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.



Holes by Louis Sachar is a Newbery Winner for 1999–and for good reason.  Stanley Yelnats (Stanley spelled backwards) is fighting a family curse-one that’s been around since his great-great-grandfather.  He’s in the wrong place at the wrong time his entire life–including when he’s accused of stealing shoes and sent to Camp Green Lake (which is anything but green).

At Camp Green Lake, he’s forced to dig a hole every day five feet deep and five feet wide.  When he’s done digging his hole, he’s done with his work for the day.  It’s hot.  There’s no water but what they are given.  He gets a four minute cold shower and food out of cans.

The boys are told if they find anything interesting to report it and then they don’t have to dig their hole.  Stanley finds a fossil (not interesting).  Then he finds a gold casing with the initials KB on it.  This proves interesting.  They boys are forced to dig around the place they found this for days.  Stanley determines they must be digging for something.  But what?

Camp Green Lake didn’t always be dry.  100 years ago it used to be a lake.  Kate Barlow used to be a school teacher at Camp Green Lake.  She falls in love with an onion picker named Sam.  Their relationship is a scandal because Sam is black.  Sam ends up murdered and Kate ends up taking revenge as a thief.  Legend has it she stole money and buried it.  Here.

Stanley ends up finding the buried treasure (which incidentally belonged to his great-great grandfather) and ends up helping his family and his friends at Camp Green Lake.  Oh, and that curse?  Broken!  This story is full of so many twists and turns that my summary is just the surface.  It’s an excellent and quick read that the kids will enjoy.  Sachar is a master of pace and every chapter just has you wanting to read more.

I’ve always wanted to read this book since it’s so famous and it’s fabulous.  You won’t regret your time spent.  Charming characters.  Great twists.  All around good fun.  Funny too!

Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai
Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus is a novel based on a true story of a 14 year old boy who was shipwrecked on a deserted island in 1841.  After surviving off of the local birds and fish, the boys are rescued by a passing ship.  The problem:  it’s an American ship full of barbarians!  Manjiro fears for his life, but slowly he realizes the Americans are just like him and they are there to help them.  He learns all about sailing and whaling.

After almost 2 years, the ship docks in Hawaii.  His companions disembark here but Manjiro, who is a good friend of the captain’s, decides to travel on to America.  Here, he sees things non-existent in isolationist Japan:  a train, a carriage, kissing in public, free speech, non-existent social classes, a telegraph, a steam engine, and an elected President.  He learns he can be more than just “a simple fisherman”.  He can be whatever he sets his heart to.

After ten years away from home, Manjiro wants to return to Japan.  Knowing he may be killed as Japan’s policy is to kill all those who have left Japan, he picks up 2 of his companions in Hawaii and heads home.  The government holds him for almost a year and a half.  Finally, he is released and returns home.  His village has not changed and his family has grown up.  However, he is summoned by the shogun (the ruler of Japan) back to Edo (Tokyo) to teach others English.  Manjiro ends up translating for Commodore Perry in 1853 on his historic voyage which opens Japan to the outside world for the first time.  He lives a long life, fulfilling his dream of changing the world by helping Japan to change.

On one occasion, Manjiro ends up in San Francisco looking for gold to finance his trip back to Japan.  When he finds gold, he thinks, “So this is what dreams look like.”  I loved this line because for all of us our dreams are usually small lumps of nothingness that we turn into great heaps of something.

Great book.  Historically accurate to the time period and to the real Manjiro.  Goes somewhat in depth into whaling and how even in this time period, whales are becoming scarce due to overhunting.  Manjiro even calls the Americans “barbaric” for killing whales.  Great historical notes at the end.  Inspirational as Manjiro follows a dream to fruition and makes a difference in his world.  Great underdog tale.  Show the prejudices of the day as well.  Shows the difficulties we all must overcome in this world.  Highly recommended.

The War that Saved my Life

The War that Saved my Life
The War that Saved my Life

“Mommy, I don’t want this book to end!” my daughter said.

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a beautiful story of overcoming adversity and finding love set in World War II.  Ten-year-old Ada Smith was born with a clubfoot.  And her mother hates her for it.  She locks her up in their flat, refusing her to ever leave.  She crawls around and enduring humiliating treatments such as being locked in a cabinet and being physically abused.  She stays to take care of her six-year-old brother.

One day Ada decides to teach herself to walk–and she does.  Slowly over time.  Then the war starts and children are ordered to leave the city of London to avoid the bombs from Germany.  Jamie, Ada’s brother, will go, but Ada is told she can’t leave.  But she does anyways.  She sneaks out with Jamie and takes the train to the country.

There, they are the last evacuees to find a home.  And it’s with a woman named Susan Smith who is depressed over losing her best friend and has never had children.  Susan learns quickly, however.  She takes both children to the doctor.  Feeds them three solid meals a day.  Has Ada’s foot looked at and offers surgery if her mother agrees.  She clothes them, bathes them, and provides for them.  And slowly, over time, both Ada and Jamie, learn to love Susan.

Both children grow and learn.  Ada learns she’s not dumb.  She learns to read and write and ride a horse named Butter.  She helps with wounded soldiers and even catches a German spy!  Jamie befriends a cat he names Bovril.  Both children thrive.  Until one day, Ada’s mother shows up.

Ada and Jamie are taken to London but not for long.  Ada, stronger than before, stands up to her mother and gets her to admit she never wanted them and the only reason she came for them was for the money.  The next day London is bombed.  Susan finds the children in London whom she came to reclaim and they return to their home in Kent.  Only their home is no longer standing.  It was bombed.  And in the end Susan saved Ada and they saved her.

Amazingly awesome story.  I can’t recommend this book enough.  It shows the ignorance of disabilities and the treatment disabled people endured long ago.  It shows the determination of one little girl determined to have a life.  It shows the love and compassion of a stranger who opens her heart despite the fact her heart is still bleeding.  It shows the love of siblings and what one will do for family.  A heart-warming story of overcoming adversity despite the toughest odds.  And doing so at an incredibly young age.  A 2016 Newbery Honor Book.  And for good reason.

The Midwife’s Apprentice

The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman
The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman

The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman is a wonderful coming-of-age book set in the fourteenth century in England.  We follow an orphan girl who can’t remember either of her parents or her name.   She doesn’t know how old she is either–12 or 13 maybe.  She’s known as Brat and Beetle–the names others call her.  She travels around villages, pilfering food.  She meets a midwife who takes her in because she needs help doing her duties.

Beetle learns quickly and is far from dumb.  She rescues a cat she names Purr.  She takes the name Alyce after being mistaken for another girl named Alyce.  She saves a boy, Will, when he falls into a pond.  He is one of those who taunts her.  He comes to like Alyce and defend her.

One day Alyce is called to help a woman give birth.  She is specifically requested after she helped another woman give birth.  Alyce arrives but fails to help the mother.  Jane, the midwife, steps in and successfully delivers the child.

Alyce, feeling a failure, runs away.  She believes herself too stupid to be a midwife’s apprentice. She finds a home in an inn and works there.  She befriends a magister who is staying at the inn collecting stories for an encyclopedia he is writing.  He teaches Alyce how to read.

One day the magister asks Alyce what does she want.  She never thought about what she wants.  She thinks and thinks and thinks and says, “I want a full belly, a contented heart, and a place in this world.”

The midwife shows up to tell the magister herbs for midwifery.  She mentions Alyce and says, “Alyce gave up.  I need an apprentice who can do what I tell her, take what I give her, and who can try and risk and fail and try again and not give up.”

Alyce misses the village she left so she visits.  She checks in on Edward, an orphan boy she helped find a job.  He’s content and doing well.

Soon afterwards, a prosperous couple shows up at the inn.  The woman is pregnant and Alyce ends up successfully delivering the baby after watching the woman suffer labor pains.

The rich merchant couple offers to take Alyce as their nanny.  The innkeeper offers to pay Alyce to stay.   The magister offers to take Alyce with him to Oxford to care for his elderly sister.  However, Alyce returns to the midwife–where her heart is and her place is in the world.  Jane takes her in only after the cat refuses to leave.

Great, great story.  Short and fast.  We read it in about an hour and a half.  Newbery Medal Winner for 1996.  Great themes of not giving up.  Of having faith in yourself.  Of believing in yourself.  Of following your heart to where you belong.  Of finding your place in this world and discovering what you want.

Authentic to the Middle Ages.  True to the hardships of peasant life.  Great portrayal of orphans and its prolifery in the Medieval Ages.  All around a great read.  My kids and I loved it.  Author’s note at the end about the history of midwifery and its prevalence today.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

The Diary of Anne Frank
The Diary of Anne Frank

Anne Frank, the young Jewish teenage girl who went into hiding from the Nazi’s in World War II, didn’t survive.  She and her family were betrayed and ended up being the last deportees from the Netherlands to be sent to the concentration or death camps.  Her story combines the innocence of youth with the horrors of war so vividly one is moved to tears and hopefully one will vow “never again.”

We follow Anne from her 13th birthday when she received the diary until she was forcefully removed from her hiding place, which she calls “The Secret Annex” because it was a part of her father’s office building that most people didn’t know existed.  The diary ends when she’s 15 years old.  Anne never makes it to her 16th birthday.

A diary is very personal and Anne doesn’t hold back anything.  She discusses her problems with her mother and how she doesn’t feel close to her and only loves her because she is her mother.  She talks about her dad, whom she affectionately calls “Pim”, whom she adores.  Her sister, Margot.  She discusses the other people they went into hiding with:  The Van Daan’s and their son, Peter, and Mr. Dussel who joins them later.

We see Anne blooming into a teenager under extraordinary circumstances.  She candidly talks about her fear of being discovered and what would happen.  She talks about her hopes and dreams for the future.  She talks about her first kiss with Peter and her first impulses of love.  She talks about her helpers, the outsiders who keep them alive–the Dutch Christians who risk their lives by providing food and everything else they need.

Throughout it all, Anne never loses faith or hope and God stands prominently in her faith and hope.  She says in the definitely edition on April 1, 1944:  “God has not forsaken me, and He never will.”

Her greatest hope, like most of us is “I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people.  I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met.  I want to go on living even after my death!  And that’s why I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift (she speaking about writing here), which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s inside of me!”

I thought if she only knew then what she’d become.  If she only knew then God’s plan for her that we all know.  For in her short life, she has lived on.  She has become a symbol of all that’s good in this world and a symbol for hope and a symbol for the end of wars.  God used her short time on earth to impact the world that most of us never will.  Her words humanize even the most cold-hearted.

In that same entry dated April 5th, 1944, Anne says, “When I write I can shake off all my cares.  My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived!…Will I ever be able to write something great?”

This expresses how most of us writers feel and most of our desires–to write something great. Anne did.

April 11th, 1944:  “We’re Jews in chains…without any rights, but with a thousand obligations.  We must put our feelings aside; we must be brave and strong, bear discomfort without complaint, do whatever is in our power and trust in God…The time will come when we’ll be people again and not just Jews!”

“Who has inflicted this on us?  Who has set us apart from all the rest?  Who has put us through such suffering?  It’s God who has made us the way we are, but it’s also God who will lift us up again….maybe our religion will teach the world and all the people about goodness and that’s why…we have to suffer…God has never deserted our people.  Through the ages Jews have had to suffer and the centuries of suffering has only made them stronger.”

When I was 15, I would have never had such wisdom.  And put so eloquently.  Her faith shines and I wonder if mine does.

July 15th, 1944, in one of Anne’s last entries, she says:  “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

She was an extraordinary young woman, living out her life with courage and hope in the face of constant fear.  Yet she knew God.  She knew God would not abandon her.  She had faith.  She hoped she’d make it through.  She didn’t.  God had a purpose for her life that she could not see.  But she trusted.

I wonder if she had lived would we be reading her diary or would it have had the impact it still does today.  Probably not.  The fact she was so close to making it is heart-wrenching.  The fact the world stood by, knowing what the Nazi’s were doing is heart-breaking.  It is a sad, sad period in human history brought to light by one little girl and her diary.  The evil man himself is capable of is hard to digest because we all are capable of such evils.

I read this book as a teenager, and it had no impact like it does to me today.  As a mother, I ache for her.  As a former teenager, I see myself in her.  Knowing her fate, gives one a whole new perspective.  When she speaks of what she will do once she is set free, tears form because we know she never makes it.

My kids were engaged and felt similarly to me.  They knew throughout her fate and yet while reading it hope and courage shine out and inspire to do better, be better, and know better.

This book should be required reading for everyone.  Historical value alone it’s priceless.  Human nature and perspective it’s fundamental.  Hope and faith it’s a testament.  For one scared little girl it’s her voice that was cut off all too soon.  Riveting and powerful, the reader will see World War II in a different light–and never be the same afterwards.  Highly recommended.  Life-changing.  Amazing testament to faith in trying times and how one lives when God is in control.