Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read, whether it's a book for children or adults.  I'm always fascinated by the way that people lived in different periods of time.  Unfortunately, this genre is the hardest one for me to get the kids in my class to read.  I'm not sure why that is.  Maybe it's because they don't have enough background knowledge on the time period and they get lost right away.  Maybe it's because they don't feel that the characters relate to their life.  I'm not sure.  I do know, however, that The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill will be a book that I put in my classroom and book talk in hopes of getting some new readers into this genre.

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill

Hazel loves mysteries.  She carries around her Mysteries Notebook much like Harriet the Spy carried her notebook.  It's the beginning of the Cold War and suspicions are swirling about Communists around town.  Just as the accusations start flying, a mysterious man comes to work as a gravedigger for Hazel's parents.  As she starts spying on him, Hazel becomes convinced that Mr. Jones is a Russian spy.  

There's also Samuel Butler, a new boy in town with a secretive past.  Hazel has always been known as the smartest (a fact that she says was "widely acknowledged by the whole fifth grade").  So she is threatened at first by Samuel.  But then they realize that their natural curiosities benefit each other and they team up to find out what exactly is happening in Maple Hill.  

I think this is a historical fiction book that my fifth graders can really relate to.  Hazel is perfection...I love her voice in this book.  She knows who she is and what she wants.  She can be a little (a lot) snarky at times.  She wants to bust out of this small town and see the world.   I highlighted tons of passages that I thought were perfectly written to show how Hazel was feeling at the time: 

Some were funny - 
"She liked to make a well in her potatoes and fill it with gravy, then float her peas in it, but her mother said that was uncouth, which was another way of saying no."

Some were good advice - 
"Don't go down that road, Hazel, comparing yourself to others.  You'll only end up driving yourself crazy."
"The only problem was, whenever someone told her not to go down a road, she couldn't help but find herself sprinting ahead." 

Some were serious - 
"What if the whole country, the whole world, was just like Maple Hill, over and over again?"

I think that the author, Megan Frazer Blakemore, did a great job weaving history into this book without making it too heavy.  It would be a great introduction into this time period, which I admit, I have trouble wrapping my head around sometimes since it is not written about as much.  It would be a great book to read along with Countdown by Deborah Wiles.

I received this book via Netgalley, but I definitely plan on purchasing a copy for my classroom.  Have you read The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill?  I'd love to hear what you think!

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