Arcady’s Goal; 4 out of 5 stars #bookaday

Yelchin’s illustrations are expressive and really help to bring this Soviet Russian historical fiction novel to life.

Arcady’s Goal
by Eugene Yelchin
Henry Holt and Company, 2014
ISBN 978-1-62779-291-2
234 pages : illustrations ; 19 cm
Chapter book, historical fiction
YHBA intermediate grade nominee, 2016
Interest level: grades 4-8; reading level: 4.4
Lexile measure: 630
4 out of 5 stars


Arcady’s Goal is a historical fiction novel that is set in Soviet Russia in the time of Stalin. This is not a historical time period that children know much about, so Eugene Yelchin’s books are windows into an unknown, but real, world.

Untitled
The book opens with a black and white photograph of a soccer team. The accompanying narrative explains to readers that the photograph is what inspired Yelchin to write Arcady’s Goal:

Fewer than a dozen photographs of my family survived the turbulent history of the Soviet Union, the country of my birth. The photograph above inspired this book, and it is the one that I most treasure: the Red Army Soccer Club in 1945. The captain of the team is in the middle row, third from the right. He is Arcady Yelchin, my father.

Arcady is a 12-year-old boy living in a children’s home in Russia. His parents have been declared enemies of the state, and even though the children don’t understand what that means, they live with the shame of their parents’ actions. Arcady is gifted at playing soccer, and he uses this skill to earn extra bread rations and establish respect in a tough and bleak life.

One day some inspectors come to examine the children’s home and Arcady and his soccer skills capture the attention of Ivan Ivanych, who comes back to adopt Arcady. Arcady’s life after that is about learning to trust and love. The story is suspenseful, exciting, and full of moments of heartbreak and warmth.

I listened to the audiobook version, and while it is well done, I would recommend reading the print version. Yelchin’s illustrations are expressive and really help to bring the story to life for readers.

Teacher’s guide from Macmillan
Teacher’s guide from Indiana Library Federation

Book review: Wolf Hollow; 5 out of 5 stars #bookaday

Wolf Hollow book coverby Lauren Wolk
Historical fiction
Interest level: Grades 4-8
Reading level: 4.6
5 out of 5 stars


Wolf Hollow is a book that does so many things well. The first, most notable thing is that Lauren Wolk has created an amazing main character. Annabelle is a strong female protagonist who has more integrity and courage than many of the adults in her life. Annabelle is polite and respectful, dedicated to family, and willing to try to see the good in all people.

The last quality is exemplified by her willingness to get to know a wandering war veteran who roams the countryside around the town of Wolf Hollow, Pennsylvania. Set between World War I and II, Toby exhibits symptoms of PTSD and some townspeople have labeled him as scary. While out taking pictures one day, Annabelle encounters Toby, who is curious about the camera. This encounter leads to a connection and tentative friendship between the the two.

Annabelle is challenged when Betty Glengarry joins her small one-room school. Annabelle’s words describe her as a “dark-hearted girl who came to our hills and changed everything.” Betty has been sent to live with her grandparents, and the townspeople call her “incorrigible.” To say that Betty is a bully is a severe understatement. Her actions go from menacingly aggressive to frightening evil, and after Toby stands up for Annabelle against Betty’s bullying, she sets her sights on him.

A horrendous event occurs, which Betty blames on Toby. Annabelle feels in her heart that Betty is responsible, but will have to go against the thoughts and actions of an entire community to prove it. It is a lot for a 12-year-old girl to do, and Wolk does a nice job portraying thoughts and actions as they would happen to a girl her age.

This is an intense story, but it is appropriate for mature 4th graders through 8th. There are intense scenes, and plenty of foreshadowing that indicate all might not end happily ever after, but that makes the story true to life. I like that Wolk doesn’t talk down to middle grade readers, but assumes they can handle some of the more real sides of life.

This work of historical fiction will give readers a good look at home life on a family farm in 1943. There are many wonderful conversations that can be sparked by Wolf Hollow — bullying, PTSD, seeing beyond the labels we place on people, if lying is ever okay, etc. I have seen several comments that this book has a theme similar to To Kill a Mockingbird. I would recommend this book for readers who enjoyed The War That Saved My Life or One Came Home. Like both of those books, I can see a Newbery award on the cover in January.