In Natalie Kinsey-Warnock’s True Colors (Knopf, $15.99), Blue was found in a kettle on Hannah’s doorstep on December 7, 1941, when she was (probably) 2 days old. Hannah took her in, named her, and raised Blue on a farm in rural Vermont. As one of the few children in the town, Blue has always eagerly awaited the influx of summer visitors, including her best friend Nadine. During Blue’s tenth summer, however, everything changes. First, Nadine doesn’t seem interested in any of their usual summer activities. Second, Blue finds clues about the mother who left her behind and dreams about leaving town to find her family. Third, the editor of the local paper invites Blue to contribute a weekly column. The more she starts to research her town, the more she discovers that everyone is not who she thought they were. When Hannah has an accident, all of the people she has supported over the years step up to help Hannah and Blue. When Blue’s life is endangered, once again the neighbors are there, and Blue discovers that family is closer than she ever realized. Blue is a great character and her frustrations with Nadine are very realistic. Blue is just at the cusp of stepping outside herself, awaking to the existence of her community, and noticing (and appreciating) the people around her. I cried my little eyes out while reading the final few chapters and the quilted cover, which evokes the range of quilt references present in the story, is excellent.
The Wheel on the School, by Meindert DeJong and pictures by Maurice Sendak, is one of those books that I ignored for a long time (HarperTrophy, $6.95). It looks a little dated. I thought it was a strange title. I simply wasn’t interested. But every once in a while I go on a Newbery kick and try to read award winners from various decades, just to see. So far I have never been disappointed with a Newbery book. Isn’t that funny? There are so many issues that go along with the reward and I know how political it can be, but through it all, those librarians always manage to choose really good books! I love it. The Wheel on the School is about . . . well? . . . what it is about? Storks, I guess. I could try to describe the plot line, but I don’t think I could convince you that it was worth reading. Instead, I’ll say it’s about one child sparking a chain of events that eventually empowers an entire community to work towards a common goal. It’s about how little things can have a huge impact. It’s about never underestimating the residual effect of curiosity.
In the town of Shora, Netherlands, Lina wants to know why there are no storks in her village. Her teacher, probably one of my favorite teachers in children’s literature, asks the class to all think about what would happen if they started to think about storks. Eelka wants to know how anyone in the class can possibly think about storks if they don’t actually know anything about storks? Storks don’t come to their town, remember? To which the teacher replies: “True, true . . . We can’t think much when we don’t know much. But we can wonder! From now until tomorrow morning when you come to school again, will you do that? Will you wonder why and wonder why? Will you wonder why storks don’t come to Shora to build their nests on the roofs, the way they do in all the villages around? For sometimes when we wonder, we can make things begin to happen”. For a rather quiet book about storks, The Wheel on the School has a lot to say. Give it to a kid who is wondering. See what they create.
The Candy Smash is Jacqueline Davies most recent addition to the Lemonade War series (HMH, $15.99). Like Davies’s previous books (The Lemonade War, The Lemonade Crime, and The Bell Bandit), The Candy Smash contains a central theme around which the plot and chapters are organized. This time it’s writing. As usual, Davies does an excellent job showcasing different perspectives about the theme. Jessie, always pragmatic, is working on writing a newspaper. She approaches her self-assigned editorial job with structured design, following the rules of journalism to the letter. Evan, on the other hand, enjoys the emotions that envelop him during the class’s morning poetry reading. He plays with words, letting them swirl and play freely. This story takes place in February so the looming prospect of Valentine’s Day is wrecking a bit of havoc on their fourth grade classroom. When Jessie decides to investigate class crushes, she dances dangerously close to exposing too much and unwittingly embarrassing her classmates. Evan does intercede — thankfully because I was really starting to get worried. Although he protects his classmates, his own dabbling in poetry teaches him to take a few emotional risks of his own. Another incredibly satisfying book by Davies. Kids and 4th grade teachers will eat this one up.
I discussed The Lemonade War in a recent post and was so taken with the book that I couldn’t wait to read the rest of the series. Although Jacqueline Davies’s books do comprise a series, each one is so different that I will continue to review them separately. They are all excellent in their own right and I’m impressed with how she has developed the books. At the end of The Lemonade War, Evan discovers that Jessie and Megan’s hard-earned money has been stolen from his shorts, while he was swimming at a friend’s house. In The Lemonade Crime (HMH, $6.99), when school starts a few days later, Scott Spenser, who had left the pool party rather abruptly, starts boasting about his new gaming center. Jessie and Evan know that Scott has to be the culprit and Jessie sets out to prove it by putting him on trial. She organizes the whole 4th grade class into witnesses, judge, jury, and audience. As the prosecutor, she represents Evan. Scott, the defense, declines to be represented by a girl — the only classmates left since most of the boys are witnesses from the party. The class conducts a secret, no-adults trial on the playground and Jessie, despite her extensive preparation, discovers that courtrooms can be emotional, no matter how hard you try to stay objective. What an excellent introduction to the justice system! And I particularly appreciated Megan’s desire to act as Scott’s public defender. Megan, Jessie, and Evan all eventually accept that in the judicial system not everything turns out the way you want it to, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fair.