THEODORE ROOSEVELT: LETTERS FROM A YOUNG COAL MINER

Armstrong (Spirit of Endurance, 2000, etc.) gives the "Dear Mr. President" series a sturdy kickoff with this fictional correspondence between Teddy Roosevelt and a Polish teenager working in the Pennsylvania coal mines. Thirteen-year-old Frank Kovacs is moved to write by McKinley's assassination: "I have advice for you and that is don't let no crazy men near you. They is almost always trouble." Roosevelt's friendly response ("I shall indeed strive to keep clear of lunatics and assassins.") touches off a 16-month exchange in which, as both share carefully researched details about their daily lives, family members, pets, and concerns, Frank raises Teddy's consciousness about the miners' dreadful living and working conditions before, during, and after the strike of 1902. The opening and closing historical essays, bibliography, index, plenitude of contemporary photos and cartoons, plus an associated Web site replete with multimedia articles and links, the correspondents' distinct voices and personalities make this as much a well-told story as a vehicle for conveying historical information. Despite a few bobbles—Frank refers to "scabs" without explaining what they are, and a strike that miners unanimously vote to prolong on one page is suddenly settled on the next—this will score with readers for its clear sense of the time's character and issues, as well as the artful but not labored way the two households are compared and contrasted. (Historical fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-890817-27-9

Page Count: 128

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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WESTWARD TO HOME

JOSHUA’S DIARY

Another installment in this year’s new “My America” series, this is the fictional diary of Joshua, a young boy whose family joins a wagon train to Oregon in 1848. Joshua’s tale offers language simple enough for emerging readers, but pulls few punches regarding the harsh realities of the westward pioneer journey. Joshua can hardly contain his excitement at the prospect of the journey. His diary begins as his parents and extended family make the difficult decision to uproot their lives. On the trail he experiences dust, heat, and fear, along with the births of babies and the deaths of others from cholera, accidents, and Indian attack. Joshua also finds his cousin, Rachel, dead one morning, the victim of an accidental hanging during the night. The story’s not all tragedy; there is a nice balance with more positive experiences, such as Joshua’s childhood friendships along the trail. His grandfather helps him kill a buffalo, and he saves his little sister Becky from drowning when she falls into a rushing river. Hermes sparks her tale with a budding romance for Joshua as he copes with the grief, anger, and charity of the adults in the wagon train. Decent historical fiction aimed at appealing to the reader who would enjoy the sense of reading a diary to learn more about the harsh realities and triumphs of America’s westward pioneers. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-439-11209-5

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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SOLDIER MOM

Mead (Junebug and the Reverend, 1998, etc.) wants readers to know that war is hell, not only for the soldiers, but for the families they leave behind. Both Jasmyn, 11, and her single mother, Paula, are horrified to learn that Paula has been called to serve overseas in the Persian Gulf War. Totally unprepared and with scant resources, Paula has only two days to arrange suitable care for her daughter and Jas’s half-brother, baby Andrew. With no other realistic option, she leaves Andrew’s immature father, Jake, in charge. Feeling abandoned, Jas is also overwhelmed as her expanded childcare responsibilities infringe on her all-important commitment to basketball. She grapples with Jake’s domestic incompetence, emotional unpredictability, and obvious impatience with her. Mead tells an absorbing story, fairly and sympathetically delineating the dilemmas of Paula and Jake, two imperfect adults in a difficult situation. Nevertheless, her true compassion is reserved for the blameless, powerless Jas, who has no choice but to cope with the decisions of the adults around her. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-374-37124-5

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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