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<<August 2014>>
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26. #590 – Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death by T. A. Anderson


Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death

by T. A. Anderson

published by T. A. Anderson       2/4/2014


Age 9 to 13             460 pages


“When twelve-year-old Colt Humboldt’s dad drags the two of them from perfectly good Dallas to ancient Edinburgh for a “fresh start,” Colt knows e’s in for a long, boring summer. Fat chance. That very first night, the peculiar Alesone and her little brother Peer crawl out of Colt’s closet, begging for his help to save their family from a horrible fate. Unfortunately, the instructions for doing so are contained in a fickle book that lies to make it up as it goes. Worse, those instructions give this ragged trio one week to journey across Scotland in a impossible adventure to capture three treasures—treasures fiercely protected by a hidden, treacherous world determined to see Colt fail . . . preferably by death. But if Colt and his new friends can survive a horror novel come-to-life, a madman and his minions, a disagreeable folklore legend, and the shocking discovery of just why Alesone and Peter are so odd . . . Well, the next wo treasures won’t come so easily.


“The flight attendant standing along the curb resembled a ripe blueberry volcano about to blow its top, thought 12-year-old Colt Humboldt from the backseat of the taxi. Her head-to-toe blue uniform appeared dangerously close to its design limits, with a blue cap squeezed over short blonde curls and three very prominent chins squeezing out of her collar.”


Not long after Colt’s mother died in a tragic automobile accident—which Colt survived—his dad accepts a position at the Edinburgh Zoo. Colt is not happy about moving from Dallas to Scotland. He chooses The Keepers room for his bedroom, not knowing the room’s history. This begins the history kids will learn about while reading the book. There are many pieces of knowledge inside the story, the biggest being the black plague that wiped out many in Europe.

What Colt thinks are ghosts awakens him the first night. These “ghosts” are actually two kids from the 1645. Alesone and her five-year-old brother Peter are running from the soldiers who want them back into the close in which the government has trapped all the inhabitants, thinking it will stop the black plague. The two kids are after a cure for their parents. To get the cure and passage back to their own time period, they must complete three missions, which get progressively harder and more dangerous. Colt agrees to help them. He is smitten on Alesone and bored without his friends.

Peter, Alesone & Colt

Peter, Alesone & Colt

Throughout the story, Colt must explain items that are commonplace in the twenty-first century but unheard of in the 1600’s. Many appear to be magic to the two kids. Peter has a habit of smashing things he does not understand, like alarm clocks and television sets. Five-year-old Peter experiences his first sugar high after a breakfast of Frosted Flakes™. He loves the cereal so much he sneaks a box home with him. Sugar highs are not common in the 1600’s as they are now. Peter also likes Colt’s Dallas Cowboys helmet, which took an arrow, saving the boy’s life on one journey.

Peter is an interesting character. He never utters a word, is very resilient, and handy in some of the sticky situations the three kids get into. Pretty good for s five-year-old out of his element. Peter also supplies much of the humor. I did think it odd that Alesone, a bright girl, is oblivious to the changes from her world to Colt’s. It takes her quite a while to accept that she is not in her 1645 world, as she continues to search for a pastor from 1645 and runs from/is afraid of the present day police who have no interest in Alesone or Peter.

Kids who like adventures with fantasy and humor mixed in will love Colt Humboldt. I read the 445 pages in two sittings, staying up late at night. If I were a kid, I would have taken a flashlight to bed just to keep reading the book. I love the characters. They are easy to care about and actually fun to root on as they continue searching for the three items needed to send Alesone and Peter back home. Nothing is what it seems on these journeys. Some of the secondary characters suddenly pop up, instantly twisting the story. Colt Humboldt is not difficult to understand or keep track of these twists and turns, but one does need to pay attention.

New Image

Much of the humor comes from Alesone and Peter being out of place in Colt’s world. He has no idea why they are so surprised by much of what they encounter, not knowing for a long time where the two kids have come from. All he knows is their parents will die if they do not collect the three treasures the Brown Man requires. The Brown Man of the Muirs (folklore) is but one of the folklore and creatures of Scotland legends included in the story. The true villain will be quite a surprise. Though the big villain in Alesone’s world, Mr. Vermyne, is rather easy given his name. He is a rat all right. Vermyne is one of those twists that will surprise you, yet make sense.

Mr. Anderson’s writing is excellent. Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death is the first of a series of adventures involving Colt. I am anxious to read the next volume. I love the way Anderson told Colt’s first story, though he could have made this into three books. A nearly 500-page book, with multitudes of folklore creatures, can look rather daunting to some middle graders. The pacing is great and the adventures are believable, though the last mission is a tough fight. Kids are in for a wonderful ride. A publisher would be very smart to get Anderson under contract. Colt Humboldt, with some high-powered marketing, and focused publicity should take flight right onto the bestseller list where it belongs. It is that good. Colt Humboldt is also T. A. Anderson’s debut.


COLT HUMBOLDT AND THE CLOSE OF DEATH. Text copyright © 2014 by T. A. Anderson. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, T. A. Anderson.

Buy Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death at AmazonB&NBook DepositorySmashwordsKoboAuthor’s websiteyour local bookstore.


Learn more about Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death HERE.

Meet the author, T. A. Anderson, at his website:  http://taandersonauthor.wordpress.com/


If you only read one adventure/fantasy this year, make it Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death. Just my opinion and there are still several months left to find something better. We won’t.



colt humboldt 1

Filed under: 6 Stars TOP BOOK, Debut Author, Favorites, Historical Fiction, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, Series Tagged: black plague, children's book reviews, Colt Humboldt, debut work, folklores, Mary King's Close, middle grade novel, Scotland, Scotland legends, T. A. Anderson

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27. Holding on to Hope for our "Unmarketable" Manuscripts

I proposed out current topic, which JoAnn kicked off on Friday, after reading Marion Dane Bauer's blog post, The Creative Mind. In the post, Marion writes of her experience creating a young adult short story collection that wasn't very marketable, in part, because "the book was awkward to place anywhere in the juvenile market." Unfortunately, I've written not only one, but possibly two, such books. At least Marion's reputation and sales history allowed her book to make it into print. My manuscripts, in contrast, are sitting in the proverbial "drawer," and may never see the light of day. This is especially frustrating because of the hours and hours of work I put into them. Both are set in 18th-century Milan--one a biography and the other a historical novel--and required extensive research. The more research I did, the more fascinated I became with my characters and their story. I'd hoped others would find them just as fascinating. The novel has done well in several writing competitions, and even took first place in the YA category of one. Yet the editors and agents who've read it so far tell me it's well-written but not marketable enough. There's that dreaded word again. I'm still waiting to hear back from a couple of editors and agents, but my hope is beginning to fade.

I'm looking forward to reading how my fellow TeachingAuthors deal with the issue of marketability. Our writing isn't only a creative pursuit--writing (and teaching) is what we do to pay the bills. At the moment, I can't afford to take a chance on creating another unmarketable book project, so I'm focusing on teaching and freelance writing. As much as I love teaching, I'm sad not to be working on a book project right now. I actually started a new middle-grade novel "just for fun" a few months ago, but I've put it on hold. Whenever I think about working on it, my inner critic says, "What will you do if this one turns out to be unmarketable too?" Some days the answer is "quit writing altogether."

Sorry, readers, writing this post is depressing even me! So I searched for some encouragement online. I Googled "unmarketable manuscript" and found the phrase in Sophy Burnham's For Writers Only: Inspiring Thoughts on the Exquisite Pain and Heady Joy of the Writing Life from Its Great Practitioners (Tarcher Books), a book I happen to own but haven't read in years. I pulled For Writers Only off my bookshelf and read Burnham's own rejection story. Burnham, who is a bestselling nonfiction author, spent four or five years working on a novel. When she finally finished it and sent it to her agent, he responded, "This is unmarketable. . . . Burn it. Every writer does one or two of these. You're a talented writer. Go write something I can sell."


Understandably, Burnham was crushed. She almost did destroy the manuscript. But then she remembered something her mother told her when she was ten or twelve years old:

"If you ever become a writer," she said, "remember never to throw away anything you've written."
(Funny, I often tell the young writers in my writing camps to never throw away anything they write, either!)

Burnham followed her mother's advice and packed the manuscript up in a box. Years later, Burnham was working with a new agent who asked if she had any other manuscripts. She brought out the boxed-up novel. The agent read it and thought it was "wonderful." Within a month, the agent had found a publisher for Revelations, Burnham's first published novel.

Burnham went on to say:
"In fairness to that first agent, the novel probably was unmarketable when he read it . . . in that climate, at that period of time. . . . But times and tastes change. What is the moral? Perhaps that you never know when you'll succeed, that all you can do is to follow your path with enthusiasm, and don't let rejection get you down."
Even before reading Burnham's story, I'd thought about the cyclical nature of the young adult fiction market and how what doesn't sell today may eventually be the next big thing. I haven't given up hope for my novel or the biography. Like JoAnn, I'm pondering other approaches that may make these manuscripts more appealing. In the mean time, I'm not throwing anything away. J

Out and About:
I'm teaching several one-day writing workshops for adults this summer at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. If you live in the area, I invite you to read more about these classes, and the children's writing camps I teach, on my website.

Also, don't forget to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win an autographed copy of Joan Bransfield Graham's latest picture book, The Poem That Will Not End: Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices!

Happy writing!

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28. The Bambino and Me - an audiobook review

Hyman, Zachary. 2014. The Bambino and Me. Plattsburgh, NY: Tundra.  Read by Jason Alexander.
(Advance Listener Copy)

Huge baseball fan, Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame), reads this fictional memoir of 10-yr-old Yankee fan,George Henry Alexander, in The Bambino and Me. The story simply begs to be read by Jason Alexander who certainly needs no accent coaching to create this believable boy from the Bronx in the summer of 1927.

Babe Ruth has been sold to the Yankees and George is his biggest fan.  When he gets a ticket to a Yankees/Red Sox game for his birthday, he couldn't be more excited! But then comes the error - his Uncle Alvin has given him a Red Sox jersey to wear to the game! His mother insists that he wear it. Enemy colors! What could be worse?

The audio version is filled with the wonderful sounds of baseball and summer - jazz music, the chatter of kids on the street, the crack of a bat, the roar of a crowd. If this audio book were a baseball game, it would be a perfect one.

Recommended for ages 6-9, and unabashed lovers of America's Pastime.

This is "hands-down" the best audio book that I've listened to since Three Times Lucky.
"And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces."
From Field of Dreams, 1989. Directed by Phil Alden Robinson. Screenplay by Phil Alden Robinson, based upon the book Shoeless Joe (1982) by W. P. Kinsella

 Although it looks wonderful, I can't offer comment on the printed version of The Bambino and Me. I picked up the CD at ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia, and asked if I could have the accompanying book. I was told that I could only have the CD, which I tossed in my bag where it sat unnoticed and unremembered until this week when I had a lull between audio book reviewing assignments. I'm so glad I remembered it!

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29. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (1943)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Betty Smith. 1943/2006. HarperCollins. 496 pages. [Source: Bought]

Oh how I loved Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Readers get the chance to get to know Francie, the heroine, her brother, Neeley, her mother, Katie, her father, Johnny, her aunts, Sissy and Evy, and her grandmother, Mary Rommely. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is set circa 1910-1918 in Brooklyn, New York; it is very much a coming-of-age novel focusing on Francie, yet expanding to include several generations of her family. The book has a good number of flashbacks letting readers get to know all the members of the family before getting good and settled in Francie's life. It is a book that embraces ALL of life: the big things, the little things: no matter how ugly or beautiful. Truth does not equal beauty as Francie learns. I loved Francie's passion for living. I loved her observations.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is rich in detail AND rich in characterization. It is not a fast-paced action, adventure novel. It is a character-driven, family-focused historical novel. It doesn't try to make people better than they are. It is realistic and honest. The characters are very human, very fallible. One of the themes is in fact being true and honest. Francie has a confrontation with an English teacher. The teacher is trying to shame Francie into writing only about the beautiful, precious things of life. Sunsets. Stars. Flowers. She has been writing about her life, about her father, about her childhood. Her teacher tells her to go home and burn these writings and say "this is ugliness, this is ugliness, this is ugliness." Francie finally submits enough to be able to end the conversation and leave the room, but she's holding strong to who she is and where she comes from.

It is a beautifully written novel. It is very quotable.
The one tree in Francie’s yard was neither a pine nor a hemlock. It had pointed leaves which grew along green switches which radiated from the bough and made a tree which looked like a lot of opened green umbrellas. Some people called it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenements districts.
An eleven-year-old girl sitting on this fire escape could imagine that she was living in a tree. That’s what Francie imagined every Saturday afternoon in summer.
THE LIBRARY WAS A LITTLE OLD SHABBY PLACE. FRANCIE THOUGHT it was beautiful. The feeling she had about it was as good as the feeling she had about church. She pushed open the door and went in. She liked the combined smell of worn leather bindings, library paste and freshly inked stamping pads better than she liked the smell of burning incense at high mass.
Francie thought that all the books in the world were in that library and she had a plan about reading all the books in the world. She was reading a book a day in alphabetical order and not skipping the dry ones.
“Mother, I am young. Mother, I am just eighteen. I am strong. I will work hard, Mother. But I do not want this child to grow up just to work hard. What must I do, Mother, what must I do to make a different world for her? How do I start?” “The secret lies in the reading and the writing. You are able to read. Every day you must read one page from some good book to your child. Every day this must be until the child learns to read. Then she must read every day, I know this is the secret.”
“I will read,” promised Katie. “What is a good book?” “There are two great books. Shakespeare is a great book. I have heard tell that all the wonder of life is in that book; all that man has learned of beauty, all that he may know of wisdom and living are on those pages. It is said that these stories are plays to be acted out on the stage. I have never spoken to anyone who has seen this great thing. But I heard the lord of our land back in Austria say that some of the pages sing themselves like songs.”
“And what is the other great book?” “It is the Bible that the Protestant people read.” “We have our own Bible, the Catholic one.” Mary looked around the room furtively. “It is not fitting for a good Catholic to say so but I believe that the Protestant Bible contains more of the loveliness of the greatest story on this earth and beyond it. A much-loved Protestant friend once read some of her Bible to me and I found it as I have said.
“That is the book, then, and the book of Shakespeare. And every day you must read a page of each to your child—even though you yourself do not understand what is written down and cannot sound the words properly. You must do this that the child will grow up knowing of what is great—knowing that these tenements of Williamsburg are not the whole world.”
Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.”
Well, everybody’s something. We all got a tag of some kind.
She found to her agony, that the doctor was still there, poised needle and all. He was staring at her arm in distaste. Francie looked too. She saw a small white area on a dirty dark-brown arm. She heard the doctor talking to the nurse. “Filth, filth, filth, from morning to night. I know they’re poor but they could wash. Water is free and soap is cheap. Just look at that arm, nurse.” The nurse looked and clucked in horror. Francie stood there with the hot flamepoints of shame burning her face.
After the doctor’s outburst, Francie stood hanging her head. She was a dirty girl. That’s what the doctor meant. He was talking more quietly now asking the nurse how that kind of people could survive; that it would be a better world if they were all sterilized and couldn’t breed anymore. Did that mean he wanted her to die? Would he do something to make her die because her hands and arms were dirty from the mud pies?
“My brother is next. His arm is just as dirty as mine so don’t be surprised. And you don’t have to tell him. You told me.” They stared at this bit of humanity who had become so strangely articulate. Francie’s voice went ragged with a sob. “You don’t have to tell him. Besides it won’t do no good. He’s a boy and he don’t care if he is dirty.”
She put her arm around her and held her close to her own life warmth. “Francie, baby, you’re trembling like a leaf.” Francie had never heard that expression and it made her thoughtful. She looked at the little tree growing out of the concrete at the side of the house. There were still a few dried leaves clinging to it. One of them rustled dryly in the wind. Trembling like a leaf. She stored the phrase away in her mind.
“Forgiveness,” said Mary Rommely, “is a gift of high value. Yet its cost is nothing.”
For quite a while, Francie had been spelling out letters, sounding them and then putting the sounds together to mean a word. But one day, she looked at a page and the word “mouse” had instantaneous meaning. She looked at the word, and the picture of a gray mouse scampered through her mind. She looked further and when she saw “horse,” she heard him pawing the ground and saw the sun glint on his glossy coat. The word “running” hit her suddenly and she breathed hard as though running herself. The barrier between the individual sound of each letter and the whole meaning of the word was removed and the printed word meant a thing at one quick glance. She read a few pages rapidly and almost became ill with excitement. She wanted to shout it out. She could read! She could read! From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.
She liked numbers and sums. She devised a game in which each number was a family member and the “answer” made a family grouping with a story to it. Naught was a babe in arms. He gave no trouble. Whenever he appeared you just “carried” him. The figure 1 was a pretty baby girl just learning to walk, and easy to handle; 2 was a baby boy who could walk and talk a little. He went into family life (into sums, etc.) with very little trouble. And 3 was an older boy in kindergarten, who had to be watched a little. Then there was 4, a girl of Francie’s age. She was almost as easy to “mind” as 2. The mother was 5, gentle and kind. In large sums, she came along and made everything easy the way a mother should. The father, 6, was harder than the others but very just. But 7 was mean. He was a crotchety old grandfather and not at all accountable for how he came out. The grandmother, 8, was hard too, but easier to understand than 7. Hardest of all was 9. He was company and what a hard time fitting him into family life! When Francie added a sum, she would fix a little story to go with the result. If the answer was 924, it meant that the little boy and girl were being minded by company while the rest of the family went out. When a number such as 1024 appeared, it meant that all the little children were playing together in the yard. The number 62 meant that papa was taking the little boy for a walk; 50 meant that mama had the baby out in the buggy for an airing and 78 meant grandfather and grandmother sitting home by the fire of a winter’s evening. Each single combination of numbers was a new set-up for the family and no two stories were ever the same.
Francie was ten years old when she first found an outlet in writing. What she wrote was of little consequence. What was important was that the attempt to write stories kept her straight on the dividing line between truth and fiction.
“TODAY, I AM A WOMAN,” WROTE FRANCIE IN HER DIARY IN THE summer when she was thirteen. She looked at the sentence and absently scratched a mosquito bite on her bare leg. She looked down on her long thin and as yet formless legs. She crossed out the sentence and started over. “Soon, I shall become a woman.” She looked down on her chest which was as flat as a washboard and ripped the page out of the book. She started fresh on a new page.
“But poverty, starvation and drunkenness are ugly subjects to choose. We all admit these things exist. But one doesn’t write about them.” “What does one write about?” Unconsciously, Francie picked up the teacher’s phraseology. “One delves into the imagination and finds beauty there. The writer, like the artist, must strive for beauty always.” “What is beauty?” asked the child. “I can think of no better definition than Keats’: ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty.’”
Francie took her courage into her two hands and said, “Those stories are the truth.”
“Nonsense!” exploded Miss Garnder. Then, softening her tone, she continued: “By truth, we mean things like the stars always being there and the sun always rising and the true nobility of man and mother-love and love for one’s country,” she ended anti-climactically. “I see,” said Francie. As Miss Garnder continued talking, Francie answered her bitterly in her mind. “Drunkenness is neither truth nor beauty. It’s a vice. Drunkards belong in jail, not in stories. And poverty. There is no excuse for that. There’s work enough for all who want it. People are poor because they’re too lazy to work. There’s nothing beautiful about laziness. (Imagine Mama lazy!) “Hunger is not beautiful. It is also unnecessary. We have well-organized charities. No one need go hungry.” Francie ground her teeth. Her mother hated the word “charity” above any word in the language and she had brought up her children to hate it too. “Now, I’m not a snob,” stated Miss Garnder. “I do not come from a wealthy family. My father was a minister with a very small salary.” (But it was a salary, Miss Garnder.)
“And the only help my mother had was a succession of untrained maids, mostly girls from the country.” (I see. You were poor, Miss Garnder, poor with a maid.) “Many times we were without a maid and my mother had to do all the housework herself.” (And my mother, Miss Garnder, has to do all her own housework, and yes, ten times more cleaning than that.) “I wanted to go to the state university but we couldn’t afford it. My father had to send me to a small denominational college.” (But admit you had no trouble going to college.) “And believe me, you’re poor when you go to such a college. I know what hunger is, too. Time and time again my father’s salary was held up and there was no money for food. Once we had to live on tea and toast for three days.” (So you know what it is to be hungry, too.) “But I’d be a dull person if I wrote about nothing but being poor and hungry, wouldn’t I?” Francie didn’t answer. “Wouldn’t I?” repeated Miss Garnder emphatically. “Yes ma’am.”
“I’ve taken all this time with you because I honestly believe that you have promise. Now that we’ve talked things out, I’m sure you’ll stop writing those sordid little stories.” Sordid. Francie turned the word over. It was not in her vocabulary. “What does that mean—sordid?”
Sordid: Filthy. Filthy? She thought of her father wearing a fresh dicky and collar every day of his life and shining his worn shoes as often as twice a day. Dirty. Papa had his own mug at the barber shop. Base. Francie passed that up not knowing exactly what it meant. Gross. Never! Papa was a dancer. He was slender and quick. His body wasn’t gross. Also mean and low. She remembered a hundred and one little tendernesses and acts of thoughtfulness on the part of her father. She remembered how everyone had loved him so. Her face got hot. She couldn’t see the next words because the page turned red under her eyes. She turned on Miss Garnder, her face twisted with fury. “Don’t you ever dare use that word about us!” “Us?” asked Miss Garnder blankly. “We were talking about your compositions. Why, Frances!” Her voice was shocked. “I’m surprised! A well-behaved girl like you. What would your mother say if she knew you had been impertinent to your teacher?” Francie was frightened. Impertinence to a teacher was almost a reformatory offense in Brooklyn. “Please excuse me. Please excuse me,” she repeated abjectly. “I didn’t mean it.” “I understand,” said Miss Garnder gently. She put her arm around Francie and led her to the door. “Our little talk has made an impression on you, I see. Sordid is an ugly word and I’m glad you resented my using it. It shows that you understand. Probably you don’t like me any more, but please believe that I spoke for your own good.
 Yes, the world was changing rapidly and this time she knew it was the world and not herself.
“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere—be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”
The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself. This that I see now, she thought, to see no more this way. Oh, the last time how clearly you see everything; as though a magnifying light had been turned on it. And you grieve because you hadn’t held it tighter when you had it every day. What had Granma Mary Rommely said? “To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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30. GOING OVER is the Gold Medal Winner of the Parents' Choice Awards, Historical Fiction

And I am flummoxed.

And INCREDIBLY grateful.

Oh my goodness.

Teresa DiFalco, Parents Choice Awards: How can I thank you?

The astonishing citation is here.

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31. Books 5 And 6. "Boxers" And "Saints" By Gene Luen Yang

My last two Book Challenge books.

First off, this is a two volume set. Be sure to read Boxers first.

Boxers and Saints are Gene Luen Yang's terrific historical graphic novels about the Boxer Rebellion. They're treated as one work because the books treat the same material from different points of view. I knew nothing about the Boxer Rebellion before 3:00 this afternoon. By 8:00 this evening, I had a working knowledge!

So in 1900 a secret organization in China called the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists led an uprising of  peasants against western foreign influence, including the spread of Christianity. They were known as "Boxers" to the west because they practiced exercises they believed would give them powers. Presumably westerners thought they looked as if they were boxing. The Boxers fought against and killed "western devils" and "secondary devils"--those Chinese who either worked for westerners or accepted Christianity, the western devil's faith.

Boxers deals with the experience of a young villager named Little Bao who becomes the leader of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists. Saints deals with the experience of Four-Girl, a young villager who becomes a Christian. One of the particular pleasures in these books is that Four-Girl, the protagonist in Saints, is a minor character in Boxers. Little Bao, the star of Boxers, is a minor character in Saints.

Though, really, neither of them could be called minor.

Earlier today I had trouble with the long descriptions in Haters. The thing with a good graphic novel, and these are good graphic novels, is that the graphic images carry the descriptions and even some of the action. The author doesn't have to stop everything to tell readers how someone is dressed or what their surroundings look like. You can just suck in basic story, character, information.

Reading a good graphic novel is such a rush because you can take in so much so fast.

I am out of books, but it's 9:00 PM on Sunday, anyway. I'm ending this year's 48 Hour Book Challenge on a definite high.

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32. Seven Stories Up, by Laurel Snyder | Book Review

In Seven Stories Up, Laurel Snyder combines humor and friendship to spin a rich story of adventure, sprinkled with Snyder’s signature magic and mystery.

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33. The Words of Sue Monk Kidd That Are Making Me Brave

Writing outside my own culture has been a challenge, a venue of growth, and an exposure of my writerly insecurities. I’ve drawn encouragement from others who have done the same:

On writing Hetty, her enslaved character, in the first person:

“I didn’t do it lightly. I tried to write her in third person, but it didn’t work. I am intimately drawn to my characters, to see the world through their eyes and to allow the reader to do that.”

About creating a forbidden friendship between two girls, one slave, one free:

“I had to take a deep breath and get the courage to go there. [As a child] I witnessed terrible injustices and racial divides. I didn’t know what to do with that except to write a story that fosters connections across those divides and boundaries.”

Kidd says “the ‘common heart’ philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson, an idea that the whole of humanity is connected with intrinsic unity, has inspired her writing career: ‘I try to go there when I am far away from my experience through that mysterious process of empathy.’”

— From the article “Taking Flight,” The Albuquerque Journal, Sunday February 2, 2014


The post The Words of Sue Monk Kidd That Are Making Me Brave appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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34. Tendrils of Life (2012)

Tendrils of Life: A Story of Love, Loss, and Survival in the Turmoil of the Korean War. Owen Choi. 2012. Princeton Falcon Press. 408 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Tendrils of Life is historical fiction set in Korea. Most of the story, though not all of the story, occurs during the early years of the Korean War, 1950-1953. Flashbacks. Tendrils of Life has plenty of flashbacks. These take readers back even further, several decades further in some cases. These flashbacks do place the "main story" into context. I will say that there were times I was confused, but, by the end, I saw how the pieces of the puzzle fit together and I understood, for the most part, WHY the flashbacks were so important to the overall story. It is a complex story. I won't lie. For those unfamiliar with the Korean War--like me--this one may prove challenging: not impossible, just challenging. I believe it seeks to provide some answers, some insight, into the war itself: the history and politics. Trying to explain a war is not ever easy, and, I appreciate the complexity of this one.

The characters. I felt all the characters had strengths and weaknesses. I felt they were human which is the best compliment I can give any author. Tendrils of Life is at best bittersweet, if I'm being honest, more bitter than sweet. It felt bleak, very bleak, but its an honest bleakness and not mere manipulation.

Tendrils of Life was a bit outside my comfort zone, but, I am so glad I read it.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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35. A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse at BLUE BIRDS

While doing school visits in April I thought it would be helpful for kids to see all the hidden work that goes into writing books. Here are the pictures I shared with them — a peek at the “work behind the work” for BLUE BIRDS:

20140428_144722This is my research notebook along with a few of my books and a scattering of bookmark notes. Plus a hand-drawn map of the way I pictured Fort Raleigh.

20140428_144845Here’s the 1587 manifest (those we know as the Lost Colony), some maps, and a timeline of what happened July and August 1587 on the island of Roanoke.

20140428_144949Here’s some feedback from early readers.

20140428_144924Here are some first draft observations I made (adapted from Cheryl Klein’s SECOND SIGHT).

20140428_144808These are “quilts” I’d create after each draft — a way for me to see if the dual point of view narrative was working or not.

edit lettersMy three editorial letters. One thing I love to do is pass around my letters to students. There are usually two responses: they laugh (Whoa! These are intense!) or  they want to know if the letters hurt my feelings (Whoa! These are intense!).

My response? Editors (and teachers) are like the friend who tells us we have spinach stuck in our teeth. It may feel a little embarrassing at first to see our flaws pointed out, but this is the stuff that makes us look infinitely better. It’s amazing to me how much hard work editors (and teachers) commit to writers (and students) while remaining largely behind-the-scenes. Editors and teachers, you are invaluable!

20140428_143607A page from the manuscript itself. Along with those detailed editorial letters, my editor also mails a printed copy of the manuscript with notes throughout.

20140428_142923The manuscript pile on my office floor. (I’ll reuse these for printing future rough drafts).

So there you have it, a glimpse into the inner workings of BLUE BIRDS. Any questions for me?

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36. #570 – When I Grow Up, I Want to be . . . in the U. S. Navy!: Noah Tours an Aircraft Carrier by Wigu Publishing

Before we start today’s review, I wanted to let parents and kids know about a summer program they might enjoy and earn some bucks! Wigu Publishing is sponsoring a summer initiative called the WIGU Summer Superstars.


Kids can earn money by reading and writing all summer long. Read 20 minutes a day and you could win a $20 Amazon gift certificate or $100 cash. Those who prefer to write can win a $25 or $100 Amazon gift card and their school library can win $1000 donation from wigu Publishing. For more information Go HERE and start your summer off right!

wigu navy.

When I Grow Up I Want To Be…in the U.S. Navy!: Noah Tours an Aircraft Carrier!

Wigu Publishing

Wigu Publishing      2014


Age 7+         58 pages


“Noah is excited for the chance to tour a real aircraft carrier with his Grandpa Ed, a proud Navy veteran. He is not excited that his little sister, Marina, is tagging alone. Still, Noah tries to be patient. Readers chuckle and follow along as the siblings learn that each deck, each crewmember, and each piece of equipment adds another chapter to the history of the U.S. Navy and its mission to protect our country. Noah and Marina’s curiosity helps introduce readers to the complex and exciting work of an aircraft carrier and how each crewmember plays a vital role in its functioning.”


“Noah was excited. A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier had come into port. Everyone was invited to visit. Noah’s Grandpa Ed promised to take him!”


WIGO_USNAVY_page32_image7Noah and his Grandpa Ed—plus a tag-a-long younger sister, Marina—visit a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier while it is in port. Quickly into the story are pictures of the Navy Seals, helicopters landing, and planes taking WIGO_USNAVY_page32_image71off from a carrier, and a huge gold anchor. The diagramed USS Gerald Ford should interest model ship-builders. Throughout . . . in the Navy, various photographs visualize life on an aircraft carrier; what it is, who is on one, and why it exists. The general theme is protection of the U.S.

If you talk about ships, kids often think about pirates. Noah is no different. He learns pirates do still roam the oceans, marauding ships for their WIGO_USNAVY_page32_image62goods. Marina is pleased to learn there were girl pirates then and possibly now.

The three tour most of the important decks, including the bridge, flight deck, bunks, and the cafeteria where it smelled of French fries and, yes Marina, ketchup was available. Marina deliversWIGO_USNAVY_page32_image84 the majority of humor, though Grandpa Ed has a few good lines, most of which adults will catch faster than kids will. By the end of the book, both kids have decided the U.S. Navy is for them. Noah plans to be a pilot, while Marina decides to be a captain, taking the title right then. Both Noah and Captain Marina have a great time visiting the aircraft carrier. There is a thread left hanging:  was Grandpa Ed ever in the brig?

WIGO_USNAVY_page32_image85Boys will especially enjoy . . . in the Navy, though girls should check it out as well. . . . in the Navy includes illustrations of every current type of aircraft carrier used by the U.S. Navy. This Wigu edition makes a nice adjunct text for teachers planning lessons about the military.

As with the other When I Grow Up editions, in the Navy is loaded with useful information kids will enjoy. Whether as a reference or looking for a career, kids will find in the Navy useful. It is one more edition in the ever-growing series of When I Grow Up series that can help kids think about their future . . . until they change their mind. But that’s okay. Wigu publishing is planning tons more books for this series, so kids can keep changing their minds until they can say, “This is what I what to be when I grow up!”


WHEN I GROW UP, I WANT TO BE . . . IN THE NAVY!:  NOAH TOURS AN AIRCRAFT CARRIER. Text and illustrations copyright © 2014 by Wigu Publishing. Reproduced by permission of Wigu Publishing, Laguna Beach, CA.

Buy . . . in the Navy and other editions at Amazon—B&N—Wigu Publishingyour local bookstore.


Learn more about the When I Grow Up series HERE.

Find other When I Grow Up editions at the Wigu Publisher’s website:  http://whenigrowupbooks.com/


Current WIGU Editions

When I Grow Up, I Want to be . . . in the U.S. Army

When I Grow Up, I Want to be . . . in the U.S. Armyreviewed HERE


When I Grow Up, I Want to be . . . a Teacher!

When I Grow Up, I Want to be . . . a Teacher!

When I Grow Up, I Want to be . . . a Firefighter!

When I Grow Up, I Want to be . . . a Firefighter!


US Army





Upcoming Editions

When I Grow Up, I Want to be . . . a Good Person!

When I Grow Up, I Want to be . . . a Good Person!






. . . be a Rock Star!

. . . be  Veterinarian

. . . to be Green!

. . . be a World Travel!

. . . be a Race Car Driver!



wigu in the us navy


Filed under: 5stars, Books for Boys, Children's Books, Favorites, Historical Fiction, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, NonFiction, Picture Book, Series Tagged: aircraft carriers, carrier ideas for kids, Old Ironsides, US Navy, USS Constitution, voations, Wigu Publishing

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37. Flowers

Illustration by Ellen Beier
From a CLICK magazine story, "Flowers on the Rooftop," about a family settling into a sod house on the prairie long ago ...

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38. Keeping Corner

Keeping Corner Kashmira Sheth

Remember The Edge of the Forest? I still have a few reviews that ran in that wonderful magazine that I'm reprinting here...

Leela was engaged at the age of two and married at the age of nine. Next year, when she turns thirteen, she will celebrate her anu and move into her husband’s house. Leela’s excited for her anu but when her husband is suddenly killed, everything changes.

Following Brahmin custom, Leela is forced to shave her hair, smash her bangles, and wear muddy brown saris. She will be unable to remarry and must keep corner—stay in the house—for a full year. Leela’s family is devastated by her loss and their grief permeates the household, making it impossible for Leela to imagine any sort of future.

But India is changing. Gandhi is leading the people to stand up to the English. Leela wonders how a small, old man in a dhoti can change the white men who sit so straight on their horses, but Gandhi is. Confined to the house, Leela is still caught in a struggle between the old and new as India stands on the brink of liberation—both from the English and from tradition.

Based on the true story of her great-aunt, Sheth paints a lush, vibrant picture of Indian home life. Leela’s story moves with the weather and seasons as she marks off her time before being allowed outside. Moving and honest, Leela’s tale of drawing inspiration from Gandhi to find agency in her own life is sure to strike readers and linger long after the last page.

ARC Provided by... a coworker, who picked it up at ALA (maybe? this ran back in 2007-- I don't quite remember)

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

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39. By My Side (2014)

By My Side. Sue Reid. 2014. Scholastic. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I definitely enjoyed reading Sue Reid's novel By My Side. This novel is told entirely through diary entries; it is set in the Netherlands during World War II during Nazi Occupation. The heroine of By My Side, Katrien, falls in love with a Jewish boy, Jan. Katrien, unlike some of her friends, is not boy crazy. She wasn't looking for a boyfriend; she wasn't planning on falling in love. But there was something different about Jan, setting him apart from other boys she knew. He was slightly older, true, but that wasn't really it. One thing she does learn early on, however, is the fact that he's Jewish. That is why he stopped attending school. That is why he's sometimes a bit hesitant to do the things she wants. At the very, very beginning, she does seem a bit oblivious and insensitive. Her intentions were always good, mind you, but she didn't stop to think about how his being Jewish could effect WHAT they do together: going to the park, going to the movies, etc. She'd never had reason really to stop and think about how many restrictions are placed on the Jews and the seriousness of the situation. Of course, after seeing him a few weeks, she's grown up quite a bit. That doesn't mean Katrien is mature and wise, mind you. She decides to keep Jan a complete secret from her parents; he wants her to be honest, he wants to come to her house as her boyfriend. She is reluctant.

I definitely enjoyed this romance. It was a quick read. By the end, it had gotten quite intense as well.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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40. Beyond Little House: Middle-Grade Frontier Books

frontier books

We all know the Little House books. If you know anything about me, you know Laura Ingalls and I are good friends. With May B. out there in the world, people often ask if I can recommend other frontier stories for young readers, those that move beyond the familiar titles we grew up with. Here’s a list put together by the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library with some additions of my own. Enjoy!

Hard Gold – Avi

Dear America: Land of Buffalo Bones – Bauer

The Courage of Sarah Noble – Dalgliesh

The Quilt Walk – Dallas

Weasel - DeFelice

Prairie River (series) – Gregory

My America: A Perfect Place – Hermes

Our Only May Amelia  and The Trouble with May Amelia – Holm

Julie Meyer: The Story of a Wagon Train Girl - Hoobler

To the Frontier: The Adventures of Young Buffalo Bill – Kimmel

Addie Across the Prairie – Lawlor

My Name is America: The Journal of Jedediah Barstow – Levine

Sarah, Plain and Tall – MacLachlan

My America: As Far as I Can See – McMullan

Dear America: West to the Land of Plenty – Murphy

May B. – Rose

One Came Home - Timberlake

I’ll add a few more titles in:

Prairie School: An I Can Read Book  – Avi

The Misadventures of Maude March – Couloumbis

Dear America: Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie – Gregory

Dear America: The Great Railroad Race – Gregory

Young Pioneers – Lane

Riding Freedom – Ryan

Pioneer Girl: A True Story of Growing Up on the Prairie – Warren

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41. Picture Book Roundup: Historical fiction edition

Here are two fiction picture books that feature days gone by.  Both books should tickle your fancy and make fun read-alouds for school-aged children, K-2.

  • Kulling, Monica. 2014. The Tweedles Go Electric. Ontario, Canada: Groundwood. Ill. by Marie Lafrance.

The year is 1903, and the Tweedles are "a bunch of fuddy-duddies," according to their neighbors.  Even when they finally decide to purchase a car, neighbors still tease them,
"People don't want that.  They want noise.  They want smoke." ... "They want a car to sound and smell like a car." 
But rather than the latest in gas-powered autos, the Tweedles purchase a smart, green, electric car.

With a wink and a nod to the future of "green" transportation and women's empowerment, it is the youngest of the Tweedles, Frances, and the "green" car that save the day when an emergency arises.  Marie Lafrance's illustrations accurately evoke the era and are reminiscent of the style of Hergés Tin Tin.

With an illuminated capital I and leafy, gold flourishes, Brother Hugo and the Bear begins firmly planted in the monastical world of the Middle Ages,
It befell that on the first day of Lent, Brother Hugo could not return his library book.
As the reader soon discovers, a bear has eaten the monastery's beautifully illuminated copy of St. Augustine's letters.  It becomes Brother Hugo's job to painstakingly recreate the massive, illustrated tome —a job that "would have been full easy to endure if it had not been for the snuffling."  The source of the snuffling, we soon discover, is the bear, who has not yet had his fill of letters.  Written and illustrated with great reverence for the early art of book-making, Brother Hugo is humorous as well.  Both the monk and the bear are earnest and joyful.

Based loosely upon a true story, Brother Hugo, in combination with its included Historical Note, Glossary, Author's Note, and Illustrator's Note is illuminating for both children and adults.

  A Discussion Guide for Brother Hugo and the Bear.

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42. #563 – Orion Poe and the Lost Explorer by William Fourth

orion poe 1.

Orion Poe and the Lost Explorer

by William Summerhouse

Shake-A-Leg Press                9/14/2014


Age 8 to 12         284 pages


“Eleven-year-old Orion Poe lives with his stodgy grandfather in eastern Maine, where nothing exciting ever happens. But then a series of strange events draws him into the mystery of the lost explorer and Orion is swept up in a whirlwind of adventure that takes him to the top of the world. To survive he must outwit a scheming treasure hunter, team up with a gang of flimps, and take on a tyrant with an anger management problem. Can Orion solve the mystery and get back home alive? And just what are flimps?”


“If you read what Mr. Lumpkin wrote in the newspaper about my adventure at the top of the world, you only got half the story.”

The Story

Orion Poe finds a man thrown to the shores of Maine by a nor’easter who turns out to have been running from New Britain, a community at the top of the world. He leaves Orion with a map dated 1847 and written by John Franklin, an explorer looking for the Northwest Passage but disappeared with over 130 men and 2 tall ships. Franklin and his crew were never found.

A John Franklin is the governor of New Britain and a tyrant bent on total control of the inhabitants. He comes searching for the man who Orion found, murders him, and then ransacks Orion’s home looking for the knapsack Orion now has. After taking the map to a professor, the professor and Orion take off on an adventure to find the reason the man washed up on a Maine shore, what he was running from, but mostly, was the map pointing to the lost whereabouts of Franklin and his crew?

orion poe


Based on the real John Franklin and crew who disappeared and never heard from again, Orion Poe and the Lot Explorer crashes history with adventure in a story difficult to put down. At first, the tall ship looking for the washed up man seemed to be a ghost ship, and it was in its own way, but also a real ship from the 1800’s traveling the current seas. Once at the top of the Canadian Arctic, time stopped for Franklin and his crew and he wanted no one to find out. This once amicable group now lived in tyranny and fear. With the professor and Orion making their way up       to the arctic, Franklin’s fears become a reality.

I liked the high seas fighting that occurs and that the real travel times are observed. Orion doesn’t make it to New Britain over night but must face the rough unforgiving sea first. Once there, Orion spends time in the new city and we learn how they could pull off living in such an extreme environment and what year they believe it is: 2013 or 1847. There is also a darker side to this community where the entire group of cast offs are placed. Here a group of courageous kids is quietly fighting the tyranny of New Britain. This side story become important and is some of the best writing.

The edition I received has the author name of William Fourth. I am not sure why this was changed or when, but the real author name is William Summerhouse and many of the books list him as the author. I’m curious as to the change. Throughout the writing is crisp and clean. While reading, it felt like I was right there alongside Orion. Orion Poe and the Lost Explorer, book 1 in the Orion Poe Adventure Series, is Summerhouses debut and it will be rather difficult for him to exceed the story of Orion. Wonderful first start by a promising young writer. Good fun for kids who love fantasy, historical fiction, and most importantly, the mash up of the two genres.

ORION POE AND THE LOST EXPLORER. Text copyright © 2013 by William Summerhouse. Book copyright © 2013 by Shake-A-Leg Press.

Buy Orion Poe and the Lost Explorer at AmazonB&Nyour local bookstore.

Learn more about Orion Poe and the Lost Explorer HERE.

Book Giveaway! Enter to win HERE.

Meet the author, William Summerhouse, at his website:   http://www.willsummerhouse.com/



orion poe

Filed under: 6 Stars TOP BOOK, Books for Boys, Children's Books, Debut Author, Historical Fiction, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, Series, Top 10 of 2014 Tagged: 1847, Arctic, children's book reviews, exploer John Franklin, Northwest Passage, Shake-a-Leg Press, William Fourth, William Summerhouse

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43. History and the magic of inspiration

Inspiration, story ideas - they're all around us, in everything that we see and hear, think and do, every day of our lives. But sometimes a particular story needs more specific inspiration, as well as hard research, and that's one of the reasons I'm travelling in France now. In the ancient towns of Marseilles, Avignon, Nimes, etc, I've found details that add to the world I'm creating and have  imagined myself into the atmosphere of those very different times. But true inspiration usually comes accidentally, and that's how it's been this time. The day that we decided we needed a break from history and ruins, and headed off to tour a cave outside Avignon, was the magical day for me.

Arriving at the caves at 12:00, just as they shut for two hours, we decided to head to the nearest village for lunch. Isle de Sorgue was perfect, charming and historic, exactly what you might imagine for a holiday in Provence. The sun was shining and suddenly the thought of returning to tour a cave with the six classes of kindergartners who'd been picnicking at the entrance, seemed less appealing. We continued on to Saumonne, a village and chateau built of rock, often into the side of the cliff. It was the key I'd been looking for; I felt almost weak with relief. I would have been happy enough to have simply headed home then, but La Fontaine de Sorgue was nearby, so we headed there. We visited the church, first founded in ( I think) the 5th century, rebuilt in 12th or 13th, and still used as the parish church now. Of all the magnificent cathedrals and basilica we've visited, we found this the most moving and spiritual.

Then, passing the myriad ice cream and souvenir stalls lining the walkway, we walked up to La Fontaine, the source. There was a barrier at the end, with a sign saying extreme danger but not actually forbidding you to climb over it, as quite a few people were doing, so we did. A short scramble later, we came to one of the most magical places I have ever seen. Clear, deep blue water  welled up from underground chasms deep under the white cliffs. It didn't take much imagination to  guess that it must have been a sacred place from the time people first saw it, or to imagine what it must feel like on days that weren't bright with spring sunshine. And to womder at the stories it must have seen...

So often story ideas can come from the smallest things in daily life, the emotions we all know, and no story is complete without those factors. But sometimes there's magic too, the catch of the breath that marks the sudden gift of inspiration.

At this point I was going to add some glorious pictures, but unfortunately can't seem to do it from my iPad. I will post some on my facebook page: Wendy Orr Author, if you want to see.

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44. Straight From the Source: Sheila O’Connor on Writing Historical Fiction

Sheila O’Connor is the award-winning author of four novels: Keeping Safe the StarsSparrow Road, Where No Gods Came and Tokens of Grace. Her poetry and fiction have been recognized with fellowships from the Bush Foundation, Loft McKnight and the Minnesota State Arts Board. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she is a professor in the MFA program at Hamline University where she also serves as fiction editor for Water~Stone Review.  Keeping Safe the Stars has recently been released in paperback.

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

I always begin with a character, and from there it is a character in a situation. I’m interested in the character’s trouble—why is their story important?  What are they up against and why? That’s the early work I do on a book.

How do you conduct your research? 

I like to jump into the story, discover the time period, and then ask myself: What elements of that time period are pressing in on the story?  We are all influenced by our historical time and place, and fictional characters are no different.  The world we live in shapes us. Once I’ve settled on the time and place of a novel, I immerse myself in it through books, movies, music, and lots of web research.

You do have a specific system for collecting data? 

I wish I did. I tend to empty the library of materials, and spend too much time on Google. I call people, I ask questions of people who may have lived during that time. I’m especially interested in talking to people that would have been the same age as my characters in that time period.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

Magazine, catalogues, newspapers, books, music, films, photos—anything I can get my hands on. The book I’m working on now has required looking at old baseball cards, Schwinn catalogues, reading obscure articles on psychiatric hospitals in the 1960’s, among other odd activities. I love it all.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I love the way the time period determines certain events in the book, the kinds of choices characters have available to them, the way cultural norms of the time period would influence their decisions. My previous novel, KEEPING SAFE THE STARS, was set in 1974, during the week of the Nixon resignation, and there were all kinds of cultural norms at work during that time that helped me discover the story. Beyond that, I think it’s my own particular kind of fantasy, because I’m able to return to a time that no longer exists, and make it real again—which is a fantasy for me. We know our time and place, but the work of fiction allows us to occupy another, and whether it’s an imaginary country, or a small town in Minnesota in 1974, it’s a fiction world I’ve never inhabited.

Why is historical fiction important?

Historical fiction allows us to see the path behind us, to see how we’ve arrived at this moment, and in some ways it allows us to make sense of the world as we know it now. Beyond that, it can teach us things–both major and minor–things we might not otherwise know. I don’t write books to teach, but historical novels are rich opportunities for readers young and old to learn about another time and place, to imagine what it was like to be living in a reality other than our own.



The post Straight From the Source: Sheila O’Connor on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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45. Miss Emily, by Burleigh Mutén, illustrated by Matt Phelan, 134 pp, RL 3

<!-- START INTERCHANGE - MISS EMILY -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> Burleigh Mutén, children's book author, member of the Emily Dickinson International Society and volunteer at the Dickinson Homestead, seems perfectly poised to bring

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46. Past Perfect Sheena Wilkinson

I have a secret other career.

Though I’m most known – insofar as I’m known at all – as a writer of contemporary YA, I have since 2006 (four years before my first novel was published) been writing, and publishing, short stories for adults, mostly historical, almost all about World War One or its aftermath. 

Now I’m having the chance to combine my two great writing passions – realistic YA and historical fiction – as I have a story included in Walker’s forthcoming anthology The Great War (pub. 3 July 2014). All the stories are inspired by actual artefacts, and my story, ‘Each Slow Dusk’, is inspired by a collection of 1914-19 school magazines, from the school where I taught for nineteen years. I curated an exhibition based on these magazines in 2004, so in a way this story has been ten years in the making.
school magazines from WW1 

 I fictionalised details of the school’s war effort, foregrounding the experience (often overlooked in war literature) of a schoolgirl, sixteen-year-old Edith, whose dreams of higher education are shattered when she has to leave school to care for her older brother, invalided out of the army with rheumatism. It’s very like the rest of my World War 1 stories, apart from the fact that the main character and the intended readership are younger.

Historical fiction always produces tension between wanting to evoke the period so that it comes alive for the reader, but not recreating it so systematically that it lapses into pastiche. The story must work as modern fiction, so it has to feel fresh, especially to a teen reader, who is likely to baulk at anything that feels worthy or schooly. This was a big challenge for me: there are no battles, no gore; the story takes place in a single day in a Belfast suburb. How could I make duty and quiet desperation interesting to a modern teenager?
music from the period

Unlike the intended readership, who are likely to have a prolonged period of young adulthood, the teenage characters in ‘Each Slow Dusk’ are children at school one minute and adults the next – not only leading men into battle, but, in Edith’s case, taking an adult caring role. Notions of duty are much more pronounced than they would be today, and Edith seems both older and younger than a modern sixteen year old.  How could I make her voice and choices accessible to a modern teen reader without compromising the sensibilities of the 1917 narrator?

In trying to evoke the Zeitgeist of 1917 I was scrupulous, but not heavy-handed, about period detail, and about ensuring these details are used only when it is natural to do so – when it would be equally natural to mention them in a story set in modern times, rather than have them come blazing signs shouting Period Detail. Being a geek, getting every detail exactly right matters to me, but accuracy isn’t always enough. In ‘Each Slow Dusk’ Edith and her friend Maud pass notes in class, and in one note they use the @ symbol – Meet you @ break. I spent some time checking that this sign was in common usage in 1917, and was pleased to find that it was. I liked the fact that it looks so modern, and hoped it would be one of the many small details to help bring 1917 alive for my reader. My editor agreed – but in the end the @ sign had to go. Why? Because, although I and my editor knew it was correct, it was flagged up at the copy-editing and proofing stages as looking anachronistic. And it only takes one little detail to break the reader’s trust in you. On the night before we went to print, @ was replaced by at.

I once started to read a novel set in the thirties, where the characters’ sexual attitudes were anachronistically modern. When they gathered round a television to watch the coronation of George VI, I flung the book away in disgust, saying ‘Wrong coronation! Can’t even get that right!’ Later I discovered that it was technically possible, if highly unusual, to have watched the 1937 coronation on television, but by getting the tone wrong in other areas, the writer had compromised my trust. Once that compact between writer and reader is broken, all the accurate period detail in the world will not restore it.

the first in Wilson's excellent Victorian series 
I’ve been thinking a lot about historical fiction recently. I’ve just finished Bring Up the Bodies, where Mantel established that trust so confidently that she could have told me anything about the 1530s and I’d have believed her. Last month I blogged about temporarily abandoning an academic paper in favour of a week’s uninterrupted first-draft scribbling: that paper was a chapter about Jacqueline Wilson’s Victorian novels for a forthcoming Casebook study of Wilson. It’s now finished and submitted, and the whole process was invaluable to me, even though it kept me away from my real work for weeks on end. I loved the Hetty Feather books, and thought Wilson dealt deftly with all the tensions I’ve noted above. This week I’m coming back to the present, for a big edit of my next novel. Set in 2014. I hope I get the details right.

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47. Review of the Day: West of the Moon by Margi Preus

WestMoon1 334x500 Review of the Day: West of the Moon by Margi PreusWest of the Moon
By Margi Preus
Amulet Books (an imprint of Abrams)
ISBN: 978-1-4197-0896-1
Ages 10 and up
On shelves now.

These are dark times for children’s literature. Pick up a book for the 9-12 year-old set and you just don’t know what you’re going to find. Whether it’s the murderous foliage of The Night Gardener, the implications of Nightingale’s Nest, or the serious subject matter of The Red Pencil, 2014 is probably best described as the year everything went dark. Don’t expect West of the Moon to lighten the mood any either. Like those books I just mentioned, it’s amazing. Dark and resilient with a core theme that simply cannot be ignored. Yet for all that Preus has tapped into a bit of harsh reality with her title that may give pause to all but the stoutest hearts. Fortunately, she tempers this reality with an artist’s license. With folktales and beautifully written prose. With a deep sisterly bond, and a serious consideration of what is right and what wrong and what is necessary in desperate circumstances. I don’t expect everyone to read this book and instantly love it, but I do expect people to read it. Slow to start, smart when it continues, and unlike anything you’ve ever really read before.

“Now I know how much I’m worth: not as much as Jesus, who I’m told was sold for thirty pieces of silver. I am worth two silver coins and a haunch of goat.” That’s Astri, discussing the fact that her aunt and uncle have just essentially sold her to Svaalberd, the local goat herder. Though she is loathe to go, she knows that she has little choice in the matter, and must leave her little sister behind with her foul relatives. Svaalberd turns out to be even fouler, however, and as she plans her escape Astri hits up on the idea of leaving Norway and going to America. With time and opportunity she makes good her plans, taking little sister Greta with her, protecting the both of them, and making difficult choices every step of the way.

I’ll just give away the game right from the start and confess to you that I’m a big time fan of this book. It’s sort of a brilliant combination of realism with folktales and writing that just cuts to the heart thanks to a heroine who is not entirely commendable (a rarity in this day and age). But I also experienced a very personal reaction to the book that as much to do with Preus’s extensive Author’s Note as anything else. You see, my own great-great-grandfather immigrated to America around the same time as Ms. Preus’s great-great-grandparents (the people who provided much of the inspiration for this book). I’ve always rather loved knowing about this fellow since most of the immigrants in my family disappeared into the past without so much as a blip. This guy we actually have photographs of. Why he left had as much to do with his abusive father as anything else, but I never really understood the true impetus behind leaving an entire country. Then I read the Author’s Note and learned about this “America fever” that spread through Norway and enticed people to leave and move to the States. It gives my own family history a bit of context I’ve always lacked and for that I thank Ms. Preus profusely.

On top of that, she provides a bit of context to the immigrant historical experience that we almost never see. We always hear about immigrants coming to America but have we ever seen a true accounting of how much food and staples they were told to bring for the boat trip? I sure as heck hadn’t! You can study Ellis Island all the livelong day but until you read about the 24 pounds of meat and the small keg of kerring folks were asked to bring, you don’t really understand what they were up against.

It should surprise no one when I say that Preus is also just a beautiful writer. I mean, she is a Newbery Honor winner after all. Still, I feel I was unprepared for the book’s great use of symbolism. Take, for example, the fact that the name of the girl that gives Astri such a hard time is “Grace”. And then there’s the fact that Preus does such interesting things with the narrative. For example she’ll mention a spell she observed Svaalberd reciting and then follow that fact up with a quick, “I’ll thank you to keep that to yourself.” You’re never quite certain whom she is addressing. The reader, obviously, but anyone else? In her Author’s Note Ms. Preus mentions that much of the book was inspired, sometimes directly, by her great-great-grandmother Linka’s diary. Knowing this, the book takes on the feel of a kind of confessional. I don’t know whom exactly Astri is confessing to, but it feels right. Plus, it turns out that she has a LOT to confess.

As characters go, Astri is a bit of a remarkable protagonist. Have you read Harriet the Spy recently? See, back in the day authors weren’t afraid to write unsympathetic main characters. People that you rooted for, but didn’t particularly like. But recent children’s literature shies away from that type. Our protagonists are inevitably stouthearted and true and if they do have flaws then they work through them in a healthy all-American kind of way. Astri’s different. When she recounts her flaws they take on the feeling of a folktale (“I’ve stolen the gold and hacked off the fingers and snitched the soap and swiped the wedding food. I’ve lied to my own little sister and left Spinning Girl behind, and now I’m stealing the horse, saddle, and bridle from the farm boy who never did anything wrong except display a bit of greed.”) But hey, she’s honest! This section is then followed with thoughts on what makes a person bad. Does desperation counteract sin? How do you gauge individual sins?

If I’ve noted any kind of a theme in my middle grade children’s literature this year (aside from the darkness I alluded to in the opening paragraph) it’s a fascination with the relationship between lies and stories. Jonathan Auxier explored this idea to some extent in The Night Gardener, as did Jacqueline Woodson in Brown Girl Dreaming. Here, Preus returns to the notion of where stories stop and lies begin again and again. Says she at some point, “soon I’ve run out of golden thread with which to spin my pretty stories and I’m left with just the thin thread of truth.” Astri is constantly telling stories to Gerta, sometimes to coax her into something, sometimes to comfort her. But in her greatest hour of soul searching she wonders, “Is it a worse sin to lie to my sweet sister than to steal from a cruel master?” And where does lying start when storytelling ends? There are no easy answers to be found here. Just excellent questions.

So let’s talk attempted sexual assault in a work of children’s literature. Oh, it’s hardly uncommon. How many of us remember the reason that Julie in Julie of the Wolves ran away to join a furry pack? In the case of West of the Moon the attempt could be read any number of ways. Adults, for example, will know precisely what is going on. But kids? When Astri sees her bed for the first time she takes the precaution of grabbing the nearest knife and sticking it under her pillow. No fool she, and the act turns out to be a good piece of forethought since later in the book the goatman does indeed throw her onto her bed. She comes close to cutting his jugular and the incident passes (though he says quite clearly, “Come summer, we will go down to the church and have the parson marry us. Then I’ll take you to my bed.”). Reading the section it’s matter-of-fact. A realistic threat that comes and goes and will strike a chord with some readers instantly and others not at all. There will be kids that read the section and go to their parents or teachers (or even librarians) looking for some clarification, so adults who hand this to younger readers should be ready for uncomfortable questions. Is it inappropriate for kids? That is going to depend entirely on the kid. For some 9 and 10-year-olds there’s nothing here to raise an eyebrow. Astri hardly does. Later she hates the goatman far more for baby lambicide than any attempted rape. For others, they’ll not care for the content. Kids are great self-censors, though. They know what they can handle. I wouldn’t be worried on that score.

If we’re going to get to the heart of the matter, this book is about grace and forgiveness. It’s about how even victims (or maybe especially victims) are capable of terrible terrible things. It’s about making amends with the world and finding a way to forgive yourself and to move on. Astri is, as I’ve said before, not a saintly character. She steals and tricks good people for her own reasons and she leaves it to the reader to decide if she is worth forgiving. This is an ideal book discussion title, particularly when you weave in a discussion of the folktales, the notion of stories vs. lies, and the real world history. It’s not an easy book and it requires a little something extra on the part of the reader, but for those kids that demand a bit of a challenge and a book that’ll make ‘em stop and think for half a moment, you can’t do better. Remarkable.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

  • The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer – Few can weave folktales into text as well as Farmer, so naturally when I saw what Preus was doing here I thought of this epic series.
  • The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket – Because if anyone understands how to bring up the notion of whether or not sinking to the level of the bad guys makes YOU a bad guy, it’s Snicket. And this was the first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events to come up with the notion.
  • The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier – These two books wouldn’t have a lot in common were it not for the fact that Auxier delves into the relationship between lies and stories as deeply as Preus and with similar conclusions.

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Interviews: KUMD spoke with Ms. Preus about her books and her work on this one in particular here.

Book Jacket: Oo!  In case you didn’t get to see the back cover . . .

WestMoon2 Review of the Day: West of the Moon by Margi Preus

Misc: For a look behind-the-scenes of the book check out this article Award-winning Duluth author pulls from folk tales, ancestral diary for newest novel from the Duluth News Tribune.

Videos: And here’s the book trailer!

West of the Moon / Margi Preus Book Trailer from Joellyn Rock on Vimeo.

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48. The Giant - a review

Mary-Todd, Jonathan. 2014. The Giant. Minneapolis: Lerner.
(Advance Reader Copy)

The Giant is the latest in the Bareknuckle series featuring young  fighters in New York City, circa 1870.  Luc is the giant - a hulking, kind, illiterate young man who easily wins all of his bareknuckle fights.  The money he earns at the local fight club provides only shabby room and board with any small profit going to Mr. Chilton, the man who brought him from Canada to New York.  Life, however, is better than it was in Quebec; and Luc is not unhappy until a stranger with boxing kangaroos joins up with Mr. Chilton.  Thoughtful and kind, Luc is uncomfortable seeing the kangaroo, Genghis, forced to fight amidst the drunken crowds at the seedy Woodrat Club.

     One day in Quebec, when Luc was chopping wood, a few of the others dragged a man into camp.  The man had been hunting for furs when snow began to fall, covering some of the traps he'd set.  Soon the man stepped into one of them.  The older men brought him indoors before he could bleed out, but it took five of them together to pry the trap loose.
     Genghis's fight the night before worked like a trap on Luc.  Each thought of it was painful, but he could not shake the memory.  He had felt the drain throughout the morning, and he felt it in his room.
Unaccustomed to making decisions on his own, Luc's conscience finally compels him to act independently.

Bareknuckle is a "hi-lo" series, aimed at older, struggling or reluctant readers. There is an art to writing prose that appeals to young adults but needs only a minimal mastery of reading and vocabulary. Jonathan Mary-Todd capably handles the "hi-lo" genre.  Readers will be rewarded with a compelling story of self-determination and a taste of New York history.

For teachers:
  • Pages: 104
  • Reading Level: 4
  • Interest Level: 6-12
  • Ages: 11-18
  • ATOS Quiz #: 163032
  • ATOS AR Points: 2.00
  • ATOS: 4.90
  • Lexile Level: 760
On a related topic, check out this article, "Why Aren't Teens Reading Like They Used To?" 
Hi-lo books can be an option for the teen who doesn't read because he cannot read. As librarians and teachers, we should always have them on hand.

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49. Straight From the Source: Beth Kephart on Writing Historical Fiction

Beth Kephart has written memoir, history, poetry, a corporate fable, and many novels for young adults. Among her historical novels for young adults are DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS (Centennial Philadelphia), DR. RADWAY’S SARSAPARILLA RESOLVENT (1876 Philadelphia), SMALL DAMAGES (flashbacks to Franco’s Seville), GOING OVER (1983 Berlin, released April 2014), and MUD ANGELS (flashbacks to 1966 Florence, to be released in spring 2015).

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

It is such a mysterious process. Several things percolate; many things must collide. You need more than a location, a time period, a character, a theme. You need some urgent question. It can all sit there, going nowhere, until you find the urgent question.

How do you conduct your research? 

I use everything that I can find—old newspaper and magazine stories, diaries, books, photographs, videos, films, records—and, of course, I travel to the places where the stories take place.

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

I think that it is important not to know everything before you start, to keep the process mysterious as long as you can. I want to wake up with a desire to find out. I don’t want to follow an historical dot-to-dot map. So I do some research. I visit the place. I take photographs. I dream. And then I fill things in as I go, look for facts as I need them.

What is your favorite thing about research?

I studied the History and Sociology of Science at Penn, and so I feel very happy doing research, very alive digging into old things and looking for connections. I love the unexpected find. The price of a trolley ticket in 1876. The name of a restaurant on a certain corner. The brand of a telescope that an East German would have in 1970. The tonnage of rubble following a bomb.

Why is historical fiction important?

I think it is so important to try to imagine ourselves into the lives of others during critical junctures in world history. It is a hugely empathetic act. And empathy is, finally, what storytelling is all about—empathy for others, and empathy for ourselves.







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

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50. Orion Poe and the Lost Explorer, by Will Summerhouse | Dedicated Review

Orion Poe is an eleven-year-old boy who lives in Maine with his grandfather who is the caretaker of a lighthouse. When a large storm rolls in one evening, Orion discovers a washed-up boat and an injured man. From this moment on, he finds himself fighting for survival on a mysterious expedition full of unexpected and non-stop adventure that is connected to the historic event of an explorer, John Franklin, who was lost in the Arctic in 1847.

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