REVENGE ON THE FLY

A fly-catching contest comes to dominate the life of new Irish immigrant Will in 1912 Hamilton, Ontario.

Life isn’t easy for the 12-year-old. His mother and young sister recently died, money is very tight, and rich boy Fred, a new classmate, is savoring every opportunity to humiliate him. Opportunity knocks when the local newspaper offers a $50 prize for killing the most flies as part of an effort to reduce disease. The competition is ruthless, with Fred and his minions collecting thousands of flies and Will trying lots of clever tricks to pull even. Another poor child, Ginny, is besotted with Fred but gradually comes to see the truth about the bully and switches her loyalty and friendship to Will. He struggles with the ethics of his tricks, reminded by the wealthy but even-minded Rebecca of a nobler mission. While the dead-fly count reaches an awesome, even unbelievable level, an author’s note states that the tale is accurately based on a real contest. At times, Will’s voice sounds inappropriately authorial—“The pain of the fleeting memory seared at my heart, but then faded to a warm glow”—but readers will nonetheless enjoy his spunky attitude and underlying goodness. McNicoll paints a believably gritty portrait of urban life a century ago.

An entertaining visit to the past with a likable guide on a spirited—if icky—quest. (Historical fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-927485-56-9

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Pajama Press

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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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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A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

NUMBER THE STARS

The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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