History & Historical Fiction
Storms batter the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Always have. Always will. Ships break up in those dangerous seas. Sometimes there are survivors but oftentimes not. It’s 1898, and waiting and watching are the surfmen—the rescuers of the Lifesaving Service—who take out boats in horrible weather and try to save whom they can. In Teetoncey, by Theodore Taylor, twelve-year-old Ben O’Neal is determined to become a surfman, leaving his mother’s storm-swaying house on a terrible night to go help at the Rescue Station. He’s seen the flare, and he knows—there’s a ship in trouble.
My husband’s job as a historical researcher frequently provides the opportunity to hear well-known historians opine on the importance of history. The speech’s always end the same way; concern about the lack of historical knowledge among today’s youth. The statistics support their fears, but while history is unchanging the future is not! Think back to your favorite history teacher. The chances are you enjoyed the class because that teacher brought history alive with stories and that’s an easy gift to share with your children. There are many wonderful historical fiction and nonfiction titles published today for children and teens. Gone are the days of biographies where George Washington cuts down a cherry tree! Today, historical non-fiction is so well-written it has the ability to bring the past to life in vivid and memorable ways.
“The Camping Trip that Changed America” by Barb Rosenstock reads more like fiction than fact. When President Theodore Roosevelt read naturalist John Muir’s book on vanishing forests, “he knew that was someone he just had to meet!” Together they shared adventures while camping their way through what was then known as the Yosemite Wilderness. Mordicai Gerstein’s dynamic illustrations capture Roosevelt’s liveliness and Muir’s quiet while the author’s words detail their commonalities: their love of the outdoors and their determination to save them. Thanks to this remarkable, yet little known, camping trip that brought these two unique individuals together, the number of national parks and monuments was dramatically increased.
I have never liked getting haircuts. There is just too much room for miscommunication. Too much of a chance for a top-of-the-head surprise that won’t go away. Recently, I have figured out a way around any chance of miscommunication.
“Just make it look like Elvis.”
Shake, Rattle & Turn that Noise Down! is a beautifully illustrated coming-of-age story by Mark Alan Stamaty. He is best known as a political cartoonist, and here his caricatured drawings serve his personal story of discovering Elvis Presley, to the chagrin of his poor mother.
On a cold, March day in 1806, Abbie and Seth lost their beloved mother to the smallpox epidemic that was ripping through the town of Wiscasset, Maine. Without food or wood for the fire, the children were in terrible trouble. They could hear the bell tolling for the dead—so many times for a man, so many for a woman, so many for a child. But how many for a missing father? In Lea Wait’s Stopping to Home, the only hope the brother and sister have to survive is that someone in that stricken town will take them in, if only for a little while.
On a Southern farm during the Civil War, a young girl finds a runaway slave hiding in the family's barn. She is frightened but must make a difficult decision. What does she owe to the runaway with frightened eyes? Unspoken, by Henry Cole, is the story of a choice she makes and the bond that forms between the two of them.
Throughout the book, the reader never sees the runaway slave's face, just an eye peering fearfully from among the stored corn stalks. The girl and the slave never speak. In fact, there are no words in the book. But though all communication is unspoken, the message remains powerful. Detailed graphite drawings convey the tension and emotions, as well as the strong connection that grows between the girl and the runaway.
Intrigue, spying, resistance fighters working behind enemy lines to sabotage the Nazis—Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin, has it all. The story is true, but it reads like a spy thriller.
In Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Found, Jonah Skidmore feels like an ordinary thirteen-year-old boy. His family consists of a slightly annoying but smart younger sister named Katherine and a mom and dad who love him unconditionally. Jonah is adopted and has known this fact for a while but it’s never been a big deal for him because his parents have always been open about it to him. Life definitely feels normal for Jonah. That is, until the mysterious letter arrives--the letter that contains just six words: YOU ARE ONE OF THE MISSING. The letter does not contain a signature or a return address. Who sent it? Where did it come from? What does it mean?
The Seventeenth Child, by Dorothy Marie Rice & Lucille Mabel Walthall Payne, sets down the memories of a childhood lived in the countryside of 1930s Virginia by a black woman who grew up before the Civil Rights Movement made so many gains. These remembrances are plain, soft-spoken and ring true to an age that was certainly different from the one we know. In some ways, it was a harder time as in her earliest years even basic food was very hard to come by and the sharecropping system made it difficult for all farmers, black and white, to get ahead or even stay afloat during the bad harvest years.
But it was the warmth of family, faith, shared hardship and simple joys that made those days good as well as difficult. The children worked, not only because their help was needed but because it was understood that working was a good thing in and of itself. They helped pull and tend tobacco, can vegetables, sew quilts, raise chickens, and shell corn. Lucille Payne tells of how hard it was to earn money. How sometimes her mother might not be paid much more than fifty cents for a hard day’s washing of filthy clothes in a dark and cold shed. Well, fifty cents and a hambone that might not be fit to eat without it being scrubbed, too, and sometimes not even then. But her mother said, “Well, you accept what they give you; next time it might be better.”
It wasn’t all about acceptance. Sometimes Lucille would see her mother spit in the water while she washed and she would ask her why she did that. “That helps to get them clean.” But I know she was just so angry because she had to survive. When you have so many children you have to survive the best way you can. Likewise, when white children rode the bus to their segregated school, leaving the black children to walk and even calling them names, the black children got a bit of revenge…and a chance to be better than their so-called betters with an act of charity.
Settlers started moving west as soon as the land by the eastern rivers was claimed. Wanting the right to expand into more territory was one of the factors in the American Revolution, including anger at the Proclamation of 1763 that restricted further settlement. Indeed, many veterans of the Revolution received land grants in the west for their service. In the late 1700s to the early 1800s, the West could mean Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and parts of Pennsylvania. As those places filled up, too, and immigrants kept on coming, they eventually spread across the plains and into the heartland.
“When hunger gnaws inside my belly, I tell myself that a future Pioneer has to repress cravings for such unimportant matters as food. Communism is just over the horizon; soon there will be plenty of food for everyone…I wonder what it’s like in the capitalist countries. I wouldn’t be surprised if children there had never even tasted a carrot.”
More than anything, 10-year-old Sasha Zaichik wants to be a member of the Young Soviet Pioneers in Breaking Stalin’s Nose, by Eugene Yelchin. Sasha can hardly wait for tomorrow’s Pioneer rally, when all of his dreams will be realized. However, as the big day gets close, things go terribly wrong for Sasha. First, his stalwart father is taken away by the State Security in the middle of the night. As Sasha’s mother had died under mysterious circumstances some time before, this leaves Sasha frighteningly alone. He is no longer welcome in the komunalka that he shares with 48 other citizens, so he is put out into deserted and icy streets in the middle of the night.