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TPCA Media Class… Grow In Grace

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historical fiction

The Unbelievable Secret

REVIEW OF: Hitler’s Secret, by William Osborne

REVIEWED BY: Rachel

What do we really know about Hitler? Most people only know the basics; that he tortured and killed Jews and had hopes to take over the world, but what do we know about him personally? For all we know, Hitler may have had a family or a child…

HitlersSecretOne boy and one girl were each chosen to perform a mission, an almost impossible mission; they knew nothing about each other, they didn’t even know their real names; Otto and Leni is what they were to call each other.  After only two weeks together, the courageous teenagers are sent off to Germany to collect a “package.” This “package” that they are sent to receive is not an item, it is a child. Angelika is her name; she is a cheerful child with one wish: to get out.  Angelika is being kept in with nuns in a convent and to her, there is nothing in the world that she would want more than to be free and see the world.  So when Otto and Leni arrive, Angelika is more than willing to come with them, especially when they tell her that they are getting her out of there. The mission seems to be going successfully, until the teenagers learn how much Angelika means to Germany; it almost seems as though Adolf Hitler himself has a connection to her. It seems as though Germany itself doesn’t want Angelika to leave. Though these audacious kids must face many trials, hope is on the horizon, but time is running out and safety is almost out of their grasp.

Hitler’s Secret is a definite reread. I loved the suspense, the figurative language, the character development, and almost every other aspect about the novel. At the end of every chapter you are left wondering, what will happen next? The novel takes such a different twist as to what Hitler may have been like, or what secrets he may have kept from the world. Each and every character was developed into a completely new person by the end of the book; characters you may have not liked in the beginning become your favorite and characters you may have thought you liked, you ended up hating by the end of the novel. Hitler’s Secret, by William Osborne, is no doubt a must-read.

In my opinion, this novel is not the best suited to younger readers, I feel that maybe 5th grade and up would be the perfect age for it. The novel contains some of the violence of WWII and I feel that the topic of the Holocaust is a very heavy topic, and most young readers should focus on lighter and more happy novels, rather than the horrors of war. Hitler’s Secret is a truly wonder filled and thrilling novel, but only for a certain age. I have no doubt that if (sorry, I mean when) you read this novel, you will be enticed and trapped within each page for the writing brings fear, suspense, and many more emotions out for you.

Bound for Disaster

REVIEW OF: Bound for Oregon,

Reviewed By: Erica

Dangerous (adj):  full of danger or risk; causing danger; perilous; risky; hazardous; unsafe. I believe that the word ‘dangerous’ perfectly fits the journey that Mary Ellen, a nine year old girl from Arkansas, is about to make with her family across the United bfoStates. In the electrifying novel Bound for Oregon by Jean Van Leeuwen, the curious child overhears her parents discussing the trip to Oregon yet again, and she knows that she may be leaving her home in Arkansas forever. All she’d ever known was a quiet life with her siblings, Louvina and Cynthia, and her mother and father. So the rushing rapids, the rockiest terrain, the fierce Indians, and the mightiest mountains seemed as if they were from a whole different world. However, reality soon struck, and she was abandoning everything she’d ever known: friends, family, her school, and her past, everything she’d once known. During the treacherous trial to the rich soil of Oregon, she indeed faces all the nightmares she imagined, plus worse horrors, including death.  Her old life seems not to matter anymore; all that matters is her future: Oregon.  Mary Ellen understands that her life could be in danger as she continues down the Oregon Trail.  Her future belongs to her, and it’s her job to protect it like a bear protects its cubs. It’s her job to carry on.

Before Bound for Oregon, I’d only read one other novel about pioneers traveling west. In this true story, I saw Mary Ellen mature as I devoured the book, page by page. I was baffled at how much a girl that young could possess the characteristics of an adult. I’ve been out west once, and while I was there, I saw many enormous mountains, rivers, and unique animals, so it was interesting to compare what Mary Ellen encountered to what I encountered. Her journey and conflicts aren’t exactly similar to the ones that we face today, but that  improves my ability to envision what life was like in the year 1852. Overall, I was pretty pleased with this twisting, exciting and perilous novel.

I recommend this factual historic tale to readers age 10 and up. I believe that if you are older, you can get more out of the book, such as character transformation. I also recommend it to people who love history, like myself.

Chains are Forged!

Review of: Forge, by Laurie Halse Anderson (sequel to Chains)

Reviewed by: Bella

forgeCurzon is alive and roaring for his newly claimed freedom. In the clever novel Forge, by Laurie Halse Anderson, you learn what it was like to be a runaway slave. Curzon’s previous master, Bellingham, promised him that when his first enlistment in the army expired, he was free. So technically, he is not an illegal unchained slave, but he ran away from prison, with the help of Isabel and her unshakable courage. Isabel and Curzon had just about built up their trust in each other, when Isabel sets her mind on finding her younger sister Ruth.  Isabel’s urge to find her sister drives her to defy Curzon and his plans. In the middle of the night, Isabel leaves, taking money and her possessions without Curzon’s awareness.  The question buzzing in Curzon’s mind like a swarm of bees is: is Isabel alive?  Curzon must go on an audacious adventure to find Isabel and continue on his journey as a runaway slave.  Meanwhile, Curzon enlists in the army to support himself, and meets friends that will help him tremendously in the future to become an official freed slave. Over the course of the novel, Curzon learns to forgive, find his inner strength, and to stand up for others and what he believes in.

Forge was very eye opening because I learned the hardships and struggles of war. I enjoyed reading both Chains  and Forge because not only were they great stories, but I also expanded my knowledge of history.  As I mentioned in my Chains review, Chains did not contain a lot of suspense. However, Forge was replete with suspense towards the end of the book.  In Forge, we move from Isabel’s perspective to Curzon’s which was awesome. I learned different opinions from Isabel’s, but I did miss her perspective.  Forge was an overall fantastic story bravery, courage, and hope.

I recommend Forge to middle school students. There are some gruesome and grotesque events because of war, so it is not appropriate for younger readers. I love Laurie Halse Anderson’s books because they are not only exciting stories, but you learn something from them. Boys and girls both would love and learn something from Forge.

‘Dat Curious Boy!

Review of:  Elijah of Buxton, by Christopher Paul Curtiselijah

Reviewed by:  Will

Do not let the stodgy shell of this book keep you from reading an awe-inspiring story about the torch of perseverance and determination.  The book Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis is a book that  could be stereotyped as boring immediately due to the dark gloomy colors on the cover.  However, although it doesn’t look exciting, this book is packed full of adventure, all taking place in the little Canadian town of Buxton.  Elijah, the main character, must struggle through a life across a river of hate, murder, racism, and the ominous cloud of slavery.  The adults of this little town work hard to block out these devastating sins, but Elijah, the first free born person in Buxton, is curious about this unknown world.  Throughout his life, although he is still young, Elijah has been told that he is too fragile, not brave enough to make a difference in the world.  Elijah is trying his best to change this hurtful opinion, but he must work fast if he is going to accomplish the biggest adventure of his life, defeating the abhorrent tiger, slavery.

This was an amazing and well-written book.  But there was a drawback; in the middle of the book, there was a huge drop of action that almost discouraged me from reading.  Don’t let this hold you back, though.  This book is a small but fascinating look into our past of troubles with slavery and racism.  Elijah of Buxton shows how important it is to have friends and family in troubled times.

I would recommend this book to others, but no one under the age of 10.  This novel illustrates the horrors of slavery and shows how brutal the slaves were treated.  These descriptions may disturb younger readers, but for you older students, this is a great opportunity to learn about this time period and enjoy some excellent historical fiction!

“First the Colors. Then the Humans.”

Review of: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

Reviewed by: Bella
The smell of smoke and mud fill the damp, miserable alleyways of Himmel Street. There is a girl; she sits innocuously reading. The girl’s name is Liesel Meminger. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, leads us into a house on the ever-gloomy Himmel Street in Molching, Germany. Liesel’s life has not been a piece of cake. Her brother, Werner, dies and her mother can no longer keep her, so Liesel is going to her foster home to meet her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Little does Liesel know, it is with the Hubermanns that she will meet her best friend Rudy, a Jewish fist fighter named Max, and she will begin her acts of thievery, which gives her the title of The Book Thief.    Liesel’s best friend is Rudy, and he is one of my favorite characters. Rudy, to me, seems like the perfect friend; he is daring, loyal, kind, witty, and many other things. Liesel will have to cope with the  hardships of war and find her inner strength. Liesel is lost and lonesome and she is just getting her place into a family and starting to feel safe, when war and Death are making their way toward her.   Liesel will learn that  there is power in words and that she can be accepted into a family. Liesel begins falling in love with books, and then she begins writing her own beautifully written book.

This book was absolutely brilliant. The figurative language was unlike anything I have ever read and it was extremely breathtaking. In the book there are inserts of picture books drawn by Max, and Death’s thoughts, which I thought made the book even better and includes you even more in the story.  The characters are deep, and by the end of the story you feel like they are a part of your family.  I fell in love with the characters, and I was sad to finish it. Practically, everything in this novel is in depth: the characters, the writing, the setting, and everything else. I have gotten a whole new perspective on World War II, and one of the reasons is because of the narrator, Death.  Death is taking you on this journey, telling you a small story about “a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.” Death gives you his opinions, thoughts, and tells you the story of The Book Thief, which was beautiful and unique. One of the things that I have never experienced that was replete in The Book Thief is foreshadowing. Death would give you foreshadowing of events that made you love the characters even more. Some of the events in this novel are still cloudy in my memory because they are so tragic. Everything in The Book Thief was placed there for a reason and there was so much meaning within all of the text. With the help of one of my amazing teachers, Mrs. Herr, I have gotten so many things out of The Book Thief. If you have not read this book, you are missing out.  The Book Thief was packed with lessons and moods such as friendship, loyalty, hope, inner strength, sorrow, joyfulness, and so many others.  I learned so many things from this novel. Markus Zusak is an incredible author, and his book was lovely.

You NEED to read The Book Thief.  Anyone 12 and older will fall in love with this book as much as I did. If you want a beautifully written novel, then read this. Markus Zusak does not sugar coat the events that took place during World War II, so it is not appropriate for young readers. The quotes that stood out to me in this novel ranked off the charts because Zusak’s amazing writing.  I adored this book, and and all I can say is: have the tissue ready. This is my favorite book of all time. This book has left a lasting impression on me and I hope that you will take the time to read this beautiful novel.

Between Shades of Sorrow

between shades of grayREVIEW OF: Between Shades of Gray  by Ruta Sepetys

Reviewed by: Claire A

Between Shades of Sorrow, despair, pain, suffering, hope.  In Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys, Lina, a girl who sees the beauty in everything, and her family are taken and thrown into a crowed train car by the NKVD (a.k.a. Stalin’s Nazis). Lina, her mother, and brother now have a new title: “Thieves and Prostitutes.” Lina is put into a situation where she is forced to be the leader, along with her mother, her brother, and her friend, Andrius. The suffering is almost unbearable, with all the hard work and sickness. Along with hurt of losing friends they barely knew. The deportation seems hard for the new prisoners, but they soon realize that that was nothing compared to the hardships to come in the middle of Siberia. Although Lina, her mom, and her brother are taken to Siberia, her dad, who was not with them when they were arrested, is in another prison camp far away from Lina. Lina’s goal while she is in Stalin’s custody is to communicate with her lost daddy by sending drawings to him. She has a passion for drawing and was going to go to art school if it hadn’t been for her arrest. Her plan is to insert secret messages that only her father would understand into her drawings.  She would then give them to someone trustworthy to deliver to her father. Lina learns that the most important things about surviving in a hard time is hope, love, and keeping her family together.

This story is incredible. I could read it a million times and it would still make the same huge impact that it did the first time I read it. After I read this, I had a new found respect for anyone who was imprisoned in WWII. I loved how Ruta Sepetys made it real, as if I were right there next to Lina throughout the entire war by using descriptive words and making everything tie together perfectly. I loved the scene where Andrius and Lina first meet. It seemed so life-like. I absolutely love it when books are realistic. What is really unique about this book is that it describes the pain that Stalin put people through instead of the pain that Hitler put people through, as most WWII books do. I had always wondered about this book, and I think everyone should read it.

I recommend this book to girls only, since some scenes are clearly meant for girl’s eyes only. I suggest Between Shades of Gray to any girl in sixth grade or older as there are some very mature parts and some foul language. Remember this is a realistic fiction book based on a Lithuanian’s perspective on Stalin and the cruelties of World War II. Over all, I think you should read this book if mysterious, amazing, sad, and realistic fiction stories appeal to you.

Death in Color

Book-ThiefReview of:  The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak

Reviewed by:  Mrs. Herr

“There’s a multitude of stories (a mere handful, as I have previously suggested) that I allow to distract me as I work, just as the colors do.  I pick them up in the unluckiest, unlikeliest places and I make sure to remember them as I go about my work.  The Book Thief is one such story.”  Death is exhausted; World War II is raging and he is in need of a vacation.  But since Death is not allowed a literal vacation, he vacations through distractions – in colors.  He needs distraction from the surviving humans who “have punctured hearts and beaten lungs.”   Occasionally, as stated above, Death allows himself to notice a human; Liesel Meminger is one such human.  The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, tells the story of this resilient girl finding family, love and the power of words in the midst of suffering and loss.

Liesel Meminger has lost her family; she has just witnessed her brother’s death on the same trip in which her mother will leave her with foster parents.  Naturally, Liesel is traumatized by witnessing the death of her brother, so what does she do?  She steals a book.  A book she cannot even read.  And so begins Liesel’s career as a book thief and her powerful relationship with books, words, and with her new life.  This new life is touched by a stunning cast of characters, each of whom plays a part in Liesel’s healing as well as her growing awareness of the power of words:

  • Silver eyed, accordion playing, gentle Hans Huberman seems to know just how to comfort Liesel when the nightmares come each night.  Part of the healing ritual involves teaching this broken girl to read and write.  He lets her paint words on the basement wall to build her confidence and plays the accordion to soothe her fears.
  • Stout and blunt, Rosa Huberman flings insulting words like rocks from a slingshot.  Her exterior is gruff, but she loves Liesel and provides the solid, steady strength Liesel needs, balancing Hans’ gentleness.
  • Max Vandenberg, the fist-fighting Jew hiding in the Huberman’s basement, has much in common with Liesel.  Max gives Liesel more than she could imagine:  a sense of being needed, brotherhood, and words that reach deep into her soul.
  • Rudy Steiner, the boy with whom Liesel trades loving insults, is her best friend.   Constant, loyal, daring, and very protective, he rescues her books and helps her steal more of them from the mayor’s basement where whole new worlds of stories have been opened up to her.  Most of all, Rudy wants a kiss from Liesel.

All of these memorable characters influence Liesel in ways she never expected.  As Death looks on, and gives us awful foreshadowing of what is to come, we can feel Liesel growing and learning.   We also sense that Death is creeping ever closer to her world on Himmel Street.   Liesel has witnessed the power of Hitler’s words to rile a nation into a hateful frenzy, but she has also felt their power to give comfort.   Perhaps her own words can bring healing as well.

I can honestly say this is one of the most moving and beautiful books I have read in my lifetime.  Zusak’s use of figurative language is effortless and poetic, giving this novel such strong voice that you feel that you actually come to know the character of Death.  Interspersed throughout Liesel’s story are chilling descriptions of the way that Death feels as he waits for souls to rise from smoking chimneys or crowded showers in camps throughout Europe.  This reminds the reader of the “big picture” of what is happening outside of Liesel’s own world, events of which she is largely unaware.  Yet World War II leaves no one untouched, and Liesel’s new family is no exception.  The characters in this novel are so well developed, with such distinct personalities and deep impact on Liesel, you genuinely care for them.  Balancing the heavy foreboding of what may be on the horizon for Liesel, her story is also full of fun, sweet, often humorous moments as well.  But make no mistake; there will be some tears as the War finally reaches her world.

I cannot recommend The Book Thief highly enough.  It is a story that will linger in your mind long after you finish.  These characters attach themselves to your heart and make you want to go back and read about them again and again.  It is not for younger readers, though.  True to the time and the circumstances, the characters, especially the kids, use rough language; they lead a rough, largely unsupervised life, and their language reflects this.  It isn’t gratuitous; it simply lends credibility to the characters and the time period.  For mature readers in 6th grade and up, this is a novel you should not miss.

Watch Your Pride

Review of:  Johnny Tremainjohnny tremain 2

Reviewed by:  Jalen

Everything changes. Johnny Tremain, a brave and bold teenager from the novel Johnny Tremain by Ester Forbes, is an exquisite character, that is a brilliant silversmith apprentice living in Boston in the early 1770s. His master is Mr. Lapham, an old silversmith, and Johnny lives with the Lapham family.  Mr. Hancock orders a silver basin and Johnny tries to finish it himself on the Sabbath. He burns his hand and can no longer craft silver. He is now searching for his family because he no longer has a home. While he was searching for a job he came across Rab, the boy from the printers shop.  Johnny moved in with Rab, the boy who worked at the Boston Observer and becomes the news paper deliverer.  Rab and the family that owns the Boston Observer are all Whigs, a group of people that disagreed with England.  Soon after Johnny starts working there, he also becomes a Whig and helps them spy on the British  He eventually participates in a protest by dumping tea into the harbor. Later in the novel, Rab goes to Lexington and Concord to serve as a minute man. Will Johnny ever see Rab again?   Will Johnny marry the girl he loves? These questions rushed through my head as I read, and after I was done reading the novel, most of my questions were answered.

I thought this novel was interesting because the events that happened in the book actually took place. I do like that a lot of the characters are Johnny’s age because they grow up together.  I also like how Johnny goes from feeling fantastic to living on the street because his pride got in his way. I do not like that the book is down to earth and realistic because there is not a “happily ever after” ending.  I loved how the author described the characters.

I do recommend Johnny Tremain, especially if you like being taught history in a very creative novel. I also recommend this novel because there is a lesson to never be too prideful. The age I recommend this novel is about 11 to 15 because of the length and vocabulary. I also recommend this novel for that certain age because of the violence .

Finding Purpose

johnny-tremainReview of: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

Reviewed by: Colin

Ester Forbes’s Johnny Tremain is about a boy by the same name who is bossy and is aprenticed in a Boston silversmith’s shop in 1774. He is the man of the house, he bosses the other the other apprentices, he is the hardest working, and he is very mature. Then John Hancock, one of the richest men in Boston asks Johnny’s master to make him a very detailed sugar basin. However, while making it, Johnny is handed a broken crucible and burns his hand. With his hand burned, Johnny can’t be a silversmith, so he sets off to find a new profession.  He finds a printer’s office and meets a boy who works there named Rab. Rab and Johnny become great friends and Johnny decides to live with Rab and work at the printers office by delivering papers. Johnny soon learns that Rab, and the owner of the printers office who also is Rab’s uncle, help the Sons of Liberty. The Sons of Liberty are a group of people who stand up for freedom from England. Rab’s uncle helps the Sons of Liberty by letting them have secret meetings in his office’s attic. Johnny becomes a Whig, a person who wants to be separated from England, and end up spying for them.   When England tries to set an unfair tax on tea, the Sons of Liberty stop them by dumping all of their tea in the ocean. England does not like that the Whigs destroyed their tea, so as punishment they send soldiers to be quartered in with colonists until they can find out who did it and then fight the colonial army.  Johnny has always wanted to find a true family; has he already found it with the Sons of Liberty?

I thought Johnny Tremain was an outstanding book. I loved how problems came out of nowhere.  Every section had a new problem in it, but it was not always solved such as when Johnny burns his hand.  I thought it was fantastic how Esther Forbes put real people in the book.  There are characters like Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and James Otis.  I was amazed by how well written Johnny Tremain was.  I could almost feel like I was in Boston. This was a phenomenal book that you should read.

I think you should read Johnny Tremain because it is amazing and well written.  People who like historical fiction will especially like it.  I say ages 10-11 because it is so well written, it could be a bit hard to understand.  Johnny Tremain is an amazing book and you should read it.

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