skylark and wallcreeper

Two alternating stories shine a light on the history of two devastating events. We begin in 2012 and a story told in first person through the eyes of 12-year-old Lily. Hurricane Sandy has arrived in New York City and Lily accompanies her grandmother during a hurried evacuation from a nursing home. Granny gives Lily a unique pen that she quickly loses in the chaos. The pen becomes the focus of the story as the search for it uncovers the mystery surrounding her grandmother Collette’s youth.

Flash back to 1944 at the height of World War II and young Collette is a French resistor. The third person narration takes readers back to this awful time. The German’s have taken over France and Collette is a messenger and spy to alert others of the enemy’s plans. She must pretend to be a boy as girls were not allowed to dress in them manner she needs for success in her short missions.

I found the 1944 story much more compelling but each have their own way of wrapping you up in the mystery. It is Lily and Collette’s story, especially as they find how their personalities are similar. But secondary characters like Henry, Johnny, and Simone enrich the reader’s experience.  Adults will find the history engaging and the two stories an enlightening way to explain the past. The intended MG audience is a whole different ball game. Historical fiction is always a tough sell and the 400+ pages in Skylark and Wallcreeper doesn’t help it fly off the shelves. Regardless, I hope this one will eventually find a wider young audience without it being assigned in a history class.


Queens, 2012.

Hurricane Sandy is flooding New York City, and Lily is at a nursing home with her grandmother, Collette. Lily visits Collette often, as she is beginning to lose her memories. When the National Guard shows up to evacuate the building and take them to safety at the Park Slope armory in Brooklyn, Lily’s granny suddenly produces a red box she’s hidden in a closet for years. Once they get to safety, Lily opens the box, where she finds an old, beautiful Montblanc pen. Granny tells Lily that the pen is very important and that she has to take care of it, as well as some letters written in French.

But Lily loses the pen in the course of helping other nursing home residents, and as she searches the city trying to find it, she learns more about her grandmother’s past in France and begins to uncover the significance of the pen with the help of her best friend, a quirky pen expert, and a larger-than-life, off-Broadway understudy. Told in alternating sections (2012 and 1944), this engaging book explores a deep friendship during difficult times and the importance of family.

For more about SKYLARK and WALLCREEPER visit Anne O’Brien Carelli’s web site.



Gusta is an endearing character you will fully cheer for. She’s been sent away to Springdale, Maine to live with her Grandmother who runs a group home for unwanted children. The year is 1941 and Gusta’s German father is not welcome in the states. As war creeps ever closer to reality, Gusta settles into new surroundings and the uncertainty of her future. A beloved French horn is the one connection to her father and grandfather and she plays it quite well.

She begins school and an eye test immediately trips her up. Gusta is nearsighted and since glasses are expensive, she works off the expense helping a neighbor with his pigeons and accounting books. Suspicions from classmates and community members surface about her father and she hopes there is one more wish to make things right. She wants to be reunited with her parents, help her uncle with medical bills, and avoid  questions about her birth certificate. And why can’t everyone just get along despite where they were born?

At over 400 pages, the average middle grader will not have the patience for all the side plots that pop up and disappear much too quick. This might be better suited for adults or older readers learning about WWII. It’s a compassionate story but one you need a lot of patience to read.


It’s 1941, and tensions are rising in the United States as the Second World War rages in Europe. Eleven-year-old Gusta’s life, like the world around her, is about to change. Her father, a foreign-born labor organizer, has had to flee the country, and Gusta has been sent to live in an orphanage run by her grandmother. Nearsighted, snaggletoothed Gusta arrives in Springdale, Maine, lugging her one precious possession: a beloved old French horn, her sole memento of her father. But in a family that’s long on troubles and short on money, how can a girl hang on to something so valuable and yet so useless when Gusta’s mill-worker uncle needs surgery to fix his mangled hand, with no union to help him pay? Inspired by her mother’s fanciful stories, Gusta secretly hopes to find the coin-like “Wish” that her sea-captain grandfather supposedly left hidden somewhere. Meanwhile, even as Gusta gets to know the rambunctious orphans at the home, she feels like an outsider at her new school — and finds herself facing patriotism turned to prejudice, alien registration drives, and a family secret likely to turn the small town upside down.

For more about Ann Nesbet and some handy Teaching Materials to use with THE ORPHAN BAND OF SPRINGDALE, visit her website.

Visit Part One of My CYBILS finalists here. You can also read all about the winner I featured this past Monday, THE PARKER INHERITANCE.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
This entry was posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to CYBILS FINALISTS Part Two

  1. I understand why both these books were finalists. Interesting that they revolve around WWII stories. I’d enjoy reading them. I remember our neighbor adopted two children from Germany in the 50s, and they kept it a secret until they were teens. The father was in the military and overseas. I was so shocked that they felt the need to hide the facts, even from their kids.

  2. Thanks for these reviews. I do love historical fiction so will have to check these out.

  3. Janet Smart says:

    Thanks for the reviews, I love historical fiction, and these sound interesting. But, I am like kids, I don’t like the longer books, either – unless they are very good and keep my interest.

Place your thoughts here with a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.