When the Whistle Blows

When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton

Every once in awhile a debut novel takes your breath away.  This is one of those novels.

Jimmy Cannon’s life is surrounded by trains.  His bedroom is right by the tracks, his father works for the railroad, and Jimmy plans to work the railroad himself as soon as he possibly can.  But Jimmy does not want to be like his father who focuses on rules.  Set in a West Virginia town during the era of steam trains in the 1940s, readers will happily follow Jimmy as he merrily breaks many of the rules.  From Halloween night to boyhood scrapes, this book has a timeless feel.

Slayton writes with a spirit and style that reads like a classic novel.  Offering a complex relationship of a boy and his father, she lightens the novel through the scenes that define Jimmy’s boyhood.  Every reader, boy or girl, will be able to relate to the escapades, enjoy laughing out loud about the close calls, and bite their nails when the tension gets thick.  This is a many layered book that teachers will look forward to reading in their classrooms.  There is so much here to discuss and yet it is so easy to read, understand and relate to.  It is frankly a masterpiece of ease and complexity not often seen in children’s books.

If there is one book you are going to read aloud to 4th and 5th graders this year, it should be this one.  Highly recommended, this should be a Newbery contender this year.  Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from copy provided by publisher.

Check out Fran Cannon Slayton’s own blog.

Also reviewed by BookDads, Reviewed Here First, Reading, Writing, Ruminating, Susan VanHecke, WriterJenn, Charlotte’s Library, Confessions of a Bibliovore, Becky’s Book Reviews, Through the Wardrobe, The Reading Zone, Underage Reading, Sarah Miller, 100 Scope Notes, and Into the Wardrobe.

Museum of Mary Child

The Museum of Mary Child by Cassandra Golds

Heloise lives a lonely, subdued and severe life with her godmother.  She is not allowed to have toys, not allowed to play, and must spend her time being constructive.  Heloise yearns most of all for a doll and then she discovers a secret niche under a floorboard where a doll is hidden.  She succeeds for some time in hiding the doll from her godmother, but when her godmother discovers the doll, she flies into a rage.  Next door to their house is the Museum of Mary Child, a place where visitors come but Heloise has never been allowed to enter.  Her grandmother drags her there.  Stunned by the revelations of the museum, Heloise flees her godmother’s home with her doll in tow.  Ending up in the city, Heloise is taken in by a choir of orphans, where she begins to learn about what life is about and to feel like a real little girl.  But she cannot escape the mystery of her own upbringing for long.

This gothic tale owes a lot to folk tales with birds who guide humans, and a prince in prison.  These elements weave themselves into Heloise’s tale, offering glimpses of magic and wonder  against the darkness of madness and solitude.  Just as Heloise is a unique child, so this book is unique and fascinating.  It doesn’t fit into a genre niche neatly, offering so many different but well-worked elements.  Because of this, it is a very fun read.  Readers will be unable to figure out how the novel will end because they won’t be sure if they are reading fantasy, gothic, horror or fairy tale – perhaps it is all of them at once.

Heloise is a great character with her fierceness and inquisitiveness.  She carries this book forward, gradually learning along with the reader what her story is.  It is a delicately balanced story, never moving too far into horror, never too far from its fairy tale elements.  The setting is such a large part of the tale from the museum to the city itself and its madhouse and prison.  Golds does a great job creating and sustaining a mood though the entire book along with a tension that makes it difficult to put down and impossible not to puzzle about even when not reading.

Recommended for tweens who are a little too young for Twilight, this book has quality writing and an intriguing premise.  Children as young as ten who are looking for a little horror and creepiness will find a great read here.  Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from copy provided by publisher.