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Firebirds and Night Witches – a fiction/non-fiction pairing

26 Aug

I have a list of fiction/non-fiction pairings and have an idea for a project I would like my students to do someday. When I finally get it together, it will involve some sort of compare and contrast and maybe even a little fiction writing. The devil is, as always, in the details.

I am always on the lookout for good fiction/non-fiction pairings and recently found one in We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett and A Thousand Sisters  by Elizabeth Wein.

Wein’s book is a non-fiction book about Soviet women pilots during WWII. Bartlett’s book is a fantasy novel inspired by the Soviet women pilots of WWII, but her pilots use magic as the Union battles the Elda. Both have strong female characters that find a way to use their talents.

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Publisher’s Summary: Seventeen-year-old Revna is a factory worker, manufacturing war machines for the Union of the North. When she’s caught using illegal magic, she fears being branded a traitor and imprisoned. Meanwhile, on the front lines, Linné defied her father, a Union general, and disguised herself as a boy to join the army. They’re both offered a reprieve from punishment if they use their magic in a special women’s military flight unit and undertake terrifying, deadly missions under cover of darkness. Revna and Linné can hardly stand to be in the same cockpit, but if they can’t fly together, and if they can’t find a way to fly well, the enemy’s superior firepower will destroy them–if they don’t destroy each other first.

We Rule the Night is a fiercely compelling story about sacrifice, complicated friendships, and survival against impossible odds.

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Publisher’s Summary: In the early years of World War II, Josef Stalin issued an order that made the Soviet Union the first country in the world to allow female pilots to fly in combat. Led by Marina Raskova, these three regiments, including the 588th Night Bomber Regiment—nicknamed the “night witches”—faced intense pressure and obstacles both in the sky and on the ground. Some of these young women perished in flames. Many of them were in their teens when they went to war.

This is the story of Raskova’s three regiments, women who enlisted and were deployed on the front lines of battle as navigators, pilots, and mechanics. It is the story of a thousand young women who wanted to take flight to defend their country, and the woman who brought them together in the sky.

Packed with black-and-white photographs, fascinating sidebars, and thoroughly researched details, A Thousand Sisters is the inspiring true story of a group of women who set out to change the world, and the sisterhood they formed even amid the destruction of war.

 

Rising to the Challenge

10 Jun

I read a lot, as you well know, and I can often predict how things will end. Sometimes, though, you see it coming and it still makes you cry.

This weekend, I read Planet Earth is Blue  by Nicole Panteleakos, and it was like a gut punch. I totally knew what was coming, but the reaction of the main character, Nova, was so well written that I wanted to crawl through the pages to give her a hug, even though she doesn’t like to be touched.

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Books can do a lot to teach kids to feel empathy for others. It was interesting to see what was going on in Nova’s mind, while people around her misunderstood everything she was about.  At 232 pages, Planet Earth is Blue,  isn’t a long book – it can easily be finished in an afternoon by a pool – but it kept me riveted.

 

A little YA historical fantasy this time

16 May

I make no secret that I love historical fiction.

Julie Berry’s newest novel, Lovely War, mixes two love stories set during the First World War with Greek mythology to come up with an amazing story.

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Publisher’s Summary: They are Hazel, James, Aubrey, and Colette. A classical pianist from London, a British would-be architect-turned-soldier, a Harlem-born ragtime genius in the U.S. Army, and a Belgian orphan with a gorgeous voice and a devastating past. Their story, as told by goddess Aphrodite, who must spin the tale or face judgment on Mount Olympus, is filled with hope and heartbreak, prejudice and passion, and reveals that, though War is a formidable force, it’s no match for the transcendent power of Love.

 

It might sound impossible to mix the two stories, but in doing so, Berry turns a good love story into something so much better.

I listened to the audiobook and it was fabulous. Whether you read the print version or listen to the audiobook, you will not be disappointed.

What is it about YA historical fiction?

13 May

There is a belief in publishing that historical fiction doesn’t sell in YA. When I look at my classroom library, I can see that my historical fiction section clearly has significantly more middle grade then YA.

Over the weekend, I finished Someday We will Fly  by Rachel DeWoskin, a work of YA historical fiction that shed light on a little know piece of history.

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I knew that many people had fled Russia during the Revolution, travelling through Siberia to take refuge in China. Shanghai became a refuge for many from Europe and that’s what this story is about.

Why didn’t I know about the Jews who fled to Japanese occupied Shanghai? Or the way in which the Japanese and Germans worked to ghettoize them after the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

I will say that I was slow to warm up to this book. The beginning is a lot of telling, rather than showing what is going on. I can see that it built background and helped get us and the characters to Shanghai, where the bulk of the story takes place, but it was a bit of a slog. If I hadn’t been interested in the topic, I don’t know that I would have persevered to the end.

Publisher’s Summary:

Happy Birthday, Jane Yolen!

11 Feb

Today is Jane Yolen’s 80th birthday.

Wikipedia tells me that she is “the author or editor of more than 365 books, of which the best known is The Devil’s Arithmetic“. Since I can’t talk about all of them, let me tell you about a series I don’t think ever got the attention it deserved.

Co-written with Robert J. Harris, The Stuart Quartet  is a four-book historical fiction series set in Scotland. Each book stands alone, and can be read out of order, but together they give readers a glimpse into Scottish history.

The first book, Queen’s Own Fool,  tells the story of Mary Queen of Scots.

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Publisher’s Summary: Once she was a traveling player . . . Now called La Jardinière, a resourceful and clever jester to the queen’s court, Nicola was a most unlikely person to end up “fool” and friend to Mary, Queen of Scots. But Nicola isn’t an ordinary comedian tumbling and clowning before the court; her quick wit and sharp tongue are rare amongst the fawning nobles. As fate takes Mary from France to Scotland, and into confrontations with rebellious lords and devious advisors, Nicola remains deep in the queen’s inner circle. But when the Scots start to turn on Queen Mary, Nicola struggles to find something—anything—that she, just a fool, can do to save her friend. Once she was a traveling player . . . Now called La Jardinière, a resourceful and clever jester to the queen’s court, Nicola was a most unlikely person to end up “fool” and friend to Mary, Queen of Scots. But Nicola isn’t an ordinary comedian tumbling and clowning before the court; her quick wit and sharp tongue are rare amongst the fawning nobles. As fate takes Mary from France to Scotland, and into confrontations with rebellious lords and devious advisors, Nicola remains deep in the queen’s inner circle. But when the Scots start to turn on Queen Mary, Nicola struggles to find something—anything—that she, just a fool, can do to save her friend.

The second, Girl in a Cage,  goes further back in Scottish history to tell the tale of Robert the Bruce.

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Publisher’s Summary: When her father, Robert the Bruce, becomes King of Scotland, Marjorie Bruce becomes a princess. But Edward Longshanks, the ruthless King of England, has set his sights on Robert and his family. Marjorie is captured and imprisoned in a wooden cage in the center of a town square, exposed to wind, rain, the taunts of the townspeople, and the scorn of Longshanks himself. Marjorie knows that despite her suffering and pain, she is the daughter of noble Robert the Bruce&150and she will make her father, and her country, proud. For a true princess is a princess, whether in a castle or in a cage.

 

The third book, Prince Across the Water, tells Bonnie Prince Charlie’s story.

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Fantastic Fiction Summary: When Scotland calls on all its able-bodied clans to join Prince Charlie in the march against England’s tyranny, young Duncan McDonald is as ready as anyone to fight. He’s grown up on Granda’s stories of glory in battle, and his heart is stirred by what he knows of the young prince. But when he and his cousin Ewan run away to join the great battle at Culloden, they find themselves caught in a nightmare: not the glorious field of heroes they expected. As much as he loves his country and his prince, Duncan has to ask himself: Can anything good really come of Culloden?

 

 

The final book, The Rogues, is a story of the Highland Clearances.

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Goodreads Summary: When everyone in his Scottish village is violently evicted from their land by the laird, Roddy Macallan knows he must find a way to fight back. As his family escapes, making their way through the Scottish Highlands bound for Glasgow, Roddy sneaks home in search of a treasure his mother once told him was hidden there. But the search becomes more than that when Roddy teams up with a Robin Hood-like rogue who roams the Highlands just ahead of the unscrupulous laird.

Inside & outside

17 Oct

We started book clubs this week. In booktalking their options, I realized there was a lot about world history my students didn’t know. As time marches forward, things that were recent history to me, might seem like ancient history to them. It makes it all the more important to encourage them to read historical fiction – it is the gateway to non-fiction and knowledge about world events and their connection to the present.

Despite my history degree and a passable knowledge about the internment of people of Japanese and German ancestry during WWII, I learned something new while reading Monica Hesse’s  The War Outside. 

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I hadn’t realized that people of Japanese and German ancestry had been in camps together or that families who hadn’t been interned, could voluntarily join family members who had been. Or that there was a program to repatriate some.  In The War Outside we see how world events impact the lives of some of those people.

Publisher’s Summary: It’s 1944, and World War II is raging across Europe and the Pacific. The war seemed far away from Margot in Iowa and Haruko in Colorado–until they were uprooted to dusty Texas, all because of the places their parents once called home: Germany and Japan.

Haruko and Margot meet at the high school in Crystal City, a “family internment camp” for those accused of colluding with the enemy. The teens discover that they are polar opposites in so many ways, except for one that seems to override all the others: the camp is changing them, day by day and piece by piece. Haruko finds herself consumed by fear for her soldier brother and distrust of her father, who she knows is keeping something from her. And Margot is doing everything she can to keep her family whole as her mother’s health deteriorates and her rational, patriotic father becomes a man who distrusts America and fraternizes with Nazis.

With everything around them falling apart, Margot and Haruko find solace in their growing, secret friendship. But in a prison the government has deemed full of spies, can they trust anyone–even each other?

Forget the traveling pants

3 Sep

Normally, I’m all anxious on Labor day because school starts the next day. But we already have a week under our belts and all is well. (Knock on wood!)

Since it is Labor day, let me tell you about two books I read ( in a series) about a teenage girl in an unusual job: gladiatrix.

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Forget the traveling pants, this is the sisterhood of the traveling weapons.  Set in the period when Julius Caesar has returned to Rome and  allowed to hold triumphal gladiatorial games. Cleopatra makes an appearance in both books. So does Vercingetorix. There is just enough detail in the fight scenes to make things vivid, bit not so much that I got bored or grossed out.

I hadn’t realized that there really had been female gladiators in Ancient Rome. The book alters history to make it seem like it was more prevalent than it was, but it is a work of fiction after all.

Publisher’s Summary for The Valiant

Princess. Captive. Gladiator. Always a Warrior. 

Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king and the younger sister of the legendary fighter Sorcha. When Fallon was just a child, Sorcha was killed by the armies of Julius Caesar.

On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is excited to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in her father’s war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar himself. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.

Now, Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries, deadly fights in and out of the arena, and perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier and her sworn enemy.

 

Publisher’s Summary for The Defiant

I picked up a copy of The Valiant   at ALA, hoping it was a YA book with a positive female heroine I could put in my 6th grade classroom library. Although there is a hint of romance, I have no problem adding it to the classroom collection.

The third book in the series, The Triumphant, isn’t due out until February , so I will have to be patient. It is set at the time of Caesar’s assassination – and that bodes ill for Fallon and her friends.

Put me in coach

23 Aug

I spent a lot of time working on my classroom library yesterday and it is ready. I was thrilled to create new tubs in several categories that I felt were a little lacking. One of those categories was sports books. And I just read an amazing novel about baseball that would be the perfect addition to the tub: Out of Left Field  by Ellen Klages.

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Although we know that Katy doesn’t win her battle to play ball – that would be a work of alternative history – you can’t help but admire her passion and dedication to baseball.    Just We can look to those who came before us to ignite our passion for justice just as Katy took inspiration from all the women she learns about who played ball before her.

Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages is advertised as the third book in the Gordon Family series. I had to look that up and remembered how much I had loved The Green Glass Sea and White Sands, Red Menace.  I might need to reread those. So many books, so little time!

A book to die for

13 Jun

I am currently lost in Tudor England, deep in the depths of Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VII Tell All by M.T. Anderson, Candace Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Lisa Ann Sandell, Jennifer Donnelly, Linda Sue Park, and Deborah Hopkinson

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Publisher’s Summary: He was King Henry VIII, a charismatic and extravagant ruler obsessed with both his power as king and with siring a male heir.

They were his queens–six ill-fated women, each bound for divorce, or beheading, or death.

Watch spellbound as each of Henry’s wives attempts to survive their unpredictable king and his power-hungry court. See the sword flash as fiery Anne Boleyn is beheaded for adultery. Follow Jane Seymour as she rises from bullied court maiden to beloved queen, only to die after giving birth. Feel Catherine Howard’s terror as old lovers resurface and whisper vicious rumors to Henry’s influential advisors. Experience the heartache of mothers as they lose son after son, heir after heir.

Told in stirring first-person accounts, Fatal Throne is at once provocative and heartbreaking, an epic tale that is also an intimate look at the royalty of the most perilous times in English history.

Who’s Who: 

M. T. Anderson – Henry VIII
Candace Fleming – Katharine of Aragon
Stephanie Hemphill – Anne Boleyn
Lisa Ann Sandell – Jane Seymour
Jennifer Donnelly – Anna of Cleves
Linda Sue Park – Catherine Howard
Deborah Hopkinson – Kateryn Parr

First, what a collection of fabulous authors!

What I really want to tell you is why I am so smitten (obsessed) with this book. Each author writes about their character in chronological order, with a few scenes that overlap. They write so well, you can’t help feeling sympathy for the character. Then, when the character changes, you see things from another perspective and fall under the influence of the new character. It really shows you the power that the person you listen to can have over your opinions. A good lesson for our time taught through history.

Because each character has a different author, their voices are truly unique.

Even though I am pretty familiar with these stories, this format gave me an opportunity to re-engage with them in a whole new way.

Another series ended

23 Apr

This weekend, I finished Purple Hearts, the third and final book in Michael Grant’s Front Lines series.

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What a fabulous ending! Not only did we get to follow our characters from the Normandy invasion to their end of the war, Grant also includes a fast forward ending that includes their obituaries so we know what they did with their lives as a whole.  We can imagine all the parts in between. It is really the best of both worlds for readers.

Publisher’s Summary: New York Times bestselling author Michael Grant unleashes the gritty and powerful conclusion to the Front Line series and evokes the brutal truth of World War II: War is hell. An epic tale of historical reimagining, perfect for fans of Code Name Verity and Salt to the Sea.

Courage, sacrifice, and fear have led Rio, Frangie, and Rainy through front-line battles in North Africa and Sicily, and their missions are not over. These soldiers and thousands of Allies must fight their deadliest battle yet—for their country and their lives—as they descend into the freezing water and onto the treacherous sands of Omaha Beach. It is June 6, 1944. D-Day has arrived.

No longer naive recruits, these soldier girls are now Silver Star recipients and battle-hardened. Others look to them for guidance and confidence, but this is a war that will leave sixty million dead. Flesh will turn to charcoal. Piles will be made of torn limbs. The women must find a way to lead while holding on to their own last shreds of belief in humanity.

Randy Ribay

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