Savvy

Image result for savvyA Newbery Honor Winner for 2009, Savvy by Ingrid Law is the tale of a family who have amazing abilities and have to learn to control them.

Upon turning 13, every Beaumont gets a savvy, a special ability.  Mibs is sure her savvy can wake things (including people up).  Just in time because her father was just involved in a car accident, leaving him unconscious in the hospital.  Convinced she can wake him up, Mibs hitches a ride on a bus along with her brothers and two friends, Will and Bobbi.

Upon being discovered, they convince the driver, Lester, to take them to Salina to the hospital–AFTER he finishes his deliveries of bibles.  This leads to one chaotic adventure after another as all the Beaumonts struggle to control (and figure out) their savvy’s.  It turns out Mib’s savvy is not waking things up but hearing ink (tattoos and such) reveal others’ thoughts.  Overwhelmed at times, Mibs causes a ruckus that leads to punches between Will and her brother, Fish, who can control the weather and a scene in a diner where they pick up another hitch-hiker named Lill.

Finally arriving in Salina with a police escort, Mibs is convinced she can still wake up her dad–and she does.  By telling him he never gives up and he has to wake up.  Her dad is not the same–severe head injury has left him with memory problems–but Mibs learns about family, love, being a teenager, and being happy with the life she has.  “When life takes a turn and you can’t step back…all you can do is keep moving forward and remember what you’ve learned” because “the outcome of a choice is almost as hard to predict or to control as a new savvy.”

“You never can tell when a bad thing might make a good thing happen.”

Great coming-of-age tale with tons of action and adventure from the heart.  Life lessons for kids who have great hearts, but still have a lot to learn.  Fantastic tale about your lot in life, accepting it, and finding contentment in it.  Highly recommended!

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The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

Image result for mostly true adventures of homer p. figgThe Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick is a delightful tale of a twelve-year old boy who is determined to find his brother who was illegally sold into the army during the American Civil War.  Orphans, Homer and his brother are being raised by their mean uncle, Squinton Leach.  Squint sells Harold and Homer sets out to find him.

“A person has only two options in life, to do something or to do nothing,” Homer is told.  For Homer, “Nothing is not an option.”

He runs into some slave catchers who try to use Homer in their schemes to collect runaway slaves and return them to their owners.  In this process he meets a nice, rich man named Jebediah Brewster, a Quaker, who puts Homer under the guardianship of a preacher and gives him money to find his brother.  On the train ride, the guardian, Mr. Willow, is duped by con artists and the money is stolen.  Homer finds himself thrown into a pig pen.

The pig pen leads to Homer being cast into a traveling medicine show who performs for troops.  They follow the army until the leader, Fenton Fleabottom, is caught as a Confederate spy.  Homer escapes by climbing into an air balloon, which lands in a nasty pond on the side of the Confederates.  Taken as prisoner, Homer is soon freed due to the Battle of Gettysburg.

Homer flees on a horse, through the raging battle, and finally meets up with his brother who has been labeled a deserter.  However, every man is needed in the battle so Harold gets his chance to fight.  Homer, so afraid Harold will die, tries to stop him.  He shoots a bullet at him to scare him but it rickochets into his leg.  Homer ends up being the flag bearer and then the Confederates surrender.  Both are adopted by Jebediah Brewster back in Maine and end up leading a happy life.

Newbery Honor Book for 2010, this book is full of fun and unbelievable twists and turns.  Homer likes to fudge the truth, which lands him in all of these precarious situations but also gets him out of them.  Great historical read that depicts the 1860’s turmoil perfectly.  Highly recommended for all ages!

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Image result for evolution of calpurnia tateThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly, a 2010 Newbery Honor Award winner, is the story of an eleven-year old girl at the turn of the twentieth century.  She is the only girl in a family of seven kids and is expected to act like one when all she wants to do is play outside with her brothers.  Her chores are around the house.  She must take piano lessons, knit, and cook.  Her expected life is one of a wife and mother.

Enter her grandfather, Captain Tate, who’s a war hero from the Civil War.  He started a cotton gin company, which Calpurnia’s father now runs so Captain Tate spends his days trying to distill liquor from pecans and exploring the scientific world around him.

Calpurnia’s brother, Harry, had given her a notebook to write down her scientific observations.  Confused on the color of grasshoppers, Calpurnia went to her grandfather for help.  Here blossomed over the summer of 1899 a relationship of mutual hobbies.  Calpurnia spent every possible moment with her grandfather, learning, observing, and assisting him in his endeavors all the while learning everything possible she could.  He gave her a copy of The Origin of Species and she plugged through that as well.  The most exciting event is when Calpurnia and her grandfather discover a new species of plant and send off to Washington DC to have it confirmed.

Calpurnia’s mother dislikes all the time she is spending with grandfather and begins to make her take more and more time to learn to sew and cook.  Calpurnia hates every minute of it but slowly begins to understand what her expected role in this world will be.  However, she dreams of going to university and becoming a scientist.

At Christmas that year, Calpurnia is given a book.  She is so excited until she reads the title:  The Science of Housewifery.  She is devastated and defeated.  She begins to wonder if her dream will always be a dream.

Finally, word comes of the plant:  it is confirmed!  It’s a new species and named after them!  Calpurnia realizes then how grandfather had been “the greatest gift of all” and she can do whatever she desires.  “There are so many things to learn, and so little time is given us.”

Instead of resolutions, Calpurnia makes a bucket list of things she wants to see before she dies, one of which is snow.  And guess what?  The next day it snows for the first time in decades in Texas.  “Anything was possible.”

Great read about defining who you are, believing in yourself, and following your dreams.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

In Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin we meet a girl named Minli who is determined to change her family’s fortune.  Both her parents work all day in the fields for just enough food to put on the table.  Her father passes the night by story telling while her mother “sighs” over their misery constantly.

One day a man selling goldfish arrives in their town known as Fruitless Mountain since food here is hard to grow.  Minli spends her precious coin on a goldfish, upsetting her mother.  Hence, Minli decides to release the goldfish into the river.  When she does, the goldfish speaks to her and tells her he knows how to find the Old Man of the Moon who knows how to change their fortune.  With that, she is off on her adventures!

Along the way, Minli meets a dragon who can’t fly.  She tells him about the Old Man of the Moon, and he decides to accompany her on her journey.  She meets villagers who help her and encounters an evil tiger who wants to eat her!  When Minli does finally find the Old Man of the Moon, she is told she can only ask one question.  She is torn:  she can either ask how to change her fortune or ask how the Dragon can fly.

She asked for the Dragon, saying, “I didn’t ask the question because I don’t need to know the answer.”  Minli had discovered the key to her fortune:  family and gratitude.

Minli returns home atop the Dragon who can now fly.  The Dragon decides to stay and he changes Fruitless Mountain from brown to green.  She gives the Dragon’s pearl that had been preventing him from flying to a king who had helped her along the way.  The king gives the village utensils to sow the ground and much more.  All prosper because Minli asked the question for the Dragon.

Great story about putting others first and acting selflessly, which leads to everyone prospering.  Very, very quick read.  The writing style is simple and moves the story along.  2010 Newbery Honor Book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin is a must-read for all!

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.

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.