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SEARCHING FOR LOTTIE
Written by Susan L. Ross
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Searching for Lottie by Susan L. Ross cover art

 

 

When is a Holocaust book not a Holocaust book? When it’s Searching for Lottie, a contemporary fiction, historical and mystery novel that beautifully and sensitively conveys the connectivity the past has with the present. Author Susan L. Ross’s multi-layered story, which won the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award and is a PJ Our Way selection, also emphasizes the importance of individual identity, the supportive role of family and friends, and the power of music.

Twelve-year-old Charlie (Charlotte) Roth has an assignment for 7th grade social studies, a family history project. She’s chosen to research her namesake, Great-Aunt Lottie (Charlotte) Kulka, a violin prodigy who likely died during the Holocaust. While living in Vienna, Charlie’s grandmother, Nana Rose (who was Great-Aunt Lottie’s younger sister) and Lottie’s mother escaped to safety in America. “When the Germans invaded Austria, the Jews were at the mercy of the Nazis.” Far from home, Lottie was not as lucky. She had been sent to continue her music studies in Budapest, Hungary so when her mother and sister fled Austria after her father’s arrest, Lottie vanished without a word and was always presumed dead.

Once Charlie begins digging into the past, her Nana Rose starts to reveal some details from the past that even Charlie’s mom wasn’t aware of. First there is the old black and white photo of her namesake. Then, when Charlie is given a diary and eventually a necklace that once belonged to Lottie, bits and pieces of the past begin rising to the surface causing Charlie to wonder whether her Great-Aunt might still be alive. Could she still be in Hungary? Or America? Charlie’s mom reminds her that “The Holocaust was a tragedy that touched every Jewish family,” and there may not be a happy ending. However, with the encouragement of her friends and family, and despite what she may discover, Charlie vows to find out what really happened to Lottie. It’s clear Charlie is going to be learning about herself and her family as much as she will about her long lost relative as her journey into the past continues.

Unusual incidents and people are discovered along the way that pull the reader into the story and make them feel invested in the outcome. It turns out that Lottie had played with the Vienna Philharmonic. Charlie, also passionate about the instrument, would like nothing more than to please her devoted Nana Rose by being selected for the concertmaster position after her upcoming audition. As Charlie prepares for the big day, her crush on a fellow musician, Devin, could become a distraction from both her violin dreams and her genealogical journey but she perseveres.

The many interesting and exciting things happening in every chapter serve to keep Charlie’s mind off the audition and Devin. There is never a dull moment as Charlie delves deeper into the mystery of Lottie’s disappearance. Exploring every lead for her family history project will ultimately give her a greater understanding of how the Holocaust impacted survivors and children of survivors, in Charlie’s case, her grandmother and mother. “‘After I had children of my own,'” ‘Mom said softly,’ “‘I realized––or at least, I understood a bit better—that my mother had to bury the sad parts of her life in order to live happily.'”

Ross has created a vibrant and resourceful young girl in the character of Charlie. Her hunt through history to uncover hidden truths about Lottie, if successful, will surely solve decades of doubt and we’re all rooting for her. It was hard for me to believe that, though based on Ross’s family, all the characters were fictional. They felt so real, their situations so possible. It’s helpful to read the Author’s Note to learn about Ross’s story inspiration. I found myself heading over to the Ellis Island Archives as I was reading the novel because, like Charlie, and the author, I too, have many unanswered questions about my Eastern European family.

Searching for Lottie will get tweens thinking and hopefully talking about the Holocaust, about their own heritage, and how we often need to look to our past before moving forward. I recommend this novel as it’s not only one of hope and inspiration, but it powerfully demonstrates how one determined young girl can make a difference.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa by Anna Dewdney

LLAMA LLAMA GRAN AND GRANDPA
Written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney
(Viking Books for Young Readers; $17.99, 2 and up)

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The dedication in Anna Dewdney’s latest, Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa, reads “For grandparents everywhere, and the little llamas who love them.” And if you’ve got a little llama fan, this sweet tale of a first overnight away from home, is sure to delight.

Dewdney’s rhyme is impeccable and infectious and the premise relatable, making this new picture book the perfect read-aloud and go-to bedtime story for Grandparent’s Day on September 13th.

Mama Llama brings her son to spend the night with his grandparents.


“Mama’s picture in a frame.
Different. Also just the same.”

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Interior artwork from Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney, Viking Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

 

But, as he settles in, little Llama realizes he’s forgotten to bring along his beloved plushy, Fuzzy Llama!

 

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Interior artwork from Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney, Viking Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

Rather than dwell on Llama Llama’s disappointment and despair, Dewdney shows young readers all the fun activities he gets up to with Gram and Grandpa. There are some good distractions to be found; A ride on the tractor, pulling up carrots in the garden, woodworking, trying new foods and scanning the night sky, all destined to become cherished memories.

 

IntspreadLlama

Interior artwork from Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney, Viking Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

It’s only when Gram spots tears at tuck in time that

“Llama’s lips begin to quiver.
Llama starts to shake and shiver.
Llama needs his Fuzzy near,
but FUZZY LLAMA ISN’T HERE!”

Grandpa comes to the rescue with a more than suitable substitute, his very own “special toy” from childhood to keep his grandson company. Content, cared for, and comfy, little Llama learns that a grandparent’s love can make any house feel like home. Dewdney’s empowering story and sympathetically illustrated characters combine to make Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa my pick not only to allay the fears of any reluctant overnighter, but ultimately to celebrate the joys of grandparenting.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

CIRCUS MIRANDUS
Written by Cassie Beasley
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews & School Library Journal
A New York Times Book Review EDITOR’S CHOICE!

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What more could you want in a book?
Some family secrets? Check!
A faithful new friend? Check!
An impossible quest? Check!
And an Invisible Magic Circus? What?
Exactly.

Grandpa Ephraim has told stories about Circus Mirandus for as long as ten year old Micah can remember. But are they real? Now Grandpa Ephraim is very sick and Micah needs to know the truth before it’s too late. Micah launches himself on an adventure to find out about the circus and the fantastic people and animals that perform there. Is this real magic? And will the man called the Lightbender really grant Grandpa Ephraim a miracle?

With an imaginative story and unique characters, this book takes you on a fast fun adventure. The writing style is emotionally and visually descriptive, and the story pulled me in right away. I immediately fell in love with the characters and their world.
Micah won my heart because of his growing courage and his deep love for Grandpa Ephraim. Jenny was the perfect new friend, enthusiastic, smart, and loyal. And, there was just the right amount of humor to keep my heart light as Grandpa Ephraim became sicker and Aunt Gertrudis became meaner.

Central to the world within this story was Circus Mirandus, a fantastic place that I wish I could visit myself. Seriously, you can’t get much better than this magic circus! And the Lightbender, with his unique but limited magic, kept me guessing till the end.
I could see Circus Mirandus in my head and I could feel Micah and Jenny in my heart. I enjoyed this book all the way through and the magic stayed in my heart when I was done!

Guest Reviewer – Jo Ann Banks

Jo Ann Banks is a writer of children’s stories, poems, and silly songs. Jo Ann has such an incredible love of children’s stories that some people say she never grew up. When she hears that, she just covers her ears and sings, “I’m not listening, I’m not listening …”

To learn more silly facts about her, go to joannbanks.com

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