Readers will find much to empathize with in Gwen’s struggle to contribute to her family without losing sight of herself.

READ REVIEW

THE WELSH HARP

When a Welsh family immigrates to America, a young girl wonders whether she’ll ever be able to play her grandfather’s harp in this YA novel.

Before Gwen Thomas, her parents and her brothers leave Wales for Kentucky in 1903, she makes sure that her grandfather’s harp comes along, using all her savings to help pay for shipping. Her dream is to play the harp as her grandfather did. But life in America is harsh, especially at first. Their first home is a tiny shack; the local kids play rough; and then there are more important hardships, including a dangerous flood. Gwen finds her desires fighting with the many practical necessities of helping her family. Will she ever be able to achieve her dream? Davies (The Truth About Katie, 2013) bases her story in part on a handwritten family memoir, drawing on it for such episodes as the Atlantic passage and the family’s arrival at Ellis Island. The author animates the early 20th century with details such as the vendor crying out “Sand oh, Sand oh!” from house to house, selling sand to scour floors. Figuring out the social class of this family is confusing: In Wales, their rented house is spacious, with four bedrooms; the younger boy is dressed in a “little Lord Fauntleroy suit,” meaning velvet knickerbockers with a fancy lace shirt; and Gwen is able to save 4 pounds in a few months of work—the equivalent of more than $600 today. This doesn’t seem like a family driven by economic necessity to emigrate. The dialogue and pace can be somewhat plodding, with children often sounding overly formal: “Before we could come out and identify ourselves, she left at a fast pace down the path toward home,” says young Edwin, describing a childish prank. On the plus side, Davies gives Gwen some realistic, serious challenges to overcome in America, such as dealing with her mother’s depression following a stillbirth: “Why couldn’t her mother just be a mother?”

Readers will find much to empathize with in Gwen’s struggle to contribute to her family without losing sight of herself.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1478186977

Page Count: 180

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2014

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AMERICAN REVOLUTION, 1700-1800

This title in the “Chronicles of America” series (Colonial Times, 1600–1700, see below), provides an introduction to everyday life in the 18th century, and then describes the events leading up to, during, and after the Revolutionary War. It’s a lot to tackle in 48 pages, half taken up with photographs from “America's Living History Museums.” The title has browser appeal, but too little substance and overgeneralization may mislead young readers. For example: “Most people in America gathered together to pray at least once a week.” Or: “Even if folks had come from Germany or Holland, they quickly became English citizens of the Americas.” The tone sometimes trivializes the topic, for example: Pirates are described as “the naughtiest men.” And under the heading “Ouch!” the author states: “Some unlucky prisoners even had their ears nailed to the planks.” Most topics are treated in a two-page layout, with four to six full-color photographs and a very brief text. A typical spread entitled “There’s No Place Like Home” describes homes in the Northern and Southern colonies and provides a photograph of Mount Vernon, an interior of a bedroom from Colonial Williamsburg, a brick row house, a Hudson Valley stone farm house, and a man mixing clay for bricks with his feet. The text states: “In the early 1700s, most houses were simply one big room.” None of the dwellings shown are one room. The dwellings in the photographs span the century, but since the reader is not given dates, the text is at odds with the visual images. Other text labeled “surprising facts,” explains: “The plaster at Mount Vernon includes both hog and cattle hair.” That's neither surprising nor important. A blue box called “Brickmaking Made Easy” explains how bricks are made. With so little space the author should focus on more important topics. Many of the issues leading up to the Revolutionary War are introduced, for example the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, and Townsend Acts. Loyalists get very brief treatment, and battles are narrated with the fervor and flavor of a hockey sportscast. There are no maps or time lines to aid the reader. The author concludes with information on historic restorations to visit, books for further reading, Web sites of interest, photo credits, and an index. Too slight and problematic for purchase. (Nonfiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-439-05109-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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COLONIAL TIMES, 1600-1700

Imagine compressing one hundred years of American history into 48 pages! Imagine making history come alive with photographs of people dressed in period costumes, slipping in odd historical facts while debunking myths, tucking in colonial crafts kids can try at home, and providing a sympathetic narrator who attempts to present the point of view of European settlers, Native Americans, African slaves, and indentured servants. The author of this title and American Revolution, 1700–1800 (see above) in the “Chronicle of America” series, tries hard, but the snippets selected to add interest, the overly dramatic prose, lack of sources, and excessive compression of complex issues make this title less than successful. Each double-paged layout tackles a new topic. Those include the voyage, first Americans, food, clothing, shelter, education, warfare, illness, farming, crafts, and the like. Topics usually begin with questions in italics to stimulate reader interest. For example: “How would you feel if you sat down to a dinner of meat loaf with maggots?” An introductory paragraph or two follows with short discussions of related topics, three or four uncaptioned photographs of people and objects from America’s Living History Museums, and a tan, blue, or red box with a “surprising history” snippet, or a colonial craft to try. Unsupported statistics abound, “In the early days of the European settlements, 80 percent of the people who came to Virginia died once they got there.” Or, “It took 2500 trees to build a ship the size of the Mayflower.” Or, “After months at sea with no fresh food, is it any wonder that some early settlers were forced to turn to cannibalism?” The glossy photos and breezy tone will appeal to young history enthusiasts, but caution should be exercised lest the reader come away with some very odd ideas about the past. The author concludes with a few titles for further reading, Web sites, picture credits, and an index. (Nonfiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-439-05107-X

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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