Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbit

cloud-and-wallfishCandlewick Press, 2016.

It’s an ordinary day of sixth grade for Noah Keller until his parents pick him up from school. Then, suddenly everything in his life turns on its ear. He learns that his name is not really Noah Keller, he’s not eleven yet, and their normal American life is being replaced by an extraordinary new life behind the wall in East Germany.

Communication is tricky in his new home, and strangely enough that has very little to do with Noah, now Jonah’s Astonishing Stutter. In East Germany, Noah must speak German, he has not been given permission to go to school, and perhaps most importantly he must follow his parents rules about what he may say or ask and where. It’s a lonely and confusing new world. But when Jonah meets Cloud-Claudia who lives downstairs with her grandmother, his world becomes a lot less lonely but quite a bit more interesting, confusing, and even dangerous.

Cloud and Wallfish is a masterful telling of the tale of East Germany immediately before the demise of the Berlin Wall. Though at first I bristled at Noah-Jonah’s attitude toward him as they upended his life to take him behind the iron curtain, how could they do it without an explanation? How could they be so darned cheerful about it? I soon was drawn into the story and began to trust the kindness and good nature of the parents, and unlike Noah-Jonah, I remained frustrated at the many things they wouldn’t divulge to him.

Anne Nesbit’s writing is unique and appealing as in this passage when the American family is sitting down to dinner with Jonah’s friend from the downstairs apartment. “It was the longest group of words any of them had ever heard Cloud-Claudia say. They all tried not to gape at her. There was a lot of friendly staring at spoons.”

I will want to read Cloud and Wallfish again. It’s a wonderful book to help children today understand the end of the era of the Cold War, but it is also simply a good story about the complexities of relationships, friendships, governments, and life. Highly recommended for schools, libraries, and homes.

I received an advance reader copy of  Cloud and Wallfish from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Code Name Verity by Elisabeth Wein

code-name-verity

Hyperion, 2012

Maddie’s a wiz with an engine. She’s proved it with the motorbike her granddad gave her for her birthday, but her focus on motorbikes quickly changes in 1938 when a young noblewoman crash lands her Puss Moth airplane in a pasture near Maddie’s home. The chance meeting leads to an opportunity for Maddie to learn to fly, which she continues until the war begins in earnest. But the war brings unusual opportunities for women both in work and friendship. Code Name Verity is the story of two such women, women thrown together by the war who build a strong and enduring friendship.

When I saw this title on the library shelf, I remembered that the book had caused a fair amount of buzz when it came out. I’d never followed the buzz into detail. Perhaps all I’d seen was on Twitter, and the cover, which looks like it’s about torture. Which, to be fair, is an important part of the story, but I’m hesitant to read books about torture, strange for someone who devours mysteries and thrillers and books about World War II, I know. But be still my heart, the other things this book has – England, Scotland, World War II, codes, women pilots, Special Operations Executive spies, the Moon Squadron and a fabulous friendship between two women. How could I have waited four years to read this book?

I spent a good part of last weekend engrossed in its pages. I found Code Name Verity to be extremely well researched, and I’ve read a lot about WWII and Special Operations Executive in the past years. I found it an utterly gripping story. The suspense drew me in; trying to piece together the story and the story beneath the words kept me riveted; and the personal relationships in the book kept me satisfied. This book will appeal to so many different types of readers.

I won’t chance spoiling the plot by revealing more, but I will recommend this book for personal reading, classrooms, and libraries. I’ll be adding Code Name Verity to my select private library. And next time I anticipate a quiet weekend, I’ll search out Rose Under Fire, another World War II book from Elizabeth Wein. I’ll let you know what I think.

The King’s Swift Rider: A Novel on Robert the Bruce by Mollie Hunter

The King's Swift Rider: A Novel on Robert the Bruce

Harper Trophy, 1998

In 14th-century Scotland, sixteen-year-old Martin Crawford spies Robert the Bruce being hunted by the English. That day marks the start of Crawford’s involvement in the fight for Scottish independence from the English, but he’s not a warrior. Martin’s wish is to be a cleric, and his involvement is as an observer, spy, and message bearer for the king. His mobility allows him to be privy to the king’s strategic decisions as well as see the battles from a distance.

The King’s Swift Rider provides a good background to long-ago events. Though this account is strongly biased toward the Scots, I enjoyed learning more about this period in history and about the famous British and Scottish leaders involved. The contrast in attitudes between Martin, a pacifist who is nonetheless deeply, and nonviolently, involved in the war, and his brother, a sometimes blood-crazed warrior, deepened the interest in the story for me. This is not a story that either glorifies or wholly condemns war or violence.

This book will appeal to readers who enjoy action, history, and books about war and strategy. The details about medieval life will appeal to fantasy enthusiasts as well as Live Action Role Players (LARP). The main character is sixteen, but I think this book will appeal to upper middle grade readers as well as young adult readers.

I checked this book out of my local library.