Archive for June, 2013

DIFFICULT DECISIONS

Widow of Gettysburg:Heroines behind the Lines Series

Written by Jocelyn Green

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This is the second book in the heroines behind the lines series. The characters are well developed; you will feel their emotions and the enormous difficulty grappling with the decisions that they were forced to make. Plot lines are mostly well developed; there are many twists and turns that will surprise you. One commonality all the characters face is that they were placed in situations under which they had no control forcing them to make immediate choices and sacrifices. It can be argued that some handled them better than others, but all of them were victims of circumstances they could not control. Historical details are carefully researched and annotated in the bibliography. The book is based on the diaries and writings left behind by women who lived in Gettysburg though the characters are fictional.

The story opens at the end of June, 1863 shortly before the Battle of Gettysburg begins in this quiet town with approximately 2400 residents. Many fled as the troops advanced. Those left behind were mostly women and children. We meet the protagonist Liberty Holloway who is a young nineteen year old widow whose husband died in the Battle of Bull Run two years earlier. Libby is left to run the farm and large house. She has help from Bella Jamison, a freed mulatto slave., who proves to be a true friend in time of need. Liberty never knew her mother; she was raised by a mean aunt who told her that she was an unwanted child.

One day, a stranger who calls himself Johnny, though his real name is Silas Ford, knocks on Liberty’s door asking for something to eat. She knows the soldiers are coming soon. There is something so familiar about him. She will find out that he has a dark secret. Johnny encourages her to stop mourning and start living again. For some strange reason, she feels compelled to listen. While the rest of the town is appalled, she resists them. Her mother in law, Amelia Sanger, arrives with her husband’s body to bury him in the town cemetery next to her  son.. Liberty does not want her to stay, but Amelia insists that she will invest money to help fulfill Liberty’s dream to open a guest house.

Then tragedy strikes. First Confederates overrun the town. Blacks are forced back into slavery. Bella and her friends must hide. Harrison Ford, a reporter, arrives to report on the battle as well as the happenings behind the scenes. He thinks that he recognizes Bella, and suspects that she is hiding something. During the three day battle, the lives of  Gettysburg residents are changed forever. More than 163,000 soldiers and 15,000 animals virtually destroy everything in site. A Confederate doctor seizes Liberty’s home. She makes the decision to stay and becomes a nurse to more than 500 seriously wounded enemy soldiers. Harrison Ford and Bella Jamison find their way back to the Holloway farm as well as Silas and Amelia, but they have experienced turmoil in their personal lives.  Liberty’s property is in shambles. The many twists and turns in the lives of the characters are almost as compelling as the horror and mutilation of the battle.

This is an adult novel, but there is no overt sex or profanity so it would be a valuable resource to young adult students studying the Civil War period and the moral conflict and aftermath engendered by the slavery issue. The writing is well done though a few of the minor characters like Myrtle Henderson are not fully developed. This novel is not one for the faint hearted. You will become fully immersed in the lives of those trapped in the war between brothers.

 

NEW BOOK IN LITTLE MISS HISTORY SERIES COMING SOON!

Little Miss History Travels to the Statue of Liberty
By: Barbara Ann Mojica
Ilustrated by Victor Ramon Mojica

SOLcoverI am so excited to announce that the second book in the Little Miss History nonfiction travel series will be released in a few weeks! This time around you will find Little Miss History “hanging around” The Statue of Liberty. She will be your guide to learning about the creators, the builders, the contributors, her journey, and the events connected to her history.

 

Here is a sneak preview of the cover. Looking forward to having you on the journey!

MIDNIGHT EXPRESS

The Flying Train

Written and illustrated by Janaki Sooriyarachchi

TheFlyingTrainpicThis book is a charming tale that will appeal to young children as a bedtime read aloud. Children six and up will enjoy reading it for the adventure and learning element. It is a fantasy trip every young boy and girl would love to have the opportunity to experience. While the illustrations are stylized, they are bold, large, and extremely colorful making them appealing to a very young child. Even though the train is moving fast and the ride is a wild one, this does not come across as a scary story. It is interesting to note that the children are worried about what their mom would say about not having coats to keep them warm at night and catching a cold when out in a rainstorm. Dolly warns Timmy, “Don’t look directly into the sun or you will hurt your eyes.” So the author displays a parent’s perspective as well as the child’s viewpoint.

At the beginning of the story Timmy and his sister Nelly are in bed sleeping with their teddy bear and doll beside them. On the floor lying next to them the family dog and cat are sound asleep. Suddenly, they are awakened by the barking of the dog and the sound of a train. The flying train arrives at the window urging them to come aboard. Their trip involves some fantasy elements like fairies flying through the sky and little grey men that look like robots waving to them from Mars.  On the other hand, the author manages to introduce a lot of knowledge about weather, the sun and the planets. The siblings learn that it is very cold in the sky, that the moon reflects the light of the sun, the sun gives us light and keeps the planet warm, and that there are many other stars in the sky that are really stars like “our” sun. Their flying train is out of control and crashes into a rain cloud. The children are frightened by the thunder and wind. They see all the planets revolving around the sun. As the out of control train nears the sun, Timmy and Nelly can feel scorching heat from the ball of fire. How will they be able to escape? Will they find a way to return to earth or are they doomed to be lost in space forever?

This book is available as a pdf on freekidsbooks.org or may be purchased online from amazon.com.

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THE FIRST SUPERPOWER

The Great Voyages of Zheng He

Written and illustrated by Demi

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Ma Ze was born in 1371. Ma was born into a Muslim family whose ancestors came from Persia and fought with the Mongols and Genghis Khan. Ma’s father was  a general who told his son of his pilgrimage to Mecca and his military battles. But he was killed in battle when Ma was only ten so Ma was taken to be raised in the imperial palace. Ma was a brilliant scholar who appeared to be skilled at everything he tried to do. Like his father, Ma enjoyed adventure, but he especially loved the sea. When Prince Zhu Di became emperor in 1402, he spread his empire and the power of the Ming Dynasty. He expanded the borders of the Forbidden City of Beijing and strengthened the Great Wall against his enemies. He built a large army and made Ma, who was now known as Zheng Ma,  Admiral of the Navy. One year later Ma had built 525 ships, ten times the number of ships that Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama possessed, and a navy consisting of more than 30,000 sailors.

Zheng Ma set sail with a new more accurate compass, better maps and a good knowledge of astronomy. He journeyed south to Java and Sumatra reaching out to the people with a policy of peace and religious tolerance. Ma destroyed the Cantonese pirate fleet let by Chen Zuyi which resulted in free trade. Eventually thirty foreign  states would  pay tribute and acknowledge the supremacy of China. Emperor Zhu was so pleased that he ordered another voyage in 1407. When Ma found civil war between the Muslims and Buddhists, he proclaimed religious freedom for all. This was unheard of in the time of the Inquisition and Crusades. Subsequent voyages added precious metals, porcelain and more exotic animals to China as a result of forays into the Arabian peninsula and Africa. In 1417 there were so many exotic animals that the emperor built the first zoo to house them all. He was especially fond of his pet giraffe. By 1421 China could rightly be called the first world superpower. Unfortunately, later near the end of that year, lightning struck three imperial buildings creating a conflagration that killed thousands of people. Then a drought caused a grain shortage. When Zhu Gaozhi ascended the throne, he retreated within his borders and ended outside exploration. Ma was relieved of his duties, the ships rotted, and the navy disbanded.

Later in 1425 Zhu Zhangji came into power. He wanted to reestablish trade. In 1431 Ma was again put in charge of the fleet. This was the largest of all voyages. Ma made it a successful peacekeeping mission, but he died suddenly at the age of 62. No man could replace the knowledge and vision of Zheng Ma.  He envisioned a world of peace, intellectual growth, and religious tolerance in a time of war, ignorance and religious strife.

The book is beautifully illustrated by the award winning artist Demi. Adults and children eight and over will appreciate the adventure story and learning about a part of Chinese history and culture that is not widely known. This is a well written, informative and fascinating book for parents and teachers to add to their collection.

 

PINT SIZED PEACEMAKERS

Peace in My World

By: Syeda Mleeha Shah

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This book is dedicated to all displaced children in refugee and survival camps waiting for peace. The author pays tribute to every child for making our world beautiful by being a part of it.

Multicultural children are dressed in native costumes and placed in different scenarios. They are seen in farm scenes with barns, roosters and sunflowers, playing on the ice with penguins and singing in the rain while the wind chimes blow. The images coincide with symbols of peace like the dove and moods of tranquility like a little girl sitting on the grass while fish swim in the pond beside her. In the valleys and mountains trees stand tall, the sun shines brightly, and birds fly over the rainbow.

The text is written in simple verse. The same two lines are repeated on the pages. “This is a place where I want to go. I am in peace from head to toe.” A simple message that adults find  so difficult to accept. In the second part of the book Shah spells out the word  PEACE  assigning special significance to each letter.

 

P stands for people of the world

E stands for empathy they feel for one another

A stands for accepting others differences

C stands for cooperating and working in harmony

E  stands for the extra mile needed to reach out to those in need

 

In the final part of the book, the author selects five countries from various parts of the world: Pakistan, Egypt, America, China and Ethiopia. For each of these she presents the flag, names the capitol, its language and the word for peace. There is a rather abrupt shift from the ideal world to the real world. My only criticism is that no reason is given for choosing these five countries and there is no tie in to the rest of the story. Nevertheless, this book is truly worthwhile for teaching even very young children the value of using diversity as a unifying force and letting our strengths bind us together rather than tear us apart.

 

AFRICAN ADVENTURES

African Safari with Ted and Raymond

By: Rhonda Patton

Illustrated by Chester McDaniel

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For those who are not familiar with the series, Ted and Raymond are two frog friends who share many adventures. In this latest book, which I read in Kindle version, the friends are about to embark on an African safari. They create a list and pack supplies; Ted makes sure to include a safety kit! They find their way to the airport, pass security, and board the plane where a map is shown to indicate Africa’s location. The reader is introduced to African culture by pictures and explanations of African dress and musical instruments. An African frog named Adebayo, which means “born in a joyful time” is to be their guide. Their jeep passes native Umbrella Thorn trees as they make their way to camp. But the friends are surprised that they will be sleeping in tents outside! They meet other tourists and natives and are introduced to native foods like steamed green bananas and flax bread. The next day they board the jeep and see native animals like the Kingfisher, flamingos, lions and zebras. After observing dozens more animals and taking lots of pictures, Ted and Raymond are sad that their safari is coming to a close. Our two frog friends promise that there will be many more adventures with new friends.

I enjoyed the way the author introduced a wealth of information about the culture, animals, food and customs of Africa. The whole travel experience was portrayed realistically from the preparation and packing to the landing and tour itself. Ted and Raymond are drawn as very stylized characters, but the images in the latter part of the book are good representations of the actual animals. Children are given a few facts about each of them. Hopefully they will be enticed to do more research and exploring on their own. Teachers may want to use this book as a read aloud introduction to a science unit on animals or as an opportunity to study African culture. Parents can employ the book as an introduction to what will happen when the family travels by air. I believe that this book is an excellent addition to the Ted and Raymond series of adventures.

THE PAMPERED PET

Errol Come Home

By: Harvey Rooster

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Harvey Rooster is a pseudonym for a crime writer, who has taken time to foray into the world of children’s books. Errol Come Home is the first in a new series featuring Errol the Cat. At the beginning of the tale, we are introduced to Errol who is a sleek, black cat with green eyes the color of emeralds. He lives a magnificent life as he is adored by the couple who own him. Errol was born on a farm, but one day his fortunes changed when he was adopted by a man and wife who gave him meals with gravy, milk and his favorite, tuna. The only bad times happened when he had to go to the vet or his owners vacationed. Then he was put in a cage and placed in the “box on wheels” Soon he was home again snuggling up with his owners on the couch, and those bad times were easily forgotten,

One day something strange happened. He returned home to find two children with small hands who promptly yanked his tail. Errol yelped, stuck out his claws and ran. He had cut his master’s arm. So he spent the next few days outside hoping that those little hands would go away and that his masters would forgive him. After a few days Errol decided he could no longer bear to be away. So he jumped on the settee. But the little one was sitting there and he scratched her leg. Errol’s master threw him into the air and out the door. The next day, Errol was still despondent and very hungry! He heard his master and two little ones calling his name, but he thought it might be a trap. So when a kitten crept through the neighbor’s door, Errol decided to follow. He found a lady with red fingernails who caressed him gently. What will Errol decide to do? Should he stay at his new home or take a chance with his former masters? How will those little ones treat him? So many choices…Errol will need to make up his mind.

This story is very well written; it flows nicely. The book makes a wonderful read aloud for younger children. Jacoba Dorothy does a good job of illustrating and the paw prints on the pages are a nice touch. Children older than six may attempt to read the story independently, but vocabulary words like monotony and confronted will need adult explanation. I am looking forward to Errol’s Christmas and Errol’s Tuna Mystery, the next books in the series.

 

 

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