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Lafayette, Notre Ami

21824 Lafayette and the American Revolution
by Russell Freedman
Holiday House, 2010
96 pages

How did Seigneur Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, a "boy general who had never fired a shot in battle," go on to become one of George Washington's closest aides—and a bona fide hero of the American Revolution? Russell Freedman, one of the best nonfiction writers for kids, deftly lays out a fascinating account of the teen-aged French nobleman who volunteered for the cause, our cause.

A fine choice for history buffs sixth grade and up, Lafayette and the American Revolution was nominated for a Cybil award in the middle grade/young adult nonfiction category. So was Freedman's longer book The War to End All Wars, which I mentioned here and here.

On Science Books for Kids

"Above all, a good science book is imbued with passion for science and nature, and invites readers to engage with, imagine, and experience science in ways they may never have thought of before."

Danielle J. Ford, in "More than Just the Facts," from A Family of Readers: The Book Lover's Guide to Children's and Young Adult Literature, edited by Roger Sutton and Martha V. Parravano. Candlewick Press, 2010. 368 pages.

Under a Red Sky

9780374318406 Under a Red Sky: Memoir of a Childhood in Communist Romania
by Haya Leah Molnar
Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010
302 pages

"We live on a quiet, tree-lined street, wedged between two of Bucharest's loveliest parks. Grandpa Yosef found the two-family house and rented the second-floor apartment shortly after the Communists nationalized all private property, including Grandpa's businesses and the several houses he owned before the war."

The "we" consists of seven adults and one beloved child, the author herself. As her artist parents and other relatives smoke, argue, and desperately await permission to leave 1950s Romania for Israel, young Eva (as she was called in childhood) wonders what it means to be Jewish and why first graders have to write assignments like "What the Communist Party Means to Me."

A memoir told from the point of view of a preadolescent kid is not the usual young-adult fare, and, indeed, Molnar says that she didn't write it with any particular age in mind. Her agent thought that Under a Red Sky was just right for teens. After all, Eva is also caught between the worlds of children and adults; at a family dinner, her father says to his sister-in-law, "I was wrong to call you a bitch. I should have called you a viper with a forked tongue." Although other dialogue is occasionally overburdened with expository material, this is a terrific book, full of memorable characters and sure to engage a wide range of readers, including adults.

Under a Red Sky is a nominee for a Cybil award in the Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction category.

And We're Off! The Best Children's Books 2010

Happy November, everyone!

Halloween is over, Thanksgiving is around the bend, and it's time for the big list of lists, The Best Children's Books 2010. The link appears on the right, under Pages.

That link marks a work in progress. I've begun rounding up the year-end "best of " lists (from newspapers, journals, magazines, et al.) for children's books, as well as children's literature prizes. I'll be continuously updating the 2010 list of lists through next year. 

Right now the UK has the lead on 2010 announcements, but the American lists will start rolling in soon. Publishers Weekly's November 8th issue is devoted to its top choices in all genres, and School Library Journal reveals its picks of the year on December 1st. The Newbery and Caldecott Medals follow on January 10th, 2011, and the Cybils February 14th. Those and many, many more await us.