Category Archives: Juvenile Fiction

Fruitlands by Gloria Whelan

Two things led me to finally check Fruitlands by Gloria Whelan out of the library and actually read it:  first, as a Gloria Whelan fan, I had looked at it numerous times and even possibly checked it out before but lacked the impulse to actually read it until second, I read Invincible Louisa, the juvenile biography about Louisa May Alcott, which sent me on a quest to learn more about Alcott.  Of course, it might be argued that one shouldn’t expect to really learn things from novels (which is what Fruitlands is), but I know that Whelan backs up her fictional worlds with copious research.  This is to say that I trust her interpretation of the year or so in the life of the Alcott family during which they made an attempt at communal living as much as I trust, say, Cornelia Meigs’ interpretation of Alcott’s life set forth in the aforementioned juvenile biography from the 1930s.  One of the differences between the two, at least structurally, is that Whelan’s work is composed of a series of fictional journal entries, which go back and forth between Louisa’s “public” journal which her parents would be privy to and her private journal where she divulges her true feelings.  The subtitle of the novel is Louisa May Alcott Made Perfect, which might perhaps be considered sarcasm considering the fact that Bronson Alcott’s attempt at this utopian community failed, if not philosophically, at least practically.  Still, what we readers get is the tension between the ideal and the practical or real as the ten year old Louisa saw it.  What this feels like most often to me is an indictment of Bronson Alcott, who, at least according to Whelan’s interpretation of him, sacrificed his family’s well being for the sake of his philosophy.  This is the other big difference between the 1930s fictionalized (?) biography and this novel:  Cornelia Meigs’ work definitely cast Bronson Alcott in a positive light, while Whelan’s doesn’t.  In fact, while reading Invincible Louisa, I most often felt like Abba Alcott (Louisa’s mother) came off looking the worse of the two, though my gut feeling was to defend her.  Fruitlands depicts Abba Alcott as angst-filled over the situation, while Meigs’ work depicts her mostly as mostly tired or even ill-humored.  Perhaps this is more indicative of the time in which the books were written than anything else.

Fruitlands is a very well written and compelling story which would be accessible to any middle grade reader, though the subject matter might be a little odd.  Much is made of the differences of opinions among the denizens of Fruitlands, for they each work out their philosophies in different ways.  For example, one man refuses to wear clothing, while another refuses to kill anything, even the insect pests that devour their crops (which the inhabitants of Fruitlands are literally depending upon for their sustenance).   It seems to me that the thoughts and feelings that Whelan gives Louisa are reasonable ones for a child living as a part of this extraordinary “experiment.”  (HarperCollins, 2002)

Other books by Whelan reviewed here at Hope Is the Word:




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The Orphan and the Mouse by Martha Freeman

Yes!  Another mouse book.  This one, The Orphan and the Mouse by Martha Freeman, came highly recommended by Sherry, and in fact, she recommended it to me in the comments of her year-end post.  I requested it from the library and plunged in with my girls (and the DLM, though he usually goes to sleep before we finish reading for the night).  What a delight!  This book is definitely not a dumbed-down kids’ book; while it’s not a hard book, it has its fair share of  vocabulary-expanders.  (As an example, may I offer the word comestible?    It’s not a word I use on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, and yet it’s one the mice in this story do use every time they talk about food.)

Written from alternating viewpoints, this is the story of a few of the residents of Cherry Street Children’s Home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Caro, the main character, is a little girl orphaned by a house fire which claimed the life of her mother.  Caro is a sensible and kind-hearted child, and she gains some inkling of an idea that there’s more to Cherry Street than meets the orphans’ eyes when she rescues Mary Mouse from the home’s cat.  The mice civilization at Cherry Street is quite complex, and while they’re busy spying on the humans, keeping an eye out for the “predator,” “auditing” the orphans’ school lessons, and stealing artwork (postage stamps from the director’s desk), other even more dastardly things are afoot among the human population of Cherry Street.  The director of the home is using the home as a cover for her involvement in lucrative underworld dealings;  of course, it’s up to Caro and her mouse friend to stop her.

The characters in this book are as sophisticated as Stuart Little, and in fact, Stuart Little is the role model for the mice of Cherry Street.  They’re quite humane little creatures, even if they don’t exactly understand the ways of humans themselves.  My extra-sensitive girl found much to be troubled by in this story:  kidnapping, orphans, children who are not cared for, etc.  However, we persevered, and I’m glad we did.  Although the plot of the story isn’t terribly complex, some of the issues presented in this post-World War II story are complex.   However, it has a very satisfying ending that ties up all loose ends–both those mysterious and those emotional.  With lots of excitement and extremely short chapters, this makes an ideal read-aloud.  Highly Recommended.  (Holiday House, 2014)

Other mouse stories reviewed at Hope Is the Word:

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WWW: The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

I’ve slowly been listening to The Prince and the Pauper via OneClick Digital, mostly as I walk around our neighborhood, but also sometimes as I drive or putter in the kitchen.  I hit chapter twelve last week, which is entitled “The Prince and His Deliverer,” and involves the Prince the newly-appointed King Edward being rescued from a mob by Miles Hendon who takes him to his dwelling on London Bridge.  I love the description of London Bridge!  I did not know (or had forgotten if I did) that London Bridge was a little village unto itself.  The description reminds me of some southern towns I’ve been in 😉 :

Our friends threaded their way slowly through the throngs upon the bridge.  This structure, which had stood for six hundred years, and had been a noisy and populous thoroughfare all that time, was a curious affair, for a closely packed rank of stores and shops, with family quarters overhead, stretched along both sides of it, from one bank of the river to the other.  The Bridge was a sort of town to itself; it had its inn, its beer-houses, its bakeries, its haberdasheries, its food markets, its manufacturing industries, and even its church.  It looked upon the two neighbours which it linked together—London and Southwark—as being well enough as suburbs, but not otherwise particularly important.  It was a close corporation, so to speak; it was a narrow town, of a single street a fifth of a mile long, its population was but a village population and everybody in it knew all his fellow-townsmen intimately, and had known their fathers and mothers before them—and all their little family affairs into the bargain.  It had its aristocracy, of course—its fine old families of butchers, and bakers, and what-not, who had occupied the same old premises for five or six hundred years, and knew the great history of the Bridge from beginning to end, and all its strange legends; and who always talked bridgy talk, and thought bridgy thoughts, and lied in a long, level, direct, substantial bridgy way.  It was just the sort of population to be narrow and ignorant and self-conceited. Children were born on the Bridge, were reared there, grew to old age, and finally died without ever having set a foot upon any part of the world but London Bridge alone.  Such people would naturally imagine that the mighty and interminable procession which moved through its street night and day, with its confused roar of shouts and cries, its neighings and bellowing and bleatings and its muffled thunder-tramp, was the one great thing in this world, and themselves somehow the proprietors of it.  And so they were, in effect—at least they could exhibit it from their windows, and did—for a consideration—whenever a returning king or hero gave it a fleeting splendour, for there was no place like it for affording a long, straight, uninterrupted view of marching columns.

Men born and reared upon the Bridge found life unendurably dull and inane elsewhere.  History tells of one of these who left the Bridge at the age of seventy-one and retired to the country.  But he could only fret and toss in his bed; he could not go to sleep, the deep stillness was so painful, so awful, so oppressive.  When he was worn out with it, at last, he fled back to his old home, a lean and haggard spectre, and fell peacefully to rest and pleasant dreams under the lulling music of the lashing waters and the boom and crash and thunder of London Bridge.

In the times of which we are writing, the Bridge furnished ‘object lessons’ in English history for its children—namely, the livid and decaying heads of renowned men impaled upon iron spikes atop of its gateways.  But we digress.


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I like that so much that I had to look it up.  Most of the time a lot of details are lost to me when I listen to audiobooks, though Norman Dietz’s narration makes it so much fun and worthwhile to listen!  I was surprised to find the story free online and illustrated, to boot.  When I finish listening to it, I might just have to carve out a little time to go back and study these fabulous illustrations.

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Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson

Remember the TItans.  The Blind Side.  When the Game Stands Tall.   All of these are games I’ve watched (and one of these I’ve watched numerous times).  Perhaps I’m an oddity, but I love football movies but dislike watching actual football games.  Perhaps it’s because I live in a football-crazy state and get oh-so-tired of all the hype.  I don’t know why.  (My disinterest in sports isn’t limited to football–I don’t watch any sport.  In fact, I am typing this review while I sit at basketball practice with the DLM.  Guess what I’m not doing?  Yes.  Watching.) I thought about that a lot as I read Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson because this book reads like a football movie, and yes, I enjoyed it a lot.  It’s the story of Charlie Reynolds, stepson of football celebrity Prester Mack.  The Mack family returns to Taper, Florida, to pay their respects to larger-than-life highschool football coach Willie Wisdom, the stereotypical coach who turns boys into men.  Within twenty-four hours of being back in Taper, Prester Mack is tapped as Coach Wisdom’s replacement, so the Mack family is back in the swamps and sugar cane fields of Lake Okeechobee for more than just a visit.  However, there’s much more to this story than just football; in fact, football is peripheral to the real story, which is by turns a story of family redemption all wrapped up in the stuff of nightmares.  The story is obviously inspired by Beowulf with its undead called the Gren and the climax of the story which involves Charlie and his newly-discovered half-brother searching for the Mother.  (Confession:  I haven’t read Beowulf in two decades, unless you count our jaunt through the ancient world when the girls were wee and we read a summary.  Most of what I remember about it can be summed up in a few phrases:  lots of unpronouncable names that contain lots of h‘s, fighting, and a very unfamiliar culture. )  Boys of Blur is rife with spiritual imagery and symbols, too, with the overarching idea that forgiveness is preferable to bitterness and anger.  This isn’t surprising considering N.D. Wilson’s pedigree, but readers might want to know that this book is published by Random House and isn’t the typical Christian fiction we’re accustomed to.  (Or maybe it is?  I’m out of the CF loop!)  Wilson includes a few mild curse words in the story, and there is no presentation of the Gospel at all.  While I was reading it, I kept thinking about Athol Dickson’s book River Rising, not so much because of any message they share but because of the setting (swampland, but Louisiana swampland in Dickson’s book) and the overall feel of the story.  One of my favorite things about the story is how well Wilson can turn a phrase.  Here are a few images I particularly enjoyed:

The crowd shifted and frayed around the edges.  (6)

The other cop was white and even taller than Mack, though he hunched forward around a soft middle that teetered over his belt buckle.  He was wearing a sun visor, jeans, mirrored sunglasses, and snakeskin boots.  A fat red mustache reclined on his upper lip like an overweight caterpillar too tired to cocoon.  (42)

Charlie’s legs should have been tired.  He’d run much and eaten little.  Smoke still scratched the insides of his throat and lungs.  But something deeper was moving his legs now, something ancient and simple and stronger than stars.  He was quick, not dead.  Time was irrelevant as his legs chewed up the muck, as they strained and bit and spat, as the wind split around his face.  He felt as fast as falling rain, his steps a spatter of heavy drops hitting almost at once.  (92)

It’s an exciting story and one I’ll pass on to my children when I feel like they can handle the fright factor.  I look forward to reading more of N.D. Wilson’s stories.  My Louise has read his100 Cupboards a couple of times, but I’ve never made the time for it.  Someday!  Wilson is definitely an author to watch.  (Random House, 2014)

This book was chosen as a finalist in the category speculative fiction for elementary and middle grades.  

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Newbery Through the Decades: 1930s

newbery through the decades

Welcome to the second month of the Newbery Through the Decades Challenge!   If you’re new to the challenge, please check out this post for more details.

February’s decade is the 1930s.  These are the eligible titles.  If I have already reviewed a title here at Hope Is the Word, I’ve linked to my review.

1939 Medal Winner: Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright

Honor Books:

1938 Medal Winner: The White Stag by Kate Seredy

Honor Books:

1937 Medal Winner: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer
Honor Books:

  • Phebe Fairchild: Her Book by Lois Lenski
  • Whistler’s Van by Idwal Jones
  • The Golden Basket by Ludwig Bemelmans
  • Winterbound by Margery Bianco
  • The Codfish Musket by Agnes Hewes
  • Audubon by Constance Rourke

1936 Medal Winner: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Honor Books:

  • Honk, the Moose by Phil Stong
  • The Good Master by Kate Seredy
  • Young Walter Scott by Elizabeth Janet Gray
  • All Sail Set: A Romance of the Flying Cloud by Armstrong Sperry

1935 Medal Winner: Dobry by Monica Shannon

Honor Books:

  • Pageant of Chinese History by Elizabeth Seeger
  • Davy Crockett by Constance Rourke
  • Day On Skates: The Story of a Dutch Picnic by Hilda Von Stockum

1934 Medal Winner: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs

Honor Books:

  • The Forgotten Daughter by Caroline Snedeker
  • Swords of Steel by Elsie Singmaster
  • ABC Bunny by Wanda Gág
  • Winged Girl of Knossos by Erik Berry, pseud. (Allena Best)
  • New Land by Sarah Schmidt
  • Big Tree of Bunlahy: Stories of My Own Countryside by Padraic Colum
  • Glory of the Seas by Agnes Hewes
  • Apprentice of Florence by Ann Kyle

1933 Medal Winner: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis

Honor Books:

  • Swift Rivers by Cornelia Meigs (reviewed at Semicolon)
  • The Railroad To Freedom: A Story of the Civil War by Hildegarde Swift
  • Children of the Soil: A Story of Scandinavia by Nora Burglon

1932 Medal Winner: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer

Honor Books:

  • The Fairy Circus by Dorothy P. Lathrop
  • Calico Bush by Rachel Field
  • Boy of the South Seas by Eunice Tietjens
  • Out of the Flame by Eloise Lownsbery
  • Jane’s Island by Marjorie Allee
  • Truce of the Wolf and Other Tales of Old Italy by Mary Gould Davis

1931 Medal Winner: The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth

Honor Books:

  • Floating Island by Anne Parrish
  • The Dark Star of Itza: The Story of A Pagan Princess by Alida Malkus
  • Queer Person by Ralph Hubbard
  • Mountains are Free by Julie Davis Adams
  • Spice and the Devil’s Cave by Agnes Hewes
  • Meggy MacIntosh by Elizabeth Janet Gray
  • Garram the Hunter: A Boy of the Hill Tribes by Herbert Best
  • Ood-Le-Uk the Wanderer by Alice Lide & Margaret Johansen

1930 Medal Winner: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field
Honor Books:

  • A Daughter of the Seine: The Life of Madame Roland by Jeanette Eaton
  • Pran of Albania by Elizabeth Miller
  • Jumping-Off Place by Marion Hurd McNeely
  • The Tangle-Coated Horse and Other Tales by Ella Young
  • Vaino by Julia Davis Adams
  • Little Blacknose by Hildegarde Swift

This month I plan to read 1934 Medalist Invicible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs, a book that also appears on my Classics Club list.  If I have time, I also plan to read 1933 honor book Swift Rivers, also by Cornelia Meigs, or 1937 Medalist Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer.   Since my first Newbery Through the Decades book of the year was The Windy Hill by Cornelia Meigs, I might choose Roller Skates just so I can read someone besides Cornelia Meigs.  (Obviously, she was a Very Important Author of the first half of the twentieth century!)


I hope you’re all enjoying this challenge as much as I am!  It’s interesting to me to think about what was considered fine children’s literature nearly a century ago and to note (sometimes sadly) how things have changed.

If you have already reviewed any of this month’s books on your blog, please link your reviews in the comments.  If you’re interesed in reading reviews before making your decisions, might I recommend The Newbery Project blog as a good resource?

Also of special interest to those of us interested in the Newbery Award is this–the 2015 ALA Youth Media Awards (which includes both the Newbery and the Caldecott, among many others) will be announced Monday, February 2.  A live webcast will begin at 8 a.m. CST.  Will you be watching?  My Mondays are super busy, so I’ll probably have to watch it a bit later, but I will be watching on Monday for sure!  :-)

So what are you reading for Newbery through the Decades this month?  Please share in the comments!

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