Category Archives: Books

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!

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.

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!

Adult Fiction–New Releases

Since I work in a small branch, I do readers advisory for anyone who walks through the door. Some libraries may not get a lot of requests for book suggestions, but we get a TON. At least three or more times a week an adult asks for suggestions for a “good book” to read. When I’m lucky they are willing to give me more information on what they like, but very often they want to know is if I’ve read any good books lately. Here are some of the adult fiction books I’ve read lately.

Saint’s Gate, Carla Neggers, Saint's Gate This is the kind of book I both enjoy to read and to recommend to patrons. Emma, the main character, works for the FBI, but previously she had been a novitiate at a small convent. She is drawn back there by a mysterious message from one of her former companions, which she is unable to receive before her friend is murdered. While she has tried to put her past behind her, this mystery draws both aspects of her world together and forces her to face who she is, was, and wants to be, all the while making her confront her feelings for Colin a fellow FBI agent. I enjoyed the mystery and the relationship, as well as the details of the art history and restoration. While typically I like more romance, and books that are not in a series, this book will appeal to people who like more of a light helping of romance. I look forward to recommending this book to patrons at the library.

Good Girls Don't (Donovan Brothers Brewery, #1) Good Girls Don’t, Victoria Dahl. The library where I work only adds a limited quantity of Mass Market Paperbacks to the collection, but Dahl is a local author, so I’m making a point to add some copies. I’ve really enjoyed this Donovan Brother’s Brewery series and think the library patrons will also like it. Tessa’s greatest desire is to keep her family together, which means she feels she must do whatever it takes to keep her two brothers from fighting. This desire is brought into tension when she begins to develop a relationship with a cop. The local brewery and local atmosphere (it is set in Colorado, but this could be my back yard) will appeal to local readers.

The Ideal Man Some of my favorite books are Julie Garwood books. She is an author I recommend at the library quite a bit. Romantic suspense is popular and these books are not too intense on the sexuality or violence, something that is very popular in my community.
In The Ideal Man, Garwood takes us on a whirlwind trip from an accidental encounter in the park that plunges our heroine into a world of danger that she thought she had escaped. I found the relationships and suspense to be convincing, but not too intense. I still miss the family drama of some of the earlier romantic suspense, but I felt this was stronger then Sizzle. This book will definitely find a place on our shelves!

Booktalking Picture Books

Typically it seems that the books that I booktalk are chapter books or non-fiction titles. But any length of book can be promoted with a booktalk–I know I’ve caught more than one person’s interest with just a few words describing a picture book. Here are a few particularly compelling titles:

Monkey Truck Monkey Truck, Michael Slack. He’s a monkey and a truck, he races around doing adventurous things, rescuing people, and maybe even eating bananas. If your toddler enjoys animals, trucks, and running around, this is the book for you–plus it has sturdy pages!

Shark vs. Train Shark vs. Train, Chris Barton, Tom Lichtenheld. Who here likes sharks? How about trains? In an epic battle between Sharks and Trains, who do you think would win? How would they even fight? Who is stronger? Faster? Smellier? Find out who wins in this crazy match up by reading Shark vs. Train.

When Dinosaurs Came with Everything Elise Broach, David Small. Who here’s ever had to run errands with your parents? It can sometimes be boring. What if every time you went somewhere you got a special treat? And what if that treat was a free DINOSAUR!? Would your parents let you keep them? Where would they stay? What would they eat? Read all about what happens in When Dinosaurs Came with Everything.

Animal Heroes–Non-Fiction Monday

Part of the War Stories collection, Animal Heroes discusses the various ways animals have served in armed combat through the years. From war elephants to messenger pigeons to bomb sniffing dogs, this book touches briefly on the wide variety of animals that have been a part of war. From the very beginning this book acknowledges that animals have no choice in participating in warfare, and that it may be considered cruelty to force them to participate. With that said, the book goes through the ages to discuss the role of animals in different conflicts, from ancient Rome to modern days. While the cover features a dog, this book focuses attention on a multitude of animals. Readers will enjoy learning about how pigs were used to defeat war elephants by frightening them off, how cats were befriended by WWI soldiers so they’d eat the rats in the trenches, and how today rats are trained to locate landmines. Since this is a huge topic, the coverage of any one animal or incident is brief, but many individual heroes are highlighted.

Gander and the Royal Riffles

Gander is one of the dog heroes profiled. He was the mascot of a Canadian group called the Royal Rifles, and saved the lives of many of the men, eventually giving his life to save the men when he grabbed a grenade that had been lobbed at them and ran with it. He was given a special medal of honor for animals serving in war.

This book would appeal to animal fans, history fans, and those interested in warfare. It is an interesting topic, not one many kids are required to read about, or would know to inquire after, but the book would make interesting reading for kids grades 3-5 if suggested by a librarian or teacher.

Ashfall–or the world is still ending!

Ashfall (Ashfall, #1) Continuing the apocalyptic theme, I recently read an engaging story called Ashfall by Mike Mullins. Alex, a nerdy 16 yr old boy who loves World of Warcraft and karate, stays at home in Iowa for the weekend while his parents and sister go to visit an uncle on his farm in Illinois. He settles in for an uneventful weekend of computer games and junk food when his house is hit by something and starts on fire, trapped under his desk, Alex has to climb out to save himself. This is just the beginning of the action, as Alex is thrown into one bad situation after another. He discovers that a giant volcano has erupted under Yellowstone, but the ash interferes in all communication and Alex is left alone. Determined to find his family in Illinois, Alex sets off on his own–most of his supplies are destroyed in the initial blast. Unprepared and slogging through a drift of ash feet deep, Alex encounters numerous dangers, both starvation, dehydration, violent weather, and violent people.

This is a quick and engrossing read, that caught me from the beginning and didn’t spit me out until the last word. I found myself willing to believe all kinds of crazy things because the story moved so fast and with so much action, only after the story was over did some of the issues start to emerge. Alex is freakishly lucky, he should have died pretty much every chapter–something terrible would happen, and somehow he’d miraculously survive. Just when he was about to starve food would turn up–to such a great degree that I stopped really worrying about if he was going to die. In some ways this is an unusually optimistic apocalyptic vision, people take him in and help him, food turns up, he doesn’t get infections from grievous injury or die from horrendous exposure.

In many ways this is a more action packed variation of Life as We Knew It, but less reflective and less dark. Both feature 16 yr old ordinary kids who face a world that is rapidly changing, but Alex never really has to face the sort of real immediate personal devastation of the destruction. In addition, Ashfall skips right from the blast to a world turned upside down, just vaguely referring to things that happened while Alex is hiding out.

Kids who enjoyed Life as We Knew It will enjoy this as well, but of the two I find Pfeffer’s vision to be more powerful and effective in showing a world falling apart.