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To Stay Alive. Skila Brown. 2016. Candlewick. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]
First sentence: It is finished.
Premise/plot: I've got two sets of 'two words' that will either compel you to pick this one up or to avoid it. For better or worse. First: DONNER PARTY. Second: VERSE NOVEL.
Mary Ann Graves is the narrator of this historical verse novel. She was nineteen at the start of the journey in the spring of 1846. This one is divided into seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter. Almost all of the poems involve the traveling west and surviving aspect of the pioneer spirit. The landscape and environment do feature in quite a bit. Especially the SNOW.
What this book is not is Little House On the Prairie. This isn't even THE LONG WINTER. People do have tendencies to group books together. That is why I think it is important that DONNER PARTY leap out at you first before you hear of wagon trains, prairies, pioneers, homesteaders, or going west.
My thoughts: There is a bareness to the poems that oddly enough works for me. The narrator does not wear her heart on her sleeve. She's not overly dramatic and sensitive. She doesn't speak of her dreams and feelings and there is absolutely no gushing. (She's no Ann-with-an-e Shirley.)
When I say the poems avoid gushing, I don't mean they are void of description and detail.
The men think they're/ following a trail, a road/ well marked by wheels/ and feet, like a street,/ pointing you/ in the direction you need/ to go. But I know./ We follow a trail of broken things/ tossed from wagons--family heirlooms/ so heavy with memories/ the oxen couldn't pull--/ quilts, spinning wheels, dishes (too much/ dust to see the pattern), wooden bits,/ once part of something rich,/ portraits of great-grandmothers/ who'll spend eternity in the desert,/ watching beasts pull treasures/ while dirty people trail behind.
Some poems are long, descriptive. Others are very short and bare.
this land/ has eaten/ my feet/ chewed them/ ripped them/ cut them/ they bleed/ into land/ that drinks/ them up/ but it is never full
I am so glad I did not read anything about the Donner party as a child when I was obsessed with Laura Ingalls!!!
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!Today my flying book-boat icon is especially apropos, as I'm talking about a time travel book, where the travel took place onboard a pirate ship. Now, I don't actually love time travel novels, because a.)... Read the rest of this post
In The Excutioner's Daughter by Jane Hardstaff, Moss is almost 12. She has lived her whole life in the Tower of London where her father is King Henry VIII's executioner. Moss's father told her that they must stay in the Tower as punishment for a crime he committed years ago.
Moss is the basket girl. She carries the newly chopped off heads from the block to the gates of the Tower where they will be on display. When she is pressed into service in the kitchen ,she makes friends with the King's latest enemy, an abbot. The day of the abbot's death, Moss runs away.
In her debut novel, Jane Hardstaff paints a realistic picture of the Tower and the river that flows by it during King Henry VIII's reign. The jacket blurb hints at a touch of fantasy in this otherwise historically accurate book. The touch of fantasy adds suspense and terror to the sotry of Moss's coming of age.
Moss learns about the flawed nature of people who must struggle to survive. She also learns about acceptance, love and forgiveness.
The Executioner's Daughter by Jane Hardstaff is a fine book.
Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!If we say we never judge a book by its cover, we'll sound like better people, sure, but we'll be total liars. I chose this book based on its beautiful cover, and that first snap judgment was enough to pick... Read the rest of this post
By: Stacy Dillon,
I was a kid running wild and free in the 1970s, and I find myself intrigued with the fiction written these days that takes place during that time period. It's a convenient time period, for sure. By this I mean that technology hadn't yet tethered us to our parents, and I'm assuming that most kids were like my sister and I -- running around the neighborhood and beyond with friends and coming home when we got hungry.
Raymie is a girl who isn't really noticed much by her parents. Her father has actually just up and left with a dental hygienist and Raymie's mom is spending her time staring into space. Raymie finds some comfort in neighbor Mrs. Borkowski who seems to know everything and always has time to talk to Raymie. She has also hatched a plan to get her father to come home.
Raymie has decided that she will enter and win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire 1975 pageant. This will result in her picture in the newspaper. Her dad will be so proud of her, he'll have to come home. When Raymie tells her dad's secretary her plan, Mrs. Sylvester says Ramie just has to learn to twirl the baton as her talent. This is how she ends up at Ida Nee's place for twirling lessons along with Beverly Tapinski and Louisiana Elefante -- two girls who couldn't be more different from one another.
Louisiana is a wheezy and delicate girl, prone to swooning, while Beverly is the tough talking daughter of a cop who swears that she's seen things. In between these two, Raymie Clarke is a steadfast girl just doing her best to understand others.
Over the next few days, Louisiana dubs their trio the Rancheros, and even though Beverly refuses to live by the moniker, it becomes clear that Louisiana often gets her way. As the girls search for Louisiana's beloved cat, perform good deeds, experience loss, and do a little breaking and entering along the way, they slowly reveal their worries to one another. They become tied together by the brokenness that surrounds them.
As always, DiCamillo leaves poetry on the page. But this book felt different to me. I was talking to a colleague about it and I noted that it felt like it had a big dose of Horvath in the pages. Some have said the girls are too quirky and almost derivative. I disagree. When you look closely, kids are weird. And if they allow themselves to be honest with who they are, Beverlys and Louisianas and Raymies are completely reasonable. Trying to mend neglect with toughness or fantasy is innately human. I really enjoyed this quiet and quirky summery read. I do wonder at today's kids sitting with the 1975 setting. I'm interested in their feedback.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
CSK Author Award Acceptance Speech by Rita Williams-Garcia from The Horn Book. Peek:
"...upon occasion, our histories are bound by peace and wonder as people of the planet Earth, looking up as we did on one night in the summer of 1969.
"In spite of some current rhetoric, very few of us on this soil can claim a separate and sole history. We are a joined people. Let’s keep looking up."
By Denis Markell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
As an aspiring writer for children, one of the many dividends of marrying my beautiful and gifted wife Melissa Iwai...
|(am I right or am I right?)|
was finding someone to collaborate with on picture books.
Seeing as I knew she was an extraordinary illustrator, this was to be expected.
What came as a surprise, however, was how deeply her personal experience as an Asian-American woman in America and the history of her family would affect me and my other work as well.
As a Caucasian, It was quite an education for me to see firsthand the tiny slights and assumptions that she would deal with on a daily basis on the streets of New York.
Because of this, I felt that when I finally wrote my first middle grade novel it would involve the Asian experience in our country in some way.
One of the family stories I learned from Melissa, was of her uncle, Takateru Nakabayashi, who had taken the American name of his favorite Jesuit teacher, brother Nicholas.
Uncle Nick, as he was always called, had been a member of the famed 100th Infantry Battalion
, the all Nisei army brigade who had fought in Europe in World War II.
I was dimly aware that such a unit existed, so I did some research and found that there are some quite wonderful books
which chronicle the story of these amazing men, who fought for their country so bravely while their fellow citizens, whose only "crime" was to be of Japanese ancestry, languished in internment camps.
But it was a story woefully untold for middle grade readers.
Now I had my subject, but how to tell their tale in such a way that it would reach the largest audience? Nonfiction?
There are gifted writers such as Candace Fleming
and Steve Sheinkin
who can bring history to life with the drama and craft that enthrall young readers, but that’s not really my strength. I’ve spent years as a comedy writer in other fields, and humor and fiction are more where I’m comfortable.
Historical fiction? While I could have set the story in the 1940s, I wanted to make the story as relatable as possible to kid readers today, so involving a young Asian-American boy in today’s world felt right. By now we’d had our son, and as he grew older, I observed his fascination with computer and video games. It occurred to me that perhaps this was a way in!
Maybe I could hook kids with an adventure, one involving computer games, puzzles and suspense. I could weave the story of Melissa’s uncle throughout, using him as a character and the clues could relate to the 100th Battalion.
If I could pull this off, my readers might get a history lesson without even realizing it! Of course, there would be enough there for teachers to expand on and amplify, if they wished to use my book in the classroom. But my goal was to tell the story with lots of humor and keep the kids laughing as they learned.
Finally, to honor my half-Asian son (who still faces many of the same micro-agressions his mother does), I decided to make the protagonist hapa, as half-Asians are called within the community. Note: for positive examples of hapa characters in Disney films please read this excellent post
So now I knew what the story I wanted to tell, and how I wanted to tell it. I rolled up my sleeves (okay, I pushed up my sleeves. I wear sweatshirts) and started to write. Click Here To Start was the result.
By: Betsy Bird
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By Louise Erdrich
On shelves now
They say these days you can’t sell a novel for kids anymore without the book having some kind of “sequel potential”. That’s not really true, but there are a heck of a lot of series titles out there for the 7 to 12-year-old set, that’s for sure. New series books for children are by their very definition sort of odd for kids, though. If you’re an adult and you discover a new series, waiting a year or two for the next book to come out is a drop in the bucket. Years fly by for grown-ups. The wait may be mildly painful but it’s not going to crush you. But series for kids? That’s another matter entirely. Two years go by and the child has suddenly become an entirely different person. They may have switched their loyalties from realistic historical fiction to fantasy or science fiction or (heaven help us) romance even! It almost makes more sense just to hand them series that have already completed their runs, so that they can speed through them without breaking the spell. Almost makes more sense . . . but not quite. Not so long as there are series like “The Birchbark House Series” by Louise Erdrich. It is quite possibly the only historical fiction series currently underway for kids that has lasted as long as seventeen years and showing no sign of slowing down until it reaches its conclusion four books from now, Erdrich proves time and time again that she’s capable of ensnaring new readers and engaging older ones without relying on magic, mysteries, or post-apocalyptic mayhem. And if she manages to grind under her heel a couple stereotypes about what a book about American Indians in the past is “supposed” to be (boring/serious/depressing) so much the better.
Chickadee is back, and not a second too soon. Had he been returned to his twin brother from his kidnapping any later, it’s possible that Makoons would have died of the fever that has taken hold of his body. As it is, Chickadee nurses his brother back to health, but not before Makoons acquires terrifying visions of what is to come. Still, there’s no time to dwell on that. The buffalo are on the move and his family and tribe are dedicated to sustaining themselves for the winter ahead. There are surprises along the way as well. A boasting braggart by the name of Gichi Noodin has joined the hunt, and his posturing and preening are as amusing to watch as his mistakes are vast. The tough as nails Two Strike has acquired a baby lamb and for reasons of her own is intent on raising it. And the twin brothers adopt a baby buffalo of their own, though they must protect it against continual harm. All the while the world is changing for Makoons and his family. Soon the buffalo will leave, more settlers will displace them, and three members of the family will leave, never to return. Fortunately, family sustains, and while the future may be bleak, the present has a lot of laughter and satisfaction waiting at the end of the day.
While I have read every single book in this series since it began (and I don’t tend to follow any other series out there, except possibly Lockwood & Co.) I don’t reread previous books when a new one comes out. I don’t have to. Neither, I would argue, would your kids. Each entry in this series stands on its own two feet. Erdrich doesn’t spend inordinate amounts of time catching the reader up, but you still understand what’s going on. And you just love these characters. The books are about family, but with Makoons I really felt the storyline was more about making your own family than the family you’re born into. At the beginning of this book Makoons offers the dire prediction that he and his brother will be able to save their family members, but not all of them. Yet by the story’s end, no matter what’s happened, the family has technically only decreased by two people, because of the addition of another.
Erdrich has never been afraid of filling her books with a goodly smattering of death, dismemberment, and blood. I say that, but these do not feel like bloody books in the least. They have a gentleness about them that is remarkable. Because we are dealing with a tribe of American Indians (Ojibwe, specifically) in 1866, you expect this book to be like all the other ones out there. Is there a way to tell this story without lingering on the harm caused by the American government to Makoons, his brother, and his people? Makoons and his family always seem to be outrunning the worst of the American government’s forces, but they can’t run forever. Still, I think it’s important that the books concentrate far more on their daily lives and loves and sorrows, only mentioning the bloodthirsty white settlers on occasion and when appropriate. It’s almost as if the reader is being treated in the same way as Makoons and his brother. We’re getting some of the picture but we’re being spared its full bloody horror. That is not to say that this is a whitewashed narrative. It isn’t at all. But it’s nice that every book about American Indians of the past isn’t exactly the same. They’re allowed to be silly and to have jokes and fun moments too.
That humor begs a question of course. Question: When is it okay to laugh at a character in a middle grade novel these days? It’s not a simple question. With a high concentration on books that promote kindness rather than bullying, laughing at any character, even a bad guy, is a tricky proposition. And that goes double if the person you’re laughing at is technically on your side. Thank goodness for self-delusion. As long as a character refuses to be honest with him or herself, the reader is invited to ridicule them alongside the other characters. It may not be nice, but in the world of children’s literature it’s allowed. So meet Gichi Noodin, a pompous jackass of a man. This is the kind of guy who could give Narcissus lessons in self-esteem. He’s utterly in love with his own good looks, skills, you name it. For this reason he’s the Falstaff of the book (without the melancholy). He serves a very specific purpose in the book as the reader watches his rise, his fall, and his redemption. It’s not very often that the butt of a book’s jokes is given a chance to redeem himself, but Gichi Noodin does precisely that. That storyline is a small part of the book, smaller even than the tale of Two Strike’s lamb, but I loved the larger repercussions. Even the butt of the joke can save the day, given the chance.
As with all her other books Erdrich does a E.L. Konigsburg and illustrates her own books (and she can even do horses – HORSES!). Her style is, as ever, reminiscent of Garth Williams’ with soft graphite pencil renderings of characters and scenes. These are spotted throughout the chapters regularly, and combined with the simplicity of the writing they make the book completely appropriate bedtime reading for younger ages. The map at the beginning is particularly keen since it not only highlights the locations in each part of the story but also hints at future storylines to come. Of these pictures the sole flaw is the book jacket. You see the cover of this book is a touch on the misleading side since at no point in this story does Makoons ever attempt to feed any baby bears (a terrible idea, namesake or no). Best to warn literal minded kids from the start that that scene is not happening. Then again, this appears to be a scene from the first book in the series, The Birchbark House, where Makoons’ mother Omakayas feeds baby bears as a girl. Not sure why they chose to put it on the cover this book but it at least explains where it came from.
It is interesting that the name of this book is Makoons since Chickadee shares as much of the spotlight, if not a little more so, than his sickly brother. That said, it is Makoons who has the vision of the future, Makoons who offers the haunting prediction at the story’s start, and Makoons who stares darkly into an unknown void at the end, alone in the misery he knows is certain to come. Makoons is the Cassandra of this story, his predictions never believed until they are too late. And yet, this isn’t a sad or depressing book. The hope that emanates off the pages survives the buffalos’ sad departure, the sickness that takes two beloved characters, and the knowledge that the only thing this family can count on in the future is change. But they have each other and they are bound together tightly. Even Pinch, that trickster of previous books, is acquiring an odd wisdom and knowledge of his own that may serve the family well into the future. Folks often recommend these books as progressive alternatives to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, but that’s doing them a disservice. Each one of these titles stands entirely on its own, in a world of its own making. This isn’t some sad copy of Wilder’s style but a wholly original series of its own making. The kid who starts down the road with this family is going to want to go with them until the end. Even if it takes another seventeen years. Even if they end up reading the last few books to their own children. Whatever it takes, we’re all in this together, readers, characters, and author. Godspeed, Louise Erdrich.
For ages 7-12
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Other Blog Reviews: BookPage
I really like the cutout-look images on the cover, with the hidden animals...Synopsis: We don't necessarily review a ton of realistic MG fiction here (not as much Wonderland in the real world, I suppose) but it doesn't mean we aren't reading or... Read the rest of this post
In Full of Beans
, Jennifer Holm
pulls me into her story from the very first page:
"Look here, Mac. I'm gonna to give it to you straight: grownups lie.
Sure, they like to say that kids make things up and that we don't tell the truth. But they're the lying liars."
Holm creates a character full of sass and resilience--he isn't afraid to tell it like it is. Grownups lie, life is hard, friends are key. I'm also really looking forward to talking with kids about how Beans grows and changes throughout the story.
I'm fascinated by the way that Holm pulls modern kids into a time and place so far away. Life wasn't easy for Beans--the Great Depression has the Florida Keys and all of America in its grip. Jennifer Holm
was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about Full of Beans
, her research and what struck her during the writing process.Beans' voice rings so distinctive and true. How do you get into character as you write?
Beans was always such a clear character to me. It sounds silly, but I could totally hear him in my head. I mostly try to get outside to get in the writing zone—away from my desk and computer. For some reason, if I’m taking a walk or jogging, the ideas come more easily. What are some images of Key West from the 1930s that show how hard life was during the Great Depression?
The website Florida Memory from the state library archives has an incredible collection of historical photographs. At the height of the Great Depression, Key West was in dire straights. The majority of the inhabitants were unemployed and on public relief. This photo from 1935 shows garbage cleanup in a Key West neighborhood:
As part of President Roosevelt's New Deal, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration created a plan to revitalize Key West, renovate houses and hotels and turn it into a tourist destination. These before and after pictures of a school teacher's house are amazing. My great-grandmother grew up in a house like that.What are a few of your favorite sayings from this time period? Did you make them up get them from your research?
I love the phrase “mind your own potatoes.” That just says it all.
All of the sayings except for one were rooted in the time period. My daughter, Millie, made the lone modern contribution with her own personal phrase: “What in the history of cheese?” It’s become a household saying around here.What was something astonishing you learned doing your research for this book?
The whole leprosy storyline sucked me in pretty fast. It seemed quite far-fetched at first when I started to track down some of the rumors, but the more research I did, the more I discovered. In retrospect, the idea that people would hide family members who had leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) was very understandable. There was no treatment available at the time and quarantine was how the public health service managed the disease. People with leprosy were commonly “sent” (exiled is a better word in my opinion—there was not much choice involved) to leper hospitals, a notable one being in Carville, Louisiana. Even children were sent away. It was quite a heartbreaking situation all around. Can you share one of the recollections of a family member that helped you bring this story to life?
My favorite memory was shared with me by a distant cousin. She had grown up across from the cemetery—which is in the middle of an old part of the city. The houses in Key West are made of wood and built quite close together. She told me how when she was a child and there was a fire, all the neighbors near the burning house would take their belongings – from pots and pans to pianos – to the cemetery for safe keeping. They would just kind of camp out there because it was the only place that wouldn’t catch fire. That's pretty amazing, and shows how fire was such a threat in this community. This photo from the Great Fire of 1923 shows just how vulnerable the wooden houses were:What connections do you make between the hard times Beans and his friends faced in the Great Depression and challenges kids might be experiencing today?
Having a parent lose their job and the fear of having to move is something that kids of any era can relate to. In our own family, we have had a lot of up-and-down times. Kids always know what’s going on even if the parents aren’t discussing the problems with them. Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us about Key West, your research and your wonderful story.
The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Random House Books. 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.©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books
Does building resilience in kids mean they have to be able to handle everything by themselves? Or that they can weather the hard times, with their sense of self intact? I adore Jennifer Holm's newest novel Full of Beans precisely for the way that Beans struggles through hard times, learning about the consequences of his decisions, yet never losing his sense of humor or his loyalty to his family and friends. It is both delightful to read and wonderful to reflect upon.
Full of Beans
by Jennifer L. Holm
Random House, 2016
Your local library
*best new book*
Beans Curry knows life is hard with the Great Depression--his dad is out of work, leaving home to look for work up north, and his mom takes in laundry, raising the family in their Key West home. Beans tries to help, sifting through the garbage looking for cans because a local con man has promised him twenty cents a can.
Life keeps throwing bum deals his way--the con man refuses to pay Beans what he promised--but Beans won't give up. He helps his mother babysit his crabby baby brother; he leads his gang of friends, challenging other kids to marbles; and he keeps his eye out new opportunities. So when a rumrunner makes him a proposition, it seems like things are finally turning up. Beans just doesn't predict how his actions might put others in harm's way. As the starred Horn Book review
Beans’s earnest voice shows a young boy trying so hard to help out and to do the right thing, but getting caught up in dubious circumstances over which he has no control.
Readers may remember Beans from Jennifer Holm's popular Turtle in Paradise
(my review here
), but this new story stands on its own. I think that the setting Depression-era Key West becomes even more fully realized in Full of Beans
, as Holm seamlessly weaves historical details into the story. I especially like what librarian Tasha Saecker wrote over at Waking Braincells
Holm writes with a natural ease that is deceptively easy to read. Her writing allows readers to explore Key West in a time just as it is becoming a tourist destination due to the New Deal and its workers. Beans’ personal story is clearly tied to the story of Key West with his own despair and lack of money mirroring the city’s. His own journey through to honesty and truth follows that of the city as well. It’s a clever dynamic that makes both roads to change all the easier to relate to and believe.
This would make a terrific read-aloud, either as a family or in the classroom. Terrific sayings from the 30s infuse the dialog, and short chapters keep the pace moving quickly. Readers will root for Beans, whether it's as he's playing marbles against a rival gang or as he's struggling with hard decisions that will affect his neighbors and friends.
I'm especially looking forward to talking with my students in our Mock Newbery Book Club about how Beans responds to hard situations and how he changes. I wonder how they'll envision the setting of Key West, and themes they'll identify in the story.
Join me on Wednesday -- I'm looking forward to sharing an interview with Jenni Holm. I'm especially looking forward to sharing a slideshow of images of 1930s Key West. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Random House Books. 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.©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books
Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!Many teens struggle with historical fiction which seems like a genre of "long ago and far away." The history of North Korea happened - and is still happening - right now. This book is a first-person... Read the rest of this post
Welcome to another session of Turning Pages! Mostly I'm not that big a fan of YA historical fiction that are set in modern history. Finding a novel set in the 70's or 80's feels weird, mainly because I've been alive during part of those years, and... Read the rest of this post
So, Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick has been sitting on my bookshelf for almost 5 years now, looking super cool (as seen above) as it sits between The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was one of the first books I reviewed when I started this blog in 2008, and The Marvels, which I reviewed when it came out in September of last year. I have no idea why I never read it, but I finally got around to reading Wonderstruck for a handful of reasons. It's required summer reading for my son, who enters sixth grade in the fall. My brother read it out loud to his kids at dinner and, serendipitously, they encountered the film crew for the movie version of Wonderstruck, directed by Todd Haynes while on vacation in NYC this summer and one of the cast signed with my brother. Knowing that my son has to read this book, my brother and niece and nephew enjoyed it and that it is soon to be a movie directed by Todd Haynes (I wonder if the fact that Selznick has Hollywood heritage allows him to score prime directors for adaptations of his books?) was all the nudge that I needed to read it. And OF COURSE I loved it.
Seeing as how this is a very well known, well reviewed book, I don't feel like a traditional review is merited here so I'm going to do something a little different. Museums are a major part of Wonderstruck, which is also the name of a book within this book - a fictional book published by the American Museum Natural History about museums and curation. The main character Ben has a wooden box with a engraving of a wolf on the lid, which he comes to think of as his museum box. Inside the box, Ben has crafted cardboard dividers to house the small treasures he collected over the course of his life, which he has arranged with great care. Ben's story begins in 1977 and is told in text only for the first half of the book. In tandem with Ben's plot is the story of Rose, which begins in 1927 and unfolds in illustrations only for the first half of the book. At first, the only thing Ben and Rose seem to have in common is their deafness. But, like I said, museums have a big role in this book and when their stories collide you feel, well, wonderstruck. With that in mind, I have"curated" these collages filled with images, illustrations and other items that make up the exhibit that is the novel and film (coming in 2017) Wonderstruck.
Ben remembered reading about curators in Wonderstruck, and thought about what it meant to curate your own life, as his dad had done here. What would it be like to pick and choose the objects and stories that would go into your own cabinet? How would Ben curate his own life? And then, thinking about his museum box, and his house and his books, and the secret room, he realized he'd already begun doing it. Maybe, thought Ben, we are all cabinets of wonders.
(Wonderstruck, page 574)
As with all Brian Selznick books, the acknowledgements and author's notes are almost a story unto themselves. Selznick is a curator, a researcher, an autodidact and a scholar of whatever subject he pursues, and it is always amazing to me to read the many areas that he studied, places he visited and people he interviewed while writing a book. Near the end of his acknowledgements, after listing all the people, places and things that influenced, informed and educated him, I was very pleased to find this nod from Selznick, as this was a book I thought of often while reading Wonderstruck, "Of course, any story about kids who run away to a museum owes a debt of gratitude to E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In order to pay back that debt, Wonderstruck is filled with references to Konigsburg and her book. How many can you spot?" I am going to have to go back and reread Wonderstruck, as I only found three nods. E. L. stands for Elaine Lobl, Konigsburg's maiden name. Selznick gives the main character's mother the name Elaine and his father the surname Lobel. A character in the book is named Jamie, which is also the name of one of the main characters in Konigsburg's Newbery winning book. If you find any, be sure to let me know!
Synopsis: The first book in this trilogy, The Falconer (reviewed here), was one of those surprise reads for me—as a combination of historical fantasy, faeries, and a dash of steampunk and romance, I wasn't sure I would like it. I've read a lot of... Read the rest of this post
I missed Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan when it came out in February of 2015. Scholastic is one of the few publishers I don't get review copies from and, working in a library instead of a bookstore now, I an not as up on what's new in the world of kid's books as I once was. I even missed the March, 2015 review of Echo in the New York Times Book Reivew, which I usually scour. Echo crossed my radar in January of this year when it won a Newbery Honor, along with two other superb books, The War that Saved My Life and Roller Girl. While I hate the fact that I didn't read Echo right when it came out, I am so, so glad that I knew absolutely NOTHING about it (save that it won an award) before I began listening/reading it. Having worked with and been an avid reader of children's literature for more than 20 years, I've kind of read it all. There aren't too many plots or characters that surprise me or feel really new and original. Echo surprised me - it's as if A. S. Byatt, an author of novels for adults that are magnificently crafted and often centered around a work of art - wrote a kid's book. If you want to be surprised by a story and you trust me and the librarians who hand out the Newbery awards, stop reading my review after the next sentence and go out and get your hands on a copy of Echo. Actually, I very, very strongly suggest LISTENING to the audio of this book (as well as buying it - you WILL want to own it) because - tiny spoiler alert - music is an integral part of Echo, and you get to hear it in the audio.
Stop reading HERE if you want to be surprised
I was definitely surprised when I started listening to Echo and there were music credits before the story began. I was especially surprised when harmonica music kicked in. Like several minor characters in the book, I, too, did not take the harmonica seriously - nor did I notice the drawing (wonderful artwork by Dinara Mirtalipova) of one on the cover and spine of Echo! Echo is a work of historical fiction wrapped in the cloak of a fairy tale that is ultimately a story about the power of music to, "pass along . . . strength and vision and knowledge," and even overcome fear, intolerance and hatred. The story visits three very different children at three different times, starting in 1933 and ending in 1942. The common thread that connects these three children is their passion for music, embodied, at that time, in the harmonicas that they own. Surrounding these stories is the tale of a boy that begins just before the start of the 20th century. From a Gypsy, who presses a mouth harp on him for free, he buys a book titled, The Thirteenth Harmonica of Otto Messenger. The book tells the story of three abandoned princesses with beautiful singing voices. Trapped in the woods under the spell of a witch, they need a messenger to take something out into the world for them, something that will break the spell. Becoming lost in the woods, Otto meets the three princesses from the book. Desperate to know the end of their story, they enchant the harmonica that the Gypsy gave him and he agrees to send it into the world where, if it can "save a soul from Death's dark door," the spell will break and the princesses can return home.
The stories of the three central children in Echo would have been a satisfying book on their own, but linking them with the fairy tale of the three sisters imbues Ryan's novel with a quality of hopefulness and beauty, much like the sound of a well played harmonica. Part one begins in 1933, in Tossingen, Germany, with young Friedrich, a gifted musician. Part two begins in Pennsylvania, 1935. The third and final part begins in 1942, just after Pearl Harbor, in California, a harmonica at the heart of each story. Friedrich has a port wine birthmark on his face and suffers from seizures. Hitler's persecution of physically disabled forces Friedrich and his family to make difficult choices and his story ends without closure, his life in danger. Part two, features orphan brothers, the eldest of whom is a gifted musician, with his only hope for survival hinging on his ability to make it into a renowned harmonica band. Mike and Frankie are adopted by a painfully grieving heiress who needs to produce an heir to keep her fortune, their story also ending in a moment of danger and uncertainty. Finally, Ryan turns to Ivy Maria Lopez, shining a light on xenophobia and racism.
It is Fresno, 1942, and Ivy is the child of migrant farm workers. Her brother, Fernando, has just enlisted and her father has just accepted a job running a farm in Orange County. When they arrive at the farm, the Lopez's discover that it belongs to a Japanese-American family that has been sent to an interment camp. Their oldest child, a son in the Marines, is coming home on leave to sign the running of the property over to Mr. Lopez, if he approves of him. Ivy, and her parents, struggle to understand how the Yamamoto family, with a father who fought in WWI and a son fighting in WWII could be treated this way, while at the same time Ivy experiences racism and segregation when she learns that she is not allowed to attend her neighborhood school, but must go to one that will "Americanize" children like her. Living in California and working with the children of immigrants, many of whom are also the children of migrant workers, this part of the story resonated most with me.
The last two parts of the novel tie together all three stories in a marvelous, deeply satisfying way that had me weeping. Ryan returns to the fairy tale, bookending Echo with the conclusion to the story of the three princesses as well as the story of Otto, now the messenger, and the enchanted harmonica that he must send out into the world and how it gets there. Echo is a big book, but as many reviewers have said, and as was my experience, you will soar through it, drawn along by the beauty if Ryan's writing, the craft of her story and the humanity of her characters.
Source: Purchased Book & Audio Book
I mentioned in Wednesday's post
(about my next-in-the-graphic-novel-series TBR pile) that I love Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, and this one in particular. From my Goodreads review: "The Donner Party story is filled with idiots who make stupid decisions for all the reasons stupid decisions get made: pride, greed, stubbornness...Here's some history we FOR SURE don't want to repeat!!"
by Nathan Hale
Harry N. Abrams, 2014
by Skila Brown
Candlewick, October 2016
Even though I knew the train-wreck of a story line, I was excited to read this novel in verse about the Donners, and excited for another book from Skila Brown, author of Caminar
. The story is told from the point of view of 19 year-old survivor Mary Ann Graves. Each poem has its own unique structure, which gives the book a satisfying breadth and depth, and which contributes to the pacing of the story. Because of the first person point of view and the emotional quality of the poems, this is a most human telling of this story -- yes, they were stupid; yes, mistakes were made. But in the end, they were humans who did what they needed to do to survive.
Literature trends toward patterns or themes which repeat -- sometimes because that's just what happens to hit the market at a given time, and other times it's the current zeitgeist and an active interest which people are seeking to promote.... Read the rest of this post
By: Becca F (ReadingTeen),
Blog: Reading Teen
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A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls
Edited by: Jessica Spotswood
Hardcover: 368 pages
Published by: Candlewick Press (March 8, 2016)
Goodreads | Amazon
From an impressive sisterhood of YA writers comes an edge-of-your-seat anthology of historical fiction and fantasy featuring a diverse array of daring heroines.
Review by Andye
THE PASSION OF DOLSSAby Julie BerryAge Range: 12 - 17 yearsGrade Level: 7 and upHardcover: 496 pagesPublisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (April 12, 2016)Audible Audio EditionListening Length: 11 hours and 42 minutesProgram Type: AudiobookVersion: UnabridgedPublisher: Listening LibraryGoodreads | Amazon | Audible
I must write this account, and when I have finished, I will
By the Stars by Lindsay B. Ferguson
Over the years, I have been asked to review many, many, many books. Because I haven't blogged often in the last couple years, I have mostly ignored email requests for reviews. When Lindsay B. Ferguson emailed me, I had to chuckle. She is my neighbor, and I was aware of her upcoming debut novel, but she didn't realize who I was. :) I told her that I'm a blogging slacker, and we decided not to have my blog be part of her big blog tour. You see...It gets sticky reviewing books for people you know. What if you hate it?
But...I bought the book on my Kindle the day it was released, and I wasn't just pleasantly surprised, I LOVED IT. I love that it is based on a true story, and I can't wait to talk to Lindsay about what exactly is history and what she created. I love the characters. I love the romance. I love it all. And you know what it really made me want to do? Like big time? Go dancing! Can we resurrect dance halls, please?
I know that among my friends, Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson, was extremely well-liked. Edenbrooke was the first in a collection of "Proper Romances". For friends who love Edenbrooke and other clean romance novels, By the Stars should be your next read!
From Amazon: "When Cal finally gets a chance with Kate, the girl he's loved since grade school, their easy friendship quickly blossoms into a meaningful romance. Spirited and independent, Kate keeps a guarded heart due to a painful past, and Cal wants nothing more than to gain her trust. But World War II soon cuts their time far too short, and Cal prepares to part from her - possibly for good. After he's gone, what Kate does next changes everything.
In the suffocating jungles of the Philippines Cal encounters the chilling life of a soldier and deadly battles of war. With Kate's memory willing him on, Cal must put his trust in God to survive if he hopes to ever return to her. Inspired by a true story, By the Stars is a love story that stands the test of time and the most intense obstacles."
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Deborah Hopkinson is the award-winning author of more than 45 books for young readers.
The post Happy Author originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose
Julie Berry is the author of the acclaimed young adult novel The Passion of Dolssa, the award-winning, All the Truth That’s in Me (2013, Viking) and The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (2014, Roaring Brook), and six other critically acclaimed titles for young readers. She grew up in western New York and holds a BS from Rensselaer in communication and an MFA from Vermont College in writing for children and young adults. Before becoming an author, she worked in software sales and marketing. She now lives in southern California with her husband and four sons. Find her online at www.julieberrybooks.com, or on Twitter.
What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?
For The Passion of Dolssa, both character and era came first, or rather, both found me independently. For a long time I’d been fascinated by the brave young women mystics of the Middle Ages. I had wanted to explore them more in some kind of project. Quite separately, I thought it would be fun to write a main character who was a matchmaker. In yet another corner of my brain, an idea rolled around about a group of three sisters, witches in a very small sense of the word, running a tavern (although young). In another disconnected vein of my life, I was taking a history of the Middle Ages course, where I learned for the first time about the violent history of anti-heresy warfare and inquisition in southern France in the 13th Century. Then one day I had a sort of eureka moment where all of these separate strands braided themselves together as one story idea. And I was off and running.
How do you conduct your research?
Muddlingly. I try to immerse myself as much as I can in books about, and written during, that time period. One of the most important things, I find, is determining which are the most credible, current, trusted academians whose books will best help you unravel the complex past. History (the study of the past, as opposed to the past itself) is anything but monolithic and unanimous. Our study and understanding of our past is constantly changing. So I think it’s vital to be a critical consumer of historical sources, and pay close attention to choosing well whom to trust. Once I know what I’m looking for, it’s often a hunt to acquire rare or out-of-print titles that I need. I try to read as much as I can that was written during that time period, also, so I can hear the voices and language of the time (filtered through the lens of who’s doing the writing – too often it’s only the elite and the empowered). I generally need to read my important sources twice.
In addition to lots of reading, I spend a lot of time with maps and museum resources, trying to see as much as possible what the world I envision actually looked like. I look for music historians who can help me hear their nearly lost tunes, and for historically based cookbooks so I know what ingredients they had and how they cooked. I’m chasing down all sorts of things like when would the sun have set at that latitude at this date, and what did they eat/wear/shoot/burn/drive/marry, etc.. Best of all, whenever possible, I try to go to the location where my story takes place. I need to absorb the sense of place as much as my senses allow me to.
You do have a specific system for collecting data?
I fear I don’t have a specific system for anything in my life. ☺ “Dive in and muck around” is pretty much my approach.
At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?
I usually write in tandem with the research. I’m quite comfortable making changes later as I need to. But I think getting to know a character and getting to know her world can happen in tandem, so long as you’re willing to make painful changes if needed. For example, if you reach a point where you realize that your character has attitudes or opinions she couldn’t possibly have had at that place and time, you have to be willing to perform radical character surgery. But that said, I find that I can hum along on both tracks. Writing a rough first draft as I research helps me focus my inquiries onto things I actually need to know.
What is your favorite thing about research?
Oh, I could just stay right in the research rabbit-hole and never come out. I love, love, love the learning. At first, all the strange names and places are generally bewildering. Most complex historical texts will introduce you to a long list of players in the drama of the past, and it’s a lot to keep track of. In my last book, just about every man, no lie, was named Raimon. “Everyone’s Named Raymond,” basically. So the magic, for me, is when I’ve studied enough and taken enough notes to reach the point where it’s all clicking. I remember who’s who and where’s where and why it all matters. When I can coherently explain it to someone else in detail, then I know I’m ready to make a good story with it. It feels terrific to reach the peak of that mountain.
What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?
The pill that was hardest for me to swallow, but most necessary, is accepting that fact that no matter how hard I work to be accurate, I can’t ever be fully accurate in my depiction of the past. This is because, no matter how I try to understand their world, their beliefs, their cultural context, I can’t stop myself from being someone who looks at it from the anachronistic perspective of their future. I am looking back. I know how their story ends. And I’m a child of a different planet, so to speak. The past is a country I’ve never visited, nor can I. Even the most devotedly researched book remains a work of artifice, of pretend, of illusion. So, in a sense, the hardest part of this job is that you know from the get-go that you’ll fail. Art comes into play as you accept those limitations and reach toward the ideal of truth, beautifully if possible, anyway.
What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?
Stuff that’s generally unprintable.
Why is historical fiction important?
I’m not sure how many people would ever decide to study the past, preserve it for future generations, and distill what it has to teach us, if they didn’t learn to care about it, somewhere along the line. I think historical fiction, especially the highest quality historical fiction for young readers, helps link young minds to the past through the caring they come to feel for real and fictitious characters, now dead. The hallmark of good fiction is how it tells the truth and enables empathy. By pointing that understanding and caring toward the past, we help young people – not just the future historians, but future thinkers of every kind – see themselves as heirs of a tremendous legacy and the forebears of a hopeful future. In other words, as a part of, but not the center of, humanity.
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The post Straight From the Source: Julie Berry on Writing Historical Fiction originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose
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While I was reading Summer of Lost and Found I wanted to sit down and have a good talk with Rebecca. I hope this interview will read like the conversation I wish we’d had — because in many ways that’s exactly what it is: two authors talking about our experiences writing about the island of Roanoke.
Have you been to the island of Roanoke? Your descriptions of the island, from the flora to the town of Manteo to the historical sites, were so vivid!
Thanks! I have been to Roanoke, and I hope to visit the island again. I spent a week there when I was working on the third or fourth draft of the book. It was thrilling to visit a place that has captured my imagination since I was a kid. And the island didn’t disappoint me. I love traveling to places with a lot of history and a lot of natural beauty, and Roanoke certainly has both. I am a bit of a plant nerd (Nell’s mom has one of my dream careers), so I was really interested in the vegetation on the island—I took tons of photographs to document it.
I found it interesting that my Alis and your Ambrose both contrast London with Roanoke. Such a different world it must have been for those 1587 colonists. And Nell experiences some of the same, coming to the island from New York City.
I found the similarities in their impressions of Roanoke so interesting, too. I love the passage in Blue Birds in which Alis compares Roanoke with London. I think both Alis and Ambrose remark on how the island’s fresh smells are a delight, coming from the stinky streets of London.
The contrast between those two places was something that I thought about a lot while writing the book—how jarring it must have been to travel from the London crowds to a less developed place. Moving is difficult, at any age and in any time period. But it’s hard to even imagine what an adjustment coming to Roanoke would have been for early colonists. While I was visiting the settlement site at the Roanoke Island Festival Park, one of the guides pointed out how important tradespeople were in the colonist community. They couldn’t buy building supplies for their new homes, so they needed woodworkers and blacksmiths. It made me wonder about things like the state of the colonists’ shoes—they couldn’t simply go purchase more if they wore them out while traipsing around the island. (Hopefully one of the colonists was a cobbler?) The colonists weren’t only leaving most of their worldly possessions behind, but also their ways of daily life.
It’s funny, but I realized while making the trip from NYC to Roanoke that I was imitating/recreating the experience of my main character, Nell. I had already researched the island, but even so I found many things to surprise and delight me when I experienced it firsthand. Some of Nell’s observations are really based on my own—things I noted or was intrigued about, like how green and forested the island is, as opposed to sandy-beachy, or how some of Manteo’s architecture incorporates the look of English building styles.
When I was writing Blue Birds, I sometimes struggled with the hazy aspects of the history. My editor was the one who taught me that history can be hazy but stories can’t. In other words, for the sake of the story, I had to come down on one side or the other when it came to certain events that historians are unsure about. What decisions did you have to make when creating Ambrose’s story about aspects of history that weren’t clear cut?
I love that lesson from your editor—and I will use it in the future! When writing historical fiction, I have a hard time straying from facts. My tendency is to get bogged down in the details I’ve uncovered during research—I want to include every single interesting fact. I have to remind myself that my first priority is to tell the story, and overloading it with historical details, as fascinating as I find them, might not serve the story—or my reader. For example, at first I tried to incorporate real artifacts that have been uncovered in and around the island, but eventually I decided to fictionalize most of the ones in the book.
The historical record so far doesn’t offer a definitive conclusion about what really happened to the Lost Colonists, and I found that both frustrating and kind of liberating. I was fortunate in that a Roanoke historian read the manuscript for me and critiqued the historical accuracy. Luckily, the choices I made about the more ambiguous elements were plausible enough that she didn’t object. There have been some great archaeological finds in the past few years (I think you and I had a Twitter conversation last summer about the Site X artifacts that made big news), so even if it makes some of the history in my book inaccurate, I hope at some point the truth is uncovered!
It’s both strange and satisfying to read someone else’s story that deals with the same characters in mine, ones based on real people. I had the same experience when reading Cate of the Lost Colony, another Roanoke story. It’s almost like I’m in a club with a handful of authors. What was that like for you?
I am thrilled to think that I’m now in the club of Roanoke authors! Before the book went off to copy edits, I only read nonfiction about the island and the Lost Colony. I was really concerned that other authors’ unique visions of Roanoke would influence mine. The day I turned in the last revision, I pulled my copy of Blue Birds off the shelf because I had been dying to read it. “Strange and satisfying” is a great way to describe reading other fiction about Roanoke. I felt like I knew your characters before I even met them on the page because the story and setting of Roanoke were so familiar to me. Some of Alis’s beautiful observations almost felt like déjà vu after spending so much time imagining characters that would be her contemporaries. But at the same time, your Roanoke story shed new light on the island and its history and people. I’ve incorporated this idea of how perspective affects historical fiction into a writing workshop—in which several kids choose the same historical setting, event, or character and independently write a short scene about it. When they compare their writing, it’s so interesting to see how much each writer’s perspective shifts the focus.
Was there anyone from the 1587 colony that especially intrigued you? I was fascinated with Thomas Humfrey, the only child to travel to Roanoke without a parent. I originally had Thomas in my story, but later blended him with my George Howe Jr. character.
Wow, I wasn’t aware of that part of Thomas Humfrey’s story—that is fascinating! What a brave kid. I thought a lot about George Howe Jr., actually, because of how his father died on the island. It was so sad to think of a child going through an experience like the long and trying journey to Roanoke, and then losing a parent—I think only six days after they arrived. Early on, I considered making George a central character in my book, but I ended up focusing on another colonist.
Like Ambrose, Nell is missing her father and is lonely for a friend. What else do your two characters have in common? What does this show us about the past and the present?
I think both Ambrose and Nell are very curious and loyal. Their friendship blossoms despite their city-country differences because they are both so passionate about exploring their surroundings and uncovering the history around them. Now that you bring it up, what they have in common might show how being in that middle-grade “age of wonder,” and starting to discover the world around you, is a universal experience. I loved how the friendship between Kimi and Alis developed in Blue Birds, and seeing what those girls shared. It’s interesting that so many Roanoke stories express this theme in unique ways.
I see we both read Lee Miller’s book, Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony. What did you think of her theory that the pilot Simon Fernandez tried to sabotage the colonists and that abandoning them to Roanoke was part of the plan?
I found that a really intriguing idea (I do like a good conspiracy theory!), and Lee Miller makes a convincing argument. But I’m not convinced there is enough research to back it up at this point. For now I’m more inclined to think that Simon Fernandez was an opportunist—and probably a jerk—but not necessarily a saboteur. I’m curious to hear what you think about this!
I’m with you on this one. In addition to Fernandez’s strong personality, I think John White wasn’t the strongest leader. It feels inevitable that they clashed. Speaking of Governor White, what do you think really happened once he left the island?
Oh, this is so hard to answer. The kid in me, who fell in love with this history mystery, still wants to believe that something creepy or shocking befell the colonists. When I was visiting the Roanoke Island Festival Park museum, I looked at a binder full of theories that kid visitors had written down: alien abductions, massive hurricanes, Spanish spies and pirates all played a part. Because of the famous “CRO” carving, I believe some colonists left the island to join Manteo’s village on Croatoan. But based on some recent archaeological discoveries—and what a guide at Fort Raleigh told me when I was visiting—I think it’s also likely that a group colonists left the area to head “50 miles into the main,” toward the Chesapeake, where they would have an easier time setting up a permanent colony. Over the years, the group(s) probably slowly dissolved as many of the colonists assimilated into Native communities. I loved the way Blue Birds ended and explained what happened, and I was so satisfied by the last scene! (Also, the song that Alis overhears is one that I actually sang in a youth choir, and it has stuck around in my head for the past couple of decades, so I enjoyed that detail very much.)
This is the second book you’ve written that blends the past with the present. I’d love to hear your thoughts behind doing this.
I’ve loved history, and historical fiction, since I was a kid. I think the books I’ve written that blend contemporary with historical are sort of a natural expression of that enthusiasm. I didn’t consciously try to do this, but the way my characters stumble onto history might reflect how my own fascination with it developed as a young reader—I’d come across a factoid or visit a historical site with my family and get completely wrapped up in that story of the past. Nell and Audrey (from my first book, When Audrey Met Alice) both do that. I do kind of hope readers might want to dig deeper into some of the historical content in my books—or that they inspire kids to explore whatever history topics fascinate them.
I did just finish a third book, though, and it is all historical fiction. That was a new (and fun) writing challenge, to focus only on the past!
Thank you so much, Rebecca, for indulging me in this conversation. I hope our paths cross in person someday soon. Readers, learn more about Rebecca and her books, including her newest release, The Summer of Lost and Found, at her website, www.rebeccabehrens.com.
The post An Interview with Rebecca Behrens, Author of The Summer of Lost and Found originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose