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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: historical fiction, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 1,148
26. Author Interview: Deborah Hopkinson on Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig

By Deborah Hopkinson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

What was your initial inspiration for writing Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig, illustrated by Charlotte Voake (Schwartz & Wade, 2016)?

Actually, several years ago my agent, Steven Malk, mentioned that it might be fun to do a book about Beatrix Potter. After reading about her life (and enjoying the film "Miss Potter"), I became fascinated by her story, accomplishments, and legacy.

My first attempts at writing a nonfiction book about her failed, however. But when I went back to try again, I hit upon focusing on one incident from her journal that illustrates her love of animals and of art.

The promotional copy describes the story as "mostly true." So this is historical fiction, yes? Where did you honor the Potter's actual life and where did you creatively extrapolate?

It’s absolutely historical fiction! I do author visits at schools all over the country, and one of the first things students and I discuss is the distinction between nonfiction and historical fiction. I’ve been previewing the cover of Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig, and have found that even young children recognize that it’s a made up story (and slightly silly to boot).

In fact, some details in the story are based on fact, including the part where Beatrix borrowed from her neighbor a guinea pig named "Queen Elizabeth," which expired in the night from consuming a feast of paper, paste, and other scrumptious tidbits.

As I mention in the note, Beatrix was actually in her twenties when this occurred, but we have set the story when she was younger. The dialogue is invented also, although we do include several excerpts from her journal in the book.

I’ve included an author’s note of her life that also explains that the story is fictionalized.

What were other the challenges--research, craft, logistical and/or emotional--in bringing the story to life?

One of the aspects of Beatrix’s own creative process I wanted to emulate was the “picture letter.” She originally got the idea for The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902) when writing a get well note to a young boy in the format of a letter that included spot art illustrations. I wanted to make this book a sort of picture letter itself.

Working with Charlotte Voake’s delightful illustrations, the amazing team editorial team of Anne Schwartz and Lee Wade (Schwartz & Wade) were able to capture that feeling for the book. For instance, even before you get to the title page, there is a spread that begins, “My Dear Reader…” which shows a hand penning the words. At the end, the story is signed by me and the author’s note is in the form of a postscript.

I’m always looking for ways that teachers and librarians can use books with students, and I think that, in addition to being an author and illustrator children enjoy, Beatrix Potter is a model for someone who began working on her craft as a child.

How did Charlotte Voake's illustrations enhance your text?

Charlotte’s work is absolutely perfect for this story! I love her illustrations of Beatrix’s pets, which are filled with wry humor.

Charlotte is British, and we’re excited that her British publisher, Walker, will be publishing the book in Great Britain in July to coincide with the 150th anniversary celebration of Beatrix Potter’s birth.

(This anniversary is, as you can imagine, rather a big deal in England, and the Royal Mint is even issuing special commemorative coins.)

What other new releases should your readers be sure to check out in 2016?

As it happens, 2016 is also the 150th anniversary of the founding of the ASPCA in April 1866. And this April I’m excited that my new historical fiction middle grade novel, A Bandit’s Tale, The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket, will be out from Knopf.

It’s set in New York City, and is narrated by a young Italian immigrant brought over to be a street musician. It also features appearances by actual historical figures involved with improving the rights of children and animals, including Jacob Riis and ASPCA founder Henry Bergh.

What advice do you have for fellow writers about historical research and blending facts with fiction?

In October 2016, I’ll be teaching a Highlights Foundation workshop (with Pamela Turner) on writing nonfiction for middle grade students. I taught this class last year, and one of our main discussion points was how to know when a project can -- or should be -- fiction or nonfiction.

I’ve always been a huge fan of both genres, and enjoy writing about the same historical periods in different ways. My first long work of nonfiction, Shutting out the Sky, Life in the Tenements of New York (Scholastic, 2003), came about because I had written a Dear America historical fiction book (Hear My Sorrow (Scholastic, 2004)) about the Triangle Waist Company fire. In A Bandit’s Tale, I am returning to the same setting but telling the story in a picaresque style.

I think the main point whether one is writing historical fiction or nonfiction is that the piece must work as a dramatic, compelling story. This sometimes means including less research than one might like – but, then, you never know when you might use it again.

Cynsational Notes

Deborah Hopkinson lives near Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @deborahopkinson.

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27. Turning Pages Reads: LIONS IN THE GARDEN (The Uprising #1) by Chelsea Luna

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages! Synopsis: Ludmila Novakova is a girl of wealth and privilege. The daughter of the Chancellor, she has lived her seventeen years as the pampered denizen of Prague Castle, a good Catholic girl who accepts... Read the rest of this post

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28. Straight from the Source: Kristin O’Donnell Tubb on Writing Historical Fiction

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is the author of The 13th Sign, Selling Hope ,and Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different . Watch for John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy this month (written as E.F. Abbott) and  Miss Daisy’s Job summer 2017. Tubb can be found far too often on Facebook and Twitter.  Oh, and she has a website, too.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

An era or idea usually precedes the character for me, and once I’ve done some research, it becomes clear what kind of character would struggle in that setting. It can be painful to write the underdog or the outsider, but it’s usually much richer story if that’s the case, and I find it’s easier to do so knowing a lot about what constitutes “underdoggedness” in a certain era. (I think I just made up a word. ☺ )

You do have a specific system for collecting data?

I still use the system that my freshman English teacher, Linda McGill taught us! The method is this: each source gets a number depending on when I’ve read it/taken notes from it. Each notecard (more on that in a bit!) is one fact, and it’s coded with that source number and the page number or the specific URL where the information was found. After I’m done researching (which for John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy was four months, but for Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different was four years), the notecards are spread and shuffled EVERYWHERE to create the story outline. Once the outline is complete, the cards are finally put in subject-order, things like “Church,” “Medicines,” “Foods,” etc.

While I’m drafting the book, I look at these categories often: “Hmmm, what kind of a hymn would be sung at a funeral?” And because it’s coded with a source and page number, I can always go back to that source. For every book I’ve written, I’ve needed to, at some point, relocate a source to clarify a fact. So it’s a useful system for me. Thank you again, Ms. McGill!

And regarding notecards: I don’t use them any more, although I did for both Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different – my debut – and Selling Hope. Everything is in a Word document now, though all facts are still coded with a source and page number!

What kinds of sources do you use? 

For Autumn Winifred Oliver, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a goldmine of primary sources: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has an archives located in the basement of the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center. Cookbooks, photographs, hymnals, school books: all used by the folks who lived in Cades Cove, Tennessee.

For Selling Hope, I found an amazing resource in the online photograph collection hosted by the Chicago Historical Society. (Since the writing of that book, many local libraries, historical societies and universities have done this for their city. Be sure and use those historical societies! They LIVE for requests like the ones historical fiction writers ask!)

For John Lincoln Clem, I watched hours of Civil War reenactors on YouTube, particularly the drummers. It was critical to the book to capture the sound and cadence of the drum calls, and this was amazingly helpful. I use YouTube a lot. A LOT. Also eBay, which, when you search for a year and/or a city, will often produce fantastic results: jewelry, books, clothing, dinnerware, etc. I’ve also used classic advertisements to describe cars and clothing, and the want ads (my FAVORITE!) to gather unique and wonderful vocabulary for an era. Each book has taken me to unique places that I didn’t know existed.

What is your favorite thing about research?

My favorite thing about research is that it often builds my plot and my characters for me. I mentioned above that I sometimes craft a character based on who might be an awful fit for a certain time and place. In Selling Hope, for example, Hope is a homebody who longs for permanence based largely on my research of those nomadic vaudeville troops.

Research also often uncovers plot points that I know I’ll want to include in my story. In John Lincoln Clem, the research I did on the Civil War uncovered the fact that some soldiers, in their boredom, would pick a louse – a single lice bug – off their body and “race” them across a tin plate. The winner would get out of chores or win brass buttons. I knew this was a story kids would eat up, so it became part of the plot of the book. 

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

The answer is there, it just needs dusting off, possibly while wearing white gloves. Search and ye shall find! That, and writing historical fiction, to me, is just like writing contemporary fiction but with a more thorough setting, a tighter lens. What people want – love, togetherness, family, health, friends, to make a difference – never changes. Themes are everlasting. So uncovering what people want, and looking at that need within the scope of the era, is a very satisfying way to tell a story.

Why is historical fiction important?

Because themes are everlasting – because people still want now what they’ve always wanted – historical fiction reflects humanity’s attempts at achieving goals. Sometimes those goals are achieved beautifully. Sometimes they are a disaster. Historical fiction shows readers that our ancestors worked and played and struggled and won and failed – and survived. Humans have attempted many different ways to survive. Historical fiction reflects our wins and our losses.

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Straight from the Source: Kristin O’Donnell Tubb on Writing Historical Fiction originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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29. Monday Review: THE DARK DAYS CLUB by Alison Goodman

Summary: Calling all Regency period enthusiasts! Historical fantasy fans! Fans of books like A Dark and Terrible Beauty, the Stoker and Holmes books, anything by Robin LaFevers—I know those aren't Regency period, but you will definitely want to... Read the rest of this post

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30. The First Step – Perfect Picture Book Friday & Diversity Day

Another book for Black History Month. Title: the First Step, How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial Written by: Susan E. Goodman illustrated by: E. B. Lewis Published by: Bloomsbury, 2015 Genre: historical fiction, 40 pages Themes: segregation, discrimination in education, Boston, Sarah C Roberts, African Americans Ages: 7-11 Opening: Sarah Roberts was four … Continue reading

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31. Guest Post: Shawn Stout on Historical Fiction: How Much Research Is Enough?

By Shawn K. Stout
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Several years ago I had a story idea swirling inside my head. It was about three sisters who try to clear their father’s name after he is accused of being a Nazi spy.

The story was based on the real-life experiences of my grandparents, whose restaurant in Maryland in 1939 was boycotted by the townspeople over my grandfather’s purported “secret back room” and rumors of espionage.

It was a story that was personal to me and to my mother and her two sisters, but I kept it safely locked away for a couple of reasons.

The first was that I had never written anything even close to historical fiction before, and the story ultimately would have elements of xenophobia, racism, and super-patriotism of that period—heavy themes that, when I thought of writing about them, gave me the willies. The other reason, and perhaps the bigger one, was that I didn’t know how to balance the knowledge of historical facts with telling a mostly fictional story.

Basically, I didn’t want to write a history book—one that was so bogged down in historical details that the characters were overshadowed by the time period.


When I finally got up enough gumption to give my idea a chance, I began by interviewing family members and others who worked at my grandparents’ restaurant. Then I dived into history books, newsreels, newspaper articles, old radio shows, spy movies, and World War II timelines. A lot was going on in 1939, apparently, and I spent months trying to learn it all.


Pretty quickly, though, I became overwhelmed. I had accumulated piles of folders, newspaper clippings, CDs of digital recordings, and at least a dozen notebooks labelled “Important Pieces of History.” And, unbelievable as it seemed, there was still more to know.

After spending nearly a year in 1939, I wondered, how would I know when I’d learned enough? How much “historical” did a person need to know to write historical fiction, anyway?

Enough turned out to be tricky to define. The truth was that I had already learned a great deal. I knew about the short-lived Studebaker Dictators, about Hitler’s advances in Europe, about the voyage of the St. Louis, about restaurant prices, and about widespread anti-German sentiment.

But was that enough?

Uma Krishnaswami
Shawn K. Stout
And then the incomparable Uma Krishnaswami gave me some wise advice, which was essentially this: You could go on researching forever, but at some point, whenever you think you have a sense of place and time and a feel for that world, you have to take what you’ve got and just start writing.

Just start writing.

You can always go back and do more research, if you need to, she told me, but let your story and characters dictate what else you need to know.

Uma, of course, was right. I did start writing, and as I began filling out the characters of the three sisters, the edges of their small town, with bits of historical detail, became more defined, and their world soon came into sharp focus.

I only ended up using a small fraction of the many historical details I found in my research, but in the end, for my characters and their story, it was enough.

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32. SWEET HOME ALASKA by Carole Estby Dagg + Giveaway

SweetHome_FINAL

Please tell us about your book.

Terpsichore Johnson is thrilled when her family is chosen for the Depression-era program that would transport 202 families from northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan all the way to Alaska to be self-sufficient farmers. She had always loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, and now she was going to have a chance to be a pioneer, just like Laura Ingalls.

She hadn’t realized, though, just what pioneering would mean – giving up inside plumbing, electricity, and even libraries! Worse yet, fumbled management of the project leaves some families in tents as the first snow falls.

Despite challenges, Terpsichore comes to love Alaska. Her mother, however, still misses their home in Wisconsin. What could Terpsichore do to make her mother love Alaska like she does? She hatches a plan that involves a giant pumpkin and a recipe for Jellied Moose Nose.

What drew you to this story?

When I think of the Depression, I think of the dust bowl, college-educated men selling pencils on the street corner, and lines at the soup kitchen. I never realized that New Deal programs extended up to Alaska until my son moved to Palmer, Alaska and bought a rustic cabin on the outskirts of town next to a potato field.

I’ve always liked old houses, and in researching the history of the early days of Palmer, I discovered transcriptions of interviews of old-timers who had moved up with the program in 1935. What a trove of first-hand accounts! If other people also hadn’t heard about the history of the Palmer Colony, maybe I should write a book about it. I couldn’t use all the incidents they described, but I combined many of them and assigned them to my fictional Terpsichore and her new friends.

Palmer tent city B1970_019_106

Palmer tent city

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I love the AHA! moments when I find just the right info to connect the dots between previously known facts. Or to discover new info about historic characters I thought I knew. For instance, who knew that Will Rogers and his pilot, Wiley Post spent one of their last days visiting the Palmer Colony before crashing near Barrow, Alaska?

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

I discovered a recipe for Jellied Moose Nose – someone on the Internet rated it as one of the ten most revolting foods.

The other oddest incident I ran across also involved a moose. A grave was dug the day before a funeral and during the night, a moose fell into it. The graveside service had to be delayed until the attendees figured out how to get the moose out of the hole. I wish I’d figured out a way to include that incident into the book!

Deer by Writer's Shack

I’ve always been charmed by your writing cabin. Could you tell us a little about it?

My writer’s shack started out as a wood shed – cement foundation with sturdy posts at the corners to support a roof. It’s one of the nicest spots on our get-away property on San Juan Island. Facing one direction, there’s a sliver of a view through the trees of Mosquito Pass. Facing the opposite direction, there’s a view of Garrison Bay and English Camp, established during the mid-1800’s when English and Americans were trying to decide which country owned the island.

Those views were too good to waste on a wood shed, so I asked my husband if I could claim it as my writing spot. I thought we’d just close in the sides with plywood and run an electrical wire out, but my husband found salvaged, leaded-glass windows for the view sides and had a small door custom made.

It’s only 7 feet by 8 feet, but it has all I need. I have a flat door held up by sawhorses for a desk, two lights, and a plug-in for an electrical heater so I can use it year-round. It’s about 30 paces from the house and another cup of tea.

What are you working on next?

My next book will be based on the Pig War, which took place on San Juan Island. 

Giveaway

Enter to win your own copy of SWEET HOME ALASKA below. The contest closes Wednesday, February 17. US residents only, please.

Carole - leaning smile-124 Carole Estby Dagg also wrote the middle-grade historical novel The Year We Were Famous. She was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and has lived in Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia. She has degrees in sociology, library science, and accounting. Her real-life adventures include tiptoeing through King Tut’s tomb, sand boarding the dunes of western Australia, riding a camel among the Great Pyramids, paddling with Manta rays in Moorea, and smelling the penguins in the Falkland Islands. She is married with two children, two grandchildren, a husband, and a bossy cat who supervises her work. She splits her writing time between her study in Everett, Washington, and a converted woodshed on San Juan Island.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post SWEET HOME ALASKA by Carole Estby Dagg + Giveaway originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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33. The past made present | Class #3, 2016

class3books2016_500x444

Next Tuesday (February 9), Lauren’s class will be discussing several books. The theme for the day is “The past made present” so they will look at both historical fiction and nonfiction — including one book that’s a hybrid of the two.

Everyone will be reading One Crazy Summer; they will choose to read either No Crystal Stair or Bomb; and they are being asked to explore (but not necessarily read in full) either Claudette Colvin or Marching to Freedom.

We welcome all of you to join the discussion on these posts:

  • Two historical fiction books:
    • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
    • No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
  • Three nonfiction books:
    • Bomb: the Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
    • Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose
    • Marching For Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge

The post The past made present | Class #3, 2016 appeared first on The Horn Book.

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34. Two historical fiction books | Class #3, 2016

One Crazy Summer     No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Supplemental readings:

  • Rita Williams-Garcia’s profile in July/August 2007 Horn Book Magazine
  • No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Historical fiction is a balancing act of storytelling and character development with real-world events. How do these different aspects interact in each of these works? How do the authors engage readers in both the lives of the characters and their time and place in history?

The post Two historical fiction books | Class #3, 2016 appeared first on The Horn Book.

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35. Turning Pages Reads: OF BETTER BLOOD by Susan Moger

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!Synopsis: One day she's leaping in the waves near the family's Paradise-by-the-Sea beach home, the fittest of the fit, dreaming of finishing Little Women and having a new best friend; the next moment her... Read the rest of this post

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36. Top Ten Historical Fiction/Futuristic Books I Love...

From Becca's Shelves...  Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke & The Bookish. 
This week's topic is TOP TEN HISTORICAL/FUTURISTIC BOOKS I LOVE! I decided to do a few of each, because I can! Haha, plus I haven't read a ton of Historical YA books (or not enough that I absolutely loved like these). Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee - Under A Painted Sky was basically one of my top

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37. Monday Review: A MAD, WICKED FOLLY by Sharon Biggs Waller

The cover even LOOKS like a Libba Bray book...Summary: England in the Edwardian era…Besides bringing to mind a whole slew of fabulous Edward Gorey drawings, it was a time in which society was still stumbling out from under the long shadow of Queen... Read the rest of this post

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38. Review: The Lake House

The Lake House: A Novel by Kate Morton. Atria. 2015. Library Copy.


The-lake-house-9781451649321_hr
The Plot: 1933 Cornwall. A eleven month old baby disappears from his crib during a house party at an estate. He's never found.

2003. A police detective is visiting her grandfather in Cornwall. She stumbles upon an abandoned house and hears the local story: how decades ago, a child disappeared and the family left and never came back.

A lost child, deep family secrets, the ties between mother and child, the choices made. And a mystery that was waiting to be solved, by the person willing to ask the right questions.

The Good: I loved this book so much. It had everything I love in a book.

Their are three main narrators, and two main time periods.

Alice Edevane was sixteen the summer her brother Theo was taken. The summer on the Cornish estate was as magical as any Alice had ever had at the beloved family estate, Loeanneth, and even more wonderful because its the year she falls in love for the first time and the year she decides to embrace a life as a writer, and writes her first mystery.

In 2003, Sadie Sparrow's visit to her grandfather isn't entirely voluntary. There were problems for a recent case involving a young mother who disappeared, and Sadie refused to believe the woman left her small child behind. When faced with the truth of the woman abandoning her child, Sadie made foolish mistakes and now is waiting in the country for things to get resolved in the city.

When she starts to investigate the mystery of Theo Edevane, she finds out that the home is now owned by Alice Edevane, also known as A. C. Edevane, a famous mystery writer. After the reader encounters the young, brilliant, hopeful Alice on the brink of life, they next encounter her as woman pushing ninety, succesful, but wiser about people than she was as a child.

Then there is Eleanor Edevane, mother of Alice and Theo, and her voice joins the story.

The book jumps from time to time and narrator to narrator, and this flow of story is brilliant. Morton is careful about what and when she tells the reader, but part of the reason is because each person knows only their own story and is limited to their own impressions, their own memories, their own knowledge. As a mystery, Morton deftly guided me so that I was guessing "who" or "what" or "why" just pages ahead of Sadie, so that I felt as clever or more so than Sadie. And then, with Sadie, realized when I was wrong, because I learned something new.

The Lake House is a mystery, but it's also a story of family. Of the brilliant Edevanes who at first seem like something out of a PBS Miniseries. The family had once had a grand house, and Loeanneth, grand as it seems, is the small house that is all that is left of that manor. The house is important to Eleanor and her husband, Anthony; to their children, Deborah and Alice and Clemmie and Theo; and part of the punch in the gut tragedy of the present is how the house was abandoned after Theo's disappearance.

Pull back, and it's more than a handsome couple and their beautiful children and the fairy tale estate. Fairy tale in part because the child Eleanor inspired a beloved children's book.

But no fairy tale is all sun and sunshine. As Sadie delves further into the past, as Alice reexamines her own memories and impressions, and as Eleanor steps forward and shares her story, secrets are uncovered. Because as anyone who does the math can figure, the Great War had ended just 15 years before. And what was the far away past to a sixteen year old Alice was very much part of the lives of her parents.

I don't want to give too much away, because as I said part of the joy of this book is the structure of what is revealed when and why and how. I will say this about those reveals. They aren't "aha" moments of crimes and terrible deeds. Rather, they are about perspective and knowledge. Eleanor's children see her as a certain type of mother, and their father as certain type of man, and yes -- the father is the favorite. As the story unwinds, it becomes clear that part of this is because Eleanor did what was necessary to give her children a safe, happy, childhood, at any cost. And she was so good that Alice, decades later, still didn't quite realize what her mother had done -- how her memory of a wonderful, carefree day was, to her mother, a day fraught with danger.

One of my Favorite Books of 2016. I now want to read all of Morton's books.












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

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39. The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, 316 pp, RL4


The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley came out in January of 2015. In January of 2016 it won the Newbery Honor, the Schneider Family Book Award for the "artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences," and the Odyssey Award for best audio book, with narration by Jayne Entwistle. A couple of months back, Bradley's book came to my attention when I saw it on several end of the year "best of" lists and Newbery prediction lists. After fantasy, historical fiction a very close second favorite genre of mine and without a doubt, The War the Saved My Life is one of the best works of historical fiction I have ever read. In narrator Ada, Bradley has created powerful narrative voice, an unforgettable character and a deeply moving story of survival, both physical and emotional, during WWII England.

Ada is not sure how old she is. She has never been to school, in fact, she has not left the tiny apartment she shares with her mother and younger brother, Jamie, in ages. She is crippled by a club foot and a widowed mother who never wanted to be one. Deeply suspicious, ignorant and filled with anger and hatred, Ada's mother abuses her physically and emotionally, filling her with shame and fear. Ada's only pleasure comes from tending to her little brother Jamie. As he grows older and starts school, his independence leaves her feeling like she should get some of her own. Used to crawling on her hands and knees, Ada slowly, painfully teaches herself to walk. When she learns from Jamie that the children are being evacuated from the city - and that her mother has no intention of letting her go - she sneaks out of the house and joins the evacuees. Upon arriving in Kent, Ada and Jamie, filthy, louse ridden, sick with rickets and impetigo, find themselves unwanted once more. The iron faced Lady Thornton, head of the Women's Voluntary Service, packs the children into her car and takes them to the home of Susan Smith, who refuses to take them, saying she didn't even know there was a war on.

Susan is mourning the loss of her dear friend, Becky, and in her near catatonic state of grief she unthinkingly says that she never wanted children in front of Ada and Jamie. However, Ada catches sight of a pony in the field behind Susan's house and determines to stay. With Susan, Ada faces a new set of challenges, the biggest being trust. Even if she hadn't heard Susan say that she never wanted children, the task of being able to trust Susan would be overwhelming. And this is where Bradley's superior narrative skills shine. With Ada's voice, Bradley conveys the isolation, fear and ignorance that have been her life. So many of the words that Susan says to her mean nothing, from "soup," to "sheets," to "operate," the reader quickly gets a strong sense of disconnect with which Ada moves through the world. This disconnect is expressed most powerfully when Ada is in distress, when her foot hurts or when people are talking about her or touching her. When she was home with her Mam, Ada would retreat, mentally, when the agony of her physical situation - like being locked in a dank cabinet under the sink - was too much to bear. She relies on this relief with Susan, too, imagining herself with Butter, the pony she saw in the field that she teaches herself to ride.

While Ada is an incredible character, Susan Smith is also remarkable. Oxford educated, she herself is familiar with parental disapproval and rejection. Bradley never states it openly, but she weaves enough threads into the story to lead me to believe that Susan and Becky were in love and were ostracized for it. But, Susan exemplifies the motto from the morale boosting poster created during the war, "Keep calm and carry on." In fact, Bradley quotes another poster made by the Ministry of Information to boost morale in The War that Saved My Life. Seeing the poster in town, Susan reads to to Ada, "Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will bring us victory." "That's stupid, it sounds like we're doing all the work," Ada replies, saying it should be, "Our courage, our cheerfulness, our resolution, will bring us victory." This is one of the first moments where Susan sees through Ada's defenses. Susan clothes, feeds and educates Jamie and Ada, persistently, but never forcefully. While she expresses frustration, and both children cringe or hide at times when they think they have truly angered her, she never hits them or raises her voice to them. Instead, she explains herself when called for and hugs them when words will not do. She somehow understands the depths of Ada's emotional wounds and is patient with her when she breaks down, wrapping her tightly in a blanket and hugging - or even sitting on her during their first air raid.

While Ada and Jamie's mother only appears in the first and last few pages of The War that Saved My Life, her presence is a constant throughout. Her abuse of Ada is sometimes horrific, but also sparsely and effectively employed by Bradley. Witnessing this abuse allows the reader to be patient with the often unlikable Ada and also helps the reader understand her decisions, like the choice not to learn how to read or write, and her reactions, like the catastrophic break down she has when, on Christmas Eve, Susan gives her a handmade, green velvet dress, telling her that she is beautiful when she tries it on. Her mother's words, "You ugly piece of rubbish! Filth and trash! No one wants you with that ugly foot!" run through Ada's head and her roaring screams and panic are more understandable. It is even almost understandable that, throughout most of the novel, Ada believes that all the new things she is learning, from walking to horseback riding to reading and writing, will prove her worth to her mother and make her love her. With this possibility always out there, letting herself get attached to Susan is almost impossible. Then, there is always the knowledge of what her mother has thought of her and how she has treated her. Halfway through the novel, Ada says, "I wanted Mam to be like Susan. I didn't really trust Susan not to be like Mam."

But, Ada does get attached and she does grow stronger, physically and emotionally, over the course of this very rich and detailed story. And, while at first it seems like the war is a far off thing, it does come to Kent in a shattering way. After the Battle of Dunkirk, Kent finds itself overwhelmed by injured and dying soldiers, Ada heading into the village to help where she can. There is even a triumphant moment where, following the government dictate to say something if you see something, Ada not only must assert herself, but also let a prejudiced, condescending adult know that her foot is very far away from her brain, something she has heard Susan say, in order to be taken seriously. As life grows more dangerous in Kent and Susan refuses to send Ada and Jamie away, Ada thinks to herself, "It was hard enough to cope with Susan. How would I ever cope without her?"

I was in tears and sobbing for the last half of The War that Saved My Life, especially the final pages. Bradley delivers a very satisfying ending to a deeply satisfying book, one that makes me want to turn around and read it all over again. I am so grateful that this book won a Newbery honor, among other well deserved awards, because it means that it's likely to fall into the hands of children over and over for decades to come. I can't wait to get a copy for my library - I usually donate books I buy for myself to read to my library, but I am keeping this one! - and see what my students think of it!

Source: Purchased


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40. REVENGE AND THE WILD by Michelle Modesto...

By Becca... REVENGE AND THE WILD By Michelle Modesto Hardcover: 384 pages Publisher: Balzer + Bray (February 2, 2016) Age Range: 14 up Grade Level: 9 up Language: English Goodreads | Amazon  The two-bit town of Rogue City is a lawless place, full of dark magic and saloon brawls, monsters and six-shooters. But it’s perfect for seventeen-year-old Westie, the notorious adopted daughter

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41. Straight from the Source: Cheryl Blackford on Writing Historical Fiction

Cheryl Blackford was born in Yorkshire, England but now lives in a house in the woods in Minnesota where she is entertained by a wide assortment of wildlife, including coyotes. Lizzie and the Lost Baby is Cheryl’s first middle-grade novel. She has written three non-fiction books for young readers, and her picture book Hungry Coyote (inspired by a coyote she saw one winter morning) won the 2015 Moonbeam Award in the category of picture books for ages 4-8.

What typically comes first for you?

Setting is often the first thing I think about with a new story. In LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY I wanted to set a story in England and I modeled fictional Swainedale on Rosedale in the North York Moors, where my parents owned a cottage for many years. Rosedale is beautiful: wild in some places and pastoral in others. I love hiking across its purple-covered moorland on a sunny day and I worked hard to get the feel of the place into the story. I didn’t set out to write this book as historical fiction, but when Lizzie appeared she seemed to belong to a very specific time and place.

Rosedale_2006

How do you conduct your research?

I usually begin on the web and then migrate to other resources such as the library or a primary source. In LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY I needed information about English World War II evacuees and about the Gypsy/Traveller culture. I found fascinating BBC online archives of ordinary people’s wartime experiences and my primary source was my parents. My father was an evacuee whereas my mother stayed in her home in Hull and suffered through the bombing blitz. To learn about the Gypsy/Roma/Traveller culture, I began with memoirs, including Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two: A Gypsy Family’s Hard and Happy Times on the Road in the 1950s by Maggie Smith Bendell. Much of what is written about Gypsies was written by outsiders but this was information from a primary source. Maggie and I have since become friends and she was an early reader of my book. She gave it the thumbs up – which makes me very happy.

What is your favorite thing about research?

Everything! I love falling down the “research rabbit hole.” I always learn far more facts than I ever use! And actually, I shouldn’t have said “everything” because keeping accurate detailed records of my sources isn’t my favorite thing to do.

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

For LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY, the most astonishing thing was that my father and uncle were evacuees — I had not known that before I began writing. The other fascinating things I discovered were all related to the Gypsy/Traveller culture in England . For example, I knew that Gypsies were avid horse traders but I didn’t know that they preferred a specific type of horse (grys in their language) that is sturdy and steady and has a beautiful long tail and feathery hair dangling over its hooves.

Why is historical fiction important?

Modern problems often have historical equivalents and we can all learn from the lessons of the past. Fiction can help readers develop empathy with people or problems they otherwise know little about, such as the Gypsies in LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY. The prejudice towards the travelling people that Lizzie encountered is nothing new; it has existed for centuries and continues to this day. During World War II, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime murdered tens of thousands of Roma in an effort to exterminate a people they deemed inferior. Genocide is an ugly difficult subject and narrative fiction can help us find a way to discuss it with students.

More fabulous books about this time period:

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Dial Books, 2015

A Frost in the Night by Edith Baer, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, reissued 2011.

The Klipfish Code by Mary Casanova, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2007.

Click here to download your own Blue Birds printable. Enjoy!

The post Straight from the Source: Cheryl Blackford on Writing Historical Fiction originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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42. MIDNIGHT WITOUT A MOON: A Cover Reveal, An Interview, A Giveaway

Readers here might remember Linda’s extraordinary writing journey. I’m honored to play a part in welcoming her debut novel into the world.

It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and thirteen-year-old Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. But for now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation.

 Then, one town over, a fourteen-year-old African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When Till’s murderers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change . . . and that she should be part of the movement.

Linda Jackson’s moving debut seamlessly blends a fictional portrait of an African American family and factual events from a famous trial that provoked change in race relations in the United States.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

Typically, a story idea comes first. But with this book, my first stab at historical fiction, it was an era. I knew I wanted to write a story that included the Emmett Till murder. Hence, 1955.

Next came the character. Many African Americans were migrating to the North before and during this time, and some of them were mothers who, for various reasons, left their children in the South to be raised by grandparents. My main character, thirteen-year-old Rose Lee Carter, happens to be one of those children.

Finally, the story idea came to me. Besides the Emmett Till murder being woven into the story, what would be the premise? I couldn’t think of one until I read the book Vernon Can Read! by Civil Rights activist Vernon Jordan. In his book he stated that his family was not concerned, one way or the other, about the Civil Rights Movement or what white people did or did not allow black people to do. They set out to enjoy their lives despite their circumstances in the South. I thought, “How interesting! Not every black person was concerned about equal rights.” This also explained quite a bit about my own Mississippi Delta family. I often wondered why no one in my family was ever involved in the Civil Rights Movement, or even spoke about it, for that matter. And from that concept I found my premise: A young girl who longs for something more than the cotton fields of Mississippi, yet she is being raised by grandparents who are content with their segregated Southern existence and even resistant to the quickly approaching Civil Rights Movement.

How do you conduct your research?

Most of my research was done via the Internet. I read many online articles about the Emmett Till case, plus I was able to find the entire FBI transcript of the case online. I also read books—both fiction and nonfiction—either about the case or simply with a 1955 Mississippi setting. Additionally, in order to get a good grasp on the time period, I read other works of historical fiction set in that time period, regardless of the plot/characters.

Since I was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, and spent most of my childhood in sharecropper shacks that were not nearly as nice as the one in which I have placed Rose and her family, some of the scenes in the novel are based on actual events that occurred during my own childhood. What I found, while reading other works set in 1950’s Mississippi, was that conditions had not improved much between 1955, when Rose was coming of age, and 1975, when I was coming of age.

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

I feel comfortable beginning a draft when I know I have a strong enough premise to complete a novel. I need to have a starting point (date/timeframe) and an ending point. With this novel, my starting date is two days before Emmett Till’s 14th birthday, which was July 25, 1955. The novel ends a week and two days after his murderers are acquitted, which was October 2, 1955. My original starting date was Emmett Till’s actual birthday (July 25) and the end date was sometime in January. But after I began drafting, the structure changed as I found more material and story to fill the timeslot between July and October than I had anticipated.

I continue my research through the Internet and any print material that comes my way. Oh, and I will purchase books if I’m not able to find the material online or at the library. Many of the books I’ve purchased for research are good books to have in my personal library anyway. Plus, they’re tax-deductible.

MWAM cover-linda jackson

What is your favorite thing about research?

Discovery!

What’s your least favorite thing about research?

Too much discovery! I could spend all day reading and might not ever get to the actual writing!

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

Turning fact into fiction! I absolutely love that—gathering all these facts then weaving them into a setting with dialogue and narrative. I love the challenge of providing information to the reader while putting them inside the story at the same time.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

Making sure you get those facts right! If you don’t, the people who are familiar with that time, place, people, or events, will have no mercy when it comes to criticism. Of course, no one is perfect, and even memory isn’t perfect. So there might still be a fact or two that we don’t get right. And all we can do in that case is pray our readers have mercy and remember we did our best to get all the facts straight.

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

Well, I actually learned two things that sort of blew my mind during the research. One, my mom said she “thought” she knew of someone who was involved in the Emmett Till murder. But during my research, I found someone that I did know who was involved. Can you imagine my shock when the name turned up in the research? And two, I found out that the place where the murderers originally planned to take Emmett Till in order to “scare” him was in my hometown. So the story became even more real to me as a result of these two discoveries. I felt a personal connection to the story.

Has your research ever affected the overall trust of your book? How so?

Yes! There was so much conflicting data regarding the Emmett Till case that I basically had to pick the sources I thought would be the most reliable. Then there were other facts that I simply had to leave out of the story due to so much contradictory data on the case.

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 order to make the Emmett Till case relevant to my main character, I had to somehow make a connection between her family and the family of Mose Wright, the great-uncle that Emmett Till was visiting in Money, Mississippi, when he was murdered. Since I didn’t want to go overboard with tying real historical figures to fictional characters, I tried to get away with only one line stating that Rose’s grandfather and Mose Wright went “way back.” But my editor (Elizabeth Bewley) said I needed to make the connection stronger. And, of course, she was right. So I had to carefully weave in a few more connections without going overboard. I know this isn’t necessarily changing history, but it involved the trickiness of marrying fact and fiction.

Why is historical fiction important?

First of all, studying history in itself is important because it helps us understand the present. Historical fiction, in my opinion, is important because it gives us a more engaging way of studying and understanding the past.

For me, this book in particular was important because I needed to understand my own past. My mother didn’t register to vote until she was in her 50’s, and that was because for the first time, an African American was running for mayor in our small town. Furthermore, I don’t think she would have registered then if someone hadn’t come to our house, picked her up, and actually taken her down to the courthouse to register. Writing this book helped me understand that. My mother, and many other African American people in the South, hadn’t registered to vote because they could have been killed for doing so. Killed! Just for registering to vote. I knew this in a shallow kind of way. But writing the story helped me understand it. It helped me feel the fear. And I hope my readers will, too.

Also, regarding Emmett Till, I often asked myself, “Why would his great-uncle Mose Wright allow Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam to take him away from the house in the middle of the night when he knew his life was in danger? Why would he suggest they just ‘whup the boy’ and let it be?” Again, writing this book helped me understand Mose Wright’s predicament, which was quite heartbreaking.

Writing the book, I set out to answer the question, “Why didn’t more people stand up for their rights?” But my editor has stated that the book will make young readers ask the question, “What would I have done?”

I have always admired writers of historical fiction but felt it was impossible to do so myself. After taking the plunge, however, I feel more confident and plan to write more historical fiction pieces that I hope will inspire, encourage, and entertain young readers. It takes a lot of research to write historical fiction. But now I know that the research is the best part!

Caroline, THANK YOU, for allowing me to be a part of your blog today and to introduce readers to Midnight without a Moon. I am excited to give them a first look at the cover, which was illustrated by Sarah J. Coleman, who illustrated the covers for Sharon Draper’s Stella by Starlight, Alice Hoffman’s Nightbird, and the 50th anniversary edition of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

It’s absolutely my pleasure.

Giveaway: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is kindly offering one ARC of Midnight without a MoonThe contest closes Monday, February 1. US residents only, please.

linda1Born and raised in the Mississippi Delta in the teeny-tiny town of Rosedale, Linda Williams Jackson likes to spin stories about everyday people in small-town settings. Though she has lived in a few other states (Alabama, Missouri, and Kansas), Linda currently makes her home in a not-so-small city in Mississippi with her husband and three children.

While a degree in Math and Computer Science from the University of Alabama allowed her to enjoy careers in Information Technology, Linda now prefers manipulating words rather than numbers and symbols. Besides her forthcoming debut middle-grade novel Midnight without a Moon from HMH Books for Young Readers (January 3, 2017), Linda is published in multiple Chicken Soup for the Soul titles and has written reading assessment passages for various educational publishers. Find her online at www.jacksonbooks.com.

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43. A Tiny Piece of Sky by Shawn K. Stout, 319pp, RL 4


A Tiny Piece of Sky by Shawn K. Stout is set in Hagerstown, Maryland in 1939 at the start of summer. I love a great historical fiction novel and Stout delivers a story that is filled with interesting people, places and events with an omniscient narrator and direct addresses to the reader sprinkled judiciously throughout. While the climax of  A Tiny Piece of Sky wasn't quite as dramatic as I had anticipated, it didn't make it any less memorable or enjoyable.

Frankie Baum is the youngest of three sisters with an impressive scab collection that she is hoping to expand over the long, hot summer months. Joan, the second sister, is headed out to Aunt Dottie's farm for the summer and Elizabeth, the oldest, always has her nose in a book. It's up to Frankie to tend to their pony and former rodeo star, Dixie, and hook her up to the cart and take her out for a spin. But, before Frankie can even settle into missing her sister, Mr. Baum has a surprise for the family that will keep them all very busy. He has bought a long vacant, alpine-style (just like Bavaria, where Hermann's parents were from) restaurant on the "edge of Jonathan Street -the three blocks in Hagerstown that are an historically African American neighborhood and the site of the first African American churches, city homes, and businesses in Washington County," as Stout writes in her Author's Note.

Mr. Baum is a hardworking optimist with big ideas for Baum's Restaurant and Tavern, which is heralded as an "Eating Place of  Wide Renown" on the fancy color menus he has printed up. Despite this, there are bumps along the way. The manager Mr. Baum has hired, Mr. Stannum, is harsh with the mostly African American kitchen staff and angered by Mr. Baum's refusal to put a second, segregated bathroom in the kitchen. He is even more upset when he learns that Mr. Baum plans a practice-run-pre-opening party for the whole staff and their families on July Fourth. Add to this the fact that Mr. Sullen Waterford Price, Esquire, is about to end his term as the President of the Hagerstown Chamber of Commerce and has plans to segue into the role of Mayor of Hagerstown. Price has run the Chamber of Commerce with a menacing, prejudicial hand that includes after hours visits to new businesses in town to dig up personal information about owners.

When Mr. Baum, who drives a 1937 Studebaker Dictator, doesn't bend to Price's strong arming, Price begins spreading rumors that Baum is a Nazi sympathizer and possibly even a German spy. This is fueled even further by a flyer, written in German, that Mr. Stannum steals from Mr. Baum's office and hands over to Price. Frankie, working in the kitchen, overhears just enough of these dark rumblings to begin to worry and doubt. She starts poking around at home and tailing Mr. Stannum, all the while being bullied by Leroy Price, who parrots his father's words. The night of the pre-opening family party, things come to a head - and fall apart - as waitresses call in sick, the band backs out, family friends don't show up - and Frankie runs away, sort of. She ends up in the town square where the Fourth of July festivities are underway and there she sees the "sick" waitresses, the band that bailed on Baum's playing and fliers telling the townspeople to boycott "German Businesses!" And it's there that Mr. Baum, looking for Frankie, collapses.

A Tiny Piece of Sky feels like it loses a bit of momentum at this point, but ends on a positive note, especially when you read the Author's Note and learn that Stout's grandparents and their restaurant in Hagerstown were the models for the Baum family. In fact, the press kit includes letter of support written to Stout's grandfather, copied almost verbatim in this book. I think I was hoping to see all the pieces of this story fit together with more assertion and deeper meaning than what Stout delivered. In spite of Frankie's mother's nervousness (and despite the fact that she worked in a restaurant since she dropped out of school in sixth grade to help support her family) Baum's reopens. Mr. Stannum, thanks to a secret nudge from Frankie, tries to right his wrong. And a family secret (a secret family) is revealed. All these add up and, as I said, make for a sweet ending. But my heartstrings weren't tugged and there wasn't quite the catharsis - or the downfall of Price - that I craved. Frankie Baum is a wonderful character, but I would have liked to see her develop more over the course of the story, especially after she takes a misguided outing with Dixie and ends up in the African American part of town. The episodes in A Tiny Piece of Sky remind me of the material in the press kit - more like snapshots, or vignettes, loosely tied together. As such, they are lovely and make for a very enjoyable read.

Source: Review Copy



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44. A New Cover for Blue Birds

As I write, sometimes an image for a book’s cover starts to form in my mind. Back in 2014, when my editor told me cover discussions for Blue Birds were underway, I took a moment to get on paper the idea I had in my head. It wasn’t meant as direction for illustrators Elena and Anna Balbusso, it was simply a chance for me to record what I had been picturing for months. I set the sketch aside, showing no one.

February BB sketch

I love how closely the Balbusso sisters’ vision aligned with mine. And I especially love the way a portion of the original cover has been used for the paperback version that released yesterday, a true echo of that sketch I drew two years ago.

Don’t forget you have until Friday to win a Blue Birds prize pack — one for you, one for your friend. And you can always pick up a copy from your local bookstore or order one online.

 

The post A New Cover for Blue Birds appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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45. 2016 Mock Newbery, part 2: Bayou Magic & Chasing Secrets (ages 8-12)

Kids who are excited by a book love telling their friends about it. And the honest truth is that they listen to their friends much more than they listen to adults. But often kids start rambling too much as they summarize the story.

Our Mock Newbery discussions have helped kids focus on what really makes a story good--what aspect of the story grabbed them. Today's books have definitely created "book buzz" at Emerson: Bayou Magic and Chasing Secrets.

This summer is Maddy's turn to visit her grandmother; each summer, Grandmére sends for one of her grandchildren, asking that they spend the summer with her in the Louisiana bayou. Maddy's older sisters warn her that Grandmére is strange, a witch, and very strict, but Maddy develops a special relationship with her and realizes that she feels at home in the bayou. In fact, Maddy senses that she has a special power to feel things, to hear things like her grandmother does.
student responses (click to enlarge)
Students loved the way Jewell Parker Rhodes describes the setting--it brought them right into feeling like they were in the bayou. But I think it's more than that; Rhodes helps them see the bayou through Maddy's eyes. She's a newcomer, but one with an innate sense of the magic in the bayou. Several commented about how many sensory details they noticed in the book. You knew how Grandmére smelled, how the hot air felt on your skin, how the light sparkled through the trees.
"I love this book so much because it feels like I'm in the book." -- Meleia
Maddy becomes good friends with Bear, a young boy who lives near her grandmother. Rhodes skillfully develops the plot, as Bear helps Maddy search for the elusive mermaid she is sure she's seen, sticking by her when all logic would say she's imagining it. And this friendship helps her believe in herself and trust her intuition, her sense of family magic as an environmental disaster is about to strike.
Chasing Secrets
by Gennifer Choldenko
Wendy Lamb / Random House, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Choldenko weaves a plot with plenty of action and suspense, full of historical details but never weighed down with too many details. San Francisco in 1900 was a growing city full of wealth from railroads and the Gold Rush, but it was also a city marred by discrimination against the Chinese American community. In the midst of this, the city leaders try to cover up an outbreak of the plague, and then try to show they are handling it by quarantining Chinatown.
student responses (click to enlarge)
Lizzie can't stand all the expectations for her to act like a lady, prim and proper, when she really wants to become a doctor just like her father. Right away readers get a sense of just how different medical care was at the turn of the 20th century when Lizzie accompanies her father on a house call.
"I really admired how Lizzie wanted to be a doctor and how being a doctor was more of a man's job. She spent all of her free time reading about diseases and sicknesses, and cures. Eventurally, the plague comes and she uses everything she knows to help her family." -- Amelie
The plot is full of twists and turns, as Lizzie overhears her uncle's newspapermen colleagues talking about the plague. When Jing, the cook for Lizzie's family, fails to return home, she sets out to help him. Choldenko's steady pacing kept students interested in the mystery, as the story built to an exciting climax.
"I loved how the plot was very sophisticated, but in a way where there are a lot of little parts to find out what the end would be. In lots of other books, you can figure out the end." -- Talia
Both of these books create a specific setting and characters, so students could create a movie in their mind and imagine being right there alongside the main character. It's interesting that both of these stories are told from the first person perspective, and this helps many young readers step into the shoes of the main character. It will be interesting to see what kids think about the secondary characters in these stories, whether they feel fully developed as individual, distinct people.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Little, Brown and Random House, but we have also purchased additional copies for our school library. 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

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46. Stay Where You Are & then Leave, by John Boyne | Book Review

Stay Where You Are & Then Leave will appeal to middle grade readers interested in twentieth century history, life in England during World War I; also anyone who has had to deal with a parent changed by trauma.

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47. The Face of a Stranger

The Face of a Stranger. (William Monk #1) Anne Perry. 1990. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

The Face of a Stranger is a great little mystery, and a fine start to a series, a series that I now want to read more of!

The hero of The Face of a Stranger is William Monk. Readers are just as clueless as to who he is as he is himself. Monk wakes up from an accident with amnesia. He doesn't remember his name, his face, what he does, where he lives. He's clueless. He finds out from others that his name is William Monk and that he's a police detective. Within a few weeks of his release, he's back at work and back to detecting. Just as important to him as getting back to working on cases is solving the mystery of who he is, what kind of man he is. The clues are leading him to suspect that he hasn't been a very nice or kind man. That he's treated others--including his own sister--poorly. He's woken up with a conscience or a change of heart, you might say. His morals have been reset, if you will! He realizes that not many people--if any--actually like him. And that's hard to take, but, he does it well, for the most part. He is not willing to tell everyone that he's clueless, that he has no clue as to his own past. One thing is clear: he's good at noticing details, of finding clues, of putting together theories based on those clues. So along with his own private agenda of finding out WHO he is, he's on an official case with a partner (Evans, I believe). Somebody murdered Major Joscelin Grey. The murder coincidentally enough happened around the same time as his own accident that landed him in the hospital.

Can he solve the murder case? Will he allow pressure from others to influence him into making a quick arrest?

I enjoyed this one oh-so-much!!!!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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48. A Letter To SALT TO THE SEA (a.k.a. Becca's First Ruta Sepetys Book)...

From Becs... SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys Hardcover: 400 pages Publisher: Penguin Teen (February 2, 2016) Language: English Goodreads | Amazon The author of Between Shades of Gray returns to WWII in this epic novel that shines a light on one of the war's most devastating—yet unknown—tragedies.In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia, and thousands of refugees are on a

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49. Review: Out of Darkness

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez. Carolrhoda LAB. 2015. Printz Honor Book. Library copy.

Out of DarknessThe Plot: March 1938. Wash Fuller is working, thinking of his girl, of their plans of a life together. Then the earth shakes and everything changes: the New London school has blown up, and he runs to where she may be.

The book then flashes back to 1937, when Naomi moves with her two half siblings to New London in East Texas to live with her stepfather and to use his last name, Smith, discarding her own name of "Vargas" to pass (or pretend to pass) as white, not Mexican.

And she meets Wash, an African American teenager who offers friendship and love. He's not acceptable to her stepfather, because of his color -- and because her stepfather Henry looks at Naomi and sees her dead mother, Estella. And wants her, like he wanted her mother.

Race, abuse, sex, lust, love, all come crashing together, against the backdrop of the worst school disaster in US history. And that time of tragedy and loss is used by some as justification to inflict even more horror.

The Good: This is an excellent book. Out of Darkness had been on my short list of books I wanted to read, and the Printz Honor nod pushed it to the top of the pile. Which, of course, is the value of awards like the Printz. Well, that, and Bookshelves of Doom's in-person booktalk that began with "school disaster" and had me going "sold!". (Her longer review is at Kirkus.) (Also, I had thought the biggest school disaster was the Our Lady of Angels fire, so I was intrigued to find out more about the New London school explosion.)

Out of Darkness is about Naomi, who is faced with impossible choices. She and her siblings have lived with her grandparents, but they are getting older, they have suffered losses because of the depression, and they also know that their grandchildren will have a better educational future with their white father. Naomi refuses to leave her siblings, wanting to protect them and take care of them, in part because of her own memories of what her stepfather, Henry, did to her. Henry may say he's found religion and God and been baptized and born again, and given up alcohol and women, but Naomi doesn't believe it -- in part because what he did to her remains and is real. Saying "I'm saved!" doesn't change that.

Unlike her younger siblings, who are pale like their father, Naomi is dark like her mother and her own father. Her white classmates realize it; the local store keeper refuses to allow her into the store; and Wash assumes at first that she is African American, like he is. Prejudices and racism run through the book, and that is part of the heartbreak of reading the book. Wash's parents are both college educated, and push their own children to want education, yet at the same time teach their son the safe ways to act and speak to whites. Wash doesn't like it, pushes against it, and the tragedy of the book, the times, of Wash and Naomi is that there is no safe way to act to stop another's hatred and violence. Such "safety" is an illusion, at best.

I'll be honest: the ending of the book gutted me. You think it's the explosion and all those dead children, and the bits of those dead children. And yes, that is terrible. (And not to be flippant, but disasters like this and the Our Lady of Angels fire is just proof that yes, building codes and government regulations are necessary.) But the explosion is the result of lack of regulations because people don't accept that yes, disaster can happen without safety rules. The tragedy at the end of the book -- that is the result of hate, of hate that society encourages, and allows. Safety rules about gas lines and fire escapes may have lessened school disasters; but hatred and prejudice and racism, that is unchecked and even encouraged, are still here.






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

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50. Classroom Connections: PAPER WISHES by Lois Sepahban

genre: historical fiction
setting: Manzanar, the Japanese internment camp, 1942
age range: 9-12
Lois Sepahban’s website

A superior story of survival and love.
— School Library Journal, starred review

This historical debut speaks volumes of love and longing.
— Kirkus, starred review

Engrossing and heartrending historical fiction.
— Publisher’s Weekly

Please tell us about your book.

Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family’s life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It’s 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of. Manami decides to sneak Yujiin under her coat, but she is caught and forced to abandon him. She is devastated but clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn’t until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can accept all that has happened to her family.

What inspired you to write this story?

My book takes place at Manzanar in 1942. From 1942-1945, it was an internment camp for Japanese-Americans, most of whom were children. I grew up in central California, and I had two classmates whose grandparents were Manzanar internees. My classmates’ mom spoke to us a few times about her parents’ experiences at Manzanar. So, by the time I was seven or eight years old, I was aware of Manzanar. I was too young to understand it, but having something of a personal connection to the camp made me curious to learn more. My research led me to so many heartbreaking and poignant stories, as well as some very strange ones. One strange story was in an newspaper article. The old man being interviewed said that at some point, dogs started showing up at the camp. No one knew where they were coming from or how they got there. When I read that article, I got goosebumps. Suddenly, I knew what my story would be. 

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

Researching my book was a process that stretched over several years. It began, unintentionally, of course, in my childhood. Every time my parents drove past Manzanar on family trips or I listened to someone talk about Manzanar–these moments were layers of research that slowly built over time.

My curiosity really flamed to life in 2013 when I read Heather Lindquist’s book The Children of Manzanar. For the next few months, I devoured Manzanar true stories. I found an archive of oral history video interviews with former internees on Densho.org. My research at that time was deliberate. I knew that I wanted to write a story set at Manzanar. I knew I wanted it to have a love story between an internee and a camp worker. I knew I wanted the story to be from the perspective of a little sister. So I focused my research on the areas that were important to these storylines. I looked at old maps. I read supply lists and building reports from 1942. I drove along Highway 395 in California and tried to imagine how it must have looked to eyes that saw it for the first time. It is a landscape of scrub brush and red dirt. Very different from the lush rainforest of the Pacific Northwest. I continued to research as I wrote–looking for details and facts as I needed them for the story. And I was fortunate that a historian at the Manzanar National Historic Site was willing to read the manuscript to check for historical accuracy.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

The real challenge is that you can’t make certain things up in historical fiction. The characters, yes. The conversations, yes. Known historical events? Not so much. Writers do take liberties with history. I did. But I was careful to point out those liberties in the author’s note. When I speak to groups about my novel, it is not uncommon for me to hear from attendees that they had never before heard about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. So I feel a great responsibility to honestly portray this history.

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

My book is a good fit for 4th grade social studies in California, Oregon, and Washington because these were the states affected by the Exclusion Zone rule. It is a good fit for 5th grade and 8th grade social studies because it discusses U.S. history. This history applies to Canada, too, which also had Japanese internment camps during World War II.

The post Classroom Connections: PAPER WISHES by Lois Sepahban appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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