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Friday, July 29, 2011

Back in time...

Last month, after writing about the historical fiction I loved as a young girl, I searched online for lists of popular middle grade historical novels.  Many of them I'd never read before, and several piqued my interest.  I decided to take my list to the library and check out a handful of them. 

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the books I read!  Though they are written for a middle grade reading level, I think that many older kids... and adults... would relish them as much as I did.  I have arranged the books below chronologically, by the time periods in which the stories take place:

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park, 2001, winner of the 2002 Newbery Medal ... This was actually the second book that I read by Park -- after reading When My Name Was Keoko (farther down this page) and falling in love with Park's writing, I went back to the library and checked this one out.  (Now I'm planning to read her other middle grade books... Seesaw Girl, The Kite Flyers, Project Mulberry, Archer's Quest, Keeping Score, and A Long Walk to Water... as well!)

This story takes place in Korea, in the 12th century.  The main character is a brave and thoughtful orphan boy named Tree Ear.  Befriended and taken care of by Crane-man, a physically disabled man living under a bridge, this is the story of their relationship, as well as Tree Ear's apprenticeship to a local potter.  I loved the beautiful imagery in this story.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, 2000 ... This book is based on an actual epidemic of yellow fever in Philadelphia that killed ten percent of the city's population in just three months.  The story centers around teenager Mattie Cook, who must flee the city with her grandfather after her mother becomes ill.  Anderson provides a vivid picture of daily life in 18th century Philadelphia, and I quickly became caught up in Mattie's fight for survival during this frightening time.

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan, 1985, winner of the 1986 Newbery Medal ... I didn't get this book from the library -- I found it on my daughter's bookshelf!  This is a very short book, only about 58 pages, yet it paints a picture of loss, love, and life on the prairie in the 19th century, along with the phenomenon of mail-order brides. The main characters include children Anna and Caleb, as well as the book's namesake, Sarah, the woman who traveled to the prairie from Maine to meet them.  

Based on actual events that took place in MacLachlan's family, this book is the first in a series that also includes Skylark, Caleb's Story, More Perfect Than the Moon, and Grandfather's Dance.  (More books to put on my "to read" list!)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, 1976, winner of the 1977 Newbery Medal ... The story of an African American family in the deep south during the 1930's, this book explores the themes of racism, poverty, and the love of family.  Main characters include the narrator, nine-year-old Cassie, and her big brother Stacey, both of whom learn about loyalty, social injustice, and the importance of owning their own land. 

This book is the first in a series about the Logan family.  I have not read the other books yet (Let the Circle Be Unbroken, The Road to Memphis, and prequels, The Land and Song of the Trees), but I plan to check them out soon!  All of these books are based on family stories that Taylor heard while growing up.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, 1989, winner of the 1990 Newbery Medal ... This book takes place in Denmark during World War II, when Nazis began detaining Jews and taking them away to death camps.  It is the moving story of young Annemarie Johannesen and her best friend, Ellen Rosen.  Annemarie's family first brings Ellen into their home to live, and then later tries to smuggle Ellen's entire family out of the country, to safety.... 

When My Name was Keoko by Linda Sue Park, 2002 ... This is the first of Park's books that I read.  I was so intrigued by it, I couldn't wait to read more of her work!  The story takes place in Japanese-occupied Korea during World War II, and is told through the words of Sun-hee (changed later to Keoko, under Japanese law) and her older brother Tae-yul. 

I found this book especially interesting, maybe because I'd never really known much about Korea (or the Japanese occupation of the country) before, and Park's writing painted a clear picture for me.  I learned quite a bit about Korean society at the time and how heart-breaking it was to have their culture -- their language, their flag, even their names -- made illegal by their Japanese rulers. 

(It should be noted that Park does not treat all the Japanese characters in her story as villains.  As with all groups of people, some individuals are kind, some are not.   For example, Sun-hee's best friend is a Japanese boy, Tomo, who tries to help the family.)

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, 2007, the winner of the 2008 Newbery Honor Medal ... This story is told by Holling Hoodhood, a seventh grade boy living in Long Island, NY during the late 1960's.  While the Vietnam War rages on, Holling battles his own wars, with his teacher Mrs. Baker (who, he's convinced, hates him), with school bullies, with his parents (who never seem to listen to him) and older sister, and with his own fear of the future.  Throughout all these battles, Holling (and author Schmidt) keeps his sense of humor, making much of the book laugh-out-loud funny!

Have you read any of these books?  If so, what did you think?  I'd love to hear your thoughts, as well as recommendations for more historical fiction, whether for middle grade readers or any other age.  And, if you haven't read the books above, please consider doing so -- I highly recommend them!

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