Archive for the 'Historical Fiction' Category

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Genre:  Historical Fiction/WW II Germany

Reading Level:  Age 14 and up

# of Pages: 550

RAC book:  Yes

This story, narrated by Death, follows Liesel, a young girl during WWII in Germany who is sent by her mother to live with foster parents.  Her brother was supposed to go too, but died on the journey.  Liesel feels abandoned, but soon learns to love her new father.  He is kind and sits with her when she has nightmares.  He also plays the accordian for her.  Her new mother is harsh and uses poor language, but as time goes on Liesel comes to appreciate that times are hard and her new mother does indeed care about her. 

The story follows many different aspects of this time including Hitler Youth, concentration camps, rations, Kristallnacht, and the pressure to join the Nazi party.  Liesel’s family hides Max, a Jew, for awhile as a favor to a friend of her foster father’s who died in WWI.  When her father makes the mistake of showing compassion for Jews who are marched through town from a concentration camp he is punished by getting drafted into the war.  When her best friend, Rudy, is summoned to serve in the war, his father refuses and he is drafted as well.  Liesel tries her best to follow the rules, but she becomes bitter at what the party has done to her friends, family, and herself.  She begins to steal books so that she can learn new ideas different from those fed to her in Hitler Youth.  Her books help her survive many difficult times that lay ahead for her.

 The Book Thief is a wonderful story about a girl trying to survive Nazi Germany.  She never fully recovers from losing her mother and her brother, but nevertheless finds some happiness through her foster parents, best friend Rudy, new friend Max, and finally through her books.  The idea of knowledge and power are strong themes in this book and reflect how Hitler stripped his people of these in order to take control.  This story is powerful  and will stay with a reader long after he or she has finished it.

Stumptown Kid by Carol Gorman and Ron J. Findley


Genre:  Sports/Historical Fiction

Age Level:  12 and up

# of Pages:  224

RAC Book:  Yes

Award Winner:  2007 Iowa Teen Award

Charlie Nebraska lives in Holden, Iowa in the year 1952.  Charlie loves to play baseball and wants to make the town team, but his tryout fails to impress and he is not chosen for the roster.  An African American man had wandered by during tryouts and watched.  On the way home Charlie meets Luther Peale, a former player in the Negro Baseball League.  Luther offers Charlie some advice and Charlie asks if he will watch his friends play too so that they can improve their baseball skills. 

The people of Holden, Iowa are a little nervous about an unknown African American man playing with their children, but the children persist until they allow it with the stipulation that one parent chaperone each game or practice.  Charlie’s mom likes Luther and often has him over for dinner, but her boyfriend feels that it is inappropriate due to his race.  Eventually Luther agrees to coach a new team with the players who didn’t make the first team, but that is overshadowed when Luther’s past catches up with him and Charlie learns why Luther is on the run in the first place.

This story shows how small town Iowans felt and still feel about change in their town.  They eventually came around, but many of them do not trust what they do not know.  At the same time, the presence of Luther in this setting shows how difficult life was for African Americans during this time.  He was a former professional baseball player and often did not feel safe traveling alone due to his race.  This story will help students understand how far we have come in race relations as well as being entertaining for all those baseball fans. 

The Braid by Helen Frost


Genre:  Poetry and Historical Fiction

Age Level:  Age 14 and up

# of pages: 88

RAC Book: No

The Braid is set in Scotland during the 1850s.  During this time, landowners in Scotland found out they could make more money by using their land for grazing than for renting it out.  Many families were told to evacuate overnight.  In this story, Sarah and Jeannie are the oldest two children in a family told to evacuate.  On their last night together, Sarah braided some of their hair together so that they will each have a piece when they start their separate journeys.  Jeannie evacuates with the family and Sarah stays with her grandmother.  The braid they each carry binds them through their difficult times ahead.  The story alternates between sisters and integrates the use of poetry.  Even though they are separated they will still influence each other’s lives over the years due to their connection with the braid of hair.

This story accurately portrayed the hardships of the times through its depiction of evacuation, sea travel, sickness, unwed mothers, and homeless families.  Through it all there is always a ray of hope as the two girls remain optimistic and strive to reach outside their comfort zones in order to stand up for what they feel is right.  Despite the hardships both girls endure, they never stop hoping that things will work out for themselves and their sister.