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Written by Phil Bildner Illustrated by John Parra Chronicle Books 8/04/2015 978-1-4521-2578-7 44 pages Age 3—5
“In New Orleans, there lived a man who saw the streets as his calling, and he swept them clean. He danced up one avenue and down another and everyone danced along—The old ladies whistled and whirled. The old men hooted and hollered. The barbers, bead twirlers, and beignet bakers bounded behind that one-man parade. But then came the rising Mississippi—and a storm bigger than anyone had seen before. Phil Bildner and John Parra tell the inspirational story of a humble man, and the heroic difference he made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”[inside jacket]
Review Marvelous Cornelius, the person, embodies the best of us. Day-to-day he performed his job—one many would consider unglamorous—with dignity, enthusiasm, and a spirit of giving to those he served. People responded positively to this larger-than-life man. Kids enjoyed his spirited antics. When disaster struck in the name of Hurricane Katrina, this French Quarter-New Orléans resident went to work cleaning up his city with the same joyousness as before, only this time, the residents responded not only with enjoyment to see their local “hero,” but pitched in following his lead. Together—including many volunteers from outside of New Orléans—Marvelous Cornelius led his neighbors in cleaning up their beloved city. Just as he did on his daily job, Marvelous Cornelius helped keep New Orléans clean, for he was a garbage man by trade; garbage man extraordinaire.
With the use of many writing techniques—alliteration, repetition, and exaggeration—author Bildner keeps the story lively. Children will enjoy Cornelius Washington’s story of how an ordinary citizen can help keep their city or town upbeat, their neighbors friendly and joyous, and their streets clean, making for a wonderful place to live.
At times, the illustrations portray Marvelous Cornelius as a literal giant emphasizing his larger-than-life persona. He becomes more realistic when portrayed with the residents he served. I would have liked to have seen a more multicultural representation of the residents of New Orléans, though artist Parra may have decided to show a true representation of the resident’s Cornelius Washington actually served. Of note: the illustrations do show a multicultural people once the city is swept clean of the “gumbo of mush and mud.”
The art is a delight with its rustic feel and animations of Cornelius “Tango-ing up Toulouse” and “Samba-ing down St. Peter.” I loved the changing text size and font when Marvelous Cornelius sang out his familiar calls:
At story’s end, the author writes more about New Orléans, its people, and Hurricane Katrina (which brought major devastation to this coastal city). Bildner also delves into his writing style, saying his use of alliteration, repetition, and exaggeration helped him write Cornelius Washington’s story as a folktale, similar to that of John Henry. Together with artist Parra, Bildner has succeeded in writing a story every child should read and will most definitely enjoy. Teachers can find many lessons in Mr. Washington’s story of an average person who rose to heroic heights simply by doing his best every day.
Full Disclosure: Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans, by Phil Bildner & John Parra, and received from Chronicle Books, is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Review by Paola
A LITTLE IN LOVEby Susan FletcherAge Range: 12 and up Grade Level: 7 and upHardcover: 288 pagesPublisher: Chicken House (August 25, 2015)Goodreads | Amazon
Inspired by Victor Hugo's classic, Les Miserables, A Little in Love beautifully conveys the heartbreaking story of street girl Eponine.Paris, 1832A girl lies alone in the darkness, clutching a letter to her heart.Eponine
When I was a small child, I read and sang folksongs like other children read books. One of my favorite songs to sing was "The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies, O." I was enthralled with my idea of gypsy culture. The images in my family's book of folksongs were of music and dancing and cards and horses. It all looked so wonderful. And so it was that I was thrilled to receive the story of The Lightning Queen from Scholastic. It was as enchanting as I'd hoped it might be. Middle grade readers will enjoy this finely crafted story of two outsider cultures - Mexico's indigenous people and the Roma, or gypsies. Look for it on shelves in October.
Advance Reader Copy supplied by the publisher. Final version subject to changes.
Mateo travels with his mother every summer to visit his relatives on the Hill of Dust in Oaxaca, Mexico. This year, his grandfather Teo says that he needs young Mateo's help; he begins to tell Mateo a fascinating story of his youth,
As he speaks, his words somehow beam light onto an imagined screen, flooding the room with people and places from long, long ago. "Mijo, you are about to embark on a journey of marvels. Of impossible fortunes. Of a lost duck, three-legged skunk, and a blind goa - all bravely loyal. Of a girl who gathered power from storms and sang back the dead. Of an enchanted friendship that lifted souls above brutality. He pauses, tilts his head, "Perhaps there will even be an itermission or two. But as of yet, there is no end. That, mijo, will be up to you." He winks, clears his throat, and begins. "There once was a girl called the Queen of Lightning ..."
The story then retreats to the Oaxaca of the mid-1900s, a time when Mexico's indigenous Mixteco people crossed paths with the mysterious Roma in the hills outside Oaxaca.
Grandfather put his hand on my shoulder and said, "They are like us, outsiders in Mexico. Both our people have little voice in the government. City folk consider us backward. We live on the fringes, the wilds of our country. So it is with the Rom."
I looked at Esma and her grandparents, who were admiring the sawdust mosaic of the flowered caravan. And I wondered if the key to her people surviving had been separating themselves from outsiders - gadjés. Maybe that's what bonded them together as they danced around their bonfires, night after night for hundreds of years.
As was foretold by the fortune teller and against impossible odds, young Teo becomes "friends for life" with Esma, the young Romani singer. It is as if they are bound to each other by magic and music and the power of lightning - their destinies tied inexplicably to one another.
Teo reminisces to his grandson Mateo,
She could work magic. One moment, I'd felt hurt and angry. The next honored that she'd confided in me. And now, inspired, as though anything were possible, if I believed it enough. She climbed onto the rock, raised her arms. "If you believe you're weak, you'll be weak. You're cursing yourself. Yet if you believe you're strong, you'll be strong. Give yourself a fortune and make it come true."
There is definitely magic between Teo and Esma, the indio boy and the Roma girl, and there is magic in the pages of The Lightning Queen.
The Truth According to Us. Annie Barrows. 2015. Dial. 512 pages. [Source: Library]
I'm tempted to say that The Truth According To Us would have made a better book than a movie. Or perhaps just that I would have been more likely to appreciate the story as a movie than I did as a book. I found the book to be long, a little too long. And the characters? Well, while they all started out with the potential for me to actually care about them, ended up falling short. Of course, you may feel differently.
Here is what the story is about:
1) Willa Romeyn is a child who has decided to become observant of the adults in her world. She's determined to be a people-watcher and find out secrets big and small.
2) Jottie Romeyn is Willa's aunt and probably primary caretaker. She lives with her brother, Willa, and Bird (her other niece). She runs the town's boardinghouse. She has a tragic back-story that perhaps is supposed to be the big mystery of the entire novel? Regardless, there are so very many flashbacks from her point of view, specific recollections of conversations and events.
3) Layla Beck is the new boarder at Jottie's boardinghouse. She thinks she's all grown up and independent. And in a way, she is. But she has SO MUCH to learn. The book is perhaps weighed down--in my opinion--by all of Layla's correspondence. Letters from Layla to her family and friends, even her ex-boyfriend. Letters to Layla from the same. Her job, her first-ever job, is to write the town's history. (The town is Macedonia, West Virginia.) The history will be for the Federal Writers' Project. She spends most of her time falling in lust, I mean "love" with Willa's father. But also, of course, interviewing residents of the town.
4) There are other characters, of course, like Sol and Emmett that readers get to know. Sol was a childhood friend of Felix (Willa's Dad) and Jottie. (Also there is Vause.) These characters mainly connect with Jottie and Layla.
There were so many characters competing to be the narrator in this one. I didn't properly connect with Jottie, Layla, or Willa. If the story had been from one perspective, perhaps I could have made a good, strong connection. Willa's story could have been about the threat of her father remarrying and life changing and general coming-of-age angst. Or Jottie's story could have been about her troubles, her struggles, to raise her brother's children while living under his control and dominance. Her love/hate relationship with him. Or Layla's could have been about her new independence, her struggle to be as grown up as she wants to be perceived, her not knowing what she wants, her love life, etc. But because the book was just a taste of all of the above, I didn't really care.
I do think it would make a better movie however. I think seeing flashbacks is almost always better. I think SEEING Vause and Jottie in their youth would have made a big difference in my impression. Movies tend to be more concise as well. A great soundtrack would also help!
It was windy. The pale afternoon sky was shredded with clouds; the road, grown dustier and more uneven in the past hour, was scattered with blown and rustling leaves.
The novel opens* with the book's hero, Ross Poldark, returning to Cornwall in the fall of 1783. He's returning from war, learning that his father is dead--and that his father hasn't left him much money to work his estate (Nampara) with--also that the woman he thought was his one true love is engaged to another man--Ross' cousin, Francis. But Ross Poldark is resilient--stubborn--someone who knows what he wants and has the gumption to fight for what he wants. Mainly, he will not give up on his home and his mine to try to find a life elsewhere. He may be tempted to want to "fight for" Elizabeth. But mainly the battle is internal: more of a fighting to get her out of his mind and heart.
Is the novel a romance? Yes and no. Yes. Ross Poldark thinks he's madly in love with Elizabeth. And yes, the novel does chronicle his romance with Demelza towards the end. But in many ways, it is not a romance novel. Readers meet dozens of characters from all social classes, and, we follow their stories. For example, the dramatic relationship of Jinny and Jim Carter or Verity and Captain Blamey. Readers spend a lot of time with the lower classes, seeing the effects of poverty up close. And there is a sense of injustice at times at how they're treated and the very lack of opportunities that keep them trapped right where they are. At times--in certain situations--Ross is understanding and becomes something of their champion. (Not that this becomes his full-time job, righting the wrongs, fighting injustice, giving voice to those without. It doesn't. But he is a hard worker; he does dirty his own hands and work alongside others.) The more he "becomes one of them" the less his own class wants to do with him--or so it seems. There are always exceptions!
Ross can be impulsive in his wanting to do the right thing. For example, when he brings home a thirteen-year-old Demelza to be his servant. Does the girl desperately want to escape her own miserable home life where she's often beaten? Yes. Very much. Once Ross sees the scars on her back and learns her story, he wants to protect her. So he offers a job. But how will everyone else respond? Will her father let her go without a fight? without trouble? Not likely! And what will his own class think of this decision? They find it strange and unusual!
Readers get to spend a lot of time with Demelza, Jud, and Prudie. (And I was pleasantly surprised to find that Prudie and Jud actually like Demelza in the book and aren't trying to rid themselves of her every five minutes.)
(The novel closes in December of 1787).
Do I have favorite characters? Yes. I really LOVE Verity. And, of course, Ross and Demelza come to mind as well. If I didn't care about them, then I couldn't like the book overall. And I definitely liked it. I loved, loved, loved some scenes of this one. I didn't love every single scene, every single chapter equally. But there were places I just adored this story.
*The first chapter opens with Ross Poldark returning. Technically, the book has a prologue which introduces readers to Joshua Poldark, Ross' father, who is dying.
In 1890's New York City, Josephine Montfort has everything: she's young, she's rich, her parents adore her, she has good friends. Soon, she'll be engaged to the handsome and rich young man who has been a good friend since childhood. She wants to be a reporter, like Nelly Bly, and puts together the school paper.
All that changes when her father is found dead in his locked study, a gun in his hand. An accident.
Jo can't understand how the accident happened....she does what a proper young lady should not do.
She asks questions. Searching for answers leads her out of her protected, cossetted world, into the rough and tumble streets of New York, the world she's been protected from. A world of shallow graves.
Yes, put this on your radar -- it's a great mystery, but it's also a great look at female roles and expectations, and sexism, and how people can be too protected.
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Dan Scott was born in Surrey, England. Growing up, he became interested in ancient Rome and his love of historical fiction provided plenty of inspiration for the adventure stories he began to write as a child. Eventually, his characters and stories developed into the action-packed Gladiator School series.
A Duty To The Dead. (Bess Crawford #1) Charles Todd. 2009. HarperCollins. 336 pages. [Source: Library]
Bess Crawford is a war nurse during 'the Great War.' One of her dying patients, Arthur Graham, asked her to give a message to his brother, Jonathan. The message made little sense to her personally. Something about him being sorry for having lied, and, how it was to protect their mother. She doesn't know for sure if he'll understand it either, but, a promise is a promise. So several months after his death, and, just a little bit after her own close call--the ship she was on sank--she sets out with her message to visit the Graham family.
I loved, loved, LOVED A Duty to the Dead. I loved it for so many reasons. I think Bess Crawford is a great heroine--narrator. She's sympathetic, patient, and observant. She has a way of seeing right into people, and, not jumping to conclusions in the process. Always one to give the benefit of the doubt, I suppose. She has seen a lot, heard a lot that's for sure. But Bess isn't the only reason I loved the book. Far from it. For having a good "detective" only takes you so far. What I appreciated was the depth of the characterization of the other characters. Primarily of the Graham family, but, also of others in and around that community and her own. We briefly get an idea of what her own family is like. How much she loves her father, and, appreciates a close friend of the family, Simon.
So. The mystery itself I loved. It begins, of course, with her delivering the message to the Graham family. But that is just the start. She doesn't deliver the message and go, no, it turns into an at-times-very-awkward social visit. Soon Bess finds herself piecing together all the clues of a HUGE family secret. And she can't leave it alone because it's so outrageous...
The writing was excellent. I loved the setting and tone. I appreciated the characterization even if some of the characters were super-creepy. It is a great start to a series I'm eager to read all of!!!
Have you met Bess Crawford? I'd love to know what you thought!
Normally I'd gush about this being a great summer read to tuck into your bag for the beach, but I kind of hate the term "beach reads" and the relentless marketing campaigns and lists surrounding them. For me a beach read is a book I can get through... Read the rest of this post
Written in 1958 and winner of the Newbery Honor, The Family Under the Bridge is the story of how an old hobo named Armand, who wants nothing of homes, responsibility and regular work, ends up with all of these as well as a family of children.
Set in Paris, France in a time when hobos were more like wandering gypsies than the people living on the streets these days, the story follows Armand
Reviewer: Rachel @ A Perfection Called Books
by Lee BrossSeries: Tangled WebsHardcover: 304 pagesPublisher: Disney-Hyperion (June 23, 2015)Goodreads | Amazon
Lady A is the most notorious blackmailer in the city. With just a mask and a gown to disguise her, she sweeps into lavish balls and exclusive events collecting the most valuable currency in 1725 London-secrets.
I have known Sarah Towle since my early days of writing. Back before I moved from Nice to New York and she moved from Paris to London. One day we may actually end up living in the same city! We … Continue reading →
Series: You Choose Books Written by Michael Burgan Consultant: Raymond L. Puffer, PhD Capstone Press 8/01/2014 978-1-4914-0357-0 112 pages Age 8—12
“It’s 1950 and the Communist country of North Korea has invaded its neighboring country of South Korea. The United Nations has stepped in to help South Korea by providing weapons and soldiers. Nearly all of these soldiers come from the United States. Will you:
1. Serve as a pilot in Korea with the U.S. Marine Corps? 2. Lie about your age to enlist as a 16-year-old member of the U.S. military reserves? 3. Join in the fight for your country as a young South Korean man?
Everything in this book happened to real people. And YOU CHOOSE what you do next. The choices you make could lead you to survival or to death.” [back cover]
Review It is June 25th, 1950. Communist leader Kim I1 Sung controlled northern Korea. He wanted the entire country under his rule. Sung crosses the 38th parallel—dividing north from south—to lead a surprise attack on South Korea with China and the Soviet Union’s help. The United Nations agreed to support the south, sending troops from the United States and 15 other nations—but mostly soldiers came from the U.S. You join the fighting, but how? Are you a Marine pilot, a U.S. reservist, or a South Korean civilian? Choose wisely, as your fate depends upon it.
Did you choose the pilot? Your first major decision is an extremely important decision: do you fly the F4U Corsair fighter plane you know how to pilot, or do you learn how to fly the more dangerous military helicopter? If you choose helicopters, your commander, Colonel Morris (not made up), gives you a choice between a copter requiring sand bags to keep it balanced, or one that can experience engine problems and cannot fly as far as the other copter. How brave are you?
Did you choose to trick the U.S. and join up at age 16? The first year of reservist training is fairly easy and you are looking forward to the next year when the Korean War begins. You are now a full-time Marines, but without the full Marine training. A sergeant gives you a choice: do you get more training or do you think you are ready to fight? Think about this, as the decision could mean you never return home . . . alive.
Did you choose to be a South Korean civilian, ready to fight for your homeland? You decide to volunteer, a rather rare event as most South Korean soldiers are merely grabbed off the street. You train with the Americans and then partner up when sent to the line. At one point you are captured by the Chinese, lectured on communism and its value for the entire Korean peninsula, and then told you will fight with the Chinese, not against them. Do you join or do you refuse?
A good way to get a feel for the fighting and the awful choices—none great—soldiers were forced to make is by reading The Korean War: An Interactive Modern History Adventure. This book is not a textbook-type read in that major facts are given for rote memory. Kids will find this more interesting than mere facts making The Korean War: An Interactive . . . a good adjunct text for teachers. While helping readers understand ground forces and air support decisions and the possible outcomes, the book also includes emotional responses to the fighting and choices of war. Kids will get the usual firing of bazookas, machine guns, and rifles; and the throwing of grenades, the dropping of bombs, and worst of all, napalm, yet the most important are the soldiers feelings and how those feelings affected their choices in these real stories.
Kids will learn the difference between an armistice versus a peace treaty, including North Korea’s instance that the war is not over, though fighting stopped 62 years ago. Up against unbelievable odds, South Korea has kept control of their country. The Korean War may not be the first war kids think of, but it should be in their brain’s history department. I really like these interactive books. I hated history, but these books make history come alive which heightens my interest. I had thought a peace treaty had been made. I also had not realized how influential the Chinese were to the North Korean campaign.
If an old gal of . . . well it’s impolite to ask . . . can enjoy these You Choose Books, kids certainly will enjoy them. And if I can learn a thing or two, so will kids. While not a fun subject, The Korean War: An Interactive Modern History Adventure held my interest, got me thinking, and has me wanting to know more about the Korean War. The same will happen to kids who read this inventive, yet real life, account of the Korean War.
The author included a time-line of the war, a “Read More” section, a glossary, bibliography, and an index.
Historical fiction, the form Walter Scott is credited with inventing, is currently experiencing something of a renaissance. It has always been popular, of course, but it rarely enjoys high critical esteem. Now, however, thanks to Hilary Mantel’s controversial portraits of Thomas Cromwell (in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies), James Robertson’s multi-faceted studies of Scotland’s past (in The Fanatic and And the Land Lay Still), and Richard Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North, winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize, the genre has recovered serious ground, shrugging off the dubious associations of bag-wig, bodice, and the dressing-up box.
A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2014 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Picture Books 6+, Story Monster Approved, Beach Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Powder Monkey ~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2015 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Historical Fiction, Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ New England Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist
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Jeannie Mobley writes middle grade and YA fiction. Her debut novel, KATERINA’S WISH (Margaret K. McElderry Books), won the 2013 Colorado Book Award, is on the 2014-2015 William Allen White Award Master List, and represented Colorado at the 2013 National Book Festival.Her second novel, SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS, released September 2, 2014. When not writing or reading fiction, Jeannie is a mother, wife, lover of critters, and an anthropology professor at Front Range Community College, where she teaches a variety of classes on cultures past and present. You can visit her at www.jeanniemobley.com.
What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?
I tend to start with big ideas–themes or threads that I then build a story around. In Katerina’s Wish, I started with ideas about what constitutes “magic” and to what extent our own attitudes shape our luck in the world. In my newest book, Searching for Silverheels, I was interested in two varying views on a local legend, and how either way, the character could be seen as a “strong woman.” That got me thinking about what really constitutes strength and womanhood, and it went from there. My next step is matching the setting and historical time period to my idea.
What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?
The fact that I can find historical settings to focus the lens on topics, themes, or social issues. For example, in Searching for Silverheels, I chose World War I to explore the issues surrounding strong women, because women are called to do a wider range of things in wartime than at other times. And World War I had the unique additional feature of the clash between President Wilson and the Women’s Suffragist Movement. Of course, I could tell a story about all the ways women are strong in any place or time, but I like historical fiction because I can pick times and places to make the issues much more intense.
What kinds of sources do you use?
I use different sources at different points in my research. I have a background in history and historical research, so that eliminates much of the initial work I might otherwise have to do. But, in the early stages of formulating an idea or picking a time period, I rely heavily on informational websites and textbooks–the kind of sources that give broad overviews of a topic or time period.
My next step is to create ideas for world building–getting the local setting, the voice, and the details of ordinary life right. This involves reading sources from the era–newspapers, books, reports–anything that gives me a sense of how people wrote or talked. I also look at oral histories that give details of life. Since I write for kids, I especially like oral histories in which people are remembering back to their childhood, because those give me details about what life was like for kids, which is often lacking from history books.
I also love to look at historic photographs for background details, and especially ones that evoke other senses (like the smoke boiling from chimneys in turn-of-the-century coal camps. I try to think about how that must have smelled, how gritty the air must have felt, how the laundry drying on the line must have taken on that smoke.).
There are many good sources for all of these things, but since my work so far has been centered in Colorado, I’ve found the Western History Archives at the Denver Public Library to be a wonderful source of photographs, www.coloradonewspapers.org to be a great place to read for voice, and a variety of sources of oral history, the most extensive being the National Archive oral history project, which has many recordings online that let you hear the actual voice of the teller, as well as the details.
How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?
Not long, or even at all. If I’m working with a new place or era with which I’m not familiar, I might spend a few hours doing background research, and a few more listening or reading for voice. I may read a novel written in the era or watch a movie set in the area (not really research–more just a good excuse to read a book or watch a movie.) But mostly, the story is most important to me in the first draft, and it guides me as to what details I need to find. So I research as I write the first draft. For example, in my current WiP, I had a conversation going on between the front seat and back seat of a car in 1930. I had a character glance in the rearview mirror to see the people in the back,and realized that I don’t know for sure when the rear-view mirror became standard in vehicles. So, I made a note in the margin–“would the car have a rearview mirror?” and when I finished writing the scene, I stopped to look it up.
What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?
I tend to love (and get lost in) the quirky details, but also the strange connections. So, I lost a whole day one time on the history of toilets on trains. Fascinating, if you go in for that kind of thing. And I am often stunned by connections that sometimes make me feel like I’m channeling instead of creating. In my newest book, Searching for Silverheels, I needed a last name for a character. At the time, my son was in high school, so he was getting recruitment mail for colleges. There was an envelope sitting on the table from Stanford University. I looked at it, changed it from Stanford to Sanford, and made it the kid’s last name. Later, while doing some back-up research on the Silverheels legend, I learned that one of the “eye witness” stories that claims to know the truth about the legend is in a manuscript at the Colorado Historical Society, written by a man named Sanford. The Sanford in my story is searching out an eye witness, just as the real Sanford was. So, I adjusted the story so that my fictional Sanford hears the same story that the real Sanford heard. But the names, that was just a crazy coincidence that sent a chill up my spine when it happened.
Because life isn’t always clear cut, the motives behind our actions don’t always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?
In Katerina’s Wish, I was deliberately vague and never named the coal camp in which the main characters live. I did this because I wanted to avoid the political implications of setting the story in the place where one of the major battles of labor union history took place. Many readers have made the connection, which is fine, but I didn’t want to imply that my characters were directly part of a movement.
On the other hand, in Searching for Silverheels, I did want to connect my suffragist to the real women’s suffrage movement, so I set the story in the exact month and year when the members of the National Women’s Party were arrested at the White House, and that arrest is a catalyst for setting up the climax of my story. I did, however, create some fictional responses to that event that I don’t think really happened. I am always careful to create an author’s note that clarifies the real from the fictional, but I also think that some of the fun for readers of historical fiction can be looking up the truth themselves, and seeing where the author has been honest and where she’s told lies.
Why is historical fiction important?
I think historical fiction has the opportunity to give kids a passion or curiosity about the past. I think a lot of people are turned off by the idea of “history” because they see it as the dull retelling of a bunch of boring dates about boring politicians. It took me years to figure out that people saw history that way, because for me, history was always about story. I grew up in the west where I could explore old cabins and travel roads that used to be railroads or wagon trails, and to me, that continuation of the past, as a compilation of extraordinary stories about ordinary people, is what history has always been about. Hopefully, historical fiction can make kids (or adults) see history that way too.
As much as I love blogging, I’m not always sure other people are listening in. A few weeks ago I got an incredible email from blog reader Linda Jackson that reminded me what I do here does indeed connect with readers, sometimes in very big ways.
After six years of working hard and believing, 200+ queries, 4 manuscripts (one of them rewritten multiple times, once from scratch), 4 R&R’s from agents, 7 pitch contest wins, I finally got “The Call” today.
I’ve been sitting on this email for weeks, waiting to hear where Linda’s book landed. Here’s the official news from Publisher’s Marketplace:
Mississippi-native Linda Jackson’s BECOMING ROSA, a coming-of-age tale set in Mississippi in 1955, about a young African-American girl who dreams of a life beyond the cotton fields, to Elizabeth Bewley at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in Fall 2016, by Victoria Marini at Gelfman Schneider/ICM (World English).
Congratulations, Linda! Your story has thrilled me down to my toes and has inspired me to keep plowing. Now, readers, go out and congratulate the remarkable Linda Jackson.
Series: You Choose Books: Engineering Marvels Written by Blake Hoena Capstone Young Readers 2015 978-1-4914-0403-4 112 pages Age 8—12 x x ‘People living in San Francisco during the 1920s and 1930s are fascinated by the project to build the Golden Gate Bridge—the world’s longest suspension bridge yet. Will you  Be a designer of the bridge, working to solve the many challenges created by such an enormous project [or 2]Work as a crew member, accepting the dangers of laboring hundreds of feet in the air above the cold, swirling currents pf the San Francisco Bay? Everything in this book happened to real people. And YOU CHOOSE what to do next. The choices you make either lead you and the project to success—or to failure.” [back cover]
Review I really like these interactive books that let you decide what happens in the story. Every possibility is true and happened to someone during the planning and building of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can be engineer, John Strauss, who designs the bridge and must decide which of three design choices available in 1919 will work best: a cantilever bridge, a suspension bridge, or a cantilever-suspension hybrid bridge made up of parts of the former two types (pictures and description of each included); or a construction laborer (a catcher or a skywalker).
I began with the engineer route . . . and failed. I fared better as a laborer, first as a catcher. I catch hot rivets (heated to 1900 degrees Fahrenheit), flung to me from above, which I catch in a funnel shaped cup and hand, using tongs, to the next guy, who uses it to connect two beams. Missing even one red-hot rivet can be catastrophic. Someone could get hurt, especially someone—or thing—in the water below. Objects also tend to fall from men working higher up, mainly due to wind gusts knocking tin cups out of hands and safety helmets off heads. Looking up to see what is falling your way can get you badly hurt, if not killed. I looked up, ending my short career. Safety measures, the few used, are an interesting part of the story.
Finally, I tried my hand at the last job option: a skywalker spinning cables. Standing 756 feet up at the top of the bridge, men—sorry, no women—skywalkers wait for three wheels, carrying coils of wire, to race down a guide rope. Once the wheels pass, they grab the strands of wire, gather, tighten, and keep them from twisting around one another. The supporting cables on the Golden Gate Bridge are made of hundreds of thousands of wires. The job is dangerous thanks to the heavy fog that occurs so often in the Bay area. A cowbell hung from each wheel so the wheels could be heard when the fog was thick.
What is cool about the You Choose Books is the amount of history readers will learn, often without realizing they are learning. Based on true stories from the building the Golden Gate Bridge, what you will face on each path actually happened to someone. While trying to make decisions to build the bridge, stay employed, and alive, history becomes part of your story. You need to understand some part of the Golden Gate Bridge’s beginning—its history—to make your choices.
I never could get excited about something that happened years before I was born—or even yesterday’s news. I knew nothing about building the Golden Gate Bridge it was just always there. Now, I know part of the history and so will kids who read these interesting stories. For this reason, the You Choose Books series are perfect as adjunct texts for teachers. And perfect for boys, who will love the action and the ability to wipe themselves off and try another path. Girls will, too, but if there is a book made for the minds of boys, the You Choose Books are those books.
The Building of the Golden Gate Bridge has 2 story paths (engineer or laborer), 33 choices, and 9 possible story endings, as do all of the You Choose Books. There is also a Timeline beginning in 1872 when Charles Crooker proposed building a bridge over Golden Gate (and 61 before actual construction on the bridge began). After reading and rereading each path and its nine different endings, it is all but impossible not to know something about the history of The Building of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Learn more about Building the Golden Gate BridgeHERE. Meet the author, Blake Hoena, at his website: http://bahoena.com/ Find more picture books at the Capstone Young Readers website: http://www.capstonepub.com/ . . . .Capstone Young Readers is an imprint of Capstone
YOU CHOOSE BOOKS: ENGINEERING MARVELS
Building the Empire State Building by Allison Lassieur
Building the Great Wall of China by Allison Lassieur
Building the Transcontinental Railroad by Steven Otfinoski
Amie here first: Today we have a guest post from Elizabeth May, author of The Falconer! Elizabeth’s here to talk about the fine art of authentic, believable time travel. Spoilers: you can do it even if you don’t have a TARDIS at your disposal.
One of the most challenging aspects of writing historical fiction is building a believable atmosphere that resonates with contemporary readers. What many people don’t realize is that the farther back a book’s historical period goes, the more you might have the same difficulties a fantasy author might: worldbuilding and authenticity – only with the added pressure of being constrained by historical social rules and events.
So here are some tips that might help get you started
Conduct social research.
By social research, I mean taking a look at what it was like to live in the society you’re writing about — and, perhaps most importantly, researching the social class your character belongs to. A number of cultures were deeply segregated by hierarchical structure (many are even today!). They had different habits, diets, behaviours, beliefs, and social obligations.
Your character will be expected to be familiar with these aspects of society, and deeply aware of social taboos. And this is where knowledge of that sort of thing is important: though certain past societies appear to have incredibly rigid social rules (think Victorian era), those living in society were, first and foremost, real people. And real people, being the incredibly stubborn creatures they are, tend to both acknowledge and skirt etiquette.
So once you become acquainted with the everyday life and beliefs your characters would hold, you can more easily base plot points, scenes, and characterization based on that. Not acknowledging certain social ideals might look like bad research. However, being aware of these things gives you the ability to hang a very realistic lampshade on it if your characters decide to break them.
Know the mood of your period and the lay of the land.
Ever read a book that claims it’s set somewhere and you’re like, “What? Really? I didn’t get that from the text.” I understand not all authors are great at description, but creating an authentic setting is paramount to what we do; it’s an historical writer’s bread and butter.
Each time period — even in the same location — has its own mood, a Zeitgeist, that is very distinct. London during Elizabeth I’s reign is vastly different to London during Queen Victoria’s reign. Certain historical events had incredible impact on their various time periods, and should be acknowledged.
Furthermore, it helps to be familiar with the layout of the place you’re writing. Readers respond well to visceral description, the smells, sounds, and sights of a place. This includes weather, geographic markers, city streets or buildings, and the mood of the people living there during the time period. I mentioned earlier that many societies were segregated in terms of hierarchy, and this absolutely would have been reflected in a city’s layout (it still is!).
Be watchful for modern words, thoughts, or phrases in your writing.
I think this will probably be the most difficult for many historical writers; it’s certainly the most difficult for me. Phrases and ideas that “sound off” or “too modern” can easily pull readers out of your story. Try not to be too distracted or worrisome about this when you’re in the process of drafting (at the risk of severely slowing yourself down), but it’s something to be mindful of during editing.
Avoiding modern ideas is where point 1 comes in handy, but phrasing and language can be more difficult, especially the further back your historical period goes. A great deal of English words are up for grabs, simply because it’s such a hodgepodge of other languages and much of it goes back centuries.
When in doubt, look a word up in the dictionary and see when it was first used. Sometimes, you may find you’re forced to sacrifice authenticity for whether a word “sounds” correct. For example, I tried to slip in a wow! (precisely the way it means now; it’s 16th century Scots), and a killjoy (18th century) into The Falconer and my critique partners said they sounded to modern.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to avoid is modern idioms and phrases. Already in this entry, I’ve used ones like, “up for grabs,” and “bread and butter” without really thinking about it. The way we word things is deeply engrained, so it becomes easy to pull out when writing, and even easier to skim over when editing. So be very careful.
If you’re going for authenticity, don’t be afraid to use contractions.
I know this one is terribly specific, but it’s something so common in historical writing: in an attempt to sound authentically old timey, writers forgo use of contractions. So the “won’t” becomes a “will not”; the “I’m” becomes an “I am”; “that’s” is “that is”. The result is dialogue and writing that can often sound overly formal and a bit wooden.
I do think it’s important to note that many books written in, say, the 18th and 19th centuries would have been written with more formality than everyday speech. That’s why the ones that contained slang and “common language” are so notable. So speaking patterns would have included contractions, even if certain books didn’t.
So if you’re going for realism, contractions are really okay! If you’re going for mimicking the style of books from the era, you might use them less.
Try not to overwhelm readers with the details.
Research is meant to help create an authentic atmosphere in historical books, but try not to be so overwhelmed by all the historical minutiae that you risk infodumping it in your novel. As with any other genre of novel, details should be described organically as needed.
Instead of thinking about this strictly as a historical time period, consider what you’re doing here as worldbuilding. You are constructing a setting with its own social mores, geography, past, political structure, etc. Sometimes you’ll have readers who are aware of its history, and sometimes not. The key is not to cater to any one type of reader: too much detail bogs down the story, and too little detail leaves readers wanting.
I find the best way to balance this is to get into the protagonist’s mindset. He or she will already be familiar with these aspects of society. Relay any information in a way that shows your character’s awareness of them. What opinions does s/he have? What does s/he think about her world, either positively or negatively?
This type of description is not only beneficial in that it gives readers information, but it also gives prime examples of your character’s voice and personality. For example, in the Victorian era, upper class ladies simply didn’t leave the house without a chaperone. Instead of giving this information as, “I can’t leave the house without a chaperone,” perhaps try something like, “I detest that I can’t leave the house without a chaperone.” This does two things: it reveals the information, and it does it in a way that shares your heroines feelings on this aspect of etiquette (which infers that she probably has other strong opinions, as well!).
Once all the details are sorted, it’s easier to slip into the historical setting and have fun with it. Go wild, break the rules, and play with the details. Happy writing!
Elizabeth May resides in Edinburgh, Scotland, with her husband. THE FALCONER was her début novel. For more information, follow her on Twitter or visit her website.
Reader, after you finished Robin LaFevers' His Fair Assasains series and powered through Julie Berry's The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place and frothed through the lighter Finishing School novels by Gail Carringer and plowed through... Read the rest of this post
CONSPIRACY OF BLOOD AND SMOKEPrisoner of Night and Fog #2by Anne BlankmanFile Size: 808 KBPrint Length: 416 pagesPublisher: Balzer + Bray (April 21, 2015) Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers Goodreads | Amazon
The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: She used to be part of Adolf Hitler's inner circle. More than a year after she made an enemy of her old family friend and
I'd wanted to read this book for a long time because in my head I'd heard it was historical and was a story about a Chinese girl. Somehow, my mind equated "historical fiction" with an absolutely parallel true-to-life tale of someone back in time. I... Read the rest of this post
Snow Treasure. Marie McSwigan. Illustrated by Mary Reardon. 1942. 208 pages. [Source: Bought]
Set in Norway in 1940, Snow Treasure is a true must-read for anyone who loves a good adventure story or a good war story. Snow Treasure is based on a true story too! It is about the smuggling of Norway's gold, smuggling it out of the country so that it doesn't fall into Nazi hands. How is it smuggled out? Who could hope to smuggle it out undetected without any Nazi being the wiser? Why, you let children do it, naturally.
The hero of Snow Treasure is a young boy named Peter Lundstrom. He isn't the only child from his Norwegian village involved. He has a lot of help from other boys and girls. The older and stronger can carry more gold on their sled. The younger take less. But all work together to help their country in need. They are one part of the process, adults also play a big role, of course. For it will be Peter's uncle who will smuggle the gold out of the country on his ship.
I loved everything about this one. I loved the characters. I loved Peter and his family. I loved the adventure aspect of it. It's a thrilling read. It isn't a simple, easy process. It's hard work. And each trip is a risk, of course. For they do see and hear a lot of Nazis as they are carrying on their most secret work.
Snow Treasure is a compelling read for children and adults.