Sarah, Plain and Tall

Author: Patricia MacLachlan

Age Range: 8-10

Interest Range: 8-10

Genre: Historical Fiction

Plot: Anna and Caleb’s mother passed away years ago, shortly after Caleb was born. Their house is no longer full of singing, and their father is tired of raising a family on his own. One day he announces that he as been writing to a woman from Maine who is going to come and visit them. She may even stay and be their new mother. Sarah introduces herself to the children through letters, and describes herself as plain and tall. When she shows up, the children are excited at the prospect of such a kind and interesting lady becoming a part of their family. But as much as Sarah enjoys the children and her new life in the frontier, she also misses home: her brother, her aunts, and most of all the ocean. Will Sarah decide to stay in the prairie? Or will she miss the sea so much that she must return home again?

Review: Such a sweet book to touch on the ideas of a deceased mother and what used to happen in families in the time of the American Frontier. Mail-order brides are certainly not something that we think of often today, but at that point in history it was not uncommon for people to place advertisements for wives to join existing families out west. Told from the point of view of the children, this story is sweet and you cannot help but wish for Sarah to decide to stay with them. A great book to show how stepmothers can easily become a loving part of a family that needs to fill a void- not to replace the mother completely, but to help usher in a new time for everyone involved. Also a great story for those who are interested in the American West during the time of expansion.

Themes: Changes at Home, Building New Relationships, Death, Loss, Loneliness

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery Medal Winner in 1986, Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction 1986, Golden Kite Award 1986 (for excellence in children’s literature)

Main Characters:

Anna: The oldest of two children who have recently lost their mother. She is intelligent, and sometimes cross with her younger brother who she sometimes blames for her mother’s early death (which happened post-childbirth). Anna desperately wants Sarah to decide to stay with them and be their new mother, but remains distant and worried that she will miss her home too much and leave them.

Caleb: The younger of the family’s children, who is now a few years old (maybe 5 or 6?) and loves to hear the story of his birth and stories about their mother. He is inquisitive and sometimes rude and difficult. He also very much wants Sarah to decide to stay- so much that he cries when she leaves for town for the day because he is convinced that he as been bad and she will buy a ticket to go back to Maine.

Jacob Witting: After years of raising two children on his own, Jacob is tired and wants to pursue having another wife. He decides to place an advertisement, describing the family and their situation, and eventually hears from Sarah. The two of them seem to get along very well and are kind to each other.

Sarah: A woman from Maine, who never married. Her brother had recently married and the family house was now being run by his new wife. Sarah desired a change and that is why she answered Jacob’s advertisement. Although she misses the sea most of all, she adjusts to life on the prairie relatively easily.

Bibliographic Info:

MacLachlan. P. (1985). Sarah, Plain and Tall. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

Tagline:

Mother has been gone for years and Papa is tired of raising two children on his own. Will Sarah be everything the family is hoping for?

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The Sisters Grimm

Author: Michael Buckley

Age Range: 10-12 (Kirkus)

Interest Range: 8-12

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery

Plot: Sabrina and Daphne are pros at breaking out of foster homes. Ever since their parents disappeared, they’ve been escaping from each bad situation and getting back to the orphanage as quick as possible. But this time it’s different. This time, the woman they’re going to be living with claims to be their real grandmother. But that can’t be true, because Sabrina and Daphne have known for years that their grandmother is dead. That’s what their parents said. And this lady also seems to believe that fairy tales are real. Not only real, but that she’s surrounded by them. Granny Relda believes that the town of Ferry Port Landing is crawling with fairy tales, and that it is her job to sort out all of these Everafters’ mysteries. Is she really their grandmother? Will she be able to help the girls find their parents? And just WHAT is going on with all these fairy tale reminiscent characters? Is anyone in this town sane?

Review: Being a huge fan of fairy tales, I absolutely loved this book and the others in the series that I have read so far (at this point I’m on #4). Sabrina and Daphne are two very different girls, and both very set in their ways. Sabrina is skeptical, often so much that it can blind her to the truth. Daphne is trusting, and wants very much to settle into this amazing new existence that she has found. As the books progress, they begin to deal with the issue of prejudice. Sabrina believes that all of the Everafters are horrible and not to be trusted. This often comes back to bite her and is a big part of the third book. I’m curious to see how this plays out over the course of the series. They also deal a lot with the idea of right and wrong with respect to the use of magic, which is interesting since magic is such a popular topic in much middle grade fiction right now. Lovers of fairy tales will have more fun with this series than those who are not as familiar with folklore. Many references will go over readers’ heads if they don’t already have a working knowledge of the best known fairy tale stories.

Themes: Changes at Home, Homelessness, Building New Relationships,

Additional Info:

Series Info: This is book 1 in a 9-book series, which has been completely published at this writing.

Main Characters:

Sabrina Grimm: The older of the two sisters, Sabrina is focused on finding their parents and interested in nothing else. She refuses to believe that this new woman is their grandmother and cannot believe that she would be silly enough to believe that fairy tales are real.

Daphne Grimm: Daphne wants very much to believe that Granny Relda is really their relative and that Ferry Port Landing is really full of Everafters. She delves into the detective work and wants very much to take on the family job of keeping the Everafters in line.

Granny Relda: The mother of the girls’ father, she really is their grandmother. Relda wants to convince the girls to believe her and have them help her with her detective work. She is slightly odd, but who wouldn’t be when they’ve spent their life surrounded by real-life fairy tales? She also wants to find her son and his wife, but is taking a more careful approach, which is not enough for Sabrina.

Bibliographic Info:

Buckley, M. (2007). The Fairy-Tale Detectives. New York: Amulet Books.

Tagline:

The Grimm sisters are about to realize that their family history is not as simple as they thought. When faced with real-life fairy tales, what would you do?

The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate

 

Author: Scott Nash

Age Range: 10-12 (Kirkus reviews)

Interest Range: 9-12

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure Story

Plot: Welcome to the world of avian pirates! The fearsome Captain Blue Jay has been leading his air ship, the Grosbeak, and crew on a very successful run of pillaging and plundering. But everything changes when he decides to keep an egg that they’ve found as a prize for his collection. The presence of the egg throws the crew into disarray- loyal Junco, the navigator,  has been leaving her post to try and hatch it! She convinces Jay that this egg is truly special and will bring them adventure, so the entire crew is enlisted to keep the egg safe. When the egg finally hatches, they find the Junco was right- this adventure will be like nothing they’ve ever dreamed. Along the way, learn a few new pirate songs and let the Jolly Robin fly!

Review: This book was definitely great for pirate lovers. A true pirate story all the way, complete with legends , and sword fights, and death, but made more kid-friendly because the characters are all birds (and a few other animals). This story will capture the mind of any child fascinated by pirates or birds, and the author has done a great job of describing details like how their ship flies through the air. Pirate-obsessed younger readers with strong abilities will enjoy this story too, and won’t need much help from parents to get through it. A unique option for the reader who wants nothing but adventure, this might help them bridge the gap into the fantasy world.

Themes: Coming of Age, Changes at Home, Bullying, Loss, Death

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Blue Jay: The captain of the Grosbeak, and infamous pirate. There are many legends about his ferocity, but those who know him best know otherwise. He’s survived six mutinies, and piloted multiple ships, but this next adventure will go down in the books as his biggest achievement yet.

Junco: The navigator for the Grosbeak. It is her instinct that tells them the new egg is important and should be hatched. More loyal than any other shipmate, everyone is surprised by her crazed behavior surrounding the egg. Junco becomes a kind of surrogate mother to the hatchling.

Gabriel: The hatchling, who turns out to be a gosling. Blue Jay refers to him often as a godling, since in their world geese are often thought of as gods.

Bibliographic Info:

Nash, S. (2012). The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

Tagline:

Pirates can sail the high seas, why not the high skies? Join Captain Blue Jay and his crew on the greatest adventure a bunch of pirate birds has ever seen!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

 

Author:Brian Selznick

Age Range: 9-12

Interest Range: 9-12

Genre: Historical Fiction

Plot: Hugo was destined to be a clockmaker. His father was one before him, and his fingers seem to just know exactly what to do with all of those tiny metal cogs and springs. But one day, a terrible accident happens and Hugo must go live with his uncle, the man who maintains all of the clocks at the train station. Over time, Hugo learns how to keep the clocks running himself, which is good because eventually his uncle disappears too. While living on his own and maintaining the clocks so no one will notice that his uncle is gone, Hugo begins to repair a fantastic old automaton that he believes will hold a secret message from his father. But after meeting Isabelle and uncovering the real message of the automaton, Hugo will embark on a journey he never even dreamed of. And just maybe he’ll manage to find his place in the world after all.

Review: Paris in the 1930s and a discussion of the early days of film- I had no idea that this book would hold so much! I knew it had won the Caldecott, and I’ve sold it to many readers, but before this I’ve never sat down to actually experience more of the story than flipping through the beautiful drawings. The blending of full blown picture book and text make this a magical experience in itself, often giving you the sensation of sitting back and being at the movies. I completely understand now why this was made into a film. It practically screams for it the entire time you’re reading it. Hugo is an interesting character. He hates stealing and tries not to do it any more than necessary, but often his story is launched forward when he gets caught for doing something he hates. His ability with clockwork gives him hope for a better future than running through the walls of the train station, but without guidance he has no idea how to get there. Isabelle is in a similar yet different situation: no parents and prone to stealing things and picking locks, but being raised by people who truly love her. Hugo and Isabelle are perfect for each other.

Themes: Coming of Age, Overcoming Challenges, Making new Friends

Additional Info:

Adaptations: This book was made into the movie Hugo by Martin Scorsese in 2011, his first in 3D, which won 5 Oscars

Main Characters:

Hugo Cabret: An orphan, who is secretly living in the Paris train station, maintaining the clocks like his uncle taught him in the hopes of not being caught and sent to the orphanage. In his spare time he is repairing the clockwork automaton that his father had found in a museum attic. Even though he knows otherwise, Hugo has convinced himself that if he can get it working he will receive a message from his father telling him what to do now that he is on his own.

Issabelle: A young girl that Hugo meets in the train station. Reluctantly, they become friends. But they are both prone to stealing and lying, so the relationship is rough. But Isabelle is very smart, always borrowing books from the train station bookshop to read and learn about everything she can and sneaking into movies for fun.

Papa George: The keeper of the toy shop in the train station where Hugo frequently steals clockwork toys to get parts for his automaton. One day George catches Hugo in the act and takes the notebook that contains everything he knows about his automaton. In desperation to get the notebook back, Hugo begins working for George. Also, Papa George is one of Isabelle’s godparents and caretakers.

Mama Jeanne: Isabelle’s godmother and George’s wife, Jeanne has been keeping secrets about her husband for years. She has locked away all the things that will remind George of his real past in an effort to protect him.

Bibliographic Info:

Selznick, B. (2007). The Invention of Hugo Cabret. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Tagline:

Sometimes the machinery of the world just lines up, and everything falls into place. Even for an orphan who lives in a train station.

The Hunger Games

 

Author: Suzanne Collins

Age Range: 11-18 (Kirkus Reviews)

Interest Range: 10-Adult (based on popularity)

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy, Dystopian Fiction

Plot: Once, the Districts rebelled against the Capitol. As punishment, all 12 now have to compete in the yearly Hunger Games. Each District must send two Tributes, one boy and one girl, to compete to the death in the Capitol. The winner will be rich beyond their wildest dreams, but at what cost? To make things worse, the rest of the citizens are required to watch the televised coverage (think Reality TV-style) as their loved ones battle it out and eventually die. This year, Katniss Everdeen has done something unique: against better judgment, she has volunteered to participate in the games to save another citizen from being slaughtered. But will her hunting and survival skills be enough to keep her alive against 22 bloodthirsty strangers and one boy to whom she owes her own life?

Review: A face-paced dystopian novel, this book is simply addictive. I can completely understand why so many people have wanted to read it. Katniss is a strong character, with plenty of flaws, placed in a very precarious situation and the reader will sympathize with her immediately. The story itself is violent (young people being forced to fight to the death is going to be violent no matter how you describe it), and the feelings and emotions that Katniss experiences and describes are things that tweens may only have an inkling of, but I do not think that it is 100% inappropriate for tween readers. Tweens want to read up when the books are popular, and I genuinely think that this book would raise questions for an inquisitive 10-year-old, while flying over the heads of those who are not yet ready to “get it”. Those individuals probably will not enjoy the book as much as their peers anyway and wonder to themselves what all the fuss was about while on the outside they gush about how amazing it was. Would I choose this book for a middle grade reader? No. But would I try to prevent them from having access to it and reading it if they were interested? Also, no.

Themes: Dystopian society, Death, Socioeconomic Issues, Freedom, Relationships

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Katniss Everdeen: 16-years-old, a hunter who provides for her mother and sister on a daily basis. It is her (illegal) hunting skills that have kept the family alive and well since the death of her father. Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games when her younger sister is picked at the Reaping.

Gabe: Katniss’s hunting partner, an 18-year-old boy. It is his last year for eligibility for the Reaping. Just before the ceremony, he suggests that he and Katniss could run away together into the wild and survive together with their combined skills.

Peeta Mellark: The Baker’s son, and the other tribute from District 12 for this year’s Hunger Games. He has secretly been in love with Katniss since they were small children. He and Katniss align as “Star-crossed lovers” to gain favor with sponsors and earn help in the competition- but for him it’s more than a ruse.

Bibliographic Info:

Collins, S. (2008). The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Tagline:

Katniss is a survivor. She has to be.

Esperanza Rising

 

Author: Pam Munoz Ryan

Age Range: 9-15

Interest Range: 9-15

Genre: Historical Fiction

Plot: Esperanza comes from a wealthy Mexican family. Her father owned a ranch that spanned thousands of acres, and her family surrounded Esperanza with love and comfort. But the day before her 13th birthday, her father is murdered and everything changes. Soon, Esperanza finds herself on a train, moving to America with a family of ranch hands that her father used to employ. Life in America is hard. It is the beginning of the Great Depression, and people are struggling to find work. Esperanza’s new family is living in California, working on one of the company farms doing backbreaking work for very low wages. Some of the Mexican immigrants want to organize and demand a better life. Will Esperanza ever be able to adjust to this new situation? And just what will happen to those who do decide to fight for their advancement?

Review: This book covers so many difficult topics. Esperanza deals with death, loss of an entire known life, a change of economic class, she is forced to grow up very early in life and take on the role of a provider before she even turns 14. Around her big things are happening: workers are trying to form Unions and stand up for their rights as citizens and human beings, plus the depression is happening and forcing more cheap labor to move out west and make their working situation even more precarious. And Esperanza struggles with it all. She is often upset, refusing to accept her new circumstances and often stubborn. Eventually she learns how to exist in this new life, and even comes around to understanding why people would strike and want to fight for something better.

Themes: Coming of age, Loss, Race, Homelessness, The Great Depression, Immigration

Additional Info:

Awards: Pura Belpre Award (for a Latino writer who best portrays the Latin cultural experience in a book for children/young adults), Jane Addams Peace Award (book advances the causes of peace and social equality), Willa Cather Literary Award (women’s stories set in the American West), Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

Main Characters:

Esperanza: A 13-year old girl who immigrates to America with her mother and a family of field workers who were once employed by her father. She is forced to learn the life of a field hand and deals first-hand with the immigration process and the hardships of life as a laborer in the Great Depression.

Ramona: Esperanza’s mother, who remains strong to get her daughter to America, but then falls ill and enters a deep depression. She is eventually hospitalized, and Esperanza is left to take care of herself.

Miguel: The young man of the family that Esperanza travels to America with. The two of them had been friends as children, but when Esperanza learned about classes in Mexico, she shunned Miguel’s friendship and declared that they were on “opposite sides of the river”. Moving to America has placed him on even ground with Esperanza, and their relationship changes again. He hopes to find work with the railroad, since he is gifted with machinery.

Bibliographic Info:

Ryan, P. M. (2000). Esperanza Rising. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Tagline:

Everything can change in an instant. When Esperanza’s family moves to the United States, she is forced to learn how true this really is.

The Peculiar

 

Author: Stefan Bachmann

Age Range: 10-15 (Kirkus Reviews)

Interest Range: 10-15

Genre: Mystery, Fantasy, Steampunk

Plot: Bartholomew Kettle is half-human and half-faery. He is living in post-war London, post faery war, that is. And in this world, the humans won the war and people like Bartholomew are scorned. So he spends his days trying to stay out of sight, not be noticed, and hope that life can proceed as normal for his mother, sister, and himself. But one day he is seen, and not by the right people. Bartholomew is being stalked by sinister beings, and just might be the next victim in a line of horrible murders.  But then the string of murders is brought before Parliament, and Mr. Arthur Jelliby realizes that he just may have a clue as to who is committing these crimes. Can Bartholomew outrun the dark magic that pursues him? Will Jelliby put the pieces together in time to save the next victim? And just who is that mysterious lady in the plum-colored dress?

Review: This fast-paced book is action-packed. The almost 400 pages seemed to fly by. The stories of Bartholomew and Mr. Jelliby revolve around each other tighter and tighter until they are inevitably brought together to solve the mystery for each of their own personal reasons and benefit. Bartholomew’s life is far from easy: he is being raised by a single mother, their family is struggling, Bartholomew hates doing chores, and just wants a friend. These elements combine to convince Bartholomew that he should summon a domesticated faery to take care of all of their problems. His desire to use magic to solve their problems makes him even more relatable, I think, and the troubles that this easy escape bring upon his family is a great lesson for anyone to learn. But the story is dark, and deals with some very menacing topics and descriptions (dark magic, evil faeries, violent murder, disturbing characters) that make this read most appropriate for readers who like a thrill and enjoy that prickly sensation that comes from reading horror.

Themes: Coming of age, Loss, Problem Solving

Additional Info:

Fun Fact: The author began working on this book when he was 16 years old. It was published when he was only 18.

Main Characters:

Bartholomew Kettle: A young changeling boy who hates doing chores and wishes things were different for his family. He is drawn to using magic to better his family’s lot in life, and this leads him to some pretty sticky situations. His own curiosity gets him marked as the next victim in a series of violent murders.

Mr. Arthur Jelliby: A politician who never wanted to be one. A very kind man who has no interest in the backstabbing, gossip, and plotting that his job requires. He’d rather sleep in and do nice things for his wife than do anything that might cause a stir. But then he learns some things that he shouldn’t, and is suddenly sucked into a murder mystery that he’d much rather have nothing to do with. But out of his own kindness he decides to pursue his leads, and try to help the mysterious lady in plum.

Mr. Lickerish: Lord Chancellor and the first Sidhe (a type of faery) ever to be appointed to the British government. Known as a very stand-up citizen, he may be hiding things from the public eye.

Melusine: The lady in plum, who seems to have a split personality.

Bibliographic Info:

Bachman, S. (2012). The Peculiar. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Tagline:

“Don’t get yourself noticed and you won’t get yourself hanged” are this young boy’s words to live by.

Bud, Not Buddy

Author: Christopher Paul Curtis

Age Range: 10-13

Interest Range: 10-13

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction

Plot: Bud is living in an orphanage during the Great Depression. After fighting his way out of a foster home, he runs away and decides to find the man that he is sure is his real father. He knows, because his mother left him hints, that his real father is a bass player in a jazz band in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bud embarks on a mission that will take him through a cardboard city for homeless families, attempting to ride the rails, and eventually walking from Flint, Michigan, as far as he can stand. When he is picked up on the side of the road by Lefty Lewis, his luck begins to change. Lefty knows Bud’s father, and eventually takes him to him. But Herman E. Calloway is a cold, mean man, and much older than Bud expects. Is he really Bud’s father? Will Bud ever find a real home?

Review: Bud is a wonderful character. Street smart and funny, very relatable to young boys even today. He fights off bullies and vampires and his list of Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself are something that any child can relate to and appreciate. His drive and determination make him a force to be reckoned with, and it’s obvious from the beginning that he’ll do anything to find the man he believes to be his father, even walk that 120 miles in 24 hours. The book also paints a good introductory picture of the Great Depression and what it meant for a lot of families, as well as the race relations that existed during that time period. A good way to introduce readers to that time in history.

Themes: Coming of age, Loss, Bullying, Race, Homelessness

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery award winner, 2000; winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for recognition of outstanding African-American authors

Main Characters:

Bud Caldwell: His name is Bud, not Buddy, because his mother warned him constantly in his youth not to ever let anyone call him anything other than Bud. Bud’s mother died when he was 6, and that was 4 years ago. He’s been living between an orphanage he calls The Home and various foster families that entire time, and after one-too-many beatings he escapes and is on the run to find the man he believes is his father. Along the way, Bud experiences a lot of luck as he encounters Hooverville, tries to jump a train, learns about unions, and tries to walk 120 miles to Grand Rapids. Bud’s determination is something to admire, and he takes everything that he is handed in stride ready for the next encounter.

Lefty Lewis: A kindly stranger who intercepts Bud on his long walk just outside of Owosso and eventually deposits him with Calloway and his band.

Herman E. Calloway: The man that Bud believes is his father, and who we eventually learn is actually his grandfather. Calloway is cold and difficult to deal with, but agrees to keep Bud around when pressured by his bandmates. He eventually learns the truth about his relationship with Bud, at the same time learning that his long-lost daughter is deceased.

Bibliographic Info:

Curtis, C. P. (1999). Bud, Not buddy. New York: Random House, Inc.

Tagline:

When one door closes, another opens. Join Bud as he sets out to find his father.

Like Pickle Juice On A Cookie

 

Author: Julie Sternberg

Illustrator: Matthew Cordell

Age Range: 7-9 (Kirkus)

Interest Range: 7-9

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Novel in Verse

Plot: Eleanor has just lost her one and only beloved babysitter, Bibi, who has moved from Brooklyn to Florida to be with her own elderly father. This is terrible news. Bibi has been a constant presence in her life for the past 8 years! No one will ever replace her. For awhile her parents are able to stay home with her. But then comes Natalie, with her lemonade stands and board games, and doing all of the things that Bibi used to do. Will she be able to fill Bibi’s shoes? Will Eleanor ever be okay with a new babysitter?

Review: Eleanor is in a tough spot. Having had two parents that work her entire life, Bibi has been like another family member for her, and now she is gone. But Eleanor is a smart girl, and although she doesn’t want anyone to replace Bibi, she eventually realizes that Natalie is a good babysitter too. And Natalie is impressive because she doesn’t try to fill Bibi’s space completely and sympathizes with Eleanor over her loss. A learning experience for both young kids dealing with loss or a change in routine and the adults that are helping them through it, this would be a great book for parents or adults to read with their kids.

Themes: Coming of age, Change in Routine, Loss

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Eleanor: An 8-year-old girl who has just lost her life-long babysitter, Bibi. She deals with this change in routine over the course of August, before entering the third grade, writing letters to Bibi and learning how to get along with a new babysitter, Natalie.

Bibi: Eleanor’s original babysitter. She has moved to Florida to help her elderly and ill father. She responds to Eleanor’s letters with nothing but love.

Natalie: Eleanor’s new babysitter, who has the daunting task of getting this 8-year-old to accept and trust her. She is patient and kind and assures Eleanor that she is not trying to replace Bibi completely, but wants to be the best second babysitter she can be.

 

Bibliographic Info:

Sternberg, J. (2011). Like pickle juice on a cookie. New York: Amulet Books.

Tagline:

No one can ever replace your first babysitter, but sometimes you have to let people try to help you through it.

Holes

 

Author: Louis Sachar

Age Range: 9-12 (publisher info)

Interest Range: 9-12

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Plot: Stanley has been convicted of a crime he did not commit, he just happens to be very unlucky. Because of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Stanley has been sent to a very severe juvenile detention camp where he is forced to dig holes in the middle of the desert. While there he learns what it feels like to be accepted, no longer the fat kid and the outsider that is picked on by the school bully. But the relationship he has with his new-found friends is shaky, and soon he is being picked on again. The boys in his group aren’t happy that he’s made a trade with Zero: one hour of hole-digging done for Stanley by Zero for one hour of Stanley teaching Zero how to read and write. As the boys’ teasing of Stanley turns to a physical fight, Zero gets involves and ends up running off into the desert. A few days later, overcome with guilt and worry over Zero’s fate, Stanley ventures off to find him and bring him back.

Review: The only other Sachar I’ve read are the Wayside School books. Growing up I loved the nonsense and would read those stories over and over again. Holes is incredibly different, dealing with some very real and heavy issues: race, bullying, homelessness, juvenile delinquency, and loss. But the story moves quickly, and through Stanley’s eyes we get glimpses of each of these topics without letting any of them overwhelm us. The race issue is there, but rarely talked about. It mostly comes up just before the fistfight, with the boys making references to Zero being Stanley’s slave. Although Stanley does make one other off-handed mention of it when he first lets the reader know that half of the boys in the group are black and half of them are white and there’s even one lone hispanic boy. For the most part, the boys all co-exist with absolutely no problems or even mention of their races. Zero is dealing with the loss of his mother, although it is unclear if she is only missing or dead. Stanley is bullied, but again it isn’t talked about in great detail. Just enough to let you know that it was something that bothered him and something that he makes reference to when seeing how the boys interact with each other at the camp. Both Stanley and Zero face the idea of homelessness, Zero having lived it and Stanley’s parents dealing with the threat of it at any time. The book handles all of these topics well, not dwelling very long on any of them and focusing more on the story at hand than anything else. And Stanley’s story is a good one that certainly ends well.

Themes: Coming of age, Making new friends, Loss, Bullying, Race, Homelessness, Illiteracy

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery award winner, 1999; National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, 1998

Other Media: Was also adapted into a film in 2003.

Main Characters:

Stanley Yelnats: The 4th of his name, he is a very unlucky boy in a family of very unlucky men. Stanley has grown up with being bullied at school and is eventually sent to a juvenile detention facility for a crime he did not commit. More than anything, Stanley just wants to fit in with the boys in his newly assigned group. And he does, for a little while.

Zero: Hector Zeroni is a very small kid. And he likes digging holes, or at least he says he does. Eventually we learn that he and Stanley are connected in more ways than one, but most importantly it was Zero who stole the shoes that landed Stanley at Camp Green Lake.

Bibliographic Info:

Sachar, L. (1998) Holes. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Tagline:

Can a curse really last for over 100 years? Stanley Yelants seems to be proof that it can.