10-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-029030-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2001

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Guaranteed to enchant, enthrall, and enmagick.

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THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON

An elderly witch, a magical girl, a brave carpenter, a wise monster, a tiny dragon, paper birds, and a madwoman converge to thwart a magician who feeds on sorrow.

Every year Elders of the Protectorate leave a baby in the forest, warning everyone an evil Witch demands this sacrifice. In reality, every year, a kind witch named Xan rescues the babies and find families for them. One year Xan saves a baby girl with a crescent birthmark who accidentally feeds on moonlight and becomes “enmagicked.” Magic babies can be tricky, so Xan adopts little Luna herself and lovingly raises her, with help from an ancient swamp monster and a chatty, wee dragon. Luna’s magical powers emerge as her 13th birthday approaches. Meanwhile, Luna’s deranged real mother enters the forest to find her daughter. Simultaneously, a young carpenter from the Protectorate enters the forest to kill the Witch and end the sacrifices. Xan also enters the forest to rescue the next sacrificed child, and Luna, the monster, and the dragon enter the forest to protect Xan. In the dramatic denouement, a volcano erupts, the real villain attempts to destroy all, and love prevails. Replete with traditional motifs, this nontraditional fairy tale boasts sinister and endearing characters, magical elements, strong storytelling, and unleashed forces. Luna has black eyes, curly, black hair, and “amber” skin.

Guaranteed to enchant, enthrall, and enmagick. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61620-567-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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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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