I'm going to do a catch-all book post; it's been a while, and there are a few I just must get out of my system! (I'm also trying out the Amazon Associates program; thus the links.)
I've read a lot of children's and young adult lit in the past year. Ostensibly, to preview books for my homeschooled 5th grader. Really, because I like it.
Among the best of these, Elijah Of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. I picked it up several months ago because I knew we would be studying slavery and the Civil War at the end of the year. It seemed age-appropriate and I think a good historical novel can be a wonderful way to learn about history. (I still remember more about Across Five Aprils than about any other aspect of my own middle-school Civil War study.) Well, Elijah of Buxton fulfilled all my expectations. It gives a great view of a (real) settlement of freed slaves in Canada, as well as a cross-section of former slaves and how they deal with the ongoing problem of slavery in 1860. It's humorous, authentic, accessible. The characters - especially Mr. Leroy and the Preacher - are deep and complicated, just perfect for discussing with a kid who is beginning to understand that there are shades of gray in this world. An 11-year-old kid, like Elijah, like my son S. And the ending will blow you away. It was a put-the-book-down-and-cry kind of ending for me, but so beautiful. The whole family listened to Elijah of Buxton on CD in the car on our Memorial Day/A's birthday trip to Utah. Even Dr. G was captivated.
This spring, I have successfully sold my kids on Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. Easy sell! When I want to get them started on books I think are great, all I typically have to do is read a few chapters aloud. Then the book disappears and I don't know where it is until I hear people start fighting over it. We were a little late to the party; as is my custom. I know everybody else has been reading Fablehaven forever. But by doing it this way, we've gained an important advantage: We don't have to wait months and months in between installments. We can just gorge ourselves straight through on the whole series. (We did Harry Potter this way, too!)
What we love about these books: a successful merging of fantasy into the lives of ordinary kids. Seth and Kendra could be in our family, the with sarcasm and bickering and everything. They're regular people, but when crises arise, they step it up and do what needs to be done. That's an eternal truth, right there. Happy to read that to my kids. I also love the themes about obedience, courage, loyalty. These books teach without being didactic - they're all about natural laws and consequences. Just like real life, except with fairies and demons and stuff.
I am lucky and only a little envious to know the author of Palace Beautiful, Sarah DeFord Williams. We met through our mutual friend Heather and did some hanging out in our BYU days. Viva International Cinema!
Palace Beautiful reminds me a little of a Lois Lowry book - maybe Number the Stars, in that it's about a girl with great courage at an extremely challenging time in history. And I do mean a comparison to Lowry as a huge compliment!
It takes place in Salt Lake City, where two sisters and a friend discover a diary kept by a young girl during the 1918 influenza epidemic. Learning about her life and her losses, they find the strength they need in their own.
I went with some friends to Sarah's book launch party for Palace Beautiful in Salt Lake in April. She said in her talk that this book is about what happens after the worst happens, and how we find a new OK after we think we're never going to be OK again. I love that.
My 9-year-old has devoured this book. He's a boy, by the way. Nice work, Sarah!