A PICTURE OF GRANDMOTHER

When Uncle Benjamin writes a letter to Sara’s mother, his sister, in Vilna inviting her and Grandmother Hanna to the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, he requests that Sara’s mother bring with her a photograph of their mother. But Sara has never seen the photograph mentioned in the letter. After searching through her mother’s things, she pays a visit to her Great-aunt Lisa who bluntly tells her that Grandmother Hanna is not really the mother of Sara’s mother, but her stepmother. Sara’s “real” grandmother, who was Great-aunt Lisa’s sister, died giving birth to Uncle Benjamin. Initially angry with Great-aunt Lisa for revealing the secret, Sara forgives her when she makes a gift to Grandmother Hanna of the brooch worn by her sister in the photograph. This bland plot fails to generate much interest for young readers and no mention is made of the imminent danger to Poland’s Jews in 1939. Black-and-white drawings lend an antique look to the text, but do little to attract an audience. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2002

ISBN: 0-374-35920-2

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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WESTWARD TO HOME

JOSHUA’S DIARY

Another installment in this year’s new “My America” series, this is the fictional diary of Joshua, a young boy whose family joins a wagon train to Oregon in 1848. Joshua’s tale offers language simple enough for emerging readers, but pulls few punches regarding the harsh realities of the westward pioneer journey. Joshua can hardly contain his excitement at the prospect of the journey. His diary begins as his parents and extended family make the difficult decision to uproot their lives. On the trail he experiences dust, heat, and fear, along with the births of babies and the deaths of others from cholera, accidents, and Indian attack. Joshua also finds his cousin, Rachel, dead one morning, the victim of an accidental hanging during the night. The story’s not all tragedy; there is a nice balance with more positive experiences, such as Joshua’s childhood friendships along the trail. His grandfather helps him kill a buffalo, and he saves his little sister Becky from drowning when she falls into a rushing river. Hermes sparks her tale with a budding romance for Joshua as he copes with the grief, anger, and charity of the adults in the wagon train. Decent historical fiction aimed at appealing to the reader who would enjoy the sense of reading a diary to learn more about the harsh realities and triumphs of America’s westward pioneers. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-439-11209-5

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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Rockliff and Bruno’s playful approach buoys solid science and history.

MESMERIZED

HOW BEN FRANKLIN SOLVED A MYSTERY THAT BAFFLED ALL OF FRANCE

Ben Franklin’s several years in France during the American Revolution included an occasion on which he consulted on a scientific matter for the French king.

Louis XVI commissioned a study when he became concerned about the number of complaints he was hearing from French doctors about a German—Dr. Franz Mesmer—who seemed to wield a powerful, mysterious method of healing. Among the scientists and doctors asked to report was the American emissary Benjamin Franklin. In Rockliff’s account, Franklin observes Mesmer’s colleague, Charles D’Eslon, at work, then tinkers with Mesmer’s “animal magnetism” technique by blindfolding and misdirecting D’Eslon’s subjects. Franklin’s hypothesis—that results were accounted for by the subject’s imagination and not an external force—is quickly proved. Text displayed in ribbons, a couple of late-18th-century typefaces and other flourishes create a sense of time and place. The endpapers are brightly hypnotic. Bruno’s digitally colored pencil art lightly evokes period caricature and gently pokes fun at the ornate clothing and hair of French nobility. The tale is nicely pitched to emphasize the importance of a hypothesis, testing and verification, and several inset text boxes are used to explain these scientific tools. Rockliff points out that Franklin’s blind-test technique is in use today for medical treatments, and both the placebo effect and hypnosis are studied today.

Rockliff and Bruno’s playful approach buoys solid science and history. (author’s note, sources) (Nonfiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6351-3

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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