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Judy Bolton mystery series

  • September 26, 2009 8:01 am
Vanishing Shadow

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The 38 books in the Judy Bolton mystery series, written by Margaret Sutton, sold millions of copies from 1932 to 1967. These books are now being reprinted by Applewood Books. I was curious to read The Vanishing Shadow, the first in the series, because the publisher claims that “Judy is a feminist in the best light — smart, capable, courageous, nurturing, and always unwavering in her true beliefs — a perfect role model.”

All of the Judy Bolton books are based on actual events. The Vanishing Shadow involves a new dam in a small Pennsylvania town. Judy, a high school girl, overhears some suspicious remarks regarding the dam construction, and she is kidnapped early in the book in an attempt to prevent her from revealing what she knows. The plot moves along briskly, with plenty of suspense.

I also enjoyed the varied and complex characters in this book. Judy is indeed fearless and intelligent. Yet she is also fallible. For example, she dares her meek brother to ride a dangerous horse, and when he takes her up on the dare and ends up lost when the dam breaks and floods the town, she experiences remorse at her rash words.

I don’t want to reveal too many of the plot features, because this really is a fun book, and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment. Readers will also learn something about the social life and culture of small-town America in the 1930s.

The Judy Bolton mysteries are apparently the longest lasting juvenile series written by one author. There is even a web site for Judy Bolton fans.

You can buy this book from my girls list.

Elizabeth’s Song, by Michael Wenberg

  • September 12, 2009 7:11 am
Elizabeth's song

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This picture book for ages 5 and up is based on the true story of Elizabeth Cotten, who composed the well-known folk song “Freight Train” at the age of 11.

Elizabeth was born in 1893 in North Carolina. She loved music and taught herself to play her brother’s guitar — but since she was left-handed, she played it upside-down and backwards. When her brother left to look for work and took his guitar with him, Elizabeth saved money from odd jobs and bought herself a guitar.

While the story ends with the composition of “Freight Train,” in fact Cotten was not “discovered” as a musician until much later in her life. According to the epilogue, from her mid-teens until her early 50s, Elizabeth almost gave up music — she was busy with work and raising a family. In the mid-1940s, by chance she got to know the folk-singing Seeger family, and they encouraged her to pick up her guitar again. She released her first album in 1958, at the age of 66.

After my kids and I read this book, we wanted to hear her music. We bought the album Freight Train, which includes her famous composition as well as other folk songs that she learned as a child.

You can buy Elizabeth’s Song from my Girls list.

Native Women of Courage, by Kelly Fournel

  • August 23, 2009 4:22 pm
Native Women of Courage

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This 82-page book contains short biographies of 10 native women from the United States and Canada. Some of the women are fairly well-known, such as Wilma Mankiller (first woman chief of the Cherokees), Winona LaDuke (environmentalist and vice presidential candidate), and Maria Tallchief (ballerina for the New York City ballet). Others I had never heard of, such as Suzanne Rochon-Burnett, a Canadian radio broadcaster, and Lorna Williams, an educator who developed a native-centric curriculum.

I enjoyed reading the stories of all of these women. The author describes the challenges these women faced as well as their triumphs. I learned that Pauline Johnson-Tekahionwake, a poet and performer, had written down legends told to her by Chief Capilano of Vancouver, British Columbia. These are collected in a book called Legends of Vancouver, first published in 1910. I was able to request this book from my library to read to my kids. I also learned about Susan Aglukark, an Inuit singer who has won 3 Juno awards (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy award). I’m glad to know about a new singer I might like to listen to. 

This book is part of the Native Trailblazers series from Book Publishing Company in Summertown, Tennessee. You can buy this from my Girls list.

The Only One Club, by Jane Naliboff

  • August 15, 2009 7:05 am
The Only One Club

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Picture book, ages 5-8. It’s Christmas time, and Jennifer’s teacher asks the class to make decorations. Jennifer proudly announces that she will make Hanukkah decorations, because she is the only Jewish girl in the class. That night, she goes home and makes herself a glittery badge that says “The Only One Club.”

The next day at school, her classmates want to join her club, and they try to convince her that they, too, are the only one of something. Jennifer doesn’t want anyone else to join. But when she hears the other kids talking about setting up their own club, she realizes her mistake. She goes home and makes glittery badges for everyone.

This book takes a unique approach to differences. Instead of portraying a character who feels bad about being unusual, it starts with a character who is too full of pride about her exceptionality. Although Jennifer has a lesson to learn, still her pride inspires others to notice and enjoy their own differences.

You can buy this book from my Girls list.