Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

Review of The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

The Night Watchman

by Louise Erdrich

HarperCollins, 2020. 451 pages.
Review written June 22, 2020, from a library book

Set in 1953, The Night Watchman tells about people of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota and how they stood up to the federal government of the United States threatening to take their lands. Here’s what the author wrote in a piece at the front of the book:

On August 1, 1953, the United States Congress announced House Concurrent Resolution 108, a bill to abrogate nation-to-nation treaties, which had been made with American Indian Nations for “as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow.” The announcement called for the eventual termination of all tribes, and the immediate termination of five tribes, including the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

My grandfather Patrick Gourneau fought against termination as tribal chairman while working as a night watchman. He hardly slept, like my character Thomas Wazhashk. This book is fiction, but all the same, I have tried to be faithful to my grandfather’s extraordinary life. Any failures are my own. Other than Thomas, and the Turtle Mountain Jewel Bearing Plant, the only other major character who resembles anyone alive or dead is Senator Arthur V. Watkins, relentless pursuer of Native dispossession and the man who interrogated my grandfather.

Pixie, or – excuse me – Patrice, is completely fictional.

The story is about Patrice, who works in the Jewel Bearing Plant. But she needs to take some time off to try to find her sister, who has gone missing in the big city and is in trouble. Meanwhile, more than one man would like to win Patrice’s attention, and Thomas is disturbed by a letter that came from Washington, DC. Eventually, he needs to put together a delegation to make their case before Congress. Various colorful characters will help him out.

I read this book and finished very happy that these people successfully stopped their nation from being terminated. However, historical notes at the back, telling which parts came from truth, made my heart sink with this paragraph:

In all, 113 tribal nations suffered the disaster of termination; 1.4 million acres of tribal land was lost. Wealth flowed to private corporations, while many people in terminated tribes died early, in poverty. Not one tribe profited. By the end, 78 tribal nations, including the Menominee, led by Ada Deer, regained federal recognition; 10 gained state but not federal recognition; 31 tribes are landless; 24 are considered extinct.

But the book itself tells a good story, all the more poignant because it’s based in truth. A story of people up against the powerful, but also living and loving and making lives together. It is comforting that these people indeed triumphed in their struggle.

harpercollins.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Kiss Carlo, by Adriana Trigiani

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

Kiss Carlo

by Adriana Trigiani
read by Edoardo Ballerini

HarperAudio, 2018. 16 hours, 2 minutes.
Review written June 3, 2020, from a library eaudiobook

I listened to Kiss Carlo as a Skip-the-Line loan for an eaudiobook during the Covid-19 pandemic, when I’m listening to audiobooks on my phone (instead of CDs in the car) for the first time in my life. So I didn’t have to wait for an available copy, but I had to finish in 14 days, and my status as a library employee wouldn’t help me fudge that. This meant a little extra time doing puzzles!

The book is a historical novel about a big Italian family in South Philadelphia shortly after World War II. Nicky Castone has been engaged to his girl Peachy for seven years. She even waited for him during the war. He drives a cab for his family’s taxicab company, which is in a feud with another branch of the family and their taxicab company. Nicky is an orphan, but his aunt and uncle love him as their own. He’s also looked after by Hortense Mooney, the black dispatcher at the cab company. She tells Nicky that Peachy isn’t right for him.

Another plot thread deals with Calla Berelli, who is taking over her father’s theater, which runs Shakespeare plays year round. The theater is struggling, and the rise of television isn’t helping. Nicky’s been doing odd jobs at the theater for a long time, wherever he’s needed, and one night – which happens to be the night he finally told Peachy he was working at the theater – an emergency calls an actor away, and Nicky, who’d been prompting and knew all the lines, had to take the part.

In that moment, Nicky begins to realize that acting makes him feel alive. His fiancée is not at all pleased, which eventually tips Nicky off that maybe they aren’t right for each other after all.

But the path Nicky travels takes many twists and turns from there, including impersonating Carlo, an ambassador from Italy scheduled to be an officiating dignitary at a jubilee celebration in a small town in Pennsylvania. Nicky does it to escape Peachy’s angry father, and Hortense accompanies him as an American government official to lend him credence.

Okay, after that paragraph – let me give up trying to explain the plot. But it’s all in good fun. Some of the turns the plot takes are maybe a little unlikely, but the story is enjoyable. The big strength is in portraying the close-knit Italian-American community and the various characters along the way.

The narrator did a great job voicing the characters, expressing their characters with enough consistency that I could tell who was speaking by the voice used, and with a nice use of accents.

This was a light-hearted listen that still pulled you into the world of the book.

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Review of Out of Left Field, by Ellen Klages

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

Out of Left Field

by Ellen Klages

Viking, 2018. 314 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 3, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Historical Children’s Fiction

This book is historical fiction set in 1957 when San Francisco is about to get a major league baseball team, the Giants. Katy Gordon is the best pitcher in the neighborhood, and she’s thrilled when she tries out for Little League and makes the team. But when they find out she’s a girl, she’s not allowed to play, and she gets an official letter from Little League saying baseball has always been a man’s sport.

Katy suspects that’s not true. She starts at the library and discovers a woman who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig – consecutively.

One thing leads to another. Katy interviews women, writes letters, and does more research – and uncovers hundreds of women who played professional baseball, some in their own leagues, some in the Negro leagues, and some as barnstormers playing exhibition games along with men.

It’s interesting how much fun it is to read about a kid doing research. Back in 1957, most of these women were still alive, and Katy was able to meet them and talk with them. And Katy’s research is interwoven with her baseball games and perfecting her pitching. I like the part when she gets to pitch to Willie Mays!

With all the kids’ books I’ve been reading, it was refreshing that even though Katy’s best friend Jules got assigned to a different teacher this year, and even though she doesn’t like playing baseball and has other interests instead – the girls stay friends and stay supportive of each other. What’s more, there are no dead parents in this book! Okay, Katy’s parents are divorced, but this doesn’t seem to be traumatic in her life and her father sends supportive messages.

I learned a whole lot about women’s baseball by reading this book – but all the information never got in the way of the story of Katy, the best pitcher in the neighborhood.

penguin.com/YoungReaders

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Review of The Parker Inheritance, by Varian Johnson

Monday, May 18th, 2020

The Parker Inheritance

by Varian Johnson

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2018. 331 pages.
Review written in 2018 from a book sent by the publisher.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Contemporary Children’s Fiction
2019 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
2019 Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book

The Parker Inheritance is a wonderful tribute to The Westing Game, with a mysterious millionaire leaving money to enhance a town in the south – if and only if someone can solve the clues and tell the story of discrimination that happened in the past.

Many years ago, Candice’s grandmother was city manager of Lambert, South Carolina. She got one of the original letters and tried to solve the clues – but succeeded only in disgracing herself by digging up some tennis courts and not finding the treasure.

Now Candice and her mother are living in her grandmother’s old home for the summer. In the attic, she finds an envelope addressed to her from her grandmother. In the envelope is the original letter – promising treasure for the town and for the person who solves the clues.

Brandon, a neighbor kid from across the street is there in the attic with her when she finds the letter. (They were looking for books to read, because her grandma was good about that, too.) Together, they start researching the people mentioned in the letter, the Washington family, who got run out of Lambert back in 1957.

The book gives periodic interludes from the story of the Washingtons while we follow the main story of Candice and Brandon solving the clues.

And Candice and Brandon have to learn about what happened in 1957. They look at pictures in the library. They need to find yearbooks from both the white high school and the colored high school. They find out about a secret tennis match between the two schools. The African Americans won, and there were repercussions.

The puzzle is well done, but the story supports it well – making this much more than just a puzzle book. I’m going to have to reread The Westing Game. It also tells a story of racism – which was sad back in 1957, but is largely overcome over the years. I especially like Siobhan Washington’s emphasis on love and forgiveness and rising above.

varianjohnson.com
scholastic.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Orphan Band of Springdale, by Anne Nesbet

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

The Orphan Band of Springdale

by Anne Nesbet

Candlewick Press, 2018. 433 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 25, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Historical Children’s Fiction

Reading The Orphan Band of Springdale made me happy. I liked the main character, Gusta Neubronner, and seeing the world through her eyes was a delightful experience.

The book begins as her father puts her on a bus – and leaves! He told her where to sit and put her suitcase onto the rack above her, and then got off the bus. Instead of getting back on, two men in uniforms came onto the bus looking for him.

The setting of the book is 1941 in Maine. Gusta had lived with her parents in New York City. Her father, who was born in Germany and hated the Nazis, was a union organizer. But anti-German sentiment being what it was, as well as anti-union sentiment, he had become a fugitive. Her mother got a job and couldn’t take care of Gusta, so she was sent to her grandmother in Springdale, Maine.

Now, Gusta’s mother had told her a story about her grandfather, who built the house in Springdale. He had been a sea captain and found a chest full of real wishes. They looked like coins that sparkled mysteriously. He didn’t believe it at first, and made frivolous wishes, which all came true.

“He said that after a day or two, he suddenly realized the seriousness of the situation. These were actual wishes, and he was wasting them. He would pick up one of those odd little coin things and wish for his sardines (for example), and after that, he said, he could tell that Wish was all used up. It didn’t sparkle anymore, he said. It just looked empty.”

“How can a coin be empty?”

“I don’t know. That’s how he described it. And of course that made him realize he couldn’t keep wasting those Wishes; he needed to think it all through more carefully, make wishes that counted. And then – right that very day – something really terrible happened: the ship he was on hit a reef and sank.”

The entire chest with Wishes sank in the sea. But one Wish remained, in his pocket.

“A single Wish,” said her mother. “One last Wish left. He kept that Wish safe, and he brought it back home with him. And you know what? He never used it, his whole life long. That’s what he told me, anyway, and I knew him when he was very, very old.”

He’d put the Wish in a box on a shelf, somewhere in the house. Can Gusta find it while she’s there? Can she use it to solve some problems?

And there are some problems while she’s there. Her father’s a fugitive. She meets her grandmother, who now runs an orphanage, and other relatives, including her uncle, whose hand was injured working in the mill and now needs an expensive operation or he can’t work. Gusta knows that the law is on his side, but without a union there, what can one person do?

But the most fun is the oldest girl in the orphanage, Josie, and Gusta’s cousin Bess. Gusta has brought her father’s French horn with her. When she plays it, she’s letting out her heart. Josie has a beautiful voice. Together they form the Honorary Orphan Band of Springdale (Josie being the only one who’s an actual orphan).

I laughed delightedly when I read this paragraph when the band finally performs:

They played “Angeline the Baker” and “Hard Times in the Mill” and a couple of cheerful, quick-moving songs they had made up themselves, and it’s safe to say no band composed of French horn, ukulele, voice, and bean jar ever had a more enthusiastic reception anywhere.

You’ll learn a little history reading this book about life on the home front just before the United States joined World War Two. But mostly you’ll have fun reading about some good-hearted characters in difficult circumstances trying to set things right – with or without a Wish.

candlewick.com

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Review of Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

Truly Devious

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 420 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 General Teen Fiction

This book is a little unfair. There’s no Book One printed in bold on the cover – so how dare it finish up with those dreaded three words, “to be continued”? Well, it does.

Stevie Bell is a junior in high school, and she’s been invited to attend Ellingham Academy, where an eccentric millionaire established a school for bright kids and gives them a unique education – for free.

But Ellingham has a mystery associated with it. 80 years ago, the wife and child of the eccentric founder were kidnapped, and the wife’s body was found. One of the students as well was found dead – but the daughter was never recovered. The kidnapper sent a note signed “Truly, Devious.”

In the present day, Stevie is obsessed with true crime – and she wants to solve the mystery of Ellingham Academy.

The mystery and the story is woven well. Every few chapters, we’ve got a flashback to a scene that happened in 1936, when the kidnapping took place.

Stevie’s obsessed with the old mystery – so she’s not exactly prepared to find the body of one of her fellow students.

Now, there’s a fun surprise at the end, but I can’t exactly tell you if the clues are helpful or how well the mystery is woven – because of those dread words, “to be continued.” I am very annoyed that I can’t read the second volume right now. [Reader, the good news is that since I couldn’t post this in 2018 when I read it as part of my Newbery reading, now all three volumes are published, and you can read them all together!]

But I will say that I enjoyed every minute leading up to those dread words. (The surprise at the end is perfect!) The characters are quirky. The setting is well-drawn. Stevie even gets to look at some papers and other items from the time of the kidnapping.

Here’s the letter from Truly Devious:

Look! A riddle! Time for fun!
Should we use a rope or gun
Knives are sharp and gleam so pretty
Poison’s slow, which is a pity
Fire is festive, drowning’s slow
Hanging’s a ropy way to go
A broken head, a nasty fall
A car colliding with a wall
Bombs make a very jolly noise
Such ways to punish naughty boys!
What shall we use? We can’t decide.
Just like you cannot run or hide.
Ha ha.
Truly,
Devious

I can’t wait to get more clues in the next book!

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
epicreads.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Louisiana’s Way Home, by Kate DiCamillo

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

Louisiana’s Way Home

by Kate DiCamillo

Candlewick Press, 2018. 227 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 27, 2018, from an advance reader copy.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Historical Children’s Fiction

This is the first time Kate DiCamillo has returned to a character from one of her earlier books, and I find I like this second book even better than the first – but you don’t have to have read Raymie Nightingale to enjoy Louisiana’s Way Home.

Louisiana’s crazy granny has finally really gone nuts. She gets Louisiana up in the middle of the night and drives north. They cross the state line into Georgia, and still don’t stop.

But then Granny starts moaning. She needs a dentist. What’s a girl to do? Louisiana is nothing if not resourceful and drives the car herself until she finds a dentist in Richford, Georgia.

But after Granny has all her teeth removed, they need a place to stay. She arranges payment with Louisiana’s beautiful singing voice.

But Louisiana wants to get back home. And there are still more adventures, good and bad, ahead of her. And she finds out that the story she’s been telling of the Flying Elefantes is not precisely true.

As always, Kate DiCamillo’s characters are quirky yet lovable. (Either that, or quirky and annoying, like the organ player.) There’s a lot of warmth and compassion in this book – and Louisiana is up against great big odds.

Now, the final situation resolved itself maybe a little too easily – but I was happy with the result and happy with Louisiana’s choice.

And when all is said and done, she does find her way home.

Perhaps what matters when all is said and done is not who puts us down but who picks us up.

katedicamillostoriesconnectus.com
candlewick.com

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Review of Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth, by Sheila O’Connor

Friday, April 3rd, 2020

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth

by Sheila O’Connor

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018. 356 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 24, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Historical Children’s Fiction

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth is a story told through letters. The setting is 1968 in a small town named Lake Liberty. Reenie Kelly is staying at her grandmother’s house with her big brothers Billy and Dare. She has just gotten a paper route and she’s determined to show that an eleven-year-old girl can do just as good a job as any boy. She wasn’t able to meet Mr. Marsworth, since he didn’t come to the door, but she puts a friendly note in his milk box.

Mr. Marsworth answers with a friendly note in the milk box back to her. He doesn’t want to meet her, but says, “Any child of Betsy Kelly’s will be a perfect papergirl, I’m sure.” He sends a P.S. with his sympathy about her mother’s recent death from cancer.

I know it’s been some time since your mother passed away, but she was among the best this world has known. Such a strong young heart. How terrible that she left this earth too soon.

So begins a wonderful correspondence. Reenie is nothing if not loquacious, and she doesn’t have friends yet in Lake Liberty, so she pours out her thoughts to Mr. Marsworth.

She does already have another pen pal – a soldier named Skip fighting in Vietnam. But she doesn’t like to send him any bad news. And some bad news like trouble with bullies does start to come up.

But Reenie’s biggest worry is that her oldest brother Billy has turned 18 and that he’ll get drafted. She is trying to save money on her paper route so that he can afford to go to the University of Missouri. If he doesn’t go to college, surely he’ll get drafted. She doesn’t realize that their family is bankrupt because of paying for her mother’s cancer treatments.

Mr. Marsworth agrees with her that she should try to keep Billy from being drafted. It turns out that he was a conscientious objector during World War I and spent time in prison. The town still dislikes him for that. Reenie gets Billy to go to Minneapolis to talk to the folks at the Draft Information Office about how to become a conscientious objector. But when Billy writes a letter to the Tribune, the whole town turns against them and their troubles with bullies get much worse.

So that’s the basic outline of how things begin. But leaves out the charm, the life and spunk of Reenie’s letters, and the gentle wisdom coming from Mr. Marsworth. You fall in love with both of them. I was moved to tears before the book ended, and in a good way.

sheilaoconnor.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Review of Prairie Lotus, by Linda Sue Park

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

Prairie Lotus

by Linda Sue Park

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2020. 261 pages.
Review written March 23, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Prairie Lotus is a beautiful story of a half-Chinese girl, Hanna Edmunds, settling with her Papa in a town in Dakota Territory in 1880. They plan to open a dress goods shop. Hanna had learned to sew from her Mama, who died back in California, and dreams of also sewing dresses for the ladies of the town.

But Hanna encounters lots of prejudice for being a “Chinaman.” The people of the town don’t want to send their children to school with her, and even people who seem nice ask terribly ignorant questions. So besides trying to make friends in a new town, missing her Mama, and trying to make the shop a success, Hanna hopes that people will even allow her to live there.

Hanna has some encounters with some Indian women and children. She sees the settlers’ attitudes toward Indians with the perspective that these are people who look like she does, with black hair and dark eyes.

I couldn’t help but love Hanna, with her passion for making beautiful dresses, her willingness to think the best of people, and her determined spirit. Here’s a book that all children can picture themselves as being part of, experiencing a town on the frontier.

Prairie Lotus is written as both a tribute and an answer to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. The author notes in the back that she grew up loving those books.

Even at the height of my passion for those books, there were parts that I found puzzling and distressing. The character of Ma was most problematic. Her values of propriety and obedience over everything else seemed to me both misplaced and stifling.

And Ma hated Native Americans. In several episodes throughout the series, she expresses that hatred. While I could not have articulated it at the time, I harbored a deeply personal sense of dismay over Ma’s attitude. Ultimately it meant that she would never have allowed Laura to become friends with someone like me. Someone with black hair and dark eyes and tan skin. Someone who wasn’t white.

I appreciated that she did a lot of research to make sure she gets the encounters with Native Americans right.

I also chose to include a few lines of Dakota dialogue. I felt strongly about including those words in an effort to counteract previous generations of innumerable children’s books that have never depicted or even acknowledged Native languages, and the stereotypes of Hollywood that reduced Native communication to grunts and pidgin.

She concludes the Author’s Note like this:

Prairie Lotus is a story I have been writing nearly all my life. It is an attempt to reconcile my childhood love of the Little House books with my adult knowledge of their painful shortcomings. My wish is that this book will provide food for thought for all who read it, especially the young readers in whose hands the future lies.

She has not only succeeded in this goal, but she’s also written a main character her readers will love. They will imagine themselves back in LaForge, wanting to be Hanna’s best friend. But children won’t feel cut off from that imagination by the way they look.

lspark.com
hmhbooks.com

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Review of Front Desk, by Kelly Yang

Friday, March 20th, 2020

Front Desk

by Kelly Yang

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2018. 296 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 31, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2019 Winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Historical Children’s Fiction

My parents told me that America would be this amazing place where we could live in a house with a dog, do whatever we want, and eat hamburgers till we were red in the face. So far, the only part of that we’ve achieved is the hamburger part, but I was still holding out hope. And the hamburgers here are pretty good.

Mia’s parents were well-respected in China, but in America they’re having trouble keeping jobs. So when they get a job as motel managers – which comes with a place to stay, rent-free – they are excited. But the owner of the motel promises them one rate of pay – then changes the deal after they’re signed up. He makes them pay for any repairs needed out of their own pay, so what they take home becomes less and less. Since it takes all her parents’ time to clean the rooms, Mia ends up running the front desk.

Mia learns a lot at the front desk about how America works, especially from the regulars – the people who live in the motel long-term. But she also learns from her new best friend at school – Lupe, who is also a recent immigrant to America. Unfortunately, the son of the motel owner is also in her class. And he isn’t much nicer than his father.

When friends from China come by needing a place to stay, Mia’s parents are happy to put them up in an extra room – only Mr. Yao mustn’t find out.

When Mia sees injustices around her, she learns how to help – by writing. Her mother says she’ll never catch up with the native English speakers. Her mother was an engineer, so she wants Mia to focus on math, where she can help. But Mia dreams of helping her whole family with her writing.

Mia’s only ten, but she’s feisty and she’s friendly, and when she sees a problem, she doesn’t rest until she’s done something about it. Reading about Mia and her family was a delight.

kellyyang.com
arthuralevinebooks.com
scholastic.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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