Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

 

vinegar girlThis book kept me completely content through a long plane ride, the sign of a good read.

Our protagonist, Kate, is stuck in her spinster existence. She lives at home with her quirky, scientist father, a self-centered much younger sister. She has a dead-end job teaching preschool. Her life is ripe for romance. However, the road is never easy, and it proves to be rough in this story as well. Her father is convinced a green card marriage is the perfect solution for his daughter. It will keep his lab assistant in the country, and keep his daughter close to home. This plan is insulting to Kate, to say the least, but a bit of an exciting prospect for the lab partner. A sweet story of love and softening of hearts ensues, it is funny, quietly beautiful, and satisfying to the end. A lovely re-telling of a Shakespeare classic. It is compact and endearing.

To Purchase this book on Amazon click here:

Vinegar Girl: A Novel (Hogarth Shakespeare)

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

 

the underground railroadColson Whitehead uses an actual railroad under the ground as the center of the affecting tale of a slave’s s fight to be free. Cora is the lowest of all slaves on the plantation. Living in the hob, where the least desirable and most abused slaves are sentenced to live. She tends one small plot of dirt and grows a handful of her own vegetables. Even this pitiful plot of land is destroyed by a fellow slave. One night Cora takes her chance, and runs, beginning her journey on the train to freedom. With a fellow slave, her journey begins rough, and proves to be a grueling fight to live in peace. Stories of the horrors of slavery are nothing new in our literature, yet this book gets deep into the core of the depraved beliefs that kept freedom from so many people. Slave catchers hunt for Cora the entire book, bent on revenging her betrayal, and ultimately cleansing the world of black people. These horrors need to be read about and thought about, because prejudice is still alive today. This book is a sad journey, you will feel the depths of despair with Cora, but also clutch to hope alongside her. The Underground Railroad is an impeccable work of fiction. Let us all never forget the history before us and work to right the wrongs.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: The Underground Railroad (Pulitzer Prize Winner) (National Book Award Winner) (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel

5 Books to Encourage Empathy

Each book featured here is written about children triumphing in harsh circumstances. I was moved deeply by each and every story. If you are a teacher or parent, read them with your children, they make for thoughtful discussion. If you are an avid reader, add them to your list, they are powerful stories worth every moment of your time.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War that saved my lifeThis book pierced my heart. I ached with the characters, cried for their pain, and rejoiced in their victories. Ada and her brother Jamie have lived with their mother void of all care and love for their entire existence. Ada was born with a clubfoot and has never left her small flat in London. The best thing to happen to these two children was World War II. The children are sent away from London for fear of bombing, and their life opens up great and wide.  They land on the doorstep of a kind woman, not at all prepared for tending to children.  They are all rescued through love. This is a story that proves the people you choose to love are your family. It is tender and full of redemption. It teaches children history, and a heaping serving of empathy and compassion.

To purchase this book on Amazon, click here: The War That Saved My Life

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

esperanza risingEsperanza has only known luxury, comfort, and love on her large ranch in Mexico. Her father is a good boss, providing well for the workers in his vineyards. When an uprising tears Esperanza’s family apart, her life of luxury is taken, and her world is forever changed.  Their family boards a train for the United States, hopeful to find work harvesting crops. I was reminded of The Secret Garden reading Esperanza’s first experiences with class differences and hunger. This book is imperative, it shows children the human side of immigration, and can be a perfect tool to discuss the issues facing our country right now. Esperanza learns to work hard, to humble herself, and that the power of a loving family can sustain you through very rough circumstances. The chapters follow the seasons as they harvest crops. I loved the framework it gave the story. If you teach middle grade novels, add this to your list of must reads. It can open up important discussions about immigration, refugees, and social justice. It is a superb book.

To Purchase this book on Amazon click here: Esperanza Rising

Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt

Fish in a treeSixth grade is hard; and even harder when reading seems impossible and bullies are a constant. For Ally Nickerson, school is grim, like living under a raincloud without a sunbreak in sight. However, a teacher named Mr. Daniels and two off beat characters come into Ally’s life, and become the sunbreak she has needed. Hunt writes about dyslexia with a pen of empathy, she brings understanding and compassion to a problem that many students face in school. Many themes resonate through this book, accepting yourself, and standing up for your friends, persevering through struggles, and looking at the world through someone else’s eyes.  If I taught intermediate students I would add this to a summer reading list. If I have a voracious reader who enjoys realistic fiction, I would feed it to them. If I knew a child with dyslexia I would read it out loud to them, so they could enjoy a story and cheer with Ally as she finds her courage, faces her challenges, and triumphs.

To purchase this book on Amazon, click here: Fish in a Tree

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

The Hundred DressesThe_Hundred_DressesWritten over sixty years ago, this classic story is powerful. Sadly, the themes are still relevant in present day struggles. This simple story exemplifies the pain of bullying and the regret of staying silent instead standing up for another person. Wanda is the child with a single parent lacking resources, a child learning English only at school, a child struggling to read, or any immigrant or oppressed people group. Wanda, the poor immigrant from Poland could be any child. This books shows bullying is wrong and hurtful, but passively letting it happen is equally as wrong. An affecting book to start a discussion.

To Purchase this book on amazon, click here: The Hundred Dresses

Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

counting by 7Living inside a truly brilliant mind is a gift and a trial.  For 12 year old willow Chance, both of these are true.  Willow is gifted beyond measure with a love of horticulture.  If you are my soulmate you read that sentence and thought, you had me at love of horticulture.  If you are not my soul mate, I will press on to sell you on this middle grade novel.  Willow does not fit in at school but is deeply loved by her parents, this grounds her and gives her the footing she needs in the world, until she enters 7th grade.  Her fashion choices, odd interests, and obsessions work against her.  Tragic strikes Willow and she is unmoored.  This is a story about unlikely heroes, how people change, and taking care of those around you, family or not.  This is a sweet and simple story and a quick read, but it will move you.  I loved seeing the world through Willow’s detailed and quirky mind.  I adored her knowledge of the natural world and the kinship she feels towards plants.  My own heart runs green with love for the science of growing things.  I hope you give Willow a Chance, it will be time well spent.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: Counting by 7s

 

 

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

I was humbled to learn I was completely unaware of the history of the Orphan Trains in the US. In 1850, there were 30,000 homeless children in New York City. In an effort to help these children, they were put on trains and taken to live on farms in the midwest. From 1853 to the early 1900’s thousands of children were relocated, this movement is credited with starting the Foster Care System. You can read more about the history here:

Childrens Aid Society

orphan-train

Photo credit to the Childrens Aid Society Website

orphan train book coverOrphan Train, the historical fiction novel set in this time period is outstanding. We meet three characters, Neeve, an orphan in 1929, Molly, aging out of the modern day foster system, and Vivian, a 90 year old woman who Molly is placed to serve community service.  Their stories fit together perfectly, their struggles are different, but also a mirror image of one another. Each womans life is rich with emotion, perseverance, and redemption. A perfect historical fiction novel. The Audiobook was fantastic, I think it added to the book because of the characterization through different voices.

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: Orphan Train

To Purchase the Audiobook, click here: Orphan Train: A Novel

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

 

the nest 2A father’s small, wise, and calculated investment has grown into a large sum of cash. For the Plumb siblings, this cash is the security blanket to cover up a multitude of mistakes. Bea, Leo, Jack, and Melody Plumb are all in different states of upheaval in their lives. Their fathers nest egg is about to be distributed equally to all four of them, and they are counting on that money to fix their problems. Sadly, money cannot fix all problems. The siblings are all forced to examine their lives and relationships with each other. The Nest makes a fantastic book club choice because the characters are outrageous, frustrating, relatable, and sometimes horrid people. However, some characters transform into better versions of themselves, and the story comes full circle in a satisfying ending. Read it with a friend so you can talk about it, it is book that lends itself to discussion. Our book club agreed we all liked it better after we had talked it through

To Purchase this book on Amazon, click here: The Nest