scrounge: /skrounj/ informal verb: to actively seek [books] from any available source
Esperanza Rising is a story inspired by the author's ancestors who came to the United States from Mexico around the time of the Dust Bowl. Esperanza (which means "hope" in Spanish) enjoys a privileged life in a rich family until her father is killed and she and her mother flee to America.
I like the way Esperanza changes as a character during the course of the story. She has a hard time adjusting to a new life of labor where she doesn't even know how to use a broom, given her former lifestyle. But she also sees how the class differences that used to divide her from her servant friends are disappearing as they travel and work together.
The themes of wealth, power, strength, and weakness are explored throughout the story, as well as the importance of family and friendship. I couldn't help but notice the timeliness of this book considering how immigration is in the news these days. Overall it was a very readable story and I enjoyed it -- I could definitely see using it for a history unit.
Scrounged From: PaperbackSwap.com
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Content Advisory: Death of a loved one takes place, though it is not explicitly described.
Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess is an informative and whimsical look at what it might have been like to live in a castle in the Middle Ages, according to the fictional diary of Tobias Burgess, an eleven-year-old boy who becomes a page at his uncle's castle.
Toby writes his entries over the course of a year (in a Medieval-sounding voice, even!), detailing the different things he is learning and experiencing -- from school to church, hunts to jousts, and basic day-to-day events such as meals, comradeship, and punishments, this is a fun way to learn about Medieval times, especially as they played out within the walls of a castle.
Scrounged From: AbeBooks.com
Author: Richard Platt
Illustrator: Chris Riddell
Content Advisory: References to the dungeon/prisoners, cleaning "garderobes," and similar unsavory aspects of Medieval life.
I enjoyed Stella by Starlight -- the story of a black girl named Stella who is living in the depression-era South. Stella doesn't have a lot of power over the events that take place around her -- the segregation, the hurdles her friends and family members are forced to go through just to attempt to cast a ballot, the KKK meetings across the lake, and the arson of the house of her friends. But she learns to find her voice and rely on her family and on the close-knit community she lives in.
Stella wants to write and be a writer, which does not seem entirely uncommon in books about adolescent children written by people who are also writers. What I appreciated was that her struggles and learning seem to be portrayed realistically for the most part. When Stella's teacher announces a writing contest, I expected that Stella, being the protagonist, was probably going to win. But she doesn't. And despite that, she keeps writing. I like seeing that in books aimed at middle grade readers especially -- it's not always about winning -- sometimes it's just about being willing to make mistakes and keep on trying, and the "winning," if it comes at all, may be many years down the road still. But Stella still fights and wins a few victories on the way.
To be honest, there were a few times when it seemed to me that Stella's "voice" sounded too much like an adult trying to speak through a child. Mainly in some of the metaphors and more abstract views she comes up with that seem like they'd be beyond her actual experience.
Still, a good read for the characterizations and writing style, as well as informative about this time period.
Scrounged From: Our local library
Author: Sharon Draper
Content Advisory: As mentioned in the review, KKK activities are mentioned, as well as a scene of arson, scenes of racial discrimination/demeaning treatment, and a few characters are injured or in peril at different times.
Set during the Depression Era, The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll is the story of three sisters who long for a particular baby doll, and are surprised when their parents get them one since there is not much money to spare. Young Nella declares that since she wrote to Santa and believed and wanted the doll the most, she should have her. But she soon finds out that having one toy all to yourself is not really as fun as it seems -- that toys are much better when shared.
Not only is this a sweet Christmas story (as well as an appropriate after-Christmas story for children on how to deal with those new toys), it's also a nostalgic reminder for those of us adults who experienced Christmas with siblings (especially sisters), showing both the trials and joys of growing up together.
Scrounged From: Our local library
Author: Patricia McKissack
Illustrator: Jerry Pinkney
Content Advisory: None
Today's Christmas book post is actually four books (or more!). When I was growing up, I loved reading the American Girl book series produced by Pleasant Company. These fictional stories of girls from the past helped to highlight some of the differences and similarities between people from different time periods and circumstances.
Each of the original series contain six short chapter books, and book three is the Christmas story. In every book of the series, there is a "Looking Back" section at the end that gives more details about what life was like during the time period of each particular character.
Felicity is growing up in Colonial Williamsburg around the time of the American Revolution. In Felicity's Surprise, she is invited to a dancing lesson at the governor's palace, but when her mother falls ill, she has to spend all her time caring for her, and accepts that she probably will not get to go. But, surprises can still happen!
Kirsten is a member of a pioneer family that emigrates from Sweden in the first book in her series. In Kirsten's Surprise, Kirsten and her father are caught in a blizzard on their way home from retrieving the family's trunks from their journey. But in the end, we get a glimpse of some of the traditions involved in the Swedish celebration of Saint Lucia's Day.
In the first book of her series, Addy and her mother escape from slavery after their family is split up by their master. In Addy's Surprise, Addy and her mother are making a life for themselves in Philadelphia, but money is tight, and they wonder if they will ever see the rest of their family again. But as they plan small surprises for each other, they are in for an even bigger surprise at the end (I have a summary of this whole series here).
Molly lives in America during World War 2, and her father is away in England working as a doctor during the war. Even though Christmas is coming in Molly's Surprise, the family knows their father may not have time to send them anything because he is so busy. But when Molly and her sister find a package with instructions to keep it hidden, they decide they have been entrusted with keeping the surprise in Christmas.
Scrounged From: Presents from my childhood