History & Historical Fiction

04/04/2011 - 2:22pm

Artist and author Glen Rounds was neither a tenderfoot nor a city slicker. He was the real deal of the nearly Wild West--though he wasn’t beyond telling a few tall tales, too, here and there. Born in a sod house in the Badlands of South Dakota, when he was just a babe he and his family traveled by covered wagon to the open spaces of Montana.

Spinning Tales for His Supper
 
Glen grew up on a horse ranch and worked as a mule skinner, a cowboy, and a carnival artist, but eventually his talents took him into the big city—Kansas City’s Art Institute where he studied for two years. In 1930, he moved to New York City and started taking night classes at the Art Students League and tried to sell stories during the day. He would visit publishers’ houses to sell his work, arriving in the late morning so he could grab a free meal—a trick he managed by starting a good story and offering to finish it over lunch. His artistic style was spare and rather rough, but it was perfect for the often funny, sometimes somber stories he wove about the American West.
03/01/2011 - 2:21pm

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. 

After studying at a private school in Maryland and with tutors (including his uncle), George Mason took control of his family’s lands. He was the second largest land owner in Fairfax County—the largest being George Washington. When Washington went to serve as head of the Continental Army, George Mason took his place in the Virginia legislature. 
02/17/2011 - 3:31am
The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands

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. 

02/01/2011 - 3:31am
Henry's Freedom Box

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. 

01/20/2011 - 3:31am
The Long Winter

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.

It did not stop during the third day or the third night. In the fourth morning it was still blowing fiercely.
“No sign of a letup,” Pa said when he came in from the stable. “This is the worst yet.”
 
On the television series Little House on the Prairie, the sun is almost always shining—not surprising since it was filmed in Simi Valley, California. On television, the weather was hardly ever a problem. The TV stories are usually about how people interact with each other. But in the books, the Ingalls family was up against much more than that mean Nellie Oleson. The Long Winter of 1880-1881 begins with family on their South Dakota homestead, bringing in the hay crop on a lazy August day when all seems well.
12/09/2010 - 5:58am

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.

12/02/2010 - 11:02am

          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.” 

          The library owns dozens of editions of this title alone. In e-book format, in paperback, in a scholarly edition from the Oxford University Press, in a children’s edition illustrated by Fredericksburg’s own Troy Howell – young readers have plenty to choose from. Tom’s scheme to get his friends to whitewash the fence for him, his infatuation with Becky Thatcher, his appearance with Huck and Joe at their own funeral – every young reader should have the chance to know and enjoy these stories. 
 
          Twain was not only a good writer, he was himself a lively character who caught the imagination of many other writers. Barbara Kerley’s new book, “The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy),” tells his story in the voice of his thirteen-year-old daughter. 
 
08/26/2010 - 12:02pm

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.

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