AT THE FIREFLY GATE

Carnegie-nominee Newbery successfully interjects a supernatural storyline into a well-crafted, contemporary narrative about a pre-teen boy’s adjustment to a new household. After moving with his parents from London to a rural English village, small, 11-year-old Henry not only worries about making new friends, but he is concerned about the nocturnal appearances of a mysterious, cigarette-smoking man at his garden gate. In a consistently subtle manner, Newbery parses out clues about the identity of the spectral stranger—a WWII airman—and the man’s relationship with Henry’s kind-hearted, elderly neighbor, Dottie. The sensitive Henry seems to make friends at his new school a bit too easily, yet his strained relationship with Dottie’s moody, sometimes mean-spirited teenaged niece is convincing. While it may be too slow for some modern sensibilities, this beautifully written, atmospheric novel is cut from the same character-centered cloth as such classic British ghost stories as Phillipa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden and Lucy Boston’s Children of Green Knowe books. In addition, readers will get an engaging glimpse of 20th-century English military history. A worthwhile addition to any collection. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 13, 2007

ISBN: 0-385-75113-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: David Fickling/Random

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS

After Hitler appoints Bruno’s father commandant of Auschwitz, Bruno (nine) is unhappy with his new surroundings compared to the luxury of his home in Berlin. The literal-minded Bruno, with amazingly little political and social awareness, never gains comprehension of the prisoners (all in “striped pajamas”) or the malignant nature of the death camp. He overcomes loneliness and isolation only when he discovers another boy, Shmuel, on the other side of the camp’s fence. For months, the two meet, becoming secret best friends even though they can never play together. Although Bruno’s family corrects him, he childishly calls the camp “Out-With” and the Fuhrer “Fury.” As a literary device, it could be said to be credibly rooted in Bruno’s consistent, guileless characterization, though it’s difficult to believe in reality. The tragic story’s point of view is unique: the corrosive effect of brutality on Nazi family life as seen through the eyes of a naïf. Some will believe that the fable form, in which the illogical may serve the objective of moral instruction, succeeds in Boyle’s narrative; others will believe it was the wrong choice. Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-75106-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: David Fickling/Random

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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THE LOUD SILENCE OF FRANCINE GREEN

It’s 1949, and 13-year-old Francine Green lives in “the land of ‘Sit down, Francine’ and ‘Be quiet, Francine’ ” at All Saints School for Girls in Los Angeles. When she meets Sophie Bowman and her father, she’s encouraged to think about issues in the news: the atomic bomb, peace, communism and blacklisting. This is not a story about the McCarthy era so much as one about how one girl—who has been trained to be quiet and obedient by her school, family, church and culture—learns to speak up for herself. Cushman offers a fine sense of the times with such cultural references as President Truman, Hopalong Cassidy, Montgomery Clift, Lucky Strike, “duck and cover” and the Iron Curtain. The dialogue is sharp, carrying a good part of this story of friends and foes, guilt and courage—a story that ought to send readers off to find out more about McCarthy, his witch-hunt and the First Amendment. Though not a happily-ever-after tale, it dramatizes how one person can stand up to unfairness, be it in front of Senate hearings or in the classroom. (author’s note) (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2006

ISBN: 0-618-50455-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Clarion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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