The Golem and the Jinni

golem-and-the-jinni-for-pintrest-stampedI love this book! I usually love action packed stories. This one is not what I’d call action packed but I loved it none the less. This is a story to savor and delight in the beauty of the prose. This is unbelievably Kelene Wecker’s debut novel.

In the US we typically say Jinni (Jee-nee) but the Arabic pronunciation of this word is how Americans pronounce “Gin” or so I learned from this narrator and from my Arabic speaking students.

The Golem and the Jinni

by Helene Wecker

This book is set in turn-of-the-century New York. The Golem, Chava (ha-vah), is created by unethical man who delves into dark magic. The magician creates her to be the wife of a

man named Rochester. Chava’s master dies on their voyage to America and she arrives in New York alone only a few days old. She, a creature built to serve a master, must find a way to survive in the city with no master or purpose. The most difficult part is keeping her true nature a secret from everyone.

The Jinni is released from a copper oil lamp by a tinsmith, Arbeely, who was trying to repair the dented flask. The Jinni, called Ahmad, has no recollection of how he came to be trapped in the lamp. One day he was free, flying above a Syrian desert, in the next moment a thousand years had passed and he was on the other side of the world in the Little Syria part of New York City wearing an iron bracer which kept him trapped in human form.

golem-and-the-jinni-book-stamped

This oil pitcher is from Turkey rather than Syria and doesn’t contain a Jinni.

Arbeely helps him try to make the best of this life, but it is difficult adjusting to the immense limitations of a human life when you’ve had the freedom of being Jinni.

Chance brings Chava and Ahmad together. Chava’s nature is very grounded. She was created to serve others. Ahmad’s personality is fiery, cavalier,  and passionate. His concern for how others are affected by his action is nearly nonexistent. Chava lives in the Lower East Side immersed in the Jewish culture. Ahmad lives in Little Syria, steeped in Arab culture. As you can imagine, the friendship Chava and Ahmad is not an easy one.

I highly recommend you journey with them as they navigate the risk of discovery, the dangers of evil magic, and explore relationships.

The Writing

The prose in this story is artfully done. It is written in third person and does some head hopping, even within chapters but it is done perfectly. When I head hop it is often an accident and not at all well done. I am going to go back and study how she does this. Her prose in general is done in such a way that it kept me engaged the whole time.

Helene Wecker does lots of research for her novels and it shows. The reader feels like they are there in New York without drowning in excessive description. It is in the details, the way the characters speak, the feel of the cafe, the mannerisms of the character. All of this was done flawlessly.

I listened to the audio book narrated by George Guidall. I can’t rave enough about the narration he did on this book. His accent for the different characters was flawless! I will definitely be looking to see what other books Mr. Guidall has narrated.

The Rating

The only thing that makes me sad is that this book does have a few somewhat graphic sex scene. It describes things that happen behind the bedroom door. I would not recommend this for young readers.

Foul Language: None
Violence: Nothing graphic
Sexual Content: yes, several small scenes
Substance Abuse: yes, one scene with opium
Overall Rating: PG 13

 

I look forward to reading Helene Wecker’s next book The Iron Season. (2018)

 

 

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NaNoWriMo: Wall Week

For the first five days I wrote beyond my goal of 500 words per day. These were scenes I’d thought of for quite some time, and I was feeling so optimistic. I thought maybe I need to up my goal to 20,000 words.

I hit week two like a brick wall at 100 mph. I came to a scene I hadn’t thought much about yet. I stared at it for a bit and had nothing. I wrote and rewrote a couple sentences a few times. I stared some more.  I have been here before. My eyes bore holes in the screen, to no avail.

I suspected that it was a scene that is not necessary or needed to be woven into another scene somehow. My subconscious was telling me this scene idea was bad. I reached a moment in my writing where I question (again) why I write. No one wants to read this drivel. How could I possibly think even with years of practice, I’d ever be like Sanderson, Rothfuss, MZ Bradley, or any of my many writing heroes. Doubt consumed me.  From what I hear this is normal for all writers. Stephen King says there is one cure: the butt in chair method. You sit until words come to you.

I tried a new scene. I continued to write… or at least try to write. Mostly I stared at the screen and thought. I wrote hundreds of sentences in my head while my fingers lay lightly on the keys, waiting with bated breath for that electrical pulse from the brain. My husband asked if I’m okay because I’ve been staring at the screen motionlessly for so long.

I didn’t sit for one hour, one day. I sat for one, two, three hours night after night until I was literally falling asleep.

I tried another scene. Then something happened and the words start to trickle and flow. An idea came to me, and I wrote more quickly.  Just like this quote:

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” ~Louis L’Amour

The words began to flow again. I wouldn’t exactly call it a flood, but the faucet was on at a more normal rate than the drip that it was earlier this week.  I wrote over 1,000 words yesterday and 1,000 today. If I can write 6-700 words each day this week I should get caught up from Wall Week and get a little ahead for next week. We are hosting Thanksgiving at our house this year, so I have lots of cleaning to do.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

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NaNoWriMo Interlude: Words Written are Never Wasted

Last year was my first year to participate in NaNoWriMo. For those who haven’t heard of this, it is National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write a whole rough draft of a novel (50,000 words) in one month. Then you spend the next few months or a year revising the novel and submit for publication. Many novels have come out of this. Published and previously unpublished authors participate.  Erin Morgenstern was an undiscovered writer who wrote Night Circus during NaNo. It contains phenomenal prose! She weaves an amazing tale with mysterious magic. A friend loaned me the book. I read for awhile but school got super busy and I had to give the book back before I forgot who it belonged to and it got buried under piles of work. I’m sad to say I’ve never gone back to finish it. I recommend it because she writes so skillfully.

If you are curious, here is a link to those books:
http://nanowrimo.org/published-wrimos

Brandon Sanderson usually participates. I follow him on twitter and see his posts saying he wrote 5,000 words that day. Then I look at the measly 500 I wrote, which until that moment, I had been proud of. Then I am happy, because that means he is 5,000 words closer to publishing his next Stormlight series books! I also remind myself that he is a professional author while I am a working mom and wife who is lucky to eke out an hour of writing time each day. He has a family and responsibilities, but also many hours dedicated to writing. With that in consideration, I don’t feel so bad.

One of the many reasons I participate in NaNoWriMo is the goal setting. As I said, I don’t have much time to write so this is a month to make a concerted effort to eek out a little extra time to write. My sweet husband makes an effort to enable me to do this to because he knows this is a finite time to focus on my writing. He helps distract my son as I work on my writing and does a million other tiny and large acts to help me eek out this time.

Another reason I participate is the comradery. Last year I met so many delightful people not only on the NaNoWriMo website forums but also on Twitter through the #NaNoWriMo hashtag. It motivates me to see others writing their stories and hear about them going through experiences similar to my own. My twitter handle is @marykherrera which is my real name since I didn’t have my pen name, Kathryn Fletcher, picked out yet. One day I’ll create a twitter account for my KF name. Since last year, I’ve joined Instagram under Fletchers.quill and I hope to meet many more NaNo friend on there this year.

What is my novel project? I’m glad you asked!

It is about elemental magic users I’ve named the Faer. The 4 types are called Terrafaer (earth), Aquafaer (water), Aerifaer (air), and Ignisfaer (fire).  At the command of their goddess, they are pacifists. An accident happens and the Faer are blamed. This causes distrust and they are persecuted relentlessly. Lilliana and Vera, a mother daughter team, are seamstresses for the nobility. They must keep their Aerifaer abilities hidden or risk persecution themselves.

King Garrett is new to the throne and young. He wants to be a good king but is led astray by his best and perhaps only true friend. Together they delve into trouble they might not be able to get out of alive. King Garrett spirals out of control into darkness.

Something dark and dangerous begins killing the Faer. Lilliana and Vera with the other Faer must find a way to escape this new devilry or face extinction. Can they do this while keeping to their faith or will they abandon their faith to survive? 

That story is what I’ve spent the last year writing! As of this moment I have 66,500 words of it written. I estimate it will be about 90,000 words long. During revision I will cut quite a bit of the beginning part (10k) that I wrote during NaNo last year. I don’t feel it was a waste of time because I needed to write it to firm up in my own mind what this world looks like, the rules of the magic systems, the character needed to tell me who they were, all of it was vital, that I know. Words written are never wasted. They are part of the learning experience. Some of it might even get cannibalized to be woven into a later part of the story. I say I want to finish the draft this month but if you do the math, I’ve got a long way to go yet, so I may not make it but at least I’ll be 15k words closer!

I don’t know that I will have time to write another book review in November but I may. I began reading Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Both are delightful so far! I should be finishing those two soon, as well as The Red Queen. I’ll post a little something about my progress on NaNoWriMo if you are interested in hearing about it. Let me know!

My friends, I look forward to this month of achieving lots of goals, frantic writing, discovering new friendships, and of taking this journey with my fellow NaNoWriMo friends. May the words be ever in your mind and on your fingertips!

 

 

 

 

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Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management

Howard Taylor has written the Schlock Mercenary web comic for the last 16 years. He never ceases to amaze me at his ability to write a comic each day and not write himself into a corner. This book is a compilation of part of his web comic. I could have read his comic daily for a few months and read the same story, but I am not organized enough to remember to go back each day to look at it. Plus I think the comic looks pretty amazing on the glossy pages. You can admire the  art on the page better than on the screen, I think.  I’m happy with my purchase of the book.

img_9364Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management
By Howard Taylor
Genre: Web Comic

The comic is witty and brilliant. I mean literally brilliant. This is not for the light science geek, well it could be but you’d miss a lot of the jokes. When I read this I dredged up memories of science that I haven’t thought about for a while, like red shift and blue shift from 8th grade science class. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if Taylor was making stuff up, or if I wasn’t knowledgeable enough about certain science terms. If you are a science geek, you will go nuts over this. If you like things blowing up on the page, you will like this too. There is plenty of that. I laughed out loud numerous times. As I think about it, this book really has every kind of humor possible. There is a little innuendo at the beginning but it is fairly subtle, so young readers will miss it completely. There is some potty humor, irony, self-depricating humor, sarcasm, slap-stick, deadpan humor, seriously all kinds of humor.

The writing/ science level is higher than an average 11 year old is able to read. However, I’ve known some 11 year old kids with more science knowledge than I will ever have. I am a geek, in case you don’t know, therefore I love science. I supported some of my ESL students in their science class in a couple years ago. So I have a fair amount of middle grade science knowledge in my head, though I am by no means an expert. Although this is a comic, it may not appeal to kids who are reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid because of the science. It does contain just about every kind of humor there is though so you never know, some might and may pick up a little science along the way.

Reading this was a new experience for me. The rhythm of the writing was halting because it is a daily comic. It feels different from a graphic novel, because of that. It was nice that I could put it down and pick it up easily because of all the natural breaks in it. This pacing would align with the short attention span that some kids have today.

Foul Language: None
Violence: Nothing graphic
Sexual Content: Only subtle inuendo
Substance Abuse: None
Overall Rating: G
Humor: All sorts of wonderful geeky humor!

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Secret of the Unicorn Queen

Prior to 5th grade, I hated reading. By the time I entered 6th grade, I loved it. What happened? Mrs. Madigan happened. She read books to us after recess and that was the highlight of my day. She read the Indian in the Cupboard, The Fourth Grade Nothing, and many other books. There was no comprehension quiz after, no vocabulary lists attached, and no pressure. I lay on the carpet at her feet, listened to her read, realized some reading could be purely for pleasure, and fell hopelessly in love with books.

secret-of-the-unicorn-queen-qbSomehow I stumbled onto a series of books called The Secret of the Unicorn Queen. I loved this series. I desperately wanted to go to this world of unicorns. At this time in my life I already had a long standing obsessions for all things horse. I read this series over and over. I didn’t often reread books back then. I do now because I’m forgetful.

In seventh grade I had a 30 minute study hall period each day. I was real shy and didn’t have any friends in that class that I can recall. I wanted to enter that world, so I decided that since the books were written by several different authors, perhaps I could become the author of the next book in the series. Each day I wrote in my notebook. I still have the notebook with 40 something handwritten pages of my story. That year I asked my mom for an electronic typewriter. (Computers were impossibly expensive back in the late 80’s.) I typed several pages of my story that summer, but eventually the swimming pool beckoned, among other fun summer activities, and I abandoned the story. That was the beginning of my dreams of becoming a writer.

The Secret of the Unicorn Queen is about a girl, named Sheila, who had an absent minded scientist type neighbor. She accidentally falls through a portal in his house which transports her to a world of unicorns, warrior women, and evil magicians. She must survive this hostile world until her scientist friend can bring her back home. In the meantime, she gets involved in a rescue mission to save the unicorns from being slaughtered in an evil ritual. There is a rather handsome young man in the story to keep her distracted, survival training to learn, and a grueling pace to keep as they travel to save the unicorns.

These books are not high literature. They are books that young people can connect to and be entertained by.

This series is written by:
Josephina Sherman
Gwen Hansen
Dory Perlman
Suzanne Weyn

I just realized that I have several books on my classroom shelf by Weyn that I recommend to my kids all the time. Also, Sherman is the author of several Star Trek novels that I’ve read.

Language: none
Violence: none
Sexual Content: none
Substance Abuse: none
Overall rating: G

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An Ember in the Ashes

Sabaa Tahir is one of my new favorite authors! Ember in the Ashes is Sabaa Tahir’s first book. She is an experienced writer though; she worked for the Washington Post right after University, and it shows. Her writing is tight, as in no wasted words. This book is a YA book and yet won a People’s Choice award for the Fantasy category. It is also a New York Times Best Seller.

An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir

The Martial Empire is a massive country that conquered the Scholar lands and many others long ago, enslaving many of the conquered people. Their rule is absolute and brutal.

Laia’s parents were the leaders of the most successful scholar rebellion group in ages, until they were betrayed by one of their own. Years later Laia has grown up with her brother and her grandparents. Her grandparents are killed and her brother taken to be tortured for information by the Martial Empire. Her brother is now her only living family, and she must save him. She seeks out the rebellion group for help. They ask her to work for and spy on the most dangerous woman in the Martial Empire. The woman with a particular gift for ferreting out and killing spies.

Elias is one of the best soldiers in the Martial Empire. He hates everything the empire represents. He hates the violence, the murder, the sabotage, the cruelty, the injustice, and the brutality. He longs to be free. He is contemplating and has planned to run away. He hasn’t even told his best friend, Helene, that he plans to escape. She is too loyal. He knows escape and freedom is not simple, but he doesn’t know how hard it actually is to find true freedom. Elias and Helene face trials and horrors they could not imagine. They face danger from friends, from long-time enemies, and from sources thought gone long ago. Worst of all they face impossible choices.

The description of the Roman-like setting is stunning! You can almost feel the desert sand when she describes it. The writing of this novel is unique. The main character, Laia, is beautifully written with internal and external conflict right from the start. This is not a read for the faint of heart. My heart nearly stopped at the choices these characters had to make, at the dangerous situations they were put in, and at the possibility of betrayal around every corner. Tahir is merciless to her characters. This is not a fairytale in which everything is black and white, good vs. evil. There is moral grayness everywhere. So in other words: I LOVE IT!! One of many themes in this story is that there are things worse than death. Another theme is in this trailer for the book.

I was shocked to find that this is actually a HL680 Lexile book! Pleasantly surprised. HL means that it is written to be of high interest but is written with simple vocabulary for easy understandablity. The writing didn’t feel like a HL book, which makes me respect Tahir’s writing ability. Usually HL books feel simple. They sometimes talk down to kids, but not this one. Usually I read books with a kind of ‘teacher filter’ on, knowing that something that is cliche to me as an avid reader for 30+ years is not going to seem cliche to an 11 year old student. I can read this book as an adult, no filter, and still enjoy this story. I don’t believe it would have won an award in an adult category if that were not the case.

The audio version of this is well done. The story is told from two different POVs, Laia and Elias. The audio version is narrated by Fiona Hardingham (Laia) and Steve West (Elias).

Language: no actual cuss words
Violence: yes, torture
Sexual Content: yes, mild
Substance Abuse: no
Overall rating: PG

If You Like…

If you like Hunger Games, there are some similar elements in this novel that you will love. This story is not quite as gritty as what Stephen King writes but it is more gritty than the average YA book, something like what R.A. Salvatore writes in the Legend of Drizzit series.

 

 

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Rebel Mechanics

The novel this week is an alternate history. If you are not familiar with these, they are stories that imagine a ‘what if’ question which alters historical events and writes the imagined result of that question.  In this case, what if the English nobility had magic in the 1700’s when the colonies were supposed to have an American Revolution. Well, that would have made the English a far superior force and the American Revolution would not have happened then.  The colonies would have had to endure the British Tea Act (which is mentioned in the book), the Stamp Act, and all the other injustices we rebelled against.

This story can also be considered steampunk. There are many definitions for steampunk. I think of steampunk as a sub-genre that emphasizes the use of steam technology in a historical setting, usually ahead of its time. This genre has become popular in the last 5 years or so. I like these stories because they have a kind of Jules Verne feel to them–a sense of wonder about them.

Rebel Mechanics: All is Fair in Love and War
by Shanna Swendson
Genre: Fantasy, Alternate History

 
This story takes place in 1888, when the colonies are tired of the taxes and the treatment they receive from the nobility, which are called magisters in this novel. The poor will always be poor. The rich will always be rich. Magic ability is a divide which cannot be breached and until recently, cannot be fought against, until now. Cutting edge inventions by young, brilliant engineers are making it possible to consider going up against the magisters in a subversive way.

The story begins with a train robbery by an unusually polite masked bandit with striking blue eyes. Verity, a young woman on the train and teller of this story, is seeking a position as governess among the magisters in New York City. She is hired by one of the most powerful houses in the city. Her charges, a young boy and girl and an older girl, have recently lost their parents and are now the responsibility of their uncle, who is a bit on the strange side. (He is also my favorite character.) She needs to teach the young boy and girl. She must also chaperone the elder daughter at all the most important balls and dinners held in the city.

Verity also befriends a group of Rebels who are building machines to rival magister magics. Verity is in a unique position among the magisters to spy for the rebels — to learn their secrets, but she also has a secret of her own which she must keep hidden. She wants to improve the situation in the colonies and help the rebels but if she is caught and loses her job, she has nowhere else to go. Dare she risk her livelihood for the cause?

One thing this author does very accurately is show the multitude of sides to any point of view. She shows how the rebel force doesn’t always agree on how to rebel. She shows a little of the frustrated majority who don’t like their treatment but don’t want what little joy they have in their lives destroyed by revolution. She shows the ignorant privileged as well as the sympathetic privileged. This book is filled with conflicting view points as in real life and writes them well.

I thought this story, given the title, would have some romance in it, and it does but doesn’t contain anything too graphic. I’m not  a fan of the romance genre personally, and I was pleasantly surprised that the romance in this book was not the central focus as is so often the case in YA books. There is no cursing in the book, nothing inappropriate. I’d give this a G rating.

 

 

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I am Princess X

This is another Lone Star book.  Next in line for me to read is Rebel Mechanics which is another Lone Star book. Yes, I frequently shop the Lone Star List when looking for a good book to read.

I’ve never read this author before–haven’t even heard of her really. Priest usually writes steampunk, mystery, and dark fantasy. If you are not familiar with steampunk, there are many definitions, but simply put it is a genre that features steam powered machinery. Generally speaking it will be set in the 1800’s but will have advanced technology for the day that is powered by steam.

I am Princess X
By Cherie Priest
Genre: Mystery

This story begins with 2 friends who like to draw a comic about a princess who has a katana blade instead of a magic wand. They name her Princess X. May does the writing and Libby does the drawing; they are a perfect team. Then Libby and her mom are in a car accident in which they go off a bridge and into the water. They have a funeral for Libby and her mom. May moves away.

Three years later she goes back to Seattle for a visit and sees Princess X stickers, patches, and shirts everywhere. She thinks perhaps it is a copycat. But then there is an online comic with things in it which only Libby could have known and it is all new material. No one knows who is authoring the comic. May has to get to the bottom of this mystery. She enlists the help of a boy who knows something about computers. Together they hunt down clues and get into a heap of trouble!

The writing is simple and easy to read (790 lexile). Many pages are drawn like a comic book which is a nice visual break. The pacing is not slow, so it keeps readers engaged throughout the story. I will be recommending this book to students who might be reluctant readers, or ones who prefer books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries. I think this is a good bridge book between the highly illustrated books and plain chapter books. Our school year has just begun and already the library copies and my personal copy is checked out with more on the waiting list!

 

 

 

 

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Ink and Bone

I chose to read this book because it is a Lone Star Book. I’ve yet to find a book on these lists that I haven’t liked, so I knew it would be good. I’ve never read a book by this author before. Her other books are Vampire Horror stories and a Fantasy series called Weather Warden. The Weather Warden series sounds like my kind of read too.

Image result for Ink and BoneInk and Bone
by Rachel Caine
Genre: Fantasy

Ink and Bone grabbed my attention because it imagines a world in which the Library of Alexandria was never destroyed. My heart still hurts when I think about all the knowledge that was lost when the real Alexandria burned.

In this world imagined by Caine, Alexandria never burned and since knowledge is power, The Library has become the ultimate power. Books are precious and contain knowledge that should be available to all, therefore all books belong to The Library. People are allowed to have a personal journal made of regular paper. If they want to read something contained in the library, they use their Blank, which I imagine as a book-like tablet in which they can pull up texts listed in the Codex. Since it is illegal to own a real book, there are of course book smugglers and collectors. Jess is born into a family of these smugglers. As the story progresses he makes friends with the unlikeliest of people and learns The Library is not as benevolent as he once thought.  The Library controls all knowledge (or tries to), so you can imagine the corruption that comes with that.

Caine creates likable characters with depth. As in real life, we sometimes perceive people to be one thing and slowly over time realize they are more or less than we thought. We see through Jess’s eyes as he realizes this. I especially the diversity of cultures found in this book. The this story has a somewhat thriller pacing for the last third of the book. Through the whole book there was never a slow moment. There is a bit of romance but it remains perfectly clean. There were a handful of strong cuss words sprinkled throughout, not many though. Some cuss words were in another language.

I enjoyed this book immensely! Kids who love a bit of mystery, intrigue, true friendship, spying, smuggling, and a dab of love,  in a world of magic, will love this!

 

 

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Number the Stars

Here is my first guest blogger! Dianne McBride is a dear friend of mine and a fellow teacher of middle school students. She is reviewing a book that earned a Newberry Metal in 1990. It’s a book which has been a go-to book for both of us over the years because it is so well-written and engaging. You may know the author of this book, Lois Lowry, for another of her books, The Giver, recently made more popular by the movie.

Number the Stars
by Lois Lowry
Reviewed by Dianne McBride

Number the Stars is one of my favorite books to read with a class or reading group. Number the Stars is that unicorn of a book that all teachers of reluctant readers dream about; a high interest lower-reading-level novel. It has a beginning 5th grade reading level so it makes it reachable for my struggling readers (with some scaffolding) but it’s such a gripping story that even middle school boys love it! I love to hear my students who usually hate to read complain because class is over and they have to wait until tomorrow to see what happens next.

In Number the Stars we are introduced to Annemarie Johansen, a young Danish girl living in Copenhagen during the Nazi occupation of Denmark. She lives in a small apartment with her younger sister and parents. Her best friend, Ellen, lives with her family in a nearby apartment.

Ellen and her family are Jewish; a dangerous thing to be during the Nazi occupation. Every Danish citizen walks a careful line during this time and deals with the various hardships imposed by the Nazis (curfew, rationing, and armed soldiers on street corners, to name a few) but Jews are in even more danger and most of the Danes know it. When the Danes receive news that all of the Jews in Denmark are about to be “relocated,” the entire country, including Annemarie and her family, takes action to save their friends and neighbors.

This book may contain some triggers for young students who have been through dangerous or difficult situations, especially dealing with soldiers. I had some students who came emigrated from war-torn countries who became uncomfortable during certain chapters of this book.

While this is not a completely true story, Lois Lowry based this story on stories from her best friend as a child and true events from history. This book is a great companion piece for students who are studying World War II as this helps make those events real and personal for students. Despite a female protagonist, even boys identify with the themes and storyline of this book as Annemarie must quickly grow up before our eyes and learns about courage, the true meaning of family, and discovers painful secrets about her past. It’s one book I recommend everyone, both children and adults, read at least once.

 

 

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