Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Happy Pi Day! today is an extra special Pi Day since the date (3-14-15) gives five digits of pi instead of the usual three. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to share a book that weaves a story of Pi throughout a quest for two boys–and even more characters they meet along the way–to find their way home again.

Disclosure: Amazon Associates Link

 Jack Baker has lost his bearings after the death of his mother. Instead of letting him stay in Kansas where landmarks show up against the sky, his father, a Naval officer before and during World War II, drops him to find his way alone at the Morton Hill Academy for Boys in Cape Fealty, Maine.

Jack narrates the story of his friendship with Early Auden, “the strangest of boys,” in a voice that is both matter of fact and heartbreaking. Jack makes a half-hearted attempt to fit in with the other boys, but there is too much he doesn’t know (rowing, the sea, school legends), and too much that they don’t know (grief, homesickness, lostness). Instead, Jack finds himself drawn to the mysterious Early.

Early rarely shows up to class. He has a workshop in the basement. He listens to Mozart on Sundays, Louis Armstrong on Mondays, Frank Sinatra on Wednesdays, Glen Miller on Fridays and Billie Holiday when it’s raining. When he looks at Pi, he sees colors and textures. He is convinced that Pi is lost and shares the story revealed in the numbers with Jack as they work together to build (or rebuild) a better boat. Jack even learns to row in a straight line with Early as his coxswain shouting out directions.

When Jack’s father doesn’t show up as planned for fall break, Jack joins Early on a quest to find Pi–and Early’s dead brother Fisher–and bring him home before he disappears completely. As they journey deeper and deeper into the Maine wilderness, they encounter characters that offer help and harm: loggers/pirates, a gruff woodsman and outdoor guide, a lonely old woman, an ugly girl who turns out to be beautiful and the biggest grizzly bear on the Appalachian Trail. Will they ever find their way home again?

I love the way Clare Vanderpool weaves together multiple stories in Navigating Early (Delacorte Press 2013). Both Jack and Early bounce between their past and present stories. Each of the characters they meet has a story as well. Then there is the story of Pi, that only Early can see in the numbers. Each of the stories and the characters within them connect in surprising ways. I will be thinking about this book for some time to come and looking at the connections in my own life in a new way.

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates Program. If you decide to make a purchase by clicking on the affiliate links, Amazon will pay me a commission. This commission doesn’t cost you any extra. All opinions are my own.

The Picture Books Are Coming!

Did you know that November is National Picture Book Month? I didn’t until Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts shared her plans to read #bookaday–and share out on her blog–for the month. I decided to join in the fun.

When it comes to middle grade and young adult literature, I can list hundreds of books on hundreds of topics and genres and by hundreds of authors. But when it comes to picture books, not so much. I’ve been seeing the pictures books shared by other readers and have wanted to explore this format more.

I headed to the children’s room in our  public library and quickly became overwhelmed. All those thin books sticking out at odd angles up and down the shelves. Where do I  even begin? I sat down at one end of the shelves and began browsing. (Of course, I didn’t write down any of the titles I discovered through IMWAYR or other blog posts.) Even so, it didn’t take long to create a stack of books to bring home.

I discovered some familiar friends among the authors. Some wrote books that I enjoyed reading to my daughter when she was younger. Other were authors I recognized from their books for middle grade or young adult readers. The picture books did not disappoint.

hello red foxHello, Red Fox by Eric Carle – My daugher (and me, too) loved Eric Carle. We had board books and hardback and paperback picture books. As soon as she saw Hello, Red Fox, she recognized Carle’s distinctive artwork. I was surprised there was another Carle book that we hadn’t read. Little Frong invites his friends to his birthday party, but Mama Frog thinks they are the wrong color! Using an optical illsusion based on the color wheel, the reader helps Mama Frog “see” the right colors. As a kid, I loved these illusions. I enjoyed the concept even now, but my eyes are getting old! It’s hard to stare at the colors page after page.

louise the adventure of a chickenLouise, The Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss – How could I go wrong with a story by Kate DiCamillo? Louise is a brave chicken who yearns for more adventure than she can find in the hen house and farm yard. She discovers pirates sailing over the seas, lions rampaging at the circus, mysterious strangers lurking at a bazaar. After each adventure, she is glad to return home…until the next adventure calls.

holly & ivyThe Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden and Barbara Cooney – Godden’s The Diddakoi was one of my most treasured books from my grandmother’s library. Discovering The Story of Holly & Ivy was like having tea with an old friend. The magic of Christmas wishes brings together three unlikely characters on a cold Christmas night. The oprhan ivy wishes for a family of her own, so she sets out for Appleton to find the grandmother she is sure is waiting for her. Holly wishes to leave her perch in the toy store window so she can be some little girl’s Christmas doll (even if the scary owl Abracadabra says impossible). Mrs. Jones wishes for a child and decorates a tree even though she’s not quite sure what she’s hoping for this Christmas.

strega nona's giftStrega Nona’s Gift by Tomie dePaola – Of course I remembered Strega Nona. This one turned out to be another Christmas story. (I’m really not trying to rush the season, but I do love Christmas stories.) Strega Nona is cooking and cooking and cooking for all the feasts through the month of December in her village of Calabria. She even cooks a feast for the animals, but something goes wrong when Big Anthony can’t resist the goat’s treat. What will it take to set the world right again?

I have even more great picture books to share tomorrow. What picture books should I be looking for to read next? Let me know your suggestions in the comments.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? Is a meme sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.  Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Menor Texts gave the meme a kidlit twist.  It’s a great way to reflect on what you’ve read and reviewed the last week and plan what you want to read next.  Join up with us and discover what good books other people  are reading.

It was a quiet reading week, but I enjoyed meeting lots of interesting people that I interviewed this week. Now I have lots of writing to do!

I finished…

forgive me leonard peacockForgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick – Once I neared the end, I couldn’t stop listening. This is one of the most powerful books I have read in some time. Leonard will stay with me as well the questions this book raised. We never know how much the people we come in contact with every day might be hurting or how much our words and actions can impact them. I know I will be treating the people around me with more kindness and paying more attention.

chinese cinderellaChinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah – My heart ached for the rejection and cruelty that Adeline experenced within her family. As I read I marveled at her strength and courage and resilience. How did she do it? So many children would have withered under the acts of cruelty she lived with daily. She found strength in her Aunt Baba and grandfather as well as in her success at school.

I’m currently reading…

Poliser_SummerLettingGo_jkt_website_207_1The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner – We didn’t read much last week with all the work assigned before break and the last games of the soccer season. Now that my daughter is on fall break, I’m hoping we can get back to reading every night.

les-miserablesLes Miserables by Victor Hugo – It’s still slow progress, but I’m still reading some every week. The rebels are regrouping in the barricade, preparing for the next wave of attack from the army.

again calls the owlAgain Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven – I just barely got started with this one, but I can tell I will enjoy it. Craven’s prose brings to life such a different time in the world.

Secrets of Writing High-Performance Business-to-Business Copy(AWAI) – Another couple of chapters read this week and another class down. I am learning that I enjoy this type of business copywriting more than I thought I would.

Coming up…

We have lots of catching up to do over fall break–all those projects that kept getting pushed back until we have more time. There’s shopping for winter clothes and a college visit. I hope to make progress on the books I’m reading.

What have you read this week?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? Is a meme sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.  Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Menor Texts gave the meme a kidlit twist.  It’s a great way to reflect on what you’ve read and reviewed the last week and plan what you want to read next.  Join up with us and discover what good books other people are reading.


I got some writing done, I canned more tomatoes and pasta sauce.  I battled yellow jackets and baby snakes.  I even read some.  Here are the books that joined me through this week.

I finished…

cup of our lifeThe Cup of Our Life by Joyce Rupp – I’ve been using this book for my morning devotions the past six weeks.  I’ve used it before, but since I’m at a different place in my life, the reflections are still fresh and relevant.  Once again, I am moved by the symbolism of a cup for many things in my life.

staff of serapisStaff of Serapis by Rick Riordan – I found this one while poking around on Amazon looking for something else.  I still have to wait until October for The Blood of Olympus, but this long short story–or is it a short novella–might hold me over until then.  This time Annabeth Chase and Sadie Kane come together to defeat a monster that combines Greek and Egyptian elements.  The question remains, is Riordan just teasing us with these shorts, or is he planning another series joining the Greek demigods and the Egyptian magicians?

I’m currently reading…

les-miserablesLes Miserables by VIctor Hugo – I know this is one reason my reading (in terms of number of books) has slowed down.  I have spent quite a bit of time this week with Gavroche (a Paris street urchin) as he rescued his unknown younger brothers and escaping from prison with Thenadier.  He may be a rascal and the “master of the house,”  but he does have street smarts.  I am now 67% of the way through.  I’m still working to finish it by the end of the year.

code name verityCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – I am almost done–just 25 minutes or so left.  I loved Morven Christie’s narration of Queenie/Julie.  She wrung every drop of emotion out of the character without being overwrought.  Then when Lucy Gaskell started narrating Maddy’s/Kitty Hawk’s part, I was blown away.  Her voice brought Maddy to life in my mind.  I will be sad to finish with this story again.

2014 childrens writers market2014 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market edited by Chuck Sambuchino – I have learned so much from reading the articles and interviews–making the most of conferences, creating compelling characters, taking the plunge into self-publishing, and more.  I am almost through the informational part for writing craft and business and to the list of publishers, agents, editors, magazines.

buggedBugged!  How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee – I am having too much fun reading this one.  I have to bite my tongue to keep from sharing gross facts about bugs and the diseases they spread at inopportune times.  Even though much of the information is groww, I find myself laughing, too.


How to Write Successful Fundraising Appeals by Mal Warwick – This one is due back at the library today, and I think I’m going to hand it back in unread.  My heart is with writing stories–both fiction and nonfiction–not in copywriting.  If that opportunity presents itself, I know where I can get the book if I want to learn it later.

Coming up…

I am nearly finished with several books.  I’m not sure what I what I will grab off the shelf next.  I will choose another audio book from the ones I downloaded from Sync YA earlier this summer.  I’m looking for something lighter after the intensity of Code Name Verity.  I’ve also been picking up Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, so it may be next up, too.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? Is a meme sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.  Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Menor Texts gave the meme a kidlit twist.  It’s a great way to reflect on what you’ve read and reviewed the last week and plan what you want to read next.  Join up with us and discover what good books other people are reading.


Now that school is back in for my daughter, I’m back to trying to balance my reading and my writing…and gardening.  The tomato plants have exploded with ripe, juicy Roma tomatoes that we transform into salsa and pizza sauce and pasta sauce.  Let’s not even talk about the fresh corn, cantaloupe, bell peppers, zucchini, and cucumbers.  We even still have broccoli!  Even so, I managed to finish two books last week and make progress with more.

I finished …

handbook of magazine article writingWriter’s Digest of Magazine Article Writing edited by Michelle Ruberg – Some of the information in this guide repeated what I had read in my previous books in my freelance writing crash course.  Not surprising since the people who wrote the books I read earlier contributed to this book as well.  I appreciated hearing it again (It’s starting to sink in.), and there was enough new information to make it worth while to read.  Following the advice I’ve been reading, I received my first assignment from an editor last week!

praying in colorPraying in Color:  Drawing a New Path to God by Sybil MacBeth – Not only did I finish reading this book, I’ve been exploring praying in color myself.  It is a very different way for me to pray since I have always been more comfortable with writing than drawing, but I am eager to explore more.  I plan to write a more thorough reflection on the book and my explorations later this week.  Meanwhile, I’ve sharpened the colored pencils!

I’m currently reading ….

les-miserablesLes Miserables by Victor Hugo – The story is picking up again and so is my reading.  My favorite part from this week’s reading was when Jean Valjean stopped a pickpocket in his tracks and then gave the thief the purse he was trying to steal.  Then the thief lost the wallet to a young pickpocket, who gave the purse to an old man who had nothing.  My goal is to finish this by the end of the year.  I will need to spend more time with it than I have been.

code name verityCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – The audio is excellent and gets better by the minute.  I’m nearing the end of Queenie’s story, and the narration is heart-wrenching to listen to.  I can’t wait to hear how Maddie’s story is narrated.

2014 childrens writers market2014 Children’s Writer’s & illustrator’s Market edited by Chuck Sambuchino – I knew this was a comprehensive list of publishers, agents, and magazines for the children’s market, but I did not realize how much practical advice and tips it contained as well.  I’m learning so much!

buggedBugged:  How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee – i don’t know how it happened, but nonfiction today is much better than back in the day when the children’s librarian at my public library had to beg me to read nonfiction.  (I reluctantly tried mythology and biographies, but not much else.)  I always thought I would want to write fiction (and I do), but I would also love to write nonfiction like this.  It’s not only “swarming with facts” (as the cover proclaims), but it’s funny.

Coming up …

how to write successful fundraising appealsHow to Write Successful Fundraising Appeals by Mal Warwick – It’s another book in my crash course (almost all of them from my local library).  The copywriting I am most interested in doing is for not-for-profits.  Having worked for both secular and religious not-for-profits, I know fundraising is a fact of life for them.  I like the idea of using my writing to help causes I support, too.  Since I keep putting off opening this one, I know where I want to spend my time writing.

What are you reading this week?

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

imageOver the last couple of years, I have had quite a few books connected with the Civil Rights movement come across my TBR pile.  Most of them have been excellent, and I have learned something from all of them, whether I was reading historical fiction or historical accounts.  Rita Williams Garcia introduced me to yet another aspect of those years that I knew next-to-nothing about in her novel One Crazy Summer (Scholastic 2010).

Delphine leads her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, to visit the mother who left them.  They fly across the country to Oakland, California, for the summer of 1968, to get to know the mysterious Cecile.  Even once they are living in her house, Cecile remains a mystery, but Delphine is not stubborn and bossy for nothing.  She will do whatever it takes to protect her sisters and get answers from Cecile.  She might even learn something about herself  along the way.

Delphine’s first surprise (after Cecile kicks them out of the house for the day) is her encounter with the Black Panthers.  Behind the headlines she heard back in New York City, she discovers that the Black Panthers distribute food to hungry children in the neighborhood and run a day camp for kids at the Community Center.  Before she quite knows how it happens, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are practicing parts to perform in a demonstration at the community park.  Before the demonstration is over, will encounter even more surprises.

Williams-Garcia tackles some serious issues in this novel–racism, abandonment, and families–and she does it with wit and humor.  Delphine is an unforgettable character, who is much stronger than she realizes.  As she finds her voice, she discovers the power of poetry and the power of the people and the power of herself.

Tiger, Tiger by Lynne Reid Banks

imageLynne Reid Banks brings the streets and palaces and circuses of Ancient Rome to life with an unforgettable cast of characters in Tiger, Tiger (Laurel Leaf Books 2004).  Aurelia, The Emperor Caesar’s daughter leads a pampered, if lonely, life.  She is thrilled when her father gives her a young tiger cub for her birthday.  With the help of its trainer Julius, Aurelia learns to earn the tiger’s trust.  She also learns to trust Julius and welcomes his company as much as she does Boots.  Her only other companion is her young cousin Marcus, who wants to impress but often falls short.

Aurelia may be pampered, but she is tender-hearted.  She is horrified by the acts of the Circus, wanting nothing to hurt the amazing animals she sees there.  She is also strong-willed, even daring to speak her mind (with caution, of course) to her father, who has the ultimate authority of life and death over every citizen in Rome.  While Marcus comes across as spoiled and petulant, he is only acting his age–ten.  When he most wants to impress Aurelia, he suggests a prank that goes horribly wrong.  Boots escapes into the city of Rome.  Now Julius must pay with his life as he faces another tiger in the arena–the tiger named Brute.

The streets of Rome swirl with controversy and violence.  While Aurelia lives above the dirty streets, she is not immune to their controversy.  She is fascinated by the new sect of believers who call themselves Christians.  Even though she could have grown up as cold and cruel as her father, Aurelia is kind, especially to animals.  Since we experience the circus through her eyes, Banks tempers the excitement and blood lust of the crowds with the horror she experiences at its violence and death.  Tiger, Tiger would make a good introduction or companion to the study of Ancient Rome.

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

imageWhen I first heard the buzz about The Lions of Little Rock (Scholastic 2012), I thought it would be set during 1957, the first year of school integration and the story of the Little Rock Nine.  I was wrong.  Instead Kristin Levine weaves a story of friendship that is set during the following year of 1958, when Little Rock closed their high schools in order to prevent further integration of the schools.

When Marlee and Liz becomes friends that year, they never dream that their friendship will test not only their loyalty to each other, but will also take on segregation and put their families in danger when Liz is caught “passing” for white at Marlee’s middle school.  No matter that the world is set against their friendship Liz and Marlee reach out to each other and help each other.

Marlee tells the story of their friendship, which is quite remarkable considering that Marlee is too frightened to talk to most people.  She even freezes up with her own mother.  Liz, however, pushes Marlee to find her voice and to speak up for herself.  Marlee teaches Liz how to be quiet.  Together, they face the tumultuous changes that come.  Marlee misses her big sister Judy, who is sent to live with a grandmother so she can go to school.  Liz finds a bit of romance.  Marlee joins The Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools and the Stop This Outrageous Purge campaigns and learns to talk to her mother.  Together, they learn that “a friend is someone who helps you change for the better” (289).

More I Survived by Lauren Tarshis

The I Survived series of historical fiction has been extremely popular in my classroom this year.  For students who are not sure about historical fiction, they provide a short (less than 100 pages), quick introduction to the genre.  Lauren Tarshis chooses some of the most exciting, most dangerous times in history to write about–the Battle of Gettysburg, the Japanese tsunami, the Nazi invasion of Europe.  With these dramatic historical events as the background, Tarshis creates a young character who must survive.  Whether an escaped slave or a young American overseas, each character is both believable and relatable for modern readers. I already had six of these titles in my classroom library.  Now I have extra copies of those six plus three new adventures to share.  Here is where–and when–the latest titles will take you.

I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 (Scholastic 2013) imageThomas and his little sister Birdie are slaves on a Virginia plantation.  When they hear that their master wants to sell Thomas, they flee into the woods to search for freedom.  They are lucky enough to meet up with some Union soldiers who take them in.  Corporal Henry Green looks out for Thomas and Birdie as they travel with the army and tells them stories of his home in Vermont.  Soon the army receives orders to march to Gettysburg.  Will Thomas and Birdie survive this bloodiest, deadliest battle of the Civil War?  

I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944 (Scholastic 2014) When my students first start reading about the Holocaust, many of them ask why the Jews didn’t fight back.  The answer is that some Jews–along with Resistance fighters from different countries and faiths–did fight back.  Max looks out for his little sister Zena (and she looks out for him, too) while they are trapped in the Jewish ghetto in their town in Poland.  After a daring escape, they encounter Resistance fighters, including one who surprises them.  As they are traveling to the secret camp deep in the forest, German fighter planes drop bombs throughout the forest and German soldiers sweep through the trees with machine guns.  Will Max and Zena survive the explosions and fire and be able to reunite with their family?

I Survived the Japanese Tsunami, 2011 (Scholastic 2013) imageBen, his little brother Harry, and their mother are visiting their dad’s hometown in Japan.  The visit brings back painful memories of Ben’s dad, who died a few months earlier in a car crash.  But Ben’s memories of his dad and his dad’s stories from the Air Force give Ben the strength and courage to survive the devastating earthquake and tsunami that swept across Japan.  The roiling waters rip Ben from his family and he must fight to survive all alone.


If you want even more about these survival stories, check out the Scholastic I Survived Website.  You can learn more about each of the disasters, see what I Survived book is coming up next, and even take a quiz to test your survival skills.

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

imageI first met Deza Malone when I read Bud, Not Buddy.  When I learned that Christopher Paul Curtis had written her story, too, I couldn’t wait to read The Mighty Miss Malone (Scholastic 2012).  Not only is it a fun story with memorable characters, but it also opens eyes to the challenges of the Great Depression and echoes the challenges that many children and their families face today.

Deza is smart and determined–the perfect narrator to introduce her family and share their story.  At first it is a story filled with laughter.  Mr. Malone constantly speaks with over-the-top alliteration.  Big Brother Jimmie is always up to something–usually something that leads to trouble.  Mrs. Malone is the heart of the family and the hope that draws them together no matter how far apart they are.

I laughed through much of this book as Curtis brought to life the entertainment of the Great Depression, from the Joe Louis-Max Schmelling boxing bouts to the Negro Leauge baseball games and singing at speak easies.  But It only takes one bit of bad news to throw a family off track–or in this case on the tracks to a hobo camp.  No matter how bad their circumstances, Deza never forgets that she is something special.  Even as she clings to her promise, she learns to let go.

I enjoyed sharing bits and pieces of this story with my students throughout the day last Friday.  I hope I have convinced some of them to give historical fiction a chance.

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