History & Historical Fiction
George Mason, future patriot, spent part of his childhood in Stafford County. His father died by drowning when he was very young, so he sometimes stayed with relatives including his uncle, John Mercer who lived at Marlborough Point. His uncle was a lawyer and landowner. He had a large library for the time—more than 1,500 books—and 11-year-old George enjoyed the library, including law commentaries his uncle had written.
It is 1941, and the German Army occupies The Netherlands. A young Dutch boy named Piet has been given the task of escorting two neighborhood children to safety in Brussels. The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands, by Louise Borden, is the exciting story of Piet Janssen. He live in the town of Sluis in the Netherlands. His town is on the border between The Netherlands and Brussels. During the winters there, it is so cold that the canals freeze and the ice is thick enough to skate on. In fact, skating is a form of transportation for many people in the Netherlands.
Piet loves to skate. He also idolizes a skater named Pim Mulier who once skated through eleven towns. Many Dutch have skated through towns, but the route that Pim took has its own name, the Elfstedentocht (the Eleven Towns Race). Piet has been training to duplicate this race and finish just like his idol Pim Mulier. But in December of 1941, many of the Dutch were concerned with much more than a race along the canals. Their country was occupied by Germany. Because of the war, many fathers were gone. They had joined the Allied forces in England.
Black History Month begins tomorrow and the library has recently updated the bibliography, “Our Stories: The African-American Experience,” recommending many wonderful recently published titles. Here are just a few of the historical picture books that made the list.
Two titles are Caldecott Honor winners. Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, tells the true story of Henry “Box” Brown. When his wife and children are sold to pay for their master’s debts, Henry can stand it no longer. With the help of a white doctor, he hides inside a wooden crate and mails himself to an abolitionist in Philadelphia. Travelling by train and boat he at last arrives to freedom.
The details painted on every character’s face are a powerful complement to the text. Henry’s joy in his family and the pain at their loss are beautifully conveyed. The picture of Henry upside down in his box is my favorite. One hand is splayed, reaching towards the reader as he struggles to hold himself up just a little, attempting to relieve some of the pressure on his head, neck and shoulders.
The constant beating of the winds against the house, the roaring, shrieking, howling of the storm, made it hard even to think. It was possible only to wait for the storm to stop. All the time, while they ground wheat, twisted hay, kept the fire burning in the stove, and huddled over it to thaw their chapped, numb hands and their itching, burning, chilblained feet, and while they chewed and swallowed the coarse bread, they were all waiting until the storm stopped.
Once there was a little girl named Hana Brady. She lived in Czechoslovakia with her beloved family. She liked to ski cross-country with her brother and play with her wolfhound and her fluffy, white kittens. She helped her father at the family’s general store. More than 50 years later, a suitcase with her name on it was sent to an education center in Japan. School children learned all about Hana and what happened to her during the Holocaust, a story told with words and photos in Hana’s Suitcase.
This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the death of Mark Twain. Although most of his books were written for adults, children and teens quickly found them, especially “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
Meggy Swann can swear with the best of them: “ye toads and vipers,” “gleeking goat’s bladder,” “swag-bellied maggot,” and “bloviating windbag” are some of her favorites. If these sound like strange epithets, mayhap you are not from the late 16th century like 13-year-old Meggy, the heroine of Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman.
Meggy was born with legs that “did not sit right in her hips,” and, as a result, has to use two walking sticks to move around with an “awkward swinging gait.” Meggy calls it “wabbling,” a lighthearted nickname for a condition that has brought her ridicule from her rural village, for she lives during a time when a physical handicap is seen as a punishment for a sinful nature. As a result, Meggy has developed a tough hide and a large lexicon of threats.