So I have read two new books that I want to place on our Recommended books for our readers list.
The first is a phenomenal Fiction book about WWII and loss, and art. The second is a Steampunk fantasy novel set in another world where magic and science coexist along with one of the best Pinocchio tales I have read in a long while.
Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. Dial publishing (March 18, 2014)
Age range 8-12 years, 256 pages (Hard Back)
I wanted to read this for Netgalley, but they had reached their limit so I marched to the bookstore and purchased this book anyway. I sat down and read the whole thing in a little under three hours and I wrote a review for two booksellers and rated it 5 stars. If you know me, you know I do not give books 5 starts lightly.
The premise is this: Theo is a young girl living in New York who discovers an image underneath a painting that had sat on the mantle of her home for forty years. The story follows Theodora and her friend Bodhi as they try to discover what the painting is and ultimately who it belongs to.
This is a touching JF mystery filled with history and characters with depth and teeth and personality. I usually skip the acknowledgements, but in this instance, read them. Ms. Fitzgerald explains where her idea came from and cites several great books and documentaries if you are interested in further reading about WWII and the Monuments Men who set out to save Europe’s art treasures from Nazi hordes.
I love the sense of place Theo’ house has and the chickens. Indeed if you have spent time in any of the New York institutions mentioned you will know Ms. Fitzgerald has too and it shines though in her descriptions of both the structures and people who populate these places.
Appropriate for grades 3 and up. There are descriptions of Nazi torture, and the holocaust but they are age appropriate and needed to understand the place and time. There is also a gentle discussion about mental illness and how it affects the immediate family and I found the handling of the Mother’s character sad and wonderful all at the same time.
I highly recommend this for students and teachers who want a book that encourages discussion of what went on in internment camps, and what happened to Jews in Europe and Jewish prisoners of war as well as ethical questions about art and who it ultimately belongs to. The ending is hopeful so if you are crying at the end, it is because you are happy at how it turned out.
My next book is Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson. Delacorte Books (March 25, 2014)
Age range 10 and up, 400 pages (Hard Back)
This is a fun Junior Fiction Steampunk book that blends a bit of Nix’s “Kingdom Keys” series and Jones’ “Howl’s Moving Castle”, except the castle in this case is a train. Set in a world where two warring Kingdoms have strip mined the land leaving their people to “scrap” for a living. Our hero (or heroine in this case) is a young girl named Piper. She has a way with machines that is almost magical. She can repair anything, and even at the young age of 13, she scrapes a living off repairing engines, and trinkets that come tumbling into the mine fields during meteor showers that drop debris from other worlds and other realities into hers. A little like Tinker Bell’s “lost things”, except these can kill you and leave deadly green dust in their wake.
Piper finds an unconscious girl in the wreckage of a caravan and discovers this girl has the tattoo of the dragonfly on her arm. A mark that shows this girl is under the protection of King of the Dragonfly Territories. All Piper has to do is get her to the capital and collect a reward big enough to lift her out of the scrapyards. But to do that, they have to get on the train …. and thus our story takes off.
This is an adventure story and is set in a dying world where magic and science coexist filled with alien life and an almost magical train. I am a sucker for train adventure stories. And I really liked this one. There is just enough mystery to be interesting, and the supporting characters are great. What is more, Piper is an engineer. I love young female role models who are engineers, and fighters without being super beings, idealized or perfect. This is a Junior Fiction story, so do not expect very complex plots, and the characters sometimes act far beyond their ages. But apart from some talk of slavery, and a bit of violence fighting the bandits, there is little to not recommend this to any 5th grader.