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Four Historical Fiction Novels for Tweens and Teens

FOUR HISTORICAL FICTION NOVELS

FOR MIDDLE GRADE AND YOUNG ADULT READERS

∼A Roundup∼

 

Free Clipart Historical Fiction for Four Historical Fiction Novels

 

 

TROWBRIDGE ROADTrowbridge Road cover for Four Historical Fiction Novels  
by Marcella Pixley

(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 10 and up)

A 2020 National Book Awards Longlist Selection
A Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2020
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A Mighty Girl Best Book of 2020
Starred Review – Kirkus

Marcella Pixley’s middle-grade book, Trowbridge Road, opens with Jenny Karlo’s loud, beat-up car disturbing a sleepy Boston suburb. Jenny’s music and personality add to the unrest as she deposits her son, Ziggy, at Nana’s for an indeterminate stay. June Bug Jordan, the unofficial neighborhood watcher, takes this in from a safe distance. It’s 1983 and June Bug’s world has recently been shattered by AIDS.

Outcasts of sorts, June Bug and Ziggy (and Matthew, the ferret, who’s often perched atop Ziggy’s unruly red hair) meld into a comfortable friendship where their imaginations transport them from everyday troubles. Matthew’s antics add levity as the truths for both kids begin to unfold. While Ziggy’s grandmother and June Bug’s uncle are steady and trustworthy, other adults struggle with mental illness and domestic violence making them incompetent caregivers who provide love alongside complicated pain.

Pixley does an amazing job bringing such difficult topics to a middle-grade audience. Problems are laid out from a child’s viewpoint and not explained away—simple answers don’t exist. Filled with complex characters, Trowbridge Road delivers an emotional journey, proving hope exists even on the darkest days. My favorite scenes include ones where the kids lose themselves in larger-than-life, fantastic journeys. The escapism offers them moments of freedom to work through personal traumas.

This beautifully written book is one I recommend to friends. There’s so much here, you’ll want to read it again. I congratulate Pixley on her craft which brings to life endearingly flawed characters during an important historical time.

 

THE SUMMER WE FOUND THE BABY   The Summer We Found the Baby cvr Four Historical Fiction Novels
by Amy Hest

(Candlewick; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

Starred Reviews – Book Page, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

Eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, are “summer people” at Belle Beach, Long Island, taking a break from the city with their writer dad. The book opens with the girls finding a baby left on the steps of the library and the story spins backward from there. Told from three viewpoints (the sisters’, plus that of their neighbor, twelve-year-old, Bruno Ben-Ali), the reader pieces together what happened to cause a myriad of events, including the breakup of Julie and Bruno’s friendship. World War II concerns are deftly incorporated, such as Bruno’s brother being drafted and the increasing number of funeral services for overseas casualties; a nearby army hospital also factors in.

In The Summer We Found the Baby, Amy Hest, weaves together a fast-paced plot with levity, where stories at times overlap as we discover what each character discloses or conceals. Historical details take a backseat to friendship concerns, sibling squabbling, and familial issues. Seeing the happenings from three perspectives works well to uncover the kids’ fears and losses. This likable tale captures a few scenes in a summer where lives come together and move apart, and how, sometimes, specific moments bring about change. And, yes, we eventually unwind the mystery behind the abandoned baby.

 

Magic Dark and Strange cvr Four Historical Fiction NovelsMAGIC DARK AND STRANGE
by Kelly Powell
(Margaret K. McElderry Books; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

In the nineteenth century, grave robbers supplied medical schools with corpses. While this does happen in Magic Dark and Strange, Catherine Daly leaves home to take a respectable job at the city’s newspaper, knowing her family needs the income. Though at night, she earns a bit more digging up graves to briefly enliven the dead so they can spend a while longer with their loved ones. In exchange, for each hour granted, she loses an hour of her life. On a special expedition to collect a unique timepiece, she somehow brings a teen boy fully to life. Since he has no memory, they question who he is, why he died, and what resurrected him. Somewhat reluctantly Guy Nolan, the watchmaker’s son, houses the boy he names Owen and sets about seeking answers with Catherine. While a budding attraction develops between Catherine and Guy, their encounters focus more on mystery-solving than romantic interludes.

I knew I’d like this book from its first line: “Waking the dead wasn’t nearly so unpleasant as having to dig them up in the first place.” This sums up Catherine well: that she perform small magic is a given, but it’s hard work and she must avoid being caught by a watchman. The story’s turns will keep you guessing at Owen’s true identity, especially once the murders begin. Readers who appreciate historical details blended with fantasy will find this a fascinating read. I was unsure until the end whether Owen was innocent or hiding his dark past. See if your sleuthing can figure it out before it’s revealed.

 

LUCK OF THE TITANICLuck of the Titanic cvr Four Historical Fiction Novels
by Stacey Lee

(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)
Available for pre-order now

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Connection

The Titanic sinks; I’ve heard many of the stories, but Stacey Lee’s YA novel, Luck of the Titanic, illuminates the unjust treatment of the few Chinese aboard that dreaded voyage. In reality, six of the eight Chinese passengers survived (whereas only 25% of the other passengers survived), yet, rare mentions “vilified them as cowards who took seats from women and children or dressed as women in order to sneak aboard lifeboats, all of which were unfounded rumors.” The US’s Chinese Exclusion Act in place in 1912 ensured that all of these men—who likely did not speak English—were shipped off within twenty-four hours of arrival, their stories lost.

From these facts, Lee weaves a tale about brother and sister acrobats, the Luck twins. Val makes an action-packed, stowaway entrance to join her brother, Jamie. Her haphazard plan involves finding and impressing the influential circus owner, thus gaining access to America. Yet, Jamie has given up such sensational aspirations. Strong-willed Val tries to right him to her course but, along the convoluted, shenanigan-filled way, discovers much about herself, family, and the meaning of true love.

This seven-day voyage sails by quickly. Val is an interesting character who quickly won me over with her endearingly persistent flaws. Knowing about the fateful iceberg didn’t make the plot any less suspenseful. Instead, the concluding chapters are nail-biters, through the unpredictable ending.

Lee’s book begins a much-needed conversation that will, hopefully, result in finding information about the actual Chinese survivors so their stories can be added to the history books. I appreciate the care with which she writes historical fiction and, previously, enjoyed her 2019 YA, The Downstairs Girl, set in 1890 Atlanta, which also tackles issues of inequality shown from a strong, female lead character’s perspective.

[ATTENTION WRITERS: Catch her Sat. April 10, in “Hitch Up Your Petticoats: Stacey Lee Reveals How to Write Historical Fiction.” Registration link here. Non-SCBWI members, email Natasha Yim at sfnortheastbay-ara@scbwi.org.]

 

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Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain

Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain 
(Candlewick, $12.99, Ages 2-5)

Peppa-Pig-Snowy-Mountain-cvr.jpgThe holidays are over, but winter is here for a while yet. One of the best features of winter is playing in the snow. In Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain, a family vacation means lots of adventures—sledding, ice skating, and skiing. But the Pig family has forgotten something! How can they go sledding without the sled? Never fear, Peppa has an idea. “Whee!” she says. “A Daddy sled!” Good old Dad gives Peppa and George a ride down the slope on his tummy. Next, the family goes skating, which isn’t easy for everyone. Peppa skates…and falls…and tries again. Mummy Pig helps. Peppa is skating! Now it’s time to ski, but Daddy Pig doesn’t like heights and Peppa’s song about sitting in the ski lift isn’t helping calm his nerves. “Don’t look down!” says Mummy. But Daddy does look down. He topples out of the ski life. Where did Daddy Pig go? Young readers will laugh when Daddy Pig emerges and just wait until they see Mummy Pig’s hijinks on the skis!

Peppa-Pig-Snowy-Mountain-int.jpg
Interior spread from Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain, Candlewick Press ©2014.

 

Peppa Pig is a preschool favorite. With age-appropriate language and concepts, as well as fun and colorful characters, it’s easy to see why.

Inside-Peppa-Pig-Jacket-Cvr.jpg

As an added bonus, the inside of the book jacket is a coloring poster.

Visit the Peppa Pig website by clicking here.

 

Read about more Peppa Pig books here:

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

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Secrets of Love and Forgiveness

While there may be a lot of children’s books about bullying, Desmond and the Very Mean Word ($15.99, Candlewick, ages 6 and up) by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams with illustrations by A. G. Ford, stands out for several reasons.

First and foremost is that this story is based on a true account from the childhood of Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Second is the book’s overriding theme of forgiveness as a way to free one’s soul of hate, hurt and bitterness.  Readers learn that “getting back” at someone who causes the hurt only breeds a vicious cycle of more hostility.

DesmondCover-Jpeg

Not every child bullied will be able to embrace this philosophy. Not every parent will agree with this approach, but it certainly warrants consideration and may serve as a good starting point for a conversation on racism in the 21st century.

In apartheid era South Africa, young Desmond, a black youth, is pedaling his shiny new bike (the only one in his township) and is harassed by several white boys who call him something cruel and hurtful. Desmond, quite shaken by the experience, arrives at Father Trevor’s office. Once in this caring man’s presence, the boy forgets his main purpose for the visit – to show the man who played such an important role in Desmond’s life the thing that was bringing him newfound joy – the bicycle. Instead Desmond shares his pain with Father Trevor who asks the youngster if he can forgive the mean boys for using such a mean, hurtful word.  “No! Never!” replies an angry Desmond.

Readers learn at the book’s end that Father Trevor (Huddleston), in addition to being a mentor to so many, was also a prominent and influential voice in the anti-apartheid movement. His dreams of peace and equality in South Africa, where he rose to the position of Archbishop, were eventually realized, but not without years of struggle. There were thousands of Desmonds being hurt daily, and this one particular Desmond could not erase the very mean word from his mind. It seemed to rear its ugly head everywhere. When Father Trevor shares the secret of forgiveness as a powerful way to heal hearts, Desmond realizes he is finally ready to forgive, and once doing so becomes free of all the hurt he’s been feeling.

Desmond and the Very Mean Word is ideal for a circle time discussion in elementary school during Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and for Social Science classes to use to explore apartheid and segregation.  The book’s message is a positive one especially when you consider the peaceful paths both Archbishops followed. Ford’s vivid artwork adds just the right combination of mood and locale to the story and helps make this book a truly enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

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A Year’s Worth of Top Picks for Book Gifts

It’s a Most Wonderful Time To Give Books as Gifts

Reviewer Ronna Mandel shares her selection of favorite books from 2012 to help make filling those stockings less stressful. There are really tons more I’d love to mention, so if  you are hankering to expand your list, just click here now to browse through the covers on our Pinterest page for more ideas.

  • 9780399256653_large_The_InsomniacsMost Original and Pro Mom Picture Book

The Insomniacs (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99, ages 3-5)
by Karina Wolf and illustrated by The Brothers Hilts.

  • Best Science Book

What Color Is My World?:
The Lost History of African American Inventors,
($17.99, Candlewick, ages 8 and up) by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
co-written with Raymond Obstfeld and illustrated by Ben Boos and A.G. Ford.

  • Best Board Books to Teach Colors and Opposites

9781419701801PANTONE: Colors ($9.95, Abrams/Appleseed, ages 1 and up).

Hippopposites ($14.95, Abrams/Appleseed, ages 2 and up) written and illustrated by Janik Coat.

  • Most Clever Follow-up Book

This Is Not My Hat ($15.99, Candlewick, ages 4 and up)
written and illustrated by Jon Klassen.

  • Most Uplifting Picture Book

Because Amelia Smiled ($16.99, Candlewick, ages 3-7) by David Ezra Stein.

  • Favorite Family Cookbook

9780761166030The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket  ($16.95, Workman Publishing) by Katie Workman with photographs by Todd Coleman.

  • Best Middle Grade Novels

LIAR & SPY ($17.99, Random House, ages 9-12) by Rebecca Stead.

Wonder ($15.99, Knopf Books for Young Readers, ages 8-12) by R.J. Palacio.

  • Best Young Adult (YA) Novel

shadesofgray_bookBetween Shades of Gray ($8.99, Penguin paperback; ages 12 and up) by Ruta Sepetys.

  • Best Silly Books for Preschoolers

image.phpIcky, Sticky Monster: A Super Yucky Pop-up Book  ($12.99, Nosy Crow, ages 3 and up) by Jo Lodge.

Poopendous!: The Inside Scoop on Every Type and Use of Poop ($16.99, Blue Apple Books, Ages 4 and up)  by Artie Bennett.

  • Best Classics

51i9SMWImyL._SL160_BabyLit board book series including Dracula: A BabyLit Counting Primer and  A Christmas Carol: A BabyLit Colors Primer both by Jennifer Adams with illustrations by Alison Oliver ($9.99, Gibbs Smith, ages 1 and up).

  • Favorite Biographies

A Boy Called Dickens $17.99, Schwartz & Wade, ages 4-8) by Deborah Hopkinson with illustrations by John Hendrix.

Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose: Growing Up On Mount Rushmore ($16.99, Dial Books for Young Readers, ages 5 and up) by  Tina Nichols Coury with illustrations by Sally Wern Comport.

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Great and Noble Knighttime Reading

Ronna Mandel reviews King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson ($15.99, Candlewick, ages 4-7) written and illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel.

Meet Henry Alfred Grummorson, the newly turned six-year-old descendant of King Arthur of Round Table (and I’m not talking pizza) fame. On his birthday Henry seeks to follow in his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather’s footsteps and find adventure around every corner. Alas, the first bit of excitement he encounters is a smoke-rings blowing Dragon, not the fire-breathing one he so desperately hoped to battle.

Here parents can channel their best British accent when reading the bold print aloud: “BEHOLD, VILE WORM! I, HENRY ALFRED GRUMMORSON, A KNIGHT OF KING ARTHUR’S BLOOD, DO HEREBY CHALLENGE YOU TO A FIGHT TO THE UTTERMOST!” Henry’s demand to fight comes to naught when the docile Dragon suggests he look for the Cyclops, high in the mountains. The young lad, eager to uphold the family name, goes in search of the Cyclops who, like the Dragon, is more interested in playing, this time in a staring match. After that it’s onto a chess-playing Griffin and a less-than-lethal Leviathan, all wanting just one thing, friendship.

Will Henry discover that making friends beats doing battle? Kraegel conveys this and other important messages including: perseverance pays off, friends come in all shapes and sizes, appearing when we least expect them and stereotyping gets it all wrong every time because as the book shows, big does not necessarily mean one’s bad or a bully.

Illustration copyright Ⓒ 2012 by Kenneth Kraegel

Kraegel deftly blends his beautiful water color and ink illustrations with his well-timed text as readers follow along on Henry’s quest. Youngsters will want to join in repeating Henry’s loud declarations. Maybe even trying out their own Monty Pythonesque voice because the dialogue really calls for having fun with this story. My only recommendation is that parents first try this picture book out in the daytime (before knighttime) what with all Henry’s shouting and exclaiming, it might not be conducive to lulling your littlest ones to sleep!

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Because I Lived in Queens

Today’s review is from former Rego Park (Queens, NY) resident, Ronna Mandel.

Because author David Ezra Stein lives in Kew Gardens, Queens, I decided to read and review this wonderful new book, Because Amelia Smiled ($16.99, Candlewick, ages 3-7). And because I lived in Queens and decided to sell a sofa, I met my future husband who just happened to live in the same apartment building and whose friend needed a sofa!  And because I met my husband, we decided to move to Los Angeles where I eventually found work reviewing children’s books.

As Stein says in his jacket flap, “The story of Amelia is bigger than anything that can fit in a book. It’s the story of how we are connected.”  I could not agree more. Perhaps you are as fascinated by the idea of six degrees of separation as I am and if so, you will love sharing this picture book with your children.

Stein effortlessly takes readers on a world tour all because a little girl, Amelia, wore an infectious smile while skipping down the street. That smile just happened to be caught by Mrs. Higgins who was glancing out her window. The results of that single smile continued on to Mrs. Higgins’ grandson Lionel in Mexico, and then to one of his students, a kickboxer named Sensacia Golpes.  Her cousin videotaped the kickboxer and put the video online.  You can probably guess what happened next! Yep, someone in England saw the video and added some new moves to their ballet performance.

You may know Stein from his Caldecott Honor–winning Interrupting Chicken. Here again Stein’s art flows from page to page, person to person, country to country just the way  today’s technological tapestry has brought us all together seamlessly. So, rather than tell the entire story, I suggest you read Because Amelia Smiled  to learn what caused Amelia to grin in the first place and then find out how many people are positively affected by Amelia’s smile, including you! 
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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again

Today’s review is by author Kristen Kittscher. Please see below to read about her upcoming middle grade novel.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fans can rejoice! Cosmic and Millions author Frank Cottrell Boyce teamed up with illustrator Joe Berger to deliver the very fun and charming sequel,Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again ($15.99, Candlewick, ages 9 – 12). Though there are lots of nods to Ian Fleming’s classic (and only children’s book), kids unfamiliar with Chitty will happily climb aboard for this adventure-fueled, silly romp, too.

 Mr. Tooting has lost his job — and the company car that went along with it. When he channels his underused engineering talents into a old camper van and a racing engine the family stumbles across, they’re all in in store for some crazy adventures! The engine, of course, is the same one that powered the famous flying car… only the Tootings discover it the hard way. No matter how much they try to control the car, Chitty forges ahead on her own mission to find all her lost pieces. Worse yet, a dastardly villain is also on their tail! Will the family make it through their escapades unscathed?

With quick pacing and funny dialogue, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again is an especially good pick for reluctant readers or for a classroom read-aloud. It’s billed for readers 9 and up, but there’s no reason younger readers wouldn’t also enjoy the book, even if some of the wry humor goes over their heads. The many colorful characters and the Tooting family’s optimism in the face of adversity made them especially delightful to spend time with. Though I preferred Boyce’s outstanding Cosmic  and Millions more, Sir Ian Fleming’s heirs were wise to turn to Boyce for this wonderful sequel. Chitty is certainly one wild (and fun) ride!

Visit the Candlewick website by clicking here for an activity kit, teacher’s guide and lots more!  
 

 

Photo: ©Konrad Tho Fiedler

Kristen Kittscher grew up in many places, including San Francisco, Dallas, and London but she feels most at home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband, Kai, and their hopelessly spoiled cat and dog. A graduate of Brown University and former English teacher, she now writes funny mysteries for the precocious middle-schoolers she once enjoyed teaching so much. Her debut novel, THE WIG IN THE WINDOW, comes out in 2013 with Harper Children’s. She’s now at work on its sequel, THE TIARA ON THE TERRACE.

THE WIG IN THE WINDOW (Harper Children’s, 2013)
 
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Jon Klassen Steals Our Hearts Not Our Hats!

This Little Fishy Should Have Stayed Home!

Ronna Mandel, today’s reviewer, is hooked on Jon Klassen.

THIS IS NOT MY HAT. Copyright © 2012 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

If you loved the subtle hilarity of author-illustrator (and L.A. local) Jon Klassen’s multi-award-winning 2011 picture book,  I Want My Hat Back, prepare yourself for yet more fun and understated humor with This Is Not My Hat ($15.99, Candlewick, ages 4 and up).  In his new book, on sale this coming October 2012,  Klassen has swimmingly cornered the market on black humor and hat thieves while still keeping things suitable for children since (spoiler alert!) the culprit once again gets caught or as I like to put it, beaten and eaten!

In his first book Klassen introduced readers to a big bear in search of his stolen red hat. Now with his latest title, one that is certain to secure an even bigger fan base, Klassen lures us in ever so easily. Meet one small, overly confident fish wearing a blue bowler he has just nicked from a rather large sleeping fish who
“probably won’t notice that it’s gone.” It may suit him and he may convince himself he deserves it more than its owner, but it’s just not his.

What works so well in this story is that rather than sharing the story from the perspective of the victim (the bear in This Is Not My Hat), Klasssen switches narrators and this time chooses to give the thief’s point of view. Will this little crook manage to outsmart the big fish by keeping several strokes ahead and hiding in a place where the plants are big and tall and close together?  Or will he get his just deserts? 

THIS IS NOT MY HAT. Copyright © 2012 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

I’ll admit I may have initially found myself rooting for the small underdog of a hat thief, but it did not take long to get Klassen’s message loud and clear; hat swiping will not get you ahead. Undeniably funny and fab fodder for a storybook, but for young readers what’s also important is that the big fish gets his bowler back and will achieve that end one delicious way or another. I raise my hat to Klassen’s fab follow-up work, an irresistible easy-to-read or be-read-to picture book that has left me with bated breath as to what thefts are in the works.

THIS IS NOT MY HAT. Copyright © 2012 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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I See London

Pop-Up London by Jennie Maizels is reviewed by Krista Jefferies: 

As the torch is passed to the Mother Country for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, who can resist a book of fun facts about London, especially when it’s a pop-up?  Jennie Maizels’ Pop-Up London ($19.99, Candlewick, ages 5 and up) is suggested for ages 5 and up, but adults will enjoy it just the same as they take a journey along the Thames with their toddlers and teens.  Richard Ferguson’s paper engineering brings London to life. In a few impeccably detailed pages, readers will learn of the Globe, Parliament, and Oxford boat races to traditions, attractions, and England’s famous faces.  Though a bit of care must be taken to keep the pages fresh and intact, readers will enjoy finding tips and trivia that hide under every flap and in every corner of the page. So travel across the pond without leaving home by making tracks to your local bookstore. Pop-Up London offers the best views around and no crowds. Add this to your reading list and I know you and the kids will simply flip for this book while you enjoy the games this summer! 

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