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Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution
Author: Nioucha Homayoonfar
Foreward by Firoozeh Dumas
Published January 1st, 2019 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Summary: In the mid 1970’s Nioucha Homayoonfar’s French mother and Iranian father made a decision that would change her life forever. At the age of five, Nioucha and her parents moved from Pittsburgh to her father’s homeland of Iran, at the time a modern, bustling country where people from different religions co-existed peacefully and women and men alike pursued the highest level of education and professional opportunities. A new school, new language, and new friends took some time to get used to.  But none of that compared to the changes that Nioucha experienced during and after the Iranian revolution of 1979. Once the Ayatollah took control, full robes and head scarves were required, religion classes became mandatory and boys were no longer allowed to interact with girls.  Her life continued to be filled with family, friends, pop music and even her first boyfriend (although both the music and the boyfriend were strictly prohibited), but Tehran had become barely recognizable as bombs were dropped on her neighborhood, loved ones and even Nioucha herself were kidnapped, acquaintances were executed and day by day, their freedom was chipped away.

Publishing in time for the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, Taking Cover reveals the extraordinary story of Nioucha’s struggle to adjust, to understand and to figure out her place in the world while unrest and oppression swirled around her.  Additionally, this title is a unique blend of coming-of-age storytelling and history. Coupled with a thought-provoking forward by New York Times best-selling author Firoozeh Dumas (Funny in FarsiTaking Cover encourages readers to take a deeper look at the importance of protecting religious, political, and social freedoms while Nioucha’s vivid descriptions of Iranian life — the food, the smells, and its customs — exposes readers to a country and culture rarely written about.

Review: Generally, our system of history education and media focus do not set up Americans with great global information which is evident in the many nonfiction and historical fiction books I’ve encountered in my recent lifetime that have taught me so much about the world. This is one of those books.

This memoir does a special thing in being a beautiful narrative that at its heart is about a young girl growing up but is also addresses the true prejudice against women in Iran as well as teach some basics about the Islam faith and the Iranian Revolution. It is hard to balance these objectives but Taking Cover does it really well which makes it perfect for middle school readers because the story will engage them while they are exposed to a time period and place that they may know little about, as I did.

Side note: Is anyone else really impressed by the vivid memories that some have of their childhood? That is another thing I took away from this book–I remember a lot less than others! Excerpts from the memoir would be wonderful as a mentor text about writing about memories using imagery.

Side note: I would love to do a memoir book club with diverse voices including Taking Cover! I was thinking Born a Crime (the new young reader edition), Hey KiddoOpen Mic, and March Book One-Three. What other titles do you know of that would fit this idea?

Educators’ Guide provided by the publisher:

Flagged Passages: “CHAPTER 1: Fury 1986 (Part 1)

Javabe ablahan khomooshist. -Persian Proverb
Silence is the best answer to fools.

I knew I was in trouble when the white jeep made a U-turn. Driven by the Zeinab Sisters (or the Black Crows, as I called them), it raced toward me and screeched to a stop.

My mother was pushing my brother in a stroller. She had already crossed the street, but I’d lagged behind. So when the ‘Moral Police’ pulled in front of me, I was all alone. Their job was to ensure that all women and girls dressed in a manner dictated by Islam. To set an example, these four were covered head to toe in black chadors, and some even wore gloves.

The Black Crow sitting in the back seat jumped out and grabbed my arm without saying a word. I caught my mother’s eye just as I was being pushed inside the jeep. Maman stood helplessly, screaming across the traffic for the Crows to let me go.” (p. 11)

Read This If You Love: Memoirs, Learning about unreported history, Expanding your knowledge of the world

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**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing the book for review!**

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The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly
Author: Rebecca K.S. Ansari
Published March 5th, 2019 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: Charlie O’Reilly is an only child. Which is why it makes everyone uncomfortable when he talks about his brother. Liam, his eight-year-old kid brother, who, up until a year ago, slept in the bunk above Charlie, took pride in being as annoying as possible, and was the only person who could make Charlie laugh until it hurt.

Then came the morning when the bunk, and Liam, disappeared forever. No one even remembers him—not Charlie’s mother, who has been lost in her own troubles; and not Charlie’s father, who is gone frequently on business trips. The only person who believes Charlie is his best friend, Ana—even if she has no memory of Liam, she is as determined as Charlie is to figure out what happened to him.

The search seems hopeless—until Charlie receives a mysterious note, written in Liam’s handwriting. The note leads Charlie and Ana to make some profound discoveries about a magic they didn’t know existed, and they soon realize that if they’re going to save Liam, they may need to risk being forgotten themselves, forever.

About the Author: Rebecca K.S. Ansari is a former ER doctor. The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly is her first book. She lives in Minnesota with her husband, four sons, and some seriously massive pets.

Praise: “As puzzle pieces click into place, The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly reveals that it’s stories—and family—that make us whole. A deeply satisfying and beautiful book.” —Elana K. Arnold, National Book Award finalist and author of The Question of Miracles

Review: Read the flagged passage below… I’ll wait…

Welcome back. Those are the first few paragraphs of the book. Wow, right?! One of my favorite beginnings ever, and I was so excited to share it with anyone who would listen (I tweeted it, I read it to my students, I read it to anyone!) And yes, the rest of the book lives up to the expectations of that amazing start.

I was so impressed with the crafting of this novel, specifically as a debut novel. The author combines narratives, adds twists and turns, and keeps you guessing throughout the novel. The direction you think the novel is going to go is ever changing so predictions are impossible to make. All of these aspects made for an enjoyable novel that, as the name suggests, is a puzzle waiting to be put together.

Rebecca K.S. Ansari also did a wonderful job threading different big ideas throughout the book: acceptance, guilt, friendship, hope, trust, depression. Different sections of the book highlight these different big ideas and could be used for great discussions. The book also, as you can see, deals with some really tough and dark big ideas, but I think this narrative will give many students a jumping off point for talking about some of the struggles and ideas in Charlie’s story.

And the characters in the book are well-crafted and multi-dimensional. Each character has a full story that is developed to allow the reader to truly  get to know the world that Charlie is adventuring in. I specifically loved the friendship between Charlie and Ana–an unexpected friendship that was built on trust, believing, and support.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions:
Publisher-Created Educators’ Guide

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, The Lost Girls by Anne Ursu, Midnight is a Place by Joan Aiken, The Grave by James Heneghan, Kit’s Wilderness by David Arnold

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Don’t Miss Out on the Other Blog Tour Stops: 

March 8 Nerdy Book Club @nerdybookclub
March 9 The Book Monsters @TheBookMonsters
March 11 LitCoach Lou @litcoachlou
March 12 Bluestocking Thinking @BlueSockGirl
March 13 A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust @bethshaum
March 14 Maria’s Mélange @mariaselke
March 15 Unleashing Readers @unleashreaders
March 18 March Middle Grade Madness at Word Spelunking @wordspelunker
March 29 Writers’ Rumpus @kirsticall

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy for review and giveaway!!**

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The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published March 6th, 2018 by HarperTeen

Summary: A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

About the Author: Elizabeth Acevedo is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over fourteen years of performance poetry experience, Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. She has two collections of poetry, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). The Poet X is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC

Praise:

  • National Book Award
  • Pura Belpré Award
  • Michael L. Printz Award
  • Golden Kite Award Honor Book

★ “Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance. Poignant and real, beautiful and intense.”– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★ “Debut novelist Acevedo’s free verse gives Xiomara’s coming-of-age story an undeniable pull, its emotionally charged bluntness reflecting her determination and strength. At its heart, this is a complex and sometimes painful exploration of love in its many forms, with Xiomara’s growing love for herself reigning supreme.”– Publishers Weekly (starred review)

★ “In nearly every poem, there is at least one universal truth about adolescence, family, gender, race, religion, or sexuality that will have readers either nodding in grateful acknowledgment or blinking away tears.”– Horn Book (starred review)

★ “The Poet X is beautiful and true—a splendid debut.”– Shelf Awareness (starred review)

★ “Acevedo’s poetry is skillfully and gorgeously crafted, each verse can be savored on its own, but together they create a portrait of a young poet sure to resonate with readers long after the book’s end.”– School Library Journal (starred review)

“Crackles with energy and snaps with authenticity and voice.” —Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation

“An incredibly potent debut.” —Jason Reynolds, author of the National Book Award Finalist Ghost

“Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero.” —Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street

Kellee’s Review: I am not a rereader. Once I know a story, very rarely do I feel the need to revisit it; however, with The Poet X, I didn’t want to stop reading and listening to her words. As soon as I finished reading it, I found the audiobook so I could listen to it. The power of the words do not diminish with rereading, instead they scream from the pages into the reader’s hearts and minds with each read. I even plan on rereading it again because now that I know the story, I want to dive into the beautiful poetry.

With her story, Elizabeth Acevedo took me back to high school–she was talking to me. Actually, she is talking to so many: Girls who are trying to figure out their body and sexuality, Kids who are questioning religion, Families who are struggling with change,  Students who are learning to find their voice, and So many people out there that need these words. 

Ricki’s Review: I haven’t been able to stop recommending this book. I’ve even bought it for a few people! I’ve read this book twice, and I find new beauty in different elements each time that I read it. The writing is so captivating that I’d really love to see it as a movie or performed on a stage. Elizabeth Acevedo is known for her slam poetry performances, and she definitely won’t disappoint her followers in this one. 

As Kellee noted, the themes are richly realized and offer much conversation for readers. It would make a wonderful book club selection. Each character has great depth, and I imagined them to be friends. I suspect many of the readers of this blog have read this book, but if you haven’t, drop everything and read it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did one teacher change the course of Xiomara’s existence?
  • How are Xiomara and her mother alike in their passions?
  • How does Father Sean support Xiomara in her search for her personal identity?
  • Aman shows Xiomara that her body is not the only thing that speaks to boys. How does he show her that she is more than other men have made her feel?

Example Discussion Questions from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:

  • How does Xiomara reckon with her own silence? Have you ever felt silenced? Why or why not?
  • How does Xiomara’s relationship with writing change her relationship with her mother over the course of the novel? Why do you think writing affects her relationship with her mother? What about church and spirituality–how does X compare and contrast religion (prayer) and poetry?
  • What is it about writing that makes Xiomara feel brave?

Example Creative Writing Prompts from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:

  • List the five senses. Read the poem “Names.” What do you know about your name? How is your name a sound? A smell? A touch?
  • Read Xiomara’s responses to Ms. Galiano’s writing assignment “When was the last time you felt free?” Write your own response to Ms. Galiano’s question.

Flagged Passages: 

  • I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.
  • My brother was born a soft whistle:
    quiet, barely stirring the air, a gentle sound.
    But I was born all the hurricane he needed
    to lift – and drop- those that hurt him to the ground.
  • Just because your father’s present, doesn’t mean he isn’t absent.
  • While I watch her hands, and face,
    feeling like she’s talking directly to me.
    She’s saying the thoughts I didn’t know anyone else had.

    We’re different, this poet and I. In looks, in body,
    in background. But I don’t feel so different
    when I listen to her. I feel heard.

“Music for A” from The Poet X, Live Performance by Elizabeth Acevedo: 

Audio Exceprt also found at: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062662804/the-poet-x/

Read This If You Love: Meg Medina, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Sandra Cisneros, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Solo by Kwame Alexander, Open Riffs edited by Mitali Perkins, Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes, What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Water in May by Ismée Amiel Williams

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Watch Hollow
Author: Gregory Funaro
Published February 12th, 2019 by HarperCollins

Summary: Deep within the enchanted woods in the town of Watch Hollow stands the once-grand Blackford House, whose halls hold a magical secret: a giant cuckoo clock that does much more than tell time. But when the clock’s gears cease to turn, an evil presence lurking among the trees begins to come out of the shadows.

When Lucy and Oliver Tinker arrive in Watch Hollow, they have no idea that anything is wrong. A mysterious stranger has made their father an offer that’s too good for him to refuse. All Mr. Tinker needs to do is fix the clock at Blackford House and fistfuls of gold coins are his to keep.

It doesn’t take long, however, for the children to realize that there is more to Blackford House than meets the eye. And before they can entirely understand the strange world they’ve stumbled into, Lucy and Oliver must join forces with a host of magical clock animals to defeat the Garr—a vicious monster that not only wants Blackford House for itself, but also seeks to destroy everything the Tinkers hold dear.

About the Author: Gregory Funaro grew up in Cranston, Rhode Island, and wrote his first story, The Ghost in the Window, in the fourth grade. He considers this to be his finest work, but unfortunately it has been lost to time. Following high school Greg majored in theatre at the University of New Hampshire, and after various acting gigs, received his AM in Theatre Arts from Brown University and an MFA in Acting from the FSU/Asolo Conservatory. He began his literary career writing thrillers for adults, but switched to children’s books after the birth of his daughter. His first book for Disney-Hyperion, ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODDITORIUM (2015), was a New York Times best seller and an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and his second, ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODD AQUATICUM (2016), received a Kirkus STARRED review. Look for WATCH HOLLOW and THE MAZE OF SHADOWS, coming from HarperCollins in 2019/20. Greg also teaches drama at East Carolina University, and is busy working on his next novel.

Follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@GregoryFunaro) and visit his https://www.gregoryfunaro.com/ to learn more about his books and him.

Review: I am so glad that Harper allows Gregory Funaro to continue expanding his creative tendrils because every one of his books I read, I am intrigued by how he crafts a story, the voice he gives his characters, the point of view he decides, and the surprises he gives me throughout the reading. With Watch Hollow, I love how Lucy and Oliver obviously have a voice even though the book is in third person, the way he ties everything together from the slightest mention at the beginning of the book to huge events in the end, and I love that I cannot predict what is going to happen.

And not only is the story crafted well, the plot is one that is going to suck in our readers that are always looking for spookiness. It is just the right amount of weirdness, supernatural, creepy mansions, unknown creatures, and magic. The characters are also crafted really well which gives the readers someone to connect with.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Gergory Funaro’s fantasy is so different than the traditional fantasy books, and his stories will fascinate readers who may not be sure if they like fantasy because of the twist, turns, and intelligence in his narratives. Not only should his books be found in all libraries, classroom, public, and school, but it would also be an interesting to have an in-class book club focusing on different examples of fantasy and have students, at the end of the clubs, discuss what made their books fantasy and look at the wide variety within the genre.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did the inclusion of illustrations throughout the book help with your understanding of the plot?
  • What does the animals quick acceptance of Lucy show you about her personality?
  • What were your initial assumptions about Mr. Quigley?
  • What did the inclusion of the crow from before they went to Blackford House tell you about the kids?
  • Once you find out the truth behind the house, what clues can you find when you go back through the book?
  • How did the third person limited point of view switching between the two siblings affect the narrative?
  • How did the author use imagery throughout the book to engage his readers?
  • How does the author set the Gothic and dark mood in the story?

Flagged Passages: 

“Oliver hung back in the doorway as Lucy and their father stepped into a cavernous, darkened foyer. Rectangles of dim dusty light filtered in from the rooms on the other side, and Oliver could just make out a wide staircase dissolving up into the gloom at the far end of the foyer…

Oliver pushed up his glasses, stepped inside, and set down his suitcase. His eyes had adjusted a bit, but with only the daylight streaming in, the foyer was still dim–in part because the walls were paneled three-quarters high in dark wood. To his left, he spied a shadowy parlor filled with antique furniture; to his right, a dining room with a long table. There were a handful of paintings on the walls, and where there was no paneling, the paper was peeled and gray…” (Chapter 4)

Read This If You Love: Explorer series by Adrienne KressThe Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie, The Nest by Kenneth Oppel, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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Lost in the Antarctic: The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance
Author: Tod Olson
Published January 1st, 2019 by Scholastic Inc.

Summary: There wasn’t a thing Ernest Shackleton could do. He stood on the ice-bound Weddell Sea, watching the giant blocks of frozen saltwater squeeze his ship to death. The ship’s name seemed ironic now: the Endurance. But she had lasted nine months in this condition, stuck on the ice in the frigid Antarctic winter. So had Shackleton and his crew of 28 men, trying to become the first expedition ever to cross the entire continent.

Now, in October 1915, as he watched his ship break into pieces, Shackleton gave up on that goal. He ordered his men to abandon ship. From here on, their new goal would be to focus on only one thing: survival.

About the Author: Tod Olson is the author of the historical fiction series How to Get Rich and the four books in the Lost series–Lost in the Pacific, 1942; Lost in Outer Space;  Lost in the Amazon; and Lost in the Antarctic. He has written for national magazines on the Columbine school shooting, homeless teens, the murder of Matthew Shepard, and many other stories of interest to children and young adults. Tod holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Vermont with his family, his mountain bike, and his electric reclining chair. To learn more, and to download free teaching resources, visit his website: todolson.com.

Praise for Previous Titles in the Series:

★”A riveting, completely engrossing true survival story.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Engaging… A great choice for collections.” —School Library Journal

Review: I do not know how I am just learning about this series! It is right up my alley! As a huge fan of narrative nonfiction, I couldn’t put the book down, and I cannot wait to read the others in the series. What I loved about the book is it is written like a novel but is all truth! The author did a great job taking the truth of the historical event and turning it into a story that will truly suck in a reader.

And I know I am on the right track because when I went to school to talk to my students about the series, specifically to my historical fiction and nonfiction loving 4th period, there were a few kids who had already heard of, read, and loved previous books in the series.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: First, add these to your library! These will be perfect for your I Survived series readers and nonfiction fans. I also think that the series would be a wonderful series for in-class book clubs for each group to read about a different historical event then after finishing the book, the culminating task for the book club could be sharing about the event with their class.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What made Shackleton the perfect captain for an Antarctic expedition?
  • What do you believe was the decision that doomed the voyage?
  • Why were the dogs and cat not able to go through the whole voyage with the crew?
  • Why would the author have chosen this voyage for his series?
  • What is the difference between historical fiction and narrative nonfiction?
  • How did the addition of a photographer on the trip change the way that we learn about the voyage now?

Flagged Passages: “Prologue, Weddell Sea, Antarctica, October 26th, 1915:

The ship didn’t stand a chance, and Frank Hurley knew it. He’d been in the engine room with the carpenter, trying desperately t keep the water out. They had walled off the leak, where the sternpost and rudder had been wrenched out of place… The Endurance was being squeezed to death around them.

One man stood mostly still, watching the commotion from the raised deck in the stern. The crew referred to him as Sir Ernest in writing. In person they called him ‘the Boss.’ He had broad shoulders and a compact frame, blunt features, and a square jaw. He looked like he was built for this kind of venture–leaving every known thing behind to risk his life in a frozen wilderness.

Ernest Shackleton had been to Antarctic twice already. Twice had had almost died there. Now, his third expedition hovered on the brink of disaster.” (p. 1-4)

Read This If You Love: Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong, The I Survived series, Narrative nonfiction, History

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Searching for Lottie
Author: Susan L. Ross
Publication Date: February 26th, 2019 by Holiday House

Summary: Lottie, a talented violinist, disappears during the Holocaust. Can her grand-niece, Charlie, discover what happened?

A long-lost cousin, a mysterious locket, a visit to Nana Rose in Florida, a diary written in German, and a very special violin all lead twelve-year-old Charlie to the truth about her great-aunt Lottie in this intriguing, intergenerational mystery. 12-year-old middle schooler Charlie, a budding violinist, decides to research the life of her great-aunt and namesake for a school ancestry project. Everyone in Charlie’s family believes Great-Aunt Charlotte (Lottie), a violin prodigy, died at the hands of the Nazis, but the more Charlie uncovers about her long-lost relative, the more muddied Great-Aunt Lottie’s story becomes. Could it be that Lottie somehow survived the war by hiding in Hungary? Could she even still be alive today? In Searching for Lottie, Susan Ross has written a highly personal work of historical fiction that is closely inspired by her own family members whose lives were lost in the Holocaust.

About the Author: Susan Ross grew up in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine, and divides her time between Connecticut and Maine. She attended Brown University and NYU School of Law.

After practicing law, Susan taught legal writing in Brooklyn and in Budapest, and creative writing to kids and adults in Connecticut. She especially loves author visits. There is nothing Susan enjoys more than hanging out in a classroom talking to students about her books and teaching kids about writing and literature!

Kiki and Jacques was inspired by the experience of Somali refugees who moved to Susan’s hometown in Maine. Susan worked with refugee teenagers in writing the book and was greatly moved by their amazing positive energy and hopeful determination.

Searching for Lottie was inspired by stories from members of Susan’s family, whose lives were forever changed by the Holocaust.

Susan teaches writing at Westport Writers Workshop and is a trustee at the Westport Library.

Review: I think historical fiction is one of the most important genres because it makes us relive history in ways that we never could without story. Searching for Lottie is interesting because it is contemporary but also includes a historical narrative as Charlie learns more and more about Lottie. This makes it a great choice for students who may not like historical fiction but are interested in history.

I am also a fan of Susan Ross’s writing because she does a fabulous job taking a tough subject and writing a middle grade novel that gives an introduction to the topic without being too mature but also while not sugar coating it. It is so important to have middle grade books for our students that show the real world in an appropriate yet real way.

And it really helps that the stories are interesting and many kids will connect with the conflicts and events the characters take part in.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Searching for Lottie is inspired by true events, specifically those of Susan’s family. She shares much on her website including this background information:

Charlotte Kulka (called Lotte — in English, “Lottie”) was my mother’s teenage cousin. She lived in Prague with her father, a doctor. Her mother passed away when she was little. Tragically, Charlotte and her father both perished, but her beloved aunt, my Cousin Vally Szemere, survived with false papers in Budapest. Vally boarded with a Catholic family who protected her and they became lifelong friends. My middle name was given in Lotte’s memory.

Another relative, Magda Szemere, was a famous young violin soloist in Europe before she, too, was arrested and forever disappeared. I wrote about my bittersweet delight at finding her music in the essay, “Sweet Strings of Sorrow.”

In doing the research for this book, I discovered to my astonishment that her music had been preserved on gramophone recordings and remains available in music archives.

My mother’s cousin, Magda Krizan, survived the war posing as a model and nanny in Hungary — and was a member of the resistance. She escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia with her husband in 1968 and came to America.

My mother, Erika Lencz, escaped Vienna in 1938 with her brother, Erwin. She was twenty years old. My grandparents and nearly all of the rest of her family were lost. Mom worked in a pillow factory in Brooklyn and as a nanny before settling down in Maine with my father, where she ran our family wedding gown shop and had five children.”

Visit http://www.authorsusanross.com/about-searching-for-lottie/ to listen to the recording and view photos.

This information along with Charlie’s project in the book makes me want to ask students to learn about their family (remember to have a plan for any adopted, foster, or other kids with no access to family history!).

Parts of the story also would be a great addition to an orchestra classroom as Charlie and Lottie write about different pieces, specifically the music journal that Lottie kept.

Finally, as with most historical fiction novels, this story would be a fantastic jumping off point for inquiry in the classroom about our world’s past.

Discussion Questions: 

  • After listening to the pieces that Charlie and Lottie share in the book, which piece is your favorite?
  • What other ways did Jews and other ostracized humans escape Nazi-occupied territory during World War II?
  • What traits did Charlie show when researching her namesake?
  • How did the research change her relationship with her brother?
  • Using evidence from the text, how can you tell that Charlie loves music?

Flagged Passages: “‘Lottie was Nana’s sister, right?’

‘Yes, Lottie was several years older. Your nana told me how clever she was; how determined…just like you.’ Mom smiled. ‘And here’s another thing you two have in common–Lottie played the violin. In fact, Lottie played so beautifully that she performed with the Vienna Philharmonic when she was a teenage.’

‘Seriously?’ That was a weird coincidence. Violin was her thing, too. Charlie had begged her parents for lessons when she was still in kindergarten. She’d always loved music, and she liked pop and hip-hop as much as any kid at Hillmont Middle School…but there was something about classical that made her heart skip. She could lose herself in a symphony in a strange way that she never tried to explain to her friends. Only her best friend, Sarah, understood that feeling, but Sarah had moved to Boston over the summer…

‘What else do you know about Lottie?’

‘Well, the family was from Vienna, the capital of Austria. Her father was a math professor at the university.’

‘And…what exactly happened to them.’

Mom hesitated, then let out a long sigh. ‘Honestly, I’m not entirely certain. When the Germans invaded Austria, the Jews were at the mercy of the Nazis. I know that Lottie was lost, along with my grandfather. My grandmother and Nana Rose were lucky to escape. They came to America on a ship.’

‘So Lottie died…right?’ Charlie swallowed hard.

‘Yes, I guess she must have.’ Mom looked uncomfortable.

‘You guess? You don’t know for sure?’ Charlie sat up straight. She searched her mother’s blank face and glanced down at the photo. Lottie’s eyes were bright, with long dark lashes, and they were staring back up at her.

‘The truth is that nobody knows exactly what happened to Lottie…'” (p. 7-9)

Read This If You Love: Music, World War II historical fiction novels, History, Family

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**Thank you to the author for providing a copy of the book for review!!**

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