This post is brought to you by the blogging community. See, back in January, when I did the MotherReader's Blog Comment Challenge, one of the blogs I discovered was Even In Australia. When I saw a post over there asking for readaloud suggestions for seven-year-old, I remembered Jean Little's books because my mom read one or two of them to me when I was about that age. I found some old copies on Amazon and ordered four books: two about one family and two about another. Then they sat forlornly in my TBR, shabby and thin, with no one blogging about how awesome they were, and so the months went by. Recently, though, I saw this post about the ReReadathon at Bookshelvers Anonymous this month, and I thought: aha. Jean Little, your time has come.
And then I re-read all four books this weekend.
Ok, actually: I don't think I had read the final book before. But it was still a blast from the past. And I'm so glad I made time for these books because they are even better than I remembered them and so lovely.
Um, and also I finally finished Who I Kissed, which was not a re-read but just took me ages and ages to finish because I have time management issues. Anyway. My thoughts below!
What I Read This Week:
Who I Kissed by Janet Gurtler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
After teaching at a nut-and-seed-free summer camp for three years, the premise of this book grabbed me immediately. When Samantha, the new girl in town, kisses a boy at a party after eating a peanut butter sandwich, he drops dead on the spot. Sam didn't know about his peanut allergy, but she blames herself anyway.
So, yeah, this book is about my worst nightmare.
I live in terror of anaphylactic shock. Not my own (although, having never been stung by a bee, I'm a little nervous about that possibility) but that of people around me, especially my students. I've been trained on how to administer an Epipen (punch a tube really hard into the kid's thigh, hard enough to trigger the release of a ginormous needle) and I've learned to rattle off the eight major allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, dairy, fish, shellfish, eggs, soy). I've had actual nightmares about kids in my care going into anaphylaxis.
This book will do a lot to raise awareness about life-threatening allergies, and it will likely make readers really consider the possible consequences of their actions. Sam's process of grieving and recovery was hard and long, and felt specific enough to ring true. The book also deals with family connections, romance, and identity, and overall it was an engaging story.
Mine for Keeps by Jean Little
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is one of the few longer books I really remember my mother reading to me. I know I was read to a ton as a kid, but I started reading on my own so early that I don't always remember what I read and what my mom read to me. I recently tracked down a copy and gave it a re-read.
I was surprised to find how un-dated this book felt. Aside from some of the terminology (like "handicapped") and the notion that a young girl with some physical limitations would have no options other than a far-off boarding school for "handicapped children", most of this story felt surprisingly fresh and timeless. (Oh, and the part about giving out apples on Halloween. That totally wouldn't fly these days.)
When Sally Copeland comes home from the school where she's lived for five years--home to stay--she doesn't know how she'll manage. She has cerebral palsy, which affects her legs and hands. She uses knee braces and crutches to help her get around, and has a hard time doing everyday tasks like getting dressed. She's nervous enough as it is, and then her mother tells her she'll be attending the same school as her brother and sister: a school where she will be the only child with a disability.
The story of Sally's transition back home and into a mainstream classroom--like most realistic fiction for young readers--deals with a character trying to make friends, overcome her fears, and learn to do new things. The relationships between Sally and her friends and family feel real, and Sally's struggles will resonate with any reader who has ever had to tackle a challenge--so, anyone. I was happy to find that this book was as lovely and vibrant as I remembered it.
Spring Begins in March by Jean Little
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This follow-up to Mine For Keeps builds on the first book to pack even more of an emotional punch. This time, baby-of-the-family Meg Copeland takes center stage, several years later. Meg is a prickly girl, who struggles to focus in school (to an extent that would almost certainly be diagnosed as some kind of learning disability today) and to find her place at home. As is Jean Little's style, Meg's story is not flashy or overly dramatic; it's a small family story about growing up and discovering when old habits need to change. In this case, at least one solution felt a little too easy, but that didn't make the ending any less emotionally satisfying.
From Anna by Jean Little
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
From Anna is another of Jean Little's books that I remembered from my childhood. It's funny how specific scenes and images have stuck with me and others are like new to me now. This book focuses on Anna, the slow, clumsy youngest child of a family who moves suddenly from Germany to Canada just before World War II breaks out. When they arrive in the States, Anna visits a doctor who discovers that her troubles are a result of her seriously limited eyesight. Getting glasses and joining a class of other children with low vision makes all the difference for Anna, and this book follows her transformation into an independent, happy Canadian girl. Once again, Jean Little manages to tug at my heartstrings without going over the top; the events in this book feel perfectly human-scale and realistic, and while I didn't feel a ton of suspense about the outcome, I teared up a little reading it anyway.
Listen for the Singing by Jean Little
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I think I must not have read this one as a child, probably because I was reading Jean Little books when I was seven or eight and this one focuses on Anna's first year or so of high school. But I'm glad I picked this one up with the rest of the lot, because it was good to see how things turned out for Anna and the other Soldens. Now that World War II has actually begun, things get tricky for Anna and the other Germans living in Canada (and, I'd imagine, any other country on the side of the Allies.) I like the way the larger political events are balanced with Anna's own personal life--even a war cannot completely wipe away the everyday struggles of a high school student, or of anyone else who still has a home and family and friends to deal with. The troubles that come in this book are on a larger scale than before, but they are still met with a realistic blend of discouragement, strength, and optimism. I've really enjoyed getting reacquainted with Jean Little's work and I will look out for more of her books in the future.
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