On the Wings of Heroes by Richard Peck read by Lincoln Hoppe

Newberry-winning author of A Year Down Yonderwings-of-heroes

We went on a road trip to beautiful Sun Valley, Idaho last week as a family. We had a wonderful time, and part of that wonderful time is attributable to this great book, by one of my favorite authors. My husband and I both really enjoyed it, and my boys thought it was good- although we had to skip the scary porch story telling in order to make sure we weren’t up all night with ghostly imaginings.

Lincoln Hoppe, the voice for the story was absolutely spell-binding. Especially his old lady voices, “Where’s mine? Where’s mine?” the old lady asking for her cake had us giggling in appreciation at his excellent portrayals.

This is Peck’s 30th novel for young adults and was written to pay tribute to his father, a WWI veteran. You will see the resemblance to the father in the book who is also a WWI vet. It makes you wonder how much Davy resembles Peck himself. Davy and his friend get themselves into all kinds of scrapes and trouble- just the kind you would imagine all boys getting into during WWII. Cobwebby attics and buckshot filled barns- along with street games that make you pine for simpler days. Not easier, just simpler because communities were more cohesive and people really looked out for one another.

Davy’s older brother Bill is everyone’s hometown hero. When he goes off to fly B-17s in WWII, your heart drops into your stomach because you want so much for him to come home safe. I was incredulous to learn that when his plane was shot down, it didn’t count toward his quota of missions to fly because the mission wasn’t completed. That’s just idiotic- but I’m sure it happened more than once.

I think this book would make a great gift for either my father or father-in-law. My only complaint, and I think it would be their’s as well is the boy scout part. Davy gives up on boy scouts because he is so disappointed by some of the things other scouts do- one scout in particular, who falls from his place as a knight in shining armor when he participates in stealing papers from younger scouts in order to win a medal for a war-effort paper drive. Davy doesn’t see the point of scouts after that and hangs up his gold and blue bandana forever. As we all know, there are people who don’t have integrity in every organization and if we base our decision to be part of an organization on the integrity of every individual therein, we wouldn’t be a part of anything. I was disappointed that Davy’s parents let him so easily give up on a great program for kids.

So, I was talking to Cari and she said that she was planning on reviewing this book, and I told her I was too. Since I listened to it on audio and I wanted to make sure to include how wonderful Hoppe’s voice work was, I won the coin toss (okay, it wasn’t exactly a coin toss). This isn’t a double scoop (although it’s really good, and quite possibly could have made the cut, but we already have a Richard Peck book on the list). But, just so Cari can add her two cents, now it’s her turn:

Well let’s see I read On Wings of Heroes back in January and it was on my to be reviewed list.  I was talking to Holly and come to find out she just listened to it on audio. What are the chances that we would both read and want to review the same book, especially when we had already planned a doublescoop for one of his other books? Anyway I fell in love with Richard Peck’s writing then and there. His writing is genius, the words flow and bounce through your head like a delightful stream. I loved his characters. They are so full of life. And then there are the pranks, which makes me wonder what his childhood was like. If I wanted to play a practical joke Richard Peck would be one of my sources for coming up with one.

I appreciated the way he told what life was like during WWII, not only was Bill off fighting the war, but everyone dealt with rations. Rations for sugar, for tires, for shoes and gas. Everyone was affected even if they were not a soldier. You also saw the struggle of both Davy’s parents – his dad who had been injured in WWI so he knew the harsh realities of war and wondered about Bill’s safety. And then his mother trying to deal with her son, gone and maybe dead while trying to support the war effort at the same time. On Wings of Heroes is the right mix of humor and realism to give you a feel for what war was like on the home front.

Check out our other reviews on Richard Peck’s books A Long Way From Chicago and our April double scoop,  A Year Down Yonder.


Reading Education Assistance Dogs or R.E.A.D.

p1010005I figured out what I want to do when I am retired – I want to get a dog and participate in the Read Education Assistance Program or R.E.A.D. What is R.E.A.D. well a few months ago I noticed a sign-up at our library – R.E.A.D to Rusty (a Golden Retriever) or Elliot (an Australian Labradoodle) with a lovely pictures of the dogs. Apparently any child who wants to can come and read to either Elliot or Rusty on the first Saturday of every month at the Ruth Tyler Library. I signed my daughter up and she has since read to both dogs and loved it! As in L-O-V-E-D I-T. She had reached the point in her reading where she needed to get through what one of my professors called the Valley of Decoding Despair and it was hard to keep her going. Elliot & Rusty were just the right trick and she has loved preparing to read to them and her reading has really taken off.

The last time I was there I talked to Mary (Rusty) and Joe (Elliot) the owners of these two book loving canines. Elliot and Rusty are therapy dogs and more specifically the are part of the Read Education Assistance Program. Both dogs are with Intermountain Therapy Animals. Most of us are familiar with therapy dogs as assistance to those who are blind or disabled in some way and others will visit hospitals to cheer up patients, etc. However, these dogs love to listen to children read!

Elliot is reading Mo Willems' My New Toy


Joe and Elliot listen to children read once a week at the local Boys and Girls club and the books are loaned out by our local librarian – Cami. She is wonderful and it was her who made arrangements to have Elliot and Rusty come to our library. Elliot is also one busy Labradoodle as he has about four hospice patients and visits the local children’s hospital. Joe and Elliot spend about 40 hours a month volunteering for various organizations. Rusty is smaller than Elliot and is very sweet mild manner dog.

R.E.A.D., which started in 1999 and since been chosen as a national outreach partner with PBS kids show Martha Speaks. R.E.A.D. dogs and their handlers volunteer mostly in schools and libraries working with reluctant readers. Just from my experience I think they are really onto something and here is a quote from R.E.A.D’s brochure from, Rae Louie a school principal,

Little did we realize what an impact you would make. Academically, those students that participated in R.E.A.D. experienced phenomenal growth. And as icing on the cake, students began to enjoy reading to themselves, too, began to exhibit a curiosity for different books, and most importantly gained self-confidence not only in their reading ability, but their ability to interact with others in positive ways.  I look forward to expanding the program to touch more children.

Therapy animals help people in numerous ways including reducing blood pressure, anxiety and depression and anger. Reading  out loud can be really intimidating to children and just from reading some of the stories on the Intermountain Therapy Animals I am convinced that reading to dogs (or other animals) would be good for many reluctant and skilled readers. Here is what one participant said in the pilot program at the Salt Lake City Main Library

When I read, I stutter a little bit, but when I read to the dog it didn’t make fun of me.

Doesn’t that just make you want to get a therapy animal and go R.E.A.D. with kids? It certainly makes me want to do it. If you are interested in more information the program with click on R.E.A.D. 

What are some ways you can think of to encourage children to read who might be nervous or scared to read in front of others?

A Very Touching Book for Little People and Big People by Jan Hindman, Illustrated by Tom Novak

a_very_touching_bookApril is National Poetry Month and Holocaust Month, but did you know it is also National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which includes child sexual abuse? One in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn 18*. So to raise awareness of some children books to help prevent abuse, I decided to review A Very Touching Book written by Jan Hindman. This book is one of my favorites for teaching about appropriate touch for children in a way that is non-threatening to both adults and children. Jan wrote A Very Touching Book after working with victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse. Teaching children about sexual abuse is hard because as adults we often get embarrassed or as Jan puts it ‘purple faces’ when it comes to discussing sex.

First off the illustrations by Tom Novak are very cute and fun in a cartoon style and my daughter really likes them, which is always a plus. Jan first starts the book off with an explanation of what touching is – when two things come together. She then moves onto feelings – happy, sad, angry, scared and explains that different kinds of feelings help us understand different kinds of touching. I love that she defines good touching with – hugs, kisses, cuddling high fives, etc and what bad touching is kicking hitting, pushing, shoving, etc. I like this because I think using bad touch to teach about sexual abuse is confusing to children. Sex is not bad in of itself, its when an adult or older person sexually abuses a child that makes it bad. She then introduces a third kind of touching – secret touching.

Next she takes some time to explain to kids (and adults) what special parts are by name, using the correct terminology and pointed out to the reader that adults often get those purple faces when we talk about special parts and sometimes people use silly names.

First, while we are growing up. we keep those parts of our bodies very special and private. When we keep things special and private, that means we don’t share them with our friends, our neighbors or…for instance, the people at the supermarket.

and I love this explanation too

Remember, we don’t cover those parts because they are silly or ugly or nasty. We cover them and keep them private because they are special and like no other part of our body.

and particularly this phrase

The second reason that sharing of those parts is such a big deal is that grown-ups need to spend a lot of time thinking about who the special person will be that they decide to share their bodies with.

Jan explains in a very simple way what secrets are and that some are okay and others are not. Secret touching is not okay and

It happens when an older or bigger person touches a child’s special parts and makes it a secret . . . SECRET TOUCHING IS NOT OKAY FOR KIDS because kids have a right to keep those very wonderful parts of their bodies special and private, so that when they grow up and want to share those parts with someone special, it will be a terrific thing.

In addition to all this Jan Hindman goes through exceptions of when it would be okay for a grown-up to touch a child’s special parts – like going to the doctor, bathing and changing a diaper. Those are okay because they are not secrets and because sometimes grown-ups need to make sure you are healthy and a baby needs cleaning after she poops her pants. (And the illustrations here are hilarious Dad changing a diaper with clothespin on his nose, my daughter laughed!) After each of the scenarios for when it would be okay to have someone touch your special parts she asks the kid “is that a touching secret”? And the kid gets to answer by touching a red yes or a green no. My daughter really liked that part because it asked her to touch something, which is what the book is about and I liked it because I could help clarify for her when it would be okay for someone to touch her special parts.

Continuing Jan talks more about secret touching, why it’s wrong and who you could tell if it happens (police, teacher, parent, counselor, etc) and that a child has the right to say “NO” and to tell someone if it does happen.

I highly recommend this A Very Touching Book for kids ages 4-9. Now that said I know of a few friends who would appreciate knowing this about the book 1) there are cartoon illustrations with naked people, which I think they are tastefully done (kids are curious knowing the names of all their parts and what the opposite sex looks like is just part of growing up, it’s usually grown-ups who are uncomfortable with it) 2) we don’t keep this book with all the children books where any kid could read it (really I respect parent’s rights to determine how, when and what they to teach their children about this topic). It’s in a special spot for books like this in my room. We pull it out very few months or so and both my and my husband have read it with her and whenever she asks to look at the book we read it together.  3) There is a scene where a kid gets dirty over at grandpa and grandma’s house so he gets in the shower with grandpa and it’s okay touching because grandpa is helping him to get clean. For me this was not okay as too many abuse situations occur like this so I skip it and other reviewers have said the same thing.

Jan Hindman passed away in September 2007 to learn more about her and her other book There is No Sex Fairy go to the Hindman Foundation. For some other great resources on sexually abuse visit Stop It Now.

*Statistics from FAQ About Child Abuse – Stop It Now

nonfictionmondayThis review is part of Non-Fiction Monday hosted by Anastacia Suen at Picture Book of the Day.

Greater Than Angels by Carol Matas

greater-than-angelsI love the fast-paced adventurous writing of Carol Matas. This book is no disappointment, opening with a Jew hunt by Germans with dogs. It gave me shivers down my spine. How she rescues the two unfortunate girls is hilarious and gives the needed comic relief to a book with so much seriousness.

Anna Hirsch and her family have been deported by the Nazis to a refugee camp in the South of France. Deplorable living conditions make you sick at heart for the suffering inflicted on so many. When Anna and the other children at Gurs are given an opportunity to leave, they are taken to Chambon-sur-Lignon, a tiny village that dwarfs any giant in its capacity to love and shelter and stand up for the Jews. Matas confronts many of the puzzling questions that plague survivors who wonder why this could have happened. In one of the Torah classes set up in Gurs, Anna poses the question:

“Professor,” I asked, “do you think God watches over all of us, individually?”

“What do you think?” he asked, as usual, answering a question with another question.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “If he does, He isn’t doing a good job. Maybe you can only believe in Him if you believe He’s not really in charge. We are.”

An Orthodox girl got up and said, “Oh, He’s in charge all right! And this is a punishment for not keeping His laws. All Jews will be punished for those who strayed.”

That created an uproar.

“I don’t want anything to do with a God like that!” I declared.

“And do you really think you have a choice?” she demanded.

“God isn’t like a mean parent, punishing you whenever you do something wrong!” I exclaimed. “God has to be better than that! More than that!”

“I think,” Professor Malkovitch said, “that you are on your way to answering your own question, Miss Hirsch. If God is more, what is His role?”

A thought provoking book, that leads you to believe in angels- in human form. The many people who risked their lives to save others from the horrors of Nazi hatred are truly angels and maybe, you’ll even believe in miracles after reading this book!

This review is part of my efforts to honor April as National Holocaust month. Other reviews include: After the War by Carol Matas, Good Night, Maman by Norma Fox Mazer, and One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping. Previous related posts:  The Whirlwind by Carol Matas.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

fablehavenI almost quit reading Fablehaven because I couldn’t stand it. I hated… I mean hated the character Seth. Really I have never been so mad at a character in my life, not even Voldemort could rile me that much. I wanted to reach in the book, grab him and ground him for the rest of his life!!!! And that my friends is why I kept reading, because I was intrigued that Brandon Mull could get me so emotional involved in a character I didn’t even like. Seth is just dumb, I mean he seems like a nice enough kid and really he is only 11 so why do I feel so strongly about him. Well, he makes some major poor decisions that almost cost him his life (probably should have killed him except that this is a series and it doesn’t work to well to kill off a main character in the first book) not to mention the other people involved in the story.

Overall I really like the series and I did warm up to Seth, eventually . . . reluctantly . . . kicking the whole way, and  part way through the second book I started to like him. Kendra also bugged me at first as well, but my annoyance at her was slight compared to Seth. The basic story line is this Kendra and Seth are brother and sister sent away to stay with their Grandpa Sorenson who they hardly know while their parents are on a cruise. While at Fablehaven, their grandpa (grandma is mysteriously absent) gives them rules to follow, a journal and six keys to explore with. The journal and keys are clues to unlocking the truth about Fablehaven, which is a preserve to protect magical creatures such as fairies, satyrs, trolls, witches, etc.

The Fablehaven series has really grown on me and to date I have finished books two and three and I can hardly wait to read book 4. I am hooked and am a big Fablehaven fan and I happen to like both characters now. I did like the illustrations in the book as well, but to be honest the book cover did not appeal to me and that is why I had not picked it up. My grandmother gave me the books and so I decided to give them a go and wow I am now a Fablehaven junkie!

I think this book would appeal to kids (and adults) who like Harry Potter. Great read and lots of fodder for discussion on following rules and when it might just be okay to break them.

Brandon Mull’s blog and Fablehaven website.

Onward: A Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson by Dolores Johnson

onwardI first heard of Matthew Henson before at the Utah State History Fair (similar to Science fair, but with history) several years ago. A boy had created a documentary on Matthew Henson. Incredibly well-done documentary and a fascinating story of bravery in the face of danger and racial discrimination. So when I saw this book at the library I had to check it out.

Matthew Henson is one of America’s unsung heroes. Henson is self-educated son of sharecroppers who sets out on his own at the ripe old age of 13!!! He works as a cabin boy and sailor on several ships and travels the world. Eventually, his love for adventure gets him a job with Robert Peary, whose main goal in life was be the first human to reach the North Pole. These two men shared the same passion – to reach the north pole. It took years to accomplish their goal, which was finally achieved on April 6, 1909 just over a hundred years ago.

Without Matthew Henson, Peary would never had made it and you could say the same of Peary. Matthew was very adept at learning the Inuit language and survival techniques, which one more than one occasion saved their lives. Peary was regarded as a hero and awarded prestigious medals, money and a promotion to Rear Admiral in the Navy. Congress even passed  a resolution thanking Peary for his exploration and achievement. Not one of these awards ever mention Matthew Henson because he was African American and most people considered him to Peary’s man servant as opposed to fellow explorer. After Henson’s death, with the help of African American professor Dr. S. Allen Counter, Matthew Henson was later recognized as the co-discoverer of the North pole.

I thought this book was well written and I loved the primary source photographs throughout the book. Lots of great references including a reference to another book for children called Matthew Henson: Co-Discover of the North Pole by Laura Baskes Litwin. I’ll have to check it out. One of my favorite pictures is in the afterword where Matthew Henson at the age of 81 reads to a child from comic book series detailing Henson’s adventure entitled Negro Heroes. I would recommend this book for ages 8 and up and would make an excellent classroom resource on American History and exploration.

One Eye Laughing the Other Weeping, The Diary of Julie Weiss

A Dear America Special Edition set in Vienna, Austria and New York, 1938one-eye-laughing

The beginning of this book is a beautiful description of what Austria was like just before Hitler was allowed to take over the beautiful country of his birth. Julie and her family live a life of privilege and comfort until, as Jews, they are stripped of their dignity and way of life. Julie’s father is a respected Doctor in the community and continues to serve in his profession, despite persecution and atrocities played out on innocents all around him. Julie’s mother is taken away by the Nazis and is returned never to be the same. Her older brother, Max wants to go to Palestine, and when things get really bad, Julie’s Father sends her to America to live with her Aunt and Uncle.

Younger readers will probably not read between the lines as much as an older reader would. Some cautions for parents are that this book deals with suicide, and the holocaust in all its horrors, although rather watered down compared to some other books, it’s still a heavy topic.

This review is part of my efforts to honor National Holocaust Month during April.

Lisa’s War by Carol Matas

I remember reading this book as a teenager many years ago- it was one of my book order books, that I still have in my collection. I really liked the cover illustration at the time, and actually still like it rather well.

Lisa is a Danish Jew who joins the resistance along with other members of her family. Lisa distributes papers and leaflets on public transportation systems. After one particularly horrific incident with the SS gunning people down in an operating room, Lisa asks her friend Jesper,

“What kind of world do we live in, Jesper?” I echo Father’s words. “Is it worth living at all?”

His hand grips mine tightly. His eyes look so sad. They’re gray, and his brown hair is getting a little damp around his forehead. . .

. . . “Of course it’s worth it Lisa. We’re young. We’ll get rid of them, and then it’ll be up to us to make a better world.”

The Danish resistance achieved a remarkable feat. Only 474 Jews were arrested out of a population of about 7000 Jews. This book tells a story of escape that is no less amazing because of how many times it was carried out.

Let’s all do our part in making this a better world in honor of the victims of the Holocaust this April. Other books reviewed for Holocaust month include: After the War by Carol Matas and One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping. Previous related posts:  The Whirlwind by Carol Matas.

Good Night, Maman by Norma Fox Mazer

good-night-mamanKarin Levi is one of the lucky Jews to escape France alive, with her brother Marc. To be a Jew in France, during Hitler’s occupation, was basically a death sentence. Follow the complex path of Karin and Marc as they move, under cover of darkness from place to place, searching for safety. Eventually the siblings reach Italy and are able to secure passage on the Henry Gibbons, a ship sent to Naples to bring refugees to America. Along the way, Karin composes letters to her Maman, who is supposed to catch up to them when she is better.

We had stayed on the ship overnight. When we left, they gave us tags to pin on our clothes. U.S. ARMY CASUAL BAGGAGE.

“As if we’re packages,” I said, when Marc translated.

“It’s because we’re not official. I guess they don’t know what to call us.”

“How about visitors? Aren’t we guests of President Roosevelt? We’re not here to stay.”

In America, Karin is taken to Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York. At first she wonders what kind of place she has come to, and wonders why she must live in a place with high fences and barbed wire. Gradually, she develops friendships and starts school, but always Karin writes her mother and wonders when she will come.

I appreciated the facts at the back of the book. More than 84,000 French people were sent to concentration camps and over 6 millions Jews were killed in Europe. The American government only brought 982 people as refugees, all of which were housed at Lake Oswego. It’s rather sobering to see how pitifully small that number is when over one hundred thousand German prisoners of war were kept on American shores during the war.

This review is part of my efforts to honor April as National Holocaust month. Other reviews are: After the War by Carol Matas,  One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping, and Greater than Angels, by Carol Matas. Previous related posts:  The Whirlwind by Carol Matas.