Recent Recent Historical Fiction Book Talks

Around this time of year, we have dozens and dozens of kids and parents coming into the library to find books for their genre book reports. Every year they come looking for “realistic fiction,” “adventure fiction,” “historical fiction,” and so on. These are fun questions, and I love reader’s advisory, so I’m excited to go to some of these classes and present some exciting new titles that we have at our library.

In looking at what has recently been published in children’s historical fiction I found that a lot of it focuses on the twentieth century. When I was a kid, I don’t remember this being as common–of course now kids can read historical fiction about my childhood.

So for my historical fiction presentation, I will be showcasing recent books that cover recent history. Of course I will also provide a list of newer titles covering other periods. I think the struggle with kids and these genre assignments is that they tend to see them as one dimensional, not realizing that within each of these genres there are lots of kinds of books. Historical fiction novels can be scary, exciting, funny, dramatic, sad, slow, and everything in between. While showing some recent titles I hope to show this range of emotions.

Moving from the present back, I’ll start with Long Walk to Water about the Lost Boys of Sudan in 1985. It is a dramatic book, and I’ve book-talked it before. I think it is also a good way to show how historical fiction can cover lots of different periods and tones.

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story It’s 1985, Salva is sitting in his classroom, it seems to be a normal day in the Sudan. Until bombs start to fall. What do you think his teacher’s reaction was? Rather than an orderly evacuation, or even ducking and covering, Salva’s teacher told his students to run, run as fast as they can, and keep running. And that is just what Salva does, along with thousands of other young boys, he runs, and then walks–away from his life, his world, and most of his family. Trying to get to safety and escape the civil war that embroiled his country, Salva finds himself in new kinds of danger walking through the desert, in refuge camps, and leading other young men. To find out Salva’s story, and how boys like him are trying to make a difference in today’s Sudan, read
Long Walk to Water. (I booked talk this book and it was a HUGE hit, the kids were on the edge of their seats, and there was a hold list to get our copies!)

Inside Out and Back Again While Salva escaped on his own, Ha flees Vietnam in 1975 with her mother and brothers as the city of Saigon is invaded by the same Communists who kidnapped or killed her father. In Inside Out and Back Again, Ha tells the story of the eventful year where her life is turned upside down, from waiting for her papaya fruit to ripen in tropical Vietnam, to a town where they have nothing, understand very little of the language, or culture. Told in verse, Ha evokes the experience of countless refugees who fled after the fall of Vietnam. [Here I’ll read the passage about being unable to obey her mom, when her mom tells her to not drink and not pee while escaping] To discover more of what it was like stuffed in an overcrowded boat, waiting for rescue, only to end up in a land where everything is foreign, read Inside Out and Back Again. (This was another hit, I booked talked this to three groups and they all requested this one!)

One Crazy Summer In One Crazy Summer, Delphine and her sisters merely fly across the country, but what they face when they arrive in Oakland, CA in 1968 seems like another world. No one meets them at the airport, and when their mother finally shows up she is not excited at all to see them. She tells them to go out and buy take out when they complain they’re hungry, refuses to let them enter her kitchen, and in the morning tells them to leave the house and not come back until 6 p.m.. Delphine and her sisters find breakfast at a Black Panther hall, and end up staying for the day camp. There they end up learning more about the racial tension in the neighborhood, and the simmering rebellion nearly ready to boil over. While they “came for breakfast, not revolution,” the summer ends up teaching them a lot about themselves, their mother, and the world around them. To find out what happens to Delphine and her sisters during their months with their mother, and what she’s hiding in the kitchen, read One Crazy Summer

The Giant-Slayer Unlike the children in these other books, Laurie’s movements in The Giant Slayer are limited, and the only places she can go are in her imagination. A dire disease is still spreading through the country in 1955, the president of the USA had had it, with crippling results, and so had her neighbor, Dickie. Left paralyzed, Dickie spends all his time in an enormous machine that breathes for him called an iron lung. When Laurie visits Dickie and the other children in the Polio ward, she finds that she can transport them to a fabulous adventure with giants, witches, and all kinds of magic through the power of her stories. But when something happens to Laurie, how will the children find their way out of the story? If you like fantastic stories and adventure, you’ll enjoy being carried away with Laurie and the other children.

Stay tuned for more trips back in time to the first half of the 20th century!


Little Rock Girl 1957

Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration (Captured History) When the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Brown v. The Board of Education it was not the end of the war to end segregation, rather it was seen as the start of a new battle that brought the issues of federal vs states rights back to the center of attention along with racial issues. In Little Rock Girl 1957 one of the major battle grounds is brought to light, not only to show the struggles of the Little Rock 9, but to show how this incident was played out on the national and international scene.

While there are many books on the Civil Rights movement, I particularly enjoyed the way this book showed a different perspective. In discussing the journalist who took the pictures that became so famous, the book points out that as a local boy he viewed this as both a hyper local issue as well as a national issue. Wearing a plaid shirt, he blended into the crowd, and was able to catch the faces full of hate and show the world. In a way this showed the duality of the situation in Little Rock–there were locals, journalists, and even students who supported integration. Little Rock had integrated its transportation with no conflict, and the governor was supposed to be a moderate. But the situation that developed as they struggled to integrate showed that the loud voices of the segregationists could easily dominate any conversation.

I think that there is a lesson for today’s youth in the observation about how a fraction of the kids in the high school tormented the 9 African American students while the majority sat back and let it happen–even if they disagreed. Today teens see bullying, racism, and other injustices that continue in their own schools–they could learn a lot from this story: from the courage of the 9 teens, those who sat by and let it happen, and those who stood up to try to make a difference.


Second Grade Library Tour–Intro to the Library

So the second graders from the local school are once more coming to visit, yay! This time the teacher has not given me a topic assignment, we will start with “intro to the library.” I have about a half hour, and just me, 50 students and two teachers. So far the plan is evolving, and since I get to do this program twice, it may change after the first run through.

After introductions, we’ll discuss the library and who has been here and how one can get a library card.

Next we’ll read Miss Brooks Loves Brooks! (And I Don’t), Miss Brooks Loves Books! (And I Don't) which is nice because it really shows how librarians can not just help people find the specific book they want, but also a book they may not know exists or that they would want.

We’ll talk about what kinds of books they like and what kinds of things they can find in our library. I’ve pulled a bunch of materials of different kinds and I want to show them to the kids. I’ll go over stories versus informational, and where the books are located.

After talking about the fun materials we have here, I’ll talk a little bit about our programs and encourage them to come to the star party we’re having next week.

I’ll finish with reading Interrupting ChickenInterrupting Chicken and inviting them to come to the library with their parents/guardians to get a library card!

Realistic Fiction Booktalks Part 1

This month’s theme for the 3rd/4th grade book talk is Realistic Fiction. A huge genre and a with a broad range of reading levels in this group makes this a challenge. I am going to include some classic titles, some newer titles, and some so new I had to call down to cataloging/processing to ask if they could rush it for the program! I plan on bringing a whole bunch of books, with a book list, but only focusing on a few highlights.

I think I’ll start with one of my favorite picture books, which I think this grade level will appreciate, plus is applicable. It’s Not Fair by Amy Krouse Rosenthal covers all the ways that life is not fair, from your brother getting the bigger half of the cookie, to the babies in bassinets complaining about how unfair they’ve gotten it in life. In some ways this is realistic fiction: all the things in life that are unfair in one way or another.

Zelly in When Life Gives You O.J. thinks life is pretty unfair, not only did her family move to Vermont, but her loud obnoxious grandfather Ace has moved in–and to top it all off her parents still wont let her get the one thing she wants more then anything–a dog! One day her grandfather tells her he has a plan to solve her problem and get her that dog she wants, Zelly just has to agree to do EXACTLY what he tells her to do. Of course she agrees–she wants that dog! But then he gives her an empty O.J. jug and tells her it is the answer–but what does orange juice have to do with dogs? Ace tells Zelly it will be a “practice dog,” and that if she can show her parents she can take care of it, then they might relent on the real dog issue. Zelly is skeptical–how can she treat the O.J. jug like a real dog, it is nothing alike! Ace tells her she has to feed it and water it (put food and water inside the jug) and take it on walks three times a day (twice to empty out the food and water and once for exercise) and she has to pick up the pretend poo. While Zelly really wants a dog, she is not sure that anything is worth the embarrassment of walking down the street dragging an orange juice carton. But she gave her word she’d do whatever her grandfather told her to do to get the dog, so she agrees. To find out what happens when Zelly takes on her practice pet, and to see if she ever gets a real dog, read When Life Gives You O.J. by Erica Perl.

Unlike Zelly, Peter in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing already has the pet of his dreams Dribble, that’s not his problem. His mom isn’t his problem either, even though she is convinced that Dribble stinks, and makes Peter wash up a million times before she’s satisfied he’s clean. No, Peter’s problem is his brother Fudge. In Peter’s own words:

If you’ve ever had an annoying little sibling, or been one, you might enjoy reading about the crazy things Fudge does that Peter has to put up with–especially to poor Dribble.

While Peter makes no secret of the fact his brother drives him crazy, Jack in Small as an Elephant keeps his family problems hidden. When he wakes up on the first day of vacation in Maine and his mom is gone–along with all of the camping equipment, the car, and the food and money–he knows he can’t tell anyone. If he does they’ll never have the chance to be together again, so Jack sets off to find his mom. Relying on his wits and luck, Jack has to survive on his own, while looking for his mom, and keeping the fact that she is missing at all a secret. How long do you think you could survive with no money, no food, no parents, far away from your home and the people you know? To find out how Jack survives, and if he finds his mom, and what the big secret is, as well as figuring out about the small elephant Jack carries with him read Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Jacobson.

Zitally’s father also had a secret–he wasn’t in the country legally–and when the cops pulled him over they sent him back to Mexico. She’s worried about him, far away, alone, and wonders if he will try to rejoin them, and if he does will he be safe. One day, as she’s wandering in the junk yard behind the trailer park where she lives, she finds a beautiful dog chained to a rusted out heap of junk. Starved, wounded, and afraid, the dog seems to have been left for dead. Zitally slowly befriends the dog, nursing it back to health. Right as she receives news that her father has been kidnapped while trying to return to them, Zitally finds that her dog has also mysteriously disappeared. Will she ever find her missing dog? Will her father be safe? To find out read Star in the Forest.

Ruby Lu’s life also changes due to immigration–when her aunt and uncle and cousin move from China to stay with them. But for Ruby it is pretty much a party every day–she gets to show her cousin Flying Duck off to all of the neighborhood kids, and be a smile buddy at school. But not everything goes right, even for the self proclaimed “Empress of Everything.” Ruby has a list of tasks to conquer this summer, including dreaded swimming lessons, and getting along with her grumpy neighbor. But if she’s lucky it also might include a new furry friend. To find out all about Ruby Lu’s adventures read Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything.

Like Ruby hated swimming, Jack in Love that Dog started out hating poetry. As he wrote:

I don’t want to

Because boys

Don’t write poetry.

Girls do.

But he finds that boys can write poetry, and that while some poems might not ring any bells for you, sometimes a poem can help you express your feelings better then just plain words. And while it takes a while for Jack to get around to it, he finds he can write about his dog where he could not speak about him. To find out about Jack’s dog, and how poetry can be cool for boys and girls, read Love that Dog.

While Jack wasn’t sure if he should listen to his teacher and write poems about what he was feeling, Tommy in The Strange Case of Origami Yoda isn’t sure if he should listen to one of his classmates. See Dwight has what may be called the most unusual pet of all the kids in these books–stranger than a small elephant, or even an O.J. practice dog–he has an origami Yoda. That’s right, he has a piece of paper folded in the shape of Yoda that he carries around with him. And what is worse, it talks. Well, Dwight talks for it, but Yoda says stuff, and when people listen, sometimes good stuff happens. So Tommy needs to know if he should take the origami yoda’s advice. In order to figure this out, he gets all the kids he can find who had a origami yoda experience write down what happened to them. He hopes that by looking at all the evidence he can decide if he should take the advice. To find out for yourself if Origami Yoda has wisdom that Tommy should follow, read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.

Meya Monday

Meya's ready to sleep the fall away

Wordless Wednesday

From Chalkboards to Computers: How Schools Have Changed

There is no doubt that schools have changed over the past fifty or so years, but the changes are not universal. Some schools have few remnants of the past, while others are relatively unchanged. I had high hopes for the book From Chalkboards to Computers: How Schools Have Changed to show this evolution. However, this book demonstrates a serious problem from page one where it defines what a school is in the most basic of terms, the sort of terms one might use to discuss with a child going to preschool. In fact, this book seem s to be aimed at the pre-k-1st grade audience, which means that the real changes have to be simplified to the degree where the before and after blend. Many of the old vs. new are either indistinguishable or point out things that have mostly not universally changed. For instance cafeteria vs lunchroom where kids bring lunch from home or money vs lunch from home or money on account, or saying that teachers now write on white boards or smart boards and not chalk boards anymore. I still see a lot of chalkboards in classes, and I work with classes in a well-off district.

Basically the problem with this book boils down to the attempt to take a complex topic and simplify it down to a series of dichotomies that mask the actual changes that have taken place over the years. I don’t know that children in this age range are interested in this topic as much as older children who would better be able to digest the subtleties.

Meya Monday

Meya is interested in whatever you have to say.

Planting the Wild Garden

Oscar near the weedy garden.

I’m not much of a gardener, most of the things growing in my yard are “wild” even if I did plant them at some time. Recently I spent a sweaty morning trying to pull some of the wildest of the weeds before they could spread to much seed. This made me think of this simple informational picture book: Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith. While many books show how an apple or pumpkin seed becomes a plant and produces fruit, this book places the cycle of seeds into plants in context of the many different ways plants grow and spread. From planting a vegetable garden to catching on someone or floating in the air, this book shows the many ways seeds spread. One of the major points of this book is that all of the creatures in the environment contribute to helping seeds move around to reach as far as possible.

Planting the Wild Garden While this book talks a lot about what are essentially weeds, there is no negative tone. Rather this is a sweet and simple book to introduce very young children to the ways seeds move and become plants. I think this book would work well in a classroom or preschool, or even at home learning about seeds. It is a nice story, which kids would enjoy hearing, and not a dry informational book. The watercolors are delicate and beautiful, if sometimes hard to follow the teeny seeds. After looking at my garden I can curse the spread of weeds, but when I read this book I’m left with a much more positive view of nature.

Booktalk Schedule–Fourth Grade

This year I’m hoping to continue my 4th grade booktalk class visits that were so fun and successful last year. I’ve talked with the two teachers I worked with last school year, and one gave me a list of core standards that I could talk about and share books on. I have about 9 topics to cover:

  • Folktales, fables, legends, and myths: What are the differences, where can you find them in the library, what are some awesome books in each areas.
  • Biographies/Autobiographies: Not just the regular requisite 100 pg assignment.
  • Mystery: From sleuths to spooky tales, get a clue here!
  • Historical Fiction: From the distant past to recent history, we’ll talk about what it is and some good books to read.
  • Non-fiction: There are a TON of super awesome non-fiction books out there that are fun to read and fascinating!
  • Fantasy: From talking animals to wizards and everything in between.
  • Science Fiction: cool gizmos and aliens, along with travels through time.
  • Realistic Fiction: Real kids, real fun, and real situations.
  • Fiction: I’m not sure why this is on the list, but sure I can talk about 4th grade fiction.

So here’s to a great school year with lots of awesome book talks!