Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Moon over High Street by Natalie Babbitt

moonIt was a long, boring bus ride. Looking out the window, there was nothing to see but farm fields stretching forever to an endless horizon. Very few farmhouses were visible. The landscape looked monotonous as it flew by. Joe Casimir was on his way to Midville to stay with his Aunt Myra while his Gran, who was also his legal guardian, was recuperating from a broken hip. Joe had lost both parents as a baby and had always lived with his Gran. He certainly did not want to leave her now at the beginning of his summer vacation. Why did Gran send him away? As Joe was missing his old friends and classmates already, he did not look forward to getting off the bus at Midville. But then, destiny was waiting for him at the new town. One of the first people Joe meets at Midville is beautiful Beatrice, a neighbor, who shows him the town. Then Rover, Beatrice’s big dog, escapes into Mr. Boulderwall’s yard. While trying to get their dog back, Joe and Beatrice meet the local millionaire, Anson Boulderwall, and apologize profusely for the mischievous dog. Many years before, Mr. Boulderwall had emigrated from Poland. When he meets Joe, he thinks that Joe Casimir might be descended from three Polish kings named Casimir. Mr. Boulderwall makes up his mind that Joe should become his adopted son, be trained in business and eventually take over his factory, and also become a millionaire. Soon, Mr. Boulderwall instructs his lawyers to present Gran with the adoption papers for Joe. Gran is shocked. Aunt Myra and Joe are shocked when they hear about the adoption plans. Now everyone in their family and circle of friends advise Joe on what to do. Most of them love the opportunity for Joe to become rich. In the end it is Beatrice who helps Joe make the perfect decision. Review by Trudy Walsh

Guru Nanak: The First Sikh Guru by Rina Singh

guruHave you ever heard of a baby coming into this world laughing? Nanak was born in a small village in India in 1469. After he drew his first breath, there was no crying, but only a gentle laughing coming from the baby. His parents knew then that Nanak was a special child. When Nanak was seven years old, he was sent to the village school, run by a Hindu priest. In no time at all, Nanak learned the alphabet and started writing poems praising God. His teacher was amazed. His mother and sister were proud of him. His father was upset because he wanted his son to learn math and accounting. No matter how much Nanak’s father tried to get him interested in business and making money, Nanak remained a day dreamer. He followed Muslim and Hindu holy men around and engaged them in conversations. Nanak never became the businessman his father had hoped for. Instead, he travelled thousands of miles across India, from the snowy Himalayas in the north to the tropical island of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in the south. Wherever he went, Nanak took his message with him, “Worship one God, treat everyone equally, work honestly, share with the less fortunate, and serve the community.” On this basic belief system Nanak laid the foundation for the Sikh faith. In Guru Nanak we meet an extraordinary, powerful person who follows his dream, performs miracles, and draws crowds of people wherever he goes. Nanak is one of the great spiritual teachers of our times. This biography gives us insight into his active, influential life. Review by Trudy Walsh

Mosey: The Remarkable Friendship of a Boy and His Elephant by Ralph Helfer

moseyThey were born on the same day on a small farm in Germany: Bram Gunterstein, the boy, and Mosey, the elephant. They grew up together. The boy and his elephant were inseparable. Their relationship was so close that once, when Bram was sick in the middle of the night, Mosey became so agitated in the barn that she trumpeted and stamped until the parents woke up and realized something was wrong. Bram was rushed to the hospital. Mosey had saved his life. When Bram turns thirteen, tragedy strikes. His father, who is an elephant trainer for the local circus, comes down with a dreadful disease and makes Bram promise to always take care of Mosey. Then the circus is sold, and all the animals are to be shipped to America, including Mosey. At first Bram is heartbroken and doesn’t know how to keep his promise. Then he bravely makes an appointment with the new circus owner, Mr. North, and offers to take care of Mosey and become his official trainer. Mr. North looks at the young boy and tells him that he has his own professional elephant trainer who, from now on, is in charge of Mosey. Bram is determined to find a way to stay with Mosey. With the help of some friendly circus people, he becomes a stowaway on the ship that carries all the animals via India to America. Only Bram’s devoted love for Mosey gives him the strength to endure the adventures on the high seas, including the survival of a hurricane. Mosey is a fast-paced book filled with danger and adventure. Bram meets each new life-threatening challenge with a brave and loving heart. He would do anything for his best friend, his “twin,” his Mosey, “the greatest elephant that ever lived.”

elephantAnother adventure-filled elephant story is An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo. This book is also based on a true story, the same as Mosey. Review by Trudy Walsh

An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo

elephantKarl and his mother are sitting at the edge of their seats as ninety-year-old Lizzie tells them the amazing story of survival and adventure of when she, her mother, her little brother and an elephant trekked at night across war-torn Germany. Lizzie tells them what it was like growing up in Germany during World War II. When her father was inducted into the German army, he left Lizzie, her little brother, Karli, and her mother behind. Lizzie’s mother had a job at the zoo in the city of Dresden in East Germany. As the war progressed, it soon became clear that Dresden would be the next target for the Allied bombers. The zoo director called an emergency meeting. He told his staff that in the event of an air raid all the large animals would have to be shot. Everyone was shocked, but they soon realized how dangerous it would be for the people of Dresden if a direct hit destroyed the large animals’ cages, and tigers, lions and elephants ran free. Lizzie’s mother had been taking care of an orphaned elephant. She begged the director not to shoot this gentle elephant, who was no threat to anyone. Finally the zoo director put Marlene, the young elephant, into Lizzie’s mother’s care. Marlene would now have to be with Lizzie’s mother day and night. Every evening Marlene came home with Lizzie’s mother from the zoo and was brought into their garden, to the delight of Lizzie, Karli and the neighborhood children. In the morning, the elephant went back to the zoo. Lizzie and Karli looked forward each evening for the arrival of Marlene. They learned to feed her, clean up after her and play with her. In a very short time they learned to love her, and Marlene became part of the family. Then, one day, the warning sirens sounded and everyone rushed to the air raid shelter. Lizzie, Karli, their mother and Marlene were too far out on a walk in the park to make it safely to the shelters in time. They had no choice but to flee into the countryside. From a safe distance they watched the bombs fall on Dresden and came to realize that they would never be able to go back home. The decision was made that all four would have to travel west to get away from the burning city and the advancing Russian soldiers. What an adventure-filled trip it turned out to be for them! An Elephant in the Garden is a fast-paced, exciting story.

moseyIf you like this book, then check out another elephant adventure story: Mosey: The Remarkable Friendship of a Boy and His Elephant by Ralph Helfer. Both books are based on true stories. Review by Trudy Walsh

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Margaret and the Moth Tree by Brit and Kari Trogen


For the majority of Margaret Grey’s existence (all eleven years) she has been an orphan taught to be quiet and to cause the least amount of trouble possible. When Margaret’s parents died, her only living relatives were the quiet, but-not-big-on-hygiene, bachelor Uncle Amos, and the well-mannered-to-a-fault Great Aunt Linda. Margaret lived with one, then the other, but as years went by, they, too, die and leave her alone. She gets sent to the Hopeton Orphanage where she hopes against hope that she will finally find a warm and kindly place to call home. Instead she comes face-to-face with terror and tyranny in the form of Miss Switch. Miss Switch seems to have leapt from the pages of a Roald Dalh story and can go head-to-head with the best of evil villains. In fact, she is one of the worst kinds of villains –she appears kind and motherly in front of the public, but once public eyes look away, she switches and turns nasty and cruel. Even though she’s the matron of an orphanage, she hates kids, especially orphans (or dregs, as she calls them). I could go on about her awfulness, but you will soon see there is no end to her cruelties (she thinks being cruel is a kind of talent). Here are some examples of her cruelty: locking a child outside on a windowsill all night through a storm, ignoring her cries; gluing hands together; taping mouths shut; the list goes on and on. When Margaret tries to get help from the outside, she is punished severely, but it’s actually the punishment that empowers her and inspires her revolt. Her punishment? No one is allowed to speak to Margaret, and Margaret is not allowed to utter a word. As the days go by in silence and solitude, Margaret uncovers a kind of sixth sense: if she truly listens, she can hear the quietest of sounds, even a fluttering of wings. It is this talent that helps  her discover the moths (playful creatures that talk and play games all night). Her discovery of the moths and her friendship with them give Margaret the courage to overcome her fear and turn the switch on Miss Switch in a humiliating and hilarious climax. For those of you who like Roald Dahl’s Matilda, this is a story for you. You’ll be rooting for Margaret all the way to the end, just like you did for Matilda. Review by Lizzy Healy