Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Module 14 Review - Odette's Secrets

Odette's secrets / by Maryann MacDonald.

Bibliographic Citation:

MacDonald, M. (2013). Odette’s secrets. New York, NY: Bloomsbury


Odette was a young French Jew living in Paris during the German Nazi occupation of France and World War II. She and her family were not religious, but her grandparents were Polish Jews. Odette lived with her mother and father in a little two room apartment in a building managed by non-Jews Madame Marie and Monsieur Henri. Marie and Henri care for Odette as godparents and she spends a lot of time with them.

When the German Nazis begin invading France, Odette’s father joins the Resistance and leaves home to fight. He is soon captured and placed in a war camp. Odette and her mother continue living in Paris as the German occupation strengthens. After German soldiers come looking for Odette and her mother, who escape by hiding in Madame Marie’s closet, Odette is sent to live with a family in the country. She is told to lie about who she is, so she changes her last name, learns Catholic prayers so she will blend in. Her mother eventually joins her and while accused of being Jewish, they live undiscovered in the vendee until the French liberation.

While her family is not religious, Odette finds herself drawn to the rituals of the Catholic Church that she participates in during her hiding. When she and her mother return to Paris, she struggles with returning to her old life and questions who she really is. After attending a ceremony to bury the ashes of Jewish victims of death camps, she accepts herself as a Jew.


This story is about a young girl struggling to find herself during a very difficult time. Unlike The Diary of Anne Frank, another young girl who lived (and died) during WWII, Odette’s story doesn’t end in death. While Odette’s Secrets takes place during World War II and there are details describing how Jews were treated, this is a less graphic read, making it a good introduction to a terrible time in history.

Library Use Suggestions:

I would introduce this book to students studying World War II. I would present it and The Diary of Anne Frank as differing personal accounts, not in the actions of the Nazis, but as two young girls viewing the same war from different places with different results.


Introspective and accessible, this fictionalized history of a Jewish child surviving the Nazi occupation of France uses an elegant simplicity of language.

Odette, quite young, lives comfortably in a Paris apartment “on a cobblestone square / with a splashing fountain.” Watching a newsreel, she sees “soldiers march, / their legs and arms straight as sticks. / A funny-looking man with a mustache / shouts a speech.” The next day, she sees a Jewish-owned store with smashed windows. Mama and Papa are secular, but “[w]e are Polish Jews because / Mama’s and Papa’s parents and grandparents / in faraway Poland / are all Jews.” Papa joins the French army and is taken prisoner; yellow stars are assigned; Mama sends Odette out of Paris. For 2 1/2 years, Odette practices Catholicism in one village and then another, growing attached to religious ritual and the countryside. Macdonald’s free verse uses unadorned images: a blanket from Odette’s devoted (Christian) godmother; schoolchildren pounding out “La Marseillaise” on desks with their fists to drown out rowdy German soldiers; those same children rolling Odette in a thorn bush when they suspect her secret. Odette’s first-person voice matures subtly as she grows in age and in comprehension of the war’s horrors.

Based on the real Odette Meyers (nee Melspajz), this thoughtful, affecting piece makes an ideal 
Holocaust introduction for readers unready for death-camp scenes.

(2013, January 1). [Review of Odette’s Secrets]. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/maryann-macdonald/odettes-secrets/

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Module 13 Review - Wonderstruck

Wonderstruck / by Brian Selznick.

Bibliographic Citation:

Selznick, B. (2011). Wonderstruck. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.


Brian is a partially deaf 12 year old boy who lives at Gunflint Lake, Minnesota in 1977. Rose is a fully deaf young girl living in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927, and is fascinated with the silent film actress Lillian Mayhew. Brian’s story is told in words, while Rose’s story is told in pictures.

Brian, after recently losing his mother in an accident, becomes increasingly curious about who his father is. After searching his mom’s bedroom, he finds a book called Wonderstruck in one of her dresser drawers. Inside the book, he finds a note that says for Danny Love, M. Inside the book is a bookmark advertising a bookstore in New York City with a note for Elaine (his mom) from Danny (the owner of the book). He also finds a silver locket with a picture of a man that looks like him and on the back is the name Daniel. Ben decides to call but as he is calling, lightning strikes the house traveling through the phone and causing him to go deaf in his good ear. After he spends time in the hospital, he decides to skip out and head to New York City in search of his dad.

Through the pictures, we see that Rose in unhappy where she is and she sneaks out to go to the cinema to see a film starring Lillian Mayhew. We see Rose cut up a book about teaching the deaf to lip-read and speak. She turns the pages of the book into buildings. She cuts out a newspaper clipping about Lillian Mayhew and adds it to a thick scrapbook with other information and memorabilia of Mayhew. We see her pack a suitcase including her scrapbook, art supplies, books, a guide to New York and a postcard from Walter and she leaves home. Rose goes to the stage where Lillian Mayhew is performing and we find out that Lillian Mayhew is her mother. When Mayhew tries to lock Rose in a dressing room in order to send her back home, Rose sneaks out a window to go find Walter.

Both Ben and Rose, in their different times, end up at the American Museum of Natural History. Once both characters are in New York City, their story slowly comes together and they find the hope and love they have been longing for.


The back and forth between the black and white pictures telling one story to the text telling another seem to go together but not really. The stories of the two characters, Ben and Rose, are oddly similar, causing the reader to question whether the Selznick accidently drew a girl in the pictures while writing about a boy. Eventually, an understanding of the pictures and their significance is met, bringing the two stories together and intermingling them more than was first imagined. Together they tell a beautiful story of sadness, love, longing and hope.

Library Use Suggestions:

Read aloud portions of the book involving Ben and show pictures of Rose that relate to Ben’s story. What are similarities and difference between Ben and Rose?

Discuss deafness and how deaf people communicate – reading lips and sign language. 


Brian Selznick didn't have to do it.

He didn't have to return to the groundbreaking pictures-and-text format that stunned the children's-book world in 2007 and won him an unlikely—though entirely deserved—Caldecott medal for The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Weighing in at about two pounds, the 500-plus page tome combined textual and visual storytelling in a way no one had quite seen before.

In a world where the new becomes old in the blink of an eye, Selznick could have honorably rested on his laurels and returned to the standard 32-to-48–page picture-book format he has already mastered. He didn't have to try to top himself.

But he has.

If Hugo Cabret was a risky experiment that succeeded beyond Selznick and publisher Scholastic’s wildest dreams (well, maybe not Scholastic’s—they dream big), his follow-up, Wonderstruck, is a far riskier enterprise. In replicating the storytelling format of Hugo, Selznick begs comparisons that could easily find Wonderstruck wanting or just seem stale.

Like its predecessor, this self-described "novel in words and pictures" opens with a cinematic, multi-page, wordless black-and-white sequence: Two wolves lope through a wooded landscape, the illustrator's "camera" zooming in to the eye of one till readers are lost in its pupil. The scene changes abruptly, to Gunflint Lake, Minn., in 1977. Prose describes how Ben Wilson, age 12, wakes from a nightmare about wolves. He's three months an orphan, living with his aunt and cousins after his mother's death in an automobile accident; he never knew his father. Then the scene cuts again, to Hoboken in 1927. A sequence of Selznick's now-trademark densely crosshatched black-and-white drawings introduces readers to a girl, clearly lonely, who lives in an attic room that looks out at New York City and that is filled with movie-star memorabilia and models—scads of them—of the skyscrapers of New York.

Readers know that the two stories will converge, but Selznick keeps them guessing, cutting back and forth with expert precision. Both children leave their unhappy homes and head to New York City, Ben hoping to find his father and the girl also in search of family. The girl, readers learn, is deaf; her silent world is brilliantly evoked in wordless sequences, while Ben’s story unfolds in prose. Both stories are equally immersive and impeccably paced.

The two threads come together at the American Museum of Natural History, Selznick's words and pictures communicating total exhilaration (and conscious homage to The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). Hugo brought the bygone excitement of silent movies to children; Wonderstruck shows them the thrilling possibilities of museums in a way Night at the Museum doesn't even bother to.

Visually stunning, completely compelling, Wonderstruck demonstrates a mastery and maturity that proves that, yes, lightning can strike twice.

(2011, July 1). [Review of Wonderstruck]. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/brian-selznick/wonderstruck/

Friday, April 17, 2015

Module 12 Review - Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage: A gruesome but true story about brain science / by John Fleischman.

Bibliographic Citation:

Fleischman, J. (2002). Phineas Gage: A gruesome but true story about brain science. Boston, MA: Harcourt Mifflin Company.


Phineas Gage was a railroad construction foreman for the Rutland & Burlington Railroad in Cavendish, Vermont in 1848. He was in charge of blasting through rock with a gunpowder explosive so that the other workers could pick their way through the mountain and railroad tracks could be laid.

On September 13, 1848, Gage was preparing to set off a blast when it is thought that his tamping iron struck the rock and caused a spark leading to the ignition and explosion of the gunpowder. When the explosion happened, Gage’s tamping iron pierced his left cheek and entirely exited through the frontal lobe of his brain. Amazingly, Gage was stunned but still able to walk and talk even though he had a gaping hole in his head and his brain was exposed.

He received medical treatment and made a full physical recovery. Unfortunately, the injury to his brain caused changes to his personality and adeptness in social situations. His doctor took him to Boston to be studied by others in the emerging field of brain science. He was the first live specimen these doctors had to examine following a traumatic brain injury and they were fascinated by his recovery and changes to his demeanor.

Phineas Gage lived another eleven years after his accident. Even though he has been dead for more than 150 years, he has continued to impact the field of science. His skull and tamping iron remain on display at Harvard University.


The detail provided about Phineas Gage and his accident are very interesting. He was a very lucky man to have survived such a traumatic accident, and even though his personality and sociability were impacted, he was physically fine.

The medical background on the study of brain science is also interesting, but a little dense for any person not particularly interested in the medical field. This young adult biography would be an excellent resource for students completing a project on brain science and its history or for students interested in the medical field.

Library Use Suggestions:

I would present this book as a research option for biology or anatomy classes at the high school level. I would also recommend it to students interested in the medical profession.


Gruesome indeed: in 1848, an explosion blew a 13-pound iron rod through railroad worker Gage’s head. Not only did he survive, he never even lost consciousness, going on to become a medical marvel and to live almost another dozen years. Was Gage lucky, or just the opposite? Carefully separating fact from legend, Fleischman traces Gage’s subsequent travels and subtle but profound personality changes, then lets readers decide. Writing in present tense, which sometimes adds immediacy, other times just comes across as artificial, Fleischman fleshes out the tale with looks at mid-19th-century medicine, the history of brain science, and how modern researchers have reconstructed Gage’s accident with high-tech tools. He also adds eye-widening photos of Gage’s actual skull (now at Harvard), his life mask, and dramatic rod-through-bone computer images that, as the author writes, will make you wince “whether you’re a brain surgeon or a sixth grader.” Readers compelled to know more—and that should be just about everyone—will find a helpful, annotated list of print and electronic sources at the end of this riveting (so to speak) study.

(2002, February 15). [Review of Phineas Gage: A gruesome but true story about brain science]. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/john-fleischman/phineas-gage/

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Module 11 Review - The Nazi Hunters

The Nazi hunters / by Neal Bascomb.

Bibliographic Citation:

Bascomb, N. (2013). The Nazi hunters: How a team of spies and survivors captured the world’s most notorious Nazi. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.


Adolf Eichmann was an important player in the Nazi regime as the Nazi commander who removed Jews from their homes and sent them to concentration camps during WWII. Many see him as responsible for the death of 6 million Jews. After the war was over, Eichmann changed his name and moved around  before settling in Buenos Aires, Argentina under the name Ricardo Klement, later sending for his family to join him.

Back in Germany, Austria and Israel, men were searching for, apprehending and prosecuting Nazi war criminals for the genocide of Jews. Eichmann’s high ranking position and role placed him high on the list of war criminals being searched for. It took many years and the help of a young girl that one of Eichmann’s sons dated in Argentina and her father.

Israel’s director of Mossad took over the logistics of searching for Eichmann and the delicate undercover operation of capturing him and returning him to Israel to stand trial. It took many players, numerous name changes and lots of strategic planning to obtain their goal.


The author notes that he took some liberty with the story because he received conflicting information in his interviews. He took the information he received and pieced it together as best he could and 
improvised slightly to fill in gaps.

This novel reads as a spy story, but the basic structure of the story is based in fact. The details of keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering if the plan will meet with success or if they will be caught and punished.

Library Use Suggestions:
I would use this for middle school or high school students. This would be an excellent resource for a student studying WWII or the after-effects of the war on both the German and Jewish people.

After an introduction to the book have students discuss and reflect why the spies and survivors hunted Eichmann down and would they have supported the efforts?


Adolf Eichmann was among the Gestapo war criminals who managed to escape from Europe and establish new lives in Argentina. The search for him involved an international group of Nazi hunters who left no stone unturned to determine where and how he had fled, find him and bring him to justice.

The trail of the man, an exacting scheduler who oversaw the transportation of Jews to the concentration camps, went cold until one small clue led to another. He was finally traced to Argentina, captured and secretly removed to Israel for a public trial. Meticulously detailed plans with timing down to the minute involving several Israeli secret services, intelligence networks, other civilian and governmental agencies, and dedicated individuals brought him to justice. Drawing on a wealth of sources that include original interviews, Bascomb swiftly establishes background, introduces readers to the key players and takes them through the search. At any moment in the hunt something might have gone wrong, with those involved being captured as spies and allowing Eichmann to escape. Tension rises from the pages, thanks to Bascomb’s command of pacing, judicious use of quoted material, inclusion of archival photographs and strong descriptions.
It’s nonfiction as thriller in its recounting of the actions of a midlevel, monstrous clerk and the work of a few dedicated people in delivering him to justice. (author’s note, bibliography, notes, index [not seen]) (Nonfiction. 12 & up)

(2013, August 1). [Review of The Nazi hunters : How a team of spies and survivors captured the world’s most notorious Nazi]. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/neal-bascomb/the-nazi-hunters/

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Module 10 Review - Gingersnap

Gingersnap / by Patricia Reilly Giff

Bibliographic Citation:

Giff, P.R. (2013). Gingersnap. New York, NY: Wendy Lamb Books.


Gingersnap is a story about Jayna, a young red-headed girl that was orphaned when her parents were killed in a car accident. After many years in foster homes, her older brother Rob finally turns 18 and comes to take her home with him, to be a family again.

The story is set toward the end of WWII and after a year of being a family, Rob is sent off as a cook on a U.S. Navy destroyer. Before Rob leaves, he tells Jayna that he has a box of family stuff to show her when he returns. While he is gone, Jayna stays with Celine, their landlord. One day, Stuart, the man from the telegraph office, brings Jayna a telegraph that says the destroyer Rob was on was hit by a Japanese kamikaze plane and that Rob is missing. Jayna goes to their house to find the box with a recipe book and a picture. She packs her things and her pet turtle Theresa and follows the clues and ends up in Brooklyn at a Bakery with Elise. Jayna finally learns about her family and Elise, though not the grandmother Jayna thought her to be, was her grandmother’s best friend and takes Jayna in.

Jayna makes friends in Brooklyn, makes soup to sell in Elise’s bakery and eventually her brother Rob comes home to her.


This historical fiction novel takes the terrible realities of war such as destroyers being sunk of the coast of Okinawa, Japan by Japanese kamikaze bombers and the rationing of food staples such as sugar, eggs and meat and wraps it into a story with fictional characters. While Jayna, Rob, Elise and all the others are made up characters alongside a fictional situation, similar situations occurred as men and boys were killed or missing in action after destroyers and other naval vessels were sunk. Families at home struggled to survive the rationing and the uncertainty of whether their loved ones were coming home or not. Seventy years after the end of WWII, this book gives a slight insight into the lives and struggles of those at home waiting and hoping for their family members to return, along with the search for oneself, for family and identity.

Library Use Suggestions:

This book could be used to introduce/discuss the U.S. involvement in WWII and it’s interaction with Japan.

It can also be used to look at recipes and how food can be used as a comfort, the way Jayna used her soup. Discussion: when you are happy, upset or sick, what is a food that you want your mom or grandma to make for you?


Giff is one of few writers who can entwine an odd lot of characters, set them in Brooklyn during World War II, flavor the story with soup recipes, add a ghost and infuse the plot with a longing for family—and make it all believable.

When Jayna’s brother leaves for submarine duty, she’s left to stay with their cranky landlady (their parents died in a car accident). She remembers an old, blue recipe book inscribed with a name and address in Brooklyn and becomes convinced the woman in a photo standing in front of a bakery named Gingersnap (her nickname) is her grandmother. With her pet box turtle, Theresa, in a cat carrier and the recipe book in her suitcase, she takes a bus into New York City and the subway to Brooklyn. Through a series of misfortunes, she finds the bakery and its owner, Elise. Is Elise her grandmother? Will Rob return from the war? Who is the ghost wearing Jayna’s toenail polish with only her hands and feet visible, and can she connect with Rob? Will Theresa survive? Jayna’s eight tasty soup recipes befit the circumstances as they unfold: Don’t-Think-About-It Soup, Hope Soup, Waiting Soup and so forth. The author’s note to readers refers to her own childhood war memories, lending dimension to the characters and plot. Unfortunately, the cover image of a girl with a suitcase walking by brownstone houses won’t entice readers, though the story itself is riveting.

While the outcome is foreseeable, Jayna’s journey is a memorable one.

(2012, November 15). [Review of Gingersnap]. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/patricia-reilly-giff/gingersnap/