For the first time I'm participating in kid lit reviews hosted by Kellee Moye and Jan Vincent. Unlike the teachers and librarians who amaze with their stack of reviewed books, along with a list of the ones they're still reading or planning to read, I'm presenting one review. I'm a writer and I don't read any book fast these days. But I'm happy to be posting among such committed readers.
My first #IMWAYR book is:
WINTERHOUSE by Ben Guterson.
Orphan Elizabeth Somers is a reader, a puzzle solver and a girl driven by curiosity. When her cruel aunt and uncle send her to a grand hotel for the Christmas holiday, Elizabeth is puzzled at their sudden generosity. Freed from the poverty and neglect she's grown used to, Elizabeth's spirits soar under the doting care of the hotel's owner, Norbridge. But there's darkness in Norbridge's history and it's threatening the hotel. Elizabeth is determined to discover the source. Her curiosity leads her down dangerous paths. As she uncovers the hotel's secrets, she feels more and more connected to Norbridge and his past.
I enjoyed this book and it's wonderful illustrations. The intrigue was mixed with a drop of magic and set in a wintry wonderland. Elizabeth's curiosity sometimes produces terrible consequences. And although she tries briefly to rein it in when it affects a new friendship, she quickly returns to acting on impulse. That felt like a genuine portrayal and provides good content for discussion. Elizabeth is also a brave girl and she doesn't doubt her perceptions. Her confidence was awesome. The best news for fans of this book: it's the first of a trilogy!
Today, I'm continuing my summer book review with a historical middle-grade novel. Lois Lowry's The Silent Boy opens with a prologue of aged protagonist, Katy Thatcher, looking back on her life; then returns to 1908 in Chapter One when Katy is nearly six. Katy is the daughter of the town doctor and herself a doctor in the making. Her father takes her on calls to the farming community and introduces her to thirteen-year-old Jacob, a boy people call "simple" or "touched in the head." Jacob never talks but he's a keen imitator of noises and animals adore him. When Katy finds Jacob in her family's stables humming to the horses, she hums with him and a bond forms between them.
The majority of the book spans three years in Katy's life. She's deeply affected by the 1911 garment factory fire in New York where girls jumped to flaming deaths and when WWI begins, she longs to be a doctor to heal the wounded. Closer to home, she's disturbed by a visit with her father to the local asylum and tries to understand when he tells her he can only help the patients' bodies but some day he hopes there will be cures for the minds. Her compassion for Jacob grows as she sees how others view him. When Jacob unwittingly commits an unthinkable act, Katy alone deciphers his reasoning.
Lowry accents each chapter with old, sepia-tinted photos from the early twentieth century. In the book's acknowledgments she writes, "All of the people in these photographs are real people. Some of them were people I knew and loved. One is my own mother." She goes on to say that she found some of the photos in an antique store and wondered about them. I have read several of Lowry's many books, including her Newberry winners, Number the Stars and The Giver. She continues to amaze me with her creative dexterity and commitment to children's literature. Visit her site here; you'll see what I mean. I heard Lowry speak and read at a local book shop a couple years ago. She's a charming reader and equally engaging speaker. If you have the opportunity, get out to see her while she's still touring.
I'm continuing my summer review of books. Today, it's an early chapter book and I'm already breaking the promise I made to only cover books available in audio versions. I cannot be trusted when tempted by irresistible books. Bink and Gollie made me do it! Even though they lack an audio version, non readers will enjoy the fun interactive links on their website. I dare you to go there and not giggle.
Kate DiCamillo, one of my favorite authors teamed up with Alison McGhee to write Bink and Gollie and they've recently released a second book, Bink and Gollie: Two for One. Award-winning illustrator, Tony Fucile captured the authors as children in Bink (a petite Kate with wild blond hair) and Gollie (a tall, thin Alison in managed, brown locks). The art is done in dynamic strokes, simple washes and minimal color. Unlike other early chapter books where the art merely illustrates the story, the art in Bink and Gollie is essential to the plot.
The book offers vignettes in three chapters: Don't You Need a New Pair of Socks, P.S. I'll Be Back Soon, and Give a Fish a Home. Bink is a cheerful, impulsive girl who zips around town in roller skates and a skirt. She lives in a rustic cottage at the base of a tree, likes colorful socks and peanut butter sandwiches. Gollie lives in a minimalist, ultra-modern house in the tree's branches. She likes long words, mental stimulation and pancakes. In the first chapter, the girls happen upon a sock sale. Bink finds the perfect pair of socks and Gollie says, "The brightness of those socks pains me. I beg you not to purchase them." Bink hugs the socks and responds, "I can't wait to put them on." Their differences try their friendship in comical ways but their bond is never broken. Bink and Gollie won the 2011 Theodore Seuss Geisel Award and they have stolen my heart.
Students are counting minutes until the last school day and daydreaming about summer adventures. Some kids will find those adventures in books. So for the next few months, I'll review books that lead the mind on fantastic journeys. And for non-readers, I'm only covering books available in audio form. Listen to them on that long car ride to Aunt Ethel's (or some relative who lives hours away and pinches your cheek). I promise you won't be sorry.
My first pick is packed so full of wondrous tales, I'm surprised it doesn't spontaneously combust! The Chronicles of Harris Burdick is introduced by Lemony Snicket who begins, "Is There any author more mysterious than Harris Burdick"? Who can resist reading on? Lemony says Harris appeared over twenty-five years ago in a a publisher's office with a stack of titled drawings. The publisher was intriqued and Harris promised to return the next day with the stories behind the art. That was the last anyone saw of him.
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg (of Polar Express and Jumanji fame) was published in 1984. To this day, Harris Burdick's drawings continue to inspire writers, animators and songwriters, all featured on Van Allsburg's website. Last year, the drawings hatched The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, a collection of fourteen stories by illustrious writers, including some of my favorites: Kate DiCamillo, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, and M.T. Anderson. The irresistable tales flex the mind with titles like ""Uninvited Guests"" by Jules Feiffer, ""The House on Maple Street"" by Stephen King and "'Just Desert"" by M.T. Anderson. My personal favorite so far (I'm savoring them!) is ""The Harp"" by Linda Sue Park. Imagine an old magician who isn't quite ready to retire, two bickering sisters banished outdoors by annoyed parents, and a boy, mourning his mother and facing a miserable summer with an "off the grid" grandfather. The stories tickle the mind, raising questions that will linger long after the last word is read. We found Burdick's chronicles in the middle grade section of the library but the writing is sophisticated enough to entertain older teens and adults. You'll want to check the book out even if you prefer the audio version. The unseen drawings will trouble your sleep if you don't!
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist, and I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti at Open Book Literary.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor