Under the Blood-Red Sun

Tomi liked to play baseball at diamond grass. The field shone like diamonds when the dewdrops sparkled in the morning sun. Tomi found refuge there, away from the chaos of life in Honolulu.

Mama knew all about chaos. She’d fled the poverty of Japan by becoming a picture bride, sailing to Honolulu to marry a sugarcane worker she’d never met. Her future husband was killed in a gambling fight, leaving Mama stranded in a fisherman’s hut. Papa heard her story and claimed her for his own.

Grampa loved Japan. He took great pride in his enormous Japanese flag, washing it with care and leaving it hanging to dry in the open air. When Tomi came home and saw it waving in the breeze, he was rattled. “Grampa! Take that thing down!” In 1941, Japanese were not always welcome on the streets of Hawaii.

One Sunday morning, Tomi and his friend Billy were playing ball when clouds of smoke spiraled into the sky. Explosions rocked Pearl Harbor. Tomi was shocked to see amber planes emblazoned with a blood-red sun. Japanese planes were bombing his home!

As the Japanese warplanes bombarded the coast, Papa was out fishing in his sampan. American forces opened fire on every ship without an American flag. Papa took a bullet to his leg, and was hauled away to Sand Island. Within days, a black car arrived at Tomi’s home. Two huge men had come for Grampa. They covered Grampa’s mouth as he screamed, and shoved Tomi into the weeds.

Hatred for Japan surged across the island. Japanese fathers were arrested or killed, leaving their children to fend for themselves. Mama was fired. Tomi’s family was watched with open suspicion. Tomi knew the day had come to lead his family, long before he was ready, with enemies on every side.

Under the Blood-Red Sun provides a riveting view of what Japanese Americans endured at the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Loyalties were tested to the extreme as military and volunteer brigades strung barbed wire around the schools and excavated bomb shelters in public parks. As he strived to free his innocent father, Tomi was incredibly brave, facing angry guards and cruel soldiers who would not hesitate to shoot him. In the midst of all the hostilities, bold friends brought Tomi gifts of love and hope that brightened his days of fear.

Graham Salisbury has received numerous awards for his work, including the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, the Library of Congress Notable Children’s Book of the Year, and the Best Books for Young Adults (American Library Association).

Visit Graham Salisbury at: grahamsalisbury.com

–Kate Calina

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Garvey’s Choice

Garvey’s alone,
Out back by the slide,
Dancing to the groove of his own music.

Joe saw Garvey dancing, and joined right in.
Two boys, dancing in the music.
First friendship.

Garvey’s teased for his roundness.
Even his sister calls him “Sweet Chunk”.
Garvey thinks his mom, dad, and sis could all fit inside his shadow.
Too-Skinny-For-Words mocks him in the hallway, throwing meanness.

Dad’s busy making him into something he’s not.
Not a football player, Dad.
Not even close.

Joe reminds Garvey: at least you’ve got a dad.
Joe’s dad skipped out a long time ago.

White-skinned Manny looks into the world through pink eyes.
“Albino boy”.
When he first sees Manny, Garvey’s words get trapped in his mouth.
“Sorry.”
The word can’t describe what Garvey senses.
How would it be to face the world,
Forever on the defense because of pink eyes and white skin?

“This is me. Get over it.”
Manny’s words, short and sweet.
If kids yell “albino boy”, I don’t turn around.
Choose the name you answer to.
Wise words.
Second friendship.

Garvey takes a chance.
Makes a choice.
Fills the auditorium with his song.
His heart floating full and light
As he sings.

Dad beams pride like a nova.

Nikki Grimes chose to tell Garvey’s story in Tanka, an ancient poetry form from Japan.
Dive into his life:  buried wounds, fragile hopes, new-found friendships, expanding dreams.
All there, ready to be shared, keen and clear.
Rising on swells, bright as the stars.

–Kate Calina

The Road to Paris

When your foster mother locks you up in a closet and beats you regularly, escape becomes the only real option. Where do you go when there’s nowhere left to run?

Eight-year-old Paris and her older brother Malcom guessed their best chance was Grandmother.  Mother was too drunk and lonely to care. Grandma coolly informed them that she had already raised her children. Within three days, Malcom was dragged from Grandma’s apartment as tears streamed down his face. On that morning, Children’s Services took away the only person in Paris’ life who really cared.

The next day, Paris found herself in a train racing along the Hudson River. Her case worker promised Paris she would like her new foster care family. The Lincolns had a reputation for being “good people”.  She shivered when she entered her tiny bedroom. Memories of the brutal weeks locked in a closet flooded over her. What was going to happen to her in her new home?

Abandoned and defenseless, Paris faces the future with a deep fear and loneliness born  from the unending rejections that defined her life. Trust comes hard, especially after racism shatters one of her first friendships in the new city. Paris experiences moments of beauty like stars emerging in the night sky. The grand notes of a church organ stun her. An invitation to sing in the choir fills her with joy. As the days pass, slowly Paris learns what it’s like to live in a house without fear. When the telephone rings and her own mother’s voice echoes in her ears, Paris knows she has big decisions ahead of her. This time, it’s finally a path of her own choosing.

Nikki Grimes is a voice for children who know the pain of abandonment, racism, and vicious cruelty. Her story rises with compelling clarity, drawing us into the quiet hope that Paris will find the love and security of a real home and a loving family.

The Road to Paris is a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Nikki Grimes is a New York Times bestselling author and recipient of the 2017 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, the 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, and the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.

–Kate Calina

 

When the Sea Turned to Silver

“Come quickly!” Grandmother Amah shook Pinmei from sleep. The rocky ground rumbled beneath her feet. Freezing currents nipped at the girl’s toes. She followed Amah to the storage room of their mountain hut. Hidden inside an empty vat, Pinmei stared through a crack into the darkened room. Her grandmother piled baskets and boxes around the vat and left.

Thundering hooves pounded the mountainside. The front door crashed to the ground. The Tiger Emperor’s soldiers roared when they saw Amah standing in the open doorway. “She’s the one we want! Take her!” Torchlight flared across Amah as they dragged her from the hut.

With his head raised high, a young boy fought his way through the soldiers to their commander. The watchful Yishan, who lived alone high up the craggy slopes, barreled into the hut like a fierce mountain dog. “Do not take her!”

The commander threw Yishan against the wall like a bag of rice. Torches hurtled into the room. Orange flames licked the thatch as Pinemei’s home caught fire. Yishan flew to the back wall and ripped down shelves, kicking a shuttered window. Pinmei scrambled from hiding and out the smoking window. Her blazing hut lit up the night sky.

The Tiger Emperor’s armies swept throughout the land, attacking villages in the deep of the night. Thousands of men were captured and conscripted to build the Vast Wall. Any appeals to the Emperor were met with the same reply: Bring a Luminous Stone that Lights Up the Night if you seek freedom for the one you love.

But why take Amah? The old woman was the Storyteller, not capable of forced labor. Pinmei and Yishan decided their best chance of saving Amah was to find a Luminous Stone for the Tiger Emperor. They knew a dragon’s pearl was in the City of Bright Moonlight. Could that save Amah?

They set out in the deep snow. A mysterious rider in gleaming blue silk galloped past through the mist, only to be thrown from her horse. The children rushed to her crumpled body and were amazed by her beauty. Her voice rang like water chimes when she spoke, but her eyes were marred by sorrow. She too was bound for the City of Bright Moonlight. The three walked together down the icy road.

Their journey takes them through places where harsh realities and legend intermingle. The greed and cruelty of the Tiger Emperor invade every village in the land, even disturbing the watery realms of the Sea King. Crimson butterflies, stone fish, scarred women—even Spring itself—fall under the iron rod of his wrath. With every new tale from the Storyteller’s trove, this world expands, rising to the Starry River and plunging into the silver sea.

Grace Lin’s masterful storytelling entwines three timeless themes: good fortune, peace, and the quest for immortality. She is a Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award Finalist.

–Kate Calina

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Young Minli was gifted with a lively spirit that flashed brightly in her drab little village. In planting season she rose before dawn, working beside her parents to place each seedling carefully in the mud. No matter how hard the three worked, they only just managed to get by, living on rice and hoping for better days. Year in and year out, Ma’s unhappy sighs clouded the air. Her daughter resolved to seek better fortune by finding the one soul known for his ability to answer any question: the Old Man of the Moon.

Near a river of salty water, greedy monkeys defended a peach orchard they had just discovered. As Minli approached the rolling stream, a muffled voice broke through the warm clear water. To her astonishment, a brilliant red dragon called out for aid, bound tightly in twine. He had been attacked by the monkeys, who feared his inroads into their orchard. Freed from his bonds, the wingless dragon invited her to climb on his back. He would help her find the Never-Ending Mountain.

Their journey to the Mountain and the Old Man of the Moon brought them to the City of Bright Moonlight, with its clever King and faithful Guardians. In the Inner City, the leaves of the plum trees shone like emeralds. Bamboo and pine trees sparkled like jewels in the sun. Minli and her dragon received two treasures of infinite worth. Joyfully they headed out from the blessed city, clambering over steep and rocky ground. In the wilderness the two heroes were attacked by the brutal Green Tiger, whose poisonous claws brought death to his victims.

Minli’s quick wits had seen her through many perilous adventures. Alone in the wasteland, these gifts alone could not save them. The story that follows is a wonderful tapestry of friendship, generosity and deep courage. Beautifully written, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a graceful and powerful tale.

Grace Lin is a Newberry Honor Winner, National Book Award Finalist, and New York Times bestselling author. Learn more about her and her timeless stories at: gracelin.com.

–Kate Calina

 

 

Forge

The wolves terrified him. Curzon scrambled down the ravine, thinking about the bodies that the beasts had dug from their graves after the battle at Freeman’s Farm. An escaped slave like him didn’t stand a chance if they’d caught his scent. Gunfire blasted into the glade. Musketballs peppered the trees, nearly ripping his ear. Curzon threw himself to the ground, hoping no British or rebel fire would strike him. When the smoke cleared, a young rebel was staring down the barrel of a British soldier. Curzon hurled a rock at the redcoat and struck him hard in his shoulder. Seizing his chance, the rebel fired. His enemy screamed as blood spurted over dead leaves.

The shaken rebel soon prepared to rejoin his comrades, and Curzon was off with him to the thick of the battle—fighting for the freedom of the men who had enslaved him.

Valley Forge. Curzon found himself serving in the army as a freeman, without papers to prove he wasn’t a slave. The cold of deep winter set in, freezing the feet of any soldier left without boots. Icy winds swept through the camp on nights too cold for pitching tents. All the barrels of salt pork spoiled. With nothing to eat but handfuls of flour, starvation chewed through the rebel army. Veteran soldiers poured muddy water and crushed grain over heated rocks to make scorched firecakes. Little choice for food remained, other than stealing pumpkins from surrounding farms.

Trapped in a world of hunger, freezing weather, and vicious assaults from his own comrades, Curzon missed his friend Isabel fiercely. She had been the one to free him from Bridewell Prison, rowing all night with bleeding hands to save his life. One cold day, Curzon’s former master rode into camp. When their eyes met, past and future caught in one life-changing moment. Freedom and slavery exchanged places. Curzon’s world was about to begin over again. Isabel was alive, but collared in iron, making another escape all but impossible.

Laurie Halse Anderson writes dramatic history that quickly captures your heart. She is a New York Times bestselling author. She’s won numerous awards and honors, including two National Book Award nominations, the Margaret A Awards Award, and the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents Award. Discover more about her at madwomanintheforest.com.

–Kate Calina

 

Hot Pots in the Rocky Mountains

Since the days when saber-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths roamed North America, melting snow has trickled through hidden fissures deep in the Rocky Mountains. The icy water flows through limestone cracks into subterranean hot springs, percolating over five thousand feet below the earth’s surface.

Over thousands of years, limestone deposits formed and shifted, creating a dome above the bubbling water. The mound is made of tufa—calcium carbonate—and reaches almost sixty feet into the sky. The thermal spring appears bright blue in the sunlight shafting down through the top of the dome. Well over a century ago, silver miners from places like Ireland and Scandinavia sought out these hot springs after grueling work in the mines of Park City. We swam in this celebrated hot pot, which maintains a steady temperature between 90 to 96 degrees.

—Kate Calina