“Over the Waves” by Marianne Olson

 The year is 1918, and Joel wants to be a newspaper reporter – not a tailor in his father’s shop. When his mother decides to visit her family back in Sweden, Joel gets the chance to accompany her – and prove that he’s responsible enough to choose what he wants to do in life.

On top of the normal dangers of a steamer voyage, the Great War breaks out, stranding them on the wrong side of the ocean!

For Children of All Ages

The simple writing in this book makes the pages fly by. The adventure of 1900s travel is interesting, and children will also enjoy Grandpa’s stories about trolls.

A romantic subtext seems less appropriate for 12-year-old characters. However, I totally related with Joel’s irritation when Mamma’s childhood sweetheart reappears, full of used car-salesman charm. And, as it is a kid’s book, all this tension is either diffused or cast forward into the future, for when they are old enough.

Joel is no Hamlet, but he does have personal goals and dreams – suitable for a child narrator. He’s also pretty well-behaved, and values his mother, father, and grandparents – which is exactly the kind of role models we need for our kids.

Stuff I Liked

I appreciated how tightly the story was plotted, considering the broader subjects it focused on. Grandpa’s troll tales and Mamma’s snake-oil suitor weave into the conflict of getting home past the German U-boats…just like the rag rugs Grandma weaves on her loom.

The historical and cultural trappings were thick enough to flavor the story, but not so much that the book felt like a dressed-up textbook. GRATUITOUS EDUCATIONAL CONTENT 😉 Being done and graduated, I can appreciate being taught something, but not when it feels like they’re trying to teach me something. And, actually, kids are a lot like this, too!

Finally, as a “fan” of the World Wars, it was interesting to see them from the viewpoint of a tourist cut off from his way home. With no mail service, no email, no cell phones or satellites, and no airplanes, Joel’s options for sending a message to his father back home – let alone getting himself and his mother there – were limited. (The transatlantic cable was already laid, but that was in Ireland, not Sweden!)

Add to Your Reading List

With historical flavor, mild adventure, and a kid-friendly tone, this is definitely one to add to your kids’ library!


Over the Waves is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble (Nook or paperback), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

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