Bomb

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

Newbery Honor Book for 2013, Bomb by Steve Sheinkin follows the story of the development of the first atomic bomb during World War II.

From the possibility to the discovery of nuclear fission through the Nazi heavy water manufacture to the Manhattan Project and the attempts of the Soviet Union to steal the bomb design, Bomb is a riveting book, exposing the heavy toll the atom bomb takes on the developers, the secret-stealers, the people of Japan, and those of us still living in a nuclear age.

We follow Robert Oppenheimer, the leader of the Manhattan Project, which is the name the US called its development program for the atom bomb, and all the other colorful physicists who created the world’s most powerful weapon.  We see their struggles and triumphs, their sense of duty and desire to prevent Hitler from acquiring the bomb, their sense of helping the Russians in order to even the playing field, and their immense concern seeing its power afterwards.

This book humanizes the developers, gives the reasons behind the development, creates the sense of urgency, and the devastating results afterwards.  For those of us who didn’t live through this time period, Bomb takes up back to what it was like during World War II and fills in a void (at least for me) of the details.  I loved learning all of this since I only had a rudimentary knowledge of the bombing like most people.

An amazing book for all history buffs who want a relatively easy read without getting bogged down in the details of physics.  A few black-and-white pictures.  Probably for older kids although my 9 year old loves the story.  It goes into just a bit of detail of the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Highly recommended!

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The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D Schmidt

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D Schmidt is a Newbery Honor Book for 2010.  And for good reason.

We follow a seventh-grade boy named Holling Hoodhood in 1967 during the Vietnam War on Long Island.  He is the only Presbyterian in his class so he has to stay at school on Wednesdays while the rest of his class leave early for Catholic school or Jewish school.  His teacher, Mrs. Baker, is resentful.  She makes Holling clean the chalkboard and clean out the coat closet.  He thinks his teacher is out to get him.

She assigns him extra work as well which include reading the great plays of William Shakespeare.  This leads to him performing in the Christmas performance of The Tempest.  He begins to memorize whole passages of Shakespeare and learn lessons from the plays as well.  His father is overbearing and is very self-absorbed with making sure his architecture business grows and succeeds.  He is also convinced Holling will succeed him in the future.

This book is laugh-out-loud funny as Holling deals with his Tempest costume of yellow tights and white feathers on his butt.  He deals with a bully and pet rats he accidentally let loose in the school.  He learns it’s more about giving than spending money on a date.  Mrs. Baker takes him on a field trip to study architecture and Holling sees buildings and the history they hold for the first time.

There is a very moving scene in the book where Holling rescues his older sister who ran off with her boyfriend and realizes it’s a mistake.  “The first time that you know you really care about something is when you think about it not being there, and…the emptiness is as much inside you as outside you.”  We get to see Holling grow in maturity and into his own as he realizes how much he loves his family and friends around him and realizes there’s more to life than architecture.

I cannot recommend this book enough.  Historically accurate and entertaining I haven’t read this good of a book in a long time.  I read it outloud to all of my kids and they all loved it!

“Sometimes the real world is like Hamlet.  A little scared.  Unsure.  A little angry.  Wishing you could fix something you can’t.”

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts, Al Capone Shines My Shoes, Al Capone Does My Homework

Al Capone Does My Shirts is a wonderful book for children about life on Alcatraz Island in the 1930’s, which is the time the infamous gangster Al Capone was incarcerated there.  This book is a Newbery Honor book for 2005.

Matthew “Moose” Flanagan has moved to Alcatraz Island when his father gets a job as a prison guard in 1935, during the height of the Great Depression.  He has a 15 year-old sister who nowadays would be recognized as special needs but in the book is considered handicapped and unfit for society who should be shut away in a mental institution.  Moose loves to play baseball and do typical activities 12 year-old boys do.  Moose and his friend, Piper, the warden’s daughter, hatch a plot to make money by having the criminals do the laundry of the kids at school.  The criminals currently do the laundry of all those on the island so their plan is to slip in the kids’ clothes and claim Al Capone did their laundry.

However, Moose’s world is consumed by taking care of his sister and her needs.  His family is trying to get his sister, Natalie, into a special school for children like her.  However, she is rejected due to her age.  Desperate, Moose writes a letter to Al Capone to pull some strings and get her in.  He does.

Cute book.  Very historically accurate.  Kids learn all about Al Capone and the infamous Alcatraz Island prison.  Great writing.  Engaging.  Fun.  Funny.  The characters are well developed.  Highly recommended.

Two sequels have been written:  Al Capone Shines My Shoes where Moose is called out by Al Capone to help him since he helped his sister get into the Esther P Marinoff School and Al Capone Does My Homework where Moose’s apartment is burned and his sister being blamed, he sets out to discover who set his family’s apartment on fire and why.  All three books are great reads and a great lesson on siblings caring for one another and standing up for one another.  Moose also shows signs of liking girls and he struggles with making new friends and keeping them.  The books deal with the discrimination of those kids different from others and the struggles these families faced.  Gennifer Choldenko does a fabulous job of narrating a tumultuous time in kids’ lives.

The Witches

The Witches by Roald Dahl

The Witches by Roald Dahl is a fast-paced novel kids will devour eagerly and clamor for more.

A seven-year old boy and his Norwegian Grandmother (known as Grandmamma in the novel) travel to the English coast for a get away.  Unbeknownst to both of them, they are staying at the same hotel as the annual convention of witches for all of England.

Wanting to play with his pet mice, the boy (unnamed in the novel) hides in the hotel convention hall.  In strolls the witches for their meetings and he overhears the witches’ plot to kill all of the children in England by turning them into mice and having them killed by humans.  He, however, is sniffed out (literally) by the witches and turned himself into a mouse.  Returning to his grandmamma, he hatches a plot to take down the witches by giving them a douse of their own medicine.

The boy says to his Grandmamma, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you.”

A master of fast-paced writing for children, Dahl writes a tale full of adventure and fun.  Guaranteed to entertain and make you laugh.  Classic kids literature at its best!

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

This Newbery Medal award-winning book is sure to leave you spell-bound and yearning for more.  The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill introduces us to a world of witches, a dragon, a monster, and a baby girl.  The witch named Xan rescues babies who have been left in the woods to die.  She feeds them starlight on her journey to the Free Cities where she places them in a loving home.

One year, so spellbound by a child with a crescent moon birthmark, Xan accidentally feeds the baby girl moonlight instead.  She is enmagicked and her powers grow.  However, she cannot control them.  Hence, Xan places a temporary hold on the girl’s powers until she turns 13.  But as a consequence, her powers will wane and she will die as a result.

The town that leaves the babies to die, the Protectorate, is run by a Sister Ignacia who is really a witch herself who feeds off of sorrow.  A cloud hangs over the place fueled by the ritual of leaving the babies to die.  One young man named Antain starts to question how things are run.

As Luna, the girl who drank the moonlight, approaches 13, both worlds start to collide.  Her powers start to grow inside her and she had no idea she is special.  Antain leaves the Protectorate to stop the witch once and for all.  Sister Ignacia attempts to stop him.  Glerk, the swamp monster who has been around since the beginning of time and Fyrian, a very small dragon who begins to grow all go off to find Xan who is headed to rescue another baby.

Their worlds collide, mysteries will be resolved, and light will return–all while a volcano is about to explode!

A novel insanely hard to put down with all the twists and turns.  Very cute with endearing characters.  Glerk is lovable.  Fyrian is naively happy.  Xan is the protective parent.  Luna is the rebellious child.  A great storyline of challenging the status quo, questioning authority, following your heart and your gut, and doing anything for love lies underneath the surface.  Great read.  Worthy of the 2017 Newbery.  Enjoy!

Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus

Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus

The perfect companion book for the study of John for kids is Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix.  Beautiful, full-page illustrations tell the stories of Jesus’ life leading up to and including the cross with his resurrection the last page.

Jesus is depicted historically accurate as well as the buildings and the clothes.  He is also drawn larger than those around him, which I love and my kids noticed right away.  It makes him stand out and emphasizes the point that he is greater than us.

Nice summary of the main stories in John and elsewhere.  A quick read.  Highly recommended.

One Came Home

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

One Came Home is a brilliant story set in 1871 in Wisconsin about a 13 year-old girl whose sister goes missing at the same time a body is found wearing a dress she owned.

Georgie is convinced her sister, Agatha, is alive.  The body is badly decomposed and in a few pieces.  Determined to find out what happened to her sister, Georgie sets off on a borrowed mule with Billy, a boy who loved Agatha, to the town the body was discovered, Dog Hollow.  Agatha was last seen with a pair of traveling pigeoners (people who followed the passenger pigeons before they were extinct).  Georgie starts asking questions and soon discovers a family up in the hills by the name of Garrow.  Their oldest daughter ran off at the same time as Agatha went missing to get married and she looks just like Agatha.  One of the Garrow sisters has a ribbon in her hair matching the Agatha’s dress.  Georgie is convinced it’s the same material so how did the little girl obtain the ribbon?

Before Georgie can find out, she stumbles upon a hidden cave full of counterfeiting plates.  Running from the Garrow men, Georgie finds herself using her sharp-shooter skills to scare them off and break up the ring.  A hero and still doubtful her sister is dead, Georgie returns home when her grandfather unexpectedly dies.  She resumes her life, helping in the family store, still wondering about her sister.

Finally, a letter arrives.  It’s from her sister.  She ran off to attend college to study nature in Madison, WI.  She had seen the articles in the paper about Georgie and wrote to see if all was okay.  She had met up with the Garrow girl and had sold her her dress for her wedding.  The Garrow girl was accidentally shot when she grabbed a shot gun and the trigger went off.  Panicking, her father left her body to be found.

And the ribbon?  The dress had been torn in an argument with her father before she was shot.  Her little sister then took the material for a bow.

Full of every twist and turn you can imagine, One Came Home by Amy Timberlake deserves the Newbery Honor Award it won in 2014.  It may be better suited for older kids just because of the subject of death.  Georgie grows as a person as she learns self-sufficiency and the depth of love.  Extremely well-written, historically accurate, a vivid picture of the passenger pigeon, and an overall great read.  Highly recommended.