Posts tagged ‘historical fiction’

STARTING OVER…

Buzzy and Thomas Move Into The President’s House

Written by Vicki Tashman

Illustrated by Fatima Stamato

Buzzy is a Briad dog living on a plantation farm in Monticello with her owner, Thomas Jefferson. Buzzy enjoys spending her days sitting at the feet of her master while he writes letters, romping in the vegetable garden, and playing tug of war with Thomas. One day, Thomas informs Buzzy that he has been elected president and that they will be moving to Washington, D.C. Buzzy is sad, afraid and confused. She does not want to leave her friends Caractacus, the horse, Bull, the farm dog, and Dickie, the pet mockingbird. When moving day arrives, she places her sleeping pillow, her dish, and her rope in the sleeping crate herself. After arriving at her new home, Buzzy is happy to discover that she likes her new surroundings and surprised to see Dickie will be staying as well.

This beginning chapter book is based on historical fact. It is delightfully illustrated. Targeted for children in the four to eight age range, I believe it most appropriate for primary grade children who are beginning to read. The story is well-written and is perfect for children whose families are planning a move to assuage many of their fears about leaving friends and familiar circumstances behind.

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TORN BETWEEN TWO SIDES

Fields of the Fatherless

Written by Elaine Marie Cooper

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Short novel of Christian historical fiction based on a true historical account of the 1775 conflict in the village of Mentonomy, Massachusetts. Betsy Russell is an eighteen year old girl living in a Patriot family near colonial Boston. Her village is busy preparing a militia for the inevitable battle looming on the horizon with the British. Betsy feels slighted that her younger brother Noah is taught how to fire a musket, while she is expected to stay home and play a support role. When Betsy confides her feelings to the blacksmith, he gives her a small knife to defend herself and protect her family. Betsy could never imagine what role that knife would play in her future.

The battle brings both joy and tragedy to the Russell family. Betsy will grapple with grief, struggle with her Christian faith, assume heavy family responsibilities, become a nurse, and find out about love in many unexpected ways. This novel is based on actual historical events; the fictional characterizations and quotes from the Bible add a humanistic element to the narrative. Some of the battle details are a bit graphic, which is the reason I would suggest the target audience to be age thirteen and older.

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WAGONS HO!

Wagon Train Kids Headed West for Gold

Written by K.B. Shaper

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Middle grade historical fiction tale focusing on Jack and his younger sister Mary. The family lives on a farm in Connecticut. One day the children are shocked to learn that their parents are selling everything and heading West on a wagon train in the hopes of finding gold in the California hills. The author traces the journey as the family heads north to Albany and then west to Missouri. There they meet Mr. Booth, the wagon master who will guide them to California.

Shaper goes into detail about the supplies and the preparation needed to prepare for the journey. I do think more time should have been spent describing in detail what the children saw on the journey. In that respect the plot is a bit uneven. One night the members of the wagon train observe someone watching them. Jack and Mary are warned to run if their father signals them. The adventure begins when the children become separated from their parents and are left on their own. A kindly stranger rescues them and brings them into San Francisco, where they work to earn their keep. Will the children be reunited with their parents and what happened to the rest of the members of the wagon train?

The story ends abruptly, if satisfactorily. Some readers may question whether telling the children to run and hide and that they will be found when the danger is past is a realistic scenario. The plot features a traditional nuclear family story with a bit of history about the mid nineteenth century, but may be short of adventure for some 21st century readers. I would still recommend it as an easy chapter book for early middle grade readers. Teachers might use it as a read aloud to supplement this period of American history.

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STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE

Sara: A Canadian Saga

Written by Audrey Austin

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This novel of historical fiction begins in the maritime provinces in Canada in 1916. It features two protagonists Sara and Roy, who are both age ten at the time. The reader experiences their struggles as children determined to succeed in troubled families whose lives are complicated further by the Depression years. Roy vows to “make something of himself”: Sara works hard to be an independent woman able to support herself.

When Sara and Roy meet and fall in love, circumstances will force them into the same unhappy lives that plagued their parents. Sara’s father is broken by the loss of his business; Luke loses his mother and detests his father’s remarriage. After Roy and Sara marry, the economy will turn sour, Luke loses one job after another. Sara gives up her good secretarial job to follow Luke. Not long after children are born who turn out to be much like their bickering parents. Eventually, Sara and Roy will be separated as he is forced to move to the city of Toronto to find employment. Finally things seem to be improving economically, but their personal struggles intensify.

Despite the turmoil, their family seems to be able to overcome one obstacle after the other. Luke and Sara both have conflicting personalities which are mirrored in their offspring, yet the family always manages to survive, The novel ends in 1942 with Sara rediscovering her childhood journal and reflecting upon her life.

I enjoyed learning about the history of Canada during this time period. The characters are well developed and true to life. This novel is a wonderful coming of age book for children age twelve and older. It is realistic family fiction that is an engaging quick read. If you enjoy historical fiction with strong compelling characters, this book is a good choice.

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FREE OR SLAVE?

Runaway

Written by Dennis Maley

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This work of historical fiction which stretches nearly two hundred pages is a fascinating study of white and black characters struggling with each other not in the North and South but in the new western territories caught in the battle between slave and free. Maley’s protagonist is a fourteen year old black boy named Blanche Bruce who begins life as a slave in Virginia, but later struggles to assert his independence in Missouri after his current master’s death. Here he is owned by a printer who relies on him to set type for his newspaper. Bruce had secretly learned to read and write as a young boy. The author admits that Blanche is a composite character, but his thoughts and actions are very believable as the intricate plot unfolds.

Bruce will take a journey along the Underground Railroad, while he is pursued by the pro-slavery forces he left behind in Missouri. They consist of an unlikely alliance of preachers, lawmen, politicians and citizens. Butler reveals himself as a clever young man struggling to differentiate between exactly who are his friends and enemies. The pro-slavers found opposition in the abolitionists and free soil settlers who hoped to make the new territories a land of new opportunity. There are lots of twists and turns in the plot as Blanche struggles to find a safe haven. At the end of the tale, which has a surprise ending, the author provides an epilogue illuminating what facts are real and which are fiction. This section is instrumental in understanding the plot; the reader might wish she had it earlier as sometimes the story line becomes complicated to follow.

I still recommend the book as an interesting one appropriate for adults and children age twelve and older. It presents a good psychological study of the pre-civil war era that is a lot less widely known and understood. Students of mid-nineteenth history can use it as a vehicle for examining the personal, moral and political conflict occurring in America’s new territories at that time.

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FINDING ONE’S WAY

 

The Candle Star (Divided Decade Trilogy)

Written by Michelle Isenhoff

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This is the first book in a trilogy examining the Civil War through the Underground railroad setting in Michigan in 1858. In this first volume, the protagonist is fourteen year old Emily whose petulant personality and insolent behavior has resulted in her parents’ shipping her off to stay with an uncle in Michigan. Emily has never been off the Ella Wood plantation in the Carolinas. She presumes her life will be much the same, and her faithful slave Zeke tries to make her comfortable.

Things turn out very differently. Emily will not have a tutor, she will have to walk to a school, do chores in her Uncle Issac’s inn, and learn to deal with free slaves who are her equal. Emily rebels at once, she steals a neighbor’s horse, skips school, and treats the household members as if they were “her slaves.” Her uncle refuses to give in to her; he cringes when she befriends slave bounty hunters from Virginia as her equals. Emily is curious to find out what her uncle writes in a small book hidden in a secret compartment. But gradually she must learn to respect another way of thinking, her black friend Malachi makes her realize that her way of thinking may be jaded. He encourages her to pursue her dreams of painting and not to limit her goals to become a proper Southern plantation wife.

Isenhoff has done her research. She introduces characters based on real prototypes like Frederick Douglass and George deBaptiste. Her language is smooth and polished. Take the following excerpt: “Emily looked the boy over. He had skin the color of strong tea before the cream was added, and his eyes were as dark as the midnight sky.” The reader quickly assimilates himself into the character. Only complaint I have is that the story line sometimes seems to move too slowly, but it is certainly not predictable. There are many twists and turns and lots of surprises before Emily is ready to return home to her plantation. Changes are on the horizon for the country. Will Emily be successful in acclimating herself to a changed order? What will happen to her uncle and staff at the River Inn?

I would recommend this book to children and adults age ten and up. There are lots of issues that middle grade students are facing that are addressed in the book irrespective of the difference in time period. Any reader who enjoys history, character study and good writing will enjoy this book series. Classroom teachers and librarians should consider it a good resource to a study of the pre-Civil War period from a humanistic point of view.

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POIGNANT AND POWERFUL

The Thackery Journal

Written by John Holt

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This well-written book of historical fiction is divided into three parts: the first part sets the stage for the personal tragedy the looming civil war will impose on friends and family; the second part begins in 1864 when the South is on the brink of defeat and engages in plot to buy weapons from the French government, and the third part delineates the intricate plot of Northern generals to carry out the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln using John Wilkes-Booth as their instrument. Holt informs the reader that only three of his characters are genuine, Grant, Lincoln and Booth. The reader will be hard pressed to believe that statement because Holt does such a good job of making all his characters realistic and seamlessly weaves them together with both the historical and the fictional.

At the outset the reader meets Aaron Thackery, an old man who sits before the fire in the remains of his Southern home reading the journal of his deceased son who has been implicated in some sort of plot. Thackery thinks back upon his own arrest and his wife’s death. After the flashbacks, the author shifts to the town of Larkspur in Virginia introducing us to Jacob Thackery and his friend, Miles Drew. When war is declared, Miles, who does not believe in slavery nor the fact that the South can win, flees to join the Union forces. He quarrels with his best friend Jacob, who will join the Confederacy. Their paths will cross again during the war.

In the second part of the book, the scene shifts to 1864. Jacob realizes that the South will lose, but he becomes involved with the plot of the Confederacy to buy weapons from the French government. When a Mexican agent finds out about the plot, he hatches a new plan to steal the gold needed from the Mexican government, which Thackery will be responsible for delivering to the French in Canada. After the weapons destined for the Confederacy are blown up, he must decided what to do with the gold.

The third part of the book is the crux of the plot. Holt creates a character named Jarvis who will enlist Lincoln’s most trusted generals in a plot to wrest power from him and replace him with Grant. The plan goes awry, so Booth is enlisted to carry out the plan. How will Miles and Jacob be involved and how will it affect the rest of their lives and the future of the new restored Union government?

Holt does a magnificent job of transporting the characters into the minds of the reader. His research is carefully done and the descriptions of battle, angst, and raw emotion are outstanding. I had to finish the entire book in one setting, and by the end of the read was totally convinced that the story was plausible.

As a historian, I liked the fact that Holt gave citations to his research to permit further exploration of the topics. The cover is a painting from the Battle of Antietam and the period photographs add another dimension of personality to the work. There is no graphic violence or sexuality so the book is suitable for young adults. This book sheds light on the psychological, historical and moral aspects of the American Civil War much better than any historical text and is highly recommended.

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