More graphic novels to talk about, this time, real-life stories. Some are realistic fiction, some are inspired by moments in the author’s life. All are great reading!
Wenonah is a young Ojibwe girl from northern Wisconsin. She seeks out her great-grandfather to talk. She’s upset; the chimookomaan school – the white school – she’s forced to attend has cut her hair; forbid her from speaking her language; and won’t even let her use her real name, telling her that she must now refer to herself as Evelyn. Set in the early 1900s, during the period where Native American children endured abusive forced assimilation efforts that attempted to erase Native history, Remembering Green is a powerful story of remembering. Wenonah’s great-grandfather has wisdom in his words as he speaks about fear of the unknown, which motivated the U.S. government’s actions, and he leads Wenonah on a walk through nature, reminding her to “remember the green”: remember her people, remember their connection to the land, and remember who she is. A glossary and a word on the Indian residential schools make up the back matter. A strong supplemental text on a dark period in U.S. history, Remembering Green is a good addition to collections but should not be considered an #OWnVoices work. The artwork is bright, with natural greens and browns dominating the scenery. Wenonah and her grandfather have beautifully expressive faces, with their eyes communicating volumes.
Remembering Green is part of Eifrig Publishing’s Tales of Herstory series, a series of books that feature different American historical periods from girls’ perspectives. The book was a successful Kickstarter and has been reviewed by School Library Journal.
In the interest of holiday season posting: need gifts for the kid who has every video game, or a bookworm who has read everything, and needs something new? Allow me to be your guide through a few fantastic middle grade reads I’ve just finished.
Where do I even start with Malcolm and Me? This book blew my mind in the best way possible. It’s 1973, and 13-year-old Roberta has a lot of feelings. She’s reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and discussing Black history and Black Power with her father at home, and clashing with a racist nun at her Philadelphia Catholic school. When she’s sent home after a blowup with Sister Elizabeth, she deep dives into the Autobiography, examining her own feelings and frustrations through Malcolm X’s lenses. Already a writer, she begins journaling her verse and diary entries, guided by Malcolm, and it gives her the strength she needs as her home life and school life begin unraveling.
There is such power in this book and in the characters. Roberta emerges as an incredible heroine; a self-aware 13-year-old coming of age in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, during Watergate, she questions her own faith in God and in organized religion, in family, and in color. Inspired by an event in the author’s life, Malcolm and Me is essential reading that hits that often hard-to-reach middle school/high school age group. Please put this on school (and adult) reading lists, and talk about this book with your tweens and your teens. Talk this up to your Angie Thomas fans, Nic Stone fans, and – naturally! – Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter. Author Robin Farmer’s author website has more information on the author’s articles, her books, and a link to her blog.
Orphan Seren Rhys thinks she’s being rescued from the orphanage when her mysterious godfather, Captain Jones, sends for her. His country mansion, Plas-y Fran, is just going to be wonderful, Seren knows it! She’ll be the apple of Captain Jones and his wife, Lady Mair’s eyes, have wonderful parties, and play with the couple’s young son, Tomos. She realizes things are very different when she’s picked up at the train station and arrives, late at night, at Plas-y Fran, which looks rundown and all but abandoned; Mrs. Villiers, the cold housekeeper, tells her that the family is in London for the foreseeable future. Seren turns to the mysterious package entrusted to her at the train station and discovers a mechanical crow. Upon assembly, the crow can talk, fly, and complain. A lot. But when Seren learns that Tomos has been taken by fairies, she decides to rescue him and restore life to Plas-y Fran: and the crow will help her do it.
A fun fantasy with a bit of steampunk, which I always enjoy, this is a quick read with adventure and a warm family story at its heart. Seren is the hopeful orphan, and the cantankerous Crow is a great foil, making this a fine buddy comedy. Fairie lore amps up the action and the tension, and adds some dark fantasy and magic to the plot. A good choice for readers who loved the Nevermoor/Morrigan Crow series by Jessica Townsend.
Hayley Chewins is back! Her 2018 novel, The Turnaway Girls, was one of the best books I’d read that year, so I was excited to read her newest, The Sisters of Straygarden Place. The Ballastian Sisters – Winnow, Mayhap, and Pavonine – have lived in the house by themselves after their parents left seven years before, only a note telling them to “sleep darkly” left behind. The house takes care of their basic needs – food, clothing, shelter – but they cannot leave the house, lest the tall silver grass take them. Winnow grows tired of waiting and ventures outside, leaving 12-year-old Mayhap to take care of their youngest sister, Pavonine, and figure out how to heal 14-year-old Winnow. As Mayhap discovers more about the house and the history of the magic within it, the mystery deepens. Readers will love this gorgeous, dark fantasy written with prose that’s almost lyrical, magical. Hayley Chewins writes like Neil Gaiman, where the words just caress you, wrap themselves around you, and when you’re fully under their spell, tell you stories that will leave you wondering. In a world where dogs crawl into your mind to help you sleep and the grass tempts you to come outside so it can take you away, The Sisters of Straygarden Place is truly magical reading.
The Sisters of Straygarden Place is is one of Kirkus’s Best MG Fantasy & SF Books of 2020.
The third book in the outstanding Zora and Me trilogy sees young Zora Neale Hurston and her best friend, Carrie, facing quickly changing times in Eatonville: grief, loss, and racism are closing in on Eatonville and will change Zora’s life forever. A fugitive is hunted down and lynched in Eatonville – America’s first incorporated Black township – and the mob gleefully terrorizes the citizens of Eatonville; a longtime resident’s death and grave desecration sparks fear into the town and Zora and Carrie worry that voodoo and zombies are somehow involved. Zora’s mother, meanwhile, is in failing health and her father decides to run for town mayor; a decision Zora knows will make her egotistical, grandstanding father even more difficult to live with. Carrie, meanwhile, worries about her own future with her beau, Teddy, when he falls mysteriously ill. Paralleling major events in Zora Neale Hurston’s life, Victoria Bond brings this early part of the author to a bittersweet close. The characters are so fully created, so real, that it’s sad to leave them, especially knowing what awaits Zora in the years ahead. Back matter includes a brief biography, a time line of Hurston’s life, and an annotated bibliography. Powerful, loaded with emotion, this is a necessity for your historical fiction shelves. Handsell this to your middle schoolers; you’ll be giving them her work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, for Banned Books Week when they’re in high school. Publisher Candlewick has a chapter excerpt and discussion guide available on their website.
Zora and Me: The Summoner has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.
I’m at that odd moment when my TBR and my HBR (have been read) piles are toppling. Which is a good problem to have, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I’m constantly catching up to something, be it reading or reviews. Let’s take a look at some YA, including a book that’s being touted for middle grade, but I feel would work much better for older tweens/teens.
I’m going to kick things off with the book I feel is better for older tweens. They Threw Us Away is being billed as “Lord of the Flies meets Toy Story”, and it’s a pretty accurate description. A blue teddy bear wakes up in a garbage dump and frees himself; he notes his name tag, which says his name is Buddy, and he sees other boxes of teddies on the pile and works to free the others before rats, seagulls, or a terrifying machine gets to them. Together, Buddy and the other teddies – Sunny, Sugar, Horace, and Reginald – put their memories together: they were in the Store, waiting for children to take them home and love them. Once they are loved by a child, teddies fall into the Forever Sleep. So what happened? The group sets out to get some answers, but they learn that the world is a scary place; even scarier than the Dump, and that the answers they seek may not be the answers they want to hear.
The first in a planned trilogy, They Threw Us Away is bleak and often brutal. There are graphic depictions of teddy bear death, which, when I say it, may sound like something to laugh off, but reading it is pretty horrific. Younger readers and more sensitive readers may be upset by the unrelenting danger and horror. Black and white illustrations throughout reinforce the story. There are some loose ends that we can expect future books to pick up on. Each Teddy has a distinct personality and struggles with their circumstances accordingly: Buddy is kind and gentle; the peacemaker and ersatz leader; Sugar, whose damaged box meant she suffered some bumps, too, is flighty and quirky; Sunny is a conflicted character with flashes of rage and a desire to keep the group together; Reginald is a serious, sagelike teddy, and Horace is fearful. Give this to your dedicated horror fans, and save it for your higher elementary readers and middle schoolers.
This novel in verse is the latest retelling of the Donner Party and their fate in the Sierra Nevadas during the winter of 1846-1847. Poet Allan Wolf gives voice to members of the ill-fated party in his book: James Reed and George Donner, leaders of the doomed caravan; Baptiste Trudeau, a 16-year-old orphan taken under George and Tamzene Donner’s wing; Salvador and Luis, two Miwok Indian guides; Ludwig Keseberg, a haunted man; Patty and Virginia Reed, two of James Reed’s children, and more are all here, telling their stories in haunted verse. Hunger narrates the story, giving readers familiar with Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief a familiar touch. Hunger is dispassionate and yet evokes emotion in the narration. Beginning as the party begins experiencing misfortune, the voices grow more desperate and the verse, more haunting, as the snow falls; the party’s desperation is palpable. Moments dedicated to the snowfall include names of the fallen sprinkled in with the repeated word, “snow”. Comprehensive back matter includes an author’s note, biographies, statistics, a timeline of events, and resources for more reading and research. It’s an incredibly detailed work of historical fiction and nonfiction all at once.
The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep has starred reviews from Booklist and BookPage.
I am DYING to talk about this book, but there’s so much I can’t say because I CAN’T SPOIL IT. So here are the main details: Jess Flynn is a 1990s high school junior wears babydoll dresses and watches Party of Five. She’s developing a crush on her childhood best friend, Tyler. Her sister, Sara, is suffering from a blood disease and has been getting worse. Things are in constant flux for Jess, and things have been getting weird in her home town of Swickley, too: half the population has been hit by a mysterious flu. Her dog goes from lavishing attention on her to growling and hiding from her. She hears strange chanting, and people either stop speaking when she enters a room, or she catches glances that people around her give one another. And what the heck is that black device with an apple on it that fell out of her friend’s backpack? Things are weird in Swickley, and Jess means to get to the bottom of it.
I LOVED this book! The ’90s vibe, the pacing, the overall story, everything is so well crafted and paced. Jess is a smart character who is sensitive enough to her surroundings to know something’s up: this is the constant in a plot that keeps trying to shift her world around. What I can say is that Jess gets a crash course in what people are willing to do for selfish reasons; what she does in response to that fact keeps the story in motion. ’90s pop culture references make this even more fun. Hand this to all your teens, and booktalk Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism, for it’s awesome ’80s references, too. Tell ’em to read them with their parents.
There are SO many great books coming out over the next few weeks, WOW. My reading mojo came back with a vengeance, thankfully, about a month ago, and I have been working on the TBR; everything I pick up has been really good stuff. I’m also starting to come out of an overall blue period (like Picasso, but not as talented), so I’m hoping my blogging can keep up with my reading habits. Let’s give it a whirl.
The first book is Sam Maggs’s middle grade novel, Con Quest. If you already know Sam Maggs, I welcome you, my geek friend. If you don’t, this is a great place to start. She’s a geek girl who’s written comics, nonfiction about fandom, and awesome women in history, but this is her first middle grade novel. And what a novel it is. It’s a love letter to fandom and con life; to Supernatural fans and quests for charity; to friendship, family, and that first blush of a new crush. If you dig fandom, are in fandom, or are fandom-adjacent, you’ll recognize the players here. At a con that’s remarkably similar to San Diego Comic Con, twin siblings Cat and Alex are competing in an intense quest, run by one of their fave celebs, to benefit a charity. The big prize is getting to meet the celeb, but first, they have a gauntlet of geeky challenges to complete, all while dodging their older sister, who is SUCH a drag. There are great, realistic characters here – con life is truly stranger than fiction, friends – and moments you’ll recognize and love. The characters are fun and diverse, with a diversity in gender identity and culture; one of the main characters, Alex, is autistic and Sam does a good job at describing how he experiences things, as opposed to his slightly intense (and sometimes frustrating) sister, Cat.
Introduce Cat and Alex to your readers, then get a (virtual) library con up and running to introduce them to the joy that is fandom. Hey, Free Comic Book Day is running for most of the summer!
All hail the middle grade superhero novels! We are – hopefully – getting our long-awaited Wonder Woman 1984 movie this October, so TALK THIS UP. Our tweens and teens have Tempest Tossed, a phenomenal Wonder Woman original graphic novel; middle graders and tweens now have Diana and the Island of No Return, by Aisha Saeed. Here, Diana is a tween herself, a princess forbidden to learn to fight, despite living on an island of warrior women. She’s hoping to persuade her mother, Queen Hippolyta, this year… maybe during the festivities, when her best friend, Princess Sakina arrives, they can plan an approach? Before the festivities begin, Diana discovers a stowaway – a BOY – on Sakina’s mother’s ship, and learns that the entire island of Themyscira has been put under a sleeping spell. Diana and Sakina, the only two awake on the island, must travel with this boy to his island, where a demon lies in wait, wanting to capture Diana.
This is the first in a Wonder Woman trilogy, and Aisha Saeed wastes no time getting to the action. Diana and Sakina’s friendship is well-written and realistic; she creates larger-than-life figures and makes them very human; the girls are giggly best friends who plan to sleep in the same room so they can stay up all night, and yet also ready, at a moment’s notice, to go on a dangerous mission to fight a demon and free their mothers. It all comes together beautifully, with great world-building, pacing, and storytelling. I can’t wait for the next book.
This first book in a new middle grade series is a good one for kids who want to read something creepy, but not TOO scary. In a corporate town where everything is owned and run by YummCo Foods, a black cat escapes a lab. He’s found by a girl named Mellie, who discovers the filthy, ragged cat in a dumpster and takes him home to nurse back to health. She names him Bert and decides that he’s going to be the pet she’s always wanted… but Berg wants blood. He has a taste for heads, in particular; after decapitating Mellie’s stuffed animals, he heads out for less stuffy game. As cats would do, Mellie discovers Bert’s version of sharing a meal with her, when she keeps finding headless birds and mice left for her. Mellie’s best friend, Danny, is convinced the cat is a zombie, and readers will get the feeling that there’s a lot more going on at YummCo than the oh-so-friendly representatives will let on. And Bert? Well, he can’t really understand why Mellie isn’t appreciating his gifts, he still feels something for the girl, but nothing can stop him from his mission: revenge and freeing the other animals in the lab.
I loved how this book built and built up the suspense, but it ended so abruptly, I had to check and make sure I wasn’t reading an excerpt. It’s a fast-paced read, and will definitely invest readers right away. The black and white sketches add to the moody atmosphere of the book, and the ending will leave everyone waiting for the sequel. Kara LaReau is the author of the Infamous Ratsos series, so she knows how to write for a younger audience and get things moving along quickly. Ryan Andrews illustrated another book I love, The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson.
I LOVE a good creepy book, and this one is amazing. If you’re a Mary Downing Hahn reader, run to your computer and request or buy The Mulberry Tree. Ten-year-old Immy (Imogene) and her parents have moved from Australia to the English countryside as her father battles depression. They decide to rent an adorable thatched English cottage, but the realtor – and the town – have their misgivings about anyone living there. You see, there’s an cursed mulberry tree in the backyard; a tree that’s rumored to have stolen two girls away on the eves of their 11th birthdays. People cross the street rather than walk by the tree, and when Immy’s father speaks out on the ridiculousness of a tree kidnapping girls, Immy finds herself even more of a pariah at school. But when she starts hearing a strange song in her head, and seeing the tree move, she begins to wonder whether the rumors may be true after all. What’s the story of the tree? Immy’s going to have to do some investigating to find out, and she’d better hurry… her 11th birthday is coming.
This book hooked me from the first page. It deals with depression and grief, and how it can drive a wedge into a family; a spooky tree with a cursed history, and mean girls. If you have readers who love a bit of the creepy, with some supernatural thrown in, give them this book. I read this one in one night, because I refused to put it down until I was done. The setting, the pacing, everything built at such a wonderful pace, and the resolution… chef’s kiss good. One of my favorite Quarantine Reads so far.
Allison Rushby wrote 2018’s The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery; an historical fiction ghost story. It’s a good one; pick it up if you haven’t had the chance yet.
Last but not least, a reading challenge! What better way to keep track of all of the great books you’ve been reading with your kids (you are reading with them, aren’t you?) than by working through reading challenges together? I just received an email with seven printable challenges, all free, all downloadable, through Redbubble. There’s Book Bingo; a Cross-Genre reading list; a Habit Tracker; a Create Your Own Reading List; and my favorite, a Reading Coloring Sheet where you can color in books on a bookshelf as you read (and, if you’re like me, try to write itty bitty names on the spines). These add a little bit of color to the same old boring reading logs the kids get sent home with every summer, so try one or two out. You can view all the reading challenges here.
As always, I received eArcs of all the books I talked about in exchange for reviews. Thanks for reading, and go get some books!
Taking place in the UK in 1918, War is Over asks a timeless question: why do we expect children to fight our wars? Not having a child’s presence on the front, but the psychological war; the “us” and “them” mentality that permeates everything we do. John is a young boy whose father is fighting in the trenches of France while his mother works in a munitions factory. John’s teacher tells – bellows, really – that the students are fighting alongside the grownups, fighting the enemy in Germany that includes the children of Germany. But John certainly doesn’t feel like anyone is his enemy. When a classmate’s uncle tries to speak to the children, telling them that they are children and NOT at war with anyone, he’s attacked and taken away from the children, but he’s touched something in John, who sees a sketch of a young boy among the man’s scattered papers. It’s a drawing of a German boy named Jan, the same age as John. John imagines he and Jan become friends, and dreams of a better world where children are children, not enemies, and create a peaceful world together.
This is a strong story of a sensitive boy trying to make sense of a world gone mad. It’s a story that’s as relevant today as it was in 1918, when the story takes place. David Litchfield’s black-and-white illustrations are moody, evocative, packing strong emotions. Visit his website to see some of his work from War Is Over. Poignant and ultimately hopeful, War is Over is a story that will resonate with kids and adults alike.
Inspired by the true story of a boy and his teddy bear, this story of survival during the Holocaust is achingly, lovingly translated into English for a new generation of readers.
Told by Bear, a stuffed toy bear belonging to a young boy named Fred, Bear and Fred tells the story of a young Dutch Jewish boy and his family when they go into hiding as the Netherlands fall under the Nazi shadow. Bear is the only toy Fred takes with him and provides comfort as Fred is shuttled first, to his grandfather, and then to a “nice lady” to stay with when his parents leave and go into hiding elsewhere. When the War ends, Fred and his family reunite, and Bear stays by Fred’s side, until Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, contacts Fred, having heard about his story, and asks to borrow Bear to teach children. In her author’s note, Iris Argaman describes how she discovered Fred Lessing’s story when she saw Bear at Yad Varshem and contacted him, asking to write his story. There’s a photo of the actual Bear.
Originally published in Hebrew in 2016, Bear and Fred tells the story of the Holocaust from a child forced into hiding, without his parents, with only his stuffed bear for company. Having Bear narrate Fred’s story adds a touching depth to the story; it’s the story of a best friend. Moments like having Bear’s paw dry Fred’s tears when he misses his family, or having Bear describe his own feelings of being scared in Fred’s backpack or, the fear of being left behind, provides relatable moments for kids to latch onto and create valuable moments for discussion. Annette Appel’s English translation reads beautifully, with all of the emotion intact. Avi Ofer’s digital illustrations rely on simple colors to tell the story: the characters are grey-blue, washed out figures, with bear’s yellow-brown coloring allowing him to stand out, designating him the narrator, and the family a memory.
A strong book to have in younger historical fiction collections.
Iris Argaman is the author of a number of books for children, including Bear and Fred, which was awarded the Yad Vashem Prize in Israel and the Giovanni Arpino Prize for Children’s Literature in Italy. She lives in Israel, where she is a lecturer on children’s literature, holds writing workshops, and writes activity books which promote museum education.
Avi Ofer is an illustrator and animation director born and raised in Israel and now based in Spain. His work has been exhibited in art shows and screened in festivals around the world.
Annette Appel is a translator of books for young readers and truly enjoys the challenge of making stories written in Hebrew accessible to English speakers.
“Translated from Hebrew, it reads seamlessly and beautifully presents a family caught up in war…Without in any manner diminishing the actual horrors of World War II or any current fighting, the author enables a child to grasp in some small manner the impact of conflict on a family. Moving and accessible.” —Kirkus Reviews
Amazon Crossing Kids aims to increase the diversity of children’s books in translation and encourage young reading from a range of cultural perspectives.
It’s 1914, and silent serials are all the rage at movie houses. Fort Lee, New Jersey, is the filmaking hotspot, and 12-year-old Darleen is the star of Matchstick Studios’s adventure serial, Daring Darleen. The studio, run by Darleen’s father, uncles, and aunt, churn out serials where Darleen faces bad guy after bad guy while searching for her dear papa, but the dangers she faces onscreen are nothing compared to the turn her real life takes when a publicity stunt goes haywire and Darleen finds herself kidnapped – FOR REAL – alongside a young heiress. Darleen and Victorine, a “poor little rich girl”, quickly bond and work on a way to escape their captors and keep Victorine safe from her money-hungry relations.
Daring Darleen is a great piece of historical fiction, with a rich background of the early filmmaking industry and Fort Lee’s place in it (an author’s note touches on the industry and real characters who cameo in the story). Darleen is a smart, spunky young heroine and Victorine is her protege; the two have a remarkable chemistry that comes together on the page and makes them a formidable duo. Victorine blossoms as Darleen’s daring rubs off on her, and Darleen is always working to keep one step ahead of everyone else. Two strong female heroines, a good supporting cast of characters, and a well-paced, plotted story make Daring Darleen a book to have on your shelves. Will Daring Darleen have more adventures? Like the silent serials of old, we just have to wait and see!
Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Publisher Candlewick has a sample chapter available on their website, and librarian/podcaster/reviewer extraordinaire, Betsy Bird, has an interview with author Anne Nesbet here. Want to show off a silent film to get your reading group in the mood for a Daring Darleen discussion? Check out one of Anne Nesbet’s favorites, Alice Guy Blaché’s Falling Leaves (1912), right here:
Everyone is pretty aware of American Girl, the toy and book phenomenon that sent kids running to the stores for an experience – tea party, clothing selection, matching outfits – before Build-a-Bear got involved. The American Girl novels have big fans in every library where I’ve worked, but I never thought to pick up and read any of them for myself. But I received three from the publisher, so I figured, what the heck? Let’s see what these are about. I have to say, I’m pretty happy with them.
The three books that I received seem to be a repackaging of American Girl’s BeForever line of historical novels. The original books look to have been published in 2016-2017; these new releases have updated cover art and the interiors are very emerging reader friendly, with both color photos and artwork throughout, making it even more appealing and reader-friendly to emerging chapter book readers.
It’s 1963 in Detroit, Michigan, and 9-year-old Melody just found out that she’s going to be singing her first church solo for the Youth Day celebration. Her older brother wants to be a Motown star, while their dad wants him to go to college and pick a more stable career; her older sister comes home from college with stories of protests, marches, and registering Black voters, and her cousin’s family arrives in Detroit, because racial tension in the American South has made it almost impossible to earn a living. As Melody and her family awaken to activism, a horrific church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama takes the lives of four children and leaves Melody speechless. She has to find her voice and sing for those who can’t.
No Ordinary Sound is such powerful historical fiction for intermediate and middle grade readers. I’ve enjoyed Denise Lewis Patrick’s books in the past, so I read this American Girl book first, and am so glad I did. Her characters experience three pivotal events in civil rights history – the Detroit Walk to Freedom; the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, and the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama – and encourage readers to see these events from a personal point of view, developing a deeper understanding of more than just the facts. Denise Lewis Patrick provides a slice of life story, where readers experience the everyday racism Melody and her family and friends experience; from being banned from buying a soda at a soda machine to being shadowed by store security at stores where they’ve been longtime customers.
No Ordinary Sound was a great introduction to the American Girl historical fiction series of books, and I’ll be sure to include this series in booklists and booktalks about civil rights and historical fiction. Melody’s books have their own page on the American Girl website, where you can read first chapter excerpts.
Civil Rights Teaching has lesson plans and resources about teaching the Civil Rights Movement, as does Facing History and Ourselves. The Grammy Museum has a lesson plan on teaching the impact of Motown. Education.com has a free, downloadable worksheet on the History of Motown, and TeachRock.org has a lesson Assembling Hits at Motown. PBS Learning Media has a teaching guide and primary source materials on The Great Migration, and National Geographic has an educator’s guide.
Nanea is a 9-year-old Hawaiian girl; she’s the youngest in her family, and feels frustrated that she can’t do grown-up things, like help in her family’s store. When Pearl Harbor is attacked by Japanese aircraft on December 7, 1941, Nanea discovers that she has to grow up quickly. Her father is a mechanic at Pearl Harbor, and rushes to help out; her older brother is an Eagle Scout, and heads to the site to hand out food and provide aid. Nanea’s Uncle Fudge is taken into custody because he’s Japanese, and Nanea is thrust into a different world with blackouts, curfews, and fear. She and her two best friends work to make themselves useful, especially when “nonessential personnel” must leave the island, which puts her friend at risk. With the spirit of aloha – love, understanding, and compassion – Nanea focuses on kokua – good deeds – to help everyone around her.
The Spirit of Aloha was another strong historical fiction piece. Kirby Larson has written likable, relatable female protagonists, and she’s done historical fiction before, so I was confident I was going to read a good story. Here, we have the main event, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as a means to show how war makes children grow up overnight. Nanea sees her life change in moments: the bombing itself; the rounding up of Japanese people and the detention center; her fears for her father and brother as they head into the middle of the disaster to help; curfews and blackouts curtains, and the overall loss of a relatively peaceful, carefree existence. At the same time, she focuses on her culture’s principles of love, compassion, and good deeds. Kirby Larson adds touches of Hawaiian culture here, like the meaning of hula and tossing leis into the water to assure a return to Hawaii, and there’s a glossary of terms at the end. Nanea is biracial, with a Hawaiian mother and a Caucasian father, and this adds an additional facet to Nanea’s story, as she communicates with her mainland grandparents to let them know what’s going on in Hawaii.
The Spirit of Aloha is a good introduction to World War 2 historical fiction for younger readers. You can find excerpts and more about Nanea on the American Girl website.
Scholastic has a teaching guide on the attack on Pearl Harbor; Teachers Pay Teachers has some free, downloadable resources developed by fellow educators; the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum has a lesson plan on developing visual literacy by analyzing photos from December 7, 1941. The New York Times has a lesson plan on using primary sources to teach the Japanese Internment, as does the Library of Congress.
Nine-year-old Julie has just moved to a new neighborhood and started at a new school after her parent’s divorce; she, her mother, and older sister live in an apartment above her mother’s new store. She starts at a new school and hears they have a basketball team, which is great! She loves basketball! The coach, however, makes no bones about it: the team is boys only, and he’s never going to let a girl play on his team. Julie, empowered by her tennis-playing older sister who tells her about tennis star Billie Jean King and Title IX, the law prohibiting gender discrimination in any educational programs receiving Federal financial assistance (read: public schools can’t refuse any boy or girl from playing on an athletic team). Julie embraces her newfound activism and takes to the streets, getting people to sign a petition to let her play.
The Big Break is a snapshot of the 1970s, when the second wave feminist movement was still pushing for equal rights in the workplace and in our schools. An interesting subplot with a Vietnam vet, who helps focus Julie’s activism by petitioning against the closing of a veteran’s hall, reminds readers that the ’70s were also about coping with the fallout from the Vietnam War and the vets who returned to homelessness, and a lack of necessary mental and physical health services. Julie’s sister is a burgeoning feminist who follows the Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King Battle of the Sexes and tells Julie about Title IX, which opened the doors to school athletics for girls. At the same time, Julie is coping with her parent’s divorce – much more scandalous in the 1970s than it is today – and her feelings of grief and frustration with both her parents. Her mom appears to be a free spirit, with a ’60s-early ’70s flower child aesthetic; she’s a divorced woman entering the workplace and starting her own business venture: a store dedicated to handcrafted clothing and items, often repurposed. Julie’s pilot father often misses school events because he’s called to fill in for another pilot, and doesn’t initially support her bid to play on the boys’ basketball team.
The Big Break is by Megan McDonald, who everyone also knows as the author of the Judy Moody and Stink series! Here, she gives readers a glimpse into the 1970s, where things are so different, and yet, still the same. Girls still get grief from boys in the athletic sphere. Homeless veterans are still not getting the services they need. People now use Title IX to protect transgender and nonbinary students. And girls are still discovering and embracing their voices in activism. You can read more about Julie on her American Girl page, including first chapter excerpts.
TedEd has a lesson plan on Title IX that’s friendly to younger students. NEA Today has a good article on ways Title IX has helped women and girls; PBS has a video on Title IX; Scholastic Kids Press has an article on how Title IX changed girls’ sports. Teaching History has resources on teaching the Vietnam War.
Each book comes with a peek into each girls’ life: maps of their neighborhood, pictures of their families, a glimpse at someone’s room. Back matter includes overall information about each American Girls’ moment in history. American Girl makes teachers guides, readers guides, and printable activities available.