February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Blast from the Past | SLJ Spotlight on Middle Grade

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Are your patrons itching to revisit days of yore and bygone eras? These recent novels take on historical fiction from varied perspectives, from a narrative set during the 1950s that tackles bias and prejudice to a tale of medieval London that incorporates fantasy and magic.

Doan, Lisa. The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone. 192p. ebook available. Sky Pony. Feb. 2017. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781510711228.

MG-SP-Doan-AlarmingCareerofSirRichardBlackstoneGr 4-6 –The dark, dangerous streets of medieval London are home, of a sort, to 12-year-old Henry. His days are spent foraging for food, running away from cruel parents trying to sell him into servitude, and seeking his own gainful employment. As the story begins, Henry jumps onto the back of a coach leaving the city. He’s off to answer an ad for a scientist advertising for an apprentice. As luck would have it, Henry finds the correct address and is employed. The cook is a wonderful, generous woman, while the butler is grouchy and suspects Henry of no good. His employer, Sir Richard Blackstone, is well-meaning but a truly unfortunate scientist. His experiments bring excitement, as well as humor, to the narrative. Henry is a smart young man who is able to use his intuition to solve problems. Most important, he pieces together clues necessary to ultimately contrive an antidote for the poisonous spider Sir Richard accidentally enlarged. In so doing, Henry saves the duchess and, perhaps, the whole village. A dishonest, evil man tries to steal the duchess’s fortune by tricking her into marriage, but Henry becomes suspicious of him and follows the trail of clues all the way to his own happy ending. This well-written, engaging tale revolves around missing loved ones, stolen silver, and magic powder. Strong character development, an original plot, and tight pacing all come together for a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. VERDICT A solid historical fantasy novel, recommended for most public, school, and classroom libraries.–Elizabeth Swartz, Warrior Run School District, PA

Goodman, Carol. The Metropolitans. 368p. ebook available. Viking. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781101997666.

MG-SP-Goodman-TheMetropolitansGr 4-7 –A work of historical fiction set during World War II. Madge McGrary doesn’t know where she belongs anymore. After moving in with her aunt Jean when her mother died, Madge does her best to stay out from underfoot. When her Sunday afternoon takes her to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Madge, along with Joe, Kiku, and Walt, encounters a very peculiar, if not a bit eccentric, curator named Dr. Dashwood Bean. Dr. Bean entrusts the four children with an important mission: locate the missing Kelmsbury Manuscript, an ancient volume of Arthurian legends, which has been hidden somewhere in the library. With the Kelmsbury’s help and a little bit of magic as well, the kids begin to act as though they are the real Lancelot, Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, and King Arthur. And they are the only thing standing against a successful attack by the Nazis that could kill millions—even as that which brought them together threatens to tear them apart. In an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones or Allan Quatermain, the action unfolds at a page-turning pace. VERDICT A strong female protagonist, a great supporting cast, a timeless myth, and the undercurrent of World War II combine for an engaging and memorable tale. A solid choice for book clubs.–Wayne R. Cherry Jr., St. Pius X High School, Houston

Holbrook, Sara. The Enemy. 244p. ebook available. Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781629794983.

MG-SP-Holbrook-TheEnemyGr 5-8 –One aspect of becoming an adult—and a dominant theme in this book—is developing the understanding that our perceptions of the truth can be wrong. Marjorie is 12 years old and lives in 1950s Detroit. Not only is her family affected by the fear of communism but her father still struggles as a result of his time fighting in World War II. When Inga Scholtz, a new student from Germany, is seated next to Marjorie in class, the protagonist begins to grapple with her preconceptions and prejudices. Furthering Marjorie’s anxiety and confusion, her friends create the “Slam Book” to shame Inga. When everything comes to a head, Marjorie learns that true bravery is standing up to those who use prejudice and untruth to bully and humiliate others. Marjorie is a young woman living in a time when biased opinions are too easily distorted into fact. Holbrook uses her own firsthand knowledge, from her childhood in the 1950s, to demonstrate the impact that the outside political and social climate has on Marjorie and her family. Read-alikes include Christine Kohler’s No Surrender Soldier, Monika Schröder’s My Brother’s Shadow, and Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s Making Bombs for Hitler. VERDICT A fine example of historical fiction for middle school readers. This will tie in to most curricula and is a good choice for any public or school library collection.–Meaghan Nichols, Archaeological Research Associates, Ont.

Rose, Caroline Starr. Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine. 304p. ebook available. Putnam. Feb. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399168116.

MG-SP-Rose-JasperandtheRiddleofRileysMineGr 4-7 –The dreams and dangers of the 1879 Klondike gold rush fuel Rose’s first novel in prose, and it’s a rousing historical adventure. By the end of the first chapter, news of the strikes reaches 11-year-old Jasper and 16-year-old Melvin’s rural Washington town. The brothers quickly forsake their abusive father and set out for the gold fields of Canada. Harsh weather and physical challenges aren’t the only perils along the way. Stampeders are more likely to steal from than help one another, especially two boys traveling alone. Tall tales of gold that grows on trees keep the brothers’ hopes high; Jasper is spurred on by the legend of a million-dollar stake abandoned by miner One-Eyed Riley, who left behind a series of riddles leading to the gold. It’s unlikely that readers will be able to solve the riddles and locate Riley’s claim on the included map, but that won’t deter them. Rose’s carefully plotted clues, along with colorful supporting characters and narrow escapes, keep the pace brisk until Jasper finds Riley’s mine in a suspenseful climax. Complementing a narrative rich in details about life on the frontier, the author’s note provides more intriguing facts, including profiles of characters in the book who were true historical figures. VERDICT Highly recommended for fans of adventure and historical fiction, or as a classroom read-aloud.–Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem ­Public Library, Holbrook, NY

Kiera Parrott About Kiera Parrott

Kiera Parrott is the reviews director for School Library Journal and Library Journal and a former children's librarian. Her favorite books are ones that make her cry—or snort—on public transportation.

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