History & Historical Fiction
Eel’s early morning spent scavenging on the Thames River as a “mud-lark” brought a few things to the surface. There was a nice piece of copper, but he had to give that over to one of the stronger mud-larkers, a kindly blacksmith turned to this low way of making a living. But he did come away with two valuable things—or at least valuable to him. One was a half-drowned cat, thrown into the river by a bully boy. The other was a word of warning from the old blacksmith. Fish-Eye Bill was looking for him again, he said. A year Eel had spent in an easier life, getting his schooling, working two jobs and staying away from places he might be seen by Bill’s crew. It sounded like the makings for serious danger. Though in Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble, Eel’s problems are only beginning.
No one knows the Sahara Desert like Issa. He is a famous guide along the dangerous paths the gold and salt caravans take to their far destinations. Everyone knows to ask for his help. But one day five riders with six camels come bounding through the village with a desert storm quick on their heels. They do not stop to ask for Izza's help. They gallop on, with the sixth camel carrying a basket with its tiny burden. In Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham’s The Mysterious Traveler, Issa watches them ride out of sight not knowing that the scrap of ribbon they leave behind will change his future.
Author Jean Fritz has written many books that kids enjoy. They’re often funny and full of adventure and always have great characters. They’re also pretty much absolutely true. Jean specializes in history books, especially people’s life stories. As a biographer, she tries to get to know the people and the times in which they lived through research including reading their own words. Then she takes all that history and turns it around in her mind until it becomes a story her readers will enjoy.
Back in the time of horse-drawn carriages and gas-lit streets, tiny Sophie was found floating in a cello case next to a sinking ship nigh unto London.
Twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker jumped off the train in Manifest, Kansas, well before it officially stopped—and for good reason. Abeline was in a bit of a mood. She, who was used to criss-crossing the whole nation alongside of her beloved drifter dad Gideon, was being parked for an entire summer at the dustiest, driest town imaginable while he goes to work a railroad job in another state. In Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpoole, the year is 1938—about 20 summers since her Dad was here as a boy. The whole town, not just the lawns and the gardens, seems like it’s about to blow away in the June wind. What Abilene doesn’t realize is that this seemingly dead place is full of secrets and regrets just waiting to bubble to the surface.
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.