The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman

‘Grandma Anna had left me her books. It was as though she wanted me to find this, to read it at this exact moment in my life. It felt like she had written it precisely for me.’

Imani lives with her adopted family. She loves her family and her Jewish community but has always wondered where she came from, especially as she is the only black person in her mostly white community. Imani’s bat mitzvah is coming up, and while her friends are asking for extravagant gifts, Imani wants one thing she isn’t sure her parents are prepared for. She wants to know about her birth parents. When her great-grandma dies Imani inherits her books and amongst these she discovers Anna’s journal from when she was Imani’s age. Imani finds herself engrossed in Anna’s story. It’s a story of a girl who left her only family behind in Nazi occupied Luxembourg to start a new life with a new family in New York. Anna writes to her sister in her journal, telling her about life in New York, not knowing what is happening to her family back home. The more that Imani reads about Anna the more she feels connected to her. When Anna’s journal ends abruptly Imani knows she has to discover the truth. Imani also wants to know where she came from and why her birth parents gave her up, but it will mean hurting the family who raised her.

The Length of a String is a story of family, identity and connections that takes you on an emotional journey. Like Imani, who reads her great-grandma’s journal every chance she gets, you want to keep coming back to the story to learn more about the characters. The story highlights the plight of Jews during the Second World War while not explicitly giving details. We know what happens to Anna’s family while Anna can’t get any news about what is happening back home. Jewish culture is an important part of the story and I certainly know more about it from reading this story. I did have to look up the difference between bat mitzvah and bar mitzvah (the former is the coming of age ritual for girls and the later for boys).

This is a story about connections and Elissa makes you feel intimately connected to her characters. Both Anna and Imani talk about the strings that connect them, whether this is the feeling of a string connecting Anna and Belle (the twins who are thousands of miles away) or the strings of DNA that intertwine and connect Imani to her birth parents. It is also a story of identity as Imani is trying to figure out who she is and where she comes from.

I loved the way that Elissa pulled all of the threads of the story together at the end. Anna and Imani’s lives become intertwined throughout the story and Imani’s research leads to a discovery that strengthens her connection to her adopted family.

The Length of a String is a great read for ages 11+, especially those who like family stories or stories with strong characters. I was really interested in the Holocaust when I was about 14 and this is a book I would have devoured.

Prince of Ponies by Stacy Gregg

2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Junior Fiction Finalist

Stacy Gregg is NZ’s answer to Michael Morpurgo. Stacy is a captivating storyteller who weaves the plight of animals and humans together with history, adventure and suspense. Prince of Ponies is one of her best.

Prince of Ponies has a duel storyline, one in the present and one in Poland during the Second World War. Mira is a Syrian refugee now living in Berlin. She is bullied at school and her mother appears to be busy working (she is not mentioned much). However, Mira’s life is changed when she meets a spirited pony while walking in the woods. The pony leads her to Zofia, an old woman with an astounding story to tell. Mira agrees to write down Zofia’s story in exchange for riding lessons. As we discover more about Mira and watch her bond with Zofia and her pony Emir grow, we also discover Zofia’s past and her childhood in a Poland ruled by the Nazis. Mira’s skill as a rider grows to which leads to her competing in her first competition.

There is something in this story for all readers – princely ponies, daring escapes, nail-biting competitions, history, and characters who you are routing for. Having read and loved The Princess and the Foal I really liked the cameo of Princess Jana. This was a nice connection between Stacy’s books. I also love the epilogue which connects the story to the history behind it. Stacy always makes this information accessible to her readers.

My only niggle about this book is the cover. Much like Stacy’s other books I really wish the covers were more neutral to encourage boys to read them.

Michael Morpurgo Month – A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo

March is Michael Morpurgo Month, a celebration of one of the best storytellers (and one of my favourite authors).  Organised by Michael Morpurgo’s publisher, it is a chance to highlight the many wonderful stories that Michael has written. Here is one of my favourite Michael Morpurgo books.

Michael Morpurgo has written some of my favourite stories – Private Peaceful, Alone on a Wide, Wide Sea, and Shadow.  He one of the best storytellers around.  Michael’s latest book, A Medal for Leroy, is inspired by the life of Walter Tull, the only black officer to serve in the British Army in the First World War.

A_Medal_for_Leroy_PBMichael doesn’t remember his father, who died in a Spitfire over the English Channel. And his mother, heartbroken and passionate, doesn’t like to talk about him. But then Michael’s aunt gives him a medal and a photograph, which begin to reveal a hidden story.

A story of love, loss and secrets.

A story that will change everything – and reveal to Michael who he really is…

A Medal for Leroy is a story of war, love and family secrets.  Like many of Michael’s other stories, it’s told from the point of view of someone who is old (in this case Michael) looking back at his life and telling the reader the story of what happened.  I really like this style of storytelling because it makes you feel like you are just sitting down for a cup of tea with the main character while they tell you the story.  Michael tells us that he never knew his father because he died during the war, but his mother and his aunties love him very much.  When one of his aunties dies, she leaves a special package for Michael, full of family secrets.  In this package, Michael learns about his auntie’s life and about the father he never knew.  Her story is heart-breaking, but with moments of happiness and hope.

Once again, Michael Morpurgo has written an emotional story that you get caught up in.  Even though the war is happening, you hope that everything is going to be fine, that Martha will meet Leroy again, and her father will welcome her home.  As always, Michael presents the realities of war to portray what life was like during this horrible time.  Even though Michael has returned to a topic that he has written about many times before, A Medal for Leroy, is a different story and just as wonderful as his other war stories, like Private Peaceful, War Horse, and An Elephant in the Garden. You can read more about the person who inspired this story, Walter Tull, at the back of the book too.

 

 

Michael Morpurgo Month – An Eagle in the Snow

March is Michael Morpurgo Month, a celebration of one of the best storytellers (and one of my favourite authors).  Organised by Michael Morpurgo’s publisher, it is a chance to highlight the many wonderful stories that Michael has written. Here is one of my favourite Michael Morpurgo books.

Michael Morpurgo is one of the greatest storytellers for kids.  You can’t help but get completely wrapped up in the story as soon as you start.  I’ve loved every single one of his stories, from his retellings to his fiction based on real people and animals.  Michael’s latest book, An Eagle in the Snow, is another wonderful story from this incredible storyteller.

1940. Barney and his mother, their home destroyed by bombing, are travelling to the country when their train is forced to shelter in a tunnel from attacking German planes. There, in the darkness, a stranger on the train begins to tell them a story. A story about Bobby Byron, the most decorated soldier of WW1, who once had the chance to end the war before it even began, and how he tried to fix his mistake. But sometimes the right thing is hard to see – and even harder to live with.

An Eagle in the Snow is an extraordinary story, based on true events, about one moment that could have saved the world from the Second World War.  Michael had me captivated from start to finish.  Like many of his previous books Michael Morpurgo tells a story within a story.  The story starts with Barney and his mother who are escaping the bombing of their home and follows their journey by train to Barney’s auntie.  The story within the story is told by the stranger in their train car who tells Barney and his mum about his friend Billy and his extraordinary life.

The thing that I love the most about Michael Morpurgo’s stories is the way that he brings history alive.  He takes historical events and often little-known people and weaves fact into fiction.  In the back of the book Michael tells readers about Henry Tandey, the incredibly brave soldier who Billy is based on. It is amazing to think that, had he made a different decision, the world would not have known the evil that was Adolf Hitler.

Michael Morpurgo’s stories are also quite emotional and An Eagle in the Snow is no exception.  You feel Barney’s heartache when his home is destroyed and he can’t get to his precious belongings, you feel his fear when he is sitting in the dark of the tunnel, and you experience the highs and lows of Billy’s life.  One of the most emotional parts for me is when Billy’s world comes crashing down when he recognises Hitler’s face on the cinema screen.

An Eagle in the Snow is a must-read book, especially for fans of Michael Morpurgo.  If you’ve never read a Michael Morpurgo book there is no better book to start with than An Eagle in the Snow.  You won’t be disappointed!