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Old & New: White Stallion of Lippiza and The Star of Kazan April 25, 2014

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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Eva Ibbotsen’s middle grade books can be divided roughly into two categories: fantasy books about magical creatures and historical fiction about adventurous children. The Star of Kazan, which stars an orphan boy and girl in turn of the century Austria, falls into the second category.
starAnnika is a foundling being raised by a cook and housemaid in the home of a group of Viennese professors. She has wonderful friends and the beautiful city around her, but still wishes she knew her real mother. When Frau Edeltraut Tannenberg comes to sweep her away to a castle in Germany, it looks as though all her dreams are coming true. But things aren’t quite right at her new home and only with the help of the stableboy Zed will Annika solve the mystery of her birth and the fate of a set of fantastic jewels, including the Star of Kazan.  The description and detail will delight readers who love to imagine life in the past, while the mystery and adventure will satisfy those who prefer stories with action.
lippizaMarguerite Henry is best known for her book Misty of Chincoteague, but she wrote a whole list of other books featuring horses and one of them is set in turn of the century Vienna. Called White Stallion of Lipizza, the protagonist is Hans Haupt; a baker’s son who dreams of being a Riding Master. With study, hard work and the help of his family and neighbors, Hans achieves his dream after many years of struggle. Both of these books feature protagonists who long for something different–Annika wants to know her real family, while both Hans and Zed want to work with horses. White Stallion of Lippiza is the perfect book for readers who want to further imagine Zed’s life as an apprentice as well as for anyone who is curious about the history of the Lippizaner horses (which can still be seen today) and their riders. Give either book to a young reader traveling to Vienna, or to any reader interested in horses and adventure.

Old & New: Number the Stars and Hidden April 18, 2014

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For many readers my age, our first experience learning about the Holocaust was through Lois Lowry’s classic title Number the Stars. Set in wartime Denmark, the protagonist Annemarie experiences the deprivations of being in an occupied country and along with her family takes risks in order to protect her Jewish friend Ellen Rosen. She learns about courage, that being brave means doing what you have to, in spite of being afraid and that even ordinary people can take a stand for what is right. The strong friendship between Annemarie and Ellen, the descriptions of Annemarie’s family and daily life and the suspense of trying to help the Rosens escape to Sweden make this a great choice for elementary readers
hidden-bannerHidden is a new graphic novel translated from French and published by First Second. Like Number the Stars, it is the ultimately hopeful story of a fictional French girl who must hide from the Nazis after her parents are taken away. When soldiers come in the middle of the night, her parents hide her in the bottom of a wardrobe just before they are arrested. A neighbor finds her and with the help of Resistance workers, they elude the Nazi police to escape to the country. Powerful drawings evoke the struggle to continue a normal life, even while anxious about missing loved ones. Both Number the Stars and Hidden celebrate the courage of ordinary people during World War II and especially the resilience and bravery of children.

Review: A Gift for Mama April 16, 2014

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A Gift for MamaOskar’s mother is having a birthday and he has a problem–how to find the perfect present? Although the streets of Vienna are filled with beautiful things, he only has one coin. He purchases a beautiful flower and thinks he has made a good choice, but then an artists comes a long and offers to trade him for a paintbrush. As Oskar walks through the streets, he keeps trading and trading, each time for something unique to Vienna–music, books, candy. Finally he has to make a choice–will he give away the present, in the end, to make someone else happy? And if he does, what will Mama get for her birthday?
Linda Ravin Lodding’s text is filled with rhythm and detail. The carriages in the street ‘clippety-clopped against the cobblestones,’ the artists offers ‘a beautiful horsehair brush’ and Oskar ‘waltzed down the street.’ Alison Jay’s illustrations are done in her trademark crackle-glazed style with bright colors perfect for springtime. Spot illustrations show Oskar’s thoughts about what he might give Mama, while full spreads detail the marvelous houses and shops of Vienna and the dramatic struggle of the Empress’ carriage stuck in the mud. In the end, Mama gets her gift, the sun goes down and Oskar is happy, so the reader must be too. This is the perfect book for a birthday, Mother’s Day or any day.

And the Winner Is… April 3, 2014

Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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I’m SO HAPPY with the result of this year’s Battle of the Kid’s Books! I’ve been following now for about four years and for the last couple of battles I’ve appreciated but haven’t really loved the winner. This year, however, I was rooting for Boxers & Saints from Round 1.

“This book is brilliant in the way only older children can be.” –Jennifer Holm.

Why, thank you! (Yes, I’m an oldest child) I absolutely loved the family metaphor that Holm used to start off her decision. Books and literature are a family–a huge fantastic one with cousins and second cousins and not-really-related-but-might-as-well-be cousins (I have lots of those) and I love how she reminds us that different kinds of books all have their merit. And yes, that line from Eleanor & Park is one of the best love lines ever.

Holm, from the standpoint of a historical novelist, makes us appreciate even more the challenges that Yang faced in distilling the events of the Boxer Rebellion into a narrative. Patrick Ness touched on this as well in his decision, but one of the reasons that I think this book resonated with me so much this year was the fact that it illustrated how a specific story can illuminate huge historical events or experiences. I am a playwright and puppeteer, and storytelling is something I ponder on a daily basis. How to create fresh stories? How to communicate the horror of events and experiences to audiences? This book reminds me that the specific can also be universal and by telling a single person’s story, we can create empathy and understanding. I love that Holm talked about the technical aspects of Boxers & Saints as a graphic novel. Her gushing about the layouts, the panel design, the color palette are all aspects that we haven’t heard as much about from the other judges and I love that she gets to remind us how rich and varied the visuals in Boxers & Saints are, along with the text. And then she quotes Neil Gaiman. Perfect.