Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl Dreaming cover imageGrowing up in the 1960s and 1970s, Jacqueline Woodson’s heart lived in two places: South Carolina, where she, her mother, and her siblings lived with her grandparents for several years, and Brooklyn, where she moved when she was still young. She captures her experience of living in both the North and the South in her memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming.

The free verse that Woodson writes is simple but profound in expressing both what happens in the author’s family as well as in the wide world around her. She loves her grandparents deeply, and grieves leaving them for New York, where there is opportunity, and the streets are supposed to have diamonds embedded in them. The third of four siblings, she tries to find what she excels at, and what she wants to be known for. She finds power is putting the stories in her mind down on paper.

Brown Girl Dreaming also offers a glimpse into the civil rights movement, and how a young girl perceived it. Despite the demise of Jim Crow laws, her grandparents don’t feel comfortable going into restaurants where before only whites were welcome. The North is more open, but prejudices linger. Woodson sees black women fighting for change and it gives her courage to find her own voice.

I highly recommend Brown Girl Dreaming for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 14. The book can spark discussion on the importance of family, religious beliefs, the civil rights movement, and more.

The author provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Silence by Deborah Lytton

Silence cover photoWhen a freak accident leaves Stella unable to hear it changes everything. She can no longer perform the lead role in her high school’s production of West Side Story and her dreams of Broadway fade with her hearing. But her unexpected silence brings unexpected surprises into her life, including Hayden, a boy who stutters and keeps to himself. Hayden harbors a secret about his past, but he puts aside his personal pain to help Stella see that she can thrive in a world without sound.

Silence by Deborah Lytton shows how love and understanding can go a long way in helping people overcome personal tragedy. Stella was already unsure of herself, unsettled after her parents’ divorce and her move to a new school. She felt she was just beginning to forge a new path for herself when the accident happened. Abused by his mother, Hayden has a hard time trusting anyone to get close. But as the two learn to trust each other, they also learn to look at others in a different light, allowing them to move forward despite personal pain.

Silence is a good book for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in high school to read. Issues to discuss include personal resiliency, finding joy even while recognizing loss, and the value of slowing down and being patient to achieve happiness.

The author provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Book Review: Cast Off by Eve Yohalem

Cast Off cover imageTo escape her abusive father, a wealthy Amsterdam merchant, Petra de Winter seeks refuge on a ship setting sail to the East Indies. She fears dire consequences when Bram Broen, the ship’s carpenter’s son, finds her. Instead, together they come up with a plan that will help Petra escape and Bram find favor with the captain. As they sail they find adventure in fending off pirates, weathering storms, and navigating a mutiny.

Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra de Winter and Bram Broen depicts life on a 17th century Dutch sailing ship in detail while telling a story of friendship and survival. Petra is used to hard work, but life on the ship will test her in new ways. She has to navigate living next to rats, eating meager rations, learning to climb up into the crow’s nest, and helping the ship’s surgeon tend to the sick and injured—all without giving away that she’s a girl.

Bram’s father is Dutch but his mother is Javanese, and as a mixed raced child he’s not allowed on shore in The Netherlands. With the recommendation of the captain, he may be able to earn the legitimacy he longs for. But talk of mutiny has him questioning whether his loyalties lie with the crew he works with or the captain in charge.

With the challenges they face, the friendship between Petra and Bram soon becomes the only thing they can count on.

Cast Off is a historical adventure that shines light on what life was like for cast offs and misfits in the early 1600s. It was a time when children had few options without the protection of legitimacy and loving parents. The action never stops and it is sure to satisfy adventurous girls and boys aged 10 and up.

The author provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Eve Yohalem, Author of Cast Off, Talks About the Relevance of Historical Fiction

Today I’m participating in the blog tour for Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra de Winter and Bram Broen. Set on the high seas during the 1600s, Cast Off is a historical adventure tale sure to please both girls and boys. I have one copy to give away to a reader with a U.S. address. For a chance to win, just leave a comment about what you like about historical fiction. Be sure to get your comment in before midnight (PDT), Monday, June 22.

today I’m featuring a guest post by the author and tomorrow I will feature a review of the book. Here are the blog tour stops still to come in case you’d like to check those out:

Tues, June 9—Cracking the Cover
Wed, June 10—The Compulsive Reader
Thurs, June 11—The Children’s Book Review
Fri, June 12—I Read Banned Books

Also, here’s a bit of background information on the author: Eve Yohalem’s first book was Escape Under the Forever Sky, which Booklist called “riveting.” She lives with her family in New York City. To learn more, and download a free curriculum guide for Cast Off, visit her website:

Eve Yohalem photo

Author Eve Yohalem

Eve Yohalem on the Relevance of Historical Fiction for Modern Children

When Cindy asked me to write about the appeal and relevance of historical fiction for modern children, I got very happy (thank you, Cindy!). I don’t just write historical fiction, I love reading it, so I have a lot to say on this subject!

For me, the appeal of historical fiction begins with a burning need to answer the question What was it really like? Back in the 17th century, did pirates actually make people walk the plank? What did people use for toilet paper? How many minutes did it take to amputate a leg? And how long did it take to spin hemp into yarn, weave yarn into cloth, sew cloth into a shirt, get it from seamstress to market—and when you bought the shirt, did it feel super scratchy against your skin, or was your 17th century skin so used to scratchy that you didn’t even notice? When you read historical fiction, you find out the answers to questions like these.

Fiction is also one of my favorite ways to learn real history. We humans are storytellers. We process everything we see and experience by turning it into a story, from You’ll never believe what happened to me today! to Let me tell you how my great grandmother came here all the way from Poland with no shoes. Cast Off is an adventure story about two 17th century kids looking for their place in the world. But when you read it, you also see how goods were exported from Europe to Asia and you learn a lot about the truly disgusting medical practices of the day (like blistering, among other things!).

Historical fiction is relevant today because one of the ways we understand who we are is by understanding where we’re from. The Dutch colonized the New World for only forty years in the 1600s, and yet many of our most essential American values come from that time and culture: tolerance, meritocracy, and capitalism, to name just a few. But the thing that always strikes me most when reading stories about people who lived centuries before my own is that while the particulars of our lives may differ widely, our emotions are the same. People have always felt joy, grief, pride, shame, fear, and wonder, and we always will. I love that thrill of recognition, of being able to identify with someone who doesn’t wear underwear and rides a horse to work. Don’t you?

Book Review: When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens

When Audrey Met Alice cover imageFirst Daughter Audrey Rhodes is having difficulty adjusting to life in the White House. She left her friends behind in Minnesota, making new ones at her new school is not easy with a Secret Service agent in tow, and delivery pizza is always cold. Mostly, she’s lonely as her mom, the president, is always working and her dad, a researcher with an onsite lab, is never around either. So when she finds a diary hidden away by Alice Roosevelt, she’s intrigued by the experiences of that long ago First Daughter. Soon, she finds inspiration from Alice’s capers.

When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens is a cute story about a modern teen who finds solace in the words of a contemporary from more than a century before. It’s a good contrast between realities of life in the two different eras. It’s also fun to read about the antics of Alice Roosevelt, well known in her time for pushing boundaries and getting into trouble.

Audrey discovers that taking refuge in the story of a life from the past is fine, but ultimately it doesn’t take the place of communicating with the people important to you in the present. I recommend When Audrey Met Alice for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Deborah A. Levine and JillEllyn Riley Talk About Cooking With Mom

Deborah A. Levine and JillEllyn Riley are the authors of The Saturday Cooking Club, a great series of books for young readers (see my review). They are stopping in at MotherDaughterBookClub. com today to talk about cooking with mom and to share a recipe for easy fudge.  My daughter loves chocolate (so do I!), but fudge is her particular favorite, so we were both excited to try it out. Read on to find out what the authors have to say and to get that recipe.

From Deborah A. Levine and JillEllyn Riley

Much of the action in our middle-grade series, The Saturday Cooking Club, takes place in a weekly cooking class taken by our three main characters and their moms. With all that mother-daughter time in the kitchen, it didn’t surprise us that one of first questions most people asked us was whether we were inspired by memories of cooking with our own mothers. What did surprise us (at least the first time) was that neither of us had ever given it much thought–and when we did, we both came up with a resounding, “Not really.”  That said, we each have memories of our mothers that are deeply linked to food–and as much a part of who we are today as any treasured family recipe.

Deborah A. Levine

My mother made the majority of the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners in our house when I was growing up, but I have always had a rather “quirky” palate. For much of my childhood, I was the kind of kid who thought whatever my friends’ parents served up was infinitely more glamorous than anything my mom would make–even if all they did was heat up a box of fish sticks (we never had those in our freezer!). As a teenager, I was usually on some weird diet or another and generally shunned anything that didn’t fit into its bizarre perameters (bananas and milk, anyone?). The one constant in my fickle relationship with food, however, is vegetables (ok, and sugar–but that’s a given). I’ve always loved pretty much anything green and crunchy, and lucky for me, my mother is an expert gardener.

My mother’s garden bordered three sides of our backyard. It wasn’t huge, and in many places the veggies were mixed in with the flowers, but each spring I looked forward to discovering which of my favorites would be popping up between the roses or next to the peonies. There were always tomatoes, a family staple, and usually bell peppers, too. I remember being fascinated by the way the cucumber and squash vines twisted around the slats of our rickety old wooden fence, and how such long, heavy vegetables started out as tiny green fingers poking out of the flowers. I loved to harvest everything, but the peas and beans were my favorites (and still are). On a good day at the height of the season, you could fill a bucket with them and still pick a handful for snacking.

Today my mother lives in Miami and has mango and papaya trees in her garden, instead of bush beans and cucumber vines. I live in an apartment without a yard or even a patio–but I do have a small plot in a community garden a few blocks away. I don’t have my mom’s green thumb or encyclopedic knowledge of plants, but I still look forward every year to filling my patch of soil with as many crunchy green things as I can squeeze in. This year, I’m growing tomatoes, peas, beans, squash, and cucumbers, just like my mom always did. I sent her a picture as soon as I planted them–and my kids and I already can’t wait to get picking.

 JillEllyn Riley

I never really cooked with my mother. I mean, she cooked dinner when we were kids, but she cooked dinner because dinner needed to be cooked. She did not relish her time in the kitchen or use it as a creative outlet–she was a busy, trailblazing newspaper woman who happened to have kids. Dinner was a necessity. As soon as we could read recipes, my mother assigned each of us our own “dinner night.” As we were learning, we may have eaten Jello and undercooked homemade French fries, but it meant we helped out with the dinner burden and that was what mattered.

Our extended family has an ingrained tradition of demonstrating love through food, though, so there was definitely a prevailing sense of the specialness of our family recipes. My sister and I took over the baking traditions early on. As small children, we could cream butter like professionals and don’t even get me started on our dicing skills. There are mishaps when little people use a stove or an electric mixer, but only once was the situation scary enough to require a roaring, racing fire truck. I have since perfected my grandmother’s easy fudge.

With my own children, we continue making cherished recipes as well as pioneering our own. Like my mother, I cook dinner because dinner needs to be cooked. And I do pull in both my boys to help make it happen. One of them is a tremendous sous chef–he can prepare ingredients (measuring & mixing, sifting & chopping) so that I can effortlessly put it all together like the star of a cooking show.  The other fellow likes to mix it up in the kitchen, scrambling eggs with cinnamon or making mini-pizzas on biscuit dough. There are many ways of cooking as a family, sharing the tasty, the traditional, and occasionally the burned. Whatever it is, we all have to eat it together!

In case anyone wants to try a family favorite, here is Nana Brown’s recipe for Easy Fudge.

Easy Fudge

Melt in a double boiler: 3 cups of chocolate chips

1 can of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
A pinch of salt
2 teaspoons of vanilla

Mix in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, if desired

Pour at once into a slightly oiled 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 pan, before it hardens. Cool before cutting.

Book Review: The Saturday Cooking Club: Kitchen Chaos by Deborah A. Levine and JillEllyn Riley

The Saturday Cooking Club cover imageLiza and Frankie are a team, best friends since forever and great partners on school projects too. But when their 7th grade social studies teacher assigns a major project for teams of three, they have to expand their ranks to include a new girl, Lillian. Liza takes to her right away, but Frankie is not so sure she wants to embrace Lillian as a new friend as well as a teammate.

The project they create—exploring the history of U.S. immigrants through food—gets them to sign up for a cooking class with their moms and discover things about eating, and themselves, they didn’t know before.

The Saturday Cooking Club: Kitchen Chaos, is the first of a new series by Deborah A. Levine and JillEllyn Riley. Told in alternating chapters from the perspective of each girl, the book gives insight into challenges that arise in different family situations. For instance, Frankie’s family life includes several brothers, a firefighter dad that cooks, and a mom who is prone to kitchen disasters. Liza’s single-mother mom is often too harried to put a meal on the table, and Liza often ends up heating up food or ordering take out. Lillian’s family seems perfect on the outside, but she feels pressure to conform in ways that don’t fit her personality. Each girl learns to recognize the challenges as well as the benefits of living within her own unique family.

I highly recommend Kitchen Chaos for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 and up. Issues to discuss include making new friends while keeping old ones, mother-daughter relationships, personality in the kitchen, and family backgrounds. Don’t be surprised if you’re inspired to explore more of the foods mentioned in the book and create your own feast for book club.

The authors provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Alchemy’s Daughter by Mary A. Osborne

Alchemy's Daughter cover imageLife for women in medieval Italy did not offer many choices, and girls who didn’t conform were looked upon with suspicion. So when seventeen-year-old Santina leaves her comfortable life to live with and learn from the local midwife, some say witchcraft influenced her. But Santina wishes to follow her heart, which means rejecting marriage to a local merchant. After the women perform a risky medical procedure, their own lives are in danger. Santina will have to delve deep inside herself to find a way out.

Alchemy’s Daughter by Mary A. Osborne is great historical fiction for teens. Covering topics such as the roles of women, practices of midwifery, the place for love and romance, as well as the plague of 1348, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the times. Santina is smart and strong-willed and curious—traits that were not widely valued in a time when women were supposed to follow the wishes first of their fathers and then of their husbands. Young readers will appreciate her tenacity and her creativity in forging a life for herself.

I recommend Alchemy’s Daughter for any teen and members of mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 12 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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