Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt

Hold Me Like a BreathBloomsbury USA Children’s Books 2015

Penny Landlow has almost everything. She lives in a fancy walled estate with a pool, a conservatory, and a garden. She has parents who buy her whatever she fancies. The only thing she doesn’t have is freedom. She dreams of going to New York City, but because of a rare blood disorder, she must be protected from the tiniest of bumps and bruises, and her parents refuse to let her leave the estate. Fortunately, her father’s business, organized crime involving organ donations, provides her with a medical clinic and a doctor on the premises. Unfortunately, that ensures that she never has any excuse to leave. When Penny finally gets the opportunity to live in the real world, her experience isn’t anything like her dreams. It’s exactly the opposite of her coddled former life, suddenly Penny’s got to fight to survive.

I read straight through this suspenseful story. Penny is a sympathetic and likeable character. Her medical problems made it dangerous for people to touch her with all but the lightest touch. It’s easy to sympathize with her need for love and for experiences away from her sheltered home and her frustration with trying to make her family and the Family treat her as anything other than a fragile doll. Penny has spunk, though, along with a great deal of naivete.

Readers will do some breath holding, too, as they follow Penny through her thrilling and terrifying adventure. This book comes out May 19th. It would be a great vacation or beach read. Don’t start it on a night you’ve got homework and school the next day — just sayin’.

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Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

apple and rainBloomsbury Children’s Books, 2015

Even though Nan tries to make the day special, Apple hates Christmas. No matter how hard Nan tries, for Apple, Christmas Day is overshadowed by the memory of her mum storming out of the house. That was eleven years ago, and she never came back. Nan doesn’t want to hear Apple’s thoughts on the matter, so Apple’s left to pine for her mother alone. When Apple’s mum does come back, Apple takes her chance to escape from her Nan’s serious ways and overprotection, but it’s nothing like the life she fantasized about. Her new life with Mum also includes Rain, a little sister Apple never even knew about but now is expected to care for. How will she navigate a life in which all the rules and expectations have changed?

This is a beautiful book. As Apple deals with family drama, school drama, and boy drama, she uses poetry to work out her feelings. The special gray exercise book that her English teacher gave her becomes her outlet and sounding board. In the end Apple learns a lot about poetry and, in the words of her English teacher, “poetry’s ability—and responsibility—to say what happens.”

This is a book to cherish and to read again. As much as I love books, I’m jealous of the small amount of shelf space I have in my house. But Apple and Rain is one to own, to look at fondly, to read again and to loan to a friend. Buy this book. You won’t regret it.

I read this book as an electronic ARC courtesy of Net Galley and Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The Magician of Auschwitz by Kathy Kacer

Magician of AuschwitzIllustrated by Gillian Newland

Second Story Press, 2014.

Werner is a teenager in what’s called the Family Camp of Auschwitz. Separated from his mother, Werner shares a top bunk with a man named Herr Levin. Werner’s days are filled with waiting in lines and doing exercise or labor, whatever the guards order. He is always hungry because the guards allow each prisoner a meager amount of food. Soon Werner’s nights are filled with guards, too. They come in the night to make Herr Levin perform magic tricks for them. One day Herr Levin teaches Werner his favorite card tricks.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and this new picture book is an effective way to remember the millions who lost their liberty and their lives to the death camps. The story is a true one as related to Kathy Kacer by Werner Reich. It’s a somber story and the sadness is reflected in Newland’s fine illustrations. The detailed drawings of the camp contain muted, somber colors. Only the playing cards stand out as a tie to the brighter, happier world outside Auschwitz.

Both Werner and Herr Levin survived their terrible time at Auschwitz, though they never met again in their lifetimes. In time, Werner used what he’d learned from the magician to perform for his friends and family.

In straightforward style Kacer and Newland present a story about a terrible time and a terrible place. The story shows the resilience of human nature and gives a heartwarming example of kindness even in the face of terrible cruelty. Because this story is skillfully told, I believe it would be appropriate for children of many ages. The severity of the conditions in the camp is not glossed over, but by using magic as the focus of this story, Kacer has found a way that children may focus on the aspects of the story they are ready to hear.

Historical notes and photographs on the real men involved in the story and on the Holocaust itself are found in the back of the book for students who would like more information. This book would make a wonderful class read-aloud for any unit on World War II or the Holocaust. Teachers of elementary school through high school students could use this book to begin a discussion of the camps and the people and relationships within them.

Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color

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Poems by Elizabeth Alexander & Marilyn Nelson. Pictures by Floyd Cooper.

Wordsong, 2007.

In 1831 Prudence Crandall opened a boarding school for young ladies at the request of the people of the town of Canterbury Connecticut. As a Quaker, she saw no problem with inviting the African American maid of the school to take part in classes once her work was done. Soon after, the first African American student enrolled. Unfortunately, the white residents of Canterbury took exception to African American students learning with their daughters. By 1833 the white students had been withdrawn and an entirely African American student body enrolled. The people in this very white town in the most homogenous state in the nation were in an uproar.

The poems in this beautiful book tell the story of this exceptional school, of its students, of their wish to better themselves and their communities, of the sacrifices they made to learn and of the trials they endured in a place where they were legally free but societally constrained.

The poems in this book and the beautiful illustrations evoke these brave students, their wonder at the fears of the residents of Canterbury, their hunger for learning. All sonnets, they tell a tale of the sacrifice made to get the girls to school and the troubles they face when the town turns against them, fouling the well, and making laws in attempts to drive them away.

I can see a myriad of uses for this book in the classroom. The story illuminates the tensions in the northeast in the mid-nineteenth century. It is easy to believe that all the racism and trouble in this period was in the south; however, Miss Crandall’s School clearly shows that tensions there between white and African American residents were very real and very dangerous.

The poems all take the form of sonnets and could be studied simply as poems or for their form. The details of the story provide avenues for critical thinking. How would you do your laundry, exercise, plant potatoes if the only way to stay safe was to remain within the walls of the school? What case could the students build against new laws made to evict them from the town and the state? Can one group of people restrict the education of another?

Highly recommended.