Posted in Graphic Novels, History, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Summer School? Summer’s Cool! Books to read with your kids this summer: History Comics

Count this as a subset of my running Books From Quarantine posts. I’ve been stressed out thinking about my second grader, soon to be rising third grader, this summer, when half of his school year has consisted of less homeschooling than crisis management. I want to find things for my kiddo to read and enjoy that give him a little bit of each of his subjects, you know? I know you know. So consider these Summer’s Cool posts as my way of sharing some bookish and Web-ish things I find along my way. Today, I’m talking History Comics, a new nonfiction graphic novel series from First Second; the imprint we know and love that’s given us Science Comics and Secret Coders.

The Roanoke Colony: America’s First Mystery (History Comics), by Chris Schweizer, (June 2020, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250174345

Ages 8-13

Before the pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock; before Captain John Smith landed at Jamestown, the first English settlers arrived in what we now call the United States, on Roanoke Island. Colony governor John White returned to England to get supplies for the colony, but we delayed for three years. When he returned, the colony was abandoned; the settlers, gone. No trace. It’s one of the biggest mysteries in American history, and Chris Schweizer investigates in this History Comic.

Similar in format to Science Comics, we get two guides through the story: in this case, Wanchese a Roanoke Indian, and Manteo, a Croatan chief, inspired by the actual Native Americans who met with the settlers and Sir Walter Raleigh in the earliest days of the settlement. At once a history of the Roanoke Colony and the politics behind its settlement and a discussion of Native Americans and the settlers’ condescending treatment of them from the beginning, The Roanoke Colony is an historical mystery filled with explorers, pirates, jealous queens, shady businessmen, and a brewing war. Very readable and with cartoon-realistic illustrations, this will enchant a new generation of budding historians the same way In Search Of pulled me in when I was a kid. The book examines theories, some plausible and some… well, out there, that persist as people try to work out what happened to the colonists at Roanoke. An afterword from the author on what we know about Roanoke includes a discussion of primary and secondary sources: hugely helpful when working on research reports!

For more information about Roanoke, check out The First Colony Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to research and public education. Education site Ducksters has a unit on the Roanoke Colony. And DreamWorks TV has a YouTube channel, Peacock Kids, that’s also published a Roanoke mystery video.

 

The Great Chicago Fire: Rising from the Ashes (History Comics), by Kate Hannigan/Illustrated by Alexandra Graudins, (June 2020, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250174253

Ages 8-13

In October of 1871, a fire started in the city of Chicago and burned for two days, destroying homes, taking lives, and causing millions of dollars in damage. It’s become a moment in history and an American legend. The story of the Chicago Fire is told here, through the points of view of two siblings, Franny and John Patrick (JP), as they search for their parents in the midst of the fire and the chaos that erupts. It was a disaster that made an urban legend out of a woman named Catherine O’Leary: the fire began about 10 blocks from her home, leading anti-Irish residents to lay the blame on her and her cow; stories ranged from the cow kicking over a bucket while being milked to one of O’Leary’s renters hosting a drunken party which resulted in a lantern being knocked over. These theories, and more plausible ones are covered here, as Franny’s and JP’s story progresses.

Back matter includes a timeline of the fire, a map of spots mentioned in the story, a section dedicated to fire sites to visit in Chicago, a list of fast facts, and a bibliography and resources for further reading. Rising From the Ashes is a comprehensive, thrilling retelling of a major moment in American history.

For more Great Chicago Fire resources, point your browser to The Great Chicago Fire and The Web of Memory, a joint project with the Chicago History Museum and Northwestern University Information Technology (NUIT) Department of Academic and Research Technologies (A&RT), and supported by the Guild of the Chicago History Museum. It’s got a wealth of information, including stories from eyewitnesses, image galleries, songs inspired by the fire, and excerpts from media and personal correspondence. The History Channel has a section about the fire; Smithsonian magazine has an article on the Mrs. O’Leary myth; education site Ducksters.com has a section on the fire, and so does Kids Britannica.

Booktalk these to your I Survived readers – they will eat these up (especially with I Survived graphic novels also hitting shelves). There is an I Survived the Great Chicago Fire chapter book available, so make sure to have a copy handy (cross-promotion is everything)!

 

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Sweet Home Alaska: Little House, up North

Sweet Home Alaska, by Carole Estby Dagg, (July 2019, Puffin), $8.99, ISBN: 9780147514202

Ages 9-13

Terpsichore Johnson’s family is just one of many families suffering through the American Great Depression in 1934. When the local mill in their Wisconsin town closed, the family relied on whatever they could grow in order to eat, and Terpsichore can make darn near anything out of a pumpkin. Her father is determined to take care of his family, and suggests taking President Franklin D. Roosevelt up on his New Deal offer: become an Alaskan pioneer in his Palmer Colony project! Terpsichore is at once unsure and excited: it’s a chance to be a pioneer, just like her hero, Laura Ingalls Wilder, but it’s so far from everyone and everything she knows. The family decides to give it a year, and they’re off. Life isn’t easy for that first group of colonists: there’s illness, and schedule and materials mismanagement leave a lot of folks living in tents when they should have had homes built, but slowly and surely, life in Alaska starts to grow on the Johnson family, except for Terpsichore’s mother. Can Terpsichore’s prize pumpkin win enough money at the Palmer Colony Fair so she can buy her mother a gift that will make her agree to stay?

I loved this book! Sweet Home Alaska is about the 1935 Matanuska Colony; one of FDR’s New Deal projects that would create jobs, investment in the country and infrastructure, and colonize part of U.S.-owned Alaska, which wasn’t a state just yet. The parallels between Sweet Home Alaska and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series are wonderful, and a good readalike for readers who enjoy the Wilder books, and Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House books. (There are no interactions between the mostly white Palmer colonists and indigenous people in Sweet Home Alaska; a point discussed in the author notes at the end of the book.) Terpsichore – pronounced Terp-sick-oh-ree, named for the muse of dancing – even refers to Wilder’s book, Farmer Boy, when growing her pumpkin to show at the Palmer Colony Fair.

The book takes a deeper look into a moment in history I haven’t yet seen captured in historical fiction. While it takes place during the Great Depression, this is new territory, and worth the read. Terpsichore is the eldest child, with twin younger sisters and an infant brother, and handles much of the housework to help her mother out. She’s smart, enterprising, and determined. She and the two friends she makes in Palmer – Gloria, named for actress Gloria Swanson, and Mendel, named for the scientist who studied genetics – work together to start up a colony library and find ways to raise money for books and supplies. She experiences frustration, but always bounces back, stronger than before. The writing just flows from page to page, with adventure, emotion, and excitement throughout. There are wonderful mini-plots throughout, including the telegram to Eleanor Roosevelt that got our President’s attention; a visit from Will Rogers; and a Palmer resident with interesting ties to Terpsichore’s family. I loved spending time with this group.

An author’s note and further reading are included, and really make this a solid choice for kids seeking out historical fiction. There are also some recipes, including one for jellied moose nose. You know you’re curious.

Sweet Home Alaska was originally published in 2016, but I somehow missed it. Glad my friend Barbara over at Blue Slip Media told me I needed to read it now! Check out the free, downloadable discussion and activity guide, and find out about author visits, Skype visits, and contact info (including how to get an autographed bookmark!) at the author’s website.

 

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Picture Book Nonfiction in May: Spirit Bears and Teddy Bears

A Voice for the Spirit Bears: How One Boy Inspired Millions to Save a Rare Animal, by Carmen Oliver/Illustrated by Katy Dockrill, (May 2019, Kids Can Press/CitizenKid), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-77138-979-2

Ages 7-10

Simon Jackson doesn’t quite fit in with the other kids as a child; he was bullied over his stutter, and found himself most at home in the woods, exploring, photographing, and learning about wildlife. As a teen, he found himself fascinated by a rare subspecies of black bear called a Spirit Bear and became an advocate and activist for the bears when their habitats were threatened with deforestation. Jackson founded the Spirit Bear Coalition, met Dr. Jane Goodall, and hiked the Great Bear Rainforest, always using his activism to educate others and advocate for the Spirit Bears. A Voice for Spirit Bears tells Jackson’s story, and shows kids that one is never too young to advocate for change. The book is an inspiring call to action for young activists (suggest a letter-writing exercise for a cause they believe in!). I would have liked to see a little more on the indigenous T’simshian people, for whom the Spirit Bear is sacred, but all in all, A Voice for Spirit Bears is a good biography on a young activist, with lovely, muted artwork. There are discussions to be had on overcoming obstacles, environmentalism and conservation, and activism, and would be a good STEM read-aloud. Check out the downloadable educator guide for discussion questions and an activity.

The Spirit Bear Coalition concluded its mission in 2014, after 20 years of advocacy. Their website is still active and offers education and information.

 

Teddy: The Remarkable Tale of a President, a Cartoonist, a Toymaker and a Bear, by James Sage/Illustrated by Lisk Feng, (May 2019, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771387958

Ages 6-10

Teddy brings together the story of the teddy bear in three parts. First, we have the legend: President Theodore Roosevelt refused to kill a “scruffy, no-account cub” while hunting. This story spread, and the Washington Post ran a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman, entitled, “Drawing the Line in Mississippi“, which led to husband-and-wife toymakers Morris and Rose Michtom creating a bear doll to honor “the President’s big warm heart”. They received permission from President Roosevelt to feature “Teddy’s Bears” in their shop, and an iconic toy was born. The book tracks the evolution of the teddy bear from those first bears, stuffed with wood shavings and with sewed on buttons for eyes, through today and notes how the teddy bear endures. It’s a happy, warm story, and the digital illustrations lend a realistic yet warmly colored feel to the tale. An author’s note mentions the differing versions of the Teddy Roosevelt story. It’s a cute book to have in your nonfiction collections, and would make a nice display with the Caldecott Medal-winning Finding Winnie.

For readers interested in learning more about Clifford Berryman’s political cartoons, the National Archives has a wonderful Clifford Berryman collection, which includes a great piece featuring Berryman drawing a bear, while a black bear stands next to him. The Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University has an interesting blog entry on the origin of the teddy bear, and a link to Berryman’s artwork in their digital library.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Zora and Carrie have more adventures in Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground

Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground, by T.R. Simon (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763643010

Ages 10-14

Is it any more perfect that the latest installment in a series starring a young Zora Neale Hurston is out right before Banned Book Month? Zora Neale Hurston’s brilliant classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is both a staple on high school reading lists AND a book that’s landed on Banned and Challenged lists since 1997.

Zora & Me is the story of young Zora Neale Hurston and her best friend, Carrie. The year is 1903, and the two live with their families in Eatonville, Florida, in the first African-American city to be incorporated in the state. Even as a child, Zora is every bit the storyteller, the grand designer of adventures; Carrie likes to play it safer, but always follows Zora into an escapade – or a mystery. In this second novel, author T.R. Simon examines hate, white privilege, and history. It begins when Mr. Polk, their mute neighbor, is attacked and his horses set loose. When the girls go investigate and help Mr. Polk, they discover he can speak – he speaks to Old Lady Bronson, a woman rumored to be a conjure woman. When Mr. Polk breaks his silence, it sets other pieces to a long-unsolved puzzle into motion. The narrative shifts between the events in 1903 and the story of a Lucia, a young woman sold into slavery in 1855. In 1903, Zora and Carrie discover an abandoned plantation mansion on Mr. Polk’s property; at the same time, white men come to Eatonville and demand more of Mr. Polk’s land, claiming a right to it. Tensions rise, and the people of Eatonville prepare to stand up for themselves and their home. As the narratives move back and forth, the puzzle comes together and everything becomes heartbreakingly clear.

Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground is intense and raw, with brutal honesty about slavery and its aftermath. T.R. Smith writes about the roots of racial violence and the “enduring wounds of slavery” that persist to this day. Zora Neale Hurston is an intelligent, headstrong 12-year-old, and Carrie finds her strength and voice. They’re strong protagonists, strong African-American young women, and fully aware of the danger that whites present to them, even if slavery is now something they’re only hearing about: many parents were born into slavery, and freed as very young children. This generation knows that they weren’t “given” their freedom. They weren’t given anything: they will fight for everything that is theirs. Lucia, the third main character in The Cursed Ground, tells a sharp, painful story about family lost and found; about freedom taken; about people who would diminish a whole race’s humanity, and about discovering and defending one’s sense of self. It’s an incredible story. A biography of Zora Neale Hurston and a timeline of her life conclude this story. I hope to read more of Zora’s and Carrie’s adventures. This is definitely on my Newbery shortlist, and I hope it’s on a Coretta Scott King Award shortlist, too. It’s a must-add to historical fiction collections and would make a stellar African-American History Month reading assignment for classes.

Posted in Historical Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Get Radical with Fierce Young Women from U.S. History!

The Radical Element, edited by Jessica Spotswood, (March 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9425-8

Recommended for readers 13+

This anthology gives readers snapshots of young women at pivotal moments in their lives and U.S. history, from 1838 to 1984. Written by YA literary powerhouses including Anna-Marie McLemore (Wild Beauty), Marieke Nijkamp (This is How it Ends), Dhionelle Clayton (The Belles), these 12 stories are about young women who are the “radical element” in their time periods; their communities; their families. A young Jewish woman living in 19th century Savannah, pushing to learn more about her faith; a Cuban immigrant, living in Queens (whoo hoo!) and walking the line between her parents’ traditional world and the new, modern world; a 1950s debutante whose idea for her future doesn’t quite line up with her mother’s.  All of their stories are here, expertly told and starring a fabulous and diverse group of females: multicultural and LGBTQ characters all find a home here.

The authors alone make this a must-add to bookshelves and book collections; the stories contained within present strong characters and exciting adventures, with backstories that still hold relevance for readers today. Characters here deal with gender identity, racism and religious persecution, and sexism. These are perfect for quick reads or to binge read like the best Netflix series. Contributor bios at the end introduce readers to the authors.

The Radical Element, a companion to A Tyranny of Petticoats (2016), has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, History, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Read some US History in verse with Siege

Siege: How General Washington Kicked the British Out of Boston and Launched a Revolution, by Roxanne Orgill, (March 2018, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763688516

Recommended for readers 10-13

The summer of 1775 was rough. The British occupied Boston, and kept a stranglehold on the city, cutting the residents off from food and medical supplies, which really didn’t help the smallpox situation, either. George Washington was chosen to lead the American armed forces, and expected to work miracles with almost no money and troops with no training. Author Roxanne Orgill uses verse to tell the story of how General George Washington turned the tables on the British. Beginning in the Summer of 1775 and going through to Spring 1776, she gives voice not only to Washington, but his generals, soldiers, and aides; his servant-slave, William Lee; and his wife, Martha. We also get to read The News from Boston, newspaper-like reports on the state of the city; and Orders, daily instructions from Washington to his officers. Source notes, a glossary, and a bibliography complete the book.

If you’ve got Hamilton fans in your readership, this is an easy booktalk. The fast-paced verse moves the book along and takes readers into the minds of historic figures that we don’t normally hear much from. Siege is a good additional read for tweens interested in US history, especially those kids interested in the American Revolution.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Catch up on U.S. History with NatGeo Kids

Weird But True! (Know-It-All) U.S. Presidents, by Brianna Dumont, (July 2017, National Geographic Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1426327964

Recommended for readers 8-12

I love these NatGeo Kids’ facts-at-a-glance books. I learn something new every time, and I have a good time reading them. I’m pretty sure my library kids agree with me, because these books fly off the shelves. In this latest Weird But True, NatGeo gives readers a quick rundown of the U.S. Presidency: fun facts, a renovation timeline, an overview of the three branches of government and the powers of the Supreme Court, Congress, and the President; from there, we get a profile of each President, from Washington through to 45. Profiles run between 2 and 8 pages, outlining high points (Oval Awesome), low points (Oval Awful), and fun facts (Why He’s Weird!). It’s a fun read, loaded with caricature art and photos. Also a nice little supplement for reports and projects down the line.

 

Benjamin Franklin’s Wise Words: How to Work Smart, Play Well, and Make Real Friends, by K.M. Kostyal/Illustrated by Fred Harper, (Jan. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 978-4263-2699-8

Recommended for readers 8-12

Think of this as a “Life’s Little Instruction Book” for middle grade history fans. Ben Franklin’s sage advice is organized into quotes on tranqulity, industry, order, humility, resolution, sincerity, and moderation. Readers may be surprised at how many sayings they’re familiar with: “there are no pains without gains”, “haste makes waste”, and “honesty is the best policy”. There are 50 of Franklin’s quotes in this book, each with an accompanying caricature illustration with loads of physical comedy to appeal to middle graders. Quotes receive a more modern, accessible translation and a story about Franklin’s life, which may cause a disconnect to anyone who expects the story to illustrate the quote. It’s a fun look at one of U.S. history’s more fascinating characters, but unless you have a dedicated Franklin fan or two, it’s a supplemental or secondary add to your collection.

Posted in Uncategorized

#Presidents: Follow the Leaders – A funny social media guide to the Presidents

follow_pres#presidents: Follow the Leaders, by John Bailey Owen (Aug. 2015, Scholastic), $9.99, ISBN: 9780545849388

Recommended for ages 8-13

Imagine for a minute, if all the Presidents – all 44 of them! – were on Twitter? And they could talk to one another? Can you imagine what you’d find out if you were able to follow them? That would be the best history lesson ever!

#presidents: Follow the Leaders does exactly that. We hear from the Presidents – and some Vice Presidents and First Ladies! – as they tell us a little bit about themselves and react to other Presidents. There are hilarious screen names, too: James Madison, our shortest President and the author of the Constitution, goes by @LILJCONSTITUTION; William Henry Harrison, who caught a cold during his inauguration speech and died after 32 days in office, can be found @ILLWILL_H. Bill Clinton can be found @CLINSTAGRAM, and our current Prez, Barack Obama, is @BAMIMOBAMA. We’ve got some guest stars, like the White House Pets, Camp David, the Secret Service, and the White House Chef, and the Rules of Running for President makes sure everyone knows how the process works.

There are profile pictures, hometowns, hilarious hashtags, even #tbt pictures. A timeline of the U.S. Presidency rounds out the book. It’s a fun companion to a kid’s history books, but make sure no one’s doing their history homework with this as their sole source of information (I can see some of my patrons trying it)!

Author John Bailey Owen is a humorist. His author website offers blog posts and links to his other books.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

Remember The Time Warp Trio? Now, meet the Left Behinds!

left behindsThe Left Behinds and the iPhone That Saved George Washington, by David Potter (Jan. 2015, Random House) $16.99, ISBN: 9780385390569

Recommended for ages 10-14

Mel and his schoolmates, Brandon and Bev, are the Left-Behinds: children of wealthy and/or famous parents who make little time for them, they’re shipped off to boarding school and spend the holidays there. On a holiday school trip, the three find themselves transported through time, ending up in Colonial America – just in time to save the life of one General George Washington right before the historic crossing of the Delaware. Armed with just his iPhone, Mel must figure out how to save his friends, save George Washington, and save America! Oh, and he’s on, like, 8 percent battery.

The story is the next step for fans of Jon Sciezska’s Time Warp Trio series, who are on a higher reading level and ready for a more challenging novel. The book looks like it’s the first in a promising new series, with likable characters, a rogue iPhone app, Benjamin Franklin (who makes anything in which he appears even better) and a mysterious nemesis. There’s solid history here: the author did his research and his love for American history is clear here. This would be a great book to have students read alongside a unit on American history.

The author’s website offers information about the book, a bio on the author, and transcripts of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, along with a section on where to catch historical re-enactments. For now, there’s only the Washington Historic Crossing available; I hope we’ll get some more as the author writes more!

The Left Behinds and the iPhone That Saved George Washington releases next week, on January 5th.