The Witch’s Guide to Cooking with Children by Keith McGowan

 A wonderful, modern twist on Hansel and Gretel.  Sol and Connie have moved with their father and stepmother to a new town.  The neighbor next door, Ms. Holaderry, seems a bit funny, especially when Sol realizes that her dog has been gnawing on a human femur!   After a few visits to their local public library (!!), the children surmise that she is indeed an evil witch.

I truly enjoyed this book.  McGowan is able to preserve the simplicity of the old tale while also updating it for a modern audience.  For such a quick read, the book still manages to build the characters so that the reader becomes invested in them.   One especially strong point of the book is the old lady at the local curiosity shop.  She is the “good witch” of the story who is able to indirectly aid the children in their attempts to evade Ms. Holaderry.  I truly enjoyed this delightful fairy tale.  Ages 9-11

Because of Anya by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Ten year old Anya has a secret that she wants to keep: she’s wearing a wig.  Her real hair has begun to fall out due to an auto immune disease known as Alopecia Areata.  School is hard enough, but when you don’t have hair, the thought of facing your peers is almost unbearable.  Anya struggles to maintain her composure in the face of various obstacles: the constant itching of her scalp, gym class, and the stares of the class bully Steph Englewood.  Margaret Peterson Haddix does an excellent job presenting how children feel as outsiders.  I enjoyed reading this sometimes painful glimpse into the world of people that don’t fit in.  Ages 8-11

My Brother Sam Is Dead by James and Christopher Collier

During this entire book, I was awaiting for two things: 1) for Sam to die and 2) for the protagonist Tim to pick a side in the Revolutionary War.  But Sam doesn’t eat it until page 208!  And Tim never makes up his mind whether he wants to be a Tory or a Rebel.

The first half of this book is rather slow.  Much of it takes place in the town of Redding, Connecticut during the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.  Tim’s brother Sam has decided to defy his father’s wishes and enlist in the Continental Army.  Tim feels torn over who which side to support and his ambivalence only increases when his father is kidnapped by Rebel outlaws and a group of British soldiers brings havoc to Redding.  The last third of this novel is worth the slow beginning.  Younger readers may be rattled by some of the graphic violence.  Overall, a great historical fiction read for ages 9 to 12.   It truly earns its place as a Newberry Honor Book of 1975.