Tag Archives: historical fiction

[I] Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

10 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai is a diary written in verse follows ten-year-old Hà and her family as they move from war-torn Vietnam to the States during the Vietnam War. Hà struggles with having her life turned inside out before it settles down again as she adjusts to her new life in America.

Filled with imagery and onomatopoeia, this book shows the “other” side of the Vietnam War, written from the point of view of the Vietnamese refugees. In the author’s note, Lai explains that she wrote the book with second and future generations in mind to help them understand their roots. While the characters in the book are fictional, the events are based on Lai’s own experience moving to the States.

This book can be used to complement lessons on the Vietnam War. Students can do research about different aspects of Vietnam culture to present to the class.

It received recognition as a Newbery Honor Book and an ALA Notable Children’s Book in 2012.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter I.

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[D] Drawing from Memory by Allen Say

4 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Award-winning author and illustrator Allen Say wrote Drawing from Memory, a half-narrative, half-graphic novel about his childhood in Japan, where he first started working on his artistic skills. Richly illustrated with both photographs and drawings in different styles, the narrative focuses on his relationship with his art and with his teacher, Noro Shinpei. The different styles used throughout the book may feel disjointed at times, but readers will enjoy the little mini-narratives in the comic strip asides and in his commentary.

Although this book is set in Japan, it deals with struggles that many Asian Americans face today while following their dreams, including the cultural stigma of becoming an artist. Tweens may also be familiar with his picture books, which have earned him a Caldecott medal and honor. This book was a 2012 Sibert honor book.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter D.

[B] Bluffton by Matt Phelan

2 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Bluffton is a graphic novel inspired by the life of Buster Keaton. It tells of a boy named Henry living in near the city of Bluffton, where Buster and his family spent their summers with the vaudeville friends, and how those summers with Buster changed his life.

The soft watercolors create the perfect mood for this idyllic but moving story about becoming who you were meant to be, not who you are expected to be. Phelan uses almost a black and white palette for the vaudeville scenes to depict a world that is not quite real to Henry and reflect how clips from that era are preserved today.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter B.

[A] Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

1 Apr

(Part of this was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Although Meggy Swann’s alchemist father sends for her to live with him in London, she soon realizes that her father doesn’t want her after all. Meggy is left to find her own place in London and make her own fortune with the help of her new friends who look past her walking sticks to discover who Meggy really is.

Cushman tackles disabilities in the Elizabethan era with a sensitivity that leaves the reader hopeful despite the harsh circumstances of Meggy’s life. The book includes a bibliography and author’s notes on printing, disabilities, and language in the Middle Ages (refers to the eBook).

I also read The Ballad of Lucy Whipple for my class and taught Cushman’s Newbery winner, A Midwife’s Apprentice, a couple times with my book club students, and she hasn’t let me down yet :).

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter A.

[J] Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

11 Apr

(#93 on School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results from 2012.)

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson is set in 1910 and is about an orphaned English girl named Maia who gets sent off to live in the Amazon with her relatives and has lots of adventures. There’s even a small love triangle with a stage actor she meets on the boat over and a mysterious Indian boy she meets in the jungle. It’s a satisfying read that goes on longer than expected (in a good way) and ties up all the loose ends by the last page.

I loved this book. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started reading it (all I knew was that it started with the letter “J” and that it was by a popular author I hadn’t really read much of before). It was written more recently than I expected, too, in 2001. I first heard of Ibbotson when I read The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, but after reading this book, the omnibus of three of her books just jumped to the top of my “to read” pile (right after all the books I need to read for this challenge, and the others I need to read for class…)

Even though I read tons of orphan books growing up and usually prefer to have loving parents (even if they’re absent) these days, Maia was just the kind of character that I liked to read about. She was smart, brave, resourceful, and just plain fun to read about. She was basically what I had hoped Calpurnia Tate would be, but Callie Vee did not keep my attention the way Maia did.

The natives in this book are seen through the rose-colored glasses of Maia, which seem to be typical for the time period, but since it is actually a contemporary book, their portrayal is probably not as offensive as it could have been. Unrealistic maybe, but not offensive. I also spent way too much time while I was reading the book getting distracted by her name, since Maya is a common Japanese name, but I haven’t really heard of an English girl with that name before. (Apparently she was named after Hermes’s mother in Greek mythology, which is appropriate, since her parents were very well-traveled.)

Anyway, everyone should read this book, but it’s great for girls who like historical fiction or adventure books. 🙂

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter J.

 

[I] The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

10 Apr

(#39 on School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results from 2012.)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is about a boy named Hugo who is trying to fix a mechanical automaton that he believes will write him a message from his father. It’s written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, who is known for drawing the covers of books like Frindle by Andrew Clements, which I wrote about earlier in this year’s A to Z challenge (they’re right next to each other on the list, too!).

I hadn’t heard especially good things either the book or the movie when the movie first came out, so I didn’t really think about reading it, even after seeing one of my students reading it. Flipping through, it just looked like a kind of easy book with a lot of pictures, but when i decided to read it for the Top 100, I saw that it had more depth than I expected from my first impression of it.

I loved the way Selznick used the illustrations as part of the plot, and it totally makes sense for it to be a movie. In fact, right after I read the book, I watched the movie on Amazon Prime because I wanted to see what they did with it. And then, after I watched the movie, I changed my final project to Hugo because I felt like the whole time I was watching the movie, I was already comparing it to the book (I even took notes after the first few things I noticed because it seemed likely that I would want to use it for class even though I had originally signed up for a different book).

I can understand why the people I talked to were less-than-enthusiastic about both the book and the movie, though. Older children or more advanced readers might think that the book is too easy, especially if they are used to skipping pictures when they read. I think it is a great book to explore with students, though, to build critical thinking skills by making them think more deeply about the way the author wrote the book and the effect the combination of illustrations and words in this format has on the reader.

The movie tries to be more of a family movie, but it seems to struggle with balancing artistry with keeping the attention of the kids, and it falls on the artistic side, which is great for adults who watch the movie, but may seem boring to the kids.

(I’ll be doing the book with my students soon and working on this my final project, so there may be a part 2 to this post if I come up with anything good…)

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter I.

[E] The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

5 Apr

(#66 on School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results from 2012)

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (2009) is set in 1899 and is about a girl who would rather observe the world around her than act like the lady that she is expected to become. It was a Newbery Honor Book for 2010.

The first time I read this book, I thought that it had a catchy name that sounded familiar, but I suppose that was because the author was trying to evoke the historical fiction of the time. Ever since then, I’ve had a hard time figuring out if I’d read the book before or not. I checked it out this semester because it was on the Top 100 list of books we could choose from for our final project. After re-reading the first few chapters, I realized that I had in fact read it before, but that I’d read it on my iPhone when I was checking out tons of books from OverDrive. Although I’m pretty sure enjoyed it, I guess it wasn’t particularly memorable for me. ^^;

Nonetheless, it is an Honor Book for a reason, and it would be a fun read for girls who want to read about smart girls who go against the norm and/or for those who enjoy historical fiction.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter E.

[Z] Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon

30 Apr

Zora and Me was the other book I picked up at my end-of-the-alphabet spree at the library. I had originally planned to do The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder sbecause the author’s name starts with Z, but since I found Zora and Me and had time to read it before I had to write my post, I decided to go with that instead.

The first thing that popped into my head when I saw the name Zora was Zora Neale Hurston, known for writing Their Eyes Were Watching God. But I was confused because I was in the kids section and the name was the title, not the author. My instincts were right, though, because the Zora in this book does refer to Zora Neale Hurston. Bond and Simon write a fictionalized version of Hurston’s life as a fourth grader, and they include many details from her life, while throwing in some mystery and some extra characters–namely, the “Me” in the title, Carrie, and their friend, Teddy.

As a book, it’s a great historical fiction for middle graders. There is a pretty gruesome murder, and it’s billed as a mystery, but I think the book is not so much about solving the mystery as it is about the main characters learning about themselves and the world they live in (the American South in the 1900s). In fact, most of the final resolution of the mystery takes place off-screen by the adults that the girls confide in, and the reader only gets the summary from an older Carrie.

I think it’s very effective, though. It’s appropriate and realistic for the adults to take care of things the way they did, and the tone of the novel is reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which also deals with racism in the South. Both are told in first person from the point of view of an adult who was a child during the major events of the book. Having the adult perspective allows the authors to explain things that a child would otherwise not realize; it would be hard not to have that perspective when dealing with issues like racism.

I wasn’t planning on my last post for A to Z sounding so much like a mini literary analysis, but the book lends itself to discussion, academic or otherwise, and would be a great springboard for discussions with students about race and segregation in the U.S. post-Civil War.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter Z. 

And that’s it for my A to Z posts. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed them! 🙂 Check back next week for a reflections post about the blogging challenge. After that, I am planning on posting at least once a week until next April, so keep an eye out for more reviews!

[T] Tiger by Jeff Stone

23 Apr

Tiger by Jeff Stone is the first book in the Five Ancestors series about five young warrior monks whose temple, the only home and family they have ever known, is destroyed. They are the only survivors, starting them on a quest to learn about their pasts and save their country.

Even though Jeff Stone is not Chinese, he has a respect for the Chinese culture that comes through in these novels.  He uses both Mandarin and Cantonese words throughout the books, including in the names of the characters, who are all named after animals that reflect their personalities.  I don’t speak Cantonese, but by the time the words are romanized, they tend to come out similar to Mandarin, and it was fun trying to figure out what all the words meant (and brush up on my knowledge of Chinese animal names!).

This is a dark, suspenseful action-packed series that will leave you wanting to read the next book as soon as possible, so I would recommend getting your hands on a complete set before reading Tiger. Fortunately, I was able to get the first six ebooks all at once, and I borrowed the seventh and last book from my library way before I finished the sixth, so I was able to read straight through them.

If you can’t tell by the description above, this book is great for boys, and fast-paced enough for reluctant readers. I recommended it to my fifth graders last year, but I don’t think anyone ended up reading it. 😦 I’ll have to try harder to promote it this summer. Girls are usually more willing to read about boy main characters, and I think those who enjoy action or adventure stories will also like this series. There are also a few strong female characters in the series, so girls should have no problem relating.  With all that action, it does get a little gory though, so be prepared for some blood.

Here’s Random House’s website for the series, complete with Flash trailer and cheesy music.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter T. 

[L] Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

13 Apr

And now back to our regularly scheduled books. 🙂 Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was probably one of my first favorite books as a child. I remember begging my mom for this beautiful hardcover copy with full-color prints of paintings inside, illustrating the story.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Illustrated by Ed Martinez

The huge book was illustrated with gorgeous paintings like the one on the cover by Ed Martinez.

I think I was in fourth grade when I first read this book, and I identified with Jo’s love of reading (if not with her love of writing) and her hair. I remember thinking that $25 was not worth cutting off my hair for (which was probably the right choice, since it was a while before I found a short cut that suited me). I still tend to grow my hair long (I’m too lazy to get it cut, and I always wonder how long I will last before I get fed up with it).

Looking back, I think Jo’s relationship with her sisters was somewhat strange to me, because my sister was so much younger that she wasn’t someone I could hang out with until I was much older. Now that I am much older, I have a better understanding of the bond between sisters and just how strange they (we) can be. Haha.

I feel like I’ve kind of outgrown this book now, which is kind of sad. I don’t know if I would like it as much if I read it now, but it’s nice to be able to think back fondly of a time when this book was one of my most prized possessions.

I don’t think I realized that it was set during the Civil War until I was in college, but since that was when Alcott was alive, I suppose that would make Little Women realistic fiction. Although for us, it would probably go under historic fiction…

Girls (who love books or their hair) should read it at least once in their lives, if only just to know what everyone else is talking about. From what I can remember, kids can learn about themes of family, love, loss, and overcoming challenges or hard times.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter L.