Review: Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff


Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff

Jayna’s older brother Rob rescued her from foster care but now he is called to duty on a destroyer during World War II.  Both brother and sister love to cook: Jayna’s specialty is soup.  The two don’t have any other family in the world, so Rob leaves Jayna with their landlady who is always lecturing Jayna about manners.  Right before he leaves, Rob tells Jayna about a recipe book he found that may have belonged to their grandmother.  It contains an address for a bakery in Brooklyn.  When Rob is listed as missing in action, Jayna decides to travel to Brooklyn to discover if her grandmother still has a bakery there.  She takes her pet turtle with her and also a ghost who has been helping lead her in the right direction.  But what will she find when she gets to Brooklyn?

Giff has created a very pleasant mix of historical fiction and ghost story in this novel.  At the center is a young girl and her wish for a family, which propels the action in the story.  I appreciated that while the ending is satisfying it is not the perfect vision that young Jayna had been searching for.  Some may say though that it’s even better.  The ghost is not frightening at all, instead she borrows nail polish and even clothing.  She offers opinions on what is happening, most of which are helpful and get Jayna to make decisions more quickly.

It is the historical piece that is very special here.  I appreciated a young girl who could not just cook but excelled at it.  The food shortage is vital to the story as is the war itself.  Later in the book, readers also get to hear about the first World War and its impact.  This is a book about the homefront, made more dynamic by one untidy little ghost.

A treat for readers, this book should be embraced by teachers looking for fiction about World War II.  The setting is strong, the characters memorable and the food enticing. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.

Review: Henry and the Cannons by Don Brown

henry and the cannons

Henry and the Cannons: An Extraordinary True Story of the American Revolution by Don Brown

The trend for great children’s historical biographies in picture book format continue this year.  This picture book tells the story of Henry Knox.   It is the winter of 1775 and the Americans need cannons to take back Boston from the British.  Knox takes the challenge of moving 59 cannons over 225 miles across Massachusetts in the dead of winter.  It took boats, oxen and plenty of determination and innovation to get those cannons across the state.  The journey and amazing achievement is told here in a way that will entice children to learn more stories about the American Revolution.

Brown’s writing is solid throughout the book.  He carefully sets the scene, clearly explaining how unbalanced the war was with Revolutionaries vs. the world’s best soldiers.  Add to that the power of cannons, and there was clearly no hope for victory.  After that the book turns more towards adventure and peril, making for a read that must be finished.  From the impossible mission to each and every mishap, readers will be rooting for Knox.

The illustrations serve to underline the stark winter and the heaviness of the cannons.  Men and oxen strain to move the 120,000 pounds of cannon.  Snow flies, the boats seem more like twigs next to the metal, and the crossing of an iced-over river brings drama and danger. 

Strong and noteworthy, this picture book nonfiction title has history and also plenty of action and adventure.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.