We discussed our picture book first: Jacob's New Dress by Sarah Hoffman. We almost unanimously gave it a "meh" review. Although we all agreed that a story of a little boy wanting to wear a dress to school was certainly timely, we felt that the story itself was pretty dull, as were the illustrations. One reader felt the illustrations by Chris Case were, "sweet, if undistinguished." One reader disagreed. She felt that the book dealt perfectly with the issue, including the reactions of Jacob's loving and supportive, though questioning, parents. One reader felt that the reactions of Jacob's teacher were not helpful at all, and was very offended by the Author's Note at the end of the story, where Bradley explained that it was based on experiences with her own son, whom she and her husband had called "our pink boy." This led to a discussion about labels, and the damage they can do. One member mentioned another title, Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino (2014), which she felt dealt with the same issue in a much better manner.
As for our novel, The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, we had one of those rare-for-us UNANIMOUS moments. We all loved it! We loved the story, the characters, the development of the different relationships between them, and the inclusion of World War II history as it affected children in London in 1940 who were relocated to places outside of the city as bombing by Germany threatened, as were Ada and her little brother Jamie. We loved the beginning and ending sentences of each chapter, which grabbed the reader, and kept her engaged. (We're an all-female group!!) We loved the inclusion of the relationship between Ada and the pony, 'Butter,' and how the horse gave this 'throw-away' child a reason for living and feeling and -- hope. We also thought that Ada and Susan Smith, another 'throwaway,' who had reluctantly taken in Ada and Jamie, each found something they needed in the other...even though it took a long time and many trials and tribulations before they could each admit it. We wanted Ada's miserable mother to be strung up by her fingernails for isolating Ada in an under-sink cabinet for nine years because she had been born with a club foot, and we loved how Ada's little brother Jamie was torn between wanting to go back to his mother and staying with Susan who actually loved him...a common reaction in abused children (and adults). There were many, many more things we loved about this book, but time and space constraints here prevent mentioning all of them. Because of the magnificence of this story, we decided to read another book by the same author for our next meeting.