Archive for the 'Historical Fiction' Category



Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell

 

Genre:  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  163 p.

2010 Iowa Teen Award Winner

RAC Book:  No

Twelve-year-old Jamie is excited when she hears her older brother, T.J., has enlisted in the Army.  Their father is a Colonel and they have lived all of their lives on army bases.  She would love to go fight for her country too if they would let her.  She is surprised when their father does not want T.J. to go to Vietnam.  He does everything he can to convince her brother to back out of his enlistment agreement, but T.J. persists and is sent to Vietnam almost immediately after basic training.  He sends generic letters home to his parents, but he sends rolls of film to Jamie.  She learns how to develop film by herself so that she is the first one to see the prints and she is surprised by the content of the film.  First of all, the war does not look at all as glamorous as she thought it would.  Secondly, there are many pictures of the moon, which make her wonder what her brother is trying to show her with the pictures.  Jamie soon decides she is not so thrilled about her big brother fighting in the war anymore. 

This Vietnam tale is a great way to introduce the Vietnam War to students this age.  Jamie’s perspective of the young child who sees war as glamour and heroes quickly changes when she starts seeing what is going on over there.  Her father is a well-written character as he is the one who describes some of the errors in the strategy used in the war.  The emotions and feelings of soldiers and families help the reader to truly get into the story and feel what it would be like to be in their position.  A very well-written book on a very difficult topic.

The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Genre:  Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  174 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Iowa Teen Award 2010

This WWII story is based on true accounts of a boy named Helmuth who lived in Germany when Hitler took office and was forced to join the Hitler Youth.  As he got older he began listening to an illegal radio and was shocked to find out how much the German media was keeping from the people.  He decided to create some pamphlets informing citizens of the actual losses Germans were suffering in the war.  He was caught for his crimes and faced trial and a possible death sentence for what he had done.  Helmuth had to come to terms with the fact that he may die at a young age and wondered if he felt it was worth it for standing up for what he believed in.

This chilling story based on true facts moves quickly and provides a different view of WWII.  Bartoletti helps young readers to see what it was like to be a German during this time, how they were lied to, how afraid they were, and the kind of torture the Nazis were capable of doing even to their own citizens.  Fans of books from this era will enjoy this and want to know more about this person.  The only criticism would be that fans will want to know more about Helmuth than is provided in the story.

Airman by Eoin Colfer

Genre: Historical fiction

# of Pages:  412

RAC Book:  Yes

Iowa Teen Award Winner 2010

Conor Broekhart is born in a hot air balloon at the world’s fair in 1878 and he is obsessed with flying forever after.  He grows up on the Saltee Islands off the coast of Ireland where his father heads the king’s security.  King Nicholas is very forward thinking and supportive of science and flying, so he enlists a friend of his to come and tutor Conor and his daughter, Isabella.  Conor greatly enjoys his time with Victor as they practice fencing, scientific experiments, and air exploration.  All of this changes when the King and Victor are assassinated by an evil member of the king’s advisors.  Conor is blamed for the conspiracy against the king and is sent to work underground in diamond mines, but he fails to give up and plans to one day fly again.

This is a very different story than most readers will be used to from this author, but it is adventurous and engaging from the first page.  Conor’s strength, intelligence, and perseverance take a hopeless situation and find some light.  The plot twists are compelling and detailed to keep the story moving and all of the characters are well developed, even if they are not in the story that much.  Anyone would enjoy this read, but it will be especially interesting to teenage boys.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Genre:  Mystery/Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  384

RAC Book:  Yes

Flavia de Luce lives in England in the 1950s.  Her mother died when she was a baby and her father is a recluse in their country manor.  She has two older sisters, Daphne and Ophelia, who enjoy tormenting her.  Flavia loves to work in her own chemistry lab and is always asking questions, to the annoyance of her sisters.

One evening she is awakened when she hears someone arguing with her father in his study, but the gardener catches her listening at the door and sends her to bed.  In the morning, Flavia finds a dying man in their garden and calls the police.  Unfortunately, they arrest her father for the murder and Flavia is not completely sure of his innocence since this is the man who was arguing with her father the night before.  Nevertheless, Flavia decides to go after the truth and begins investigating herself.  Can she piece together the facts to find out what happened to the mysterious stranger from the garden?  Can she clear her father’s name?

This story is a fun mystery story with very colorful and interesting characters.  The tone of the book and style of the mystery  is reminiscent of Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer.  There are many details of the story that the reader needs to remember in order to crack the case, which is reminiscent of The Westing Game.  Finally, the main character is captivating, clever, and a strong female character, reminiscent of Down the Rabbit Hole.  The story has all of the ingredients to be a lasting mystery for this age level for many years to come.

Envy by Anna Godbersen

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Romance

# of Pages:  405

RAC Book:  Yes

In this sequel to Rumors Elizabeth and Diana Holland are still reeling from the shocking murder of Elizabeth’s husband, Will, as well as the surprising wedding of Diana’s beloved Henry to Penelope.  Elizabeth refuses to be seen in public despite the urging of her mother who wants her to get back into society.  Diana is refusing to receive any correspondence from Henry as he tries to explain his behavior.  Eventually, Diana relents and believes his reasons for marrying Penelope, but quickly realizes that it is unlikely they will ever be together.  As hard as Henry pulls away from the marriage, Penelope finds ways to force him back in and eventually they must face off in order to see if the marriage will last.  Meanwhile, Lina must find a way to hold onto her newly acquired status and is surprised at what lengths she will go to in order to live in the same circles as the Holland sisters.  Finally, as Elizabeth deals with her unending sadness over losing Will she starts to wonder if there might not be another reason for her poor health.

This third installment of the Luxe series picks up where Rumors left off and reveals everyone’s motivations as they struggle to keep what they want in this elite Manhattan society.  The ending again packs a punch as two main characters make surprising choices.  Readers will look forward to the fourth installment when it will be revealed if any of these characters will actually get to be happy in this difficult society.

Rumors by Anna Godbersen

Genre:  Historical fiction/Romance

# of Pages:  423 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

In this sequel to the Luxe, the wealthy elite of New York in 1899 continue to socialize and gossip through life.  In the last book Elizabeth faked her own death in order to head west with her true love, Will, who is considered beneath her station.  Meanwhile Diana, her younger sister, has fallen for Elizabeth’s former fiancee, Henry.  He is reluctant to start a relationship because he does not know Elizabeth is really alive and believes that one day Diana will come to resent him for marrying his fiancee’s sister.  Penelope is still trying to decide how to get Henry to marry her and will stop at nothing to get what she wants.  Lina still plans on chasing Will, but is having a little fun with some newfound money first.  She wants everyone to forget she was once a maid and to accept her as one of their own, but simply having money does not get you accepted in this elite world.

For those that enjoyed the first installment of this series, this is  a must read.  The action in the plot moves along at a quick pace in a way to keep readers interested right up to the end.  Nothing is as it seems and twists and turns keep the characters from getting what they really want.  Plus, a surprise at the end will leave everyone wondering what is next for the Holland sisters (Elizabeth and Diana).  All in all, a fun and interesting story that will leave readers wanting more.  Fans of Gossip Girl and other books about the young and wealthy in today’s world will like this similar story set at the turn of the century.

Nobody’s Princess by Esther Friesner

nobodysprincess

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mythology

# of Pages: 305

RAC Book: Yes

In this fictional account of the childhood of Helen of Troy, Helen grows up wanting to learn swordplay with her two older brothers and fighting with her twin sister, Clytemnestra. She is heir to the throne and in her sister’s eyes it seems like she gets away with everything. Helen does manage to get the same training her brothers have because their teacher believes her motives for wanting to defend herself are reasonable. When her sister is betrothed and asked to leave at the age of 14, Helen and her brothers accompany her so that she will feel safe. This begins a few crazy adventures for her and her brothers that include a boar hunt and visiting an oracle. The story is continued in Nobody’s Prize.

This retelling of Helen of Troy’s childhood puts a fun spin on a character that has been mainly known for starting the Trojan War. The author does a nice job of explaining why these characters worshiped the gods and why they had to provide valuable offerings in order to please them. Helen seems unaware of her beauty throughout a lot of this book, which makes her seem more driven to reach her goals in her own way. Her desire to hunt, use weapons, and even go on dangerous adventures endears her to readers. For those readers who like adventures and mythology this will be a winner.

Kipling’s Choice by Geert Spillebeen

Genre:  Historical fiction

Age Level:  14 and up

# of Pages:  150

RAC:  Yes

Award Winner:  Iowa Teen Award 2009-2010

This fiction story is based on the true events of the famous Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling’s son, John.  Rudyard had always wanted to serve his country in the armed forces and was disqualified due to physical limitations.  From a young age, he groomed John to want to be a soldier as well, but John had weak eyes.  Rudyard used all of his influence to get John into the army as an officer, which John appreciated.  When John goes to his first battle, however, he realizes that it is a little different than he imagined and he wishes he could just go home and play the rich son again.

The format of the story is interesting because it flashes from John in his first battle back to all the memories of him growing up.  As a child John loved to play with the expensive toys his father gave him, but he often played recklessly and Rudyard encouraged it as typical boy behavior.  In the flashbacks it becomes apparent how important it was to Rudyard for his son to fight for his country like he couldn’t.  He fails to see the possible dangers and never truly believes anything could possibly happen to his son.  Although this story is very interesting, it will be difficult to get young adults to read it.  Many young adults do not like to read historical fiction type topics, but students who like reading about war will enjoy this title.

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman

Genre: Historical Fiction

Age Level: 15 and up

# of Pages: 180 p.

RAC Book: Yes

A dybbuk is a Jewish ghost or spirit. The story takes place shortly after WWII and follows an entertainer who travels around with a dummy and performs in different clubs. He is not terribly talented and many people complain about seeing his lips move. One night he returns home to find a ghost of a young boy in his closet. The boy claims to be a dybbuk who will not leave until he has finished what he came for. Despite the efforts of the man to ignore the dybbuk, he insists on inhabiting the body of the dummy which makes the entertainer’s show a great success. The man feels nervous, however, because he knows his success is directly linked to this dybbuk and he is worried that he will have to do things he does not want to do in order to please this spirit in the future.

Although the Holocaust is over in this story, the effects of it linger on in every character and location in the story. The dybbuk is a victim of the Holocaust and feels like he has some tasks to complete before he can relax in the afterlife. The book is not very long, but it is not for someone looking for a quick read because of the many serious issues that are discussed. Also, someone with a background of the Holocaust will get more out of it than someone who does not know much about this time period. This is a good story about Europe post WWII, which is a time most students probably have not read much about.

The Snows by Sharelle Byars Moranville

Genre: Historical Fiction

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 225 p.

RAC Book: Yes

The Snows follows four generations of the Snow family who live in Jefferson, Iowa. The four sections of the book focus on when one of the Snows was sixteen and the turmoil that year brought to the entire family. The first section takes place in 1931 as the Snows struggle through the depression. The second section takes place in 1942 when Cathy Snow gets unexpectedly pregnant and her family has to deal with a teen pregnancy during a time of low tolerance. The third section follows Jill in 1969 during a time of rebellion and protest over the Vietnam War. Finally, the last section connects the previous three sections together when Mona goes home for a family funeral in 2006 and reunites with many family members whom she has not seen much in her sixteen years.

The Iowa backdrop for this story will appeal to any Iowans because there are mentions of specific towns and places that any Iowan will know. The first two sections seem the most compelling as they introduce the family and their dynamic. The section in 1969 reveals some strong language in the protest for the war. The protest is not explored in depth enough for those readers who do not know a lot about this time. The final section is used as a way to pull the four parts together. All in all a nice read, but may be difficult to sell to young adults.

Tamar by Mal Peet

Genre: Historical Fiction

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 420 p.

RAC Book: Yes

Tamar is the spy name of a man who parachuted into occupied Holland during WWII for the Allies. He asks his son to name his daughter Tamar, but reveals very little about the time he spent as a spy. Years later his fifteen year old granddaughter, Tamar, finds a box full of information and clues left behind by her grandfather before he died. As she pieces together his mysterious past she is shocked to find out the truth about his actions during that difficult war time. She also begins to understand why her own father mysteriously left her when she was very young.

This Carnegie Medal winner uses different time periods to reveal this story. There are flashbacks to the war and what Tamar and his pal, Dart, are sent to do in Holland. It also shows Tamar’s granddaughter in present day trying to put the pieces together in order to discover who her grandfather truly was. The ending is a bit predictable, but interesting nonetheless. Students who like historical fiction may enjoy this, but it is a bit slow moving at times and takes longer than necessary to reach its conclusion.

Fire From the Rock by Sharon M. Draper

Genre: Historical Fiction

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 229 p.

RAC Book: Yes

Sylvia Patterson lives in Little Rock, Arkansas in the year 1957. The big issue in her town is the new order to integrate their schools. Her older brother, Reggie, wants to be one of the lucky chosen few but due to his short temper he is not selected. Sylvia, on the other hand, is a smart level headed girl who has been chosen for the list of students to get interviewed for the integration. The students who are selected to integrate are not allowed to attend any school functions or belong to any school clubs, but many feel it is still important since they are making huge steps for future generations. As Sylvia gets closer to the imminent first day of school several acts of violence and prejudice begin to convince her that maybe she should just return to her own school.

The pressures put on these students before they ever entered the white school in Little Rock are discussed and explained in a way that any student can understand how these students must have felt going into this situation. Sylvia and her family deal with many acts of injustice and violence in this town and still want to believe and hope for a better life in the future. The actual incidents at Little Rock during the integration are not discussed as much as the events leading up to it, but the story really accents what those students had to go through and the courage they felt to even approach that white school. Students studying this time period will get a broader perspective of these students than they could ever get in a history book.

Enter Three Witches by Caroline B. Cooney

Genre: Shakespeare retelling

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 281 p.

RAC Book: Yes

Lady Mary is living with Lord and Lady Macbeth until the war ends and she can officially marry her betrothed. Life is pretty good for Mary as she has money and land attached to her name, but things change dramatically when the king finds her father was actually fighting against him and is therefore executed as a traitor. Suddenly she has lost everything she ever had. Things only get worse when someone murders the current king and suddenly Mary is at the mercy of the very people who used to be her guardians: the Macbeths.

Enter Three Witches is a retelling of Shakespeare’s MacBeth in which a plot between a husband and wife to get everything they want starts to unravel once they have what they desired. In this story there are characters from all stations in life from the scullery maid to the nobles. There are many characters who find they have been deceived by someone they have trusted. Many also lose or gain status in mere moments as traitors are sought out and persecuted. This complicated tale of suspense, romance, revenge, and deceit remind all of us how complex and interesting Shakespeare’s stories were. This retelling also makes Shakespeare a bit more appealing to younger readers.

The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose by Mary Hooper

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Age Level: 13 and up

# of Pages:  333 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Eliza Rose is shocked when her stepmother throws her onto the street and tells her she is no longer welcome at the home she has always known.  She travels to London alone looking for her father who works as a carpenter.  In the meantime she falls upon some hard times trying to survive.  She experiences jail and many other horrors that the poor had to deal with during this time.  She ends up getting rescued by Nell Gwyn, a real person who was believed to be a mistress of Charles II.  Eliza must learn a lot about herself and her capabilities in order to find where she belongs.

The balance of actual people, events, and places with the fictional story make it seem as believable as possible.  Eliza’s story is interesting, if not a bit predictable.  The people she encounters and the situations they are in make the story really interesting and give an idea of what London was like in 1670 for everyone from the monarchy to the highwaymen.  The fates of many she meets are bleak and not everyone gets saved in those situations like Eliza does.  The ending seems quick, but is still an acceptable finish to this delightful story. Fans of historical fiction books will enjoy it.

Flying Boats and Spies: a Nick Grant Adventure by Jamie Dodson

 

Early Review

Genre: Historical Fiction/Adventure

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 240

RAC Book: Yes

Nick Grant is living in 1935 during a very difficult time in U.S. history. His father’s business has been so drastically hurt by the depression that he has had to leave town to look for work. Nick is sixteen and desperate to help his mother pay the mortgage. When he hears about a boat hiring men to help build Pan American Airways, a series of places across the Pacific for planes to use in order to cross the Pacific, he jumps at the chance and leaves without telling his mother. Of course, Nick doesn’t tell them his real age or they would never have hired him.

During his travels he experiences espionage, storms, and even a chance to fly with Pan Am pilots. He works harder than he could have ever imagined he could and enjoys every minute. The entire time he is running from an unknown enemy who seems to anticipate his every move. He fears telling anyone about the man following him for fear that he is being paranoid.

This adventure story is fun and packed with drama, suspense, and even historical knowledge. Real people and places make appearances in the book to help set the scene in a way that young readers will be able to see what it was like in the Pacific in 1935. Any adventure readers will enjoy the retro writing style, but boys especially will enjoy the adventure and will be able to identify with Nick Grant as he struggles through adolescence.



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