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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.

A break from poetry for zombies

19 Apr

Faithful readers know I don’t do scary. Normally, I wouldn’t read a book about zombies. But the cover of Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation was just too enticing.

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A work of alternate history, the book is set in a world where slavery has been abolished Despite that,  Native Americans and African-Americans aren’t treated much better than before the war and the rise of the zombies.

Ireland’s word-building is great. I was totally immersed in this new America. I was especially grateful that the book wasn’t scary and  descriptions of the killing of zombies weren’t graphic or gross. They were treated rather matter-of-factly, which was just right given the tone of Jane’s narration.

The story bogged down a bit in the middle when we were transported out of Maryland and into Summerland, Kansas, but I kept going because I really liked Jane. A few mature topics, like prostitution, are mentioned obliquely, but I feel very comfortable putting this one in my classroom library.

Publisher’s Summary:Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.

In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.

But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.

But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.

And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

When I first picked it up, I thought it was a stand alone. Although the ending is satisfactory, as I approached it, I realized this was the  first book in a series because no way were all the loose ends going to be tied up. So, I will have await the second book to find out if Jane will ever get to see her mother again.

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