Rummanah Aasi
  You may have noticed that I have been reading a lot of children/middle grade and YA books a lot more than I usually do. It's because I'm frantically trying to complete my Off the Shelf challenge, where I read books that have been sitting on my shelf unread. I'm realizing now that my goal of fifty was a bit too ambitious. Luckily, I am about halfway and have Winter Break from the high school which will help boost my reading speed. Today I bring you two mini-reviews of children/middle grade historical fiction that I thought were very inspiring and great reads: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse and Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan.

Description: In a series of poems, fifteen-year-old Billie Jo relates the hardships of living on her family's wheat farm in Oklahoma during the dust bowl years of the Depression.

Review: Billie Jo's life is defined by physical and emotional plight. She can't  forgive her father for causing the accident that killed her mother. She fights a daily battle to survive during the worst days of the Oklahoma dust storms. She strives to heal her body and her soul when severe burns leave her disfigured and unable to play the music she loves. Hesse's novel in verse set during the time of the Great Depression and written in free verse, is deceptive. Though it it is written in simplicity and straightforwardness manner, the story it unfolds is powerful and moving. The verses easily captures every shade of Billie Jo's emotions, from heart-wrenching sadness at the death of her mother to the anger and desire to rebuild a relationship with her father. You can also feel the strong winds, walk the dry fields just by reading. My only complaint with this otherwise perfect book is that the resolution comes a bit too fast. Teachers looking for a book that helps but the Dust Bowl and Great Depression into context would love this book. Though Billie Jo may have lived in another time period, her desires and emotions still resonate today.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies

Words of Caution: There is a death scene that may be a bit too much for younger readers though it is not graphic in description. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Tennyson by Judy Blume, Lizzy's Storm by Sally Fitz-Gibbon, Treasures of the Dust by Tracey Porter

Description: A fictionalized account of Charley (Charlotte) Parkhurst who ran away from an orphanage, posed as a boy, moved to California, and fooled everyone by her appearance.

Review: I never heard of Charley (Charlotte) Parkhurst before, but now I'm glad that I did. She was the first woman to vote in the state of California, and maybe in the whole United States. She is feisty, head strong, remarkable, and fascinating. Raised in an orphanage where she is the only girl, she is prevented from being adopted by the staff. Charlotte is kept aside to replace the cook in the kitchen as she gets older. Her desire is to be with the horses and to help Vern, the elderly man who cares for them. Vern's tales of escaping slavery is complimented to Charlotte's own desperate bid for freedom after her only other friend is adopted. She realizes that she can't accomplish anything if she's a woman, so Charlotte disguises herself as a boy named Charley. Her knack with horses soon enables the disguised Charley to pursue her dream of driving a stagecoach, earn a livelihood in California, and vote. Many trials arise and threaten Charlotte's dreams but with hard work and persistent, she succeeds and becomes a role model especially young girls who are told they can't do anything because of their gender. Brian Selznick's (author and illustrator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck) full-page, black-and-white pencil drawings are well done and enhance the book's prose.

Rating: 4 stars

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3-6

If you like this book try: Prairie School by Avi, Hattie the Big Sky by Kirby Larson
5 Responses
  1. I love reading Nonfiction about the Depression era, and that photograph on the cover looks like it came from a famous collection of dustbowl photos taken then - great recommendation, Rummanah!

    And I LOVE that cover on Riding Freedom. Sounds like a wonderful book. I like those sorts of book - reminds me Dicey's Song and The Journey of Natty Gan (sp).

  2. Jenny Says:

    I haven't heard of Charley before either, but I have to say I would want to be with the horses too:) Love that she's feisty and headstrong and goes after what she wants regardless of the fact that being female posed some roadblocks:)

  3. I don't read too many verse novels but I've liked the ones I have read probably because you can breeze through them so I might have to give Out of the Dust a try.

    Riding Freedom sounds totally up my alley and I like that there are drawings in it. It also seems like something that my brother would enjoy so I'm going to see if my library has it.

  4. The only time I read MG books is when I'm with my little cousins. Lately, they have been interested in stories about girls posing as boys. They don't believe it's possible to fool people. LOL

    I'd bet they like RF. I'll have to see if its at the library.

  5. I've always wanted to read Out of the Dust. I'm a little scared off by the free verse but I assume it's easy to follow. Too bad it had an easy conclusion. I wonder if it's more in the nature of a typical MG book conclusion or just a flaw of that book.

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