Posted on August 13th, 2014 by pajamapress
“A fly-catching contest comes to dominate the life of new Irish immigrant Will in 1912 Hamilton, Ontario. Life isn’t easy for the 12-year-old. His mother and young sister recently died, money is very tight, and rich boy Fred, a new classmate, is savoring every opportunity to humiliate him. Opportunity knocks when the local newspaper offers a $50 prize for killing the most flies as part of an effort to reduce disease. The competition is ruthless, with Fred and his minions collecting thousands of flies and Will trying lots of clever tricks to pull even. Another poor child, Ginny, is besotted with Fred but gradually comes to see the truth about the bully and switches her loyalty and friendship to Will. He struggles with the ethics of his tricks, reminded by the wealthy but even-minded Rebecca of a nobler mission. While the dead-fly count reaches an awesome, even unbelievable level, an author’s note states that the tale is accurately based on a real contest….McNicoll paints a believably gritty portrait of urban life a century ago. An entertaining visit to the past with a likable guide on a spirited—if icky—quest. (Historical fiction. 9-14)”
“It is 1947, and life is hard for 16-year-old Wilm and his family. The city of Leipzig, in southeast Germany, is controlled by the Soviets, who are brutal masters. The Germans are constantly hungry because the Soviets have significantly reduced their food rations. Even worse, the German police, Schupos, are puppets of the Soviets. Wilm and his friends like to skulk around and pretend to battle the enemy, but the war becomes real when he experiences just how powerless his community really is against them…The last quarter of the book is nonstop action…Wilm is a flawed but engaging protagonist, prone to headstrong actions, and he matures believably over the course of the story…Bass does a fine job of opening readers’ eyes to the harsh realities that so many German civilians faced after their country’s defeat, regardless of whether they had supported the Nazi regime.”
—Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
“…Award-winning author Sylvia McNicoll who has penned numerous early chapter books, middle grade fiction and YA fiction, never submits to the predictable, in her storylines or characters. In Revenge on the Fly, Will, Fred, Ginny, Rebecca, Bea, Ian and Da have the true voices of individuals, never cardboard cut-outs. Even Finnigan has the yips and yaps of a true character, albeit a canine one. And while the ending is gratifying, it isn’t the all-tied-up-in-bows happy ending, because life isn’t like that and in 1912 it definitely wasn’t like that for poor Irish immigrants. Effortlessly Sylvia McNicoll finds the words to illustrate a tragic, but seemingly peculiar, episode in Canadian history and make it personal and unforgettable.”
Click here to read the full review.
Administered by the Writer’s Guild of Alberta, the R. Ross Annett Award was established in 1982 in honour of the author of the popular Babe & Joe series.
A historical novel about a young man struggling to find his voice in Soviet-occupied East Germany in the years after World War II, Graffiti Knight is the winner of the 2014 CLA Young Adult Book of the Year Award. It was also chosen as a 2013 Ontario Library Association Best Bet and a 2013 Resource Links “The Year’s Best” selection.
“History is the succession of events that shape our present and our future, and one of the best ways to engage children in learning history is through historical fiction. Good historical writing offers insights into people and events from the past, and helps children to understand how the world we live in has been shaped by those events…
The last book, Graffiti Knight by author Karen Bass, takes readers to Soviet-occupied Germany in 1947, and is a riveting page-turner that readers will find impossible to put down.
Sixteen-year-old Wilm and his family live in Leipzig, Germany, a town scarred heavily by WWII and now occupied by the Soviets who are brutal and oppressive. The war has also left its scars on his family, but Wilm is finding his voice, sneaking out at night to leave messages on police buildings. What he’s doing is dangerous but exciting, and Wilm feels justified considering how much his family has suffered. When one mission goes too far, Wilm finds he’s endangered the people he’s tried most to protect, and he’s forced to take drastic action to keep them safe.
The setting is detailed and richly drawn, and Bass successfully creates an atmosphere of tension and fear. Wilm’s family are no strangers to Soviet brutality, and after witnessing a group of soldiers terrorize his crippled father, he decides it’s time to act.
His minor acts of rebellion give him a sense of power and control that he lacks in his daily life. The more he succeeds in angering the police, the more his game escalates, until it culminates in one final act that puts him and his family in a life-or-death situation.
The spelling of ‘knight’ in the title is a clever play on words, as Wilm’s acts take place under the cover of night and, at the same time, implies heroism. Wilm is a complex and fascinating character and readers will be left to decide whether his actions are heroic or simply reckless.
A skilled storyteller can bring history to life, and while the four highlighted books span different countries, cities, and historical periods, all effectively present these events through the eyes of the children living in them, and more deeply connect readers to the past.”
“…Where reading non-fiction books can at times be dry and daunting, fiction opens up the same topics in a new way, providing characters a reader can personally connect with interspersed with historical facts.
Sue MacLeod’s Namesake is a spectacular example of this. I loved the way she took some liberties with Lady Jane’s story, while still staying true to the historical aspects. MacLeod also manages to make Jane and Lady Jane’s characters equally fleshed out and relatable.
…I would recommend this book more for early teen readers, but it’s a must read for lovers of historical fiction.”
Click here to read the full review.
“…you’ll grow close to both young ladies as they explore each other’s lives in the here and there. You’ll grow to understand both their positions and the choices they make regarding their own fates. You’ll realize that it’s not just a history project in the making nor a chance to see life as it once was, but a story that reminds us that everyone has difficult times in life…”
Click here to read the full review.
“This notable fourth novel by Karen Bass should add an interesting dimension to the current fashion of [dystopian] novels. It is based on real evens from post-war Europe (1947 to be exact) in what is now East Germany. For my money, it has more drama than the Hunger Games.
The hero of the novel is a teenager in Leipzig, a broken city whose citizens live in fear of their new oppressors, with no hope of escape. Wilm is almost finished school and quite by accident finds himself waging a war of embarrassment against the German police he considers to be puppets of their Soviet masters. His campaign gains momentum and a shift in focus after he learns that his sister had been raped the year before by a group of Soviet soldiers when she had gone to the train station to meet her German soldier boyfriend. Wilm had idolized the boyfriend, who then joined the German police. Wilm sees the betrayal as doubly troubling.
In the midst of all this is the budding friendship between Wilm and a structural engineer who works for the Soviets, although not by choice. He mentors Wilm until Wilm strikes a compromising deal with the German police and the ex-boyfriend in an effort to save a close friend from imprisonment. Left to his own devices, Wilm commits one more account of defiance and lands all his friends and family in trouble. The only escape is complete escape – to the Americans on the other side of the border with Czechoslovakia.
Five of them set out on a life or death path to hoped-for freedom, aware that the price will be steep and the journey treacherous. They are pursued by the ex-boyfriend who uses his professional resources in what is now a personal vendetta.
Author Karen Bass and author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (Making Bombs for Hitler, The Hunger, Last Airlift) are cousins. Between them they have brought to life vital portraits of life before, during, and after war, regardless of locale or allegiance. By not resorting to fantasy to carry their work, they have done all of us a great service.
P.S. Graffiti Knight is a great title.
Thematic links: World War II; Adolescence; Communism; Post-war Germany; The Cold War; Rape; Civil Disobedience.”
Learn more about Resource Links.
“Jane Grey is a student in Nova Scotia preparing a history project on her namesake, Lady Jane Grey, who was the queen of England for nine days in 1553, a political pawn in the intrigues of the Tudor era. Jane discovers Lady Jane’s Book of Prayre mixed in with her research books from the library and it carries her back to Lady Jane during the last few months of her life. The two teenagers become friends and confidants, helping each other through everything that happens in both of their lives.
MacLeod uses words sparingly and lovingly in Namesake, revealing just enough to carry the reader through the lives of both Janes, just enough to capture the imagination and draw us into the story. Her descriptions of High School ring completely true as do the times when Lady Jane is trying out modern language. The abuse suffered by both girls is also treated gently, realistic without being harrowing.
The modern Jane is strong and inventive, carrying on an active inner life and finding a way to improve her own life — even when her attempts to change 16th century events fail.
Without a misstep, Namesake proceeds from a tantalizing prologue to the satisfying conclusion. Perfectly constructed, this book is a gem.”
— Willow Moonbeam is a math professor and librarian.
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