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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
Blog: Biblio File
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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)
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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!
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
Blog: The Children's Book Review
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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.
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
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
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.
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.
age range: 10-14 years
setting: Colorado, 1917
Jeannie Mobley’s website
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.
The post Classroom Connections: SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS, by Jeannie Mobley appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.
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
One of the most exciting things about being an author is connecting with readers. It’s incredible to me to realize there are people out there waiting for my next book. And it’s especially dear to know some of you come here regularly to listen in on the things I have to say.
As you probably know, the best way to launch a book into the world is to send it out with lots of love. What’s the best sort of love a reader can offer? Word of mouth, hands down. Word of mouth comes in the form of casual conversations, recommendations, blog posts, and reviews on sites like Amazon or Goodreads. It’s simply one reader talking to another.
Want to have a hand in a word of mouth campaign? I have ten advance reader copies of BLUE BIRDS to give away. I’d love if you’d consider writing a blog post to run the second week of January about one of the following things:
- Friendship: how your friend(s) have influenced you, the role childhood friendships have played in your life, or any other friendship-related idea
- Pivotal Moments: An instance when you experienced a world completely different from anything you’d ever known before, a time you stepped outside your own culture, or any other life-changing idea
- Review: an honest look at what you think of BLUE BIRDS (Just because you read here doesn’t mean you have to like it! Every opinion is a valid one.)
To participate, leave a comment below. While I’ll only have ARCs for the first ten commenters, if you’d still like to participate, I have a lovely little thank you I’ll send along to all who choose to blog.
Thanks, friends! I’ll be in touch with more specific details soon.
The post Are You A Blogger? Let’s Talk about BLUE BIRDS! appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.
I’m so excited to share with you a recent conversation I had with Sarah MacKenzie of the Read Aloud Revival Podcast. We talked poetry, how I stumbled into writing verse novels, and what three books I would take to a desert island.
Swing by and have a listen!
The post A Conversation with Sarah MacKenzie of the Read Aloud Revival Podcast appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.
By: Steven James Petruccio,
This story was set in the meso american pre-classic period...interesting to research!
STEVEN JAMES PETRUCCIO
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Levine, Kristin. 2014. The Paper Cowboy. New York: Putnam.
In the seemingly idyllic, 1950s, town of Downers Grove, Illinois, handsome and popular 12-year-old Tommy Roberts appears to be a typical kid. He lives with his parents, older sister Mary Lou, younger sisters Pinky and Susie, and a devoted family dog. He and his older sister attend Catholic school, his father works for Western Electric, and his mother stays at home with the younger girls.
Amidst the backdrop of the Red Scare and McCarthyism, Tommy's discovery of a Communist newspaper in the town's paper drive truck, and a horrific burn accident to Mary Lou, begin a chain of events that uncovers secrets, truths, and lies in his small town populated with many Eastern European immigrants.
Perhaps the biggest lie is Tommy's own life. Though he never gets caught, Tommy is a bully, picking on kids at school, especially Little Skinny. When he plants the Communist newspaper in a store owned by Little Skinny's immigrant father, he's gone too far - and he knows it. Now it's time to act like his cowboy hero, The Lone Ranger, and make everything right, but where can he turn for help? His mother is "moody" and beats him relentlessly while his father turns a blind eye. His older sister will be hospitalized for months. He has his chores and schoolwork to do, and Mary Lou's paper route, and if Mom's in a mood, he's caretaker for Pinky and Susie as well.
It's hard to understand a bully, even harder to like one, but readers will come to understand Tommy and root for redemption for him and his family. He will find help where he least expects it.
I couldn't tell Mrs. Glazov about the dinner party. Or planting the paper. But maybe I could tell her about taking the candy. Maybe that would help. "There's this boy at school, I said slowly, "Little Skinny."
"I didn't like him. I don't like him. Sometimes, Eddie and I and the choirboys, we tease him."
"Ahh," she said again. "He laugh too?"
I shook my head. I knew what Mary Lou would say. Shame on you, Tommy! Picking on that poor boy. And now she would have scars just like him. How would I feel if someone picked on her?
"What did you do?" Mrs. Glazov asked, her voice soft, like a priest at confession. It surprised me. I'd never heard her sound so gentle.
"I took some candy from him," I admitted.
"You stole it."
"It's not my fault! If Mary Lou had been there, I never would have done it!"
Mrs. Glazov laughed. "You don't need sister. You need conscience."
I had the horrible feeling that she was right. I wasn't a cowboy at all. I was an outlaw.
Author Kristin Levine gives credit to her father and many 1950s residents of Downers Grove who shared their personal stories with her for The Paper Cowboy.
Armed with their honesty and openness, she has crafted an intensely personal story that accurately reflects the mores of the 1950s. We seldom have the opportunity (or the desire) to know everything that goes on behind the doors of our neighbors' houses. Levine opens the doors of Downers Grove to reveal alcoholism, mental illness, abuse, disease, sorrow, and loneliness. It is this stark realism that makes the conclusion so satisfying. This is not a breezy read with a tidy and miraculous wrap-up. It is instead, a tribute to community, to ordinary people faced with extraordinary problems, to the human ability to survive and overcome and change.
Give this book to your good readers - the ones who want a book to stay with them a while after they've finished it.Kristin Levine is also the author of The Lions of Little Rock (2012, Putnam) which I reviewed here.
The Quilt Walk. Sandra Dallas. 2012. Sleeping Bear Press. 215 pages. [Source: Library]
I enjoy historical fiction. I do. And I enjoy a good pioneer story. The Quilt Walk is a middle grade pioneer story. It was satisfying for what it was.
Emmy Blue and her mom and dad are traveling with a wagon train to Golden, Colorado. Her aunt and uncle are also going. Her dad and uncle are the ones who really, really, really want to go. Her aunt and mom, well, they'd have been happy spending the rest of their lives right where they were. Her mom is more outwardly accepting of this change. Her aunt complains plenty. There are things she's sad about, things she's hopeful about.
The focus is on the journey for the most part. Readers meet several other characters traveling in the wagon train. Emmy and her mom make new friends. Emmy makes one friend close to her own age. Emmy makes several friends who are older than her. One woman is newly married. One woman has three children under the age of four. Every person has a story of their own. What will Emmy's story be?
Based on the title alone, one can suppose that her story has to do with a quilt. At the start of the journey, Emmy hates quilting. She does. Not that she's ever properly given it a go. She knows that her mom loves, loves, loves to quilt. Loves getting together with other ladies to quilt. But Emmy sees it as tedious and boring. But. Her grandmother gives her blocks to quilt together to make a quilt top for her doll. Blocks to piece together on the journey, on the trip. And her mom expects her to do just that. To piece this quilt together some each day. And Emmy does. And by the end, she might have begun to change her mind about quilting. At least a little bit.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
The After House is a well-developed and relatively quick read with solid characters. Cash fans will no doubt love this latest chiller that also manages to warm the heart.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
In the “crazy summer” of 1968, three black sisters set out from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to reconnect with their estranged mother, an active member of the Black Panther political movement. How does Williams-Garcia balance historical events with the girls’ personal journeys? How do both these aspects of the historical novel interact?
The post One Crazy Summer appeared first on The Horn Book.
No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Documents, photos, fictionalized and true accounts of historical figures and events are woven together in this portrait of Nelson’s larger-than-life great uncle Lewis Michaux. What to you make of the blending of elements and genres in this work (which I described as “defying categorization” when presenting the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction in 2012)?
Note from Lolly: Here is a link to Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s and R. Gregory Christie’s acceptance speeches when this book won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award:
The post No Crystal Stair appeared first on The Horn Book.
Lena Dunham discussed a wide array of topics with writer and author Ariel Levy during the 15th annual New Yorker Festival on Friday night, including her aspirations to turn Karen Cushman’s “Catherine, Called Birdy” into a feature film….”It’s a really interesting examination of sort of like coming of age and what’s expected of teenage girls,” Dunham said. “I’m going to adapt it and hopefully direct it, I just need to find someone who wants to fund a PG-13 medieval movie.”
From Lena Dunham Wants To Turn ‘Catherine, Called Birdy’ Into A Movie.
There’s been a lot of talk about accuracy in children’s nonfiction recently (which is just a fancy way of saying that there’s been a lot of talk on this particular blog). Everything from invented dialogue to series that are nonfiction-ish. One element we haven’t discussed in any way, shape, or form though is the notion of accuracy in illustration. And not just in nonfiction works but historical fiction as well.
My thoughts on the matter only traipsed in this direction because of author Mara Rockliff, as it happens. Recently she wrote me the following query:
“One thing I wonder is why invented dialogue is so often the thing that bothers people most, while other issues don’t seem to come up. For instance, how do you feel about illustrations? It always seems to me that a historical picture book can never be strictly nonfiction, because no matter what the writer does, the illustrations will be fictional. I’ve got a couple of historical picture books on the way this winter. One has very fanciful, cartoony illustrations and the other has meticulously researched illustrations–but both are made up. If an illustrator says, ‘Well, this is the TYPE of thing Ben Franklin wore (but there’s no way to know what he wore on this particular day), and these are the gestures he MIGHT have made and the facial expressions he MIGHT have worn, and here is what his visitors MIGHT have looked like, and this is MORE OR LESS what they might have been doing at that moment, or possibly they never did anything like this at all, and this is a typical style for houses at that time…’ does that seem different to you from a writer saying similar things about invented dialogue?”
It is, you have to admit, an excellent point. Can illustration ever really and truly be factual, just shy of simply copying a photograph? Should we hold historical fiction and historical nonfiction to different standards from one another? She goes on to say in relation to made up text vs. made up art:
I’ve been struggling to formulate my thoughts on this, but I have a vague feeling that
(1) historical picture books should not invent IMPORTANT details (the main events of the story, for instance–what someone would say if asked to summarize the book), no matter how they’re categorized or what’s explained in the author’s note
(2) there should be clues to what’s made up in the story itself, both in the text and the art. Like, if the illustration style is cartoony and the dialogue is humorously anachronistic (“Your majesty, those colonists think they can beat your redcoats! Ha ha ha ha ha.”), an adult reader at least would assume the dialogue had been made up. I think.
There’s lots of time to chew on the notion of art in children’s nonfiction and historical fiction. Mara poses an excellent question about made up dialogue vs. illustrations. Why should one bother a person more than another? I think it comes down to the reality of a situation. Illustration is, by its very definition, going to be made up. The author might do more research than anyone else but you can never say for certain if an eyebrow was up at one moment or a person held a letter in that particular way another. So all illustration is supposition. Dialogue, however, when using quotation marks, is saying that a person definitely said one thing or another. If a books says, “This person may have said this or that” then they’re in the clear but when they use quotation marks without any caveats then they are saying a person definitely said one thing or another. Ex: “Put that peashooter down or I’ll kill you”, said Albert Einstein. When you read that you assume he actually said it. And, for whatever reason, that seems far worse than simply drawing him in one position or another. I think people will always assume that an illustration is coming out of the head of an artist, but wordsmiths are held to a different standard.
Now obviously even when we “know” that someone said something we can almost never “know” if they said that exact thing. But that’s where honesty comes in. Books that say right from the start that they don’t know one thing or another are being honest. Books that just lead you to assume that something happened the way they say it did are being dishonest.
Here in the library we always put “nonfictiony” books with fake elements in the picture book or fiction section. It’s a bummer but we don’t have much of a choice. I mean, compare a book like THE BOY WHO LOVED MATH which never ever includes any fake dialogue and makes a big deal about the fact that the illustration of the boy’s nanny is based on nothing because the artist couldn’t find a photograph of her (now THAT is honesty!) to a book which makes up fake people saying fake things for absolutely no good reason whatsoever. I really love books like HE HAS SHOT THE PRESIDENT that don’t rely on fiction to make the nonfiction parts good. Still, as long as there’s a caveat or explanation somewhere in there I’ll not raise any objections. But what about the art in HE HAS SHOT THE PRESIDENT? Why am I okay with illustrations that are suppositions and not text?
Naturally I decided that this had to be a Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL. So as of right now we’ve a Lit Salon for March planned on this topic with Mara here as well as her HMH editor, Brian Floca, and Sophie Blackall. Let it never be said I go halfsies on these things. I’ll post a link to the event information a little closer to the date, no worries.
So what do you think? Is it ridiculous to your mind to distinguish between “reality” in art vs. text? Or could we go even further in the matter?
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Darlene Beck Jacobson has loved writing since she was a girl. She wrote letters to everyone she knew and made up stories in her head. She loves bringing the past to life in stories such as WHEELS OF CHANGE, her debut novel.
Although Mitsi Kashino and her family are swept up in the wave of anti-Japanese sentiment following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mitsi never expects to lose her home – or her beloved dog, Dash when she’s forced to move to an incarceration camp.
JLC - Welcome Kirby. Congratulations on your new historical fiction book and on the 2014 National Parenting Publications Gold Award (NAPPA) for DASH! KL – Thanks, Janet! It’s an honor to visit with you. And I am so delighted about the NAPPA award, as well as the two starred reviews, for my new book. JLC - Tell us what inspired you to write Dash.
KL – I grew up on the West Coast and did not learn about the “evacuation” of 120,000 people of Japanese descent – most of them American citizens – during WWII until I was in college. I was shocked that something of that magnitude could have been omitted from my education. So I began to try to learn as much as I could about it; when I became a writer, I wanted to tell stories from that time period in hopes that no other child would grow up in ignorance about that shameful slice of history. One of the texts I read, Strawberry Days by Dave Niewert, had a short snippet of an interview with a woman named Mitsue Shiraishi, who told about being so heartbroken at the thought of having to leave her dog behind during the “evacuation” that she wrote to the man in charge, General John DeWitt, asking for permission to take her beloved Chubby to camp. He said “no,” so now Mitsi had a few days to find a home for Chubby; fortunately, a kind neighbor, Mrs. Charles Bovee, agreed to take him in.
Mrs. Charles knew how much Mitsi loved her dog so she kept a diary, in Chubby’s voice, of his first weeks in the Bovee household, and then mailed it to Mitsi at camp. Mitsi died as a very old woman and when her family was cleaning out her apartment, they found that diary in her nightstand. I was struck by the fact that of all the horrible things that had happened to Mitsi, the thing she held onto was a symbol of kindness and compassion. That heart hook into the story, plus the fact that I am madly in love with my own dog and couldn’t imagine having to leave him behind, lead me to write Dash.JLC – Would you tell us a bit about your research, and give us a peek into your writing process? KL – Do you have all day? ;-) As a researcher, I leave no stone unturned. For example, when I read that snippet about Mitsi in Mr. Niewert’s book, I began to reach out to everyone I knew in the Japanese American community to see if I could find Mitsi’s family. I did and they generously provided me with stories, photographs, and other ephemera to help me understand what Mitsi went through. I listen to music of the time period I’m researching, dig up recipes, put together outfits my characters might have worn (Pinterest is great for this!), and even scour second hand stores and eBay for old journals, letters and diaries to give me insights into the past. What I work hardest to find are primary resources – they are essential for helping me conjure up those delicious details that bring the past to life. As for my writing process, it is a huge mess! I just jump in and start writing – no outline. No plan. What I do first, however, is get to know my character as thoroughly as possible. My work is very character driven.
JLC – The Kirkus starred review says: “Mitsi holds tight to her dream of the end of the war and her reunion with Dash. Larson makes this terrible event in American history personal with the story of one girl and her beloved pet.” Would you share the secret of writing historical fiction in a way that makes it personal and real for young readers?
KL – I’m so flattered by this lovely review. I wish I knew the secret! What I do know is that if I don’t do my homework – really get myself grounded in a past time and place—I would never stand a chance of making history personal. JLC – #WeNeedDiverseBooks is an important and long-awaited topic in the book world right now. Thoughts? KL- I am thrilled this conversation is taking place. Children need to see themselves – deserve to see themselves! -- in literature of all kinds. I do have a worry, however, that “diversity” could come to mean only ethnicity. It would be a shame to set such limits. I’ve said this elsewhere: as a kid who grew up wearing hand me downs and sometimes finding the kitchen cupboards completely bare, I would have died and gone to heaven had I found books like Barbara O’Connor’s How to Steal a Dog or Janet Lee Carey’s The Double Life of Zoe Flynn, in which the main character is homeless. I hope and pray this #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign leads to an even richer and broader range of the kinds of kid characters and stories we’ll see in children’s and young adult literature. JLC— What would you like readers to take away from this book? KL – I want readers to take away their own meaning from all of my books. But if Dash made readers stop and think about what it means to be a decent human being, I wouldn’t mind that one bit. By Kirby Larson
J. Anderson Coats is the author of historical fiction for young adults that routinely includes too much violence, name-calling and petty vandalism perpetrated by badly-behaved young people. Her first YA novel, THE WICKED AND THE JUST, was one of Kirkus’s Best Teen Books of 2012, a 2013 YALSA Best for Young Adults (BFYA) winner, and a School Library Journal Best Books of 2012 selection. It also won the 2013 Scandiuzzi Children’s Book award (the Washington State Book Award for teens).
How long do you typically research before beginning to draft? At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?
The answer is, maddeningly, it depends.
With W/J, I had an advantage when it came to research. I was the kind of unbalanced teenager that had research interests, so I was deep in the DA section of the library* by the time I was thirteen. So most of the background content I had going in. If I ever were to write about lumberjacks or samurai or galley slaves, I’d have to do a lot more research up front. But as long as I’m in the medieval or early-modern British Isles, I’m off to the races.
Basically I write along until I encounter a detail I either 1) don’t know or 2) am not sure of. Then I make an educated guess and put the affected content in [brackets] and look it all up at the end (or when I’m stuck and need to justify taking a break, whichever comes first).
What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?
One of the most significant challenges for W/J was a scarcity of pre-rebellion primary source material concerning Edwardian planted towns, since a lot of the records kept by English authorities in Caernarvon were lost in the rebellion itself. The rebels were aiming for the tax records, but everything else went up too. (There’s a lot of stuff on the castles and the minutiae their construction, but not on the towns themselves, although since W/J came out, this book was published.)
I had to approach the problem creatively, researching other towns founded by Edward I in other places, general medieval urban culture, and the North Wales planted towns in later ages when the records are better. When you’re a writer of historical fiction, you’re part garbage collector, part treasure hunter, part psychologist and part microfilm wrestler.
Why is historical fiction important?
I’m not sure how it’s important in a cosmic sense, but here’s why it’s important to me.
There are budding teenage history geeks out there, and I want to be on the front lines of handing them books that let them know they’re correct that history is in fact awesome. And that they’re not alone in thinking so.
There are kids who don’t think much of history because all they’ve ever had to judge it by is “social studies.” I want to hand them real stories about real people who feel familiar, who have the capacity to be cruel and kind and stupid and thoughtful and loving and vindictive just like we all do.
There are kids who might like history if it was more real. Or maybe it’s not so much that I want kids to like history, but to understand that it’s not as foreign or irrelevant as they think. I can’t unindoctrinate them, but I can hand them a story that doesn’t pull any punches, that presents the past in all its corrupt, seamy glory, and let them decide for themselves.
How do you conduct your research?
I research iteratively, and I love to compile.
Mostly I use books and articles (it’s rare I find a good online resource), and I record all my research notes on the back sides of sheets of recycle paper I scavenge out of the bin. I write the title of the research book I’m working with at the top and number the sheets as I need to. Each book gets its own set of note-pages.
I go through books chapter by chapter and jot down individual pieces of evidence followed by its page number. For articles, I underline and annotate in the margins. If there are images, maps, charts or graphs, they get scanned/copied and the bibliographic information logged at the top.
After I work on a topic for a while, I’m able to compile my evidence into charts and tables or timelines for quick reference. I’m a big fan of spreadsheets, and I’m especially fond of my spreadsheet o’ swears. It cross-references rude, vulgar, and otherwise unsavory terms; when each one came into the language, its context, terms that are similar and/or related, and how it changed over time.
F’r instance, if I need someone to insult someone else’s parentage, I just need to look up a term I know was used and I’ll get all the rest, plus some idea whether it’s appropriate for the era. My other spreadsheets work this way too, but this is the one I use the most.
What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?
Medieval people were really pretty raunchy. A lot of people in the modern era have this impression that medieval people were straight-laced and humorless, either because their lives were hard or because religion played a central role in their world. This really isn’t true. They had a deep and abiding love of poop and fart jokes, and they adored what we would call slapstick humor. If people were getting hurt, they thought it was hilarious. Medieval people were also fans of wordplay, especially the double-entendre. They could make dirty puns like you wouldn’t believe.
* History. Particularly medieval history. Particularly medieval Welsh history.
The post Straight From the Source: J. Anderson Coats on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.
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My reasons for looking at dialogue in a different way were mainly because I was heartily tired of reading what I have taken to calling the Berlitz phrase-book approach to dialogue and character-thought. In the phrase-book approach all language is modern, except when specific words are inserted. Sometimes words from entirely the wrong language are used: Modern French instead of Old or Middle French for the Middle Ages, for instance. Get me after a drink or two and I’ll tell you which writers in particular get their languages wrong, but otherwise I shall mutter their names to myself, unhappily.
That is from this fascinating blog post: “Dialogue in Novels — a Medieval Experiment by Gillian Polack.” For those interested in how to balance the historical real with the contemporary reality — that is what your intended reader will make of it —this is very good stuff.