Tag: historical fiction

Finding Wonders by Jeannine Atkins


Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins (InfoSoup)

This compelling verse novel tells the story of three girls who grew up to be women who made their own personal mark on science. There is Maria Merian, a girl born in 1647 who loved nature. Through careful observation, she discovered the metamorphosis of butterflies. Her artistic talents also helped document the life cycles of insects. Born in 1799, Mary Anning helped her father collect stone curiosities in England. When she saw a huge creature in the rocks, she discovered the first of the many fossils and dinosaurs she would uncover during her life. Born in 1818, Maria Mitchell grew up helping her mapmaker father in Nantucket. Exploring the night sky together, she spent years looking through her father’s telescope before discovering a new comet. All of these women battled societal expectations and familial pressures to become the scientists they were.

Atkins uses verse to directly tell the stories of these girls, the way they were raised and how they grew to become scientists. Readers unfamiliar with them will be amazed that they were able to reach such prominence in the time periods they lived and that their fathers were the ones who allowed them the freedom to learn and explore. These women demonstrate that through tenacity and determination one can become exactly who they were meant to be, despite almost everyone disapproving. The tales are inspiring and insightful.

Atkins has chosen three women whose stories work particularly well together. There are commonalities between them even though they span more than a century and involve different types of scientific endeavors.  The strong focus on faith in all of the stories shows the way that scientists even today must reconcile their religious beliefs with scientific truths. Faith is handled with a frank sincerity here, an important part of family and life, but also something that can be personal to an individual.

Beautifully written, these brief glimpses of amazing women in science will introduce new sources of inspiration to young readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands


Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands (InfoSoup)

This is the second book in the Blackthorn Key Adventure series. Christopher Rowe survived his first adventure but now London has been hit by the Black Death, with thousands dying every week. As a young apothecary apprentice with no master, he is barely making ends meet since he is not allowed to sell any cures. Christopher discovers that his master left him some treasure, but first he must follow the clues to it and unravel the codes that it is in. Meanwhile, Christopher’s workshop is broken into yet nothing is taken. As the plague worsens, news of a prophet who can predict who will die from the plague arrives as well as an apothecary who claims to have a cure that truly works. As Christopher tries to puzzle through his master’s clues, he is also drawn into a dangerous situation of plague, death and lies.

I enjoyed the first book in this series with its 17th century London setting, the details of the apothecary trade and the focus on codes and secrecy. This second book in the series continues what I enjoyed so much about the first as well as continuing the broad humor that Sands use to offset the darkness of the subject matter. Still, this second book does have a one sophomore issue where the plot drags in the middle as the codes are working on being solved and the true nature of some of the characters are about to be revealed.

Some of the best characters from the first book reappear while new characters emerge as well. One of the most enjoyable new characters is Sally, an orphan who has escaped the orphanage due to the plague. Once again, people in poverty and orphans are shown as those with strong characters. Sally herself proves herself to be brave and strong immediately when we meet her, then she also shows how very useful she can be. It is her resilience that is remarkable, mirroring what readers will have seen in both Christopher and his best friend Tom.

A worthy second title in this winning series, take a journey into plague-ridden London for an adventure filled with humor and heroism. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC received from Aladdin Books.


Unbound by Ann E. Burg

Unbound by Ann E Burg

Unbound by Ann E. Burg (InfoSoup)

This novel-in-verse tells the story of Grace, a girl living as a slave on a plantation. Grace is selected to start work in the Big House, leaving her mother, stepfather and two little brothers behind. Grace is warned by everyone that she has to keep her eyes down and her opinions to herself, not even allowing them to show on her face or in her eyes. But Grace realizes that things are very unfair on the plantation where some people work in the fields from dawn to dusk and white people aren’t even expected to dress themselves. Grace finds it impossible to keep these thoughts deep inside her, and puts her family at risk. So they all flee to try to find freedom, heading deep into the Great Dismal Swamp where the men and dogs hunting them can’t track them.

The author of All the Broken Pieces returns with another verse novel just as stunning as her previous ones. Here she shares a piece of history that many don’t know about, slaves who found freedom by living deep in the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina. The entire book is fraught with dangers from whippings and punishments as a slave to the dangers of reaching possible freedom to the real dangers of the swamp itself.

Told in verse, the poems are in Grace’s voice and it rings with authenticity but also a righteous anger at what is being done to people because of the color of their skin. Readers hearing Grace’s voice will understand her situation and spirit on a deep level. That is the power of poetry, to cut past exposition right to the heart of the person speaking. Burg does this with a simplicity that adds to that power, cutting right through to the core.

Beautifully written, this powerful story tells of the importance of freedom for all people. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.


The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

The Inquisitors Tale by Adam Gidwitz

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz (InfoSoup)

Released September 27, 2016.

The author of the A Tale Dark and Grimm series returns with a medieval tale set in the year 1242. It is a tale told by an inn full of strangers, who each know a piece of the miraculous stories of these children. There is William, the huge boy who is an oblate in the monastery but doesn’t mind using his fists. There is Jacob, a Jewish boy who had to flee his village when it was set on fire by some Christian boys. There is Jeanne, a peasant girl who has fits and sees visions that come true. Finally, there is Gwenforte, Jeanne’s greyhound who died and then returned from the dead. These children and the dog traverse France looking for safety and along the way they change hearts, create miracles, heal the sick (even a farting dragon) and build faith.

Immediately upon opening the book, I tumbled headlong in love with it. After all, it has the format of Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales, though it is far less bawdy! I also enjoyed that all of the stories happen right in the inn rather than on a pilgrimage. Gidwitz notes with a wryness that some of the narration includes more details than any observer would have, but my goodness it makes for a better telling of the tale. The medieval setting is beautifully captured through the rich prose.

This is a book that tackles big issues with gusto. It is a book steeped in faith, one where children perform miracles and a dog returns from the dead. But this is a book that looks beyond Christianity as well to the Jewish faith and thus becomes more inclusive in the way it speaks about faith. Religion itself is at the heart of one of the largest moments in the book, protecting Jewish Talmuds from being burned. It’s a powerful moment, a statement about the importance of the written word, and a purely medieval view of the value of illuminated books.

Brilliant, medieval and funny at just the right moments, this book is a lush look at medieval times for young readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton.

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm (InfoSoup)

Released August 30, 2016.

This companion novel to Holm’s Newbery Honor Book, Turtle in Paradise, returns readers to the world of Depression-era Key West. The main character is Beans, Turtle’s cousin. It’s 1934 and the streets of Key West are filled with piles of garbage since there isn’t any money for trash pick up anymore. There are no jobs on the island, especially for a kid. Beans’ mother takes in laundry to make ends meet and his father heads north to New Jersey to see if he can find work there. Beans needs to find a way to provide for the family and for himself, so he tries jobs like searching the stinking garbage piles for cans. But when he doesn’t get paid what he’s been promised, Beans realizes that all adults lie. His best option seems to be working in the smuggling business, but that will have consequences that Beans is not prepared for at all.

Holm writes with a natural ease that is deceptively easy to read. Her writing allows readers to explore Key West in a time just as it is becoming a tourist destination due to the New Deal and its workers. Beans’ personal story is clearly tied to the story of Key West with his own despair and lack of money mirroring the city’s. His own journey through to honesty and truth follows that of the city as well. It’s a clever dynamic that makes both roads to change all the easier to relate to and believe.

Beans is a dynamic and wonderfully funny character. He cares deeply for his family even as he spends time avoiding his baby brother and feeling burdened by his younger brother, Kermit. Still, when others are hurting, Beans is there to help in his own way, one that is so deeply himself that readers will adore it. Throughout Beans grows and matures but steadfastly remains the same character, just a little older and wiser. He is brilliantly drawn and a joy to read.

A great follow-up novel to the award winner, this book is a great read aloud for classrooms and families. Children will howl with laughter at Beans’ adventures all the while learning about the Depression and the value of honesty. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Books for Young Readers.


Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson

Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson

Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Ron Husband (InfoSoup)

A young boy is sent to Candle School by his mother, though the truth was the he was not very excited to go. His older sister Tassie almost has to drag him there, because he wanted to stop and see everything along the way. They headed down into the dark basement of a church where there were no windows. The school was run by Reverend John who shared his own story of being born a slave and then working to earn the freedom of himself and those he loved. Then one day men came to the Candle School and declared it closed since the State of Missouri had changed the law and no children of color could be taught to read or write. The school closed, but Reverend John did not give up and soon had his school floating in the middle of the Mississippi on a steamboat where the Missouri law could not impact them.

This picture book is based on the true story of Reverend John Berry Meachum whose story is given in more detail in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. The picture book is told through the eyes of a young boy who attends Meachum’s school and then works to reestablish it on the steamboat and pass the quiet word of the school reopening. Throughout the book there is a strong sense of purpose, of the importance of learning to read but also the importance of standing up for what is right.

The illustrations by Husband are exceptional. Using muted colors and fine lines, they capture the darkness of the school and the light on the children’s faces. They show the sorry of losing the right to learn and then the joy of growing up educated and looking to the future.

A luminous look at the harrowing life of African Americans even if they were free in the 1800s, this picture book is beautiful and filled with strength. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.


Painting Pepette by Linda Ravin Lodding

Painting Pepette by Linda Ravin Lodding

Painting Pepette by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Claire Fletcher (InfoSoup)

Josette lives in 1920s Paris with her toy rabbit, Pepette. At home, their great room’s walls were covered with paintings of the family, including Josette and her sisters as well as their dog. But there was no picture of Pepette! So the two of them set off to Montmartre where the best artists painted. Josette finds one famous painter after another to paint her toy bunny, but none of the paintings is quite right. Picasso gives the bunny too many ears and noses. Salvador Dali makes him too droopy. Chagall has Pepette flying in the clouds. Matisse painted him in the wrong colors. Finally, Josette heads home, realizing that it is up to her to create an appropriate portrait of her beloved rabbit.

Lodding’s glimpse of the wonder of Paris and the incredible artists at work all at once at Montmartre is very enticing. It will help for the adults reading the book to guide children through the artists afterwards, allowing them to understand who the artists were and how their signature styles are reflected in their portraits of Pepette. It is a lovely introduction to those painters for young children and may be ideal before a visit to a museum. Josette herself is a wonderful young character as well, showing real determination to get the right portrait of her toy and yet also showing respect to the artists and their unique vision.

The watercolor illustrations by Fletcher are a huge success. They have their own artistic quality and also capture the styles of the other artists as well. The watercolors have a vintage style that works particularly well in showing 1920s Paris, allowing the light to play across the colors of the city where Josette stands out with her red bow, polka dot dress and striped stockings.

A lovely historical picture book that invites readers to explore Paris and art. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Little Bee Books.