Graveyard Ruminations

Down the street from my elementary school, hidden behind a ring of trees, on the grounds of a golf course, stand three simple gravestones.  Weathered by time, they are illegible and unmoveable.   We visited them once, as a class, when learning about the early settlement of our town.  And so began my fascination with cemeteries.   I love looking at them from the highway, stopping in small towns, or historic battlefields.  Old cemeteries are best, ones with tilted stones half buried in earth, tabletops washed free of writing by centuries of wind and rain, elaborate mausoleums bearing family names holding old secrets.   Discovering headstones with tragically short lives elicits sadness, and a grateful heart for the blessings of 21st century medicine.  Come across a particularly long life to wonder at all that soul bore witness to, as time marched on.  I’m especially fond of the park-like setting and rolling hills of Mt. Hope Cemetery where, one day in early November, women come to place their “I Voted” sticker upon the headstone of Susan B. Anthony in thanks, and as a reminder never to take the hard-won right for granted.   For cemeteries are places to honor, remember, grieve, but also to connect us with the lives of those who have gone before us.susanbgrave

This time of year we associate graveyards with the spookie and scary – home to the hostile undead looking to haunt those careless enough to cross through the gates after dark.  There are many frightening tales to enhance this image of cemeteries -but there are also plenty that show a softer side of these final resting places.  Check out the unusual spin these great reads take on the traditional graveyard tale.

43 cemetery roadDying to Meet You (43 Old Cemetery Road) by Kate Klise – When Ignatius B. Grumply moves in to 43 Cemetery Road he presumes it is abandoned, but to his surprise, and frustration, it is occupied by eleven-year old Seymour Hope- and a ghost named Olive C. Spence.  This delightful epistolary novel tells how very different people can come together, opening their eyes and hearts to become a family.   A riveting page-turner, it leaves you wanting more – luckily the series continues in Over My Dead BodyTill Death Do Us BarkThe Phantom of the Post OfficeGreetings from the Graveyard Hollywood, Dead Ahead, and The Loch Ness Punster(MR-4/5)

graveyard bookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – Bod Owens hasn’t had a typical childhood.  When his family is murdered the toddler crawls to the graveyard where he is taken in by the resident spirits who raise him, albeit unconventionally, as part of their family.   Things begin changing when Bod questions the world outside the graveyard and where he fits between the living and the dead.  Dangers lurk outside the gates for Bod as the man who murdered his family is out to finish the job. (MR -5/6)  

spotted dogThe Spotted Dog Last Seen by Jessica Scott Kerrin – Derek was sick the day the 6th graders signed up for their community service requirement, so he’s assigned the least desirable project – care and maintenance of the cemetery.  Not only does it sound boring, but Derek carries his own grief from a childhood accident that took the life of his friend.  Surprisingly the lessons and work at the graveyard turn out to be interesting, and a secret mystery discovered in the pages of a book leads Derek and his new friends to uncover the truth about the past – and help him come to terms with the tragedy of his childhood.  (MR -5)

graveyard girlGraveyard Girl by Anna Myers -A haunting historical fiction novel set during the yellow-fever epidemic that, during the summer of 1878, ravaged Memphis, TN.  Eli’s father has fled, unable to handle the loss of Eli’s mother and sister to the disease that has been raging throughout the city.  It is left to Eli to bury them at Elmwood Cemetery, a place hauntingly busy as evidenced by the constant ringing of the bell by the Graveyard Girl.  Just a bit older than Eli, the Graveyard Girl has nursed her father through the fever, but as he’s still too weak, and she has taken over the duties of recording the dead and tolling the bell for each soul lost.  It is through the Graveyard Girl that Eli learns to find strength to go on and the hope to keep living. (MR-5/6)

This October wander through your local graveyard or, for the more ambitious, take a trip to visit one of these remarkable American cemeteries.  Though I highly recommend daylight hours, because it is awfully close to Halloween and you never know who you might meet.

Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia – Set just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC this hallowed military burial ground located on the previous estate of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is a sobering reminder of the sacrifice of our nation’s military.  The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and President John. F. Kennedy’s grave are highlights of this extensive burial ground still in use.

Gettysburg National Cemetery , Gettysburg, Pennysylvania – The first national burial ground for the military dead of the Civil War.  It was at this cemetery’s dedication that President Abraham Lincoln gave his heartfelt 3-minute Gettysburg address.

Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia – Known for its Southern Gothic architecture, Bonaventure is hauntingly beautiful and inspiring.

St Louis Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, Louisiana –  The historic, unique, above-ground mausoleum cemetery only encompasses approximately one block in downtown New Orleans, but holds thousands of souls.  Due to new regulations visitors must be part of a paid tour group to visit the cemetery grounds.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California –  Part cemetery, part cultural events showcase, Hollywood Forever is the final resting place for some of some of the entertainments industries most famous names.  Visitors can see the burial sites for Johnny Ramone, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. & Jr. and  Cecil B. DeMille.  Or take in a concert at the Masonic Lodge, a performing art hall inside the cemetery.  This is truly a unique graveyard – as only Hollywood could do it!

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Banned Books Week 2015

Banned Books Week 2015 has come to a close.  This year the attention was focused on the YA genre- which is appropriate as YA books seems to wear a very big target.  This is likely because many adults can’t quite grasp that our young adult children are, in fact,  growing up.   And themes like sex, religion, violence and identity seem awfully scary when just yesterday Curious George did the trick.  Reality however, is a scary place and navigating young adulthood in a 21st century world is hard.  But then, most of us know that young adulthood is hard.  We lived it, and survived it.  One of the best tools to navigate those years is to tackle tough themes in the pages of a book.   Reading about diverse characters and risky situations lends experience to help YA readers decide the person they want to be and how they’ll handle difficult social challenges.   It is so important to keep YA books on the shelf, because for every book that’s banned there is a teen out there that needs that story to give them confidence, help them feel like they aren’t so alone, or guide them to the right decision.

Books are banned when adults make decisions, across the board, as to what kids should read.  It is easier that way, right?  “If the book isn’t on the shelf then I don’t have to worry about what my child might be picking up.”   Just as being a teen is hard, parenting a teen is hard too.  At the same time the reigns are loosening it is still a parent’s responsibility to monitor, supervise, and even read-along with their teen if they have concerns about objectionable content.  Using a book to guide that difficult conversation about pre-marital sex, drug use, bullying – can help impart your values to your child.  How will they ever know what you think about these topics if there isn’t a catalyst for discussion?  The banned books kids need to guide them through the YA years are the same books that support parents in those uncomfortable conversations.    “What did you think when?…,  I think it was a poor choice because I believe…., Our family thinks this is important…, Did you see that in the main character’s actions?”

And then there are books banned in schools.  Personally I would be thrilled if my child was guided through every book the way she is in school.  Those tough themes are dissected, discussed and processed.  Academics should prepare students to be critical thinkers, challenge them and inspire them.  When books are banned in school we deny our children the opportunity to read material in a safe, guided environment, where a diverse array of perspectives get to weigh in on the same piece of writing.

And don’t forget the inherent nature of teenagers – if something is forbidden it must be really good.  Rebel by reading a banned book? Yes!  Except, when read on the sly, kids don’t have the safety net of  a parent or teacher to help process the challenging material.  Banning adds a mysterious allure to books  making them more desirable to YA readers.  At the same time banning eliminates the support system necessary to accurately interpret controversial literature.  Even if done with the best of intentions, banning a YA book is sure to backfire.

For Paperback Pigeon’s 5 reasons why it is important to keep all books accessible to young readers check out the post Keep Them On The Shelves! from the blog archives.  Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, many of the novels I mentioned were YA books.

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Z is for….

How do you hang on to the past?

Zip by Ellie Rollins

zipLyssa’s mother was magic.  Everything had just a little more sparkle when she was around.  But Lyssa’s mom died, and the magic went with her.  Now Lyssa is stuck in a new town, in a new state, in a new house, with a stepfather she barely knows and no matter what she does there just doesn’t seem to be a way to bring the magic back into her life.  When she learns her old house in Texas is about to be destroyed there is only one thing for Lyssa to do – she hops on her scooter and zips her way across the country to the one place that still holds the memories and, hopefully, the magic of the time with her mother.  Along the way she meets a cast of characters that help her learn about who she was, and who she wants to be.  Lyssa’s search for home leads her exactly where she belongs.

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Y is for….

One curious little monkey has a best friend.  He is the man in the

Yellow Hat

curiousgeorgeThe Complete Adventures of Curious George by Margaret and H.A. Rey  – George is a curious little monkey and he is more than a little prone to finding himself in difficult situations.  Lucky for him he always has the Man in the Yellow Hat to help him.  With seven original stories there is plenty of Curious George to keep young readers entertained for years.  And the sweet relationship between George the the Man in the Yellow Hat is a lovely example of true friendship.


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X is for….

She’s just a little old lady here to take care of three kids, or is she?

Nanny X by Madelyn Rosenberg

When your new nanny arrives wearing a motorcycle jacket, mirrored sunglasses..and a flowered hat?  it’s hard to know what to think.  One thing is clear Nanny X isn’t what she seems! (MR-3/4)

nannyxAlison doesn’t want a new nanny.  She doesn’t want any nanny.  All she wants is for her mom to stay home with her, her brother Jake and baby sister Eliza, instead of returning to work as a lawyer.  Unfortunately that isn’t going to happen and when her mother arranges for Nanny X to take care of them Ali & Jack couldn’t be more surprised by her appearance, or her behavior.  It becomes clear pretty quickly that something sinister is going on.  Nanny X has a secret identity as part of of the Nanny Action Patrol (NAP) – a society of crime stopping secret agents who go undercover as caregivers – and it’s up to Ali & Jake help Nanny X recover stolen diamonds!  Ali & Jake take turns alternating as narrators for a fun story from multiple perspectives.

nannyxreturnsNanny X Returns She’s back for another adventure!  When Nanny X takes Ali, Jake and baby Eliza on a fishing adventure things definitely turn…fishy!  Robotic animals, a baby-wipe thief, and a mysterious character known as The Angler mean another exciting mystery full of humor and adventure.  This time the very fate of our national security could be on the line!  Return to the hilarious world of the Nanny Action Patrol with Ali & Jake.

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Classic Disney

I’m going to DisneyWorld – tomorrow!  I pretty much love all things Disney, but in true Paperback Pigeon form, my absolute favorite Disney films, rides, and attractions come by way of classic literature.  Which also means that many of my favorites harken back to the 60’s and 70’s.  These adaptations were some of my mother’s childhood favorites, which she lovingly introduced to me.   I’m super excited to continue the tradition and share my “classic” favorites with my girls – visiting the attractions and meeting the characters that first entered the world via storybooks.

Check our some of my favorite novels that became Disney films and attractions.  Planning a visit to DisneyWorld?  Read your favorite before you visit.  Not traveling anytime soon?  Grab one of the stories below for a virtual trip to the classic Disney universe.

mary poppinsMary Poppins by P.L. Travers  – The Banks house will never be the same after Mary Poppins arrives to take care of Jane, Michael & the twins.  She’s a most unusual nanny who, with a little magic and make believe, changes the Banks family forever.

Brought to life in the 1964 musical starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition is a true Disney classic.  Looking for the story behind the making of the film?  Check out Saving Mr. Banks, with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, which tells the story of Disney’s quest to adapt the novel for movie audiences.

Looking to meet Mary Poppins?  Enjoy the Supercalifragilistic breakfast at 1900 Park Fare at Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel & Spa where she regularly makes an appearance.  Or if you are heading to EPCOT make sure to stop at the United Kingdom Pavilion where Mary Poppins makes multiple visits each day.

swissfamilyrobinsonThe Swiss Family Robinson by Johann D. Wyss – When the Robinson family is shipwrecked on a tropical island they must create a new life for themselves in this uninhabited paradise by creatively using the items they salvaged from the wreck of their vessel.

Disney’s 1960 live action Swiss Family Robinson brings this remarkable adventure to the screen.  With an amazing treehouse, an ostrich and elephant race, and pirates, this relic from the Disney vault is worth a watch.

Who wouldn’t love to live in a treehouse, if just for a day?  Visit the Swiss Family Treehouse in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom Park to walk through the treetops and see how the Robinson Family used some ingenuity and innovation to make their shipwrecked life spectacular.

tomsawyerThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – The classic tale of boyhood uses humor and wit to evoke a simpler time, highlighting memorable adventures of a 19th century childhood.

Disney translated the novel to film in 1995’s Tom and Huck.

Enjoy your own adventure on Tom Sawyer Island in Frontierland at Magic Kingdom Park.  The original attraction was designed in 1956 for Disneyland by Walt Disney himself!  Want to get up close and personal with author Mark Twain?  He is the animatronic host of the American Adventure, along with Benjamin Franklin, at the America Pavilion in EPCOT.  This 30 minute show highlights events in American History.

peter panPeter Pan by J.M. Barrie – The story of a boy who never grows up, but spends his days having adventures in Neverland, leading his band of Lost Boys, and cavorting with fairies and mermaids.  However, when Wendy and her brothers join Peter he questions his path, and Wendy must face difficult decisions that will determine her future.

Disney’s animated Peter Pan is a warmer version of the classic tale, charming and lighthearted without the dark undertones in the original story.  Once they’ve seen this movie every child can’t help but wish for a little pixie dust and membership in the Lost Boys.

Take a trip to Neverland when you visit Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom Park – a ride on Peter Pan’s Flight is a must!  Just around the corner you can meet Peter and Wendy.  Pixie dust more your style?  Head to the Town Square theater where you can shrink down to fairy size and meet Tinkerbell.

aliceinwonderlandAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – A trip down the rabbit hole takes Alice to a nonsensical universe where nothing is quite as it seems and with each turn of the page things get “curiouser and curiouser”.   From the Mad Hatter to the Cheshire Cat, everyone Alice meets introduces her to a wacky, wonderful world

Alice in Wonderland, Disney’s 1951 animated version plays on the whimsy of Carroll’s original and brings the iconic characters to life.  Everyone is here  – from Tweedledee & Tweedledum to the Queen of Hearts!  The 2010 live action Alice in Wonderland starring Johnny Depp is a more sophisticated take on the surreal world of Wonderland.  Nothing is as it seems for a more grown-up Alice, except the creative influence of director Tim Burton is evident in every aspect of this magical adaptation.

Ready to take a whirl into your own Wonderland?  Join the Mad Tea Party and spin yourself silly in Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom Park.  When you are done, if you’re not too dizzy, you can meet characters from Wonderland just outside the ride.  Or if you happen to find yourself in United Kingdom Pavilion at EPCOT you can find Alice in the gardens, perhaps recalling her time in Wonderland.

poohThe Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne – Everyone loves the endearing, charming, sweet chubby bear that is Winnie-the-Pooh.  He’s charmed children for generations and his dear companions in the Hundred Acre Wood, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore and Christopher Robin, provide enduring friendship and endless adventures.

Even the young, or young at heart, can embrace classic literature through Disney adapted films and attractions. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Disney’s 1977 animated film is a wonderful introduction to Pooh and friends.  Many additional films followed, but start with the original to keep close to the storybook’s classic tales.

Enjoy the Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh in ride form, as you travel via honey-pot through the Hundred Acre Wood, in Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom Park.  After the ride stop in for a delicious buffet meal at the Crystal Palace, where Pooh and friends can be found making the rounds at every meal.  No time to stop and eat?  No worries, you can also meet Pooh & Friends just outside the attraction entrance.  Pooh also makes an appearance in the United Kingdom Pavilion at EPCOT. He can be found, often with one of his friends, in Christopher Robin’s room.

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W is for….

What if all you need is someone who understands you….

When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens

It’s a struggle to adjust to the fishbowl life of the President’s daughter.  Sure it sounds like a cool gig, but the constant supervision by the secret servie, the new school, the “friends” who pretend to like you because your mom is the leader of the free world, and those who are mean and jealous for the very same reason, makes normal life pretty difficult.  The biggest problem is no one really understands you- as very few have ever been in this position before. How is a girl to survive the next four years (oh, no – what if it’s eight?!?!) without a little help. (MR-5/6)

whenaudreymetaliceAudrey is just trying to hang on to what is left of her “normal” life, but being the President’s daughter is making that all but impossible.  Living in the White House is like being permanently grounded, except she didn’t do anything wrong!  And don’t even get started about the kids at Audrey’s school.  Even seeing a movie is a production – and the special privileges make it feel like she’s buying friendships, and it is nearly impossible to find a true friend who doesn’t have ulterior motives.  Just when Audrey feels like things couldn’t get any worse she discovers a hidden diary  – written by none other than Alice Roosevelt, another first daughter who had to navigate the crazy White House life 100 years ago.  With Alice as her guide, Audrey learns to manage her new role while remaining true to herself, all the while gaining confidence and grace.

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A Revolutionary Birthday Celebration

Shakespeare had a milestone birthday this year, and since my big 4-0 deserved a getaway, then her entry to the teenage years definitely warranted a trip.   So we decided to take her away for a weekend- without her sisters.  Choosing a nice city about 3 hours from our house with culture, shopping and dining was sure to set the stage for a memorable 13th birthday.  And then some spontaneous internet surfing resulted in a discovery that Shakespeare’s favorite ukulele playing artist happened to be playing a concert the exact night we were planning to be away – in a city 6 hours from home, in the opposite direction from where we were planning to go.   What to do?  Easy decision.  We scrapped plan 1, pulled in some serious family favors to get babysitting for HuskyGirl and WeezyJean, and took off for a 24 hour whirlwind trip to Boston.

Not only did this trip enable us to take Shakespeare to see her very first concert, but she’s also a bit of a Revolutionary War fanatic.  In Kindergarten each child was given a turkey-shaped cut-out to “disguise” for Thanksgiving – so as not to get eaten.  Among the wall of turkeys decorated like Hannah Montana and Spiderman was one lone turkey with a cotton-ball wig and dollar-bill visage.  Her turkey was George Washington, and her paperback copy of Magic Treehouse’s Nonfiction Companion to Revolutionary War on Wednesday eventually fell apart from so many readings.

Boston, the birthplace of the American Revolution, was the perfect place to spend her birthday weekend.  Beginning at Boston Common we walked the entire Freedom Trail.   We saw the final resting sites of her favorite revolutionaries- yes, she has favorites- their stomping grounds, their homes, and their places of worship.  Looking up at the balcony of the Old State House, where the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time in Boston, I literally had chills.  After the most amazing cannoli ever, eaten in the North End, we climbed 294 excruciating steps and stood at the top of the Bunker Hill Monument.  Our journey placed us in the footsteps of American history’s greatest patriots.

I also connected with my daughter in a way that we hadn’t for a while.  As she’s growing up it is really fun to engage in shared experiences  – complete with inside jokes, which had us in stitches.  It was exciting to let her determine our plans, and although I find it hard to let go of control, I loved seeing her advocate for her interests.  Not only did everything turn out perfectly, but I did things I would never have chosen myself.

Take some time this summer, with a vacation or stay-cation, to stage a revolutionary getaway – one that indulges the passions of your younger travelers.  Allow them to overthrow the adult planning tyrants and determine their own vacation destiny.  Not only will they be empowered and enthusiastic about the trip, but chances are you’ll learn more about them than you ever imagined, and be awed in the process.

Check out these “revolutionary reads” that support a trip to Boston’s Freedom Trail.

paulreveresridePaul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – The classic poem chronicling the events of April, 1775 that officially started the American Revolution.  This is a must read if you plan to stop at the Paul Revere House and Old North Church PB  *PBP Note: During our Freedom Trail visit we determined that Longfellow just couldn’t find a rhyme for William Dawes or Samuel Prescott, and that’s why we remember Revere above the others who rode that fateful night.  We also attempted to re-write the poem to include the slighted men, much to our amusement.   We challenge you to give it a try!

youwouldntbebostonteaYou Wouldn’t Want to Be at the Boston Tea Party!: Wharf Water Tea You’d Rather Not Drink by Peter Cook – An engaging overview of the events that lead to Boston’s rise as the center of the pre-revolutionary colonial conflict. Meet the Sons of Liberty and discover their motivation to break from England, and the risks involved. ER-2/3

johnnytremainJohnny Tremain by Esther Forbes – As a silversmith apprentice 14 year-old Johnny is injured trying to make a sugar basin for John Hancock. His despair threatens to destroy him, until a good friend pulls him into the heart of the Sons of Liberty and he finds purpose in the Revolutionary cause.  Newbery Medal Winner 1944.   MR – 5/7   *PBP Note: Just a block off the official Freedom Trail you’ll find the only remaining part of Province House, the residence of Massachusetts colony’s royal governors – the back stone steps that led to the formal gardens. These steps brought to life a vision of Johnny Tremain visiting Cilla at the Lyte’s house.  And isn’t that what great historical literature does? Bringing facts, dates, and even cold stone steps into fully-formed impressions of past human struggles.  

sarahrevereThe Secret of Sarah Revere by Ann Rinaldi – Rinaldi, a master of historical fiction for the YA set, shares the struggle for independence from the point-of-view of a young woman whose father was a leading revolutionary.  Sarah Revere reflects on the struggles leading to the American Revolution, as she faces challenges at home with her family and her emerging role as a young woman of Boston.  Check out Ann Rinaldi’s other books for riveting female perspectives 5thofmarchthroughout history, including The Fifth of March which brings to life the events surrounding the Boston Massacre. MR- 5/7


reginasilsbyRegina Silsby’s Secret War  by Thomas J. Brodeur – Looking for a little sinister supernatural with your history?  Rachel Winslow witnesses the Boston Tea Party and she narrowly escapes the Tory soldiers with a little luck, or was it more? Did the spirit of long dead Regina Silsby help her by thwarting their pursuit? Rachel uses the superstitious nature of the Redcoats against them, and the legend of Regina to help the patriot cause. MR – 5/7

Looking to stay with the Revolutionary War theme but branch out from Boston proper?  Check out the earlier post Patriotic Pigeon or find information at the National Park Service: Revolutionary War website.  Click on Revolutionary Parks  and Tour the Revolution to take a virtual tour of the Revolutionary era historic sites from Florida to Maine.


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V is for….

One little girl shows she’s got what it takes.

Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen

violetthepilotViolet Van Winkle has always been a little different.  Growing up with her father’s junkyard at her disposal she’s always been extremely mechanically inclined.  Since she was little more than a toddler she’s been taking things apart and putting things together, but her truest passion is flying machines.  Violet isn’t understood by her classmates, but if she can win a prize at the air show it will prove to her peers that she has talent.  A detour on the way to the airshow has unexpected results and reveals her true winning character. (PB)

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U is for….

A dying man’s cryptic last words are…

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

undertheeggTheodora Tenpenny’s grandfather was her world, and his tragic and unexpected death leaves her devastated and more than a little worried.  Her mother is eccentric and flighty, her 200 year old home is crumbling around her, and she has little more than $400 in inheritance to keep them afloat.  Worse, her grandfather’s dying words leave her with a mystery surrounding the painting hanging above the mantle, her grandfather’s job as a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a secret dating back to World War II.  With some new friends, and creative detective work, Theo discovers that her grandfather wasn’t the man she thought he was, he was much more.  (MR-5/6)

This creative and touching story is a Paperback Pigeon All-Time Top 10 Favorite.


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