MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, March 14th.
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Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Whitney Williams recommends three books for families… that won’t disappoint.
WHITNEY WILLIAMS, REVIEWER: Most of us are familiar with the Secret deodorant slogan: “Strong enough for a man, made for a woman.” But too many stinky read-alouds with my boys had this mom wondering: “Are there any books out there that are strong enough for adults, but made for kids?” The short answer is you bet!
First, Someplace to Call Home, by Sandra Dallas, written for ages 10 to 14.
The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl hit the Turner family hard. Daddy left to find work and never came back. Then Mommy died. Now, it’s up to 12-year-old Hallie and 16-year-old Tom to make ends meet and take care of their little brother, Benny, a 6-year-old who evidently has Down syndrome. The three travel from town to town, living out of their car and looking for work, but it’s hard to come by. Seems like friends are hard to come by, too. People call the Turner kids “squatters,” and treat them with suspicion, though they’re just trying to make it like everyone else.
Here’s an excerpt of Chapter One read by Nick Jensen and Chloe Hendon:
“What if it rains?” “Rains? If it rains, we’ll all stand outside and praise the Lord. When was the last time you saw rain, Tom?” “Let’s see.” Tom tilted his head, thinking. “I think it was in 1929. The Bible says we have seven good years and seven bad, so we should have rain in two or three years.” “Well, I hope the Lord can count,” Hallie told him. She stared at her brother until the two burst out laughing. She felt good finding something funny.
As you can hear, there’s plenty of love, joy, and gratitude among these siblings even in the midst of incredible hardship, and a near-tragedy ends up bringing even more good things their way.
Next, here’s a clip from Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel. It’s read by Matthew Frow.
Sometime in the first hour of walking into those hot, shadowy rooms where death had been, I found a way to change my thinking around. Instead of looking with my eyes, I decided to see with my heart.
Eel is a 12-year-old orphan boy hired to help collect dead bodies in his neighborhood at the height of the Broad Street cholera epidemic. At first he’s not sure he can stomach the work, but he needs the money …
I tried to remember that the corpses were just people. People like Mr. Griggs or neighbors that I might greet on the street. And so rather than thinking about my own queasy feelings, I thought about them. I started to believe there was something important and noble about what we were doing. It made me want to be different from the men who came to get my own pa. And this coffin man, whose name was Charlie, seemed to feel the same way.
Dr. John Snow, an epidemiologist, suspects contaminated water is to blame for the deadly outbreak, but not many people believe him. Snow and Eel work to gather the evidence they need to prove Snow’s theory and save the lives of Eel’s friends and neighbors (or what’s left of them). Just as they start to make headway, a dark character in Eel’s past catches up with him and threatens everything. Hopkinson’s seamless mixing of real-life facts and figures with fictional characters and storylines makes this fast-paced novel both educational and entertaining.
And finally, my personal favorite for its humor and heart, A Long Way From Chicago: A Novel in Stories by Richard Peck, for ages 9 and up:
Grandma Dowdel was a bit rough around the edges with her gun toting and beer brewing—and boy, could that woman tell some whoppers! But the larger-than-life lady had a heart to help others, and that’s one thing she wasn’t loud about. At least that’s what her now-elderly grandson–Joe–remembers from his childhood visits to small town Illinois in the 1930s. Here’s a clip from the audiobook, read by Ron McLarty:
Now, I’m older than Grandma was then, quite a bit older. But as the time gets past me, I seem to remember more and more about those hot summer days and nights, and the last house in town where grandma lived. And grandma. Are all my memories true? Every word. And growing truer with the years.
Each chapter hilariously recounts something Grandma had up her sleeve for her Chicago city-slicker grandkids, Joey and Mary Alice. From a (jumpy) dead guy in Grandma’s front parlor to an illegal catfishing adventure, each word of this 1999 Newbery Honor winner is a tickling treat. And adults, you might need a tissue at the end.
The years went by, and Mary Alice and I grew up, slower than we wanted to, faster than we realized.
If you’re a parent who longs for more when it comes to juvenile fiction, no need to sweat. These three books have got you covered.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Whitney Williams.
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