I tend to save my reviews for the books that are truly great, but I’ve read too many wonderful books lately to review them all. So consider this the cliffnotes version: 3 mini-reviews for books that deserve a place on your shelf.
Mo Wren loves Fox Street. It’s the only home she’s ever known: Mo loves the neighbors (well, most of them anyway), she loves her creaky, cozy house with the plum tree in the backyard, and there’s always the call of the ravine—a scraggly wood that passes for wilderness, where Mo is sure she’ll find a real fox, if she looks hard enough. It seems like Mo’s life will never change. Until her best friend becomes snobby. And scary old Mrs. Starchbutt* takes a sudden interest in Mo. Worst of all, someone wants to buy the Wrens’ house, and now Mo has to contemplate a life away from Fox Street.
Read this book if: you remember being ten years old and finding the world changing around you. Mo is the perfect age to start moving out of childhood, and she hangs on as long as possible, resisting the new thoughts crowding in her head. This is the summer she starts thinking about money, her father’s imperfections and the happiness of others. Fox Street has the perfect blend of reality and charm. The neighbors are quirky without being Dead End in Norvelt ridiculous, and there’s a real sense of community that reminds me of Lucky’s Hard Pan. What’s not to like about that?
School desegregation seems like such an obvious topic for the Dear America series. I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before. Dawnie’s story takes place shortly after Brown vs. Board of Education, when she’s the only black student to attend the all-white junior high school. Talk about courage! Her diary begins months before she switches school, so we get to meet her family and community before the real trouble starts. By the time she steps into Prettyman Coburn (the school’s name, honest), I cared a lot more about her personal happiness than her role in historic events. Pinkney has created a character that brings history to life, and this book is a great read anytime, but especially timely for Black History Month.
3. Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer (Sept 2011)
Schanzer’s book is a straightforward account of what happened in Salem. There’s no need to embellish the horrific events, which led to the deaths of 20 innocent victims and ruined the lives of hundreds more. Quoting from primary sources, Schanzer explains the day-by-day choices that led a village to self-destruct. At the height of the hysteria, family members were accusing each other of witchcraft, and the jails were so full there was no one left to tend the farms. The true motives behind the witchhunt remain a mystery, and Schanzer doesn’t try to guess or condemn. Most of the Puritans got caught in a nightmare of their own making, and that’s scarier than any tale with a clear villain—because it shows how easily history can, and will, repeat itself. A must-read for anyone curious about history, or the true meaning of the word “witchhunt.”