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The journey of Little Charlie
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Sweat was pouring out of every part of my body. We'd been standing in the alley for the longest time afore the Cap'n finally said, "Don't turn now, that's her with the sack and the bonnet." The Cap'n had me as a shield, ducking behind me so the woman couldn't see him. Soon's she walked on by the alley he give me a shove and I was on the sidewalk behind the woman. Following the plan I run out in the street till I was ten yards past then turned to face her. I said, "'Scuse me, Ma'am, do you know where..." Both me and the woman gasped. I thought the Cap'n had made a mistake, 'cause whilst this woman did have a eye patch and a scar running 'crost her cheek, he hadn't said nothing 'bout her skin! She was colored! How could a woman who didn't look no different than the slaves I'd seent 'round Possum Moan be the leader of a gang that robbed Mr. Tanner of four thousand dollars? Excerpted from The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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  New York Times Review

How does it feel to almost die of thirst? Most readers will never know, though this riveting book will make many feel as if they've had a taste of it. Twelve-yearold Nisha and her family, refugees headed for the border of India, are on a desperate journey through the desert. Nisha's legs start "quivering like jelly in the heat," her "teeth feel like apricot skin" and, when she tries to stand, "my arms and legs felt filled with sand." Set in 1947, the novel tells the story of Nisha's family's struggle during the bloody events of Partition, when India was divided into two countries after the nation's independence from Britain. Nisha and her brother, Amil, are from a mixed family; their deceased mother was Muslim and their father, a respected physician, is Hindu. As violence looms, the family must flee their comfortable home in what's now Pakistan and cross the border to the new India. Nisha is especially bereft at her separation from the family's kind Muslim cook, Kazu, who kindles her love of cooking (a freshly folded samosa feels to her like a "small animal, soft and warm in my hand") and encourages her to keep a diary. Hiranandani ("The Whole Story of Half a Girl") does a remarkable job conveying the terrors and absurdities of the conflict in ways young readers can understand. Neighbors turn against neighbors and fear is so thick that even children are seen as a threat. ("What side are we even on?" Amil asks at one point.) She's also created a family with satisfying complexity: While the father is a good man, he shows scorn for Amil's poor academic performance. But it's the family's dramatic journey that will keep readers to the end. The finale - unabashedly weepy, deeply cathartic - is as satisfying as a long, cool drink of water. CHECKED By Cynthia Kadohata 400 pp. Atheneum. $16.99. (Ages 10 to 14) "I've known for a long time that you gotta be intense about stuff, since anything can happen in the future." So says Conor McRae, the 11-year-old hockey player at the heart of Kadohata's quiet, masterly seventh novel. Conor is nothing if not intense about his sport - his goal of making it to the N.H.L. pushes him to 4 a.m. wake-up times and grueling practices where coaches pinch his neck and scream, "Why aren't you moving your feet?!! " But hockey is an expensive pursuit and Conor's dad, a police officer, barely makes enough to cover equipment. Then Conor's dog and "soul mate," Sinbad, develops cancer and Conor must face the messy aspects of life outside hockey - his dad's depression, his estranged maternal grandparents (Conor's mom died when he was 2), the possibility of life without Sinbad. You don't have to know about power skating or stick time to get sucked into this moving story. The Newbery Medalwinning Kadohata ("Kira-Kira," "The Thing About Luck") gives readers a fascinating window into the world of elite junior athletes, those kids who seem to live "on a whole different planet" from their classmates. Conor is impossible not to like; hardworking and kind, he's capable of 33 perfect push-ups and a killer slap shot, but still says lovably lunkheaded stuff like, "Someone should declare Taco Bell a national treasure." And Kadohata's portrayal of the steady relationship between Conor and his dad is refreshing - a welcome reminder that not all father-son relationships are fraught and dysfunctional. "When I started playing, it was like Dad was living through me, but not in a bad way," Conor says. "It was more like him and me got so bonded he was out there with me." THE JOURNEY OF LITTLE CHARLIE By Christopher Paul Curtis 256 pp. Scholastic. $16.99. (Ages 9 to 12) Curtis's books occupy that all too rare space in middle grade lit; they're school curriculum standbys that are also crowd pleasers. Teachers like the way Curtis explores family dynamics and social justice through historical fiction. Fifth graders think it's hilarious when a kid gets his lips stuck while trying to kiss his reflection in a frozen mirror (see: "The Watsons Go to Birmingham"). Curtis's ninth novel is among his most suspenseful, an adventure story about a white sharecropper's son in antebellum South Carolina. "Little Charlie" Bobo is just 12, but at 6-foot-4, he looks as "growed and strong" as "a man and a half." When Charlie's father dies, the boy becomes easy prey for Captain Buck, the overseer of a plantation with a "rep-a-tation knowed even beyond Richland District." The fearsome Cap'n tricks Charlie into helping him hunt down two slaves who have escaped to Detroit. And so Charlie embarks on a tense journey north, simultaneously captor and captive. Readers who like their books packed with thrills will find plenty of action (horses, gunplay and disguises, for starters), to get their blood pumping. But a gentle tale this is not. Curtis doesn't sugarcoat the horrors of the time. We see the Cap'n "clenching on to a blood-dripping whip whilst standing o'er the shredded-open back" of a man and get a vivid description of cat hauling, one of the cruelest practices in the history of American slavery. At times, it's practically Tarantino-esque: "I will kill you, come back and kill your ma and anything else that was ever alive on that land," the Cap'n threatens Charlie. But Curtis is also a master at shifting tones - and so for every nail-biting moment, there's a note of goofy joy or slapstick humor (often about Captain Buck's "ripish" body odor). The novel gets a bit heavy-handed when Charlie meets a doppelgänger of sorts, the equally oversize 12-year-old son of the runaway couple, but "Little Charlie" is a keeper. Raised in poverty, ignorance and racism, Charlie develops his own moral compass - and becomes brave enough to act on it. THE HEART AND MIND OF FRANCES PAULEY By April Stevens 196 pp. Schwartz & Wade. $16.99. (Ages 8 to 12) Some books are about stuff happening. This isn't one of them. But what this understated middle grade debut might lack in plot, it more than makes up in observation, mood and full-on feeling. Frances Pauley is a dreamy 11-year-old who spends hours in her "rock room," the rock formation behind her house, where she watches crows, tracks bugs and does her homework. A solitary soul, she calls herself "Figgrotten." "Giving herself this name felt strangely freeing," Stevens writes. Like a young Ramona Quimby, she has that un-self-conscious, unquestioning sense of self that all too often vanishes in girls when they hit adolescence. Figgrotten's main conflict is with her 13-year-old sister, who has withdrawn into sullen teenagerdom and wants nothing to do with her "little ugly freak" sister. A new boy in her class who's becoming the teacher's favorite also has Figgrotten seething. And she harbors the first inklings of self-doubt after being mocked at school. When she's confronted with a sudden loss, she feels utterly alone. Can a child with an inner life as fierce and private as Frances' make her way toward friendship and connection? There's much about Frances' story that might cause some to label it a "girl book" - the very pretty cover art by Sophie Blackall, for starters, and the emotional weight packed into a tiny pink hair clip - but there's plenty for boys to appreciate too. Any younger sibling will connect to Figgrotten's hurt and bewilderment when she is shut out by her sister. And the image of Figgrotten's bedroom, crammed with "crazy leaves that were the size of dinner plates, hickory nuts that had absolutely perfect holes gnawed in them, rocks with mica shining inside them," all of which she's laid out "in a trail that went all the way around the edge of the room," is nothing short of magical. CATHERINE hong, a contributing editor at Elle Decor, blogs about children's books at

  Publishers Weekly Review

Crouch's facility with character voices gives color and atmosphere to this tale of a Southern white country boy forced to help an evil overseer track down a runaway slave family. Charlie is a simple, naive, uneducated boy who only knows farming, but when his father dies in 1858, cruel Cap'n Buck insists on his help as payment for his father's debts. Charlie comes to sympathize with the slave family he is pursuing and must make a choice whether to help them, at great risk to himself. Crouch reads Charlie with just enough of a folksy Southern twang to make lines like "If you was to ax me afore I seent what happened to Pap, I never would've thought time could slow down in the way it done" sound natural, while not making the accent so thick that children would have trouble understanding it. His Cap'n Buck has a monstrous, growling voice, while the runaway slave woman is dignified and fierce in her righteous defiance, and her son Sylvanus, who attends a boarding school, has an educated, intellectual tone. Crouch brings the characters to life, making this adventure novel all the more entertaining. Ages 9-12. A Scholastic Press hardcover. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

  School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-When strangers initially meet six-foot, four-inch Little Charlie Bobo, they often mistake the 12-year-old boy for a man. After his father's death in an accident in the summer of 1858, Charlie finds himself facing adult responsibilities and decisions. When the devious, heartless Cap'n Buck arrives on Charlie's doorstep demanding repayment of a 50-dollar loan, the youth agrees to the man's offer: accompany him from South Carol-liney to Detroit and Canada to recapture thieves-former slaves of Massa Tanner. During their journey, the wool lifts from Charlie's eyes and his ever-pondering mind begins working overtime to see past the lies he'd been taught and to right a terrible wrong. Narrator Michael Crouch superbly tackles the difficult dialect, Charlie's pendulum of emotions, and the pompous, slimy Cap'n Buck. Curtis's young protagonist will sow the seed of courage in listeners with this heart-wrenching, and at times gut-wrenching, reminder that we must learn from history. VERDICT A "gay-run-teed" great listen and top pick.-Cheryl Preisendorfer, Twinsburg City School District, OH © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
The National Book Award finalist by Christopher Paul Curtis! <br> <br> Twelve-year-old Charlie is down on his luck: His sharecropper father just died and Cap'n Buck -- the most fearsome man in Possum Moan, South Carolina -- has come to collect a debt. Fearing for his life, Charlie strikes a deal with Cap'n Buck and agrees to track down some folks accused of stealing from the cap'n and his boss. It's not too bad of a bargain for Charlie... until he comes face-to-face with the fugitives and discovers their true identities. Torn between his guilty conscience and his survival instinct, Charlie needs to figure out his next move -- and soon. It's only a matter of time before Cap'n Buck catches on.<br> <br> Newbery Medalist Christopher Paul Curtis brings his trademark humor and heart to this story of a boy struggling to do right in the face of history's cruelest evils.
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