Books Review – Caroline, Rebecca, Kaya

Meet Caroline
Kathleen Ernst
Illustrations Robert Papp
Hardback, 2012

Meet Rebecca
Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Illustrations by Robert Hunt
Paperback, 2009

Meet Kaya
Janet Shaw
Illustrations by Bill Farnsworth
Hardback, 2002

As part of Pleasant Company/American Girl’s decision to retire Molly, Misheal and I went back and read through some of the books – Misheal tackled Molly’s six book series, but I went through and did Molly’s companion books and have now moved on to the other Meet whoever books from the American Girl catalogue.

In Meet Caroline, we’re looking at the first shots of the War of 1812, and a little girl who lives in upstate New York on the shore of a great lake.  When war breaks out, she’s in a boat that her father built with her father and two cousins.  As they go towards Upper Canada, still British owned, they get seized by the British Army, who takes the girls back to their family but hold her father and cousin, Oliver, as prisoners of war.  [Side note – if Oliver is from Upper Canada, he’s a British Citizen.  I don’t know why they took him prisoner…]

In Meet Rebecca, we’re with a Jewish family in the midst of World War I.  Her problems start with not being allowed to say the prayer to light the candles on Saturday, and end with her persecuted Jewish cousins trying to get out of Russia with their lives.

In Meet Kaya, we’re in the midst of a Native American tribe somewhere in the Oregon/Washington/Idaho area (they only show us a map of the tribal lands, they don’t really say where they are) during Salmon Fishing Season.

So now on to my feelings about the books themselves.  First of all, I am a little disappointed (no really) that they broke their format of all the dates ending in 4, but it did open them up to things like the War of 1812, which we learned sadly little about in school.  (The other one, so far, is Cecile and Marie-Grace in New Orleans in 1853.)  But it doesn’t have any bearing on what I thought about these stories, I just wanted to throw it out there.

Some of the early dolls/books were period specific but didn’t really have a lot to deal with/understand.  What I noticed in these three books is that they have gotten a little bit more serious in what they’re talking about.  Caroline is captured by troops, Rebecca is dealing with religious persecution and Kaya gets into a lot of cultural stuff that we may not be that familiar with – family/community obligation, behavior affecting everyone (at one point, something she does causes all of the children of the village to get whipped), etc.

Caroline and Rebecca feel similar, despite being 100 years apart, because they’re dealing with the same sorts of things.  They both have family in really precarious positions – Caroline’s father in a POW camp, Rebecca’s cousins trying to get here from Russia – and they’re both in New York and family centric (although that’s a common theme in all American Girl books).

Interesting, though, was that even though Rebecca’s book starts in 1914, there’s absolutely no discussion about WWI.  For now, I give it the benefit of the doubt, as the assassination of Frans Ferdinand didn’t happen until the end of July, but the way the series starts out, it doesn’t feel like they’re planning to talk about it at all, and that’s my interest in the era.  What I did find curious was that the Russians were persecuting the Jews way back then and that’s not something I’ve *ever* learned in history class.  Public Education Fail for sure.  America seriously needs to stop being so selfish and start teaching about the world.

Kaya’s book, on the other hand, was so totally different.  Her story takes place in 1764, and aside from the Small Pox epidemic being a fleeting comment (her grandmother has the scars and the story to tell), her family doesn’t really have much to do with anything outside her tribe.  What I did like, however, was how close the tribe was.  Even the ones who weren’t blood relation were considered cousins and part of the extended family.  When Kaya’s actions (leaving her little brothers in the care of a blind person so she can go off and race her horse) cause the Whipping Woman to come out and punish all the children of the village, Kaya learns humility and to be a team player.  I have to say, I kind of like the Nimiipuu (nee-MEE-poo aka Nez Perce) culture.  I like how the focus is for the greater good and having a group of people that are family even when they’re not; too often in modern culture, we have families who don’t speak to each other, people who move apart and then let distance cause an emotional separation as well, etc.  Kaya’s motivation was to be a citizen that her tribe was proud of.  If only we had that today.

In all, I love that these books deal with serious topics, but do so in a way that kids (well, girls anyway) can relate to.  In all of these books, we get to see that girls, even if they’re expected to do submit to the female roles of society, can be strong, courageous, and awesome.  Women are more than the cooking and the cleaning, and even if that’s what’s expected of them, they can rise to any occasion, and that is a lesson that I hope every girl gets – you can be amazing, you just have to do it.

I’m going to give these books a 4/5.  I know they’re geared towards 10-year-olds (all the characters turn 10 in their birthday books), but I think they have a broader range than that (easily 7-12, but beyond that), and they’re great as topics of conversation.

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Writer Wednesday – Ryan OBrien

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
I live on a sailing catamaran in The Florida Keys and also have a log cabin in Washington State. I plan on writing 3 books a year from this point forward. Visiting middle grade schools and talking to students is an exciting and rewarding activity, and we have met with over 1500 students during this past year doing power points on my book and talking about reading in general. I hope to triple the number of students in the coming year. Check out thelandofwhooseries.com for more information.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
…and a bit about what you’ve written…

I have written The Land of Whoo and the second book in the series, The Land of Coral Seas. I started out in high school writing for the school newspaper. In college I was on the yearbook staff. My major was R/TV Management so this included writing PR releases and news and commercials.

…and what you’re working on right now.
I am currently working on the third book in The Land of Whoo Series. I am also working on another YA book primarily about The Keys called No Limits.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
I was enthralled with reading Robinson Crusoe as my first book love.

What are your three favorite books?
Robinson Crusoe
On Writing, by Stephen King
Treasure Island

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I have just finished The Alchemist, and before that, 39 Clues, The Emerald Atlas and Hunger Games.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
get ideas for my current projects and make notes and underline passages to review later.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
We over edit, trying to make the manuscript the best it can possibly be.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
I read all the Middle Grade books recommended – especially by my many friends that are middle grade teachers – to know what my target audience is looking for.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very likely. I believe in sharing any knowledge available –

What do you look for in a good book?
I love honesty, frankness and great adventures. Also after reading Stephen King’s “On Writing,” I have been eager to see another author’s character development and descriptions and compare their plot lines. I am also looking for original story lines and this lets me be aware of what is currently out there.

Why do you write?
I love it!

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
Marketing or Advertising

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
From my family and friends. Also from a group of middle grade students that I talk with about ideas for my next books.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
I have been looking for ideas and many times wake up in the morning with the idea – trust the soup.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
At first they said, “Sure you’re going to write a novel.” I wrote the first 2 chapters of my first book on my iPhone. After finishing the first book in two and a half months, they rethought. My wife has been my biggest supporter and Editor in Chief, as a former court reporter. She is my inspiration and best friend.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
From what I know, everyone is different. There are many paths to success that are not the same for all.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Dedicating the time to write on a daily basis.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
On my first book, we sent it off for a second opinion and got an editorial letter from a create space editor. One piece of great advice given was that my main character did not make enough mistakes. To be more believable, I added more predicaments where Michael Henry didn’t choose the easiest “path.” Kids learn from their mistakes and that makes a stronger character.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?

How do you deal with your fan base?
I have a group of middle grade students that I communicate with on a regular basis to gather ideas about the direction of my book series. Today I gave a presentation to over 100 middle grade students and thanked them for their support and ideas for my second book in the series which was just launched on Amazon and Kindle. After my first book was released, I had a fan search me out to tell me he had read my book three times and loved it. I interviewed him and have used him as a character in my current book. He is Jack Sloan, the cabin boy, and of course the last name is fictitious.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
I live on a cruising catamaran in the Florida Keys and love to sail and scuba dive

Anything else we should know?
This current book has been dedicated to my daughter, who has passed away, to remind me to always put family first.

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