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touch blue by Cynthia Lord

04th January 2011

Tess Brooks’ island school will be shut down by the state, unless their school can enroll 5 more children.  So the island families agree to host 5 foster children, both to help the children and to keep their school open.  Tess is thrilled when her family welcomes an older foster brother.  All she knows about foster children has come from reading books, but she hopes that her foster brother Aaron will be just a little like Anne Shirley.

But instead of a becoming a “bosom friend,” Aaron avoids Tess and her family, and despises island living.  So Tess must take matters into her own hands.  Armed with her lucky charms, Tess crafts a plan to keep Aaron in her family and save her school at the same time.  An excellent book about family and belonging for upper elementary.

Homeland is told entirely through letters.  Susanna, a Southerner, and Cora, an islander from Maine, meet briefly in Tennessee before the start of the Civil War.  They strike up a correspondence that spans the duration of the war.

It took me a 20 pages or so to get into the book and get some characters sorted out.  But once I got going, I couldn’t put the book down.  It’s one of those books that just keeps getting better and better as you go on, and then the ending is so perfect, you wouldn’t change a thing.

Through Susanna and Cora’s letters, Hambly dives into some huge issues: the effects of the war on women; the competing loyalties that people felt as they were torn between love of homeland, their state, the Union, family and their family’s land and livelihood; the choices, or lack of choices, that women had to support themselves and their families; the power of books to teach and comfort; the power of writing to bring clarification and healing during times of pain; the power of friendship to sustain through the darkest times.

Season of IceWhen Genesis’ father disappears on a routine boating trip, his empty boat is found floating on the lake, but his body is gone.  Genesis doesn’t know what to believe–did he die in an accident, or did he disappear to start a new life, as circulating rumors suggest.  She decides to investigate and in the process of finding the truth, makes peace with her family.  Becquets has written an interesting story, but what I enjoyed most were her descriptions of the northern Maine town where Genesis lives.  Genesis lives in a whole new winter world of snow, ice, car racing on frozen lakes, snowmobiles and logging, and Becquets makes it all come alive.

Calico BushA Newbery Honor book written in 1931. Thirteen-year-old Marguerite is left orphaned in the New World, and must serve as a servant to the Sargent family until her 18th birthday. She travels with the Sargents to their new home in northern Maine. The family faces all sorts of danger, from starvation to wild animals to Indian attacks. But Marguerite grows to love her new home, and when the family’s lives hang in the balance, she finds the strength to save them all. I really enjoyed this book; It definitely appeals to my love of “pioneer fiction.”

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (Newbery Honor Book)Turner Buckminster moves to a small town in Maine, where his father is the new pastor. In spite of the beauty of the town, Turner is miserable in his role as “the minister’s boy.” Then he meets Lizzie, who lives on nearby Malaga Island. The islanders are former slaves who have very little money, and the townspeople wish they would leave. Turner and Lizzie become good friends, in spite of their differences. Soon the townspeople are plotting to send away the islanders, and Turner must decide how to help.

This book was written by a Calvin prof-Gary D. Schmidt. I generally enjoy his books, and this was no exception. There were some “new-ageish” components involving whales and the ocean, which seemed quite important to the author and the main character. I choose to skim those sections and focus more on the history of Malaga Island and on how Turner changed as he learned to stand up for what is right.

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