THE BARN BURNER

In this compelling, well-written historical novel, peopled with beautifully realized characters, Willis (Danger Along the Ohio, 1997, etc.) explores the themes of finding oneself, of friendship, and of the true meaning of family and home. Set in Ohio in 1933, it tells of 14-year-old Ross Cooper, who has seemingly been banished from home after a violent confrontation with his abusive father. Awakening one morning in a burning barn, Ross is seen running from the blaze by two men and is naturally assumed to be the perpetrator. Worse still, he believes he will thus be suspected in a series of mysterious barn burnings that have recently beset the region. On the road once again, he meets a kind family, the Warfields. After helping them push their heavily laden cart out of a muddy rut, he is invited to stay with them. At first Ross demurs, but he soon realizes the offer provides a welcome way for him to experience family life again and to hide while he attempts to root out the real criminal. The novel thus seamlessly takes on the elements of a mystery. With the help of newfound friends and his new family, who believe in his innocence and have grown to love him, Ross eventually—albeit unwittingly at first—uncovers the identity of the true arsonist. This is a terrifying scene as he and the younger Warfield children almost perish in yet another fire set by the man. Readers will long remember this scene as well as the heart-wrenching decision that Ross makes at the conclusion of the novel. Worthy. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 17, 2000

ISBN: 0-395-98409-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Clarion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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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An outstanding new edition of this popular modern classic (Newbery Award, 1961), with an introduction by Zena Sutherland and...

ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS

Coming soon!!

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1990

ISBN: 0-395-53680-4

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2000

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