Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The End of the Line by Sharon E. McKay

The End of the LineBeatrice's Jewish mother is taken off a train in Holland by the Nazi police. To save Beatrice, Hans and Lars tell the Nazis that she is their niece. It's hard for two old men to raise a six-year-old girl, so they get help from their neighbors, Mrs. Vo and Lieve. Lieve is a young woman, and she was once a teacher. She helps Beatrice learn English, and all three of the adults protect her from the Nazis. However, food is hard to find, there are spies everywhere, and the Nazi police are constantly stopping people to see their identification papers. Beatrice doesn't have any papers, so it's only a matter of time before she's found.

It's hard not to connect with a book about an innocent child caught in the middle of World War II. She only wants to be back with her mother. It's amusing and heart-warming to see two men in their sixties trying to help a small girl. They give her a metal train car one night to help her stop crying! It doesn't work. The story captures the fear and bravery of citizens trying to help innocent victims during the war. Love is the common bond of all the people helping Beatrice.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Secret of Ferrell Savage by J. Duddy Gill

The Secret of Ferrell SavageFerrell and Mary have been best friends since they were in diapers, and they're each entering the annual sledding race. Mary's "sled" is an old sink, and Ferrell decides to use a beat-up lawn chair. Ferrell doesn't win, but he becomes famous for the most spectacular wipe-out. Later, the boy who actually won the race enrolls at the school and seems to be angry with Ferrell. This boy says he knows a terrible secret about Ferrell and Mary's ancestors that could devastate their lives. Ferrell's parents won't even talk about it, but he later learns that a long time ago, his ancestor survived a journey across the mountains by eating the other people with him. The new boy says he won't tell everyone about the cannibalism if Ferrell will race again. However, Ferrell doesn't know this race will be held on the most dangerous hill around. Even skiers won't go down it. Is it worth the risk to keep his family's history a secret?

The focus of the story was unusual, but it kept my interest. A huge sled race for kids that had the whole town talking for days was strange. Ferrell's principal even asked him to visit a first-grade classroom, because her son wanted him for Show and Tell. The idea of Ferrell's relative being a cannibal was a little gross, but Mary's connection to it added an unexpected twist. I liked how Ferrell was naive and how others had to explain things to him. It gave him an innocence that was easy to like, but he also was brave to stand up for Mary. I enjoyed it!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Surrounded By Sharks by Michael Northrop

Surrounded By SharksDavey's family takes a vacation on a tiny island off the coast of Key West, Florida. He wakes up early one morning and decides to secretly explore the beach, looking for a peaceful place to read. After a little while, he decides to wade in the ocean, but he slowly moves into deeper water. Before he knows it, a rip tide carries him a couple miles off shore. Davey finds a large bottle to keep himself afloat, and he starts to watch the curious, little fish around him. However, he soon notices a larger shape about twenty feet down and realizes a large shark is circling under him. When he notices more sharks, he's not sure if there will be any pieces of his body left for searchers to find.

The title of the book describes the plot. The plot moved a little slowly for me, but the suspense amped up once the sharks arrived. It was frustrating to read about all the time wasted in searching for Davey, but I guess that was to create a larger problem. No one knew where he had gone, and the family insisted he would not have gone swimming. If you have the patience to continue reading until the sharks show up, you'll probably enjoy this book.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz

The Summer I Saved the World . . . in 65 DaysNina is enjoying the start to her summer, soaking up the sun. She watches her neighbor trying to plant flowers with a broken leg and decides to do something different. She sneaks over later and plants the flowers, and then she decides to do nice things for others every day for the rest of the summer. She does it secretly, and it seems like a good idea, but another neighbor is worried someone is vandalizing their homes. Also, Nina's best friend likes a boy across the street, but Nina quietly likes him too. Nina doesn't know who she can talk to. Her parents are too busy with work, her brother keeps sneaking off, and she doesn't really have any other good friends. She misses her grandmother, and she's not certain her secret kindness is doing any good.

There aren't many books being written about characters doing nice things for others, so this book is a pleasant change. Nina and her best friend are an interesting contrast in characters. The friend is very self-centered, and Nina is trying to find ways to make others happy. The boy across the street is going through a rough time and questions Nina's efforts. His little brother and the lady next door add smiles to the plot.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel

Pack of DorksLucy thinks she's going to be one of the coolest girls in the fourth grade after kissing Tom during recess. However, she misses the next day of school after her mom delivers a baby sister, and things change in a big way. The new baby has Down's Syndrome, and the family must make adjustments. When Lucy returns to school, she finds the other kids are now making fun of her, and her best friend won't speak to her. Lucy is forced to talk to the nerdy kids and partners up with Sam to do a research project on wolves. Things go from bad to worse when Sam gets bullied and won't come back to school. Lucy learns a lesson about life from the wolves, and decides to form her own pack.

Many books have been written about getting along with classmates and friendship, but this book added the issue of mental handicaps. The author shared Lucy's frustrations as she slowly realized she needed to change. Her parents needed time to deal with a handicapped infant. Lucy's grandmother was a fun character, as she had no trouble speaking her mind. She also told Lucy that she had teased other kids when she was young, so she was able help Lucy with her problems.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Squeeze Play by Cal Ripken Jr. and Kevin Cowherd

Cal Ripken, Jr.'s All-Stars: Squeeze Play (Cal Ripken, Jr's All Stars)Corey is the starting centerfielder for the Orioles, but he hasn't been hitting the ball well for weeks. He's still a great fielder, but he can't seem to get a hit at the plate. To make matters worse, the girl playing right field constantly teases him, and his dad takes the games too seriously. Corey's dad calls players names, boos, and almost gets into fights with other parents. The team travels to North Carolina for a big tournament, and Corey is feeling the pressure. His dad's behavior seems to be getting worse, and Corey's about ready to give up the game he loves.

This book is for fans of baseball. The author describes the games as they're played, and he also shares some of the finer details of  baseball. The conflict with the girl playing right field is predictable, but Corey's relationship with his dad may connect with many athletic readers. Parents can put pressure on their kids playing sports and embarrass them with inappropriate behavior. Corey's dad is an extreme case, but I've seen parts of him in many parents over the years. Overall, a great book!

The Girls of Gettysburg by Bobbi Miller

The Girls of GettysburgThis book tells the stories of three girls leading up to the famous Civil War battle at Gettysburg. Tillie lives in the town and watches as neighbors and black people flee it before the Confederate soldiers arrive. She's sure the Union army will force the enemy away, but she soon finds herself in the middle of the violence and death. Grace's is part of a black family that refuses to leave. Her father finally decides it's getting too dangerous and puts his family on a train out of town. Grace hops off to stay with her father, but she finds herself hiding in a cellar before the Rebel forces find her. Annie disguises herself as a boy, so she can join the Confederate army. She proves herself as an excellent shooter and a feisty soldier. It's sometimes difficult to keep her secret, but she just wants to head north and kill some Yankees.

It's unusual to read about the story of a famous battle through the eyes of three females. Annie's story was the most interesting to me; the author shared more consistent character interactions, and her secret added a sense of mystery. Grace's story became more suspenseful as the Rebel army drew closer. Tillie's story was least compelling to me, although her character showed great strength and courage when the battle began. I admired her actions once it came to an end.