When our first snowfall of the season hit, it seemed the perfect time to pull out one of my favorite childhood novels, “Snow Treasure”. The book was written in 1942, while World War II was still going on. It’s about a small community in Norway in 1940 that is on the verge of becoming Nazi-occupied. A local banker devises a scheme to smuggle a large amount of gold bullion out of the country so that the occupying forces cannot take it. The village children will put bricks of gold on their sleds, and slide down the hill right past the soldiers, then pull the sleds the rest of the way to Uncle Victor’s ship, which will transport it to the United States.
I must say I found the story to be more exciting when I was a kid, believing it to actually be true! As an adult, I can see the improbability of this plan working. There was a fair amount of gold smuggled out of the country, but not by children on sleds. That being said, it makes an inspiring story for children, and shows that even if you’re only ten or twelve, there’s a lot you can do for your community.
If you enjoyed either “The Watsons Go To Birmingham 1963” or “Bud Not Buddy”, this book will grab you from beginning to end. Once again the author uses his home state of Michigan as the backdrop. The Malone family starts off living in Gary, Indiana – Father, Mother, 12-year-old Deza, and older brother Jimmie. At the beginning, Deza is a happy child with a best friend Clarice, a librarian that encourages her, and a teacher that she adores. She does not yet realize that financially, her family is hanging on by a thread.
But the country is in the midst of the Great Depression. First Father loses his job, then Mother. Deza’s father leaves for Flint, Michigan, where he hopes to find work. When he goes missing, the rest of the family heads for Michigan as well, determined to find him. The search is much harder than they anticipate; they experience hunger, homelessness, and the hobo life. But through it all, there is hope. Hope that they will someday find Father. Hope that there will be work for Mother. Hope that Deza will get a good education and continue to develop her brilliant mind. Hope that Jimmie will grow to a normal height. But above all, hope that the four of them will be together again as a family.
There were so many things about this book to love. I loved the way the author handled the subjects of poverty and prejudice against African Americans without turning it into an angry story about blacks versus whites. It was more about the Great Depression versus everyone. I loved Mr. and Mrs. Malone, who never allowed their children to feel like victims. They taught love for the family, the value of hard work, and the courage to keep going when the situation looked impossible. I loved Deza, with her passion for books and large words she found in the thesaurus. And I loved big brother Jimmie for his pursuit of work to support his family, despite the fact that he was not even an adult yet.
This is an outstanding book that can be read by anyone from age 10 to 110!
Adoption is a beautiful thing – a coming together of children who need a home and someone to love them, and adults who are ready to raise, protect and love them as their own flesh and blood. There are many excellent adoption agencies that put their heart into building families.
But back in the 1920’s, there actually was a woman named Georgia Tann who started her own black market adoption agency. She kept a sharp eye out for children that looked desirable – specifically blonde-haired, blue-eyed ones, and whose parents were poor and uneducated. The children were taken by what was supposed to be protective services, and temporarily kept in a large house where they were meagerly fed, abused and in some cases molested. Then they were sold off to wealthy clients with claims that the birth parents were dead, or had abandoned the children. Incredibly, this racket went on until 1950 before it was legally stopped.
This book is a work of fiction, but is based on events that actually happened to children at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. The child-trafficking organization left a trail of broken hearts and lives behind for decades, even after it was closed. It is almost unbelievable that such a thing could happen here in our country – but it did. It’s up to everyone to listen when children tell us things we don’t want to believe, and to confront evil when it rears its ugly head.
What’s an eleven-year-old boy to do if he’s grounded for the entire summer? It’s tough being at home all day, especially with parents who are constantly spatting. Jack’s father hates the town of Norvelt and wants to move elsewhere. His mother is devoted to the senior citizens of the town, and cannot imagine living anywhere else. She grows corn, which she then sells to make money for her casseroles-to-the-elderly meals. When Jack’s father tells him to get out the tractor and mow down Mom’s corn field so that he can make a bomb shelter to hide from the “Commies” if needed, Mom goes ballistic. In her desperation to divert Jack to something other than helping build an underground bunker, she arranges for him to help one of their elderly neighbors, Miss Volker, for the summer.
Miss Volker is the town historian, and she faithfully writes the obituary of anyone in town who dies. But her hands are so crippled with arthritis that she needs a helper at home and a scribe. So Jack becomes her right-hand man. At first he is squeamish about death, but as the summer goes on, he comes to understand it as part of life. In the end, Jack becomes just as fanatical as Miss Volker in making sure that each of Norvelt’s citizens are given a glorious write-up in the newspaper upon their passing.
I love the 1960s flavor that oozes from this novel. The hysteria of the Russian threat. Women taking care of the elderly in the community. Kids being allowed to roam around town unsupervised. The small-town newspaper that everyone reads. The old folks who remember when Eleanor Roosevelt helped to start the town during the Great Depression. (Note: Mrs. Roosevelt did help to build the actual model town of Norvelt.)
The book is categorized as juvenile fiction, but it’s really not suitable for kids to read because of things we don’t want them to try doing. Like Jack driving around Miss Volker’s car with no driver’s license. Or Jack’s friend sneaking him into the local funeral parlor to see a dead person for the first time. Or kids buying rat poison at the hardware store and sprinkling it on top of cookies. Also, the theme of death and dying that permeates the book makes it more suited for teens and adults. Despite the seriousness, there is enough humor in this novel to make it a fine read.
Margaret Peterson Haddix is best known for her book series “Shadow Children” and “The Missing”. But her earliest book – a standalone novel – is “Running Out Of Time”, the story of an Indiana community in 1840. The main character is 13-year-old Jessie, one of six children. Her father is the local blacksmith and her mother the midwife. Although life is full of hard work and no luxuries, Jessie is content with her life.
When several of the neighbor children fall ill with diphtheria, Jessie’s mother begins to act strangely, then quietly tells her daughter a secret: it is actually 1996, not 1840. Years before, the adults in the community made a choice to live without the conveniences of modern life. They agreed to be part of a historic reconstructed village that tourists could view through hidden cameras. The adults all know the truth, while the children are blissful ignorant. Families were supposed to be able to leave any time they wanted, but things have changed and now no one is allowed to leave.
Jessie’s mother is desperate to get some modern medicine for those who are ill, and keep the diphtheria from spreading. She tries to describe the outside world to Jessie, and quietly sends her out to seek a person she believes will rescue them. The new world is a confusing and scary place, but Jessie knows she needs to find someone to help the village before people start dying.
This is a great first novel from Ms. Haddix. There are different recommended reading ages, from 3rd to 8th grade. Personally, I think some of the concepts would be a little overwhelming for third and fourth graders. I would say the book is suited for anyone 5th grade and older.
The newest Michael Crichton novel, published by his wife almost a decade after his death, is a gem of a book. However, don’t expect “Dragon Teeth” to read like most of his other books. Instead of technology, you will find a young man growing up. Instead of pure fiction, you will find a story based on real people who feuded with each other in the 1870s. Instead of the future, you will find the past.
The tale begins with William Johnson, a pampered young student at Yale University in 1876. When another student says he would never survive in the Wild West, William impulsively joins Othniel Charles Marsh’s archeological team to search for dinosaur bones in Indian territory. Part-way through the trip, he is abandoned, and joins a rival paleontologist Edwin Drinker Cope. What began as something fun for William turns into life and death, and by the end of the story the Wild West has made him tough as nails.
I loved the fast pace and the simple plot of the story. There was nothing complicated about it, no great mystery, just a great historic novel about human rivalry and the challenges of growing up.
What happens when you cross a young American engineer looking for the best place to build a dam on the great Yangtze River with a country steeped in 8,000-year-old beliefs? You get a story like “A Single Pebble”. The entire book is a bird’s-eye view of what it was like for a Chinese merchant ship to get past the dangerous sections of gorges on the journey. The junk (ship) has a team of 40 trackers, men that walk along the shore and pull it with long ropes. It’s a job on par with building the pyramids of Egypt – backbreaking, dangerous, and thankless. The engineer feels sorry for their miserable lives, and tries to convince them that the modern dam could make life so much easier for them.
Fifty-six years after this novel was written (in 2012), the Three Gorges Dam was completed, producing more energy than any other dam in the world up to that point. A few years later the ship lift was also finished, making merchant travel on the Yangtze what the young engineer had envisioned. But it came at a great price. One and a quarter million people had to be re-located. Many archeological sites were lost. Erosion became a problem, as well as landslides. The dam caused some deforestation, which led to the decline of certain plants and animals. Progress has its cost.