Genre: Historical Fiction

Portals of History: ONCE WAS A TIME (2016) by Leila Sales

Portals of History: ONCE WAS A TIME (2016) by Leila SalesOnce Was a Time by Leila Sales
Published by Chronicle Books on April 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
Pages: 272
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads
three-half-stars

In the war-ravaged England of 1940, Charlotte Bromley is sure of only one thing: Kitty McLaughlin is her best friend in the whole world. But when Charlotte's scientist father makes an astonishing discovery that the Germans will covet for themselves, Charlotte is faced with an impossible choice between danger and safety. Should she remain with her friend or journey to another time and place? Her split-second decision has huge consequences, and when she finds herself alone in the world, unsure of Kitty's fate, she knows that somehow, some way, she must find her way back to her friend. Written in the spirit of classic time-travel tales, this book is an imaginative and heartfelt tribute to the unbreakable ties of friendship.

Time travel! England during WWII! Tea! A British protagonist! Two bosom friends…all these elements and more are what drew me to read Leila Sales’ new Middle Grade book, ONCE WAS A TIME.

The Book:

Charlotte and Kitty are the two friends we focus on in the opening pages of the narrative, and it’s Charlotte’s father who is actually researching time travel. Charlotte is aware of the importance of her father’s work and is curious about what the ability to time travel might mean, but she is not prepared for the dangerous situation into which she, Kitty, and her father are thrust. Lives are at stake, and Charlotte has to make a split decision about whether to stay with Kitty or to leave. In other words, the opportunity for time travel presents itself, and Charlotte has to decide whether to make the leap…or not.

What I Loved:

Awhile back, I read one of Leila’s Young Adult books, and when I heard that she wrote a time travel middle grade, I was intrigued, especially since it featured a British protagonist and opened in the great country of England during WWII. If you keep up with me on Goodreads or even this blog, you’ll know that I am especially fond of children’s and young adult literature set during the WWII period—historical fiction is one of my favorite genres—in the world of children’s, young adult, and adult books. So it’s no surprise that I snatched this one up on Netgalley as soon as it was available!

Readers with a passion for children’s literature in general might appreciate the many references to different children’s books and even the large role that a library plays in the story. Spoiler: Charlotte does travel through time, but it’s forwards, and not backwards.

Charlotte’s friendship with a librarian is a highlight of the story, and the notion of libraries closing due to lack of funding is brought up, bringing in a real life (and sad!) connection. If you were an avid reader as a young person (or if you are now), you will be delighted at the many books referenced in the story due to Charlotte’s great appetite for reading as many volumes in the library as possible.

The celebration of friendship and its capacity to be enduring and weather trials is strong in this story, and readers certainly have room to discuss the nature of authentic relationship and connection. I loved the connection between Charlotte and Kitty–especially in the last part of the book, but I wanted to read even more with them on center stage!

Finally, I love that cover! Well-done Chronicle books for a unique and intriguing design!

What I Didn’t Expect:

If you glanced at my Goodreads review, you would have seen that I made a comment about this story was not quite what I expected. While I assumed certain characters would take center stage in the narrative, that was not actually the case.

Also, I was surprised at the direction of travel that the transporting took place! I won’t give anything away here, but there was an interesting twist with who traveled where, and for how long they stayed in that time period. There might be some readers who are a little incredulous at the way the story is resolved, but I didn’t have too many issues with the ending, due to the readership and the scope and length of the book.

Are you planning to read ONCE WAS A TIME when it is released in April? What are your thoughts on time travel in Middle Grade titles? Other favorites to share?

three-half-stars
What Katie Read

Middle Grade Monday: Nest (2014) by Esther Ehrlich

Middle Grade Monday: Nest (2014) by Esther EhrlichNest by Esther Ehrlich
Published by Random House Children's Books on September 9th 2014
Genres: Emotions & Feelings, Family, Friendship, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Social Issues
Pages: 288
Goodreads

Happy Christmas Week! Things have been a bit slow on the blog due to travel by yours truly, but I’m settled in for the holidays now, so glad to be back! You may have noticed: my blog announcement hasn’t been made yet. That will change soon, so stay tuned.

Welcome to another Middle Grade Monday!

Suggested age range: 12 and up

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley from Wendy Lamb Books. This in no way influenced my review! Thank you, Wendy Lamb Books!

The Book: Set in 1972, on Cape Cod, this middle grade realistic story charts the ups and downs in the life of a young girl whose mother becomes ill with multiple sclerosis. Along with her sister and father, eleven year-old Chirp wants to see her mother get better, and attempts to cheer her up in the midst of a very difficult season of life. Even though Chirp’s friend, Joey, has his own challenges at home, the antics of the two friends keep the story filled with humor. At times heart-wrenching, the story reflects the work of an author who doesn’t shy away from engaging with serious topics in this heartfelt and beautifully written story.

Spirituality in Nest: How does the heart heal after tragedy? Is the love between family members strong enough in the face of losing a loved one? Both of these questions are raised in the story, suggesting a deep and moving aspect of the book. This one definitely raises some thought-provoking moments, though it took me awhile to get into the story.  Chirp’s aesthetic appreciation for the natural world and her awareness and observation of that world is yet another aspect of spirit in the narrative. Her keen observation of birds and wildlife reminded me a little of the way Anne Shirley is in tune with the natural world.

Who Should Read This Book: Though booksellers might consider this book for readers younger than twelve, because of the subject matter and the way it’s represented, I’m going to suggest the book for readers twelve and up. Of course, parents may decide for themselves whether this book would work for a young reader or not. That’s just my two cents. There are some very serious and intense topics and moments in the story, but realistically, some young people have to face situations such as the ones the story brings up. In that case, the book would be extremely relevant.

The Final Word: It took me awhile to get into this story as I felt the pace was a bit slow, but once I reached a certain point—about halfway through—it seemed to pick up. I enjoyed the patterns and echoes Ehrlich employed in the story, and the motifs she used, such as the nest and the birds. I especially appreciated learning more about Cape Cod and the different types of birds living in that environment. The story reflects multiple moments of beauty and celebrates an aesthetic appreciation of the nature world. The story, though tragic at times, ends on a note of hope.

Have you read this new Middle Grade release? What did you think?

What Katie Read

Farmer Boy: The Midnight Garden Classic Middle Grade Read-along (November)

Farmer Boy: The Midnight Garden Classic Middle Grade Read-along (November)Published by Harper & Row on 1933
Genres: Classic, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
Pages: 373
Goodreads
five-stars

I LOVE the Little House books! I grew up with the yellow paperback boxed set, and it’s still one of my prized bookish possessions. I also watched the Little House on the Prairie television series with my family, so I had a hearty dose of Little House goodness throughout my childhood.

How excited I was to discover that the November book for The Midnight Garden’s Classic Middle Grade Readalong was Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder!

So here I am to share some thoughts about the story I haven’t read in years, before heading over to The Midnight Garden to join in on the discussion there. I hope you’ll stop by as well! (Next month the book is Little Women!!)

I still remember those gorgeous, thick descriptions of food in the Little House books. Menus, maple sugar making tips, pie and pancake eating—Farmer Boy especially is chock full of such wonderful things.

Here are a few examples:

“Big yellow cheeses were stacked there, and large brown cakes of maple sugar, and there were crusty loaves of fresh-baked bread, and four large cakes, and one whole shelf full of pies” (25). YUM!

Or how about this:

“Mother was frying pancakes and the big blue platter, keeping hot on the stove’s hearth, was full of plump brown sausage cakes in their brown grave…There was oatmeal with plenty of thick cream and maple sugar. There were fried potatoes, and the golden buckwheat cakes, as many as Almanzo wanted to eat, with sausages and gravy or with butter and maple syrup. There were preserves and jams and jellies and doughnuts. But best of all Almanzo like the spicy apple pie, with its thick, rich juice and its crumbly crust. He ate two big wedges of the pie” (38).

If I could get invited over for one of the meals from Farmer Boy, that would be a treat!

farmer boy meal uaAlmanzo’s story is a delight—this stand alone novel gives us more times with the boy who would become Laura’s husband—and what memorable times they are.

I had forgotten the perils of being a schoolteacher that are discussed in that first bit of the book, when Almanzo treks to school as a nine year old. That’s right—Almanzo’s school teacher actually faces the possibility of getting “thrashed” by the big boys at school who are disrespectful and just general HOOLIGANS!

Then the teacher breaks out a whip that Almanzo’s father supplied him with, and puts those boys in their place. This sounds a bit intense, doesn’t it? A teacher with a whip?? What’s going on with that?? I was shocked to read that the previous schoolteacher DIED after he was beat up by the bigger students. Did you know that school could be so dangerous back in rural New York state in the late 19th century? I hadn’t remembered any of this from my childhood reading, so it’s been fascinating revisiting FARMER BOY. This definitely also makes me want to do some research and find out more.

As I read, I actually used stickies to mark all the foodie passages. There’s a lot of apple pie being eaten, that’s for sure! And stacks of pancakes with maple syrup. Who wouldn’t want to visit Alamanzo’s house? Taking part in one of those meals would be fantastic.

Speaking of spirituality in children’s literature—I think there’s something to say about that here. To me, sharing a meal with people can be a spiritual activity. Not every meal, but there is something significant and intimate that can happen among family and friends when you eat together. The descriptive passages of the meals eaten in the Little House books highlights (at least to me) the importance that families in this culture placed on sharing a meal. After all, they had worked so hard to grow and prepare that food. I think there is a significant aspect of the book in those passages—there’s something to be said about how sharing and partaking of food encourages community. Go check out the descriptions of Almanzo eating at meal times and let me know what you think…

And–Almanzo and his siblings learn how to run the farm! I was amazed at the way Laura Ingalls Wilder describes so many of the activities a boy of Almanzo’s age living on a farm in the late 19th century would learn. Planting corn, keeping corn from freezing, protecting the potato crop, sheep shearing, getting ice for the ice house, breaking calves—the list goes on! All that hard work as a family would surely play a role in its strength—and I think this is apparent in the story.

Can you believe the way Eliza Jane saved Almanzo from getting whipped for ruining the wall in the parlor?

How about that exploding potato?

And the half dollar Almanzo’s father gives him after he asks for a nickel?

The story is filled with these episodes that paint a colorful picture of Almanzo Wilder’s life—the story delighted me as a young reader and it fascinates me today.

#3 in the Little House Series

Recommended for All!

What about you? Did you grow up with the Little House books? Did you read Farmer Boy as part of The Midnight Garden read-along??

Do you have a favorite foodie passage from the book?

five-stars
What Katie Read
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