Written by Rebecca Petruck
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Competition is a part of life now for kids. And this is just as true in a rural setting as it is in the city. Where urban children learn to dance or do gymnastics or play soccer early, country kids might raise steers or sheep. This is the backdrop for this new novel for fourth graders and above. Another theme to which urban kids can also relate is that of family. Thirteen-year-old Diggy lives with his father, Pop, after his mother abandoned him as a baby. His mother never married Pop, but no one doubts Pop is his biological father. Diggy’s classmate, Wayne, loses his mother to cancer, and it’s revealed that Wayne’s dad may not be his biological father. Is Wayne Diggy’s half brother? Wayne ends up living with Pop and Diggy while Wayne’s dad works on his alcoholism. The two boys fight like brothers and raise steers together for the 4-H fair. Diggy is expected to win Grand Champion at the state fair. Wayne insists Diggy needs to find his own mother, though he really doesn’t want to.
Rural kids will identify with all the details about the steers, and urban kids will learn about animals and see how farm animals can be loved just like their own pets. There is plenty of information about 4-H and cattle at the end of the book. The pace is lively and light. Pop and Diggy love to play pranks, and April Fools’ Day is a major holiday at their house.
- Title: Steering Toward Normal
- Author: Rebecca Petruck
- Publisher: Amulet/Abrams, 2014
- Reviewer: Sue Poduska
- Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
- Genre: Contemporary fiction, rural life, family
- ISBN: 978-1-4197-0732-2
- Publication date: May 13, 2014
Written by Phil Bildner
Illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson
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Every child wants to play. But the fences in our world, past and present cause pain to the youngest of our citizens, as is clearly illustrated in words and realistic illustrations, in this new book about the apartheid of South Africa’s past.
This story clearly explains to our children of today what the separation of the races meant in South Africa. It wasn’t a fence taken down easily or quickly. Readers will see the main character grow older and bigger while still being denied the opportunity to play soccer with the other boys of the town. While this is categorized as a fictional account of the struggle to open up the country, it will be a valuable addition to every school library and classroom. It can meet the needs of the core curriculum as it strives to educate our youth of the mistakes of our global past while strengthening all basic literacy skills.
The many-layered story includes early riots, Mandela’s release from prison and his winning of the presidential election as well as the unifying soccer match that brought South Africa’s struggle to the world stage.
It brings to mind Jacqueline Woodson’s beautiful book, The Other Side, which tells of such separation between playing children in the past of our own country. These books could easily be introduced together to discuss parallels in the societal developments of world history.
Second grade, third grade and fourth grade readers will cheer for all sides whether reading the book individually or having it read to them by a teacher, parent or librarian. However, this book should not be limited to use in the primary grades, as it has such a strong voice and important story to tell.
- Title: The Soccer Fence: A Story of Friendship, Hope and Apartheid in South Africa
- Author: Phil Bildner
- Illustrator: Jesse Joshua Watson
- Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s, 2014
- Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
- Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
- ISBN: 978-0-399-24790-3
- Genre: Historical Fiction, South Africa
- Grade level 1-4
Written by Cynthia Lord
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Even the most good-hearted person can do the wrong thing for the right reasons. (Not to mention doing a few wrong things for the wrong reasons.) So it is with Lucy, the heroine in Lord’s third novel. Lucy can’t resist trying to win a contest to help a friend, even though she knows it’s a bad idea.
When Lucy and her parents move to a lake cottage in New Hampshire, she immediately befriends the summer family next door. The son, Nate, becomes a constant companion. The grandmother, Grandma Lilah, wins Lucy’s heart with her concern over the loons that live on the lake. Grandma Lilah is not well and frequently gets upset, much to Lucy’s confusion. Lucy’s dad is a famous photographer. When Lucy and Nate aren’t checking on the loons for Grandma Lilah, they’re working on a photography contest for which Dad is the judge. They want to win money to pay for a way to get Grandma Lilah close to her beloved loons one more time. Adding to the tension is another summer resident, Megan, who also wants to be friends with Nate. Lucy’s jealousy is well-founded and adds a dimension to Lucy’s personality, as does the fact that she has trouble coming to terms with her father’s frequent absences. She wants more attention from him.
Fourth graders and up will love the bond Lucy forms with the birds and enjoy the creative ways in which she interprets the categories for the contest. Their hearts will go out to the older woman in her struggles. Many reading activities are suggested by Lucy’s participation in tracking the loons, in her photographic pursuits, in her kayaking, and in her desire to help Grandma Lilah.
The author’s website, www.cynthialord.com, has many more reading activities.
- Title: Half a Chance
- Author: Cynthia Lord
- Publisher: Scholastic, 2014
- Reviewer: Sue Poduska
- Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
- Genre: Contemporary fiction, nature, dementia, friendship, family
- ISBN: 978-0545035330