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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: historical fiction, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. 2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 4: Magic in the Mix + Nest + The Night Gardener

getting ready for book club -- each week, I took notes
What draws us into great stories? Is it the chance to see a glimpse of ourselves in other people? Is it getting lost in another world, so far from our own? Or maybe it's getting swept away by an exciting plot, full of suspense and danger. As we met each week, I loved listening to my students recommending books to one another each week during our book club lunches, hearing what they loved and what captured their interest.
Magic in the Mix
by Annie Barrows
Bloomsbury, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
Many kids are drawn to stories with characters that inspire them because of their courage and bravery. Molly and Miri return from The Magic Half, but they are the only ones in their family who know that they haven't always been twin sisters. Molly and Miri's brothers always annoy them, but when the brothers stumble through the time portal that Molly and Miri have opened, the twin sisters know that it's up to them to rescue their brothers.

Our 4th and 5th graders all commented about how much they could imagine these characters, how the story pulled them through, and how they liked the mix of time-travel fantasy and historical fiction.
"I liked learning a little bit about the Civil War, but not too much."
"I could really see Molly and Miri and how brave they were helping their brothers."
"When they were scared, walking through the forest, I could feel like I was right there."
In the end, Magic in the Mix was read and enjoyed by many students (our two copies have circulated 25 times already!), but it didn't rise to the top of many final voting lists.
Nest
by Esther Ehrlich
Wendy Lamb / Random House, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
Eleven-year-old Naomi "Chirp" Orenstein is devoted to her mother, but life starts to fall apart when Chirp's mother is hospitalized for depression. When I first read Nest, I wasn't sure if it was right for an elementary school library, but several of my early readers were adamant that it was an amazing book that should be in our library. Angel and Corina wrote in their nomination,
"It's not a happily ever book, but it shows how much a girl and her family care and love each other after various tragedies.They may not end up with a perfect life but I found it was even better that way."
Nest is suited for students who like heartfelt stories that linger with you. Some students who like realistic fiction could tell that it was too sad, and stopped reading. Speaking with middle school librarians, it's finding a wider audience there. This is definitely a story that makes readers think long after they've turned the last page. What I loved about my students' reactions is how much they related to Chirp's inner strength as she copes with her mother's illness.
The Night Gardener
by Jonathan Auxier
Amulet / Abrams, 2014
my full review
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
Students who read The Night Gardener held it up as an example for masterful plot, setting and character development. "I could see how the tree was built right into the house," said Amelie. "I really imagine the house, seeing how it was old now, but also how it used to be." The setting was integral to creating the frightening tone for the story, especially the suspense that kept students reading. Kaiyah specifically mentioned that she felt right in the forest when Molly and Kip were in their wagon heading toward the Windsor's estate.
friends discussing books for Emerson's Mock Newbery
It's interesting -- I think both The Night Gardener and Nest might be seen as "more appropriate" for middle school students, but are ones that my students advocated strongly for including in our library. They are both emotionally intense stories, but I've found that students will stop reading them if they aren't ready for them. Both have depths in their treatment of different themes that I would love to talk more about with small groups, and both would stand up well to rereading. I was very happy to see both of these excellent books part of our discussion.

The review copies came from my home collection and our library collection. Early review copies were also kindly sent by the publishers, Abrams and Bloomsbury. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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2. Classroom Connections: UNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee

age range: 12 and up
setting: Missouri en route to California, 1849
Stacey Lee’s website

High drama, tension, romantic longings, and touches of humor will entice historical fiction fans, and will be a perfect tie-in to social studies curriculum.
— School Library Journal

Please tell us about your book.

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush.

Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

An unforgettable story of friendship and sacrifice—perfect for fans of Code Name Verity.

What inspired you to write this story?

I’d always wondered what life in America was like when my ancestors arrived to California in the late 19th century. When I researched the history of Chinese in America, I learned that the bulk of the Chinese came during the western expansion and California Gold Rush. I don’t speak Chinese myself, so I knew my heroine needed to have a full command of the English language. The story grew from there.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

I’m not a historian, so for me, every book begins with a trip to the library. There are plenty of online resources as well, but I seem to learn better when reading a hard copy. Also, I find the Children’s section of the library to be invaluable for subjects I know nothing about. Children’s books and videos break down the material into easy to understand chunks, not to mention, they’re much more entertaining than the adult stuff.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

One challenge is understanding the geography of the area as it existed during a particular period in time. Cities can change a lot over a few years, and while I certainly believe in taking liberties, I like to know when I’m doing it. I’m starting quite a collection of antique maps and reproductions!

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

The Oregon Trail and western expansion, slavery, Chinese American history, and the California Gold Rush, and last but not least, cowboys.

 

The post Classroom Connections: UNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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3. 2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 2: The Crossover + Dash + The Fourteenth Goldfish

Our students have had passionate, thoughtful conversations all year, recommending books to one another, considering which book they liked and why it resonated with them. Throughout, we talked about the key components of literature and storytelling: character development, plot and pacing, setting, language and themes.

Ever since I first shared Kwame Alexander's The Crossover with Emerson students, it was clear that this book spoke to our students in a unique way. It's been fascinating listening to kids talk about why.

The Crossover
by Kwame Alexander
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
my full review
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-14
From the very first page, the language of The Crossover pulls young readers right into the rhythm and feelings of a fast-moving basketball game. Just look at the opening lines and you can see the combination of basketball terms, rhythm and rhyme, and downright attitude.
"At the top of the key, I'm
              MOVING AND GROOVING,
POPping and ROCKING--
Why you BUMPING?
              Why you LOCKING?
Man, take this THUMPING,
Be careful though,
'cause now I'm CRUNKING"
As Norah said, "It's not quite rhyming, but it's almost like rap, like a song." Mahari added that he likes the form of poetry: "It made it more interesting for me as a reader. The language conveyed the character's feelings." Norah added that it isn't just printed normal on the page. Kids really noticed that the way the words are arranged enhanced the way language conveyed both character's feelings and the author's message.

Other students commented on the character development in The Crossover. Maddy said that she "felt like she was there with the characters at every move" (that word choice seemed so appropriate to me, since there's so much movement in this story). Kids could really see twin brothers Josh & J.B. as distinct characters and relate to the tension between them. Madeline added that she felt their father was a very detailed character, because Alexander showed how much he loved basketball but how he also really loved his family.

I asked students if they felt that they could see what was coming (in other words, was the plot too obvious?), and they really felt like they were right there with the characters. While some might have had an idea of the foreshadowing, they really didn't notice the signs that the mother was concerned about the father's health -- certainly not the way adult readers would notice.

Several students commented on how The Crossover made them think a little more about what they were reading. They liked how the titles of the poems related to the themes and the plot--giving them a sense and focus. Several other students talked about how they had to take a second, reread a passage and ask what the author was really saying. I think this attests to Alexander's nuanced, layered language.

Historical fiction often draws the attention of the Newbery committee, and I was happy to see students respond so passionately to Kirby Larson's story about Japanese internment during World War II. "Dash is one of the best books I have ever read!"
Dash
by Kirby Larson
Scholastic, 2014
my full review
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Here's Abby's recommendation from early September: "If you like dogs a lot, you'd probably love it. If you like books with hardship and struggle, you'll probably like it. It's also heartfelt, with a lot of love. Every single chapter keeps you hanging." She passionately shared this book all year long.

Right from the beginning, young readers relate to how alone Mitsi feels when her friends start avoiding her -- all because of something that happened in a war far, far away. Larson creates a unique, distinctive character, but focuses on elements that many readers can relate to. Just as I write that sense, I realize what a tricky balance that is!
"The author describes Mitsi's emotions so well, her love of being an artists and her talents and passion. She brings out who she is and who she wants to be. I could imagine what she looks like and what she's feeling at the moment."
Abby said, "The setting and details of the characters and their experiences were amazing. I could picture it like a movie in my mind---they should make a movie of it!" I would agree with Abby, especially noting the way I could picture the different camps in my mind and how the harsh conditions made life so much more difficult for Mitsi's family.
Mitsi Shiraishi and her beloved dog, Chubby -- inspirations for Dash
I was particularly moved reading in Kirby Larson's blog this letter from Louise Kashino, who endured experiences similar to Mitsi's:
I read DASH and poured over every sentence inasmuch as I was 16 when we were incarcerated on May, 1942. My family was assigned to Area D inside the Puyallup Fairgrounds, where our barrack among others was built inside the racing grounds. I don't know who guided you through the whole incarceration, but you did an excellent job of describing the experiences for someone like me. I also relocated to Chicago and eventually returned to Seattle, so again, your description of the whole movement brought back many memories. Thank you for your accurate descriptions of our experience to give the general public an insight into what we experienced during our incarceration.
We had a rousing discussion about The Fourteenth Goldfish, with students arguing on both sides of the fence. It had real supporters and others who just weren't drawn into it.
The Fourteenth Goldfish
by Jennifer L. Holm
Random House, 2014
my full review
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Overall, my students loved Jennifer Holm's blend of realistic relationships, humor and science with a touch of fantasy. Maisy said, "It's a really good book because it has lots of science, but not too much so you can't understand it." I am impressed with how well Holm understands her audience, adding in just enough layering of science to introduce students to the history of science and scientific thinking without overwhelming young readers.

Some students really enjoyed the fantasy elements. Talia noted that it reminded her of Tuck Everlasting. But other students found it a little confusing, especially at the beginning when Ellie is figuring out that this teenager is actually her grandfather.

I would actually venture to guess that the students who liked it were drawn in by the themes of the story -- the idea that you can figure out a solution, that things are possible if you work at a creative solution, and the idea that grandparents and grandchildren actually have a lot more in common if they could only discover a little more about each other as real people.

The review copies came from my home collection and our library collection and our classroom collections. Early review copies were also kindly sent by the publishers: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Scholastic, and Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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4. The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency: The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy, 203 pp, RL 4

**This book really got my wheels spinning and I found that I had a lot to say about it before even getting to the plot. Skip to the third paragraph if that is what you came for...** Despite my love of girl detectives and historical England, I have to admit that I felt a bit more skeptical than excited when The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency: The Case of the Missing Moonstone arrived at

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5. Review Round Up

I'm behind in reviews, so I'm doing a few round ups of titles -- better a couple paragraphs than nothing!

Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper. Little, Brown. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

Salt and Storm is set in an alternate 1860s, where witches and magic are real. Avery is the granddaughter of the witch of Prince Island, and should have been trained and raised to be the next witch. Except, her mother -- who refuses to have anything to do with magic or witchcraft -- drags Avery away from her grandmother and forbids her to see her. At sixteen, Avery is trying to escape her mother's control and claim her inheritance.

What I liked most about Salt and Storm is that Avery wasn't aware of the full picture. She knew what she knew, believed she had the full picture, believe she knew the real story about the witches of Prince Island. She thought she knew herself, but it turns out things aren't what she thinks they are. Which means what she wants isn't what she thinks it is. I also like the historical information in here, about life on nineteenth century islands.

The Raven Cycle #3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 2014. Review copy from publisher. Sequel to The Raven Boys (Book 1) and The Dream Thieves (Book 2).

This continues the story of the search in Virginia for a missing Welsh king. The searchers are prep school students Richard Gansey III (the driving force behind the search), his friends Adam Parrish, Ronan Lynch, and Noah Czerny, and local girl Blue Sargent.

By the events of Blue Lily, Lily Blue, I'm not going to lie: it's complicated. There are a mess of characters, plus the search, plus the issues that the characters are dealing with in the present. Gansey is driven by his search; Ronan discovered dangerous family secrets, including his own ability to pull things out of dreams into the real world; Adam is a scholarship student with the drive for more and a serious, well earned chip on his shoulder. Noah has his own issues.

And Blue: Blue is from a family of psychics, without any real power herself, and with a curse upon her: her kiss will kill her true love. And since she's falling hard for Gansey, and since one of her aunts foresaw Gansey's death, it's, well, messy. Like life. Now take life and add in magic and history, myth and legend.

Readers know that I like when teen books have interesting adult characters: well, this has them and then some. The enigmatic Mr. Gray -- I mean, how often is a hired killer so sympathetic and likable? (And yes, I keep picturing him as Norman Reedus). Blue's mother has disappeared, but this allows other adults to move center. And Mr. Gray's boss also enters into the picture. It's not just magic and myth that is a danger.

The only frustration with Blue Lily, Lily Blue is there is still one more book in the series. So while the adventure moves forward, and questions are answered, there's still so much more to find out!


The Iron Trial (Book One of Magisterium) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Scholastic. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Iron Trial starts a series set in the modern world, where magic is real -- but hidden. Twelve-year-old Callum's father has done everything possible to keep Callum away from this world. Call is supposed to do everything possible to fail his entrance tests to the Magisterium, a school of magic hidden in the United States. Instead, Call finds himself in the Magisterium, studying magic, and finding out his father hasn't been totally honest with him. Magic isn't the big, dangerous, evil he's been told about.

Most of this book is the "forming" part of an adventure story: Call discovering the truth about magic, that it's not a simple matter of good or evil, and Call forging friendships and allies (and sometimes enemies and frenemies) with his fellow students. He also has to study magic, and it's not all fun and games -- it's also hard work. (And, well, fun. Because magic!)

Part of what Call learns about are some epic battles from over ten years before, including those who fought on the good side and the bad side. (Magic is neither good nor bad, but those who practice it -- they fall on those two sides.) Call is sometimes frustratingly ignorant about magic and his own family's connection to it, but it works for the book -- the reader learns as Call learns.

The ending of the book -- oh, the ending! Personally, I felt as if the story was just truly beginning with the ending, and that the real story will be next year, now that the reader, and Call, has the full knowledge of what is going on. Or do we know as much as we think?



















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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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6. Doctor Who and Historical Fiction

 
http://morguefile.com/
As Mary Ann Rodman suggests, there is plotting and there is planning. But sometimes, especially when one reads and writes historical fiction, there’s the wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff.

Historical fiction is the coming together of two opposing elements: fact and fiction. The controversy is grounded in conveying the ‘truth’ of history. Other popular genres have distinct rules that govern basic premises. Dystopian fiction, for example, features a futuristic universe in which the illusion of a perfect society is maintained through corporate, technologic, or totalitarian control. Using an exaggerate worse-case scenario, the dystopian story becomes a commentary about social norms and trends.

 But, historical fiction defies easy explanation. For some, historical fiction is first and foremost fiction, and therefore anything goes. Others condemn the blending of invention with well-known and accepted facts, and consider the genre a betrayal.

 Perhaps a better way to understand the genre is to take a lesson from The Doctor. Yes, that Doctor: “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause and effect…but actually, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff.” Perhaps the same thing can be said of plot and the historical fiction.

 In historical fiction, setting is usually considered ‘historical’ if it is at fifty or more years in the past. As such, the author writes from research rather than personal experience. But as an old turnip, my personal history dates back to the years prior to Korean War. The Civil Rights Movement, the Freedom Riders, the Bay of Pigs, the JFK Assassination, the Landing on the Moon, and the first Dr. Who episode are not some fixed points in history but a function of my experience. Yet, for the last generations, these are often just dates in a textbook. And the plot is a linear expression that begins on a certain date. The award-winning book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis (1995), depicting the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing of 1963, is often listed as historical fiction. Yet I remember vividly watching the events unfold on my parents’ black and white television.

 Defining the ‘historical’ in 'historical fiction' is a bit wobbly, depending upon the age of the

http://morguefile.com/
researcher and author.
 Historians work within a broad spectrum of data-gathering, gathering volumes of primary sources coupled with previous research. They use footnotes, endnotes, separate chapters, appendixes and other textual formatting to clarify their observations. Plotting and planning resemble Vinn diagrams and flowcharts, looking similar to the opening credits of Doctor Who as the Tardis moves forward and backward in time. But the artistic nature of historical fiction presents several challenges in books for children. Events must be “winnowed and sifted”, as Sheila Egoff explains, in order to create forward movement that leads to a resolution. Authors choose between which details to include, and exclude, and this choice is wholly dependent upon the character’s goal. More important, resolution rarely happens in history. The same with happy endings. Because of the culling process, critics often claim that historical fiction is inherently biased.

Yet, nothing about history is obvious, and facts are often open to interpretation. Once upon a time, it was considered factual that the world was flat, that blood-letting was the proper way of treating disease, that women were emotionally and physically incapable of rational thought. In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but he didn’t discover America. In fact, some would say he was less an explorer and more of a conqueror. History tends to be written by those who survived it. As such, no history is without its bias. The meaning of history, just as it is for the novel, lays not in the chain of events themselves, but on the historian’s [and writer’s] interpretation of it,” as Jill Paton Walsh once noted.

 Some facts, such as dates of specific events, are fixed. We know, for example, that the Battle of Gettysburg occurred July 1 to July 3, in 1963. The interpretations of what happened over those three days remains a favorite in historical fiction. My interpretation of the battle, in Girls of Gettysburg (Holiday House, August 2014), featured three perspectives that are rare in these historical fiction depictions: the daughter of a free black living seven miles north from the Mason-Dixon line, the daughter of the well-to-do local merchant, and a girl disguised as a Confederate soldier. The plot weaves together the fates of these girls, a tapestry that reflects their humanity, heartache and heroism in a battle that ultimately defined a nation.


Critics and researchers can be unrelenting in their quest for accuracy. The process of writing historical fiction, like researching history itself, is neither straightforward nor a risk-free process. As the Doctor tells his companion, and in so doing reminding everyone,  through those doors...

 “… we might see anything. We could find new worlds, terrifying monsters, impossible things. And if you come with me... nothing will ever be the same again!” 


Bobbi Miller

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7. THE WALLED CITY {Audiobook Review}

by Andye The Walled City UNABRIDGED By Ryan Graudin Narrated By Eugene Kim, Kim Mai Guest, Janet Song Length: 10 hrs and 28 mins Release Date: 11-04-14 Publisher: Hachette Audio Goodreads | Audible | Amazon 730. That's how many days I've been trapped.18. That's how many days I have left to find a way out. DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin

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8. The Madman of Piney Woods, by Christopher Paul Curtis -- poignant historical fiction (ages 10-13)

With so many tragedies in the news lately, I've been wondering what causes some people to react to life's hardships with hatred and bitterness when others react with empathy and understanding. As I finished reading Christopher Paul Curtis's moving novel The Madman of Piney Woods, the characters gave me strength to face life's hardships and reflect on what's important. This is a companion novel to his Newbery Honor book Elijah of Buxton, but it easily stands alone.
The Madman of Piney Woods
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-13
*best new book*
Thirteen year old Benji Alston lives in Buxton, Ontario and dreams of becoming a newspaper journalist. The Civil War happened long ago, but its impact still resonates in Buxton, a Canadian town settled by abolitionists and runaway slaves. African-Canadian Benji is excited to start an internship at a local newspaper in nearby Chatham, where he meets Alvin "Red" Stockard, son of an Irish immigrant and a local judge.

Curtis slowly builds this story, immersing readers in each boy's separate life--showing their interactions with friends and family. African-Canandian Benji is most at home in the woods, but he is not a perfect character. He's exceedingly jealous of his younger brother and sister, teasing and tormenting them. Red is the sort of person who watches a situation closely, noticing how people act and interact. It's no surprise when we find out that he dreams of becoming a scientist.

Both boys come across a man--perhaps real, perhaps mythical--living in the woods whom local children fear. Through Benji, readers comes to know The Madman of Piney Woods and learn about the horrors of the Civil War that made him retreat from society. But readers also come to know Red's Irish grandmother and the "coffin ships" that carried her to Canada--and how those experiences led her enduring bitterness.

I know this will be a hard book to summarize for students. It's the sort of book you have to find your way through, trusting friends' recommendations and the author. But it has lasting power, both in its overall themes and in specific passages. On his deathbed, the "Madman" Mr. Bixby gives this final advice to Benji:
“You gotta be careful, boy. Life ain’t fair; it ain’t got no conscience ’bout letting one bad choice you make as a child be the thing what colour every waking minute you has thereafter. You gotta remember to treat each moment and each person as precious, treat ’em all with the same respect I seent you treating them woods.”
Benji has the last word with his first published article, a eulogy for Mr. Bixby which captures the lasting message I take away from this book.
"He is a hero because, in spite of all the horrors he’d witnessed, he never allowed anger nor vengeance to poison his spirit. he is a hero because though surrounded by the ignorance of his fellow man, he never became bitter."
I finished this book feeling like I was a better person for having read it. It reaffirmed my resolutions to keep connected to friends and family, to appreciate life's small moments and special people.

My students love Christopher Paul Curtis's novels Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham. It's interesting that few read Elijah of Buxton. I look forward to encouraging more to trust a favorite author and read this. It will be a perfect fit for students who seek poignant stories, appreciate masterful writing and enjoy becoming immersed in characters' lives.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher Scholastic Press. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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9. Audacity (2015)

Audacity. Melanie Crowder. 2015. Penguin. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I loved Melanie Crowder's Audacity. It was a fascinating read focusing on the life and work of Clara Lemlich. It would pair well with Margaret Peterson Haddix's Uprising and Katherine Paterson's Bread and Roses, Too. Also Margarita Engle's The Lightning Dreamer and Andrea Davis Pinkney's The Red Pencil.

What did I love most about Audacity? I loved, loved, loved Clara herself. I loved her strength, her determination, her ambition, her loyalty, her persistence. Whether in Russia or America, Clara dreamed of one thing above all others: getting an education and making something of herself. She wanted to be able to read and write. She wanted to be able to think and form her own opinions and express them. She was raised in an environment, a community, where education was ONLY for men, the message that was reinforced over and over again (not specifically by her parents, but by the community) was that equated a woman going to school and learning with a prostitute. An educated woman brought shame to her family. It wasn't just that it was pushed aside or made a low priority. It was discouraged and forbidden. Clara wanted a voice of her own, and she wanted to be heard. There were many intense places in Audacity. Some within the Russia setting. Some within America. Some within her own home. Some outside the home. Audacity isn't a light-hearted read.

The novel opens with Clara and her family in Russia at the turn of the twentieth century. After facing persecution--the Jewish community within Russia facing brutal persecution--her family emigrated to America. The focus remains on Clara: her dreams and her reality. For example, while her father and brothers stay home to be scholars, she works seven days a week in a mill. The conditions under which she works, under which all the women work, were horrible. She gives her paycheck to her family faithfully, dutifully. But not without some regret. Why must she be the one working so hard while others take it easy?! Much of the book focuses on her struggle: her struggle to hold onto her dreams, her struggle to hold onto dignity, her fight for right, to see justice done.

Audacity is a novel written in verse. It was powerful and compelling. The verse worked for me. It just wowed me in places! This fascinating book is easy to recommend. It's an emotional read, but oh so worth it!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Novels to supplement history | Part 1

This year, I started a new role as the 8th grade Humanities teacher. I began the school year with an ambitious “Novels of the World” plan that would flawlessly integrate every Common Core standard in Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking along with the world history.

Then reality hit me in the throat.

I realized that even though I’m technically teaching “English Language Arts,” the colorful demographics of my class means I am also unofficially teaching a lot of English Language Development. I started noticing that in the mushy realm of “middle school humanities,” history ends up getting the shorter end of the stick — probably because English is more heavily tested than history. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to choose which area to skimp, but this is reality.

So, to make sure that some history gets into each ELA lesson (and to provide yet another lens for students to learn history), I correlate the novels I teach with the history unit. There are also times when I can’t devote that much time or depth to the history unit. In those cases, I give book talks to let my students know about different leveled books available for their enjoyment.

Below are books in bold that I’ve personally used either in whole-class or small group instruction.* There are also books that I’ve included that I plan to use in the future. Also, as I compiled the list, I realized this post was getting too long, so I’ll have the second half up next month!


Anna of ByzantiumByzantine Empire

Anna of Byzantium by Tracy Barrett
To be honest, this book was difficult. I had to explain much context and there were not too many exciting plot jumps. My students were still curious, but I would say that this would be a more advanced reading level and probably not the best way to start the year. It was great, however, for teaching figurative language, point of view, and character development. Anna is also a great female protagonist, and there are many teachable moments throughout the book.

 


One Thousand and One Arabian NightsRise of Islam

One Thousand and One Arabian Nights by Geraldine McCaughrean
This is one of my favorite books. Although the reading level is a bit lower, the text is complex especially for students who do not have an understanding of the Arabian peninsula. This is a frame-tale narrative so students are able to practice looking at plot structure, setting, character development, theme, and figurative language. This book is full of similes and personification. I differentiated by reading some stories together as a class and expecting extra stories from more advanced readers. I have actually started 7th grade with this book twice now.


SundiataWest Africa

Sundiata: Lion King of Mali by David Wisniewski
So yes, according to the Horn Book Guide, this is meant for K-3. But this book is gorgeous, and I hope to use this and a few other Sundiata narratives to help my students grasp an understanding of the African narrative style and create their own historically accurate play.

 


The Ghost In the Tokaido InnMedieval Japan

The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler
This is a fun mystery that takes place in 18th century Japan. Students clearly enjoyed seeing what they learned about samurai, dishonorable samurai, and the Code of Bushido coming alive in this fast-paced chapter book. I focused on mainly covering suspense, setting, and characterization here.

 

The Samurai's TaleThe Samurai’s Tale by Erik Christian Haugaard
I have only read an excerpt and it seems a bit more high level. I could see this book being very engaging, however, as it starts with quite a lot of action, betrayal, and suspense in the first chapter.

 

•   •   •

In my next post, I will list the books I’ve used for China, South America, Feudal Europe, Renaissance, and the Age of Exploration. Have you used any of these books before? Am I missing some must-have gems? Let me know by commenting below!

*In California, middle school spends one year learning about medieval to modern world history. It usually consists of the fall of Rome, the Byzantine Empire’s rise, the Arabian Peninsula and Islam, West Africa, Medieval Japan and China, South America, and then Europe, Europe, and lots more Europe.

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11. Wisdom from A GATHERING OF DAYS

a gathering of days

Once I would have wished for that: never to grow old. But now I know that to stay young always is also not to change. And that is what life’s all about — changes going on every minute, and you never know when something begins where it’s going to take you.

So one thing I want to say about life is don’t be scared and don’t hang back, and most of all, don’t waste it.

The post Wisdom from A GATHERING OF DAYS appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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12. Straight From the Source: Debra McArthur on Writing Historical Fiction

Debra McArthur grew up in Springfield, Missouri, where her high school experience included church activities, choir, drum and bugle corps, and the kind of drama and angst that make a person really glad to grow up.  She earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University

These days, Debra lives with her husband in Kansas City, Missouri. She teaches college along the bluffs of the Missouri River, and she is still collecting nouns that describe her: student, teacher, wife, mother, reader, writer, Irish dancer, marathon runner. Debra is the author of the novel A Voice for Kanzas. She also writes literary biographies and historical non-fiction.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I really like to use actual information from the era—primary sources such as newspapers and personal journals. Those kinds of sources give me more than factual data; they give me personal viewpoints and the speech patterns of people of the era, as well as their attitudes about the events that were happening.

I also like to use sources that lead me closer to the life of my characters, and those are often not print sources. In A Voice for Kanzas, my character’s father runs a general store in Lawrence, Kansas in 1855. I loved exploring the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City. The items there were salvaged from the wreck of a boat that sank in 1856 that carried merchandise for general stores in the Territory. It not only helped me see what kinds of items they would have in their store, but also what kinds of household items were in daily use by the settlers.

For my current work-in-progress, the main character becomes the blacksmith’s apprentice in Lawrence in 1856. I went to a local historical park and did workshops with the blacksmith there to find out more about the craft, and to find out what parts of my body would hurt after pumping the bellows for a few hours! And the side benefit was some nifty new fireplace tools I made.

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

I’ve studied Kansas Territorial history for over many years, so I knew the era and the factual background of it pretty well before I decided to write a fictional story set there. But I can’t begin a story until I know my character. Once that character begins to whisper in my ear and tell me his or her story, I can begin. That’s when I know the character’s own voice and what he or she wants. The details will develop once I begin, but I have to hear the voice first.

When I’ve begun to draft the story, the research continues. I not only have to continue researching historical events, but also looking up specific details like weather, politics, clothing details, and more. In my current book, the character spends some time in church, and I needed to know what hymns might have been sung there.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

I have to be careful not to let my 21st-century thinking interfere with my 19th century characters. Sometimes it’s hard because people of that era would not think in the same ways we do. Our modern-day ideas about gender roles and racial attitudes are very different. And some things I find in my historical research are certainly not “politically correct” in terms of words we would use now. It’s sometimes hard to be historically accurate and still be “appropriate” for young readers of today.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

The Emigrant Aid Society settlers who founded the town of Lawrence were mostly Easterners who came to the Territory with lofty ideals about their role in making Kansas a free state. They were unprepared for the resistance of the Missourians who had a vested interest in making Kansas a slave state. During the first election, thousands of Missouri “border ruffians” came across the border and threatened the settlers with guns and knives in order to prevent them from voting. After this event, the Lawrence settlers wrote to their sponsors in Boston, asking for guns with which to defend themselves. Because all shipments by land and by river were watched by the ruffians, the rifles were sent in boxes marked “books” or even “bibles.” I had fun writing that into the plot of A Voice for Kanzas.

Because life isn’t always clear cut, the motives behind our actions don’t always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?

It’s sometimes hard to know the truth of some historical events, because newspaper accounts of the day varied according to the political viewpoints of the varied individuals and newspapers of the time, especially in regards to their stance on the slavery issue. In my current book, the historical events include a murder and also conflicts between the citizens of Lawrence and the local sheriff. It isn’t always easy to determine the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” since both sides believed they were being unfairly characterized. I have to take the point of view of my main character and tell it through his eyes, so it may not be THE truth, but it is HIS truth.

Why is historical fiction important?

I never liked history much as a school subject because so much of the emphasis was on memorization of dates, names, battles, and such. Although it was factual, it never felt real. Historical fiction is like a time machine. It can take a reader to that time and place and let her live there for a while. I want my readers to love my stories and my characters, but also get a better understanding of the events and the emotions behind them. I want them to close the book and feel like they need to wipe the grit off their teeth because they’ve been walking the dusty Kansas roads along with my characters.

The post Straight From the Source: Debra McArthur on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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13. The Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree. Julie Salamon. 1996. Random House. 118 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Christmas Tree is technically a reread for me, although I haven't reviewed it on my blog. I picked this one up because I remembered enjoying the movie adaptation of it. It didn't disappoint. What I like best about this feel-good Christmas story are the flashbacks.

The chief gardener for Rockefeller Center narrates Julie Salamon's The Christmas Tree. In his own words, this gardener tells of his search, his on-going, never-ending search for THE tree. If he's not looking for this year's tree, his mind is already on finding NEXT year's tree. The book is about one special tree in particular, one that led to an ongoing friendship.

One day the narrator spots THE tree from a helicopter. He learns it's on the property of a convent. He goes. He talks. He asks. He meets Sister Anthony THE nun who will decide if he can have the tree or not. They have more in common than he was expecting certainly. But. She's not ready or willing to part with the tree called, TREE.

Sister Anthony is a storyteller. She is. And the narrator turns out to be a good listener. Over several years at least, he keeps coming back to see her, to visit with her and hear her stories. He has things to share as well. Through these sections, readers learn of Anna.

In the flashbacks, readers meet a young orphan named Anna who eventually came to be raised at the convent. Her story is very personal, and it reveals her affection, her connection to nature. The young girl as you've probably guessed IS Sister Anthony herself.

I loved Anna. I did. Her part in the story is what made it work for me. It was her connection with the tree--in the past and present--that kept me reading.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Lara’s Gift, by Annemarie O’Brien | Book Review

Lara’s Gift is a step back in time to Imperial Russia, before the revolution of 1917. O’Brien captures the realities of the count’s estate, the clothing and lavish interiors, the grand kennels and stables, the lush celebrations, the intricate relationship between nobles and servants—and the longings of a peasant girl trapped by traditions and superstitions.

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15. Lark Rise to Candleford (1943)

Lark Rise to Candleford. Flora Thompson. 1943. 537 pages. [Source: Bought]

Did I enjoy reading Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford? Yes. Did I enjoy all three books equally? Probably not. Did I enjoy any one book as much as I loved the TV adaptation? Probably not. Lark Rise to Candleford is an omnibus edition of a trilogy: Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, and Candleford Green.

The first book in the series is Lark Rise. What I liked about Lark Rise was the fact that it had a cozy yet realistic feel to it. The chapters capture what life was like in a specific time and place, a particular part of the country in the 1880s. Rural vignettes. The book is rich in detail and description. Nothing happens but description. A sampling of chapter titles: "A Hamlet Childhood," "Men Afield," "At the 'Wagon and Horses'," "Callers," "Country Playtime," "School," "May Day," "To Church on Sunday."

The second book in the series is Over to Candleford. This book is definitely more personal in nature. For the most part, it focuses on one young girl, Laura. Readers see Laura at home, at school, at play, at church, visiting cousins, aunts, and uncles, etc. It is still rich in description and detail. Even though it is a more personal look at life in the country in the 1880s and 90s, it is still heavier on the descriptions than the action. This isn't a book that focuses on stories and storytelling. The book ends with a young Laura--perhaps twelve or thirteen--getting an apprentice job in Candleford Green with the postmistress Miss Dorcas Lane.

The third book in the series is Candleford Green. The book opens with Laura leaving home. She's excited and timid. The book will see her established in this new life. She'll be meeting new people, living in a new place, experiencing new things, growing up into a young woman. I was disappointed with this book. I haven't decided if I'm disappointed because it lacks characterization and plot in general OR if I'm disappointed because it lacks the characterization and plot that the television adaptation brought to it. The book's strength is in description and vignettes. The book's weakness is that there are not really any connecting stories or plot sequences. People are mentioned by name, perhaps, but in a very superficial just a few paragraphs way. The characters lack depth. A sentence or two here and there does not make good characterization. If the heroine, Laura, was fully developed and the chapters worked as a personal narrative capturing her experiences, thoughts, and struggles, then I think it might have worked better for me. But there was no person to connect to, no connecting-story to follow. It was just one description after another. There were passages I enjoyed reading. Laura does like to read! But nothing about it that made me LOVE it. I liked it well enough.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. A Quilt for Christmas (2014)

A Quilt for Christmas. Sandra Dallas. 2014. St. Martin's Press. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

For readers who love to read about quilters or quilts, this one may prove satisfying. Also, this one would be a good match for those who like to read about the Civil War. This one is set in Kansas during the last year of the Civil War. I liked Sandra Dallas' A Quilt for Christmas even though I don't consider myself fitting into the ideal audience. (I don't particularly seek out books about quilts. I don't seek out historical fiction set during the Civil War.)

Eliza Spooner is the heroine. She loves, loves, loves to quilt. She loves to get together with other women in the community. The war has had an effect on the community. Many husbands (and brothers, fathers, sons, etc.) are gone, away fighting for one side or the other. Eliza's husband, Will, is fighting for the Union. The novel opens with Eliza finishing a quilt she's made for her husband. She'll be sending the quilt along with a soldier who is returning to her husband's unit from leave. Her love for her husband is obvious, and, not just because she's spent all this time making a quilt. There are dozens of flashbacks. These flashbacks give readers a chance to get to know the couple. However, I must admit that these flashbacks are confusing at times. They are not really set apart in the text, and the transition from present-day to the past can be sloppy at times.

Readers meet Eliza and her son and daughter. Readers meet men and women of the small community as well. Mainly, readers get to know Missouri Ann and her daughter. When Missouri Ann's husband dies, she takes the opportunity to flee from her abusive in-laws. Eliza opens her home to the pair, and this isn't without some risk. Missouri Ann's in-laws are probably without a doubt the meanest and cruelest in the county--if not the state. But not everyone in the community is as immediately open to including Missouri Ann in their group. Her in-laws have tainted her, a bit, no one wants to get close to someone who would marry into that family.

At one point, at a quilting party of sorts, the discussion of slavery and runaway slaves comes up. Opinions are mixed. Prejudices are voiced. Even though most of the women are for the Union--for the Yankees--most if not all have very strong views about blacks.

Eliza's own views will be tested when she's asked to hide a runaway slave: a woman who murdered her mistress. Will she welcome her home to this slave and put her own life and the lives of her children at risk?

A Quilt for Christmas is an odd book at times. It seems to have a handful of plots and stories, any one could be the MAIN one, but really not one seems to stand out as being the one it's all about. It's definitely NOT a plot-driven book. It's mainly about the lives of women in a particular community during the fall of 1864 and throughout 1865.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Sarah MacLean, Buffy, Assassin Nuns, and more




So I took a bit of a break from Cybils reading this week* because OMG GUESS WHAT WORDS OF LOVE SENT ME?

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean. And oh, it is just as delicious as I hoped. It's probably my favorite of her Rules of Scoundrels series. I love love love love that Chase was Georgiana from Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord. I'm also very excited about the glimpse we got of MacLean's new heroine for her new series (the first will release sometimes in 2015)

Some other non-Cybils things I've read this month?

Buffy: Season Ten Volume 1 : New Rules Woo-Hoo! Season 10 has started. Once again, consequences and repercussions are big themes. At the end someone shows up that proves I really should have been reading the Faith and Angel spin-off, because woah, what was that?! BUT! Dracula's around and the Dracula Xander bro-mance is in full swing, which is always fun and awesome. Now, I just need to wait for-EVER for the next one.

My hold on Mortal Heart finally came in, and, oh, another most wonderful end to a favorite series. Ever since I finished it, I've been trying to figure out which one is my favorite in this trilogy, and I just can't decide. They are all so great--there's no weak link or one particular standout, just straight-up excellence across the board. I was reading this one at a training and the person (NOT a librarian) across asked what it was and as soon as I described it as "historical fiction about assassin nuns in 15th century Brittany" she was on her library's website to see if they owned it. Because, I mean, of course she was! It's HISTORICAL FICTION ABOUT ASSASSIN NUNS. Although now I really want to read more about historical Brittany. Why isn't there an awesome YA nonfiction about the the 15th century Brittany? Someone should get on that for me.

I also read Mistletoe and Mr. Right: A Christmas Romance which I reviewed over here. If you don't feel like clicking over, I liked it.

In non-book reading, did you all see Kelly's poignant and powerful post about fatness in YA? Definitely click over to that one.


*Ok, I don't actually have any Cybils reading until January 1st, because I'm a second round judge. BUT, I'm reading my way through the long list anyway, partly for fun, partly for armchair quarterbacking, and partly so that when I do look at the short list, I'm that much more familiar with the titles and can then do deeper rereading instead of reading for the first time.

Book Provided by... my wallet, my local library, my local library, and RT Book Reviews (for review)

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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18. Ranger in Time by Kate Messner




Ranger in Time #1: Rescue on the Oregon Trail
by Kate Messner
Scholastic, January 2015
ARC received from the publisher

This is going to be a great series for grades 2-5!

Ranger is a golden retriever who failed search and rescue school because he can't stop chasing squirrels. He also love to dig, and one day, he finds a old first aid kit while he's digging in his back yard. When he slips the strap over his head, he is transported in time to 1850. He uses his search and rescue skills several times along the Oregon Trail to help Sam Abbott and his family.

After the story, Messner has included a very readable 10-page author's note about the time period and her writing process.

Next up in the series, Ranger travels in time to Ancient Rome!


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19. Thursday Review: MORTAL HEART by Robin LaFevers

Summary: Mortal Heart is the final book (SAD FACE) in Robin LaFevers' His Fair Assassin trilogy (Book 1 reviewed here; Book 2 reviewed here). The books take place in medieval Brittany and France, a setting which the author has obviously researched... Read the rest of this post

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20. Classroom Connections: SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS, by Jeannie Mobley


age range: 10-14 years
setting: Colorado, 1917
Jeannie Mobley’s website

study guide

Pearl’s lively narration reveals her transformation from an old-fashioned, romantic girl into a spirited, courageous champion. Mobley uses the legend of Silverheels to effectively “raise questions about the traditional roles of women and their sources of strength,” as she writes in her author’s note, against the backdrop of wartime Colorado. An engrossing, plausible story of several unlikely feminist heroines with a touch of romance and intrigue. — Kirkus Reviews

Please tell us about your book.

Searching for Silverheels is the story of a romantically minded 13 year old, Pearl, who works in her family’s café in the small mountain town of Como, Colorado in 1917, just after the United States has entered the First World War.  She loves the local legend of Silverheels, a dance hall girl of the gold rush era, who saved a town from smallpox. However, Josie, a cynical old women’s suffragist, scoffs at Pearl for telling the story to the tourists, arguing that Silverheels was more likely a crook after the miner’s gold than a hero. They enter into a bet, each trying to prove their version of the legend, but in the mean time, accusations of sedition and anti-patriotism arise in the town, threatening both Pearl’s family and Josie. Pearl is forced to decide what she really believes in and to act, even if it costs her.

What inspired you to write this story?

I have known the legend of Silverheels for as long as I can remember, being a Colorado native that spent a great deal of time in the mountains in the area where Silverheels lived, and where there is, to this day, a mountain named after her. I hadn’t thought about the legend for a long time, but when I heard it again I realized there are some odd inconsistencies in it that made me think that Silverheels had the perfect set up for a scam–tend the dying miners, seduce them with her legendary beauty, and then take their gold.  As a kid, I had loved the legend for its romantic, tragic beauty, and having this new vision of it as a more cynical adult, I thought, what an interesting story it would be to debate the story from the two sides.

I also realized what a good set up for exploring the roles of women in traditional society, and all the ways that women are called to be strong. So, I chose to set it during World War I so I could bring in the suffrage movement as well as all the things women did on the home front to keep the country going during the war.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

I did very little book research before I started writing this story. Since I’ve known the legend of Silverheels and the area where the story took place since childhood, I tried to draw on deep childhood memories to shape the character of Pearl and her experiences and feelings about her mountain home. While Pearl’s story is entirely fictitious, her feelings and personality are  drawn very much on who I was as a kid.  So, I did a small amount of research about the home front in various wars, and settled on World War I, mostly because the National Women’s party, one arm of the  suffrage movement, came to blows with the authorities over criticizing the president during war time.

I researched details as I wrote, stopping when I needed to fill in a detail–like when the first Liberty Bonds were issued, what they cost and how the program worked, or what the train schedule was like in Como, a railroad hub of the era, or how long it might have taken by train to get from one location to another.  Sometimes those details would draw me into an hour of research, sometimes I’d have to work on research for a day or more. And there were a few times I found things out and had to back up and rewrite things I had gotten wrong. That is a definite problem with my system of research-as-I-go, but I don’t know what I need to research until I get there.

Always, when I am writing a piece of historical fiction, I am “researching” in my time away from the writing desk, too. I watch TV programs or read novels set in that era or written in that era, I listen to period music, and I daydream, to get my mind steeped in the deeper feeling of the time period.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

Of course, there is always the challenge of getting the historical era right and finding the balance of including enough historical detail to get a sense of the era without overdoing it. I think it is also important to hit the right balance of making it feel familiar and also exotic.  Historical fiction appeals to readers for its ability to help us escape into a different world, but at the same time, I think historical fiction has a romantic appeal too. There is something warm about the “good old days,” even if they weren’t all that good in reality. I think many readers like the comfortable warmth of stories set in the late 19th/early 20th century. The sense of family and of home that linger in the memories of adults who read the Little House books as kids, for example. 

So for me, I try to evoke some of those same feelings in my work, while still being true to all the things that made the “good old days” not so good. Because there was a lot of hard work and discrimination and sexism in those days, and there was a struggle to survive. I try to keep all of that present in my work.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

My book looks at traditional roles of women, the home front during war, and the suffrage movement, all topics of interest in American History. We are now in the hundredth anniversary of World War I, which began in Europe in the summer of 1914, and continued until 1918. For the United States, the centennial of our involvement in the war doesn’t begin until 2017, but there is a new focus on that war right now, and this book fits into that topic very neatly.

I also think that historical fiction can fit in nicely with the focus of the Common Core on increased attention to informational texts, which include things like non-fiction and primary sources.  One of the intriguing things about historical fiction is it creates a personal interest in history, because it gets the reader emotionally involved with people in the past. And once that emotional involvement is there, it is much more interesting to do the background research (for example, people who never study history often love researching an ancestor). 

So, I think historical fiction can be a wonderful gateway into those informational texts, as readers of the novel say, “Did that really happen?” or “Did people really do that back then?” Those questions can be used as starting points for digging in deeper and finding out the truth. For example, in my book, suffragists are arrested at the White House in July of 1917, which triggers a protest rally on the steps of the State Capitol in Denver. Readers might then ask, did that really happen, and they can turn to the history books or old newspapers to find out. Toward that end, I do include various links to research resources in my teachers guides and on my website.

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21. On-the-Spot Research for Writing Historicals

When I write historical fiction, I know any success I might have in recreating an era for my readers largely hinges on my getting the details right. I relied heavily on research when writing The Glass Inheritance, my mystery novel involving Depression era glassware, and found it invaluable to visit historically significant sites from the Great Depression and World War II era. I toured a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming, Pearl Harbor, two concentration camps in Germany, and three Holocaust museums, among other sites. Such travel isn’t always financially feasible, but I’ve discovered local sites offer a wealth of information and inspiration also.

Just this summer I toured a Victorian mansion here in the Midwest and was thrilled to see the museum had a bowl of calling cards near the door. Because I had read in Victorian era novels about characters dropping off their calling cards at one another’s houses, I recognized what the cards were. The tour guide allowed me to pick the cards up and look through them even though the cards were authentic, not reproductions.

calling cards

Some of the cards clearly came from a printer as is, but others appeared to be homemade or had the owner’s name stenciled in after printing. They were all works of art compared with today’s business cards.

Holding these cards gave me insight and inspiration I doubt I would have drawn from just reading about them. I may choose to write a story involving calling cards and have more assurance now of getting the details right.


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22. A Letter to THE WALLED CITY by Ryan Graudin

by Becca THE WALLED CITYby Ryan GraudinHardcover: 448 pagesPublisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (November 4, 2014)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon 730. That's how many days I've been trapped.18. That's how many days I have left to find a way out. DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key

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23. THURSDAY REVIEW: CIRCLE OF STONES by Catherine Fisher

Summary: I'd just like to start by saying how much I have LOVED Catherine Fisher's work so far--both the Incarceron books and the Obsidian Mirror books. Incarceron in particular is up there with my (admittedly rather long) list of favorites. So I... Read the rest of this post

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24. Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice, by Kathleen Benner Duble | Book Review

Madame Tussaud's Apprentice is a fascinating historical drama. The rich background of revolutionary France provides readers with a fascinating look at that terrifying time.

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25. My Year with Jane: A Darcy Christmas

A Darcy Christmas: A Holiday Tribute to Jane Austen. By Amanda Grange, Carolyn Eberhart, and Sharon Lathan. 2010. Sourcebooks. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

I reread two of the three novellas in A Darcy Christmas. I reread Amanda Grange's Christmas Present and Carolyn Eberhart's Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol. I chose not to reread Sharon Lathan's A Darcy Christmas. Each novella was around a hundred pages. A perfect length, in my opinion, for both stories.

Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol is an interesting and often entertaining read starring Austen's characters and borrowing much from Charles Dickens. The premise is simple yet not completely predictable. Mr. Darcy is oh-so-happy that Bingley and Jane have married. But. He's still alone this holiday season. Unlike the original, he did not propose marriage to Elizabeth soon after Bingley and Jane's happy announcement. Georgiana, his sister, wants a new sister, a new particular sister for Christmas. His cousin has made a similar request, a particular new cousin. It isn't that Darcy doesn't still love her, want her, need her. But he's a bit proud and stubborn. So on the Christmas Eve in question, Darcy is visited by the ghost of his father who warns him of his faults and promises the visits of three spirits in the night. He adds that they will come with familiar faces. (Can you guess which "familiar face" is the ghost of Christmas future?)

I have conflicting thoughts on Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol. On the one hand, there would be scenes and passages where I'm: it works, it really works, I can't believe this is working!!! And then perhaps just a page later, I'm: I take it back, this doesn't work at all, how am I suppose to believe this?! So there were plenty of scenes I liked. I liked how she fit it all together and made it work at least some of the time. It would be hard to fit all the great bits of Pride and Prejudice with all the great bits of A Christmas Carol. So I'm surprised it worked as well as it did actually. I like how one of my favorite scenes of A Christmas Carol is reworked from the beginning to the near-ending. That was something! I don't LOVE this one necessarily. As I mentioned, there are places where it is an almost-but-not-quite. It was a fun idea, perhaps, but not absolutely flawless. I alternated between wanting to shout at the book, and cheering. Still, it's worth reading at least once.

What did I think of Amanda Grange's Christmas Present? I liked it very much!!! I tend to like or love Amanda Grange's Austen adaptations. I think she does a great job with keeping Austen's characters as we know them and love them. She is able to capture the essence of each character. In this novella, readers get a glimpse of their second Christmases. (I believe, the two couples married in November or possibly early December?) Bingley and Jane have a baby. Elizabeth and Darcy are oh-so-close to having a baby as well. But have-her-own-way Elizabeth is insistent that even though she is due to have a baby any day, she is perfectly capable of traveling a few hours by carriage so she can spend the holidays with her family. Darcy gives in, of course. So what does a family Christmas look like? Well, this family Christmas borders on insane! Through half-a-dozen coincidences it seems, that most of the family (minus Georgiana) are brought together to share these few days. Including some you might not be expecting to see: Lady Catherine. Mr. Collins. The novella is comical. It's just a satisfying way to spend an afternoon. Sometimes a good, quick read that is light-hearted fun is just what you need.

This is my final post for "My Year With Jane." Here's a look at all the posts about Jane Austen:
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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