The Children's Book Compass

Posts Tagged ‘Henry Holt

The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango. (2011). 352 pages. Delacorte Press. Ages 12-adult. Realistic Fiction.

This moving novel is based on the life experiences of Farinango who at seven was taken from her rural, very poor family in Ecuador and made a servant to a family in the city.  In the face of very difficult challenges the girl manages to teach herself to read and write and finally escapes when she is  a teenager.  The story shows the cost of being caught between two cultures.

Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle.  (2011).  145 pages.  Henry Holt.  Ages 12-adult.

The setting is 1510 in the Caribbean.  A young boy of Spanish and Taino ancestry is a slave on a pirate ship that is eventually shipwrecked during a hurricane. The boy speaks the language of the native people who save him.  He suddenly is given power over his former captors who also survive the storm.  Engle tells her story in lyrical verse in the voices of five different characters.  This book would make an effective choice for readers theater.  Historical notes at the end provide a fuller picture of the events.

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall.  (2011).  224 pages.  Lee & Low Books.  Ages 12-adult.

This is another novel told in verse.  The story is about a Hispanic family whose mother is battling cancer.  The oldest daughter, Lupita, tells how she becomes responsible for her seven younger siblings.  However, she is still able to enjoy her passion for acting in her high school drama classes.  The author captures the loving tenderness of the family.


Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Velchin.  (2011).   154 pages.  Henry Holt.  Grades 5 and up.  Novel: Historical Fiction.

In his Author’s Note at the end of this riveting story, Velchin writes, “. . . his (Stalin’s) legacy endured in the Russian people.  They had lived in fear for so long that fear had become an integral part of their part of their very beings.  Unchecked, fear was passed on from generation to generation.  It has been passed on to me, as well.  This book is my attempt to expose and confront that fear.”  Velchin’s attempt is an achievement.  He tells the story of a young boy, Sasha, who idolizes the Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, and dreams of meeting him.  The novel begins with Sasha explaining how Stalin is a “great Leader and Teacher” and his own father is a hero and part of the secret police.  The story unfolds over just two days as Sasha’s dreams are dashed.  His eyes are opened to the cruel Soviet system when his father is arrested;  he is ousted from his school and becomes homeless.  Black pencil drawings by the author enhance the menacing tone of the book.  Youngsters need to read this book to begin to understand contemporary Russia.  Connect this with another book about a dictatorship, The Composition by Skarmeta.

The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt.  (2010).  Henry Holt.  309 pages.  Grades 7 and up.  Historical Fiction.

The best of historical fiction causes us to ponder the sacrifices and struggles of those who have come before us.  The Water Seeker is one of the most enthralling historical novels I have read in years.  It prompted me to thoughtfully consider the lives of my great grandparents and their contributions in the settling of the West.  The novel chronicles the story of Amos Kincaid from his birth in a remote cabin in Missouri in 1833 through his journey on the Oregon Trail starting in 1848, and continuing with his new life in Oregon in 1859.  Along the way there are adventures, romances and heart touching moments.  The in-depth descriptions and depictions of various settings and secondary characters in this epic novel provide a rich portrait of the way life during the Westward expansion.  Amos’ mother dies in giving birth to him, but she reappears to those who care for him throughout the story as a hovering, loving presence.  Jake, Amos’ father is a trapper and a mountain man who is a gifted dowser.  The character of Jake’s second wife, Blue Owl, provides insights about Native Americans and how the Westward movement affected them.  Amos has two romances as the family travels to Oregon and there is a surprise in how they turn out.  As Amos grows to manhood he demonstrates honesty, endurance and courage.  Along the way he discovers his own gift of finding water and is able to bless the new farmers in the Oregon territory.  The themes of the value of family and importance of perseverance in the face of many challenges are skillfully woven throughout the story.  The details of the hardships and triumphs along the Trail are an inspiration.  Social Studies teachers will find this book an excellent read aloud for their classes in American history.  All ages from middle school on will enjoy this book as a satisfying read.

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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