Remember that bit about having reviews up last weekend?
That was before we became a house of ill-repute. Actual illness, not just reputed. I find illness to be one of the very few areas where it actually is harder and not more fun to have three children instead of the standard issue two. With three, the illnesses seem to last and last, and when I get it, instead of collapsing to my bed after the kid maelstrom, it's always during at least one of their sick days. Taking care of a sick child while you yourself are sick is such a defeating feeling. That feeling definitely does not lend itself to writing zippy blog posts. But I'm back! And taking a break from the egg factory right now:
This week, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare for Claire Helen types, and Masterpiece by Elise Broach for Simon types.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare
Lexile level: 850
Fountas and Pinnel: W
Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the unfamiliar shores of colonial Connecticut in 1867. Alone and desperate, she has been forced to leave her beloved home on the island of Barbados and join a family she has never met. Torn between her quest for belonging and her desire to be true to herself, Kit struggles to survive in a hostile place. Just when it seems she must give up, she finds a kindred spirit. But Kit’s friendship with Hannah Tupper, believed by the colonists to be a witch, proves more taboo than she could have imagined and ultimately forces Kit to choose between her heart and her duty.
Elizabeth George Speare’s Newbery Award–winning novel portrays a heroine whom readers will admire for her unwavering sense of truth as well as her infinite capacity to love.
Claire Helen has a goal of reading all the Newbery Medal books, which I and a lot of my contemporaries did as children. You may or may not be aware that several decades have passed in the interim (horrors), and with each passing year there is another Newbery Medal, and so the stack is quite a bit higher than when I was young. So I am trying to help her out, and we have listened to a couple in the car, this one included.
I'm reviewing it now because it is very perfect for a particular sort of personality. There is a strong heroine (Kit), who is, as in 90% of children's literature, abandoned/orphaned at the start of the action. She leaves her childhood home of Barbados in search of her aunt and uncle in 19th century, puritan Connecticut. Most of the book is her struggle to fit in the small, judgmental community, and what happens when she follows her heart and is kind to another outcast. The insights into Kit's mind are lovely, and her cousins, Judith and Mercy, are very well drawn.
I didn't really appreciate how much of the book was focused on who got which romantic pairing, even if it might have been appropriate for the period. I wish the male characters had been better developed, though that, too, might have been a function of the structure- it's told first person from Kit's point of view. All in all, certainly a worthwhile read. Getting to know Kit was nothing but a pleasure, and Claire Helen really really loved it. I'd recommend it. Just be aware that romance is in the air, so you are prepared for your less emotionally mature readers.
Masterpiece, by Elise Broach
Lexile level: 700
Fountas and Pinnell: U
And the blurb
Marvin lives with his family under the kitchen sink in the Pompadays’ apartment. He is very much a beetle. James Pompaday lives with his family in New York City. He is very much an eleven-year-old boy. After James gets a pen-and-ink set for his birthday, Marvin surprises him by creating an elaborate miniature drawing. James gets all the credit for the picture and before these unlikely friends know it they are caught up in a staged art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that could help recover a famous drawing by Albrecht Dürer. But James can’t go through with the plan without Marvin’s help. And that’s where things get really complicated (and interesting!). This fast-paced mystery will have young readers on the edge of their seats as they root for boy and beetle.
In Shakespeare’s Secret Elise Broach showed her keen ability to weave storytelling with history and suspense, and Masterpiece is yet another example of her talent. This time around it’s an irresistible miniature world, fascinating art history, all wrapped up in a special friendship— something for everyone to enjoy.
This book is great! I love the way Broach talks about Marvin's total dependence on James contrasted with the completeness of his little beetle self. There's nothing in here that is too difficult for young readers. Marvin is afraid of being squashed a few times(but I don't think you can write a book about a beetle without the squashing threat). There is art stolen, a betrayal, and James definitely has a hard time when he is put on the spot by the adults who hope he can draw as well as Durer, when really it is Marvin with the talent.
But mostly the book just strikes a good balance interesting things happen and not too hard for little brains. The blurb is right- you root for the boy and the beetle naturally. Simon wished for a little more action at times, but it's possible that Simon wishes for too much action.