Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bayard, Louis. Lucky Strikes.

Bayard, Louis.  Lucky Strikes.  Macmillan/Henry Holt  2016  313p  $16.99  ISBN 978-1-62779-390-2         ms       Realistic fiction  VG-BN     

In 1929, during the Great Depression, Amelia and her younger brother and sister suffer a heart-wrenching loss when their mother passes away unexpectedly. But Amelia is a very resourceful young girl. Somehow the three siblings must come up with a way to stay together. Amelia’s idea is to talk a hobo who dropped off a passing truck into posing as their long-lost father. Together they run the small local gas station and try to eke out a living.

The so-called hobo turns out to be an asset when Amelia starts dreaming up marketing ideas for ensuring the survival of the gas station. It is not easy, because a local businessman owns all of the other stations in the area, and he wants theirs because it is on a heavily accessed trucking route. The novel provides readers with insight into the fears and tensions of being an orphan and presents Amelia as a strong and resourceful young girl.
Summary: Amelia, the big sister, must find a way to keep her brother and sister out of foster care after their mother dies unexpectedly. Readers will enjoy the family interactions and the dynamics of running a gas station while fighting a local bully.          

Poverty-Fiction, Family life-Fiction, Orphans-Fiction, Great Depression-Fiction          —Linda McNeil

Beasley, Kate. Gertie’s Leap To Greatness.

Beasley, Kate.  Gertie’s Leap To Greatness.  Macmillan/Farrar Strauss  2016  249p            $16.99 ISBN 978-0-374-30261-0      elem/ms  Conflict  E-BN  

Gertie is a fifth-grade girl on a mission. She must prove to her mother, who abandoned her years ago, that she is the greatest fifth-grader on the planet, and therefore change mom’s mind about leaving town with her new husband and family. Gertie has come up with missions before, and they have never failed. But this time, it seems that things keep going wrong for her. First of all, there is the new girl, Mary Sue, who seems to dislike Gertie and turns the other kids against her. Secondly, there is Mary Sue’s mother, who turns all the other kids against Gertie’s dad, who works on an oil rig. Even Gertie’s best friend Jean abandons her. In the face of all these challenges, how is Gertie ever going to prove to her mother that she is the greatest fifth-grader in the world?

The book includes humor and pathos, and is a great character study. The plot hums along and delves deeply into Gertie’s innermost feelings, making her one of the most sympathetic characters I have encountered in children’s fiction lately. There are wonderful line drawings by Jillian Tamaki that capture the feelings, the characters, and the humor perfectly.                 

Summary: Gertie is a fifth-grade girl on a mission. She must make her mother, who abandoned her, realize just how special she is, and change her mind about loving Gertie. But along the way, Gertie encounters many challenges.         

Family-Fiction, School-Fiction, Abandonment-Fiction                                             —Carol Kennedy

Broach, Elise. The Wolf Keepers.

Broach, Elise.  The Wolf Keepers.  Macmillan/Henry Holt        2016    343p    $16.99  ISBN 978-0-8050-9899-0     ms/jr   Mystery/Detective VG-BN

Lizzie loves growing up in the zoo where her father, Mike, is head zookeeper. She has direct access to all of the animals and the enclosures. She is especially focused on the wolves. She finds them entrancing, and she spends many an hour sitting by their enclosure just watching them. Her favorite is Lobo, the most majestic.
Tyler, a runaway, hides at the zoo and tries to steal food to survive. Lizzie befriends him and offers him food and a place to stay. Together they discover that wolves are getting sick and missing. Events more or less lead them to tracking the culprit. They also find that they are on their way to solving the mysterious legend of the location of John Muir’s cabin.
The author has packed a wealth of problems and situations into this novel. The characters are well developed and situations are effectively handled, such as Tyler’s runaway status.        

Summary: Lizzie Durango lives in a California wildlife park named after John Muir. When wolves start disappearing she starts to investigate. She makes friends with Tyler Briggs as they try to solve the disappearance and uncover the mysterious location of John Muir’s cabin.      

Wolves-Fiction                                                                                                           —Linda McNeil

Brown, Skila. Caminar.

Brown, Skila.  Caminar.  Candlewick Press  2016  193p            $7.99  ISBN 978-0-7636-9094-6  ms/hs       Realistic fiction  E-BN        

Chopan, Guatemala, will never be the same now that the soldiers have come.  Seeking Communists, the soldiers frighten everyone who is apathetic, does not support them, or is scared, and they kill randomly if someone names a village member as a Communist.  Told from the perspective of a young boy, Carlos, this short volume reveals the atrocities of war in another area of the world, Central America.  It is difficult to name the enemy, as both sides commit untold injustices, and the villagers, who do not want to take sides, are caught up in the battle for survival.  Carlos is told by Mother to flee when the soldiers come, and he describes his world in images and sounds — a trench, an owl, the sounds of a helicopter, the pops of gunfire, and more.  This powerful imagery is best expressed in stanzas of poetry, the style chosen by author Skila Brown to tell Carlos’ story.  All children need resilience to survive youth, but Carlos needs that and much more.  He has observed those around him, and with skills that belie his young age, he climbs trees, joins a band of young rebels, and ekes out an existence in the jungle/mountainous region of his country.  Brown uses not only verse to tell her story; she also uses line length and position to masterfully describe Carlos and his journey up the mountain to survive.  Supporting characters are equally resilient: Flora, Carlos’s young friend whom he has often fed because she has a large family; Mama, a woman with vision who only wishes life for her son; Paco, Miguel, Hector and Ana, the young rebels who befriend Carlos and help him as much as he helps them; and Abuela, an innocent who Carlos must protect after he loses his world.  Poignant, devastating, heartfelt and horrific are just a few adjectives that describe this novel.  Children have often described their experiences during wartime in their own voices; this is not new.  However, Brown’s choices are chilling and powerful — the jungles of Guatemala, a battle that is not clearly defined, and an enemy as elusive as it is random.             

Summary: When Carlos’ mother tells him to flee, he reluctantly runs into the mountains to survive.  War has come to his small village, and he knows how to climb trees to hide.  Through his perspective, the novel describes what happens as he survives the fighting. 

War-Fiction, Survival-Fiction, Stories in verse                                                           —Martha Squaresky

Brown, Skila. To Stay Alive.

Brown, Skila.            To Stay Alive.  Candlewick Press  2016    275p    $17.99  ISBN 978-0-7636-7811-1  hs  Historical fiction   E-BN
To Stay Alive is a moving first-person narrative told from the point of view of 19-year-old Mary Ann Greaves, a young survivor of the tragic Donner Expedition of 1846. Mary Ann and her family of eight siblings and two parents are hopeful about the new life waiting for them in California.  Though the journey west by wagon train is long and demanding, the young woman’s hopes for romance, opportunity, and freedom buoy her up.  Then winter arrives in the Sierra Nevada.  Their group is off to a late start, and the Graves family, traveling in tandem with the Donner and Reed parties, endures one of the most heart-breaking and harrowing journeys in American history.  Brown explores the themes of family, sacrifice and perseverance through beautifully crafted verse.

Summary: Told through verse, this novel is a first-person narrative of the tragic Donner Party of 1846 as experienced by a young survivor.      

Donner Party-Fiction, Stories in verse-Fiction                                                          —Hilary Welliver