Ground Zero

Author: Alan Gratz

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Release Date: February 2/21

Reviewer: Laurie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for a digital eARC of this book.

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for a digital eARC of this book. 

Alan Gratz’s latest book, Ground Zero will have fans familiar with his books and his writing lining up to read this one as he tackles a topic that is a tough one – in time for the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

As with previous books, Gratz uses two perspectives to give us a glimpse into two parts of the world – New York City, the day of 9/11 and present-day Afghanistan. Nine-year-old Brandon is with his father in the North Tower due to his suspension. It is just him and his dad, with no one else able to look after him, Brandon has to go to work with his dad. Flash forward to the present-day, and we meet 11-year old Reshmina in war-torn Afghanistan. Reshmina puts her entire village at risk when she rescues a badly injured American soldier nicknamed Taz. 

For some readers, this may be the first time they read a book about 9/11, and the story of Brandon is detailed and gut-wrenching. Readers get a feel of what happened and what individuals there that day went through. If unfamiliar with the details, I suspect many will want to know more about the events of that tragic day, leading to richer discussions.

Reshmina’s story is just as important. Alan Gratz’s research allows readers to experience Reshmina’s life and what life is like in war-torn Afghanistan. Reshmina has only lived in a country that has been ravaged by war, whether it be different countries invading her homeland or its civil war. Ground Zero shares the point of view that the people of a particular country may not see another county’s involvement as positive. It may be more harmful, placing the lives of the Afghanistan villagers in danger. The tumultuous relationship with her brother and the Taliban demonstrates how families are torn apart and will allow for discussions about global and internal relationships.

Those familiar with Refugee may go ahhhhh, he did it again tying these two stories together told years apart, and I must admit it is a great way to sync them and provide hope. I would be remiss if I did not mention that despite the research that Gratz did for this novel – he did not reach out to an #ownvoices author. Having an author from Afghanistan co-write or even consult today is something that editors and publishers need to be on the look-out, and then suggest/guide authors to ensure that all voices are heard and represented.

OTHER BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR: Allies, Refugee, Grenade,and Ban this Book

RECOMMENDED: Gr. 5+

A Place To Hang The Moon

Author: Kate Albus

Publisher: Margaret Ferguson Books

Release Date: February 2/21

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

5 STARS!! I readily admit that what I think about a book is directly proportional to my emotional reaction to it. In this case, A PLACE TO HANG THE MOON by Kate Albus gave me ALL the feels, and I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. Historical fiction is not my favorite genre, but this story about three siblings who are sent to the countryside in England during World War II grabbed me from the beginning and held on until the very end.

William, Edmund and Anna have lived with “the” grandmother in London since their parents died many years ago. When she dies and the children are left without a guardian, its decided to quietly send them to the countryside with a school group evacuating London, in the hopes that their billeting family might be willing to keep them forever. Their hopes are dashed when they end up with the Forrester family, whose two sons endeavor to make their stay extremely unpleasant. As one bad situation leads to another, and the kids must adjust to some terrible conditions, the one constant in their life is the local librarian, Mrs. Muller, and the welcoming atmosphere of the library. She is an outcast in the community because her missing husband is German, but when the children need her most, she is the one adult they can count on.

I absolutely love the author’s writing. There is a hopefulness runs throughout the story, even when the children face extremely difficult circumstances. The relationships are the key for me; not only those between the three siblings (I love how devoted William is to his younger siblings, especially Anna), but each of their attachments to Mrs. Muller for different reasons. Each of their foster families gives the reader a look into the challenges facing the people in the community in the early part of the war without being a heavy story, and though the harsh realities are not ignored (the scene with the rats was pretty intense for me) they are not the central focus.

It’s a heartwarming story that I am anxious to add to my collection so I can share this story with young readers. It’s the author’s debut MG novel, but I look forward to reading more from her.

RECOMMENDED: Gr. 5-7

Trapped in Hitler’s Web

Author: Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Publisher: Scholastic

Release Date: October 6/20

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

If your students enjoyed Don’t Tell The Enemy (Don’t Tell The Nazis is the US title), then I highly recommend you add this one to your pre-order list for October 6th. This sequel is the story of Maria, Krystia’s sister, and what happens to her after she leaves Viteretz in Ukraine with her friend Nathan to work in Austria and help support their families.

When the two are unexpectedly separated, Maria continues on to do farm labour, but worries about how she will find Nathan and help him protect his Jewish identity. At the same time she is harvesting, caring for livestock, and working in the home of Frau Huber and her family who support the Nazis, Maria is wondering if she will ever be able to reconnect with her mother and sister when the war is over. She also witnesses worse conditions than her own, and the lack of fairness in how citizens from different areas are being treated.

I actually enjoyed this book more than the first one, and love how the author writes series where you see characters who are connected but have their own story to tell. Her books are very popular in our library (and she is one of my favorite historical fiction authors) so I’ll definitely be adding it to our collection. If you haven’t read MAKING BOMBS FOR HITLER, I highly recommend you check it out. You can also read my review of her nonfiction book SKY OF BOMBS, SKY OF STARS which was recently featured on the MG Lit Online Book Club.