The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Annabelle is a 12 year old girl living on a farm in rural Pennsylvania in the autumn of 1943. Betty is a new girl at school who jumps Annabelle on her way home one afternoon in the deep recess of Wolf Hollow, a low, dark place that runs between the school and Annabelle’s farm. Betty threatens to beat her with a stick and hurt her younger brothers if she tells anyone. The one witness to this cruelty is Toby, a local homeless man with a mysterious past who wanders the local woods. The tension culminates is a violent incident that turns the town against Toby and makes Annabelle realizes that she is the only person who can protect him.
My Take: This was a book that gripped me from the opening pages and then expanded into a conversation about larger themes. I appreciated that author Lauren Wolk takes no time in introducing the character of Betty Glengarry who immediately provides a source of danger and conflict. She’s a wonderful antagonist that fills the narrative with a tension that makes you want to continue reading. Later on, as we get to know the character of Toby, we are asked to make sense of a more complicated character: a man who is obviously troubled, perhaps dangerous, but also show signs of warmth and kindness. When we learn the source of Toby’s demons, we are hoping that the community will show wisdom and patience in how it treats with him. This is a wonderful book that will encourage readers to ask questions about the homeless, the mentally ill, PTSD, and the ambiguous consequences of deception. I can certainly understand why Wolf Hollow won a Newberry Honor earlier this year.
One Interesting Note About The Author: Lauren Wolk has a new book out entitled Beyond The Bright Sea that is already creating some Newberry chatter for 2018.
The Plot in Five Sentences Or Less: In the 1940’s, America was at war, but its military was still segregated. Against this backdrop, fresh recruits arrive at Port Chicago outside of San Francisco. They are black men and, because of this, they are given the highly dangerous job of loading ammunition onto the ships with little to no safety training. On the evening of July 17, 1944 a huge explosion rips through the port, killing over 300 people. In the weeks following, 50 of the men refuse to load any more ammunition and are therefore put on trial for mutiny.
My Take: The Port Chicago 50 is not Steve Sheinkin’s most exciting book, but it is his most poignant. I found that the narrative slows down some during the trial portion of the story, but the final chapters more than make up for this. By the end of the book, I found that I had a knot in my throat as I considered the sacrifice that these black sailors made, really until the ends of their lives. The Port Chicago 50 is another example of Sheinkin’s gift of making history interesting and relevant. Highly recommended for ages 12+ looking for a non-fiction read concerning civil rights.
One Interesting Note About the Author: Steve’s brother-in-law Eric Person was the first to bring the story of the Port Chicago 50 to his attention. Eric mentioned the theory that the first atomic bomb was exploded not in the New Mexico desert in 1945, but rather a year earlier at Port Chicago. Intrigued, Steve dug deeper and unearthed the story of the Port Chicago 50.
The Plot In Five Sentences or Less: Hobie Hanson is a 5th grader in Seattle, Washington during World War II. His father is away fighting the Germans, so Hobie spends most of his time with his friends and his German Shepherd Duke. Life is not easy without his dad around, and only becomes harder when Mitch Mitchell, the school bully, sets his eyes on him and challenges him to give up Duke for the Dogs for Defense Program. Much to Mitch’s surprise, Hobie rises to the challenge and soon Duke is part of the war effort and on his way to the Pacific. Hobbie finds that he now must adjust to life both without his dad and his dog.
My Take: I found this to be a very straight forward book about a boy’s experience and sacrifice on the home front during World War II. My one criticism would be that Larson could have risked introducing more strangeness into the story. There was a lot of baseball and paper routes, what one might consider stock 1950’s Americana. Still, for those looking for a good read about the connection between and boy and his dog, this is a good pick.
One Interesting Note About the Author: According to her website, Kirby was born at Fort Lawton Army Hospital in Seattle, Washington. She cost $5.
The Plot (in 5 sentences or less): Tipped off by European physicists in 1939 that it was possible to create an extraordinarily dangerous bomb, FDR signs the order which sets off the race to create this powerful weapon before the Nazis do. Brilliant physics professor Robert Oppenheimer puts together a team of world class talent and brings them to Los Alamos, New Mexico. Meanwhile, Russian agents scramble to cultivate spy connections to penetrate the military base and steal the secrets behind the atomic bomb design. Concerned that Nazis are ahead in the race to build the bomb, partisans attack a heavy water producing plant in Norway to to inhibit German efforts. The final chapters of the book cover the story of the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan and the devastating effects.
My Take: I was lucky enough to hear Steve Sheinkin speak at the Virginia Library Association’s Conference in Williamsburg, VA on September 27 when he accepted an award for this book. It is definitely well deserved. Bomb is tightly written and reads like a fiction thriller. I read it in probably two sittings and simply did not want it to end. My one critique of the book is its use of conversational dialogue throughout. I always question when historical non-fiction books use quotes: how do they know that they said exactly that? Still, this is a mild criticism for a wonderful book.
One Interesting Note About the Author: Steve Sheinkin started his career by editing and writing textbooks. Disenchanted with how many interesting stories that he had to leave out of the history books, he began writing history books for kids in which he could keep all of the fascinating odds and ends.