The latest in this series of historical diaries recounts the story of Otto Peltonen, a Finnish boy who travels with his mother and two sisters to America in 1905 to join his father, who is already working in the iron mines of Minnesota. Unfortunately, Otto’s expectations of America have far exceeded the gritty reality. “We pulled into the train station late in the afternoon. Not only are the streets in Hibbing not paved with gold, but they are rutted with dusty wagon tracks.” Otto and his family are dismayed when they see that their new home is little more than a shack in a squatters’ camp nicknamed “Finn Town.” Even more unsettling, Otto barely recognizes his father in the unkempt, angry man who can’t stop talking about the need to organize the miners into a union. Despite his disappointment, Otto soon adapts to life in Hibbing, a town he describes as “a dull collection of telegraph poles and plain-looking buildings,” with 40 to 50 saloons catering to the miners who come from at least 35 different countries. Otto’s father works ten-hour shifts at the mine, six days a week, under extremely dangerous conditions. Mine accidents are all-too-common and are an ever-present worry for the families of miners. After a year in school, Otto joins his father in the mines, where he sees the dismal working conditions first-hand. After two years in America, Otto’s family has finally saved enough money to buy a farm, on which Otto’s father can fulfill his dream of being his own boss. While the reader learns about the harsh working conditions of the early part of the 20th century and about the difficulties workers had in ameliorating those conditions, the diary reveals much more than Otto’s worries and his sense of disappointment in America. He is playful, intrepid, appealing, and full of life. Because it is replete with gory descriptions of mining accidents, complaints about his annoying younger sister, and accounts of hijinks with his best friend Nikko, readers will vastly enjoy following Otto’s life for the two years the diary covers. A good choice for reluctant readers and an interesting counterpart to Our Only May Amelia (1999), which gives a girl’s perspective of the Finnish immigrant experience. (historical note, photos) (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-439-09254-X

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2000


Taking a page from Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1990), Kehret (I’m Not Who You Think I Am, p. 223, etc.) pens a similar story of a girl who goes to sea. Determined not to be separated from her seriously ill mother, Emma, 12, embarks on a plan that results in the adventure of a lifetime. Sent to live with Aunt Martha and her arrogant son, Odolf, Emma carefully plots her escape. Disguising herself in her cousin’s used clothes, she sneaks out while the household slumbers and stows away on what she believes to be a ship carrying her parents from England to the warmer climate of France. Instead, the ship is the evil, ill-fated Black Lightning, under the command of the notorious Captain Beacon. Emma finds herself sharing quarters with a crew of filthy, surly, dangerous men. When a fierce storm swamps the ship, Emma desperately seizes her chance to escape, drifting for several days and nights aboard a hatch cover and finally carried to land somewhere on the coast of Africa. Hungry, thirsty, and alone, Emma faces the daunting prospect of slow starvation, but survives due to a relationship she builds with a band of chimpanzees. This page-turning adventure story shows evidence of solid research and experienced plotting—the pacing is breathless. Kehret paints a starkly realistic portrait, complete with sounds and smells of the difficult and unpleasant life aboard ship. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-03416-2

Page Count: 138

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1999


PLB 0-531-33140-7 Ketcham’s first book is based on an allegedly true story of a childhood incident in the life of Johann Sebastian Bach. It starts with a couple of pages regaling the Bach home and all the Johanns in the family, who made their fame through music. After his father’s death, Johann Sebastian goes to live with his brother, Johann Christoph, where he boasts that he is the best organist in the world. Johann Christoph contradicts him: “Old Adam Reincken is the best.” So Johann Sebastian sets out to hear the master himself. In fact, he is humbled to tears, but there is hope that he will be the world’s best organist one day. Johann Sebastian emerges as little more than a brat, Reincken as more of a suggestion than a character. Bush’s illustrations are most transporting when offering details of the landscape, but his protagonist is too impish to give the story much authority. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-531-30140-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Orchard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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