A fresh Christmas story interspersed with joyful, age-old holiday traditions.

THE TASTE OF SNOW

Through trials and small miracles, a young girl gains a true appreciation for the magic of the holiday season in Masse’s children’s novel.

When 11-year-old Nicole Kinders receives a “magic candy cane” from a local shopkeeper on her way to school at the beginning of the holiday season, she pockets it gingerly but skeptically. However, immediately following the exchange, strange events occur and Nicole can’t get the idea of “magic” out of her head—during a fight on the school bus, when she goes skiing with her sister and the neighbor boys pelt them with golf balls and when she gets so sick that she’s forced to miss an Advent church service. While she stays home in bed and her family is away, an accidental fire burns part of the house. Luckily she manages to escape, but all the close calls inspire her to return to the shopkeeper and demand he take back the candy cane because it isn’t magic after all. He then helps her realize that although bad things have happened, good things have happened as well; her grandparents, uncle and new aunt have come to visit for the holidays and their presence is a kind of magic, too. But Nicole’s greatest test is yet to come, when she ventures out on the snowy slopes by herself one afternoon and is stranded by nightfall. Will the magic of the candy cane be enough to protect her against the elements? The story’s setting, a small village in the Alpine region of Austria, lends itself fabulously to this story in terms of sensory atmosphere and culture. Masse deftly describes the winter chill and the sights and smells of the holiday, while also weaving inspiring tales that demonstrate a deep appreciation for the triumph of the human spirit in a region where people have suffered hardships in the past century. Nicole grows as a character and readers will root for her as she learns to appreciate the blessings in her life and to confront her problems head on. Masse balances realistic harrowing experiences with festive holiday cheer and the result is a satisfying Christmastime novel.

A fresh Christmas story interspersed with joyful, age-old holiday traditions.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0979963810

Page Count: 207

Publisher: Good Harbor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

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Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires.

LITTLE BLUE TRUCK'S VALENTINE

Little Blue Truck feels, well, blue when he delivers valentine after valentine but receives nary a one.

His bed overflowing with cards, Blue sets out to deliver a yellow card with purple polka dots and a shiny purple heart to Hen, one with a shiny fuchsia heart to Pig, a big, shiny, red heart-shaped card to Horse, and so on. With each delivery there is an exchange of Beeps from Blue and the appropriate animal sounds from his friends, Blue’s Beeps always set in blue and the animal’s vocalization in a color that matches the card it receives. But as Blue heads home, his deliveries complete, his headlight eyes are sad and his front bumper droops ever so slightly. Blue is therefore surprised (but readers may not be) when he pulls into his garage to be greeted by all his friends with a shiny blue valentine just for him. In this, Blue’s seventh outing, it’s not just the sturdy protagonist that seems to be wilting. Schertle’s verse, usually reliable, stumbles more than once; stanzas such as “But Valentine’s Day / didn’t seem much fun / when he didn’t get cards / from anyone” will cause hitches during read-alouds. The illustrations, done by Joseph in the style of original series collaborator Jill McElmurry, are pleasant enough, but his compositions often feel stiff and forced.

Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires. (Board book. 1-4)

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-358-27244-1

Page Count: 20

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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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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