Book review: Behind Closed Doors, by Miriam Halahmy

Halahmy, Miriam. Behind Closed Doors. Holiday House, 2017. 208p. $16.95 ISBN: 978-0823436415. Gr. 9+. P6 Q8

Josie and Tasha are from the opposite ends of the economic spectrum and don’t socialize at school. Tasha’s mom has a boyfriend who is trying to lure Tasha, and Josie is trying hard to intervene with her mom’s hoarding.  One night, after Josie’s mom is in jail, Tasha leaves her dangerous situation and moves into Josie’s crowded house. Suddenly, they find themselves stuck in similar situations and they need each other’s support.  This book was very relatable to me and gave me insights into real situations kids face every day. Though it was hard to read at times, the book ends on a positive note and shows how important friendship is.

April 2018 review by NHS student.

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Book review: Washington, D.C.: Our Nation’s Capital from A-Z, by Alan Schroeder, illustrated by John O’Brien

Schroeder, Alan. Washington, D.C.: Our Nation’s Capital from A-Z. Illus. by John O’Brien. Holiday House, 2018. $17.95. 32p. ISBN 978-0-8234-3678-1. Ages 7-10. P6Q9

From “Act” to “Zorapteran” (an insect in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History), Schroeder explores lesser-known historical and current facts about “the central star of the constellation which enlightens the world” from trivia to monuments. The main entries are enhanced by quotes from famous people such as John F. Kennedy’s comment, “Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.”

Verdict: Some of the material will go over the heads of the intended audience such as Kennedy’s satirical remark and the quote from VP Dan Quayle, “I stand by all the misstatements that I’ve made.” Yet the book will be useful for social studies, and teachers can use it for more creative projects. Humor adds to the diverse information, both in narration and the whimsical ink-and-watercolor cartoon-style illustrations, and the end papers provide an excellently detailed map of downtown Washington. The plethora of useful information mostly overcomes such omissions as Eleanor Roosevelt’s part in black contralto Marian Anderson’s concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Two earlier books from this duo—Benjamin Franklin: His Wit and Wisdom from A-Z and Abraham Lincoln: His Wit and Wisdom from A-Z—received stars in Kirkus Reviews.  

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: No Kimchi for Me!, by Aram Kim

Kim, Aram. No Kimchi for Me! Holiday House, 2017. Unpaged. $16.95. ISBN 9780823437627. Ages 3-7. P7Q8

I enjoyed reading this book about Yoomi, who hates kimchi (a fermented vegetable condiment very common in Korea). Her brothers tease her about it and call her a baby, so she tries to make herself eat the fiery side dish by hiding it on other foods like chocolate chip cookies and pizza. But to no avail- she really hates it! But then Grandma and Yoomi try another idea- they make a kimchi pancake, and amazingly, she likes it! I liked the idea that having Yoomi participate in making the dish helps her to like it. I lived in South Korea for a year, and had a hard time with kimchi at first too- and also learned to like it. The endpapers are bright and fun- at the beginning there are vegetables that commonly go into kimchi, and at the back various styles of kimchi. There is also a recipe for kimchi pancakes for kids who want to try something new.

VERDICT: I think that many children will identify with Yoomi in hating a food that others expect her to like- it brought back memories of trying to make myself eat Lutefisk (a Norwegian Christmas tradition in my family).

February 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Bobby Lee Claremont and the Criminal Element, by Jeannie Mobley

Mobley, Jeannie. Bobby Lee Claremont and the Criminal Element. Holiday House, 2017. 229 pgs. $16.95. ISBN 9780823437818. Ages 8-12. P8Q8

Bobby Lee Claremont, age 13, decides to leave New Orleans after losing his mother to consumption and realizing that he has no future in that city. He embarks on a life of crime by robbing the poor box at the Sisters of Charitable Mercy Orphanage. He buys a train ticket to Chicago, since it looks like the best bet for a clever kid who wants to join a gang and cash in on the illegal alcohol business that prohibition created. His plans don’t quite work out though- he gets thrown in with some nasty gangsters on the train, and finds that the life of crime may not be for him. Together with two quick witted African American boys (the grandsons of a train employee), Bobby Lee gets to the bottom of a murder mystery. I really enjoyed this fast paced adventure, with its villains, believable characters, jazz musicians, and train culture. Bobby Lee learns a lot about the Jim Crow laws that were in place at the time, and comes to believe that segregation and racism are very wrong. The author’s note gives further information about Jim Crow laws, segregation on trains, and gangsters in the 1920s.

VERDICT: I think young readers will find this a fast and fun read. It could be used in the classroom to provide background in a history class as well.

January 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Masterpiece Mix, by Roxie Munro

Munro, Roxie. Masterpiece Mix. Holiday House, 2017. $16.95. unp. ISBN 978-0-8234-3699-6. Ages 5-8. P8Q9

This examination of 37 masterpieces in different media painlessly introduces young readers to creating art in different genres—still life, portrait, landscape, clay, etc. Munro starts from the beginning as she stretches and gessoes canvas, picks her tubes of colors and other tools, sets up a palette, and finishes the necessary preparations. The hardest part may be deciding what she wants to paint. The culmination of her work is an ink and acrylic cityscape that includes all the 37 masterpieces with a key to their location listed at the end.

Verdict: Clever and creative, the book combines a fun read with an educational perspective in creating art shown in mixed media—India ink, collage and giclée prints. Munro also provides brief biographies of the European and American artists represented in the book.

November 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Before She Was Harriet, by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome

Cline-Randome, Lesa. Before She Was Harriet. Ill. By James E. Ransome. Holiday House, 2017. $17.95. unp. ISBN 978-0-8234-2047-6. Ages 4-8. P8 Q9 

Harriet Tubman, who saved the lives of escaped slaves and fought for the freedom of all, began life as Minty, or Araminta, when she was a slave beaten on a plantation. The biography begins with her old age and works in reverse through her incarnations as activist, suffragist, underground railroad conductor, nurse, and more. Watercolor illustrations enhance this highly personal free verse about a symbol of the fight for freedom in the 19th century.

Verdict: A beautiful book about a person who changed the lives of millions of people.

November 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Good Samaritan and Other Parables, by Tomie dePaola

dePaola, Tomie. The Good Samaritan and Other Parables. Holiday House, 2017. $17.95. ISBN 9780823438884. 32 pages. Ages 4 -12. P6 Q7

This collection includes seventeen best-known parables of Jesus taken from scripture. The parables are short and can hold the interest of children. It is refreshing to have the parables written simply, without the author’s interpretation. While the illustrations are inspired by early Christian art of the Romanesque period, they are not bright and colorful, which is a bit unusual for children’s books. I feel the illustrations match the text. This book was originally published in 1987 as The Parables of Jesus and has been unavailable for many years. This new edition has a new design.

Verdict: I recommend the book for elementary, church, personal and public libraries. Since the parables are straight from scripture, families can draw their own conclusions and emphasize whatever points they like.

September 2017 review by Tami Harris.