historical fiction

Amy’s Library Chicken :: 10.24.18

Amy’s Library Chicken :: 10.24.18

Middle grades screwball comedy, YA Victorian steampunk mysteries, and a little historical fiction were highlights of this week’s reading list.

Not-So-New Books: The Game of Silence

Not-So-New Books: The Game of Silence

The story of Omakayas continues in this second book in the late elementary/early middle grades series, which focuses on the changes brought about by white settlers in Native American territory.

Epidemic!: A Science of Infection Reading List

Epidemic!: A Science of Infection Reading List

It's flu season, and we've got a reading list of historical fiction and nonfiction to help you explore epidemics past.

Readaloud of the Week: Breaking Stalin's Nose

Readaloud of the Week: Breaking Stalin's Nose

Breaking Stalin’s Nose, set during Stalin’s great purge in the 1930s, is a great historical fiction conversation starter for discussing propaganda, witch hunts, ethics, and community.

Readaloud of the Week: The Winged Girl of Knossos

In brief: What if the lost civilization of Atlantis was really the ancient Minoan civilization on Crete? That’s the jumping off point for this book, in which an inventor’s daughter gets caught up in a recognizable-but-distinctly-different take on the story of the Minotaur and Daedalus. Tomboy Inas helps her father with his flying-machines and fights to save her father from King Minos’s wrath after Theseus escapes from the Minotaur’s labyrinth with the king’s daughter.

 

What makes it a great readaloud: Inas is a great heroine—spunky, smart, and talented. (In addition to helping with her dad’s inventions, she’s a skilled bull rider.) And the illustrations are based on actual artwork from ancient Crete.

 

But be aware: This book was published in the 1930s, when the standard happy ending for girls was getting married. 


Readaloud of the Week: Turtle in Paradise

Turtle in Paradise
By Jennifer L. Holm

In brief: In this quintessential summer story, 11-year-old Turtle goes to live with her aunt in Key West, Fla., when her mom’s new housekeeping job proves kid-unfriendly. (In the middle of the Great Depression, you have to take the jobs you can get, but Turtle’s mom hasn’t always made the best life choices.) As Turtle explores her new community and makes friends with her wild cousins, who call themselves the Diaper Gang, she discovers the joys of family and of standing up for what you really want.

 

What makes it a great readaloud: Holmes really captures both the beauty and the hardship of life in 1930s Florida—this book is a great jumping-off point for reading more about the Great Depression. Turtle is a tough, likable protagonist, and her cousins’ antics are pretty hilarious. (Bonus: Now you have a fun excuse to look up Shirley Temple and Little Orphan Annie on YouTube.)

 

But be aware: Kids may not love the ending, which definitely isn’t Hollywood-happy.

 

Quotable: “What is it with folks always talking about where they’re from? You could grow up in a muddy ditch, but if it’s your muddy ditch, then it’s gotta be the swellest muddy ditch ever.” 


HSL Book Deal of the Day 5.28.17: Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai
By Margi Preus

Japan in 1841 is completely isolated from the rest of the world—so when 14-year-old Manjiro finds himself making a connection with the United States after an unexpected shipwreck, he's thrilled to have the opportunity to visit a whole new world as the adopted son of the captain who rescued him. Life in the United States is full of adventure and kindness, adversity and racism for its (allegedly) first Japanese resident, but Manjiro still dreams of someday going back to his native land. A great story that brings a piece of Asian history to life.

We're highlighting our picks for best book deal of the day on the blog, but you can always find our favorite Kindle book deals here.


HSL Book Deal of the Day 5.23.17: My Lady Jane

My Lady Jane
By Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

Come to this wild and weird YA historical fantasy expected a rollicking tale and lots of laughs, not historical accuracy, and you’re pretty much guaranteed an enjoyable read. Almost everyone knows the sad story of England’s nine-day queen, but this book gives her a shot an actual happy ending—if Monty Python decided to write an alternate Tudor history, this might just be the result. Fun and frothy in all the best ways.

We're highlighting our picks for best book deal of the day on the blog, but you can always find our favorite Kindle book deals here.


HSL Book Deal of the Day 5.14.17: Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall: A Novel
By Hilary Mantel

If you set out to create a totally fictional early Renaissance monarch, you would be hard-pressed to come up with a more interesting character than the real-life Henry VIII. Mantel's research bears this out in this fascinating historical fiction from the point-of-view of Thomas Cromwell, the complicated commoner who rose to power during the King's Great Matter—his efforts to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon—and fell from grace after the King's fourth marriage to Protestant Anne of Cleves proved unsatisfactory to his majesty. Wolf Hall focuses on Cromwell's ascent in the Tudor court and is a complicated, fascinating read rich in historical detail. Highly recommended.

We're highlighting our picks for best book deal of the day on the blog, but you can always find our favorite Kindle book deals here.


HSL Book Deal of the Day 5.13.17: Dodger

Dodger
By Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett takes a totally different tone in this definitely-not-Discworld novel set in Victorian London. When a teenage street kid who survives by scrounging sewers rescues a damsel in distress on a rainy night, he has no idea that his entire life is about to change. The quick-witted, not-always-totally-scrupulous hero is equal to whatever adventures his curiosity puts in his way as he deals with unexpected challenges and a motley crew of invented and historical Victorians. It's a delightfully Dickensian romp, and if that's your thing, you'll want to put this one on your summer reading list.

We're highlighting our picks for best book deal of the day on the blog, but you can always find our favorite Kindle book deals here.


HSL Book Deal of the Day 5.9.17: Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity
By Elizabeth E. Wein

Captured by Germans after her plane crashes in World War II France, a British agent slowly weaves her confession to her captors to put off a grisly execution. This is the best kind of historical fiction—it pulls you right in to the complicated landscape of 1943 politics, and through flashbacks, brings World War II England to life. With its bonus beautiful friendship story and pleasantly feminist voice, this is a great book to have on your World War II reading list. Be warned: It's definitely a tear-jerker. (Shelved as a young adult/high school novel.)

We're highlighting our picks for best book deal of the day on the blog, but you can always find our favorite Kindle book deals here.


Book Review: The Birchbark House

 

THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE
by Louise Erdich

I discovered Louise Erdrich in college and quickly became a huge fan, collecting most of her books and following her career, which is studded with awards and honors. I think her prose is beautiful and her subject matter and characters fascinating, but what I have always liked best about her is her humor. When I found out that she had written a series for young adults, I knew I had to read it to my boys. And I’ve just finished the first book: The Birchbark House

Both my boys loved this book. However, they didn’t think they would like it. My 10-year-old son took one look at the cover and groaned. I let my 7-year-old play instead of sitting on the sofa to listen, but he was in earshot. About halfway through the book, he began to sit still and listen with his brother and me. I knew they were both listening when they burst out laughing at a very funny part near the end of the book.

They were captured by the main character’s spirit. She’s a young girl, named Omakayas, or Little Frog, because her first step was a hop. She has a special way with animals, befriending two bear cubs, and she even has a crow for a pet. We learn how her family, members of the Anishinabe (now called Objibwe or Chippewa), build their homes and feed themselves. We spend a full year with them, including the very tragic winter of 1847, but the beauty and messages in this book are uplifting. We are carried along as Omakayas learns important life lessons and discovers whom she really is.

This book had everything in it that I hoped for and felt was important for my two boys to hear. First, it helped them see how the Native American tribes were affected by the arrival of white settlers. (I trust we will continue to learn about this as we continue the series.) Second, it has strong female characters. Third, it allowed them to hear beautifully written prose—something that I haven’t found in every young adult fiction book. This book also deals with loss and grief and healing in a beautiful, sensitive way. 

This book would make a perfect readaloud in your homeschool because it’s a story that every age can enjoy, but even if you don’t have young children to read it to, you should read it. It’s that good.


At Home with the Editors: Inside Amy’s 8th Grade

Resources and routines for a relaxed classic homeschool 8th grade

Every year, Shelli and Amy open the door and invite you to step inside their homeschool lives. (Please ignore the mess!) We talk about the resources we're using in our own homeschools and how we structure our days. There are lots of ways to homeschool, and we don't think our way is the best—just the one that happens to be working best for our particular families at this particular time.  If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better! Today, Amy's talking about how she homeschooled 8th grade this year.

Because there’s a pretty significant age gap between my kids (six years), I decided to do two separate posts to make things easy for myself. Today, I’m sharing some of the resources I use with my 8th grader. (You can see what 7th grade looked like for us here.)

If I had to sum up 8th grade in one word, it would be “transitional.” We did a lot of learning and had a lot of fun, but we also spent a lot of time figuring out how to make the transition from middle school to high school. My daughter is opting to homeschool through high school, which thrills and panics me, but I wanted to make sure that whatever she wanted to do, she was prepared. So we spent this year working on skills that don’t always come up in homeschool environments but that are important for higher-level learning. I’ve mentioned note-taking, which is essential for lecture-based classes that she’s bound to run into at some point. We’ve also slowly shifted responsibility for deadlines to her shoulders. Homeschooling tends to be open-ended for us, which means projects get done when they feel done—which can be a couple of hours or a couple of years or never. This year, though, I made a point of giving my daughter due dates for some things and letting her keep up with them. We’ve talked a lot about due dates for things like research papers, where you’re really excited and just want to keep going and going but have to figure out a logical stopping point in order to get it done on time. My daughter also found that having a deadline made her second-guess herself—she’d wrap up a perfectly good project well in advance of the deadline and start to worry that she hadn’t put enough time or effort into doing it—shouldn’t it take her until the deadline to complete the project?

We’ve also started experimenting with grade feedback. I am not a fan of grading—honestly, a lot of things we do in our homeschool defy traditional grading, and I really like that fact. But at some point, we’re going to have to pull together a transcript, and while I think the pass/fail solution would be ideal, it doesn’t always work well for GPAs if you want to go to a more competitive school. So we’re playing with grades. I don’t give her grades in subjects like math, where it’s easy to see from how many problems you got right how you’re doing with a particular concept. I try to give input in the more nebulous areas, like history essay questions, where I can say, “This answer is good, but I would probably give it a B—it would be an A if you’d gone on to explain why the Treaty of Indian Springs was so controversial instead of just telling me that it was a controversial treaty.” Interestingly, I was all stressed out about the idea of grades, but my daughter doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.

As far as what we studied, here’s what we used:

 

History

Eighth grade was our year to study state history. We used the free online textbook Georgia: Its Heritage and Promise, which did an impressive job of making a pretty fascinating subject almost completely boring, but it was a good spine. We read a lot of supplementary books together and—once I was mobile again—took a lot of field trips. A few years ago, we did a study of women in Georgia history, so it was fun to revisit some of those figures again from a slightly different perspective.

My daughter kept a notebook, which she filled with facts, thoughts, sketches, taped-in photos, and other notes from our studies. Every few weeks, we’d come up with a big-picture question for each other: How was Georgia different from the other twelve original colonies? What was Reconstruction like for people living in Georgia? We’d answer each other’s questions and chat about what else we might have included or any particularly good points someone made. (I like writing essays, which not everyone does, obviously, but we had a lot of fun working on these together.)

 

Latin

Our last year of Latin (sigh) was a continuation of what we’ve always done: We used Ecce Romani (though we jumped to books 3 and 4 this year) and did vocabulary cards, translation, and exercises for each chapter. Latin is the place where my daughter learns most of her English grammar, and that was true this year, too. If my daughter wanted to continue, she’d definitely be well-prepared for more advanced Latin next year.

 

Math

We tackled Life of Fred Prealgebra with Biology this year, but it was slow-going. I feel like I’m not very good at teaching math—I know my one way to solve the problem, but I’m not good at explaining how to do it or helping someone find another way that works better for her. We made it through, but it was definitely harder than it needed to be for both of us—I’m really glad Jason is here to take over math for high school.

 

Literature

We read a lot of books that tied into our Georgia history study (Some of our favorites included Juliet Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts, Cold Sassy Tree, and A Good Man Is Hard to Find.). We also thought this would be a good year to explore an author’s complete body of work, so—like many people—we focused on Jane Austen, working our way up from Love and Friendship through Persuasion. (We didn’t read the unfinished Sandition.) For me, this was really fun—I love Austen and all those lovely Austen film adaptations—and my daughter really enjoyed it, too. She worked on a big paper over the course of the year about mean girls in Jane Austen, which turned out to be very interesting. I loved seeing it develop over the course of the year—as she read more and thought more, her ideas got deeper and more nuanced. It was very cool to watch.

 

Science

We used The Story of Science this year, and we loved it. I found The Story of Science through Rebecca’s review (thanks, Rebecca!), and it was the perfect combination of readaloud and hands-on for us. I wish we’d discovered it sooner because I would have loved to use this series throughout middle school. I didn’t get the student workbook—my daughter usually just keeps a notebook for classes—but I did get the teacher’s guide so that I could have the lab instructions. 

 

Creative writing

My daughter was the copy chief for her creative writing class’s magazine—though all the stories came in so close to deadline that she didn’t get to do as much actual copyediting as she was hoping. She took the class at our local homeschool group.

 

My daughter also got really adventurous with her cooking this year, inspired, perhaps, by our obsessive viewing of The Great British Bake-Off. She continued her knitting and sewing, having a brief fling with cross-stitching followed by a return to plushie making. She practiced her piano and guitar (almost) every day, did nature walks and kept a nature journal (not daily) with me and her brother. She wrote and illustrated comic books, got really interested in Maria Mitchell (the astronomer), and made all her own beauty products. (Her bathroom smells really good.) Sometimes these interests superseded “regular academics,” and that’s always perfectly fine in our house. Sometimes, she just wanted to read all day or had a shiny new video game that had to be played immediately and obsessively, and so that’s what she did. She really loves reading aloud and doing all the different voices, so I’ll often find her in her little brother’s room, reading to him. To me, all of this is part of homeschooling—as much as math or history or science.

Our schedule was hard to find a rhythm for this year, but eventually we fell into a routine that worked. Some of that difficulty might be because of my injury through the fall, which made everything kind of janky, but I think a lot of it was because we were trying lots of new things and it took a while to find the ones that worked and to get the hang of some of our new patterns. In some ways, our routine was the same as always: My daughter gets up when she gets up (later and later every year!), we do our structured work together after she has breakfast, then she does her independent work and whatever else she wants during the day and evening. (It’s weird to go in her room to say good night and see her sprawled on the bed at 11 p.m. writing essays or doing math problems, but that seems to be her prime creative thinking time.) But it was hard for us to find a balance that felt like the right mix of hey-we’re-learning-stuff and hey-this-is-fun, and I’m really glad we decided to tackle that challenge this year instead of waiting until 9th grade. I feel like this year has helped us know better what we’re doing as we move into high school.

As far as testing goes, we went ahead and did the PSAT this year—I signed her up to take it at our neighborhood high school, and while dropping her off at that cafeteria all by herself was both heart-wrenching and terrifying, she did just fine—on the test and in the strange environment. (I’ve done testing at home every year since Suzanne suggested it, and while I tend to think testing is annoying and not at all representative of what someone knows, I think Suzanne was right that just doing it every year takes the anxiety right out of it for prone-to-test-panic kids like my daughter and gives them practice sitting for so long without being able to take a break.)

Writing all this up is kind of reassuring because this year felt particularly hard, like trying to find my way through an unfamiliar terrain in the dark without a map. But looking back, I think we did a good job—we shifted some of the big pieces in our homeschool, but we were able to do in ways that let us keep the things we love about homeschooling. I guess transitions always feel messy and uncertain while they are happening. And, of course, when I asked my daughter how she thought this year had gone, she grinned her adorable grin and said “Great!” So that’s all right.


New Books: The Hired Girl

The Hired Girl
By Laura Amy Schlitz
But I think the most important thing those books gave me was a kind of faith. My books promised me that life wasn’t just made up of workaday tasks and prosaic things. The world is bigger and more colorful and more important than that.

Age level: Middle grades

If you set a book in 1911 with a feisty heroine who yearns for more books, a kind-hearted Jewish family, and an adorable pet cat, there is a good chance that I am going to love it. So maybe it’s no surprise that I am here recommending The Hired Girl—but since the book won both the2016 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the 2016 National Jewish Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, I am apparently not the only person who loved it.

Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs’s life on her family’s farm is miserable drudgery, but it’s not until her father burns her beloved books in a fit of rage that Joan decides to run away. She takes the train to Baltimore, where she manages to luck into a job as a hired girl for the wealthy and kind Rosenbach family. Joan is fascinated by the Jewish family’’s life and traditions—all her knowledge of Jews comes from reading Ivanhoe—and by their fancy city house, which is nothing like the hardscrabble farm where she grew up. The work of a hired girl is hard, but Joan is a hard worker—and while she dreams of books and develops a crush on the family’s charming youngest son, she determinedly tackles the work she was hired to do. After all, with six dollars a week, she can buy books and more books—and maybe eventually find her way back to school.

This books feels like a worthy successor to books like Anne of Green Gables or Little Women—or any book about girl becoming a woman and learning to be comfortable with who she really is. Joan has that half-naive, half-arrogant, all-clumsy charm that seems to come with getting your knowledge of the world through reading instead of through experience, and her development over the course of the novel is completely believable. She’s a great, complicated, nuanced human being of a character. And, of course, I have a soft spot for books that depict Jewish life realistically, which I think this book does particularly well.

This one deserves a spot on your library list.


Not-So-New-Books: The Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book
By Connie Willis
 

[I try to keep on top of interesting new books, but there are so many good boos out there, it seems a shame not to revisit some of my favorites now and then, just in case they’ve fallen off your radar and are just what you want for your library list.]

I wanted to come, and if I hadn’t, they would have been all alone, and nobody would have ever known how frightened and brave and irreplaceable they were.

OK, so the premise of Connie Wilkes’ time travel books is absolutely brilliant: In the not-too-distant future, historians must get practical experience by traveling back in time to the period of their concentration. (“You didn’t become an historian by staying safely at home,” one character reminds the worried professor Dunworthy near the beginning of the book.) Most of Willis’ time travel history books take place in the 19th and 20th century, but The Doomsday Book sends history student Kivrin back to the 1300s.

This is a big deal, even for time-hopping Oxford academics. Some time periods are just inherently dangerous, and the Middle Ages—with the plague, disease, lack of general hygiene, bad food, and short life expectancy—are not safe places to travel, especially for a solo young woman. And there are issues with slippage—time travel is notoriously unreliable, and you can’t always be sure you’ll end up exactly when you want to be. But Kivrin is determined to be the first historian-traveler to the Middle Ages, and despite her professor’s concerns, she gets the go-ahead to check out a 1320 Christmas celebration in person.

But things don’t exactly go as planned. Kivrin discovers that she’s landed in 1348, with the Black Death just making its entrance in England. (She’s immunized, but none of the nice people who’ve taken her into their village are.) The big time discrepancy means that getting Kivrin back to her right time will be a challenge—but Dunsworthy is the only one who’s worried about Kivrin because fpresent-day Oxford has been hit by a plague of its own, and the town is quarantined. As Kivrin experiences life in the Middle Ages—realizing how little her years of obsessive research and study have taught her about actually living in medieval times—she faces the possibility that she may live out the rest of her life in 1300s England.

I love this book. Some people criticize the needless and rather boring drama Dunworthy goes through trying to first figure out what’s happened with Kivrin and then how to get her home, but I actually think that’s exactly how bureaucratic organizations tend to operate. (It’s true that Willis didn’t imagine cell phones, which might have sped up some communication, but in general I think all the lags and waiting and missed calls are totally believable.) But the best part of the book is the time travel bit, when we’re with Kivrin in Skendgate. Willis does a great job paining a medieval village as seen through Kivrin’s eyes, first as she grows to understand and know the people who have taken her in and then as she watches, heartbroken, as the plague kills villager after villager, leaving Kivrin alone and far, far from home. 

This is definitely a YA book—when a plague shows up, you know there’s going to be a lot of death, and some of the descriptions of the plague’s effects are pretty gruesome. But I think it would be a terrific accompaniment to a medieval history class or just an engaging read for teens who appreciate apocalyptic fiction (what’s more apocalyptic than a good plague?), science-fiction, or good historical fiction.