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Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is one of those non-fiction books where it’s hard to tell whether you liked it for the story it told or the way it told the story. Here, I think both are effective. The story is certainly one that needs telling – the history of discrimination against female pilots in this country, particularly in regards to the space program, and Stone’s way of telling the story engrosses the reader – building up her case, citing examples of institutionalized sexism, making you feel for the women involved, describing the fitness and isolation tests, and finally the story of how women were ultimately welcomed to NASA. It’s a great book for kids interested in becoming pilots or astronauts, and also a great way to learn about our country’s history of sexism.

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Where the Mountain Meets the Moon Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The whole book is a beautiful package – a strong, likeable heroine, a adventurous quest, light fantasy, lovely illustrations, and a story that’s entirely appropriate for younger readers who want those fantasy elements but aren’t ready for anything too dark or scary. It’s a great novel for kids who are drawn to folktales, and it would also make a great gateway book to folktales, especially with Lin’s list of further reading at the back of the book. I really couldn’t find fault with anything here, and I was quite pleased to see it win the Mock Newbery AND take home a Newbery Honor. I also suspect it would make a great read-aloud for a family or classroom.

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Heart of a Shepherd Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A slim but moving story about a rural family of ranchers and soldiers who are spiritually inclined – doesn’t exactly sound exciting, does it? But for readers who like stories with great characters and vivid settings, this is a treat. It’s also not a dull, actionless story. Sure, a big focus of the book is on Brother’s thoughts and feelings, as he stays home on the Eastern Oregon ranch with his grandparents, while his dad is in Iraq and his brothers are off at school. But the details about rural life and military families will make this appealing to kids interested in either of those topics, and it’s refreshing to see a story where the characters are actively religious in a non-didactic way.

You respect the way spirituality pervades their lives without the story becoming preachy. While I think that people who are Christian might find this aspect of the story more appealing than other groups, I would still recommend it to a young reader who isn’t Christian, or isn’t necessarily religious. A variety of faiths are represented, and if anything the message of the story is to support your community and your family through thick and thin. The ending is hopeful but not too neatly resolved.

One small quibble with the book – for a character-driven story, I just didn’t buy the mom’s story. Every time she was mentioned, and every time I thought of her role in Brother’s life, I was drawn out of the story because it just didn’t ring true, and felt like an awfully convenient way to get her out of the picture without killing her off.

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January 2010

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