The War that Saved My Life

warthatsavedmylifeThis Newbery Honor winner is one of the most powerful, heart-wrenching, beautiful books I’ve come across in awhile. The setting is WWII England. The main character, Ada, suffers from a clubfoot as well as mental and physical abuse by her mother. She is kept a virtual prisoner in the family’s roach-infested, one-room flat in London. When an opportunity arises for her and her younger brother to escape during an evacuation of the city’s children to the countryside, Ada seizes the chance. As the plot progresses, the reader realizes that the biggest hurdle facing Ada is not her twisted foot, but the damage to her psyche caused by her mother’s cruelty. The War that Saved My Life is a finely crafted story of perseverance, transformation, and ultimately. . . love.

Suggested ages: 10 and up

K.J. Wagner
Education Oasis

Middle School Mysteries

We recently conducted a poll of 101 middle schoolers to see what their favorite mystery titles were. Here are their top five picks:


book-murderatmidnightMurder at Midnight by Avi
Grades: 4-8
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 256  Lexile: 590

Avi takes readers back in time to Renaissance Italy where Mangus the Magician has become a scapegoat for a traitor who wants to overthrow King Claudio. Fabrizio, the magician’s young servant, is determined to find the real culprit and clear his master’s name. Will medieval superstition win over rational thought? Twists and turns abound.

book-the dangerboxThe Danger Box by Blue Balliett
Grades: 5-8
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 320  Lexile: 750

Twelve-year-old Zoomy Chamberlain, list-maker extraordinaire, suffers from pathological myopia and sees the world much differently than most. Zoomy’s alcoholic father shows up one day after a long absence and leaves a mysterious box (from a stolen truck) containing a scientific journal full of…you guessed it…lists! The young boy’s orderly life is turned upside down as he attempts to solve the journal’s puzzle.

book-greenglasshouseGreenglass House by Kate Milford
Grades: 5-8
Publisher: Clarion Books
Pages: 376  Lexile: 800

Milo and his parents live in a rambling old inn that formerly served as a smuggler’s hideout. One snowy night, five unexpected guests arrive, one after another. When objects begin to go missing, Milo teams up with Meddy, the cooks daughter, and the two take on role-playing personas to solve the mystery. Greenglass House has an incredible twist ending that only one of our readers puzzled out beforehand.

book-deadendinnorveltDead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
Grades: 5-8
Publisher: Square Fish/MacMillan
Pages: 384  Lexile: 920

It’s the summer of 1962 and Jack Gantos is grounded (as usual). His mother sends him to help ancient, arthritic Miss Volker type (on a typewriter!) obituaries of the small town’s newly deceased. When a series of deaths occur, Jack and his friend Bunny (the undertaker’s daughter) set out to investigate. Part memoir, part fiction, Dead End in Norvelt is laugh-out-loud funny, populated with quirky characters, and extremely popular with our reluctant readers. Winner of the 2012 Newbery Award and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. Visit MacMillan for a chapter excerpt, audiobook excerpt, and teacher’s guide.

book-escapefrommrlemoncelloslibraryEscape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
Grades: 4-8
Pages: 304  Lexile: 720

Kyle Keeley, along with eleven other twelve-year-olds, are locked in a newly built library after an overnight stay. They compete to figure out book-related clues, codes, rebuses, and puzzles in order to “escape” and win the grand prize. The library itself is a techno-wonder with its holographic librarians and hover ladders that float you to the books you want.

In the words of one reluctant reader, “You just gonna love Lemonlo and his lieberry!” We agree wholeheartedly.

Compiled and reviewed by the teachers at Education Oasis




Salt to the Sea

salttotheseaOver the past two decades I have reviewed thousands of books. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is one of my all-time favorites. Yes, it is that good!

The story takes place during the winter of 1945 in East Prussia and Poland. The Soviets are advancing, sending thousands of refugees fleeing toward the Polish coast.

The narrative rotates between four points-of-view. Florian is an enigmatic Prussian soldier on a personal mission. Joana, a young Lithuanian nurse, is haunted by guilt as she journeys across the war-torn landscape, helping where she can. Alfred, a sailor, harbors delusions of grandeur. And Emilia, a fifteen-year-old Latvian, is pregnant and about to give birth.

The writing is rich and lyrical. I found myself stopping constantly to admire a turn of phrase or arresting description. Each of the four voices is authentic and compelling and pulls you onward. Salt to the Sea is one of those books that remain long in your memory.

Note: Our school media specialist put this title on our Young Adult shelf (for 8th grade and up).

Reviewed by K.J. Wagner, M.A., NBCT
Education Oasis