Hidden by Helen Frost

Helen Frost is one of my favorite authors.  While she may not be the most well-known MG/YA author on the market right now, I wish she was!  I am constantly recommending her books to my readers.  When I was offered an ARC of her newest title, I jumped on the chance. Hidden does not disappoint. If you are a middle school of high school teacher, I highly recommend picking up a copy.

From the flap copy:

When Wren Abbott and Darra Monson are eight years old, Darra’s father steals a minivan. He doesn’t know that Wren is hiding in the back. The hours and days that follow change the lives of both girls. Darra is left with a question that only Wren can answer. Wren has questions, too.

Years later, in a chance encounter at camp, the girls face each other for the first time. They can finally learn the truth—that is, if they’re willing to reveal to each other the stories that they’ve hidden for so long.

I have a strange attraction to crime stories.  I am the person who can’t turn off CNN when they are talking about a missing person.  I read newspaper articles and magazine interviews.  Hidden was exactly what I was looking for. The story will keep you on the edge of your seat.  The chapters alternate between Wren and Darra and you sympathize with both.  The suspense alone is reason enough to pick up the book.  However, Helen Frost’s real gift is in her poetry.

Nothing is ever as it seems, which is what I love.   The real magic in every Helen Frost book comes when you start digging deeper, really paying attention to the poetry.  In Hidden, Helen Frost has invented a new form of poetry to help give insight into Darra’s story. Darra’s poems are told through especially long lines.  But upon reaching the end of the book, you learn that taking the last word of the longest lines allows you to read Darra’s thoughts and memories, seeing the kidnapping from her point-of-view.  Due to this, I found myself re-reading the book immediately upon finishing it the first time.  The second time through, I simply lost myself in the poetry, paying attention to the word choice, the rhymes, and this wonderful new form.

Hidden is perfect for reluctant MG/YA readers.  Highly, highly recommended!

Grow by Juanita Havill

I admit that I haven’t read a lot of verse novels, but I do enjoy the ones that I have read.  Verse novels always seem slightly deeper than prose novels- maybe it’s the white space on the page that seems to leave more room for thinking.  Or the line breaks that allow you to breathe.

Grow is a beautiful story about a young girl, a retired special ed. teacher, and an urban community garden.  Berneetha is big.  She is round.  And Kate hears how the neighbors comment on her size and weight.  But when Berneetha plants a garden on an empty lot, the neighborhood is slowly brought together.  From Harlan, whose father is less of a father and more of bully, to Hank, the war veteran, the neighborhood and the garden slowly become one.

This is a great book for reluctant readers.  It’s about 120 pages long, so kids won’t think it’s a “baby book”.  But the line breaks and white space leave enough room for struggling readers to breathe.  And while the story is neat and simple on the surface, there is much room for deeper, more critical thinking.  Every character introduced in the story has a background and that background is deep and powerful. This is a book many students will connect with, because everyone has been part of a neighborhood, whether in the city or a quiet suburb.

Stanislawa Kodman’s illustrations are also gorgeous!  The seeds, flowers, and other living things take on a life of their own in the sketches!

The Trial by Jen Bryant

Growing up and living in New Jersey, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping has always fascinated me. I’ve been to Flemington many times and even have friends who live there now. The as-yet-maybe-unsolved kidnapping and murder case is a huge part of the history in that area and comes up every so often in the media. The Trial, by Jen Bryant, is a verse novel that tells the story of Bruno Richard Hauptmann’s trial for the death and kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh. Katie, 12, finds herself in the courtroom day in and day out, acting as a secretary for her reporter uncle. She always thought her town was boring, but now that the trial and inevitable media circus have moved into town, she isn’t so sure if being exciting is worth it. As she watches the trial unfold, including the eventual guilty verdict, she struggles with her feelings on the American justice system and the media. Does she really want to be a reporter when she grows up? Can a man be partly responsible for the death of a child but not deserve the death penalty? Is there a such thing as a fair trial?

The novel is full of suspense, as Jen Bryant takes you into the fateful courtroom in Flemington. The Lindbergh trial was one of the most widely publicized criminal cases of the twentieth century and the birth of the American obsession with media and celebrity. The real life characters are the actual players from the trial and Bryant gives an unbiased view of the antics that took place during the case. Also included is a firsthand look at the media circus that was borne from the case- Katie sees Ginger Rogers and various other celebrities in the courtroom everyday. While one man fought for his life and family fought for justice, America watched it like it was a television drama with no real consequences. This is a fascinating book and one I would especially recommend to my NJ students who may not know a lot about the Lindbergh’s.

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