Ship of Dolls

A few minutes ago, I finished reading one more of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. (Only one more to go!) The book was Ship of Dolls by Shirley Parenteau.

While I’m not one to seek out much historical fiction, I admit that I liked this book more than I thought I would. It takes place in the 1920s, one of my favorite historical periods, but Ship of Dolls is not all flappers and speakeasies. No, this book is set in Portland, Oregon, and it tells the story of Lexie, a young girl trying to find her way after being sent to live with her grandparents. (Sounds a bit like the book I posted on earlier today, doesn’t it?)

The year is 1926, and Lexie Lewis would like nothing more than going back to live with her mother, a singer and flapper who is always the life of any party. That party is currently far away in San Francisco. Lexie’s new stepfather doesn’t think this life is a place for a child, so Lexie is living with her grandparents in Portland. She’s not happy about the situation–especially since her grandmother is so strict–and she longs to be reunited with her mother.

At school, Lexie may have an opportunity to see her mother once again. Her class has been collecting money to send a Friendship Doll to Japan. Letters will be sent along with the doll on its long journey, first to San Francisco and then to Japan. The student who writes the best letter will get to accompany the doll on the first leg of the journey. Lexie is determined to win this all-important contest, travel to California, and be reunited with her mother…permanently.

But winning this contest is not as easy as one would hope. Lexie gets into a bit of trouble trying to get inspiration for her letter, and that trouble leads to even more as her little lies turn into big ones. Then there’s the matter of Louise Wilkins, Lexie’s rival at school. Louise is also determined to win this contest, and she’s willing to do anything to get her way.

As Lexie works on her Friendship Doll project, she continues to focus on being with her mom again. Sure, working on this project has brought her closer to her grandparents, especially her grandma, and maybe they’re so strict for a reason, but Lexie belongs with her mom. Right?

Lexie’s potential reunion with her mother is growing closer and closer, and, soon enough, Lexie faces an important decision. Should she go with her mom on whatever adventure is next, or should she stay with her grandparents in Portland? The answer may surprise even Lexie.


Lexie Lewis’ story is fictional, but it is based on an actual event…and one that I had never heard of. In the late 1920s, Dr. Sidney Gulick organized the Friendship Doll Project, which sent over 12,000 dolls from the U.S. to Japan in an effort to foster friendship and peace between the two nations. Japan reciprocated with fifty-eight Dolls of Gratitude sent to the U.S. While the two countries did eventually engage each other in World War II, the dolls of friendship were remembered years later, and some of them have been found, restored, and displayed in museums.

Aside from the interesting historical events in this story, I think Ship of Dolls is a good book for addressing concepts like honesty, friendship, forgiveness, and tolerance. Lexie, her grandmother, and even Louise grow throughout the course of the book, and it’s interesting to see how their interactions change–particularly in regards to the concepts listed above–as the story progresses.

If Ship of Dolls sounds like the book for you, there’s more to enjoy. A second book, Dolls of Hope, follows the very doll in Lexie’s story on it’s journey in Japan. A third book, Dolls of War, is scheduled for a Fall 2017 release, and there will also be a fourth and final book in the series called Dolls of Secret. You can find more information on all of these Friendship Doll books on author Shirley Parenteau’s website.

With that, I’m going to wrap things up and enjoy my last few hours of freedom before the new school year begins. So long for now!

 

Anybody Shining

As another school year draws near, I’m once again scrambling to finish all of the current nominees for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award. As of today, I’ve managed to read 17 of the 20 titles, and I started number 18. Can I finish the rest before next Tuesday? We’ll see.

Anyhoo, I finished reading Anybody Shining by Frances O’Roark Dowell, one of this year’s SCCBA nominees, this afternoon. Historical fiction is not typically my go-to genre, but I found this book to be a quick, moving read that I think many of my students will enjoy.

Anybody Shining takes place in the mountains of western North Carolina in the 1920s, and the language used definitely reflects the setting. To be perfectly honest, I felt like I was reading something that one of my older relatives could have written. I still hear some of the same vocabulary encountered in this book, and I’m willing to bet that many readers, particularly those who’ve grown up in the South, will be able to relate.

Arie Mae Sparks wants just one friend to call her own. She’s hopeful that her cousin Caroline, who lives all the way in Raleigh, will respond to her letters one of these days–and be the friend she’s always wanted–but it’s not looking good at the moment. Still…Arie Mae keeps on writing, telling her cousin about everything happening in Bone Gap, North Carolina.

Though Arie Mae despairs of ever finding one true friend, newcomers in her little town may provide some hope. These new folks–who’ve arrived all the way from Baltimore, Maryland–have come to the mountains to learn about the nearby settlement school. Almost immediately, Arie Mae sees the potential for friendship in Tom, a boy who has a special shine about him.

Even though Tom has a bad leg and can’t do everything the other kids can, he and Arie Mae form a fast friendship. He doesn’t care at all that Arie Mae is not as fancy as his sisters or that her family doesn’t have as much as his. He simply wants to hear her stories and go on adventures with her.

Arie Mae is all for seeking adventure, but she soon learns that Tom has more difficulties than just a bad leg. His mother warns Arie Mae that her new friend has a weak heart and shouldn’t exert himself too much. Arie Mae worries about this, but Tom is determined to do just what he wants. What’s a friend to do?

Through her continuing letters to her cousin, Arie Mae reflects on her friendship with Tom, her feelings about his condition, her family and their life on the mountain, and all sorts of other things. She thinks about what makes her world so odd to some and so special to others. Can people be true friends when they see the world so differently?

Learn more about the power of friendship, reaching out, and overcoming differences when you read Anybody Shining by Frances O’Roark Dowell.


Like some of the other SCCBA nominees this year, Anybody Shining is an excellent book for exploring the concept of voice. Arie Mae’s voice, in both her letters and the book’s narrative, shines through, and I think readers will delight in how she views the world around her. I’m hoping they’ll even follow her example and write their own friendly letters, allowing their own distinct voices to shine.

To learn more about Anybody Shining and other books by Frances O’Roark Dowell, visit the author’s website.

I’m hoping to have a book trailer up for this book soon. You can check my school YouTube channel for that in the near future.

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor

As you can probably surmise from the title of my latest read, Stolen: A Letter to My Captor, this is not a light and fluffy read. This 2011 Printz Honor Book by Lucy Christopher is exactly what it seems. It’s a letter a girl writes to the man who kidnapped her.

We’ve probably all seen stories about abducted people on the news, and the people who take them usually have a certain look about them. I hate to stereotype, but the photos we see on the news tend to depict crazy-eyed, dirty, bearded, white men who, truthfully, look the part. And that’s where this story differs.

When Gemma first sees Ty in a Bangkok airport, she finds him both familiar and attractive. And this blue-eyed, blond, muscled guy seems oddly interested in her. Gemma couldn’t possibly know that he’s been following her for years or that he’s planned to drug her, disguise her, and take her to live in the desolate Australian Outback.

But that’s exactly what happens, and Gemma doesn’t know how to handle her new and frightening circumstances. She tries to escape in a number of ways, but there’s no hope of rescue. She’s stuck with Ty, and he wants to keep her forever.

As days pass, Gemma longs to return to London, her parents, and her old life, but she also learns more about the desert that her captor has chosen for their home. She learns more about Ty. He has a volatile temper and a tragic past, but Gemma realizes that there’s also something gentle about him. He’s promised not to hurt her, and, to a certain degree, she believes him.

Gemma eventually grows somewhat resigned to her circumstances, but what will happen when a terrifying event forces a life or death decision?

Will Ty release Gemma in order to spare her more pain? What will his decision mean for him…and for Gemma? Can Gemma go back to her old self after this ordeal has changed her so much? How does she truly feel about Ty after being isolated with him for so long?

Answer these questions and many more when you read Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher.


Stolen is gritty, raw, maddening, and nearly impossible to put down. I had to keep reading to see just why Ty took Gemma. What connection could they have possibly had that would put such an idea into his head? While that could have been fleshed out a bit more, it was definitely an interesting revelation.

I do think that Gemma’s growing affections for Ty could also have been explored a bit more. At the end of the book, it’s pretty clear that she’s got a case of Stockholm Syndrome, but the build-up to that was kind of abrupt, in my opinion. All of a sudden, Gemma wants Ty by her side when she’s been desperately trying to escape him for the majority of the book. It just didn’t ring completely true for me. Maybe I’m alone in that. Then again, maybe not.

Even with a couple of minor gripes, I enjoyed this book. It had been sitting on my Kindle for a while, and I’m not totally sure what made me start reading it, but I’m glad I did. I think young adult readers looking for something a little different will like this book. (It’s been out several years, so I’m sure lots of teens already like it.)

For more information about Stolen and Lucy Christopher, visit the author’s website. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


Now, dear readers, I am going to sign off for a while. I’ll be spending the next week at the beach, and I don’t know that I’ll have a ton of time to check in here. (I do plan to do a ton of reading, though!)

Until we meet again…

Always, Abigail

Today, I bring you one more of the nominees for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. (I’ve still got six left to read. Sigh.) This post is devoted to Always, Abigail by Nancy J. Cavanaugh.

Ms. Cavanaugh is not new to the SCCBA list. Her previous book, This Journal Belongs to Ratchet, was on the list a couple of years ago. I liked that book, so I figured I would enjoy Always, Abigail. As usual, I was right.

Told in lists and letters, Always, Abigail is the tale of–you guessed it–Abigail. This young girl is entering sixth grade, and she and her two best friends are obsessed with making the school’s pom-pom squad. Her life will be over if she doesn’t make it. (Anybody recognize the middle school melodrama?) It’s bad enough that she and her BFFs aren’t in the same homeroom and she’s been saddled with the school loser for a year-long project. Surely the universe wouldn’t take poms from her too?!

As you may have guessed, Abigail doesn’t make the pom-pom squad. She is devastated and doesn’t really know what to do anymore. Her friends are always busy and now have inside jokes that she’s not privy to. Abigail is feeling left out, bored, and depressed, and she’s not sure how to change things. Her partner for her class’ “Friendly Letter Assignment” doesn’t help matters.

Gabby Marco is the outcast of the sixth grade, and she’s Abigail’s letter partner. At first, Abigail wants absolutely nothing to do with Gabby, but, as Abigail’s friends drift away, she and Gabby form an unlikely friendship. The two girls learn more about each other and realize they have more in common than they thought.

But Gabby is still an outcast, and Abigail’s so-called “friends” delight in tormenting this girl, not knowing anything about what she’s going through at home. But Abigail knows…and she stays silent. She knows she should stand up for Gabby, but she doesn’t want to risk becoming an outcast herself. Abigail is sick about the entire situation, and she feels like she’s about to explode.

When Abigail’s luck looks like it’s starting to change, she’ll be forced to make some truly difficult decisions. Will she continue to go along with the crowd, or will she stand up for a friend who’s been nothing but kind to her…even if it means losing all she’s ever wanted? Find out when you read Always, Abigail by Nancy J. Cavanaugh.


Always, Abigail is a super-fast read that will appeal to fans of Dork Diaries, Dear Dumb Diary, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Readers who like lists–myself included–will also find something to enjoy.

I think many readers may grow a little weary of Abigail and her obsession with being part of the “in crowd,” but I also think they’ll see themselves in this thoroughly relatable character. This book could lead to some discussions about what they would do to be popular. Would they be willing to bully another student? Stay silent when others are mistreated? How far would they go to be included?

If you’d like to learn more about Always, Abigail and other books by Nancy J. Cavanaugh, be sure to visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, check my YouTube channel later to see what I come up with for an Always, Abigail book trailer.

Happy reading!

Love Letters to the Dead

I began reading my latest book, Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira, about two weeks ago. Unlike Oblivion, which was an easy book to put aside, this one kept calling to me, but I wanted to wait until I could give it my undivided attention before I really became absorbed in the story. I read bits and pieces here and there, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I finally sat down and got to know Laurel, the haunting voice that drives this wonderful book.

Love Letters to the Dead is just what the title suggests. It begins as a simple English assignment, but this is one that takes on a life of its own. Laurel was supposed to write a letter to a dead person, but she didn’t really stop there. She wrote letters to several famous people, most of whom died too young…just like Laurel’s big sister, May.

In Laurel’s letters to such notable figures as Kurt Cobain, Judy Garland, Amelia Earhart, River Phoenix, Amy Winehouse, and others, readers learn not only about the lives–and deaths–of these people, but we also see how Laurel is dealing with her sister’s passing. (In short, she’s not.) Laurel’s entire life seemed to stop when May died, and moving on is excruciating at times. She doesn’t really know how to be herself because she’s always lived in May’s shadow. With May gone, who is Laurel…and why would anyone really care?

As Laurel enters a new school, forms a few unlikely friendships. and experiences love for the first time, she relates her experiences to those of the “stars” to whom she is writing. She writes about her fractured family and her guilt over May’s death. She writes of her sister’s magnetism and how everything May touched seemed to be absolutely perfect. She writes about her friends, Natalie and Hannah, and Hannah’s self-destructive behavior–which seems all-too-familiar at times–that is tearing the girls apart. And finally, Laurel writes about what happened before May’s death, the horror she suffered when May should have been watching out for her.

Through these “love letters,” Laurel deals with her grief and guilt, and she comes face to face with the sister she idolized. The sister who maybe wasn’t so perfect. The sister who let her down, first by leaving her vulnerable and then just by leaving.

Laurel realizes that there’s more to her than being May’s little sister, and it’s okay to want a life that isn’t ravaged by grief. Will she always love her sister? Absolutely. Nothing can ever change that. But will she finally understand that her sister was human and responsible for her own choices? Well, that’s a different question altogether and one that Laurel will have to answer for herself. These letters, though, might actually help her come to grips with the truth, and what started out as a simple English assignment could finally set Laurel free.

_______________

So, yeah…I liked this book. Anyone who has every experienced loss will relate to Laurel in some way. We experience Laurel’s crippling grief, we cry along with her, and we wonder if the pain will ever go away. Just like reality, the pain never really leaves Laurel, but she finds a way to deal with it so that she can get on with the business of living. And the process itself is not without its ups and downs, but Laurel powers on, facing herself and the truth about who her sister really was. Through it all, Laurel learns more about herself and who she wants to be.

In addition to empathizing with Laurel in Love Letters to the Dead, readers may also find themselves learning a little along the way. This book taught me more than I ever knew about the lives and deaths of Judy Garland, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, and several others. Their stories, like May’s, were tragic, and their deaths came too soon. Their legacies, though, live on.

I don’t feel I’ve done a very good job of capturing this book, but I hope you’ll give it a try anyway. If you enjoy coming-of-age stories like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, If I Stay, The Fault in Our Stars, We Were Liars, The Opposite of Hallelujah, and many others, I suggest you read Love Letters to the Dead. The format alone makes it a fairly quick read, but the story will stay with you long after you close the book.

For more information on Love Letters to the Dead and author Ava Dellaira, visit the author’s website, Facebook, or Twitter.