Tag: historical fiction

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.

Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell

Withering by Sea by Judith Rossell

Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell (InfoSoup)

Stella lives with her three Aunts in a majestic hotel along the coast. Her Aunts are miserable and mean, demanding that Stella be quiet and dutiful. Stella though would rather read the dilapidated atlas that she discovered only partially burnt in the garbage pile behind the hotel. That is why she is in the quiet conservatory and witnesses something being hidden in one of the planters. The knowledge is just one part of the mystery that is about to unfold in the hotel. It is a mystery that Stella finds herself caught up in, taking her away from the hotel and her dull Aunts and into a world of magic and new friends and enemies that even the atlas could not fully prepare her for.

This Australian import is an entirely captivating read. It has an engaging old-fashioned feel about it, particularly with the Aunts and their disapproval of anything childlike or fun. The structure of Stella’s life shouts of Victorian expectations and then the story opens into riotous action, bewildering dark magic, and daring adventures. The quiet of that early part of the book serves to make the adventures even more thrilling due to the contrast.

Rossell uses setting to great effect in this novel, creating a series of discrete worlds where Stella explores and lives. First is the hotel itself, filled with staff and the Aunts and its own secrets. As Stella walks the hallways, Rossell describes them so completely that one is walking alongside the character. Then there is the pier along with its theater that Stella longs to visit and then gets to deeply explore. Finally, there an ancient castle that has such a dramatic setting that plays a role in the entire tale.

A strong female protagonist, deeply lovely settings and intelligent escapes mix with magic in this remarkable story. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (InfoSoup)

Faith appears to be a very somber and dutiful daughter to her father who is a clergyman and a natural history scholar. When their family is forced to leave Kent for a small island, Faith discovers that her father’s entire body of work has been discovered to be based on lies and that their family is disgraced. Faith desperately wants to be seen as more than a burden to her father, so she helps him move a valuable specimen to a secret sea cave reached by boat. Soon afterwards, her father dies and people suspect it was suicide. Only Faith thinks that it could have been murder and may have something to do with the tree they moved to the cave. It’s a tree that only bears fruit when a lie is whispered to it and grows in strength as the lie grows too. Now Faith is the only one who knows where the tree is and that may be enough to have her become a target too.

Hardinge’s writing is breathtaking. She uses unique and unusual metaphors that are compelling and vivid, further building her world of lies, distrust and isolation. At times the writing is so beautiful that it stops the reader so that it can be reread again. At other times, the pace rockets forward, the reader clinging on and whooping along. Hardinge has created in the tree itself a beautiful metaphor for lies, the fruit they create and the power they can bring.

Throughout the strictness of Victorian society is at play, creating a world of rules that must not be altered or broken. In that world is Faith who must figure out how to solve a murder that only she believes has happened in a society where she is to be quiet and docile lest her reputation be forever ruined. As the book continues, readers will be carefully shown their own sexism about female characters to great effect. This is feminist writing at its finest.

Stunning writing, a compelling young heroine and a world filled with rules and lies, this is one amazing read that mixes fantasy, historical fiction and a big dash of horror. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

 

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry (InfoSoup)

The author of All the Truth That’s in Me returns with another historical novel that once again speaks to the role of women in history. Here we follow the story of two very different young women in medieval France. There is Dolssa, born to wealth who speaks directly with Jesus and who gains the attention of the Church who brands her as a heretic and sentences her to death. There is Botille, who is a matchmaker and who owns a tavern along with her two sisters in a small seaside town. When their two stories collide, Botille discovers a person who both brings miracles and doom along with her.

Berry has created a novel that shows how power worked in the Middle Ages with two young women who are both products of their society and also find themselves outside of it some of the time. The two young women are as different as can be, both in their backgrounds and in their beliefs, but still between them there is a sisterhood that cannot be denied and a love that is transcendent.

Each of the women is fully formed on the page, shown in all of their questioning, their doubts and their beliefs. While Dolssa is certainly a different creature than Botille, it is the two of them together that is so brilliant it can be painful to read, particularly because there is no doubt that they are risking everything to support one another. Berry makes sure that readers understand the way that the Crusades and then the Inquisition worked, the holy people left to starve due to their heresy and the flames and torture that accompanied their work in France. It is a world of cruelty, particularly for two young women who have the audacity to think for themselves.

Brilliantly crafted, well researched and filled with the darkness of impending doom yet lit brightly with faith and miracles, this is a wrenching historical read. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking.

 

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (InfoSoup)

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania in 1943, Annabelle lives a quiet life where she hopes for adventure. She attends a one-room schoolhouse with her two younger brothers, walking there from their family farm each day. That quiet life changes when Betty Glengarry arrives at school. She immediately targets Annabelle, demanding payments in exchange for not hurting Annabelle and her brothers, killing a bird without remorse. Annabelle does not want to worry her family with her troubles, so she keeps them to herself. Soon though things escalate with her youngest brother running into a sharpened wire along the path. After that, Annabelle’s best friend is maimed with a rock that Annabelle knows was thrown by Betty. Betty though blames Toby, a reclusive man who walks the paths all day long with guns slung on his back. Toby has been nothing but kind to Annabelle and her family, but he is considered strange by many. When Betty disappears soon after making the allegation, Annabelle decides that she must rescue Toby from the new accusations being made.

Wolk has created a rich and beautiful world for Annabelle to live in. The hills and valleys of the Pennsylvanian countryside offer not only a rich farming world but also a place where secrets can hide and dangers lurk. The setting of Wolf Hollow itself with its history of trapping wolves in pits is a striking analogy for what happens in the novel. Annabelle herself is brave and clever, a girl who is bullied awfully and then has the power placed in her hands to make a difference for someone she cares about.

This book focuses on the courage it takes to stand up for what is right, for what one knows deep down to be true. It is a book that speaks to all of those who are strange among us and the way that rumors and accusations tend to target them. It is also about the power a child can have in an adult world, the difference one person can make. It is also a book that is dark and complicated: one where girls disappear, where Germans are not welcome, and where hate is fast to develop.

This is a complex and layered novel that is a deep and compelling read focusing on bullying and the impact of war. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Books for Young Readers