Book review: Last of the Name, by Rosanne Parry

Parry, Rosanne. Last of the Name. CarolRhoda, 2019. $17.99. 334p. ISBN 978-1-5415-41579-7. Ages 12-14. P6Q7

Left with only Granny as their family, 12-year-old Danny O’Carolan and his older sister Kathleen leave Ireland for New York alone after Granny dies during the voyage. Prejudice hits them from all directions—blacks for taking their jobs and whites for being Irish. Kathleen persuades Danny to dress as a girl to get a job, but he hates the way that he must dress. The Civil War draft riots leaves them without a job, a home, or money, but Danny’s connections from secretly raising money by dancing on the streets give them hope.

Verdict: Parry covers the historical angst of the times—poverty, bigotry, class inequality, slave work for the Irish as well as the black—plus the way that wealthy people buy their way out of the war draft. Danny’s and Kathleen’s lives are always unsatisfactory, and the angst sometimes becomes overwhelming.

May 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: What Is Given from the Heart, by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by April Harrison

McKissack, Patricia C. What Is Given from the Heart. Illus. by April Harrison. Schwarz & Wade, 2019. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-375-83615-2. Ages 5-8. P8Q8

In McKissack’s last book, published posthumously, James Otis, living in poverty with his single mother in a small Southern town after his father dies, ponders over a gift for Sarah, a little girl whose family has lost everything in the family. His attempt to make a decision shows his simple treasures such as a rock, but his mother insists that he find something for her because “what is given from the heart reaches the heart.” James’s choice reaches the Sarah’s heart when he gives her a book that he writes himself.

Verdict: This last work from the three-time Coretta Scott Award winner and Newbery Honor author pairs well with the picture book debut of an illustrator using mixed-media images of collage, acrylic, and found objects that give the feeling of stained glass. The beautiful gesture of a James’s mother making an apron from her best tablecloth for someone who has even less than she does is matched by the touching scene when she and James return home to find a “love box” of donations from the church.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Boy and the Whale, by Mordicai Gerstein

Gerstein, Mordicai. The Boy and the Whale. Roaring Brook Press, 2017. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN 9781626725058. Ages 5-8. P8Q10

A boy and his father discover a whale tangled in their only fishing net. The father suggests that they wait for the whale to die and then try to salvage the net. The boy, remembering when he almost drowned from being entangled in a net, disobeys his father, taking the family’s fishing boat, freeing the whale, and destroying the net in the process.  Caldecott Medal winner Mordicai Gerstein created luminous paintings that show warm sunlight bathing a poor village and contrasting dappled light shining through ocean waves, carrying a sense of hope for not only the whale, but for father and son.

Verdict: The traits of courage and empathy shine through this timely story. Be prepared to discuss the issues raised with child readers. Highly recommended for elementary school and public library collections.

September 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed

Saeed, Aisha. Amal Unbound. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018. 226 pgs. $17.9 ISBN: 978-0-399-54468-2. Gr. 6+. P8 Q9

Twelve year old Amal lives with her family in a small village in Pakistan. Amal dreams of becoming a teacher and studies hard to achieve this dream. Being the oldest in a family of girls comes with responsibilities. Her mother gives birth to a baby girl but does not rebound from the delivery. Amal must stay home taking on most of the household chores. A mishap in the streets with a local rich man puts her and her family in jeopardy. Amal’s dreams are dashed when she becomes a servant in the rich man’s home. She will be in service till he decides her debt is paid.  It is through Amal and those in service to the rich lord that the corruption is stopped and the War Lord is arrested.

Verdict: I loved this book which offers a window into the lives of the Pakistani people.

June 2018 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Yard Sale, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Bunting, Eve. Yard Sale. Illustrated by Lauren Castillo. Candlewick Press, 2015. $6.99. ISBN 9780763693053. Unpaged. Ages 3-12. P9 Q 9.

This is a very touching story of a family holding a yard sale because they are moving to a smaller apartment.  Told from the child’s perspective of how they might feel having a yard sale of their things. It includes the struggle of a changing friendship with the neighbors. It conveys the struggle of letting go of a bike and the memories of the marks on a headboard of a bed.  Then, as a child might feel, they would also be for sale, the book concluded with a sincere moment of realization.

Verdict: This is a very emotional and touching story as young and adult alike can relate to moving and having to sell beloved things. It is a great read aloud for all aged children helping them cope with giving up their things, moving and leaving friends, and/or teaching about empathy.  

June 2017 review by Deborah Gwynn.



[Editor’s note: Told from the point of view of a young girl whose possessions are among the many that her family is selling, Bunting’s story of a family losing their house and needing to make enough money to move to a small apartment imparts grief, fear and sadness, as well as the love that holds the family together.  While not a comfortable story, the warm, realistic illustrations by Lauren Castillo humanize the family’s plight.]