Book Review of The War Outside

Book review: The War Outside

Author: Monica Hesse

Publisher Little, Brown 2018

Page count: 336

I have written an unpublished middle grade about a Japanese internment camp and read at least 6 middle grade or young adult novels in similar settings. The War Outside is the newest, published in 2018.  This book is the second young adult historical novel about the internment I’ve read, and the first that is set in a camp at Crystal City, Texas, for Germans as well as the Japanese. I didn’t know such a camp existed. It turned out that German prisoners came to build the camp and stayed on afterwards.

Hesse recounts the unusual friendship between Haruko and Margot who go to the same camp  school. It is a friendship that is secret at first and frowned on by both communities. Despite suspicions and reservation about each other, the friendship offers solace to each’s fears, about Haruko’s concerns of her brother in war and Margot’s realization her father is influenced by Nazis. Hesse’s characterization of the teenagers are heart felt and nuanced. The book keeps me reading. Her research is deep and detailed. I find the story believable except the ending, which is a little disappointing. The friendship is irreparably destroyed when Haruko thinks Margot has betrayed her and Margot knows what she did is to save Haruko’s family. It’s the way Hesse sets up and resolves the crisis that is not entirely believable . Overall, this book contributes to the knowledge of this shameful period in American history for middle graders and young adults.

I don’t know whether the author has approval rights of the cover.  All the covers of the previous books I’ve read reflect the setting of the camp. Except for the barbed wires and watch towers in the distance, one would not know what this book is about. Two stylishly dressed young women, one in a vibrant red, the other wheeling a bicycle are in the forefront. The Asian girl seems to be looking at the reader, as if she were in a fashion photo shoot. I do wish the cover does more justice to such a fine book.

Book review of Her Right Foot

Book Review #2


Title:  Her Right Foot

Publisher: Chronicle Books 2017

Author: Dave Eggers

Illustrator: Shawn Harris

Word count: 1538

Grades 4-6

Picture Book

At 1538 words, Her Right Foot has a very high word count. Publishers are amendable to high word count for biographies. For a non-fiction picture book, not so much. But the book doesn’t seem that long, because the words are spread out in 108 pages. Picture books usually are  between 30 and 48 pages.


This book is about the Statue of Liberty, particularly her right foot which is not in a static position. It seems to be about to take a step, to move forward. What an unusual take in writing about the iconic landmark.

The author addresses the reader in a breezy style, as if he were having a conversation with the reader. I can imagine the reader answering his questions on whether he or she knows this fact and that fact. He gives a good history of the making of the statue that you find in other books. But I didn’t know some interesting tidbits, such as Thomas Edison once proposed to have a giant record player inside the statue. He wanted the statue to speak.  I am glad this idea was not pursued.

The author finally gets to the right foot on page 45! You don’t notice because of the writer’s breezy style. He calls the statue “a woman on the go”, with broken chains around her feet. Frankly, I was not aware of the chains.

The author’s theory is that Liberty and Freedom, represented by the statue cannot stand still. It cannot rest, it continues to welcome refugees, from Poland, for Cambodia, from Estonians, Syrians etc. She must meet them at the sea.

I enjoy the book and find the flat, simple style of the illustrator meets the spirit of the text.

I recommend it highly.



Book review of Temple Grandin





Book Review #1

Title: Temple Grandin

How The Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism And Changed The World

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012

Author: Sy Montgomery

Word count: 23907

Grades 4-8



Sy Montgomery is a natural first and foremost. She’s an author of adult and children non-fiction that teaches and entertains.  She has written about the octopus, the great apes, and the dolphin among other animals. The only book she has written about a human is the biography of autistic Temple Grandin. Probably Montgomery was compelled to write this book because Temple loves cows. I’m sure Montgomery loves cows too.

I had watched an award-winning documentary about Temple Grandin. It spiked an interest in her extraordinary story. Now that I’m writing biographies (picture books and middle grade), I need a mentor text and this book is the perfect one.


There are many B/W and color personal photos of her childhood, contraptions Grandin designed to calm herself, and her chute systems to calm the cattle. Her detailed blueprints of cattle pens are reproduced in the book.


Sy Montgomery captures what is in Grandin’s autistic mind as she is bullied in school as a child and teenager.  Her heightened senses of sounds and details bring her information that she cannot process. She fears she would go mad.

What rescues her is a visit to her aunt’s Arizona ranch. She loves riding the horses and watching the cattle. She observes that the calves are calmer in the cattle chute that is closed as it squeezes their bodies snuggly for vaccination. Later, she designs a squeeze machine to calm herself.


After Grandin graduates from college, she goes on to graduate school to study animal science. She becomes a premier designer of buildings and equipment that handle livestock in a humane way. She is a professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University. She and her students work to improve the lives of animals raised for food.


Grandin wrote her autobiography, which I haven’t read yet. This book takes us into Grandin’s extraordinary mind of an autistic person. The way Montgomery writes about this mind, I can hear the voice of Grandin, how she can’t relate a person’s expression to feelings. Or how she speaks bluntly and hurts people’s feeling.


There are other middle grade books about Grandin. A more recent one is by Annette Wood, published in 2017.


I highly recommend this one by Montgomery. The print is large and it’s an easy read. It’s well researched and written. I only hope I can do as well with the biographies I will be writing.

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Non fiction

Teachers  have been told by educators to assign non fiction to  students  because in their work lives in the future, they’ll be reading non fiction. They have to read manuals, instructions, documents etc. Still, I was surprised that my kindergartener granddaughter’s assignment was to write a simple book report on a non fiction book. I found one on different kinds of houses in the world.

It’s good that non fiction is introduced this early.

Humor in a sad book

My second blog about a middle grade novel.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson , published in 2017 is a sad book. A beloved teacher dying of cancer is sad, but the author injected so much humor that I was surprised  that I started to tear up at the end of the story, when the three sixth graders succeeded to smuggle the teacher out of the hospital, if only too briefly.

Again I’m not reviewing the book, which is wonderful. I recommend it highly  not just to middle graders.

Just some thoughts.

It is written in the present tense,  alternating chapters from each boy’s point of view.There are flashbacks in each chapter (of course in past tense). These flashbacks are absolutely necessary. Not one was put in just for the word count. Authors are told to present each character with a different way of speaking, of expressing. I must say  that if not for each boy’s backstory, and the title of the chapter, I’d not know who was speaking in that chapter.

I’ve never been able to put some  humor in my stories. It’s something I must learn to do.It’s not that I don’t like humor, in fact, I can be very funny.

I hope my grandchildren will have the good fortune to meet one teacher who can transform them, inspire them and bring out their best. This teacher doesn’t have to be as perfect as Ms. Bixby. Just the ability to listen, to discern the truth behind a facade of a frightened or neglected front and appreciation of specialness will go a long way.


Why I like “SHORT”.

This is not a review of SHORT, by Holly Goldberg Sloan, published in 2017. It’s my first try in detailing why I like a certain book or dislike it.

Julia Marks is short for her age and longs to be taller than her brother who is two years younger. Her age is not stated. She seems to be 10 years old. She ‘s mourning for her beloved dog, Ramon, this summer, when her mother sends her and her brother to a summer stock production audition of The Wizard of Oz. .Both  are chosen as Munchkins . She meets the director, three dwarfs  and gets t know a neighbor down the street better. Julie only knew her as an old lady who grew flowers in the front yard. In the rehearsals and getting to know these people , Julie finds that she’s not as ordinary as she thinks, a poor student and a daydreamer. She gets a second role as one of the flying monkeys. The old neighbor turns out to be a fascinating character. In fact, I l0ve the fact that this neighbor and the director are senior citizens plus! The The old lady is the most creative costume maker and a former prima ballerina- another hit with me.And she’s Asian to boot!

The story makes clear the transcending power of  theater for kids. Julia no longer minds being small, and is sort of disappointed that x-rays show that she will grow to be five feet four. She already grew this summer, “not on the outside, but on the inside.”

This book is written in the first person point of view, in the present tense. I have not used present tense in my historical novels. I will try it in my next book, a contemporary story.

Julie states or thinks of different ideas that come to her head, some are just tangentially connected with the story. While they deepen her character for the reader, too many such musings stop the story cold. Her opinions do sound like those of a ten-year old. She has a voice that I love.

I love the performing arts. The details of rehearsals, costume fittings, mishaps that can happen on opening night and the effect of a review by a critic are accurately portrayed. One more reason I like the book is that I have a secret desire to be in summer stock myself.


A middle grade reader who is not interested in the performing arts may find the many chapters about the show boring. I enjoyed the book  very much.


When I was fifteen or sixteen, I was most surprised to find myself cast by a nun( I was in a missionary convent school) to be the lead in “Saint Bernadette”. The nun must have observed that I was right for the role. The play was performed only once for the student body. I think I was a pretty good actress. Why do I say so? During a long speech about seeing the Virgin Mary, while I was sitting up in a bed placed near the wings, I felt the nun stooping to place her face near mine(out of view of the audience)  to watch my emoting. Alas, I was never a lead in anything again.

Many years later, I  watched Jennifer Jones in the title role in a black and white movie on TCM.

Fifty years later, I asked my schoolmate, Julia, why the nun had picked me for the role. She answered right away.”You alway s had that dreamy look.”

Oh, people knew!