Books For All Ages
By Daphne Kalotay
When reclusive, former Russian ballerina, Nina Revskaya decides to auction off her remarkable jewelry collection, she becomes overwhelmed by the memories of those she has loved and lost … memories that come flooding back to her, unbidden. The story weaves in and out of past and present, from Stalinist Moscow to Boston of today. Interspersed throughout the narrative are descriptions of different rare pieces of jewelry that “The Butterfly”, as Nina was known throughout her career, acquired from fans and loved ones both before and after her defection from Soviet Russia. Two pieces in particular, an amber bracelet and earrings, catch the attention of Grigori Solodin, a professor of Russian and poetry translator. Solodin believes that because of them, Nina holds the key to his own mysterious past—a past that she is desperate to forget. Together with Drew Brooks, the young associate director of the Boston auction house handling Nina’s collection, Solodin works to discover the truth of his origins and how he is connected to the famous Revskaya.
A compelling foray into postwar Russia and the world of classical ballet, Russian Winter, by Daphne Kalotay, is both a romantic and historically fascinating story of art and love. It combines characters of heartbreaking depth with a storyline suspenseful enough to make it impossible to put down. Russian Winter has something for everyone. Fans of Memoirs of a Geisha and The Piano Teacher will enjoy this insightful combination of history and romance. Lovers of the ballet will appreciate the painstaking detail Kalotay includes and poetry aficionados will be intrigued by its central literary mystery. I loved it, and I think you will too.
Ellie McDoodle: Best Friends Fur-Ever
By Ruth McNally Barshaw
Move over “Wimpy” Greg: Here comes Ellie! Ruth McNally Barshaw’s third installment in the Ellie McDoodle series is as engaging and entertaining as the first two, and possibly even more fun. In Ellie McDoodle: Best Friends Fur-Ever Ellie, her irrepressible family and ever-present notebook have an adventure including a dog, a cat, a mouse, an African Grey parrot and several pet pinecones! When my daughters, ages 10 and 12, heard that I had a copy of Barshaw’s latest book, they immediately began fighting over who “gets dibs” on reading it first. My 10-year-old won, and absolutely adored it. I asked her what she liked about it, and she said, “There is just so much … I can’t narrow it down.”
Barshaw’s series is told in a style reminiscent of Jeff Kinney’s Dairy of Wimpy Kid, but with a plucky, insightful female heroine—12-year-old Ellie McDougal, known as “McDoodle” because of her drawing abilities. Each book takes the form of Ellie’s journal entries and is chock full of drawings, jokes, interesting facts and activities all wrapped up in a heartwarming, positive story. In Best Friends Fur-Ever, Ellie and her family are obsessed with getting a new pet. Add to that, Ellie’s class project on animals and her pet-sitting job, and you have a delightful, feathery, furry adventure that kids and their parents will love. For an added bonus Barshaw is a Lansing resident and frequently includes details that “locals” will recognize and enjoy. If you have a little girl in your life, ages seven to 12, these are books you won’t want to miss.
The Junkyard Wonders
By Patricia Polacco
Fans of the beauty of Patricia Polacco’s illustrations and the depth of her stories will not be disappointed in her latest book, The Junkyard Wonders.
Based on real events, The Junkyard Wonders is the story of Trisha, a little girl who decides to switch schools so that she can escape the stigma of the “special class” in which she is enrolled in her old school. To her horror, she finds that she has yet again been placed in a “special” class in her new school. Trisha soon learns however, through the inspirational teaching of Mrs. Peterson, that their “junkyard,” as their class is disparagingly called, is really the source of amazing possibilities—“amazing things waiting to be made into something new.”
When Mrs. Peterson takes her charges to a real junkyard and they work on reclaiming and rebuilding an old model airplane, they begin to understand their own potential, possibilities and genius. And, as a positive endnote, Ms. Polacco includes a note about the subsequent successes of her friends, the members of the original “junkyard.”
A paean to Mrs. Peterson, The Junkyard Wonders, would make a wonderful gift for your favorite teacher, and its uplifting message concerning the nature of genius together with stunning illustrations will appeal to all budding geniuses ages six and up.
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