Tag Archives: american history

Donner Dinner Party Review

NHHT_3Donner Dinner Party (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #3) by Nathan Hale

Amulet Books, 2013. 978-1419708565

Synopsis: The Donner Party expedition is one of the most notorious stories in all of American history. It’s also a fascinating snapshot of the westward expansion of the United States, and the families and individuals who sacrificed so much to build new lives in a largely unknown landscape. From the preparation for the journey to each disastrous leg of the trip, this book shows the specific bad decisions that led to the party’s predicament in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The graphic novel focuses on the struggles of the Reed family to tell the true story of the catastrophic journey. from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I’d been seeing this series on the shelves for a while, but I splurged on my own copy while I was at the comic shop.

Why I finished it: Westward Expansion was an exciting time in American history in which the country grew into what we now know as the contiguous United States. Stories of pioneers daring to leave the comfort of the East Coast and the Midwestern towns to journey into the unknown were always fascinating to me, especially considering how spoiled we are in the 21st century: we don’t have to boil water before we drink it, we don’t have to use a chamber pot to go to the bathroom, laundry can be done in a washing machine, we can go to a grocery store or a clothing store to buy food and things to wear, and advancements in modern medicine have made it possible to treat cuts and scrapes without the risk of losing a limb. The story of the Donner Party is arguably one of the more famous stories of a family moving West because of the tragedy and gore that surrounds it. As a student, I was grossed out by even the bare bones of details my teacher would give the class about the hardships that the Donner Party had to endure when they found themselves stranded in the mountains during the harsh winter months. Hale has done a fantastic job of expanding on the story we were given in history class, but keeps it tame enough for younger readers (because it’s so much MORE intense than our teachers ever gave it credit). He’s kept in a good chunk of the gorey bits – the story wouldn’t be much without it – but he also gives a voice to each of the members of the party so that we become more invested in their story of survivalism. Hale has also invested a great deal of detail in his art, carefully creating for us a snapshot of a wagon train and the daily life of the party as they came West. While it’s not the most definitive book on the Donner Party, it’s a fantastic read that is sure to become a great springboard into more research about the brave men and women who helped settle the American West.

Other related materials: Patty Reed’s Doll: The Story of the Donner Party by Rachel K Laurgaard, illustrations by Elizabeth Sykes Michaels; Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale; Big Bad Ironclad! (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #2) by Nathan Hale; Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood: A World War I Tale (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #4) by Nathan Hale; The Underground Abductor: An Abolitionist Tale About Harriet Tubman (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #5) by Nathan Hale; Alamo All-Stars (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #6) by Nathan Hale; Raid of No Return: A World War II Tale of the Doolittle Raid (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #7) by Nathan Hale; One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale; Guys Read: True Stories edited by Jon Scieszka; Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale; Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale

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Gaijin: American Prisoner of War Review

gaijin_american_prisoner_of_warGaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner

Disney-Hyperion, 2014. 978-1423137351

Winner of the 2014 Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature

Synopsis: Koji, the son of a Japanese father and an American mother, suddenly finds his world turned upside down when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Because he is of Japanese descent, he and other Japanese Americans must be taken away from their homes and sequestered like criminals. Accompanied by his mother, Koji learns quickly that the camps are not what they seem, and that being different may cause him more harm than good.

Why I picked it up: A library colleague turned me on to this book a few years ago and it’s been sitting on my shelf waiting for the opportune moment for me to rediscover it.

Why I finished it: It’s necessary to read about ugliness in this world so that we can remember the mistakes of the past and take steps to never repeat them. Faulker’s graphic novel about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is both gritty and powerful, and on the 75th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombings, it is a reminder of one of many dark times in American History. My own grandfather has spoken of a young man who was sent to an internment camp that he has often wondered about since the end of the war. Faulkner notes multiple times throughout the book that the majority of those that were sent to these camps were children, something I don’t know that I thought very much about until I read this story. At its heart, this is the story of a family trying to make sense of the senseless actions that seem to be transpiring around them. They don’t fully grasp the prejudices that have become suddenly more apparent with their friends and neighbors. In a country that prides itself on giving its citizens a voice, they suddenly have none. Even thought Koji’s mother is trying to make the best of things, Koji is still angry and confused. The reader witnesses him lashing out in ways that feel like they make sense to the teenager, but we also slowly see an understanding dawning as the story moves on. It’s as if he has realized that there is something else to fight for, that he has every right to be angry, but that his anger needs to be fueled into doing good rather than creating havoc. Faulkner’s unspoken commentary about the experiences of Japanese-Americans speaks volumes and the invisible voices of those who were interred give power to the narrative. The art is a cross between a classic WWII-era newspaper strip and a kaiga (Japanese painting), mixing the art of East and West to add another layer of symbolism to the novel. Koji’s dreams seem to take on mostly red hues, which Eastern cultures associate with luck and power; the rest of the book is drawn in browns, blacks, and sepias, emphasizing a sort of depression and darkness that overtook the country as a result of the internment. It’s a powerful graphic novel that bears its teeth and screams with a rage that will have readers remembering it even after they have closed the book.

Other related materials: Take What You Can Carry by Kevin C. Pyle; The Moved-Outers by Florence Crannell Means; Farwell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston; Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference by Joanne Oppenheim; Remembering Manzanar: Life in a Japanese Relocation Camp by Michael L. Cooper; The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559, Mirror Lake Internment Camp (My Name is America series) by Barry Denenberg; Early Sunday Morning: The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows, Hawaii 1941 (Dear America series) by Barry Denenberg; Journey to Topaz: A Story of the Japanese-American Evacuation by Yoshiko Ushida, illustrated by Donald Carrick; Journey Home by Yoshiko Ushida, illustrated by Charles Robinson; The Invisible Thread by Yoshiko Uchida; Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban; A Diamond in the Desert by Kathryn Fitzmaurice; Mystery at Manzanar: A WWII Internment Camp Story by Eric Fein, illustrated by Kurt Hartman; A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai, illustrated by Felicia Hoshino

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Wheels of Change Review

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Wheels of Change by Darlene Beck Jacobson

Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People Selection, 2015

Mighty Girl Books Selection, 2014

Creston Books, 2014. 978-1939547132

Synopsis: Emily likes things the way they are: her father has a successful carriage business, she gets to help out in the carriage barn sometimes with Henry the blacksmith, and she really likes spending time with her friend Charlie. But with Ford Model Ts becoming more popular and Henry getting sick, Emily wonders what will happen to her father’s business. Plus, her mother wants her to learn how to bake pies and cakes and host teas and do other ‘lady-like’ things. With all of this change going on around her, will Emily find a way to keep something the same?

Why I picked it up: I had the privilege of meeting the author at the American Library Association conference and talking with her a little bit about the book. Check out the “Between the Pages” post for more about the book and a chance to win a copy of the book!

Why I finished it: Historical fiction can be kind of a tricky thing: it requires dedicated research and the ability of the author to create a connection between time period/subject and the reader. Jacobson does both masterfully, crafting an inspiring story around a piece of her personal family history. The novel transports the reader back to the early 20th Century to a time of social change, progress, and racial intolerance. The author has created for us a strong heroine in Emily, whose courage and conviction endears us to her and her family. We see her struggle with wanting to do what she wants versus giving in to the societal norms for women; and in many ways, these are struggles the reader shares. Like Emily, there are aspects of the world that don’t make sense to us which we try to understand. We have hopes and dreams to which we aspire that keep fueling our desire to do bigger and better things. The reader is able to experience history through the well-paced narrative and dive deeper into the how and why of where we have come from and perhaps draw parallels to where we are going. It inspires the reader to do their own research into their personal histories and imagine the kind of lives and challenges our ancestors faced. It’s a thoughtful novel that challenges us to think about what matters to us and teaches us that nothing is impossible until we give up.

Other related materials: Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis; Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper; Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko; A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck; Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos; Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith; The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley; Dash by Kirby Larson; Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai; One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia; P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia; Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia; Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales books by Nathan Hale; El Deafo by Cece Bell

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Between the Pages: Wheels of Change by Darlene Beck Jacobson

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Wheels of Change

As a special bonus this week, author Darlene Beck Jacobson ‘talks’ a little bit about her book, Wheels of Change and gives us some insight into the story. I would encourage you to check out not only the book (because the book is pretty awesome), but her blog as well, which features recipes, activities, crafts and interviews with children’s book authors and illustrators: www.darlenebeckjacobson.com.

Leave a comment below to be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a copy of the book!

How did the story come about?

The story sprang from two family facts I discovered while researching my family tree. One was that my paternal grandmother’s father was a carriage maker in Washington DC at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The other was that grandma received an invitation to a reception held at the White House by Theodore Roosevelt. She attended that reception and met TR. Putting those two together became my “what if”. Once I had the basic story line, I added social and cultural aspects to broaden the story. Except for the two facts mentioned above, the rest of the story is fiction. I like to think of it as a “reimagining” of what my grandma could have been like.

Which character do you most identify with? Why?

It would have to be Emily because of her strong sense of right and wrong. She tries hard to please her mama and to live up to the expectations of females of the era. She often falls short because of all the injustices she encounters in daily life. She questions unfairness and isn’t afraid to be herself. I’ve always tried to follow my own path in life and that has led to some amazing journeys.

What makes this era of history so interesting to you?

While I was doing research I discovered just how much change was taking place during this time period in history. The more I looked, the more I realized how frightening it must have been to many people. We were an agricultural and rural nation. Workers labored long hours making goods by hand. Women had no say in how their lives were to be spent. Then – in a few short years – the Industrial Revolution arrived and everything changed forever. Mechanization, woman’s suffrage, and desegregation – those changes are part of the fabric of life today.

Why do you think it is so important for young people to be adaptable to change?

Change affects us all and can bring welcome and unwelcome things into our lives. It’s up to each of us to decide the importance of those changes. We can’t stop change–it still happens all around us. But, if we make it work for us, we can see a better outcome. By learning to handle small changes – like a new job, different school, a new home – we can be more resilient to big changes that come along. We can use change to improve our lives and the lives of others.

What sort of message do you hope to convey to the reader?

Embrace change! When you see something wrong, speak up. Ask questions. Don’t stand by and watch someone being bullied. Care for someone who is sick or homeless. Reach out to someone who is lonely or in despair. Pretend to walk in someone else’s shoes. What is that like?   If you have an opportunity to make a positive change, go for it!

blog picDarlene Beck Jacobson is a former teacher and author of WHEELS OF CHANGE, an MG Historical with Creston Books 2014. She has loved writing since she was a girl.   Darlene’s stories have appeared in CICADA, CRICKET, and other magazines. She enjoys sewing, tea parties, and travel and reading good books. Her favorite destination is Australia, where she fed a kangaroo, held a koala and snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef.

She can be found on Twitter @dustbunnymaven

Book Trailer link: http://youtu.be/qtGXALonq4w

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Copper Sun Review

copper_sunCopper Sun by Sharon Draper

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006. 978-0689821813

Winner of the 2007 Coretta Scott King Book Award

Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Amari lives a peaceful life in her African village until the day a group of white slave traders steals her, sells her, and sends her on a ship across the ocean to America, where she is sold once again. Polly is an indentured servant who must take on the burden of working off both of her parents’ indentures after their deaths. Both girls have very little left that is their own, except for a small spark of hope that makes them believe that perhaps they will be able to one day be free.

Why I picked it up: I had heard good things about Draper’s work and was eager to delve into her writing.

Why I finished it: Told in alternating viewpoints, Draper has woven together a tale of two unlikely friends whose fates become intertwined. They become forced to rely on each other, though at first they are reluctant to extend the olive branch. Amari is young and carefree until she is confronted with the harsh reality of the world beyond her village. She is forced to watch people she knows and loves die both in body and in spirit, planting seeds of doubt in her mind as to whether or not it is worth staying alive. In contrast, Polly is no stranger to hardship and the blatant unfairness of the system, struggling to become a lady as her mother wished for her. She struggles to seem competent in the face of her new employer, reluctant to accept help from the African slaves. Both girls are striving for the same goals, but it takes a while for them to recognize it. Draper’s characters represent two different forms of slavery in the early 18th century, and both shed light on the difficulties of maintaining a sense of self and a sense of hope. What intrigued me the most about the story was the thoroughness of Draper’s research and the partial list of resources provided in the afterword. The slave trade was an important, if not unfortunate, part of our history, and though this work is fictional, it gives the reader a starting point to do their own research. For many, this is part of a personal history; so many African Americans are descendants of those who survived the Middle Passage, part of who they are, part of their heritage. It’s a touching story that invites the reader to examine the complicated relationships on early American plantations and the idea that hope is eternal though it is often hard to see.

Other related materials: Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper; Fire from the Rock by Sharon M. Draper; The Jericho Trilogy by Sharon M. Draper; Forged by Fire by Sharon M. Draper; The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox; Sold by Patricia McCormick; Nightjohn by Gary Paulson; Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children by Kimbery Brubaker Bradley; Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson Day of Tears by Julius Lester; The Glory Field by Walter Dean Meyers; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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Dash Review

dashDash by Kirby Larson

Scholastic Press, 2014. 978-0545416351

Synopsis: The events of Pearl Harbor have changed lots of things about Mitsi Kashino’s life: her two best friends no longer talk to her, she’s getting nasty notes in her desk, and everyone is treating her like an outsider. She never expected to be moved to an internment camp or to be separated from her dog, Dash. When she and her family are forced from their home, Mitsi is forced to leave Dash with a friendly neighbor, who promises to take care of Dash is Mitsi’s absence. Will they be reunited, or will the war separate Mitsi from her animal companion as well?

Why I picked it up: I have two dogs of my own and I can’t imagine moving and not being able to take them with me.

Why I finished it: World War II is a much written about topic in world history, partially because so many of the events that happened away from the actual fighting had a lot to do with discrimination – namely the Jews in Europe and the Japanese in America. I remember a story my grandfather told me about a young Japanese American boy he knew that was taken to an internment camp and never heard from again, and there are days when he would remember the boy and wonder what happened to him. Larson has managed to capture the confusion, the heartbreak, and the uncertainty that surrounded the Japanese-American internment through the voice of a young fifth-grade girl who desperately wants to see things return to normal. Mitsi has a deep affection for her family and for her dog, who becomes her only friend after her other school classmates have alienated her. She struggles with doing the right thing, but it is her amazing courage and inner strength that keeps her going and endears her to the reader. Larson is also able to use her writing to put us in the moment and give a relatable quality to a situation most readers will find a little foreign. It’s a heart-breaking story about the human spirit and the power of friendship that will appeal to history buffs and dog lovers alike.

Other related materials: Duke by Kirby Larson, The Moved-Outers by Florence Crannell Means; A Diamond in the Desert by Kathryn Fitzmaurice; Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans during World War II by Martin W. Sandler; The Japanese American Internment: An Interactive History Adventure by Rachael Hanel; How Did This Happen Here?: Japanese Internment Camps by Leni Donlan; If You’re Reading This by Trent Reedy; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; A Jar of Dreams by Yoshiko Uchida; A Step from Heaven by An Na; Dragonwings by Laurence Yep; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

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An American Plague review

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy

Clarion Books, 2003. 978-0-395-77608-7

Synopsis: In the summer of 1793, the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a bustling metropolis with the distinction of being the capital of the newly formed United States of America. But in the streets roaming among the citizens is a killer – yellow fever. Its first few victims would not be anything out of the ordinary, but as the death tolls rose, the people will flee the city in fear. Its cause unidentified, its cure unknown, yellow fever would bring the city together and tear its citizens apart before the epidemic was over.

Why I picked it up: I’m a history nut with a particular curiosity for plagues.

Why I finished it: Murphy’s book is gross, horrifying, and fascinating in its details about life in the early years of the United States. What I found the most interesting was the discussion of the practice and theory of medicine in the late 18th Century, which seem oddly primitive considering the medical advances we have made since the 1790s. The epidemic was also surprisingly political – politicians were fleeing the city, but both doctors and politicians alike were debating causes, cures, and how to care for the sick. Murphy’s discussion of how the free blacks of Philadelphia played a role in aiding the city was unique, considering that literature written about the plague at the time all but excludes their contributions. The concluding chapters that tell about the city and the US in the years following the plague are equally interesting and informative, providing an interesting epilogue to the 1793 epidemic.

Other related materials: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson; The Great Fire by Jim Murphy; Blizzard!: The Storm that Changed America by Jim Murphy; Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 by Susan Campbell Bartoletti; Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti; Growing Up in Coal Country by Susan Campbel Bartoletti; Kids on Strike! by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

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