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An Art History Mystery! Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Hiya!

It was recently announced that Under the Egg, a debut by Laura Marx Fitzgerald, is on the 2015-16 South Carolina Junior Award Book list! I read it this past fall and I  can tell you that this art history mystery definitely deserves the recognition!

Overview

When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgeralddiscovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

My Thoughts

Two topics of history that my students are always interested in are World War II and the Holocaust. Under the Egg is a middle grades mystery with quirky characters that includes a little bit of WWII, Holocaust, and art history tidbits in it. These history tidbits are definitely an intriguing side story to the WWII narrative, one that might not be known to many middle grade readers.

One thing that makes Under the Egg such a fun book is the quirky characters and friendships formed between them. Theo, our main character, is not your average thirteen year old – she has been raised mostly by her grandfather, who has recently died, has a mother who requires more care than Theo can give, and because of her family’s financial situation worries about how to make ends meet and wears the strangest clothes. Theo doesn’t realize that she’s lonely until she meets Bodhi, the daughter of two movie stars who lives in the neighborhood, who is also quirky and also lonely. The friendship that unfolds between Bodhi and Theo while they attempt to solve the mystery of the painting is one of the things that makes this book so special because neither girl realized just how much they needed companionship. The supporting cast of characters are also eccentric and each (An Episcopalian priest, the local diner owner and a helpful librarian) play an important role in uncovering the truth behind Theo’s painting. Characters like these are just plain fun to read!

Overall Under the Egg is a really quick read. I finished it in less than a day because I was so fascinated by the painting’s puzzle. Middle grade readers who are interested in World War II history or those who are just looking for a quality mystery with a witty, smart, and resourceful heroine will most definitely enjoy this one. Also if fans of other art related mysteries like Shakespeare’s Secret, Masterpiece, and Chasing Vermeer will find Under the Egg just as entertaining!

Details

Author: Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Publisher: Dial Books (March 18, 2014)
Format: Hardcover
Length: 247 pages
Series: Standalone
YA/MG: MG

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Complex Relationships: Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper

Hello friends!

It’s always nice when a book pleasantly surprises you. I didn’t go into reading Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper expecting to enjoy it as much as I did.

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On the winter day Little Hawk is sent into the woods alone, he can take only a bow and arrows, his handcrafted tomahawk, and the amazing metal knife his father Ghost Hawk by Susan Coopertraded for with the new white settlers. If Little Hawk survives three moons by himself, he will be a man.

John Wakely is only ten when his father dies, but he has already experienced the warmth and friendship of the nearby tribes. Yet his fellow colonists aren’t as accepting of the native people. When he is apprenticed to a barrel-maker, John sees how quickly the relationships between settlers and natives are deteriorating. His friendship with Little Hawk will put both boys in grave danger.

The intertwining stories of Little Hawk and John Wakely are a fascinating tale of friendship and an eye-opening look at the history of our nation. Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper also includes a timeline and an author’s note that discusses the historical context of this important and moving novel.

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I started Ghost Hawk, expecting to be underwhelmed, but quickly realized that I was turning page after page to find out what would happen next. I was completely riveted to this story of an unlikely friendship between two boys from vastly different worlds. Woven between this story of friendship is the turbulent history between colonial New Englanders and the Native Americans of the region detailing one of those difficult and change ridden era in American history. The complexity of the relationship between these two wildly distinct cultures is handled well here. Cooper doesn’t over simplify the overlapping layers of mistrust and kindness, but it is also written appropriately for middle grade readers to grasp to basic themes.

However, I do wonder if this is truly a book geared towards middle grades readers. It is already a struggle to get my students to pick up a historical fiction title, and there is at times a slowness to the story (that isn’t a negative thing just an observation). Due to the sometimes complex themes, I don’t know if any of my students would enjoy and completely understand the whole story and context of Ghost Hawk while reading it independently. I feel like it would be best read, and enjoyed, in a guided group setting (for middle school readers at least) so that they can discuss the story and it’s depth with other readers.

When I read other online reviews of this story, most people complained that they lost interest once the narration switches primarily to John’s life, instead of Little Hawk’s. It seems that people thought the pacing slowed done and the story just kind of plodded along, but I totally disagree. Maybe it’s because of my own preferences with regards to historic events, but I enjoyed reading about the Puritans and John’s experience so much more and this book became more interesting to me as it progressed. I was especially intrigued by the “rebel” Puritan and his breakaway colony, so much so that I’ve spent some extra time researching a little more about it.

In the end Ghost Hawk is a hauntingly beautiful story of friendship and tolerance of those who are different than ourselves. These themes are as important for adults to be reminded of as well as younger readers, so I think that readers of all ages (who enjoy historical fiction) will get something out of this book.

Author: Susan Cooper

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (August 27, 2013)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 336 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

Buy the Book:

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Book Trailer of the Week: Infinity Ring

Welcome back!

Today is Friday which means that it is officially Book Trailer of the Week time! Every week I love to exhibit my love for book trailers by showcasing one that has caught my attention.

This week’s book trailer is for The Infinity Ring series.  This is Scholastic’s next big series and it follows in the footsteps of The 39 Clues book series. The trailer is super quick so let’s check it out!

All the books in the series will be written by different authors.  James Dashner (whose books I love!) wrote the first book in the series, A Mutiny in Time by James DashnerA Mutiny in Time, so you know it’ll be good!

History is broken, and three kids must travel back in time to set it right! When best friends Dak Smyth and Sera Froste stumble upon the secret of time travel — a hand-held device known as the Infinity Ring — they’re swept up in a centuries-long secret war for the fate of mankind. Recruited by the Hystorians, a secret society that dates back to Aristotle, the kids learn that history has gone disastrously off course.Now it’s up to Dak, Sera, and teenage Hystorian-in-training Riq to travel back in time to fix the Great

My students were rabid fans of The 39 Clues books so I know they’re going to eat The Infinity Ring right up!  You better believe I’ll be playing this trailer on the morning announcements soon!

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Clearly an Award Winner: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Well, it looks like it’s time for a book review and this one is a about a good one.  As a part of the 2012 YA Audiobook Challenge, I recently finished Dead End in Norvelt, a middle grades novel by Jack Gantos which is the 2012 winner of the Newberry Medal for the best contribution to children’s literature and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.  Congrats Mr. Gantos!!

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack GantosMelding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, Dead End in Norvelt is a novel about an incredible two months for a kid named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation excitement are shot down when he is “grounded for life” by his feuding parents, and whose nose spews bad blood at every little shock he gets. But plenty of excitement (and shocks) are coming Jack’s way once his mom loans him out to help a feisty old neighbor with a most unusual chore—typewriting obituaries filled with stories about the people who founded his utopian town. As one obituary leads to another, Jack is launched on a strange adventure involving molten wax, Eleanor Roosevelt, twisted promises, a homemade airplane, Girl Scout cookies, a man on a trike, a dancing plague, voices from the past, Hells Angels . . . and possibly murder. Endlessly surprising, this sly, sharp-edged narrative is the author at his very best, making readers laugh out loud at the most unexpected things in a dead-funny depiction of growing up in a slightly off-kilter place where the past is present, the present is confusing, and the future is completely up in the air.

This is my first time reading anything by Jack Gantos, although he has written tons of other things that I was unaware were his books; like the Joey Pigza series.  I received this audiobook from MacMillan Audio (Thank You!!)  and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to author Jack Gantos narrate his fictionalized memoirs.

The picture Gantos paints of Norvelt , a small farming town established by Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1930s, is fabulously sketched.   It seems that small towns always have their fair share of quirky town “characters”, but sometimes the characters’ quirkiness doesn’t always come across the right way.  Well, Gantos doesn’t fail to flesh-out these characters in a way that makes the reader believe that they’re real people.  Real people who you know and love by the end of the story.  My favorite character is the charmingly stubborn and bossy Miss Volker, who hires Jack to help her write obituaries for the local newspaper when her arthritis is too bad.  Miss Volker is charming and crazy  and the warm wax scene where we meet her is absolutely hilarious and I was cracking up in my car while driving home from work.  I love how just as Miss Volker needs Jack to help her with daily tasks, Jack needs her to help him grow up and blossom a bit.

Also, I love the young boy, Jack.  He is your average twelve-year-old boy, wanting to be seen as grown up but still making irresponsible choices and just being a kid.  Jack’s character actually reminds me a lot of Ralphie from the film, A Christmas Story (you know the one with the leg lamp!).  In  A Christmas Story Ralphie is pretty much the king of daydreaming -  it’s very similar to the bookish Jack who has both a lot of smarts and a wildly overactive imagination.

All of the supporting characters are so interesting, humorous and well written.  I feel like I grew up in Norvelt right along the young Jack Gantos and his friends.  The tomboyish Bunny, Jack’s friend and daughter of a funeral home director, is such a good complement to Jack’s more hesitant ways.  And the way in which Jack is often caught between his mother, a life time Norvelter, and father, World War II vet, (and their very different philosophies on life) is both sad and sweet at the same time.

Gantos also weaves small snippets of history through Jack’s reading and love of all things historical or Ms. Volker’s obituaries.  He uses these snippets to help young Jack realize the importance of history. How it’s not just to read it and know it but to use one’s knowledge of the past to prevent one from making the same mistakes again. This history provides and important backdrop to Jack’s journey of maturity.

Once you read Dead End in Norvelt you understand why it is an award winner.  Gantos is clearly an incredibly talent writer specializing in melding the odd with the humorous with regular daily life.  I recommend Dead End in Norvelt to all readers middle grades and up.  Be prepared to laugh!

Author: Jack Gantos

Publisher: Macmillan Young Listeners; Unabridged edition (September 13, 2011)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 7 hrs and 16 mins

Narrator(s): Jack Gantos

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book: Dead End in Norvelt