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home : community : book reviews May 1, 2016

12/13/2012 7:29:00 AM
What to read: Children and adult book reviews
By Gail Komarek

Gail Komarek has been a seasonal resident of the Northwoods since the 1970s. Currently she is the library media director for a kindergarten-fifth grade school in the suburbs of Chicago, and has in the past taught kindergarten and first grade. For more information, email Gail at gail.komarek@gmail.com.


“The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree” by David Rubel (Author) and Jim LaMarche (Illustrator).

Random House Books for Young Readers (September 27, 2011)

A beautiful picture book that tells the story of the Rockefeller Tree and Habitat for Humanity. In 1931, a carpenter’s son goes with his father to sell Christmas trees in New York. They are living in an unheated shack and selling trees from a construction site. Some trees are left over so they give them to the construction workers. 

Henry makes a Christmas wish for a real home. In turn, the workers build a home for Henry and his family out of left over building supplies. Henry plants a pinecone seed and watches his special tree grow over the years. Years later, Henry is asked to donate his tree to Rockefeller Center. After the holiday, the tree is milled into boards for a simple home for Habitat for Humanity. This heartwarming story could become a new classic Christmas tale. Great gift for the whole family! 

Order your hardcover copy of “The Carpenter’s Gift” from the Habitat Online Store and receive a commemorative bookplate made from the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Newly available in eBook format. http://www.habitatstoreonline.com/

“Capture the Flag,” by Kate Messner. 

Scholastic Press. (July 1, 2012)

If you are looking for a mystery/adventure, then I highly recommend “Capture the Flag.” 

Three children had attended a gala at the Smithsonian the night before. They are headed back to Vermont, when a snowstorm grounds everyone at the Washington, D.C. airport. They meet at the one electrical outlet for charging their computers and video games. As they listen to news reports that the original flag has been stolen and is suspected to be at the airport, they decide to try to figure out who stole it and where it is hidden.  

The Serpentine Princes are the prime suspects. The children discover that they are all children of members of the Secret Society, who serve to protect our country. Every member comes from a historical family. 

The cast of characters include a candidate for president, a woman who just completed the restoration of the flag, a child who is traveling alone, an international music troupe, a man with a serpent tattoo, and a boy who is a video game master. The main character, Anna, dreams of being a journalist. (Her father is a senator and her mother is a reporter.)  The children are on their own for most of the story, getting into danger, accessing parts of the airport that are off limits.  The twists and turns in the story make this a page turner, while including historical facts. 

Recommended for fourth-eighth graders.

“The Lions of Little Rock,” by Kristin Levine. 

Putnam Juvenile (January 5, 2012)

This historical fiction story takes place in 1958 in Little Rock, Arkansas. This is a personal narrative as told by Marlee, a 13-year-old student. The schools have been ordered to integrate.  

The year before nine students had attended and integrated schools. Federal agents had to maintain order and protect the nine students. Now, in 1958, the school board chooses to cancel high school rather than allow it to be integrated. Families sent their high school students out of town to live with relatives to attend high school so they did not lose a year of schooling. In the meantime, the elementary school is open. Marlee does not like to speak and is a math wizard. Liz is the new girl and has a magic square on her book. They become partners for a school project. Liz promises Marlee a book about magic squares if she will overcome her fear and speak for their presentation. 

Then it is discovered that Liz is a light skinned black passing for a white child. Their friendship is tested when Liz is forced to drop out of Marlee’s all white school. The town is divided into two, the segragatonists and the integrationists. Teachers are asked to list any organizations they belong to and are fired based on their views. Threats are made to Marlee and her family. Friendships are tested and fears are faced. The book gets its title from the lions that roar in the Little Rock Zoo.

Highly recommend for sixth-eighth graders.  

“Girl in Translation,” by Jean Kwok. 

Riverhead Trade (May 3, 2011)

Jean Kwok immigrated to New York from Hong Kong when she was a child.  Her life experiences are liberally sprinkled throughout “Girl in Translation.” The semi-autobiographical story spans many years of the lives of Kimberly and her mother in New York. Their sponsors are Kimberly’s aunt and uncle, who put them into a roach-infested apartment without heat. Kimberly excels at academics while learning English. She is offered a scholarship to a prestigious school and sets her goal on attending Yale. Her mother works in the factory as a seamstress for her sister. They are paid by the piece. Kimberly works with her mother after school to meet deadlines and to pay their bills. 

Since her mother can’t read or write English, everything falls on Kimberly. She misses out on everyday events due to working and being embarrassed to show anyone how they live. Kimberly does make a few friends and struggles to maintain her friendships. There is also a love interest with a Chinese boy in the factory, and a wealthy boy from the prestigious school. The relationship between Kimberly and her mother demonstrates their love for each other and the American dream. 

Recommended for high school students and adults.

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