Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, by Eleanor Coerr

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. By Eleanor Coerr.  Illustrated by Ronald Himler.  Puffin, 1999.  80 pages. $5.99

Plot/Content: Sadako loves to run.  Fast.  Her father once asks her mother, “`…Did you ever see her walk when she could run, hop, or jump?’  There was pride in his voice because Sadako was a such a strong, fast runner.”  Sadako trains hard to become the fastest runner she can be.  She approaches life with a zeal and joy that make all those around her smile.  Sadako was a baby in the city of Hiroshima during World War II, when the United States Air Force dropped an atom bomb on the city.  She had seen many people in her city become ill with leukemia, what many call “atom bomb disease.”  When Sadako starts having dizzy spells, she first keeps them secret, but when falls down while running, she can keep the secret no longer.  In the hospital, ill with leukemia, Sadako’s best friend, Chizuko, brings her a paper crane and reminds her of the legend that if a person is ill and folds 1,000 cranes “the gods will grant her wish and make her healthy again.”  So, Sadako sets her mind on folding 1,000 cranes with the same determination that she put into her running.

Review: Based on a true story, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is a moving, beautiful story of hope, love, and inner strength.  Written in language accessible to younger tweens, this book is readable and appropriately simple, yet the concepts are deep and multifaceted.  Delicately rendered black and white illustrations depict a few of the key scenes in the book.  An epilogue tells the story of what happened after Sadako’s death.  The book also includes instructions on how to fold an origami crane.

Genre(s): Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 8-10 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 0698118022

Similar Books: Kira-Kira, A Taste of Blackberries

Subjects: family, love, illness, World War II


When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me.  By Rebecca Stead. Wendy Lamb Books, 2009. 208 pages. $15.99

Plot: It’s the 1970’s and everything is going along fine in sixth grader, Miranda’s life.  He best friend since they were little, Sal, lives in her building and they explore New York City together, often walking by the homeless man on the corner who she calls “the laughing man.”  Her mom has a nice boyfriend, Richard, who Miranda likes.  And sixth grade is OK.  But, then, everything changes.  A boy neither of them knows punches Sal when he and Miranda are walking home from school one day.  And all of a sudden Sal doesn’t want to hang out with Miranda anymore.  Miranda’s mom is preparing to be a contestant on the game show $20,000 pyramid, with Miranda and others’ help.  Miranda finds herself in need of friends and companions.  She makes some new friends, including getting to know the boy who hit Sal; his name is Marcus.  And she starts receiving these mysterious notes.  She finds the first one in her library book.  She wonders how it got there.  Then more notes appear; who are they coming from?  Why doesn’t Sal want to be friends anymore? Will Miranda’s mother win $20,000 and make them rich?

Review: Author Rebecca Stead has accomplished an amazing feat with When You Reach Me.  The book is warm and personable.  Main character, Miranda, is likable and spirited.  Characters are three-dimensional and interesting.  And, through intricate details and careful story telling, Stead has created a book that defies any one (or two) genre category.  It is at once a mystery, science fiction, historical fiction, realistic fiction, and adventure novel.  And covering all those genres serves to strengthen the story and contributes to its ability to appeal to a wide audience, which it does and will.  The writing flows effortlessly, the hints and clues add intrigue, the characters are rich and multi-faceted and the plot is fun.  This would be a great book for a book group and for re-reading, as analyzing the story during a second read would be an interesting and enlightening activity.

Genre(s): Adventure, Mystery, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9-13 years

Selected Awards: 2010 Newberry Medal, 2010 ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2010 ALA Best Books for Young Adults Top 10, 2009 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0-385-73742-5

Similar Books: Criss Cross, The Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Subjects: friendship, identity, time travel


Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata

Kira-Kira. By Cynthia Kadohata.  Atheneum, 2006.  272 pages. $16.95

Plot: Kira-kira — Japanese for glittering, shining, the way the world feels to Katie when her sister Lynn is with her.  It is the 1950’s and Katie is just 5 when her family moves from Iowa to Georgia, where there are fewer than 50 Japanese people in a town of over 4,000.  Lynn teaches Katie about the ways of the world, the beauty of the sky and how to do her darn math homework.  You see, Lynn is a genius, and, not only that, she loves Katie more than anything else in the whole world, and Katie feel the same about Lynn.  Life is challenging in Georgia; Katie’s parents work so hard she misses seeing them, and she and Lynn do a lot of the caretaking of their beloved little brother, Sammy.  But things are going along all right, her parents are even saving up to buy their very own house, until Lynn get sick.  Then there’s a shift, and Katie’s world gets turned around.  Will they be able to buy the house?  Will Lynn get better?  What will happen to Katie’s family?

Review: The love demonstrated and portrayed in the novel is exquisite.  Katie’s family members love and care for each other deeply.  This is part of what makes this story so compelling, and so very beautiful.  The writing is exact and purposeful and the author weaves in bits of Japanese culture in a decidedly American setting, contributing to the richness and authenticity of the novel.  A moving, inspiring story of good times, hard times, hope, and inner strength.

Genre(s): Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9-14 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0689856402

Similar Books: The Higher Power of Lucky; Maniac McGee; Bud, Not Buddy; Bat 6

Subjects: family, love, illness, discrimination, racism, union organizing, poverty

Selected Awards: 2005 Newberry Medal, 2005 ALA Notable Children’s Books

Character Names:

Katie: main character, the book is told from her perspective, younger sister of Lynn, older sister to Sammy, loving, not a great student, thoughtful, kind, a bit mischievous, loved

Lynn: Older sister to both Katie and Sammy, loving caregiver to her siblings, has a special bond with Katie and teachers things and take an almost parental role in Katie’s upbringing

Sammy: youngest child of the family, much loved by all, sweet and easy going

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud Not Buddy. By Christopher Paul Curtis. Random House, 1999.  236 pages. $6.99

Plot: There are a few clear memories Bud has of his mother and one is about his name, “Bud is your name and don’t you ever let anyone call you anything outside of that either…Especially don’t you let anyone call you buddy…I would have added that dy onto the end of your name if I intended for it to be there…Your name is Bud, period.”  So, when people ask him his name, Bud’s reponse is, “Bud, not Buddy.”  Bud’s mother died when he was six; that was four years ago.  And, as far as he knows, he’s never met his father.  But, he has some clues as to who and where his father is and he’s determined to find him.  Living first in an orphanage and then in a foster home with an unpleasant family, Bud runs away to strike out on his own in search of the man he believes to be his father: Herman E. Calloway.  Bud found Herman’s name on a set of flyers his mother had kept that promoted Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression.  It’s 1936, in the heart of the Great Depression; Bud is brave, clever, creative, and determined to follow his journey to the end.  What will he learn along the way?  Will he find his father?

Review: Charming and thoughtful, it’s no wonder Bud, Not Buddy won multiple book awards.  The story is engaging and brings the reader back in time.  Bud’s authentic voice rings true, complete with colloquial expressions and sincere emotions.  Easy to read and hard to put down, the novel touches on the complex topics of racism and poverty, giving the reader a glimpse into what life was like for an African American boy in the mid-1930’s.  Touching, amusing, heartwarming, and full of hope and optimism, Bud, Not Buddy is a great choice for reluctant and avid readers alike.

Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Adventure

Reading/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0553494105

Similar Books: Maniac McGee, The Watsons go to Birmingham — 1963

Subjects: the Great Depression, poverty, racism, homelessness, death of a parent

Selected Awards: 2000 Coretta Scott King Award, 2000 Newberry Medal Winner, 1999 School Library Journal best Books of the Year

Character Names

Bud (not Buddy) Caldwell: main character, 10-year-old whose mother died when he was 6, does not know where his father is, street-wise, sweet, clever, determined

The Amos Family: foster family that takes Bud in, 12-year-old Todd Amos tortures Bud incessantly and his mother and father believe all of his lies that Bud instigates their scuffles, ultimately the family locks Bud in a shed, from where he escapes and runs away

Lefty Lewis: gives Bud a ride from Flint to Grand Rapids, Michigan so he can search for his father, railroad porter involved in union organizing

Herman E. Calloway: the man Bud is in search of, leader of a famous band

Miss Thomas: singer in Herman Calloway’s band, befriends and cares for Bud

Members of the Dusky Devastators of the Depression: take Bud in, look out for him, give him advice, become his friends

Bat 6 by Virgina Euwer Wolff

Bat 6. By Virginia Euwer Wolff. Scholastic Inc., 1998.  240 pages. $5.99

Plot: The 6th grade girls on the softball teams from neighboring Bear Creek Ridge and Barlow Road Grade Schools have a friendly rivalry.  This rivalry began 49 years ago, when the 6th grade girls softball teams from both schools played a game, the Bat 6, against each other in order to bring the two communities, which had had an unfriendly rivalry, together.  It worked.  And, the Bat 6 game has been happening ever since.  And this year, 1949, is the 50th anniversary Bat 6 game.  The girls on both teams look forward to making history.  And each team has a new player.  Aki’s family has returned to Bear Creek Ridge after being released from a Japanese internment camp; her mother was the MVP in the 1930 Bat 6, and Aki seems to have inherited her mother’s softball talents.  Shazam (Shirley), came to Barlow to live with her grandmother until her own mother gets “on her feet,” he father was killed on a ship in Pearl Harbor.  Shazam is a bit odd, but a phenomenal player who can catch and throw with BOTH hands.  Both girls’ lives were forever changed by the war, and both have private thoughts about their experiences.  Will those private thoughts come out in the open? Will the other girls understand what is going on? Who will win the game?

Review: Told from the perspective of each of the 21 girls, part by part in each chapter, Bat 6, is a little confusing to read, but well worth it.  The voice of each girl is unique and authentic, and their takes on the happenings of the story provide insight to the reader about events as well as thoughts and feelings of the times. The aftermath of World War II, including anti-Japanese racism and sadness over lost lives, is presented from many perspectives and gives readers a feel for the varying views of people of the day.  With honest voices and dramatic circumstances Bat 6 is both interesting, accessible and compelling.

Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction,

Reading/Interest Level: 9-11 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook

Similar books: Witness, Walk Two Moons

ISBN: 978-0590898003

Subjects: softball, World War II, racism, Japanese internment camps, Pearl Harbor, death of a parent

Selected Awards: 1999 Jane Addams Peace Award, 1999 ALA Notable Book,
1998 New York Public Library 100 Best Books of the Year, 1998 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Character Names:

Bear Creek Ridge Grade School Team

Shadean: Pitcher

Tootie: Catcher

Aki: First Base

Kate: Second Base

Ellen: Short Stop

Daisy (Loose Lips): Third Base

Little Peggy: Right Field

Lorelei: Center Field

Susannah: Left Field

Vernell: Manager and General Sub

Mrs. Porter: Coach

Mr. Porter: Assistant Coach

Barlow Road Grade School Team

Ila Mae: Pitcher

Audrey: Catcher

Wink: First Base

Brita Marie: Second Base

Alva: Short Stop

Darlene: Third Base

Beautiful Hair Hallie: Right Field

Shazam: Center Field

Manzanita: Left Field

Lola and Lila: Manager and General Subs

Mr. Rayfield: Coach

Dotty Rayfield: Assistant Coach

Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon

Zora and Me.  By Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon. Candlewick Press, 2010. 170 pages. $16.99

Plot: It’s the early 1900’s in Eatonville, Florida and best friends Zora, Carrie, and Teddy have several mysterious circumstances on their hands.  Can old Mr. Pender really turn into a gator?  Traveling turpentine worker, Ivory, met the three friends near their favorite tree in the woods and sang them a beautiful tune with his guitar; a week later he was dead.  Who killed him and why?  Zora, a keen storyteller from a young age, is determined to find out the truth, not matter how painful it may be.  As told by Carrie, Zora and Me is a fictional account of the childhood of acclaimed writer, Zora Neale Hurston.  The story traces the adventures and discoveries of three best friends as they confront issues of race and identity, loss and death, and love and hope.

Review: Warm and charming from the first line, Zora and Me blends real life circumstances with the imagination and open-minded perspective of a young person.  Though the book is fictional, the authors clearly thoroughly researched both Zora Neale Hurston as well as the town and times of her childhood.  Zora is a delight as a bright, earnest, sincere girl, and her loyal and loving friend Carrie makes a great partner.  Their other best friend, Teddy, is an equally charming character, though seen less than the two girls.  The topics covered are serious and important, and the book’s writing makes these topics accessible to tweens. Zora and Me is overall an enjoyable story with an interesting and unique historical perspective as well as a book that adds much needed racial diversity to the mystery genre.  The book also includes a biography, time line, and bibliography of Zora Neale Hurston.

Genre(s): Mystery, Historical Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9-13 years

Selected Awards: 2011 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent, 2011 Edgar Award Nominee Best Juvenile, 2010 Kirkus Review’s Best Children’s Books of the Year List

Available in: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0763643003

Subjects: friendship, growing up, racism, passing, Florida,

Character names:

Carrie: Narrator, best friend of Zora and Teddy, brave, loyal friend, lives with her mother, her father’s whereabouts have been unknown since he left for out of town work six months earlier

Zora: Dreamer, excellent story-teller, brave, strong in her convictions, loyal friend, lives with her mother, father, older sister, and baby brother

Teddy: Loyal friend, knows a lot about and cared for animals, lives on a farm with his mother, father, and two older brothers, Teddy has chores on the farm to do every day, so cannot always go on adventures with Carrie and Zora