Courage, Love, and Strength: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Brubaker Bradley, Kimberly. The War That Saved My Life. Puffin Books, 2016. 336 pages. Hardcover $10.36 ISBN 978-0147510488

img_0143Ada and Jamie have never had it easy, and for Ada, life has been nothing but pain. Born with a clubfoot that her mother never sought treatment for, Ada is raised in a single room, forbidden by her mother to ever walk, let alone  leave their flat, even as Jamie, Ada’s 6 year old younger brother, is given free run of the neighborhood. When it is announced that children are being evacuated out of London in preparation for bombs that Germany may drop on the town, Ada learns that her mother intends only to send Jamie out into the country. Ada sneaks away with Jamie armed with the ability to walk — a skill she taught herself over the summer months in preparation for Jamie’s start at school. The country is not like home — there are many things they don’t know, and there are a lot of people who are upset by the influx of evacuees. There is also, however, a pony named Butter, and he lives with a woman named Susan Smith who is made to take them in. While Susan never wanted children, she takes care of Ada and Jamie, buying and making them new clothes and keeping them well fed and educated. Will Ma ever reply and let Ada get surgery for her clubfoot? Will they be sent home to London? What does “home” mean?

I really enjoyed this book. It’s completely gripping, and Ada’s voice is very clear. Her PTSD that she suffers resulting from her mother’s verbal and physical abuse is written realistically, and her fits are never meant to make readers think she is silly or stupid — readers are  upset on her behalf. This is a powerful historical fiction read, especially as context for a unit on the start of the war in Britain and the preparation for the bombings. While a fictional character, Ada is a realistic lower-class London girl. This is also a great read for kids who like horses and ponies, as equestrian activities take up a good portion of the action as well. This is a powerful recommendation for kids who want more context or who simply are interested in World War II.


Creepy-Crawlies, Kids, and Cavendish: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand

LeGrand, Claire. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012. 352 pages. Hardcover $15.54 ISBN 978-1442442917

img_0141This creepy book is an excellent read for fans of Coraline. Victoria’s dearest ambition is to be the best; nothing short of perfection will do. In her quest for perfection, she has decided to live life without friends … until, of course, Lawrence “the Skunk” (so called for his stripe of gray hair) strikes her as so pathetic, so utterly unable to take care of himself, that she makes him her Special Project and hangs out with him in order to be a good influence. As Victoria struggles with her B in music — impossible! A B?! And here’s Lawrence, a veritable music prodigy! — she misses the fact that Lawrence looks very anxious, and his parents are acting very oddly. In fact, once Lawrence disappears mysteriously, Victoria notices everyone acting very oddly. The answer to all this weirdness lies in the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, run by the too-perfect Ms. Cavendish and her assistant, the unsettling gardener, Mr. Alice. As Victoria hunts for the truth, she finds herself sucked into the Home and learning far too much about why her town runs like a well-oiled machine.

This book has a definite gross-out factor — creepy creatures, slime, mystery meat, beetles, and cockroaches fill the pages. This book is also terrifying — much like how Coraline’s scary button-eyed Other People are too good to be true, so is Ms. Cavendish and her orphans’ home. This book is perfect for the student who wants to be scared, one who looks for disturbing stories where kids have to battle some pretty evil big bads. This would be a great Halloween book club book or display item, and it has definitely earned a spot in a Coraline book talk.

Readalike: Coraline by Neil Gaiman.


Time Travel and Twenty Thousand Dollars: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me. Wendy Lamb Books, 2009. 199 pages. Hardcover $11.29 ISBN 978-0385737425

IMG_0140.JPGThis book is a total brain-bender! We follow Miranda in her letters to an unknown “you” in the school year spanning 1978-1979. Miranda tells the story of the day her friend Sal told her he wanted to take a break being friends. Devastated, Miranda does her best to live with that decision, even though it means walking past the scary Laughing Man, a homeless person who has a tendency to kick into traffic, scream at the sky, and call out specific passersby. Despite her fear of the laughing man, Miranda manages to have a pretty good go of things. She often thinks about her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, with Marcus, a mysterious kid who punched Sal “just to see what would happen.” While Marcus is convinced time travel is real, Mira isn’t so sure. She is also receiving mysterious letters, and these letters freak her out pretty badly.

This was not the mystery I was expecting, but it was still a great read. The concurrent preparation for her mother’s shot on The $20,000 Pyramid injects urgency into the novel, as does the unexpected appearances of each letter. The laughing man swoops between lucidity and madness, and it leaves Miranda and readers with a lot of questions. The repeated references to A Wrinkle in Time could make this a great next read for kids who loved L’Engle’s story and would like to have someone (albeit a fictional someone) to “talk to” about the book and its time travel capabilities. It would be fun to play Catchphrase during book club to show kids how hard it can be to think on your feet like Miranda’s mother would have to do, and conversations about friendship, growing up, and empathy could be really fruitful. Furthermore, I really appreciated the portrayals of characters with differences (Richard’s need for a platform shoe on his right side, Annemarie’s epilepsy) respectfully and without making them seem as though they had been inserted to increase the “diversity” of the novel.


Of Mice and Music and Darkness and Thread and Soup: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo


DiCamillo, Kate. The Tale of Despereaux. Candlewick, 2003. 272 pages. Paperback $17.99 ISBN 9780763617226


Despereaux is named for the despair he causes his mother at his birth — the only of the mouse litter to survive, he is also born with his eyes open, marking him from the very beginning as “different.” While the mouse community sees his differences as negative ones — ultimately banishing him from their society — the narrator helps readers to see that Despereaux’s “lack of conformity” is the very thing that makes him our little mousie hero. Despereaux braves certain death, rats, darkness, and a cook’s knife on his quest for the one he loves … will he be successful?

DiCamillo’s narration is gorgeous; it feels as though someone is sitting beside you, telling you the whole tale. The “Coda” at the end of the book reinforces this feeling, as the narrator asks that we imagine that we are like Gregory the jailer listening to Despereaux’s story in the dark. Truly, this book fills up a reader like light can brighten a bad day and soup can warm a person. This would be a fantastic book for book clubs or reader’s theatre — encouraging students to swap turns as narrator and perhaps having students “act out” the characters could be a lot of fun. There is also a great deal of space to discuss universal truths — fear, goodness, kindness, bravery — when reading through this book in a group. Despereaux is often fearful, but he works through his fear for the good of others. Roscuro is no doubt a bad guy … but we can see what made him that way. DiCamillo’s small lesson on “empathy” is perfectly packaged and will make for some great class or club discussions.


Science and Stuff: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

img_0071-1This book packs a powerful emotional punch. Suzy (aka Zu) is starting seventh grade, but aside from the usual middle school miseries, Suzy is also dealing with the sudden death of her childhood best (and only) friend Franny. Suzy and Franny’s friendship ended very badly the year before, and Suzy had had plans to try to repair the damage in seventh grade. With this opportunity lost, Suzy is shocked, saddened, and utterly lost. She becomes nearly mute, choosing to “not-talk” rather than “constant-talk” since talking doesn’t mean anything, especially since talking couldn’t help her and Franny.

During a class field trip, Suzy learns about the Irukandji jellyfish, an almost invisible and nearly-always-fatal jelly. Suzy, desperate for a logical answer to the loss of her friend, decides to prove that an Irukandji jelly is the reason why her friend died.

Benjamin writes Suzy’s voice so clearly that it feels as though we are right alongside Suzy in her thoughts. A young scientist herself, Suzy’s research process and grief process are remarkably the same; even the book is laid out like a lab report with introductions, hypotheses, method, and results. Readers will also learn about jellyfish alongside Suzy as she mulls over the facts and figures that she learns. It’s a fascinating read, and the drama of her search for answers pulls readers in even further. A gripping read, I would recommend this to any young reader.

This would make a powerful book club book, or it could be used in a science class to think about ways that “experiments” can be created and used. While Suzy’s research into the Irukandji is not solely for her coursework, it is interesting to think about how her search for answers about Franny is its own experiment in growing up and accepting reality. This could also be a book for a kid who is feeling the pain of grief; Suzy is a very realistic narrator, and she does not sound like an author condescending to a child’s grief.


Sound 1 set; sound 1 Go! Drama by Raina Telgemeier

img_0134Recommended by the publisher for readers aged 10-14, this book is a wonderful peek inside life as a middle-school theatre nerd. Callie, the 7th grade set designer for her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi, doesn’t have enough on her hands as it is — not only does she need to help build a cannon that actually fires for a big battle scene, but she also finds herself dealing with her unrequited crush on Greg. When she meets the twins Justin and Jesse, she is ready for some new friends. Justin gets a part in the play, and (due to stage fright), Jesse elects to join backstage crew. Together, the friends prepare for the show and deal with their own lives. 

I thought that the book handles its themes really well, particularly for its age group. This would be a fun book club book … or a common read for theatre kids! It gives a great view into backstage crew and design life without overplaying “techie” stereotypes. I really loved that Callie is a set designer at the middle school level. I appreciated how realistic a lot of the preparation was for the play, especially Callie’s “wants” for the stage design and what could actually happen (Callie, if you ever actually build a tree for a show, lemme know so I can audition!)


A few non-book-thoughts before I return to posting my book thoughts!


I wanted to jump in to say that if you would like to use tags for searchability, they are viewable on individual post pages. 🙂 It took me a minute to figure that out, so I am also writing that here so that I can remember.

I’m going to post reviews for books I read this week and last week. I hope to post more often than once-a-week, but for now, I’ll just post individual books separately (rather than a big ol’ review master post.)

I hope you’re all having a wonderful weekend!


Catch-up Post: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Oh wow! I had heard great things about Raina Telgemeier, but I had not yet had a chance to read any of her books. I fixed that this August!

Smile is delightfully relatable. Having had braces, a retainer, spacers, headgear, braces again, and new retainers (which I still wear!), I was VERY familiar with an adolescence spent in the orthodontist’s chair. 🙂 Poor Raina, though; her story is a bit more frightening than mine!

Kids with orthodontics will agree with many of the miseries Telgemeier presents, and kids without will still get a fun, relatable story. Deftly woven in are also storylines about when kids outgrow friends, find new ones, and blossom into their own people.


  • Graphic Novel

Major Things:

  • Orthodontics
  • Growing up
  • Friendships

**Some blood on the page!


Catch-up Post: The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke

All I can say is, “YUCK!” and “When can I read more about Grunhilda?!”

Lucke creates a fantastically disgusting protagonist here, and I cannot recommend it enough to fans of gross-out humor, dark comedy, and snarky readers. It’s yucky, it’s funny, and it might make you feel a little green. (The detail on the background paper is TOO MUCH sometimes, and I mean that in the best way).


  • Graphic novel

Major Things:

  • Witches
  • Magic
  • Gross!
  • Fitting in

Catch-up Post: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

I reread this book over the summer. As I wrote for an assignment searching for Echo read-alikes,

If you liked Friedrich’s chapter and want to read another novel set in Europe in World War II…

Try Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. This gripping story is a serious novel about Annemarie, a ten-year-old girl living in Copenhagen during the years the Nazis occupied Denmark. Annemarie’s family must help her best friend Ellen and her parents escape once the Nazis begin relocating Jewish citizens of Denmark. Annemarie and Ellen pretend to be sisters, and while they are able to move Ellen out of Copenhagen and to the coastal town of Gilleleje, her safety isn’t guaranteed. Will they be able to get Ellen and her family past the soldiers and to freedom?


Lowry, Lois (author). (1989). Number the stars. New York: Houghton Mifflin.     Paperback: $4.76 ( ISBN: 0547577095. 156 pp.

Kirkus Reviews. (1989, March 15). Number the stars [Review of the book Number the     Stars]. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from          reviews/lois-lowry/number-the-stars-2/

This classic novel definitely stands up to the test of time.


  • Historical Fiction

Major Things:

  • World War II
  • Prejudice
  • Fear
  • Suspense