Tag Archives: historical fiction

Climb Every Mountain

9 Oct


Remember the scene from The Sound of Music  where Maria is talking with Mother Superior after she’s come back from the von Trapp home and the kids are outside begging for her to return? Mother Superior tells Maria, when God closes a door, He opens a window. It happened to me at the library yesterday.

I returned the still unfinished The Search for Goliathus Hercules and picked up some other books I had on hold. Walking to the checkout station, I saw MULTIPLE COPIES of Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, just waiting for me.


If I didn’t have to work today, I’d have stayed up all night reading it. I only made it to page 42 last night, but I’m bringing it to work today & might hide it under my desk while I teach.

AND it is picture day at school and I’m wearing the sweater I made as my reader’s response to Code Name Verity.

I have a feeling it is going to be a GREAT day today. Forgive me if you catch me singing  Climb Every Mountain.

Summers with Buster Keaton

7 Oct

When I first saw Bluffton by Matt Phelan, I thought it was going to be about a kid and an elephant.


Imagine my surprise, not to mention my delight,  when I realized it was about Buster Keaton.


Not the Buster Keaton of the silent movies, but the boy who would become the silent film star.

It’s the summer of 1908 in Muskegon, Michigan and Henry is bored. When a troupe of vaudeville performers arrive to vacation for the summer in Bluffton, a nearby neighborhood, Henry spends every free moment getting to know the animals and hanging out with the boys, one of whom is Buster Keaton. Keaton is already famous for his ability to take a fall better than anyone alive. The boys spend several summers together playing baseball and vying over the same girl. Along the way we learn about Buster’s life on stage and his transition to films.

My uncle ,Henry Smith, was a watercolorist and we had several of his painting in our house growing up. The watercolors of Phelan’s book seem perfect for this story, which I highly recommend.

Reading along the Silk Road

30 Sep

Funny, how library holds work. You go along, blithely putting everything you want on hold, and then they arrive, and there’s a connection. I just read my way from Constantinople to Turkestan.

It all started with Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, a graphic novel by Tony Cliff. Girl power galore!


Selim is a lieutenant in the sultan’s army in early 1800s Constantinople. He lives a quiet, simple life until the day Delilah Dirk shows up in the sultan’s dungeon. While questioning her he discovers she claims to be a fearsome fighter, with deeds to her credit around the world. When she escapes, the sultan believes Selim had something to do with it, and he orders them both to be killed. Delilah frees Selim and takes him along on her adventures. You can actually read it online, for free, HERE!

Then, I read my first book on an e-reader, which was a more enjoyable experience than I expected.


The book however was amazing. If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan, give perspective on what it is like to be gay in Iran. Sahar and Nasrin have been best friends forever, but when Nasrin becomes engaged, Sahar delves into a hidden part of Iranian culture. Well written and easy to read, I couldn’t put this one down.

On over to India, in the days just prior to partition, with  A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury.


The story is narrated by three characters, all about the same age: Tariq is a Muslim whose family is planning to leave India for Pakistan. Anupreet is a Sikh girl who has been a victim of the  violence between Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus rocking India at this time. Margaret is an english girl and the daughter of a surveyor working to create the border. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, helping see into this complicated time & place, and telling an excellent story.

The final book, The Vine Basket  by Josanne LaValley, is set among the Uyghurs of the part of eastern China, formerly known as east Turkestan.


Combining cultural geography, and themes of resistance, female empowerment La Valley tells the compelling story of Mehrigul. She has had to leave school to help support her family and lives in fear that her father will turn her over to the local Party boss as part of a quota of girls to work in factories in the South. When an American women buys one f her baskets for a huge sum, and asks her to make more, Mehrigul finally hopes her future might not be as bleak as she supposes.

My weekend in Renaissance Venice

21 Sep

I didn’t have much of a summer vacation because of summer school. So, thank goodness I can live vicariously through books.

This weekend, I’m in Renaissance Venice, courtesy of Falcon in the Glass, by Susan Fletcher.


I actually visited Venice way back in 1983, when I was an exchange student in Denmark, so I can really visualize the story as I read. Even if you haven’t been to Venice, Susan Fletcher’s vivid recreation of the setting makes it easy to imagine what our hero, Renzo sees and experiences. She also manages to bring the history and beauty of glassblowing in Murano to life without being didactic.

Here’s the story in a nutshell:

Renzo, a twelve-year-old laborer in a glassworks, has just a few months to prepare for a test of his abilities, and no one to teach him. If he passes, he will qualify as a skilled glassblower. If he fails, he will be expelled from the glassworks. Becoming a glassblower is his murdered father’s dying wish for him, and the means of supporting his mother and sister. But Renzo desperately needs another pair of hands to help him turn the glass as he practices at night. One night he is disturbed by a bird–a small falcon–that seems to belong to a girl hiding in the glassworks. Soon Renzo learns about her and others like her–the bird people, who can communicate with birds and are condemned as witches. He tries to get her to help him and discovers that she comes with baggage: ten hungry bird-kenning children who desperately need his aid. Caught between devotion to his family and his art and protecting a group of outcast children, Renzo struggles for a solution that will keep everyone safe.

A great read for kids who love historical fiction.

Written in Stone

7 Sep

I’ve taught at William Walker Elementary School in Beaverton, Oregon since 2002.


I am now an embedded part of the community but I am also aware of the history, tradition and stories that precede me. Interestingly, author Rosanne Parry is an alumnus of William Walker. She came for a visit a few teas ago, just after the release of  Heart of a Shepherd.

Her new book, Written in Stone, has a similar feel.


 It draws on Parry’s experience living and teaching in the Olympic Peninsula and honors the history, tradition, stories and culture of the Makah.

The book is set in the 1920’s, a time of great change for the Makah. After an unsuccessful whale hunt, in which her father dies, Pearl tries to find her place in her family and community. In the end, Pearl draws on her own creativity and ingenuity as well as the wisdom she has learned from her parents and grandparents to stay true to her heritage while forging a path for the future.

This is a sensitively written book with a string female heroine, set in a time and place not often visited  in middle grade fiction.

Facing challenges

3 Sep

Scan 3

I started kindergarten in the Fall of 1969. I was 4 and wouldn’t turn 5 until December. I remember being excited but around me people were worried. I was very shy and, apparently, the plan was to let me start and see how things went. If they went well, I’d stay. If they went poorly, I would get another year at home to mature.

Fortunately, I loved Miss Belyea, my teacher, and I loved school. I might have been emotionally immature, but I was ready to learn, so, I got to stay.  School was sort of my comfort zone. I felt confident in the structure, surrounded by people I knew and the work came to me easily. I still have my kindergarten report card and I get a little teary when I read Miss Belyea’s  end of the year comments:

” Adrienne has developed from a very quiet, insecure child to the most perfect little student…..I have enjoyed watching Adrienne blossom into a lovely little rose.”


For Vince, the main character in Paperboy by Vince Vawter, things aren’t quite as easy because he stutters.


Eleven year old Vince is an excellent pitcher and has a close friend he calls Rat. When Rat goes away for the summer, he asks Vince to take over his paper route. Vince agrees, but reluctantly. He was OK with delivering the paper, it was the collection, where he’d have to talk to customers, that worried him. As the summer passes, Vince faces this challenge, along with others, and, like I did with Miss Belyea, blossoms.

The story is set in Memphis in 1959. Although it is not a story about civil rights, themes appear, as Vince contemplates the world around him as an 11 year old might. Not really understanding the adult world, but wanting to, even when it is ugly.

This is a quiet novel that is well worth the read. It might also be a Newbery contender.


24 Aug


I love quiet, well-crafted  books that sneak up on you slowly. That is exactly what  happened with  Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco.

‘Bee’, short for Beatrice,  is an orphan who lives with a traveling carnival, where  endures taunts for the birthmark on her face. She is raised by Pauline, who tells her it is an angel’s kiss, teaches her to read & write and runs their hot dog cart. When Pauline is sent to work for another carnival, Bee is lost. Alone  and afraid of Ellis, the carnival owner, Bee runs away with her scruffy dog and a runty pig. They find a house with gingerbread trim where two mysterious women, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter, take her in. But Bee seems to be the only person able to see them .

Together, they create a family and Bee learns about friendship, her real family and finds the courage she has always had.

This beautiful story is full of loneliness, fear, hope and magic. Bee, and other characters, make some mistakes along the way, but, in the end, find their way home.

Princes and Heirs

23 Jul

With the birth yesterday of His Royal Highness Prince _____ of Cambridge, it seems appropriate to take a look at Richard Peck’s newest book, The Mouse With the Question Mark Tale.


This royal tale centers around Mouse Minor, a nameless mouse who lives in the Royal Mews at the time of Queen Victoria’ s Jubilee. Peck has created a believable parallel mouse universe in where, ” For every human on earth, there is a mouse doing the same job, and doing it better.” Mouse Minor sets off on an unexpected adventure on his last day at school. He becomes a Yeomouse, rides a horse, meets Queen Victoria and, ultimately, finds out his real name.   I must admit that I laughed out loud when his teacher, B. Chiroptera, announces that all the best teachers are old bats.”

I did not read Peck’s previous mouse book,  Secrets at Sea,  but I enjoyed this one so much, I think I’ll give it a read.

Sleuthing with Emily Dickinson

25 Jun

I have never really read Emily Dickinson. She wasn’t much part of the syllabus in my Canadian education. I knew of her for sure and have come across her poetry and references to her as an adult. So, it seems both strange and exciting  that two books for middle grade readers feature Emily Dickinson and her poetry.

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Destiny, Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice is the tale of Emily Elizabeth, named after Emily Dickinson. From before her birth her mother, an Emily Dickinson scholar, predicted her daughter would be a great poet. She recorded details about Emily in a volume of her collected works, annotating poems with events in Emily’s life.  Emily, on the other hand, is obsessed with Danielle Steele and wants to be a romance writer, not a poet. When the Emily Dickinson volume is accidentally sent to a resale shop, Emily is on the trail, trying to track it down.

A murder mystery is the subject of Nobody’s Secret  by Michaela MacColl. The sleuth is a young and pre-recluse Emily Dickinson. Teenaged Emily meets a young man who later turns up dead in her pond. She does not know his identity because, when they met, they did not tell each other their name, preferring to be Nobodies. It is Emily Dickinson alone who believes his death is not an accidental drowning and she pursues the truth, even when the adults around her tell her to stop. MacColl incorporates ideas from Dickinson’s poetry into her narrative, creating plausible inspirations for their origins.

2013 Hub Reading Challenge check in #17

1 Jun

I have read 2 novels entitled Pure this year.

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The first, by Andrew Miller,  is set in pre-revolutionary France, follows an engineer named Jean-Baptiste Baratte and chronicles his efforts in clearing an overfilled graveyard which is polluting the surrounding area. The book won the 2011 Costa Book of the Year award. It was a wonderful read and had the feel of the 19th century French novels I love to read, even though it was written by an Englishman.

The second, written by Julianna Baggott, is set in post-apocalyptic America, follows a girl named Pressia, who has a doll’s head fused into her hand, and a boy named Partridge, who is a Pure (undamaged by the bomb) and chronicles their efforts in  leading a real resistance. The book was a  2013 YALSA award winner. Lots of similarities here to other dystopian trilogies (this is book 1 of 3). The twist here is that the Pures live in a protected Dome and those outside are all disfigured by the blast by burns, fusings and other scars. It was pretty good, but I don’t know that I’m dying to know what happens to Pressia & Partridge.

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