Annette Laing's The Snipesville Chronicles
Whale in a Fishbowl
Elementary , Fiction , Picture Book / May 1, 2018

Wednesday the whale has spent her entire life in a very large fishbowl in a city near the sea. When she jumps, she can see the ocean, but doesn’t know what it is. One day a girl tells her she belongs in the sea, and Wednesday contemplates this before becoming frustrated, overturning her bowl, and finding her way “home”. This attractive picture book features full-page illustrations in muted colors, with a foldout page near the end. Since the setting is not in a zoo or aquarium, it’s not really cautioning against these practices, however the subject of captivity is apparent. “To all who are waiting, unknowingly, to be free.” Perfect for children (and adults) who love whales!

Ruby in the Ruins
Elementary , Fiction , Historical , Picture Book / April 29, 2018

A young girl and her mother survive the London bombings during WWII and await her father’s homecoming. When it arrives, Ruby finds him strange–whether because he’d changed a lot or she simply did not remember him, it does not specify. However, when she finds herself in trouble after playing in the fenced-off ruins of a bombed out building, he comes to her rescue. This story recounts the hardships of the war, the losses that families in London suffered, and the ways in which they pieced their lives back together. The author is also the illustrator, and has done a wonderful job depicting a devastating landscape with bright and cheerful reunions and children’s shenanigans (ink, gouache, and watercolor were used). The cover fonts complement the artwork perfectly and the board interiors feature interesting period ads.

Lincoln and His Boys
Elementary , Non-Fiction / March 19, 2018

This children’s chapter book, aimed at ages 8 – 12 years, is an easy read at 96 pages and features beautiful full-page illustrations. It begins in 1859 in the voice of one of Abraham Lincoln’s sons, Willie, who has been allowed to travel with his father on a business trip to discuss Lincoln’s running for President of the United States. Later, it follows another son, Tad, when the family is ensconced in the White House. This book shows a side of Abraham Lincoln that you’ll not find in most biographies–viewed through the eyes of his beloved children, and includes the wisdom he imparted to them through the difficult years of the Civil War. I greatly enjoyed this intimate look at this highly documented president, and even learned a few things I hadn’t known. The author states that all events are true–one heart-rending scene shows the youngest child giving a food gift he’d received to a hungry little girl at a train station–and includes an Author’s Note with details. It is a very attractive book that would make a nice gift, or a handsome addition to a Lincoln collection. originally posted on my historical review website

The Case of the Feathered Mask
Elementary , Fiction , Historical / March 19, 2018

Maisey Hitchens, Victorian sleuth and boarding house maid, is back to solve another case! One of her grandmother’s tenants, Professor Tobin, is donating most of his collection of artifacts to the British Museum. Before everything is packed and ready, a thief breaks in and steals a rare and elaborate South American mask, leaving a few clues behind that Maisey quickly discovers. With her little dog, Eddie, in tow, Maisey and her friend George set off through the streets of London in search of an unlikely culprit. Meanwhile the professor is harassed by an ill-mannered museum worker, and the police watch the house for any further suspicious activity. This beautifully illustrated chapter book, in a style similar to the Fancy Nancy series, is aimed at ages 7 – 10 years. Though the artwork is cutesy and the main character is a 12-year-old girl, the story will appeal to both genders, as the heart of the story is the origin of the mask and its mysterious disappearance. The supporting characters are a butcher’s boy, whom Maisey helped in the first book in the series, and several other boarders at the house who have also been featured in the other books. Although the…

Ghosts of War: Fallen in Fredericksburg
Elementary , Fiction , Historical / March 19, 2018

Fourth in a series about a trio of 6th grade paranormal sleuths, this story finds the protagonists once again on the trail of historical clues. Anderson, Greg, and Julie are practicing songs for their band, Ghosts of War, in the basement of Anderson’s uncle’s old antique store in Frederickburg, Virginia, when a Civil War ghost appears. Something is not quite right about this ghost, and as the friends dig deeper into the mystery, they find there is more history surrounding them than they’d ever imagined. Discovering the ghost’s background story is of utmost importance as the anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg looms. The history relayed in this novel is impressive, yet has been written in such a way to keep a young reader’s interest. Parts are humorous, and there are also life lessons and emotional scenes, such as Anderson’s care and concern for his ailing mother. Greg is also dealing with problems at home, as he goes to family AA meetings with his father, a Vietnam veteran. The three main characters may seem familiar to Harry Potter readers, as they have some of the same physical and personality traits as Rowling’s protagonists, such as Greg’s red hair, Julie’s cleverness…

Ghosts of War: AWOL in North Africa
Elementary , Fiction , Historical / March 19, 2018

Friends and band mates Anderson, Greg and Julie are 6th grade students living in modern-day Fredericksburg, Virginia. In the previous two books of the Ghosts of War series, they discovered a trunk in Anderson’s uncle’s junk shop that contained old war relics. Although they had tried to avoid the trunk since the last near-disaster with a hand grenade, there was an emergency that necessitated the use of a medic kit that was inside. As expected, a ghost appeared shortly after, and the kids had another mystery on their hands. This case seemed easy at first—the soldier’s identification was fastened to the medic kit, and so Anderson, Greg, and Julie jumped right into researching his records. When they found a living relative, however, the real mystery began as they discovered a packet of letters that had been partially blacked out. Meanwhile the kids were dealing with the ongoing problem of an 8th grade bully, Belman, who seems to be a recurring issue throughout the series. The amount of information on WWII in North Africa is in depth, yet handled with an easy-to-follow clarity for young readers. This lesser-known part of the war, along with many facts on conscientious objectors and African-American…

Charlie and the Grandmothers
Elementary , Fiction , Historical / March 19, 2018

In this young adult Victorian-era, lightly gothic tale, a brother and sister find themselves imprisoned by a pair of ghoulish grandmothers at an equally morbid farmhouse that seems to come to life with changing corridors and disappearing doors. For 12-year-old Charlie Oughtt, a slightly obsessive, easily distressed boy, it is a nightmare come true. His adventurous sister, Georgie, enjoys the journey until a real evil emerges and the two must fight to survive. Early in the book there is a definitive late 19th-century theme, with mention of the customs and inventions of the time, though a year is not specified. Later, some surprising historical references emerge, making this fit more within the historical fiction genre, rather than the fantasy and horror aspect that is apparent. The author has imaginatively combined bits from popular children’s fables with the psychology behind sleep, dreams and the mind. Though the concept may be a bit confusing for young readers, the characters are endearing, the story moves quickly, and there is the added bonus of gruesome illustrations to match the tone of the narrative. This story will resonate with readers who enjoy slightly macabre tales and imaginative settings rather than straightforward historical fiction. originally posted…

The Race Against Time
Elementary , Fiction , Historical , Timeslip / March 19, 2018

Third in Geronimo Stilton’s Journey through Time series, this story finds Geronimo and his gang on another adventure: this time to the prehistoric era, ancient Greece, and the Renaissance. Geronimo is a nervous mouse, shy and quiet, but always seems to find trouble, especially with his annoying and inconsiderate cousin, Trap, in tow. Trap, however, has a knack for easing into any society with friendly manners and clever ruses, and thus is a valuable asset to the team. Geronimo’s resourceful sister, Theo, helpful nephew, Benjamin, and friend, little Bugsy Wugsy, complete the time-traveling set appointed by the scientist Paws Von Volt. With plenty of cheese references, the eager mice start in the land of mammoths and cavemen, easily blending in with a generous offering that saves the day. They brave a stampede and other beasts, learning all about living in the wild and harsh landscape. Next they travel to Greece, where they meet great philosophers and Geronimo tries his pen with a playwriting competition. Last on their agenda is the Renaissance, where they find themselves in Italy in the company of none other than Leonardo da Vinci. All three eras are a good deal of time apart, and so not…

Behind Enemy Lines
Elementary , Fiction , Historical / March 19, 2018

Dak, Sera, and Riq are kids on a very important mission: to save the future world from an evil organization by time traveling and putting history back on course. They are with a group called the Hystorians—started by none other than Aristotle—and are firmly pitted against an organization called the SQ, the details of which are still unknown in the series. This time the characters are warped by the Infinity Ring to Aberdeen, Scotland in April, 1943. World War II is in full swing, and they learn their mission is convincing the Germans that a British ruse is the truth, thus allowing a victory for the Allies. A time-traveling SQ villain, however, is hot on their trail and they soon find themselves running toward history’s enemies, the Nazis, in spite of the danger. It’s a race against time to tie up loose ends, and then onto further challenges coming in the next book. This is one of the tougher books to get into without having read the previous books in the series. There is enough info to get the gist of the storyline, but a reader would more comfortably enjoy it with prior knowledge of the first five novels. However,…

Leaving China
Elementary , Fiction , Historical / March 19, 2018

This illustrated young adult book by the author/illustrator of the award winning picture book, I Stink!, depicts James McMullan’s unique upbringing on a U. S. missionary outpost in China, and his travels to the United States, Canada and India. Forming the first American orphanage for abandoned baby girls in China, James’ grandparents began a legacy and eventually a family venture, The James McMullan Company, specializing in exporting embroidery made by the young Chinese girls they had saved. James’ parents and grandparents are prominently featured, but also his life throughout WWII and Japanese-occupied China, which his family narrowly escaped. James’ ever changing home base, experiences in different schools, and struggle with his mother’s problems are articulated in a manner that would appeal to ages 12 & up. The detailed artwork on every other page fully represents the complimenting text, and features historically accurate images of James’ everyday life peppered with poignant moments in the family’s history. This is a well-written and beautifully illustrated historical account and offers young readers a look into an unusual setting during a time of war. originally posted on Historical Novels Review