Tag Archives: genre: historical fiction

Kid Beowulf: The Song of Roland Review

kid_beowulf_2Kid Beowulf: The Song of Roland by Alexis E. Fajardo

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017. 978-1449475901

Synopsis: Banished from their homeland, Beowulf, his brother Grendel, and the magic pig Hama journey south to the Frankish Empire to find their uncle Holger, a knight in the service of Charlemagne. But all is not well in Francia: the king lies ill and his steward has decided that capital gain in more important for the country than keeping its citizens happy, and the hero Roland could use a little help setting things right….

Why I picked it up: It’s epic poetry in a more digestible form for a younger audience.

Why I finished it: Fajardo has managed to faithfully adapt The Song of Roland while still maintaining the integrity of the original manuscript (of which, he notes in the afterward, there are several variations) and present the reader with a story that is easy to follow. We are engaged from the get-go with a broad synopsis of the original Song of Roland to help set the stage for the reader. The story then branches off in two directions, intertwining the past with the present as Beowulf and Grendel read the letters Holger wrote to their father about his journey to Francia. And once the pair (and Hama) reach Francia, they find that Daneland is not the only state in which things are rotten. There is an uneasy peace between the Christian Franks and the Muslim Spanish that is on the verge of being overturned thanks to the traitorous acts of Roland’s stepfather Ganelon. Ganelon is willing to help Spain take over the Frankish Empire as an act of revenge against Charlemagne and Roland, and we are distressed to learn that perhaps the plan is working. A good amount of hilarity ensues as Charlemagne’s banished knights attempt to reunite and work out a plan to get the country ready to fight against the army of Spanish invaders using the makings of Ro-Land, a theme park built to celebrate Francia’s greatest hero. Fajardo juxtaposes the darkness of the story with the use of bright colors and some off-beat humor that makes sure the reader is still following along. There’s also a few character cameos that fans of other middle grades comics will find fun as well. It’s another fantastically epic ride through history that will engage readers of all ages.

Other related materials: Kid Beowulf: The Blood-Bound Oath by Alexis E. Fajardo; Kid Beowulf: The Rise of El Cid by Alexis E. Fajardo; Kid Beowulf Eddas: Shild and the Dragon by Alexis E. Fajardo; Bone series by Jeff Smith; Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard books by Rick Riordan; Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan; Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling; Avatar: The Last Airbender series by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Gurihiru, and Bryan Koneitzko


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W.A.R.P.: The Forever Man Review

forever_manW.A.R.P., Book 3: The Forever Man by Eoin Colfer

Disney-Hyperion, 2015. 978-1484726037

Synopsis: Riley, an orphan boy living in Victorian London, has achieved his dream of becoming a renowned magician, the Great Savano. He owes much of his success to Chevie, a seventeen-year-old FBI agent who traveled from the future in a time pod and helped him defeat his murderous master, Albert Garrick. But it is difficult for Riley to enjoy his new life, for he has always believed that Garrick will someday, somehow, return to seek vengeance. Chevie has assured Riley that Garrick was sucked into a temporal wormhole, never to emerge. The full nature of the wormhole has never been understood, however, and just as a human body will reject an unsuitable transplant, the wormhole eventually spat him out. By the time Garrick makes it back to Victorian London, he has been planning his revenge on Riley for centuries. But even the best-laid plans can go awry, and when the three are tossed once more into the wormhole, they end up in a highly paranoid Puritan village where everything is turned upside down. Chevie is accused of being a witch, Garrick is lauded as the town’s protector, and . . . is that a talking dog? Riley will need to rely on his reserve of magic tricks to save Chevie and destroy his former master once and for all. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: This series is filling the hole that Artemis Fowl left. Plus, I like the sci-fi/historical fiction mashup.

Why I finished it: This book starts off a little bit slower than the previous novel and seems to keep up the meandering pace throughout without ever really picking up speed. We’re getting much more into the science bit now that Garrick has been reintroduced and much like the characters, the reader is playing a guessing game about his powers and how the mutations created by the wormhole will affect Chevie, Riley, and the rest of the Puritan village in which they have been deposited. The plot centers around an ongoing game of cat-and-mouse between Riley and Garrick, which it should be noted started many years before while Riley was still under Garrick’s apprenticeship. It’s a cunning element to the plot, but unfortunately I wasn’t feeling much of the suspense I felt like I should be feeling. Riley has to get very creative knowing that his target is basically immortal and considers himself to have the upper hand. Yet, our heroes seem to have lost a little bit of their spark (along with a few other things) coming into this book and it doesn’t seem to get shaken off as the story moves along. I was anxious to see Riley succeed in killing Garrick once and for all, and I was hopeful that he and Chevie could make it out in one piece, but there wasn’t a hook for me to really drawn me in. The ending did manage to pick up a bit, but it was just a little bit too late.

Other related materials: The Reluctant Assassin (W.A.R.P., Book 1) by Eoin Colfer; The Hangman’s Revolution (W.A.R.P., Book 2) by Eoin Colfer; The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer; Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer; Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud; Seven Wonders books by Peter Lerangis; Keeper of the Lost Cities books by Shannon Messenger; The Lunar Chronicles books by Marissa Meyer; Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children books by Ransom Riggs;  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle;  A Wind in the Door by Madeline L’Engle;  A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L’Engle; The CHRONOS Files books by Rysa Walker

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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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The Wells Bequest Review

wells_bequestThe Wells Bequest: A Companion to The Grimm Legacy by Polly Schulman

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013. 978-0399256462

Synopsis: When Leo witnesses the appearance of himself and a beautiful girl in his bedroom via a time machine, all of his perceptions of reality suddenly begin to change. Then, his teacher tells him about the New York Circulating Material Repository – a place that houses objects rather than books – and he becomes convinced that this is the place he will find both the time machine and the girl. And what Leo finds there surpasses even his wildest expectations.

Why I picked it up: I loved Grimm Legacy, so when I noticed it on the shelf browsing through the library I nabbed it.

Why I finished it: And so, we find ourselves back at one of the most fascinating libraries in modern literature. It’s a place known only to a few and whose secrets go even beyond the walls of the library itself. Leo wasn’t keen to believe science fiction was real until he saw some of the objects housed in the repository while researching his history of science report on robots. The things we read about in books couldn’t possibly be real…then again, he spends most of the book in a sort of state of disbelief at his own luck. First, he finds the perfect science project topic that plays to his strengths. Then, he finds a great place to do his research…at which works the amazing girl who appeared with him in the time machine! What I like about both Bequest and Legacy is that although the story itself draws on the fantastic, Schulman manages to keep the reader grounded in the real world. This time, she explores elements of science and the notion of scientific progress. It made me step back and think about just how much science goes into our daily routines, nevermind what sort of journey an object has come on to become what has become familiar to us. It questions reality while making us think about how much more there is for us to discover. So whether it be time travel, girls, libraries, or robots, Leo and the reader will have changed in numerous ways by the time we have reached the final pages.

Other related materials: The Grimm Legacy by Polly Schulman; The Poe Estate by Polly Schulman; A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz; In A Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz; The Grimm Conclusion by Adam Gidwitz; The Sisters Grimm books by Michael Buckley, illustrated by Peter Ferguson; The Books of Elsewhere books by Jacqueline West; Secrets of the Book by Erin Fry; Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein; The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein; Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein; Wonderstruck by Brain Selznick; The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler; The Mad Apprentice by Django Wexler; The Palace of Glass by Django Wexler; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead; 13 Treasures Trilogy by Michelle Harrison


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Crogan’s Vengeance Review

catfoot_s_vengeanceThe Crogan Adventures: Catfoot’s Vengeance by Chris Schweizer, colored by Joey Weiser and Michelle Chidester

Oni Press, 2015. 978-1620102039

Synopsis: When “Catfoot” Crogan becomes the new favorite of an infamous pirate captain whose crew he was forced to join, he incurs the wrath of the murderous first mate D’or. Can Catfoot keep his new crewmates safe when D’or hatches a scheme that will bring the full might of every navy in the West Indies down on their heads? Previously published as Crogan’s Vengeancefrom Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I got the chance to meet Schweizer at the American Library Association Annual Conference this last summer and loved the idea behind the book. Plus, I owed it to my eight-year-old self who wanted to become a pirate…or an actor…or a veterinarian…or an author…or a reporter…or an editor….

Why I finished it: This is a well-crafted story on every level: there is a good balance between action and drama with characters that seem to leap off the page. While this story isn’t based on an actual family tree or any actual people, the historical basis behind The Crogan Adventures gives the reader a little bit of a history lesson within a fictional realm. Schweizer’s storytelling skills really engage the reader and keep them turning the pages to see how Catfoot will manage to keep himself and the crew from getting in trouble. I liked Catfoot as a main character because he’s smart and he’s clever. He finds a way to make do with what he has and what skills he’s acquired to be able to stay one step ahead of D’or and gain the trust of some of the other crew members. The plot seems to move slowly at first, but it picks up the pace after the first few pages. Schweizer sets his scenes piece by piece and likes to build off small details like character quirks to add other layers to the story. I liked the colors and they way they too add to the story: muted browns, blues, reds, and greens bring the18th Century West Indies and the pirates to life. It makes me want to learn sea shanties, how to sail a boat, and brush up on my fencing skills. It’s a story that has a little bit of something for everyone, especially those more adventurous type and most anyone you knew that grew up wanting to be a pirate even if it isn’t still a legit profession…or is it?

Other related materials: The Crogan Adventures: Five Years’ Service by Chris Schweizer, colors by Joey Weiser; The Crogan Adventures: Loyalty by Chris Schweizer; The Creeps books by Chris Schweizer; Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series by Nathan Hale; Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the Civil War by Steve Sheinkin, illustrated by Tim Robinson; Which Way to the Wild West: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About Westward Expansion by Steve Sheinkin, illustrated by Tim Robinson; King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the American Revolution by Steve Sheinkin, illustrated by Tim Robinson; Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko; Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko; Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko; Guys Read: True Stories edited by Jon Scieszka

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Murder at the Oaklands Mansion Review

murder_at_the_oaklands_mansionMurder at the Oaklands Mansion by Melinda Richarz Lyons, illustrations by Charisse Richarz

TreasureLine Publishing, 2012. 978-1617521317

Synopsis: Brooks Martin and his Aunt Mandy love having adventures – the more wild and daring the better! They also love history and trivia, especially about their hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When a Civil War reenactor is shot and his last words are to Brooks, Brooks and Aunt Mandy find themselves determined to solve the mystery of his death and his incoherent mutterings. Can they get to the bottom of the case or will they be dismissed as “just a kid and an old lady”?

Why I picked it up: The combination of historical fiction and murder mystery was something I didn’t want to pass up.

Why I finished it: This is a delightful read for both middle graders and their families. It highlights the strong bond between a young boy and his eccentric great aunt, and the love that they have for pushing themselves to be better and better. They have a thirst for knowledge that sometimes leads them into super crazy situations. I was instantly endeared to these characters and the relationships that continue to build as the plot moves along. I liked that the story kept up a steady pace throughout that made it easy to follow along and put together the clues alongside Brooks and Aunt Mandy. And I loved that Lyons devotes a couple of chapters to a research session in the library. Plus, it highlights the fun of knowing local history and exploring the towns in which we live, even if they might not be as historically exciting as Murfreesboro. The book may seem somewhat simplistic, but this makes it ideal for reluctant and struggling readers to read by themselves or out loud. It’s an intriguing, nail-biting read that will keep readers hooked and hoping for more.

Other related materials: Cynthia’s Attic series by Mary Cunningham; The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin; Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald J. Sobol; Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene; Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew book by Carolyn Keene, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan; The Hardy Boys books by Fanklin W. Dixon; The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner; Nate the Great books by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, illustrated by Marc Simont; The Samantha Wolf Mysteries series by Tara Ellis, illustrated by Melchelle Designs; Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein; Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein; The Book Scavenger series by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

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The Safest Lie Review

the_safest_lieThe Safest Lie by Angela Cerrito

Holiday House, 2015. 978-0823433100

Synopsis: My name is Anna Bauman. That is what I tell myself as I am falling asleep at night. During the day, I am Anna Karwolska. Anna Karwolska is Catholic. I have to remember this along with many other things because if the German soldiers find out that I am Jewish and not Catholic, very bad things will happen. Not only to me, but to the other people that helped me. So even though I am Anna Karwolska, I must not forget Anna Bauman. I must not forget who I am.

Why I picked it up: Even though I find that World War II is sort of overdone, I was curious about this aspect of hiding Jews during the Holocaust.

Why I finished it: This is an intriguing and sad story based on true events in the life of Irena Sendler, a Resistance spy in Europe during World War II. Though Sendler appears in the novel as a shadowy and mysterious secondary character, Anna’s interactions with her give the reader a clear picture of what she risked and what was at stake. Though Anna herself is fictional, she represents one of hundreds of children who were given false identities and trained to shun their Jewish heritage so that they could be saved from the certain deaths that awaited them in the ghettos and later in the concentration camps. These children, in many cases, lost not only their families but their sense of selves, often transforming themselves to the point that after the war they did not recall their Jewish identities. The bravery and the heroism of the children and those that saved them is so moving and so utterly heartbreaking that it’s almost difficult to read; it needs to be read because it is important to understand the whole picture of the horrors endured by Holocaust survivors and victims. I was somewhat disappointed that the story ended somewhat abruptly, but the plot is still deeply moving and engaging, taking the reader through Anna’s journey from Jewish to Catholic and then remembering her heritage after the war is over. It’s a different look at the war is Europe that helps to fill out the picture of one of the biggest wars of the modern age.

Other related materials: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry; Is It Night or Day? by Fern Schumer Chapman; Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz; The Book Thief by Markus Zusak; The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne; Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson; My Brother’s Secret by Dan Smith; The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose; Somewhere There is Still a Sun: A Memoir of the Holocaust by Michael Gruenbaum with Todd Hasak-Lowy; Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army by Georg Rauch; The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb; Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 True Stories of Survival by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis; Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott; The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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