The Old Willis Place by Mary Downing Hahn (J)

The Old Willis Place

The Old Willis Place  

Mary Downing Hahn (Juvenile Fiction)

There are just two rules that siblings Diana and Georgie Eldridge have to follow: don’t let anyone see you and do not leave Oak Hill Manor.  But after the terrible thing happened, there would be many more rules to come.  All of these rules were easy enough to abide by until the new caretaker of the old Willis place arrived with his daughter.  Things would quickly get a lot more complicated.  Caretakers came and went (there were too many to count), but this one had a daughter—a daughter the same age as Diana.  Diana wanted a friend so badly, that she was willing to break any rule just to have one.  But at what cost?

This is a ghost story with some surprisingly heavy themes given that it is written for ages 7 to 12.  Besides dealing with theft, trespassing, and murder, we are given an older sister who, by selfishly putting her own wants and needs above all else, puts both herself and her younger brother in danger.  She lies to her sibling not once, but several times and flirts with severing the bond of trust that the two share.  Once trust is broken, can it ever be fully restored again?

This book is filled with plenty of action and suspense and, despite some scary and disturbing bits at the end, younger readers will become enthralled and immersed in this wonderfully spooky ghost story.  What I like most about this book is that Hahn delivers a powerful moral message that readers of any age can appreciate.  Despite suffering from separation, grief, loneliness, and fear, Hahn gives us two children who demonstrate the importance and value of extending mercy to the unworthy and offering forgiveness to the undeserving.  And that isn’t scary at all.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com

 

 

 

 

 

The King of Mulberry Street by Donna Jo Napoli (J)

The King of Mulberry Street

The King of Mulberry Street

Donna Jo Napoli (Juvenile Fiction)

“There was a saying that no one starved in farmlands.  My city, Napoli, was surrounded by farmlands, yet we’d been hungry for months.”

Nine-year old Dom was illegitimate, poor, but loved.  His mother called him “mio tesoro – my treasure”, and one day she took her beloved son to the docks and stowed him away on a cargo ship headed to a place where dreams come true—America.  Before sending him away, Dom’s mother gave him one strict instruction: “Your job is to survive.”  Alone, with only a new pair of shoes in his possession, Dom struggles for daily survival in this country with its strange languages and customs, all the while searching for a way to get back home.

This is a work of fiction, but Napoli says that she was inspired by the story of her paternal grandfather who, like Dom, came to New York as a young boy.  Napoli sets her story in Manhattan in 1892 and gives us a main character who is scrappy, kind, generous, and honest.  Moreover, he manages to hold true to his moral values and religious convictions (he is a Jewish Italian) despite his dire circumstances and outside influences.  The reader can only admire and marvel at his resilience and convictions.

When recalling his life back in Napoli, Dom often remembers the proverbs his Nonna often said.  One such proverb was, “You get, you give” and Dom takes this to heart as we see him always giving throughout the book.  Whether he’s returning an act of kindness or helping another in greater need, he shows us that even the smallest act of goodwill often has the greatest impact.  Napoli gives us a beautiful story of trust, loyalty, and friendship.  As Dom begins to carve out a life for himself in America, he reminds us of the importance of being true to oneself and that family isn’t defined by bloodline or name, but by love and devotion.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com