04 March 2013

Review: March Selections for Scholastic's Mother-Daughter Book Club

Remember when I introduced you to the Scholastic Mother Daughter Book Club for middle readers? I'm committed to featuring or reviewing all the books selected for this club because I think Scholastic has picked winning titles that have broad appeal.

Don't forget that the Scholastic book club site includes more information about the books, recipes, reading guides, and contests. The resources are perfect for book clubs, teachers, homeschoolers, and any one who wants to get more out of reading books with middle grade readers.

Susan Campbell Bartoletti's The Diary of Pringle Rose: Down the Rabbit Hole is the latest entry in the Dear America series. The year is 1871, and Pringle's privileged life in Scranton, Pennsylvania, has been suddenly and irrevocably turned on its head when her parents are killed in a freak carriage accident. Because she is only fourteen, she must endure the guardianship of her strict aunt and uncle for seven years before she is old enough to claim her inheritance.

Pringle may have been able to wait out the years, but she can't tolerate how her aunt treats her younger brother. Gideon is slower to learn than most kids and has a round face and a ready smile. Aunt Adeline doesn't understand him and wants Gideon to be put in an institution. Scared for her brother and miserable with her changed circumstances, Pringle takes a bag of money that's hidden in her father's desk and sets off with her brother for Chicago, hoping that her mother's best friend will take them in.

Once in Chicago, Pringle's plans go awry, and she ends up working for a young mother she met on the train. The bulk of Down the Rabbit Hole is about Pringle's weeks in Chicago as she transforms herself from the daughter of a wealthy coal-mine owner to a life in service for a middle-class family. The fall of 1871 is also the year of the great Chicago fire, which destroyed the city, leaving thousands homeless and once more changing Pringle and Gideon's situation.

Written in diary form, Down the Rabbit Hole is easy to read and provides a very personal look at life in late-nineteenth-century America. Pringle is an intelligent girl who loves her brother and wants to honor her parents' values, yet her coming of age teaches her that there is more than one side to an issue, forcing her to make up her own mind about several social and legal issues, including labor laws.

Besides the thoughtful discussion questions available on the Scholastic Book Club site, club members may discover other topics in the interesting "Historical Note" section at the back of the book. There readers will find information about America in 1871, including boarding schools, unions, and property and inheritance laws. In addition, Bartoletti provides period photographs and recipes, which help bring Pringle's world to life.

Blue Balliett's Hold Fast is also set in Chicago, but in modern times. Eleven-year-old Early Pearl and her family live in a one-room apartment. Her father, Dash, is a page at the city's downtown library, and he works hard to save money, hoping to go to library school and buy a small house in a safer neighborhood.

One January afternoon, Dash doesn't come home from work. His bicycle and notebook are found on the street, but there is no sign of Dash. Summer Pearl goes to the police to report her husband missing, but they assume that he's a no-good man who has abandoned his family, just as so many men from the wrong side of town do every day. Early and her mother know that Dash would never leave them, but almost no one believes them.

After their apartment is broken into, their money is stolen,  and their lives are threatened, Summer moves Early and her brother to a shelter. Hold Fast tells the story of how Early figures out what happened to her father while she copes with being homeless and learning what it means to be truly poor.

Although the issues addressed in Hold Fast are difficult, Emily is smart and resourceful and never gives up her faith in her father. The novel is cleverly constructed as a mystery that celebrates the love of words and poetry and the unbreakable strength of family love. Besides the questions at the Scholastic Book Club site, youngsters may want to talk about making assumptions about other people based on where they live and the importance of libraries for everyone, especially for kids who cannot afford to buy their own books.

This post will be linked to Kid Konnection, hosted by Julie at Booking Mama.

Buy Down the Rabbit Hole at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Scholastic Press, 2013; ISBN-13: 9780545297011
Buy Hold Fast at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Scholastic Press, 2013; ISBN-13: 9780545299886
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).


rhapsodyinbooks 3/4/13, 7:10 AM  

Hold Fast sounds depressing! MG books can make me cry as much as any of them!

Julie P. 3/4/13, 7:27 AM  

I love those Dear America books!!! Both of these look good though!

hillary roberts 3/4/13, 8:17 AM  

I agree both of these books looks good. I now want to read both of them and recommend them to younger people in the family.

Daryl 3/4/13, 8:17 AM  

the Dear America series reminds me of those wonderful aqua blue covered Bobbs Merrill books i read back in the dark ages - the 1960s

Alison Skap 3/4/13, 12:33 PM  

Oh, Hold Fast looks like something even my son would enjoy!

Zibilee 3/4/13, 12:56 PM  

The Diary of Pringle Rose sounds really interesting, and like something that I would like to share with my daughter. It seems like it would be of interest to us both, and I hope that others like it as much as you did!

Belle Wong 3/5/13, 6:49 PM  

Blue Balliett is one of my favourite children's authors. Her art and mystery series (Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3 and The Calder Game) are all brilliant, wonderful reads. I didn't know she had a new book out - will definitely be adding Hold Fast to my to-read list.

Laura Fabiani 3/9/13, 8:41 AM  

My daughter and I LOVE reading together. We read the Dear Canada series which is exactly like the Dear America but with Canadian historical events instead. I had see Hold Fast before but now I will make a note of it. Thanks for highlighting this Scholastic feature. I had completely forgotten about it.

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