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.

The Chronocar
Fiction , Sci-Fi , Teen , Timeslip / April 25, 2018

This story opens in 1888 with the son of a slave, Simmie Johnson, working his way to Alabama where he hopes to attend Tuskegee College. Simmie is gifted and scientifically inclined, but trouble courts him with every step. Fast forward to 2015, Tony Carpenter, a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology, comes across an old science journal written by a Dr. Simmie L. Johnson more than a century before. Coupled with the teachings of Nicola Tesla, Tony builds the time machine described by Johnson and sets out to find him in the past. Unfortunately, things don’t go exactly as planned, and Tony finds himself in a series of dilemmas. Due to some language and violence, this is recommended for mature or older teens. It portrays the ugly realities of racial violence in the Reconstruction era as well as the continued troubles during Jim Crow. Through the character of Tony, current racial tensions are explored and compared. Those familiar with the landscape of Chicago will enjoy the early 20th century descriptions of the city. Science fiction, admittedly, is not my preferred genre, and I don’t feel qualified enough to expound upon the time-travel details–of which are copious. It is a…

Wolf Hollow
Fiction , Historical , Middle Grade / March 20, 2018

In western Pennsylvania during WWII, there was an area in between farmlands called Wolf Hollow. The name, coined several generations back, originated from the story of a great wolf purge in which Annabelle McBride’s grandfather participated and related to her years later. There were many old secrets in the woods, and for as long as she could remember, a man named Toby had walked the grounds continually. He lived in an old shack behind an abandoned, burned house. Toby was a quiet and mysterious WWI veteran, and Annabelle’s family took pity on him, leaving him provisions at times in an old crate, and even allowing him to use their camera. Everything changed for Annabelle the year she was turning twelve. Betty Glengarry, a mean-spirited bully, came to stay with her grandparents not far from the McBride farm, and immediately chose Annabelle as her target on the walk to and from school. As events escalated, Toby eventually came under Betty’s radar and she shifted her focus to him, knowing Annabelle’s fondness for the gentle wanderer. This is the story of the residual effects of war, the harmfulness of bullying, and several different types of prejudices. Annabelle makes an admirable character, as…

Come Next Spring
Fiction , Historical , Teen / March 19, 2018

Salina Harris is a stubborn, outspoken twelve-year-old from a small mountain town in Tennessee. It’s 1949, and while WWII left scarred lives in the community, life goes on and with it comes change. Salina is fretting over her older brother’s new role as caregiver to a weak foal, as it means he is spending less time with her. Also, her best friend, Mayella, seems to be focusing on her future—without Salina. When the teacher, Miss Williams, begins pairing Salina with a new girl, Scooter, it opens several opportunities for the girls, and ultimately gives Salina the nudge she needs to see her world differently. Themes explored in this appealing young adult novel include Germanophobia, resistance to change, rivalry, and friendship. It is, of course, a coming-of-age story with Salina growing up within the pages from her experiences and the wise words of those around her. Salina will resonate with young readers who enjoy characters who have a love for books, as that is the basis for her personality even if she’s a bit fiery at times. The historical details of life on a farm, and in a small Southern community, are spot on for its mid-20th century setting. Overall all…

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…

The Search for the Homestead Treasure
Fiction , Historical , Teen / March 19, 2018

In early 20th-century Minnesota, 14-year-old Martin Gunnarsson, a descendant of Scandinavian immigrants, is moving from the city to his family’s deserted farmland. A recent tragedy had left the Gunnarssons brokenhearted and with few funds. A fresh starts seemed ideal—to everyone except for Martin, who sorely missed his friends and school. However, Martin’s father went off to work for the winter, leaving his son in charge of the barren farm, his grieving mother, prickly though well-meaning great-aunt, and spirited little sister. When his father is unable to return for spring planting, Martin takes it upon himself to tackle the work alone. A chance meeting with a Gypsy boy, Samson, changes Martin in many ways. The Roma people are outcasts and feared as vagrants by most of society—Martin’s great-aunt especially. Yet Samson displays nothing but loyalty, friendship and kindness, and is a great asset to the laborious work. Just as the planting is coming along, a devious banker threatens to foreclose on the farm. One shimmer of hope appears with the discovery of an old diary, written by Martin’s aunt, who died years before of diphtheria. A treasure, which was not named other than labeled a dowry, was said to be hidden…

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…