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.
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!)
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!)
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
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!