Spring 2015 Historical fiction choices for Ms. Johnson’s 7th graders:
Historical Fiction at the Public Library: Or, Eensy Weensy Introductions to Some Books (Because I Don’t Feel Right Calling It Book Speed Dating When These are Seventh Graders. But That is What It is)
Books Ms. Johnson is already offering (* indicates the library also has a copy):
Anderson Fever, 1793
Crowe Mississippi Trial, 1955
*Curtis Bud, Not Buddy
*Curtis Mighty Miss Malone
*Curtis Watsons Go to Birmingham
*Lee To Kill a Mockingbird
*Paulsen Woods Runner
Philbrick Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg
*Taylor Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Williams-Garcia One Crazy Summer
Note: Because I moved Mildred Taylor to the Classics section, I completely forgot we have some of her stuff:
Let the Circle Be Unbroken
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Disclaimer: Librarian is not an expert but thinks this is a great deal of fun.
Follow-up: Requests or suggestions or corrections? Please direct to email@example.com or stop by.
[Anderson, M.T. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Volume I—18th-century Boston, Revolutionary War; this actually reads a little like a dystopian novel, but it’s not one. Ask if you want to know more.]
Avi Catch You Later, Traitor
30000567 Avi’s take on the Red Scare. 1950s New York, and 12-year-old Pete’s dad is being accused of being a Commie. And what parents are, their kids are…right? First-person account about what it’s like to have your world turn on you. But it’s Avi, so there are funny parts and good storytelling.
Avi City of Orphans
207527 New York in 1893. Very Scorsese. Third-person, which is a little weird for Avi, but otherwise, there’s a newsboy squaring off against the Plug Uglies. Politics, a country weaving its own fabric with new immigrants and old money, and the New York criminal underworld. Dialect alert.
Avi Crispin: The Cross of Lead
202923 Life is tough in medieval England, especially if you’re an orphaned 13-year-old boy who’s being hunted for reasons unknown, but by people who are really very serious about trying to kill you. Add in a possibly crazy guy you meet on the road (Bear, who makes you be his servant), and you’ve got a great story. (Sequel: Crispin: At the Edge of the World, 205097)
Avi Sophia’s War: A Tale of the Revolution
209557 Sophia is a patriot, but young girls don’t get much play in the NYC of 1776. She becomes a spy in a British commander’s home and gets some great information…but no one will believe her. Sigh. Classic solid Avi.
Blakemore, Megan Frazer Spy Catchers of Maple Hill
212097 It’s mid-50s Vermont as told by a Maine writer. Hazel really likes mysteries, but sometimes things aren’t as cut-and-dried as they seem. Cold War-era New England during the McCarthy era wasn’t always a friendly place, and there was lots of bullying towards anyone who was suspected of being a Communist. Great for mystery lovers.
Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker The War That Saved My Life
30000256 It’s WWII, and London is under attack. Children are being evacuated. Four of them are sent to a country house, where they find a wardrobe—wait! Wrong book. Ada’s little brother is going to be evacuated, but she’s not. Why? Ada has a twisted foot. “They’re sending kids to live with nice people. Who’d want you? Nobody, that’s who. Nice people don’t want to look at that foot.” Seriously. So, what’s twisted is actually Ada’s mom, who is really sick. This is the story of Ada’s chance at a real life with her brother and with a guardian who actually cares. The key word is “chance.” Crazy parents don’t just disappear. Fascinating book. Yes, the title kind of gives it away. Third-person.
Brooks, Max The Harlem Hellfighters
211905 Graphic novel about the 369th Infantry Regiment in WWI. The completely African American 369th fought valiantly and then came home to the kind of love that often requires hospitalization. It’s a fictionalized account, but the basics are painfully accurate.
Bunting, Eve SOS Titanic
21998 Barry’s left Ireland to make his way in America, and Pegeen’s on the Titanic as well. Her brothers have beaten him up. There’s no love lost. Something’s going on with the ship. Bunting tells a story she thinks may represent one of the hundreds of untold narratives from the night the Titanic went down. Third-person straight-up historical fiction with a minor Jack-Rose component.
Cooney, Caroline B. Enter Three Witches
205489 How about some 11th-century English regicide? This is the tale of a young ward of Lord and Lady Macbeth. Lady Mary lives through the events of the play Macbeth and gives us an insight into what it must have been like to live in Dunsinane back in the day. It’s all, “Winter is coming,” and stuff.
Crisp, Marty White Star: A Dog on the Titanic
203982 I mean, that kind of says it all, right? The story of a boy and his dog. On the Titanic. Third-person adventure story. This is not the most ambitious choice you can make, but there’s nothing wrong with it. See: Morpurgo’s Kaspar
Curtis, Christopher Paul Elijah of Buxton
212132 11-year-old Elijah lives in Buxton, which is a Canadian settlement of runaway slaves. He’s the first child in town to be born free. First-person, classic Curtis, good narrative storytelling.
Cushman, Karen The Midwife’s Apprentice
21999 Newbery Medal winner. Fourteenth-century England. A girl who’s been thrown away, no guardians, no shoes, no name; no way to fashion a place for herself in the world. Then Jane the Midwife needed a helper.
DeFelice, Cynthia The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker
23374 During an outbreak of consumption, young Lucas loses his entire family. It’s the mid-1800s in Connecticut, and Lucas manages to find a stable place as an apprentice to a local doctor. But when local people beseech the doctor to try a new cure for consumption, one they’ve placed great faith in, he refuses. Why? DeFelice explores our willingness to believe anything when faced with the prospect of heartbreak and loss, and the courage required to separate superstition from rational thought. Third-person, based on actual practices employed by grief-stricken people attempting to save their loved ones from vampires.
Donnelly, Jennifer A Northern Light
205849 New York, Adirondack Mountains, 1906. A young woman is murdered. This actually happened. There was a sensationalized trial that was avidly followed. Donnelly presents this story through a fictional narrator, a young woman who wants to move to the city to be a writer. Her own journey is woven through the actual sad tale of Grace Brown—this is a great choice for readers of true crime.
Forbes, Esther Johnny Tremain
13355 Newbery Medal winner. Classic. Johnny’s 14, and he wants to be a silversmith. Accident. Whoops. New plan! Johnny gets involved with the Revolutionary War. This was written in the early 1940s, in third-person, and the language is paced a little more slowly than we’re used to nowadays. This is not a bad thing, nor does it mean things are boring. It is just not Big Nate. Lots of action and adventure, if that is your thing.
Giff, Patricia Reilly Lily’s Crossing
31128 It’s summertime for Lily, and while she’s at Rockaway Beach, there’s a war going on overseas. It’s 1944. There are refugees. And she meets one of them, who will change her outlook forever. Third-person with a strong family component.
Hesse, Karen Stowaway
202005 A young boy stows away on a ship…and gets away with it. The year is 1768, and the ship is the H.M.S. Endeavour out of London, bound for the bottom of the globe. Nick’s rollicking adventure is recounted in diary form and is a fictionalized account of the actual Nicholas Young’s adventures as a stowaway on Captain James Cook’s Endeavour.
Hesse, Karen Witness
31868, 202342 Hesse’s characteristic first-person free verse, and a narrative cast of many—all inhabitants of a small Vermont town in 1924. When the KKK comes to town, a community is fragmented, and the youngest residents, a six-year-old Jewish girl and a 12-year-old black girl, have the most to lose.
Holm, Jennifer Boston Jane
202422 After finishing school, Jane heads out to Washington Territory to marry her fiancé. Frontier life isn’t exactly what she expected. Tents, fleas, close calls, uncouth men. Goodness. Lively first-person narrative. (There are sequels—and this author also writes the Babymouse graphic novels. Weird, huh?)
Holub, Josef An Innocent Soldier
204852 Novel take on the first-person war narrative. This kid gets conscripted into Napoleon’s army in 1812, in a hideously misplanned campaign to conquer Russia. Poor Adam. He’s barely 16 and has no idea what’s happening, and he’s attracted the attention of a particularly sadistic officer. Bad times.
Kelly, Jacqueline The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
206854 Newbery Honor book, which means what? Texas, 1899. Callie is a budding scientist with a grumpy scientist grandpa and six brothers. So you can tell she’s got to have a strong personality. But not obnoxious. First-person, good story.
Lansdale, Joe All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky
33910 Great Depression-era road trip story from one of THE best raconteurs alive today. First-person narrator Jack has just been orphaned and he’s lighting out for Texas. Gangsters and dust storms and riding the rails and thrilling adventure. This is aimed at younger readers. Lansdale usually doesn’t aim. We also have on hand a couple of his other historical fiction books (The Thicket, 210983; Edge of Dark Water, 207905) … and a zombie western (Deadman’s Road, 210858). (This is not the place for the full-on Joe Lansdale spiel. Come by sometime when you want to talk.)
Lawrence, Iain The Convicts
205976 First in a trilogy. Epic adventure; Young Londoner Tom is out for revenge after his dad’s taken to debtors’ prison. But then Tom himself is sentenced to time in Van Diemen’s Land (Australia), and escaping’s not as easy as Tom had hoped. This is all swashbuckling and Dickensian in one package. Continues in The Cannibals (205942) and concludes in The Castaways (32011). Lots of great adventure, but also good historical information on transportation (of prisoners to Australia) and the slave trade.
[Lewis, John March: Book One, 210872]
Lowry, Lois The Silent Boy
203325 Can’t really go wrong with Lowry, who Gives, Krupniks, and Numbers the Stars. This is a first-person narrative told by a girl about a young boy growing up in the early 1900s. Serious subject matter, kinda heavy, a little tragedy; this is a sad one but well-told. Good writing.
Morpurgo, Michael Kaspar the Titanic Cat
207909 A London bellboy, his cat, and their friend, a young heiress, have adventures in this first-person story (from Michael Morpurgo of War Horse fame). It’s all fun and games until something sinks the boat… See: Crisp’s White Star
Myers, Walter Dean Invasion
211077 A lot of you guys love Myers’s war novels. This one is new, and it’s considered a prequel…because it’s about American soldiers at the beginning of WWII, I think, not because it follows any lineages you’ve already read about. It’s Myers. You just can’t go wrong. He’s a really good writer.
Myers, Walter Dean Riot
206583 Myers chose to present this tale of the 1860s New York City Draft Riots, where new Irish immigrants lashed out against black citizens, in screenplay format. And his protagonist, Claire, is a mixed race 15-year-old—Irish and black. There’s your conflict. Myers is great at breaking these things down to their basic components, and this would be an excellent and timely choice. Possibly even a good read aloud if you have a teacher who encourages that kind of thing. I hope you do (ahem, Ms. Kathy Johnson).
[Nelson, Marilyn A Wreath for Emmett Till]
Nolan, Han A Summer of Kings
205331 Esther’s 14, and she wants attention. Then her mother’s old friend’s son needs a safe place to go for the summer, because he is supposed to have murdered a white man. Black boy coming to live with her family? Esther’s white, and it’s 1963, and she tells everyone even before King-Roy arrives that she’s half in love with this romantic tragic figure. Man, this is not going to be good. Obviously Lessons Will Be Learned, but Han Nolan does serious writing, and there are usually sobering consequences, so don’t expect a lighthearted romp, or think this is going to be some sort of initially-they-don’t-get-along romance.
Paterson, Katherine Bread and Roses, Too
31330 In the early 1900s, working in the mills in Lawrence (Mass.) wasn’t much fun. Especially if you were an immigrant. Rosa’s tight-knit Italian family has lost its patriarch, and now Rosa’s afraid she’ll lose her mother and sister, as well, because they’re striking. There are riots and violence and civil unrest—gripping stuff.
Paterson, Katherine Lyddie
24965 More mills, more social change; this is Paterson’s better-known historical novel about factory life. This one’s set in 1840s Lowell and is much more traditional early New England-y. If the vibrancy of immigrant culture is what grabs you, go for Bread and Roses, Too.
Paulsen, Gary Mr. Tucket
18287 Gary Paulsen! Third-person story about a 14-year-old boy headed out west by wagon train! Captured by Indians! Shootin’! Ridin’! Just look at the cover, okay? A few of you are probably relieved about this whole unit right about now, and a few of you are probably bummed that you have already read this. (There are a bunch of sequels.)
Pearsall, Shelley Crooked River
204569 It’s 1812. A white man’s been murdered, and Indian John has been arrested. He’s being held in a settler’s home, where young Rebecca also lives. In his free verse and her prose, a story plays out, and Rebecca has to decide for herself whether frontier justice is about truth or vengeance.
Pearsall, Shelley Trouble Don’t Last
202760 This first-person story of 11-year-old Samuel’s journey on the Underground Railroad is Pearsall’s first novel. It’s some serious stuff, and emotionally charged, and a great story. But don’t look for the strong undercurrents of humor you find in Avi’s work. Grumpy Harrison woke Samuel in the night for their escape, but Harrison’s not looking for a big emotional connection. He knows better. “‘Know how MANY I lost in my life, Samuel?’ Harrison hissed. ‘I lost as many people as there is stars on this quilt. … My father, whipped to death. … My two little sisters. One sold. One sent off as a wedding gift.’” If you can handle it, do. Then follow up by sharing. If you can’t share this one, share Jacqueline Woodson’s Show Way (204850), which is a picture book, takes less than a quarter of an hour, but will mean something different to you if you’ve read Trouble Don’t Last.
Peck, Richard The River Between Us
203498 Here is a secret about Richard Peck. He keeps winning awards and kids keep not reading his books. Well, they read the ones about talking animals; but his historical novels don’t get a lot of attention. They are marketed badly. It is a shame. He is a solid writer who has an excellent streak of weird (you won’t see it in the historical novels), and his research holds up. This is a mysterious tale told by a 15-year-old girl just before the Civil War, and there’s a steamboat from New Orleans, and racial tensions, and it’s probably a decent bet for a good investment of your time. Peck is not my first choice as a reader, but my money would be on him as a basic solid choice.
Rinaldi, Ann Come Juneteenth
31852 Venerable historical fiction writer pens the first-person account of Luli, whose family has a plantation in Texas. And when Luli’s family finds out about the Emancipation Proclamation, they decide…like many other slave owners…not to say anything. Two years go by before soldiers arrive to inform slaves that they are free. Perhaps you can see the ethical issues there, and how that choice caused some problems on the family plantation. Ann Rinaldi may not be a brilliant prose stylist, but she’s a solid researcher who tells a good story. And we don’t have enough good books on Juneteenth.
Sachs, Marilyn Lost in America
204192 On the outside, a normal American girl. On the inside…she’s lost. Nicole’s 16. She’s from France. The Nazis killed her family. She can’t forget. She doesn’t fit in. And while her aunt and uncle are welcoming, her cousin—with whom she shares a room—isn’t. Fascinating first-person story based on true experiences of one of the author’s friends. Worth your time.
Shabazz, Ilyasah X
30000310 Awesome opportunity to get an inside perspective on one of the most important figures of the civil rights movement. Ilyasah Shabazz is the middle daughter of Malcolm X, and here she presents a fictionalized account of his life. As told by him, in the first person. That takes guts.
Stockett, Kathryn The Help
34560, 210026 Black maids and white socialites in 1960s Mississippi. Told in three different voices. This book captured the hearts of millions of readers. It’s a book club staple, and there’s a movie; there’s also lots of dialect and all kinds of discussion about a white author appropriating black voices…these are good conversations to have. This is not White Star: A Dog on the Titanic. You get out what you put in, people.
Vanderpool, Clare Moon Over Manifest
207180 Kansas in the summer during the Great Depression: It’s a weird time for 12-year-old Abilene, whose dad has sent her to stay with an old friend. She’s hoping to learn about her father’s past—he’s a drifter, who’s taught her how to ride the rails—but in Miss Sadie’s divining parlor, she finds more questions than answers. First-person, great voice, some mystery, and a lot of good story.
Vanderpool, Clare Navigating Early
209828 Okay, another first-person narrative from Vanderpool—but just the jacket is enough to haul you into this one. Just after WWII, Jack’s mom dies. He gets sent to boarding school in Maine and meets Early, who reads the number pi as an unending story. Early’s also interested in the black bear that’s been sighted in nearby mountains. Naturally at one point Jack and Early hit the Appalachian Trail in search of the bear, and they meet a bunch of folks that all play into Early’s pi story…this is one of those books that’s going to be made or broken for you by the narrator’s friend. You’ll love Early or you’ll hate the book because he annoys you. But you’ll have a really strong reaction either way. I liked things like Freak the Mighty and A Prayer for Owen Meany (technically historical fiction; John Irving; we have a copy), so I am probably going to like this.
Wait, Lea Finest Kind
212210 The tag line says, “Adjusting to a new life in Maine is hard. Keeping a deep family secret is harder.” It’s 1838, and Jake’s family has fallen on hard times in Boston, so they’ve moved to Wiscasset for Dad’s work. But a three-story home doesn’t easily downsize to a cabin with a fireplace and an outside pump for water. Chapter 2 begins with Mom saying, “You expect us to live in this hovel?” Hardscrabble country life and good third-person storytelling from a solid Maine writer who’s just recently started writing for kids and teens.
Wait, Lea Uncertain Glory
212203 Civil War-era Wiscasset. First-person narrator Joe is a young but ambitious businessman dealing with huge issues like war, slavery, racism, and patriotism. All while trying to grow up (Joe’s 14) and publish his own newspaper. Tiny tiny dialect warning (mostly scene-setting in first chapter).
Wein, Elizabeth Code Name Verity
208027 Female British WWII spies! Well, one got caught. This is her confession. Great story, but don’t jump in primarily because of the story; it’s convoluted, and there’s much attention paid to language. As in, good writing. As in, this is marketed to young adults, but I could very successfully pitch it to my book club. The tag line on the back says: “I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.” Thoroughly researched, great blurbs, all kinds of happy librarian, teacher, and awards talk.
White, Ruth Belle Prater’s Boy
21635 Mid-50s Virginia, a mountain town in the coal fields. Belle (Ball) Prater just disappeared. Her son Woodrow was devastated. Her husband? Twelve-year-old niece Gypsy, the narrator, noted, “When Aunt Belle had been gone for six months, it was brought to our attention that Uncle Everett was wetting his whistle to the point of saturation every chance he got.” Great voice, captivating characters. There’s a sequel, “The Search for Belle Prater.” (204360)
[Wolf, Allan New Found Land]
Wolf, Allan The Watch That Ends the Night
207582 This is a big old tome, but it’s not your usual Titanic story. It’s a collection of free verse. These are the voices of the Titanic. Passengers, crew members, and even the iceberg get to have their say. Wolf did a ton of research around this book, but do understand, if you’re hearing from the ship’s rat and the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, unless you are of a poetic temperament, this book may not be for you.