Historical Fiction

All posts in the Historical Fiction category

4th and 5th grade book club: Historical fiction

Published November 19, 2014 by Dagmar

One of my favorite times of the week is my time with the 4th and 5th grade book club at my school.  We meet on Wednesdays at 1:20 and have trouble getting them to leave the library before my preschool class comes for their library time at 2pm.  Today, instead of talking about our slate of books we’re reading this fall (more to come on that), we chose the books that we’ll read in January when we read historical fiction books.

HistoEliza's Freedomrical fiction is one of my favorite genres, because I love learning about other times and other cultures.  It wasn’t hard for me to create a great list of 10 books from my library.  I presented these books to my students and had them vote on their top six choices for the book club.  These books will be available to them during the month number the starsof January (and yes, some of them will read all six books).  The choices they were given were:

  • Under a War Torn Sky, by L.M. Elliot (World War II)
  • Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry (World War II)
  • My Name is Keoko, by Linda Sue Park (World War II)
  • Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai (Vietnam War)
  • A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata (Vietnam War)
  • Sophia’s War, by Avi (Revolutionary War)
  • My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier (Revolutionary War)
  • The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis (Depression)
  • Eliza’s Freedom Road, by Jerdine Nolen (1850s)
  • Jefferson’s Sons, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (1780s-1790s)

jeffersons sonsmy brother samPlease click on the highlighted books to see books I’ve reviewed.

We talked about why authors often pick times of war or conflict as settings for historical fiction.  Then, the students had a chance to look at each of the books and discuss them before they voted on their top six choices to include in the book club “library”.

And the winners were – in order of preference: Eliza’s Freedom Road (winner), Inside Out and Back Again, Jefferson’s Sons, My Brother Sam is A MillionDead, Number the Stars, A Million Shades of Gray.  In my opinion, they really can’t go wrong with any of these titles.inside

Next month, when my students choose the books they’ll read, I’ll be excited to hear what attracted them to the books they selected and what they thought about the books.  Stay tuned!

Review: Jefferson’s Sons, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Published August 6, 2013 by Dagmar

Here’s a book from my summer reading list that surprised me.  I was worried that this book would be heavy handed.  Instead, I found a rich story; and, although it is a fictionalized account, this story based largely on historical fact.

jefferson's sonsIt took me a little while to get into the book.  As I kept reading, the writing seemed to become smoother, and I became totally absorbed in the story. I couldn’t put it down. I will definitely recommend this book to tweens and middle school.

Jefferson’s Sons starts with the story of Beverly, Thomas Jefferson’s oldest son with Sally Hemings, his slave. Beverly pines for his father’s love and is constantly reminded that he may never speak about his father to people outside his family. I was starting to wear on this theme but became really interested in the book as it changed voices to his next son, James Madison, or Maddy for short.  Maddy’s voice is angry.  He feels the indignity of being a slave more deeply and is bitter that of all Sally Hemings children, he is the only one that can not pass as white because of his dark skin.  With each changing voice, the author provides another perspective to being Thomas Jefferson’s child. This technique added a lot of interest for me. As the story progresses, readers learn of the huge debts that plagued Thomas Jefferson’s household and how those debts would ultimately affect the lives of everyone at Monticello.

The author’s note at the end is excellent. She tells which parts of her book are based on historical fact and where she filled in parts of the story as she felt they might have occurred. This author’s note is great for students who wonder, “How much of this story is true?”

I was so interested in this story that it sparked my interest in Thomas Jefferson. I spent time on the Monticello.org web-site, reading about Sally Hemings and her children as well as looking at the Monticello grounds and pictures of Thomas Jefferson. There, on Monticello.org, you’ll find that there was a DNA study done that confirmed that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings children.

I’m excited to recommend this book to my students and teachers in the fall.

Summer reading update continued

Published July 4, 2013 by Dagmar

Happy 4th of July!  Summer is my favorite time to hunker down with my books, and I’ve read three more books from my summer reading list.  You can see the reviews of the first three summer reading list books I read, here.  My hope is to find great books to recommend to my tween and middle school students next school year.  I’m happy to say that I found one book that I absolutely love, one that I liked, and one that I know I should like but feel lukewarm about.  Let’s start with the good news.

PSBeElevenThe book I absolutely loved and just know will fly off my shelves is the sequel to One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven.  I think it’s best to first read One Crazy Summer (click the link to see my blog post).  Briefly, in One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia tells the story of Delphine, Vonetta and Fern.  These three young girls leave Brooklyn, where they live with their Pa and grandmother, Big Mama to fly to Oakland, CA, to meet the mother that abandoned them. Their mother, Cecile, is unapologetic about leaving her children to become a poet in CA.  Life in Cecile’s neighborhood in North Oakland means learning and living with members of the Black Panthers, something very foreign to the girls’ family in Brooklyn.  (My public school is located just blocks from where One Crazy Summer takes place in Oakland.) The girls, who have always taught not to make a spectacle of themselves, learn the words “oppression”, “revolution” and “Black Power”.  I didn’t know what to expect from P.S. Be Eleven, but I was so pleased that it picked up right at the end of One Crazy Summer.  In P.S. Eleven, the girls continue their relationship with Cecile by writing to her often.   But, in this book, you enter their lives with Pa, Big Mama, their uncle Darnell, fighting in the Vietnam War, the sensation of the Jackson Five, and the girls’ new stepmom. I love the way the three sisters interact, and I had to smile every time they said “Power to the People”.  I also love getting to know Delphine and her family a little more.  This book is excellent – just as good as One Crazy Summer, but different.  In One Crazy Summer, you admire Delphine’s strong, independent and reliable nature.  In P.S. Be Eleven, you wish that she didn’t have to be quite so strong and reliable, and you root for Cecile as she tries to convince Delphine to just “Be Eleven”.  While I think I got even more out of this book, because I lived at this time, I think kids will get a valuable glimpse into the late 60s and early 70s.  I can’t wait to recommend this to my students.  My son, who loved One Crazy Summer, has already declared that he plans to read it.

Lincoln's Grave RobbersI am a big fan of Steve Sheinkin’s books.  Although I haven’t written about it yet, I loved his book, The Notorious Benedict Arnold, as well as his award-winning book, Bomb: The Race to Build – and steal – the Most Dangerous Weapon in the World. Lincoln’s Grave Robbers was a good book, but it wasn’t great.  It tells the story of a fantastic plot by counterfeiters in the 1870s to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body and ransom it.  The book begins with various stories of counterfeiters and the birth of the United States Secret Service, the organization formed to catch them.  Only after several chapters do you understand how their stories link to the plot to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body.  Once the link is made, the book is off to the races, and lots of suspenseful chapters ensue.  When the story is completed, the book goes into true tales of body snatching that are somewhat interesting (a little gruesome, maybe) but again, disconnected from the rest of the book.  So, while an interesting premise and a suspenseful story, this book just didn’t knock my socks off, as Sheinkin’s other books did.

out of the dustI was really looking forward to Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse, after reading her fabulous book, Witness, about the infiltration of the KKK into a small town in Vermont in 1924.  Out of the Dust won the 1998 Newbery Medal.  Written in verse, Out of the Dust tells the story of girl named Billie Jo who lives with her mother and father on a small farm in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.  Her father tries to make a living farming through the many dust storms and drought.  The family becomes very poor.  The family’s struggle extend beyond their financial circumstances to a terrible tragedy.  I can appreciate that this book is powerful and tells of an important time in our nation’s history.  I just can’t move past the grim feeling I had as I read much of the book.  I was glad that it took a happier turn at the end, but think it will be tough to enthusiastically recommend this book to my students.

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia

Published June 2, 2013 by Dagmar

OCSOne Crazy Summer is an incredible book – not only because much of the book takes place just blocks from my school library in North Oakland, CA – but because the main character, Delphine, is a strong and capable 11 year old girl who really knows how to make the best of a bad situation.  I love her strength and her determination.  This book ran like wildfire around my school.

Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are three girls, 11, 9 and 7, who live with their father and Big Ma, their grandmother, in Brooklyn, NY.  Their mother, Cecile abandoned them when Fern was just a baby.  One summer, the girl’s father says the girls need to know their mother and sends them across the country to stay with their mother in Oakland, CA.  The girls, who don’t know their mother at all, are greeted by Cecile at the airport.  Cecile not only doesn’t hug them, when she takes them home, she doesn’t cook for them or care for them in any way.  Cecile sends them off every day to get their breakfast from the Black Panthers kitchen in the neighborhood and tells the girls to spend the day in the Black Panthers’ summer camp.  The girls learn all about revolution but also that the Black Panthers feed hungry people.  They also discover that their mother, a poet with a printing press, has been asked to print the Black Panther newsletter.

Delphine rises to the occasion.  She rejects her mother’s call to eat Chinese food every night and goes to the store so she can cook meals for her sisters.  She even plans an excursion into San Francisco so that the girls can actually see something of California, not just “poor people in Oakland”.  Delphine is smart. You just can’t help routing her on and hoping that her mother can see all the good that we see in her.

This book is a window into the world of the 1960s and those who believed in the work of the Black Panthers and those in the black community who saw things differently.  Delphine is forced to view both worlds, that of her father and grandma and that of her mother Cecile.  What a great book.  But, don’t just believe me.  This book won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, the Coretta Scott King Award and a Newbery Honor and National Book Award Honor.  Don’t miss it.

I’m excited to read Rita Williams-Garcia’s new book, P.S. Be Eleven.