Tuesday, June 26, 2012

1990 - Number the Stars

Lois Lowry just seems to have the gift of writing novels of great ideas and depth with a spare hand, drawing young (and old) readers, into her stories without lots of superfluous pages. Number the Stars is historical fiction at its best—it is the story of two Danish girls, one of Jewish ancestry, and of their families who are trying to cope with the Nazi invaders of their country, Denmark.

Annemaire is the middle sister; she also has a little sister Kirsti, annoying, like little sisters can often be. Her older sister Lise is dead, and her parents won’t talk about it. Ellen is Annemarie’s best friend, and when the word slips out that the Nazis intend on collecting and relocating the Danish Jews, Annemarie’s family moves to help Ellen’s family. There are many secrets, most kept to protect the children or other participants in the resistance movement. Annemarie, as she becomes involved, is entrusted with some of those secrets, and faces her moment of  courage when the outcome of the mission rests on the success of her actions.

Even though this book, in total, is a work of fiction, enough of the details are from real historical events that it seems like a work of reality. Lowry chronicles the facts in a short afterword.

I enjoyed this little 132- page novel quite a bit. The story is told from the child’s viewpoint so the story isn’t cluttered up with a lot of explanations about Hitler and Fascism or even what the Jews were actually facing; it just tells how Annemarie experience the events  and how she perceived the crisis from the words and actions of her family.

I bought this book from Goodwill for about a dollar.

Monday, June 18, 2012

1998 - Out of the Dust

I’ve had Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse for a year or two, just sitting on the shelf, unread. I never was in the mood for what I assumed the story would be. I figured it would be another one of those, “Poor Okie Kid” books, suffering her way through poverty, hard times, the Great Depression, and possibly a tragedy or two before, hopefully, coming to a good place in life, or possibly, ending in disaster, like many books who mess with your emotions. And in some ways, that’s what this book is—but not.

One disconcerting detail you’ll notice about this book is that, while it is a novel, it is not in a strict novel format. Out of the Dust is written in free-verse poems, each one advancing the storyline, each one with a date at the bottom to help the reader keep track of the passage of time, covering about two years of 14 yr old Billie Jo’s life. Billie Jo tells the story in her own words, in a spare, sometimes stark, honest, yet elegant and eloquent way that is fully believable as a young teen’s voice. In a way, this style kept me from skimming or rushing through less interesting sections in way which I am used to doing in many novels. As you follow the story, there aren’t clouds of words to bathe your mind in; each word is important, and you want to read each word, understanding her life.

Billie Jo is a farmer’s daughter; he is trying to raise wheat in Oklahoma during the mid 1930’s, the time of the Dust Bowl. Billie Jo has a lot to think about, her parents becoming increasingly tense because of the drought, her baby brother about to be born, boys, and her passion for music that lifts her and gives her hope for a future out of the dust.

When some really bad things happen that threaten everything, even her relationships, then you get to the part where you can’t put the book down. As the days pass, and she makes choices, Billie Jo begins to understand her own heart and realize her own strength, leading to an ending that is not pat or necessarily anticipated.

Out of the Dust has won many awards, and I can see why. It is obviously a book that elementary and middle schools would require their students to read, to be inspired by a heroine who learns about courage, truth and sorrow, and to gain understanding about an era in our nation’s past.

I picked this book up at a Goodwill for under about a dollar.