Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule

St. Martin’s Griffin 2014.

Strange Sweet Song Sing is a legacy at Dunhammond Conservatory, the world famous training ground for musicians. Its students are watched by programs like the Fire Lake Opera where her father is conductor and her famous mother launched her career. Dunhammond Conservatory is a mysterious place, filled with old stone buildings, musical prodigies, and warnings to stay out of the woods.

Sing is not sure she belongs here or that she can live up to her parents’ reputations. Soon she’s navigating lessons, auditions, and amorous advances, all while trying to ignore the insistent call of the forbidden forest. And if all that weren’t enough, the opera for Fall Festival is Angelique, the one opera that has fascinated her since she was a small child—and the opera that her mother died performing.

I loved this book for the complexity of Sing’s character. It showed well the confusion and angst of adolescence as Sing tries to navigate parental expectation, adolescent social networks, and the high expectations of both teachers and the music world. Like Sara Zarr’s The Lucy Variations, Strange Sweet Song gave insight into the pressures and prejudices of the world of professional music for gifted young people. In addition, it’s an engaging gothic romance.

Teen readers will love this book for its clear and honest portrayal of the pressures they face. They’ll be satisfied by the romantic and fantasy elements, and engaged by a heroine who’s navigating the world, trying different strategies for navigating very difficult social and professional situations, and ultimately discovering her own path to the life she wants.

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Dangerous by Shannon Hale

Bloomsbury 2014

Danger really is Maisie Brown’s middle name, but her life’s never felt particularly dangerous. Her life is pretty small; she’s a homeschooled only child with a mom and dad and one best friend, Luther. However, everything begins to change for Maisie when she finds a contest on the back of a cereal box. The prize for the contest is a stay at space camp.

It’s always been Maisie’s dream to be an astronaut, but with one whole arm and one prosthetic, she not sure the dream can ever become a reality. Space camp seems like a perfect opportunity to give it a try.

Maisie proves herself more than capable of any task space camp has to dish out, but space camp has extras that she didn’t expect: a seriously handsome camper, a mad scientist, and alien life forms that force Maisie Danger Brown to live up to her middle name.

Dangerous is an action-packed young adult story that allows readers to contemplate fun ideas like space travel and first love within an adventurous context, but it’s not simply an adventure or a romance. Themes of trust, loyalty, and secrecy pervade the narrative and give readers an opportunity to examine their own boundaries.

I loved being a part of Maisie’s life and journeying along to space camp and beyond. There’s enough action and suspense here to keep even the most reluctant reader going! This is a perfect book to put on your summer reading list.

Franklin And Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Barry Moser

Candlewick Press, 2011

This is a nonfiction picture book and a fairly sophisticated one. It sets the scene of the war and introduces the two important world leaders so that even children with very little knowledge of the war can follow the story. The story is framed by one historic visit between the two leaders over Christmas—the visit that ended in the alliance of the United States and Great Britain.

Wood and Moser have done a wonderful job of presenting these two world leaders in the context of their work. The painted pictures are clear and striking and many will appeal to children who are interested in ships and planes. The story is told with humor, including an anecdote in which FDR walks in on Churchill getting out of the bath. The text skillfully weaves in details of the visit as well as quotes from the leaders’ conversations and Christmas speeches. Finally, the end notes include bullet points of the achievements accomplished during the Christmas visit, an author’s note, and a bibliography.

The publisher suggests that the audience for this book is grades 1-4. I’d be inclined to bump it up at least a year unless a class is studying one of the men or the war. There’s a lot of text, and though it’s written in a manner that would be easy for early elementary students to listen to, I’m not sure how much most 1st or even 2nd graders would get out of it. Students from 3rd to 6th grade would be more able to understand the leaders’ turns of phrase and to contemplate this story of one important visit in the background of a world gone to war. A great book for kids who are passionately interested in World War II or for a class studying the war together.