The first book I ever picked up by Gloria Whelan was her National Book Award Winning, Homeless Bird. It was a very moving story about a young Indian widow, only thirteen. Koly is in a very poor family and ends up being given in marriage away for the price of a dowry that her parents end up receiving. The “man” she has married is actually a very sick boy and Koly ends up living a very lonely life within her in-laws home. Things turn even more disheartening for this young girl when her husband dies. Widows are not exactly regarded as respectable and things get very desperate for Koly. The book covers culture very well, a living book for sure for the poorer side of India. I would recommend this book for ages 12+
After Homeless Bird and the India experience, I went over to China and read Whelan’s Chu Ju’s House. Over in China, girls are not considered worth birthing. China’s limited child policy makes this even more difficult for Chu Ju since once again the family is not really financially well off. A boy would be worthwhile, someone to help the father bring home income. However, when another girl is born, Chu Ju makes a decision to leave so that her baby sister will not be sold away. Throughout the book we see Chu Ju grow up and make some difficult decisions, and have to find her way in the world. There was a subtle message weaved into the book, and that is complacency to government dictatorship is a very dangerous thing. In the end, Chu Ju’s story is more about a girl that does what she needs to survive and what she can to make a better life for her sister. Her story isn’t remarkable, just a humble sweet story. Would recommend ages 12+
From then on, Whelan became an author that I wanted to read everything ever written. The next book was Small Acts of Amazing Courage. This story goes back in time to the British rule in India. Rosalind is caught between a mother that is flighty, and a strict father that wants to send his daughter back to England to get the good English education. Rosalind’s mother is set against this since she lost her last son to a sickness back in England. However, there is upheaval happening in India. People are wanted to leave the British rule and rule themselves. Rosalind is getting caught in rebellion and is being threatened to be sent back to England. But her heart is for these people that she has grown up with. After a small act of amazing courage, Rosalind is sent back to England, but surprisingly, she can still learn about the political disagreements between India and England and more about this man Ghandi that many speak of so fondly. The only thing that I disliked about this is that it felt like it wasn’t complete, only then did I find that is book 1 of 2. This story had a feeling of Secret Garden and A Little Princess. It takes place about the same time period, however this more discusses more of the India side of life whereas Burnett’s stories talk about the England side for these children sent back to their homeland. Recommended 10+
Then we travelled to Russia in time for the revolution of 1914. Angel on the Square tells of Katya, who lives within the aristocracy walls. Her mother is a companion to the empress and Katya is a playmate to one of the daughters. Katya has a cousin that wants to show what life is like for normal people. It is a slower paced book but really shows multiple perspectives. When a war begins to sweep across Europe, for Katya and her mother life is about to drastically change. I really felt like the story wrapped you in the more you got into it, almost a Les Miserable environment to the tale. The suspicion in the hearts of its people, the desire for revolution and realizing the cost, the innocent people that have no idea what they are getting into, and the desire for justice and country but at what cost? Out of all the books I read, this one was more slower moving than the rest, but still found it worthwhile. Recommend for ages 10+
This book is book 1 of 4 and I got my hands on book 2, The Impossible Journey. Book two is when Katya has grown up and have two children of her own. When her and her husband are sent away to Siberian camp for their political stance, their children Marya and Georgi decide to take the trek across the Siberian wastelands to reach their mother. This hundred’s of mile journey will test their determination and endurance. Again, Whelan used environment to weave the tale without weighing the text down like Dickens is known for. You also get to see how the Russian movement was affected each generation. Now, I did say that this was book 2. I was able to get my hands on book 3 and 4. Book 4 is especially a little pricey but I was able to find an affordable copy on Ebay. I enjoyed The Impossible Journey more than Angel on the Square. I think that as we go through each generation, it will get more and more interesting. I hear book 4 is about a Russian ballet dancer defecting. Recommend 10+
In Listening for Lions, Rachel is a missionary kid in her beloved Africa. Her father is a doctor and believes that actions speak as much as sermons. Rachel serves with her mother and plays with the village children. Even though they are English and some of the English settlers have a stuck up view of anything outside their own culture, Rachel and her parents have more compromised on the balance between English ways and the land in which they live. Then her parents die from the influenza that overtakes their village. After dealing with that tragedy, Rachel is tangled up in a deceiving plot. She will have to make a decision of who she is and who she will become, and who she will have to forget. The ending felt a little rushed but it still held a bit of a fairy tale story about it that was marvelous. A classic feel to be sure. Recommended ages 10+
I also have several children’s readers put out by Gloria Whelan. I really love how this author balances historical hard topics with child innocence. In The Indian School, Lucy doesn’t understand why her people are so harsh with the Native Americans that are being forced to go to the mission schools. She makes friends with one of them and watches Raven, her friend, get to a breaking point and run away. What will Lucy do to help and stand up for what is right? In Hannah, we see the struggles of being blind in the late 1800’s. With touches of Miracle Worker, this story will warm your heart like Helen Keller’s story. In Silver, Rachel dreams of having a husky sled dog team. This short chapter book tells the tell of a cold Alaskan evening and a young girl’s search for her dog.
Whelan seems to have common themes weaved throughout her works. They are told in the first person, and always a female protagonist. Her love of history and geography is evident on every page. She challenged her readers with some thought provoking themes but wanted the reader to connect with the characters. I think this is an author that would be worth having in every personal library. This author delights not only this adult reader, but many generations of young readers. She is a great living book resource.