4 out of 4 stars
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It's 1955 in El Monte, California, and eleven-year-old Carol Ann and Pete are best friends ringing in the Christmas season with fun adventures and a holiday mystery. In Wild Winter: Christmas, Clues, and Crooks by C.A. Hartnell, the friends devise a plan to raise money for the needy in their community with holiday bake sales and a Christmas pageant. However, their Christmas spirit is dampened when they realize money has been stolen, and they suspect someone close to them may be the culprit. Is it the new boy at school? Is Pete's teenage brother, Hawk, involved? Follow Carol Ann and Pete as they track the clues to solve the mystery!
There's a lot to like about this retro chapter book. From the cover art to the font of the chapter titles and nostalgic photos, the author pays meticulous attention to details that will appeal to young readers. As the fourth volume in the 1950s Adventures of Pete and Carol Ann series, the 119-page book stands on its own. However, the entertaining story has piqued my interest to go back and read the previous books in the series. The book addresses themes that are relevant to school-age children such as kindness, friendship, self-confidence, jealousy, gratitude, forgiveness, family, generosity, and community.
As a fun way to teach children about life in the 1950s, the author creatively incorporates clothing, songs, celebrities, cars, and expressions that were popular during the time period. The end of the book includes a glossary of 1950s vocabulary words plus sample coloring pages and word games from the activities books that are available. Young readers will also be intrigued by the list of prices for everyday items back then.
The story is told from Carol Ann's perspective, and the author perceptively portrays the conflicting emotions a girl her age might experience. Overall, she is confident, but she struggles with feeling self-conscious about wearing a sweater coat that her grandmother knitted as a gift; she dislikes the color and the fact that it isn't store-bought. Tweens are desperate to conform, and a bright blue handmade sweater screams nonconformity. Carol Ann's struggle will be relatable to young readers. The other characters are equally well-developed. Pete is a loyal friend with a penchant for slang expressions, such as, "What's buzzin’, cuzzin’?" His high-maintenance older sister, Mary Jane, always needs to have the last word. Despite her fussy nature, she has an uncanny tendency to stain her clothes in a variety of amusing ways.
I particularly like the positive values that are modeled by the kids through their thoughts, conversations, and actions. Prayers and conversations between the characters illustrate a Christian perspective in an age-appropriate context without lecturing or preaching. For instance, when Pete notices that a new student doesn't have a lunch pail, he offers him lunch money and invites him to sit at their table. In another example, Carol Ann asks God to forgive her for complaining after she realizes that her friend, Tim, is struggling with a more serious problem.
Although it is exceptionally edited grammatically, I noted one way the book could be improved. As I mentioned previously, the author teaches young readers about life during the 1950s by introducing popular culture; overall, this is effective and enjoyable to read. However, I feel she goes overboard when it comes to mentioning cars and music. While it is interesting to mention the make and model of the family car initially, it seems forced and unrealistic when Carol Ann continues to repeat it. The same holds true regarding music; many of the short chapters include several references to specific songs that are playing in the background, which again, feels forced. However, this is a small distraction in an otherwise enjoyable read and one that will likely be less noticeable to young readers.
For its engaging story and the positive values it teaches, I'm pleased to rate the book 4 out of 4 stars. I recommend it to readers between the ages of 8 and 12. It will also appeal to parents, grandparents, and teachers who are interested in teaching young readers about the nostalgic 1950s.
Wild Winter: Christmas, Clues, and Crooks
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