Candlewick Press: Three Reviews of Upcoming Books

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

Publication Date: October 10th, 2017

Rating: 3 ¾ Stars

A historical novel, set in Cuba during Fidel Castro’s campaign to improve the national literacy rate. Volunteer flyers are posted in Havana schools, where 13-year-old Lora sees that she fits the criteria (she can read and write) and wants to volunteer. Her parents are understandably concerned as she would leave home for a year and travel to impoverished, remote locations to teach citizens how to read and write. This is Lora’s story.

In reading this book I was hoping to gain more diverse insight into Cuba, as well as the historical time frame the story surrounds. This book takes place during a year of upheaval as Fidel Castro and his militia begin their rise. As is usually typical, the children do not necessarily fully understand the dangers of political turmoil like that of their parents, and while Lora acts bravely by wanting to sign up to teach, she did not seem to understand the full weight of her decision. It isn’t until Lora is thrown into the impoverished countryside that she begins to understand the fear, but by that time she feels more dedicated to the cause, and what a monumental cause it is.

What was most shocking about this novel is that STILL, in the current decade, Cuba boasts literacy rates well above 90% as a result of this campaign. Fidel’s goal was to skyrocket Cuba’s literacy rates by “enlisting” hundreds of thousands of literate individuals to teach those without access to schools. The “final test” for not only Lora’s students, but all students participating in Fidel’s campaign, was to write Fidel a letter and mail it to him. Even in the mid-1900’s Fidel sought citizen feedback and organized a “low-cost,” volunteer operated, educational campaign, something America of TODAY could certainly use more of.

I especially loved that the author, Katherine Paterson, was able to capture both the adult’s and child’s reactions to events. She exposed the reader to diversity, little known historical events (at least in my small corner of the U.S.) and, my favorite, the importance of education! I could not get enough of the palpable excitement Katherine emanated in her writing of the villagers. So many of the illiterate were excited for the opportunity to learn, children and adults alike. They so desperately wanted to be able to write their name, something I’ve personally taken for granted throughout my life, but meant so much to the people Lora encountered. Lora’s lessons even infected other villagers to spread the wealth and teach one another creating even more excitement and educational opportunities.

Ultimately, this book was a quick read, but a great book for intermediate age children to be exposed to.

*Disclaimer: This book was generously provided to be my Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.


The Wonderling by Mira Bartok

Publication Date: September 26th, 2017

Rating: 3 ¼ Stars

This Wonderling by Mira Bartok is Matilda meets Zootopia/Narnia in a fable type book about overcoming labels, hardships and circumstances.

An orphaned fox, living in a home for unclaimed “groundlings (part human, part animal, i.e. Zootopia/Narnia reference),” ruled by a Mrs. Trunchbull type principal (i.e. Matilda reference), discovers a world he’s never known with the help of a bird that can’t fly, but tinkers and invents whimsical gadgets. Together, the fox and the bird, meet extraordinary characters and fight to save music across the land!

Throughout this book I kept rooting for “Number 13” (the fox). Ordinarily, this would not be a book I was drawn to given the fantasy-type world in which it surrounds, however, even with my uncreative mind I was able to easily follow along and picture all the characters and their adventures in my mind. An added benefit was that the author included such AMAZING illustrations throughout the book, I found myself excited to come across the next illustration as they tied into the plot of the book and helped the reader to picture the characters as the author intended.

Ultimately, I found myself cheering for “Number 13,” as I couldn’t put the book down hoping he conquered his quest successfully.

*Disclaimer: This book was generously provided to be my Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.


Being Fishkill by Ruth Lehrer

Publication Date: November 14th, 2017

Rating: 4 ¾ Stars

Why I chose this book: I was fascinated by the name Carmel Fishkill. Carmel, or Fishkill as she later starts going by to be more “badass,” was named for the road sign her mother was passing as she gave birth to her in the backseat of her father’s pickup truck. While I personally cannot imagine the horrors of growing up with a name like Fishkill, I know that many kids grow up with worse. In Iowa City we are fortunate to house one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals. As a result, families from across the nation, rural, urban or otherwise travel to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital for a wide range of treatment. As such, we are exposed to a WIDE range of unique names within our community, although Fishkill is not one I’ve yet come across.

As you can imagine Fishkill did not have a great home life, but she was fortunate to meet Duck-Duck (Duck-Duck is Christina’s “gang” name) at school and form a friendship, a friendship that included food at Duck-Duck’s house and love from Duck-Duck’s mom.

Why I liked this book: This book was so REAL. Despite the fictional genre, the author exposed the reader to situations that unfortunately are not uncommon for many children. The light shed on Fishkill’s circumstances and even Duck-Duck’s more “normal” (can we really define a normal family?) home life exposed the reader to some extremely deep situations without turning the book “dark.” Fishkill’s inner dialogue allowed one to understand what it may be like for someone with her familial background to suddenly enter Duck-Duck’s “normal” household. This book read more like an unfortunate adventure between friends than a “dark” look at childhood traumas, making it an appropriate read for a wide range of ages.

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by LibraryThing Early Readers Program in conjunction with the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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