Category Archives: Historical

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

dodgerBibliographic Information:

Pratchett, T. (2012).  Dodger. New York: HarperCollins. (978-0062009494)

Plot Summary:

Set in Victorian London, Dodger comes to the aid of a young woman who had leapt for a carriage trying to escape two assailants. Two gentlemen take pity of the girl and move her to the home of one of the gentlemen, Henry, and see her cared for by a doctor.

Dodger feels an obligation to the girl, who refuses to reveal her name, and decides to find her attackers, with far reaching political implications.

Critical Evaluation:

There are times when I wish I were more literate. Reading Dodger was one of these times. Pratchett is the master of word play and disingenuous comments and although I enjoyed many, when I finished the novel, I could not help to wonder how many I missed. After reading Marcus Sedgwick’s review, I have decided I want to spend more time looking for the hidden treasure that slipped by me the first time around; not that it mattered to my enjoyment of the novel. Pratchett can be read at a variety of different levels and be enjoyed.

Pratchett plays with language with such skill and devotion, his novels always seem to finish too quickly.

Reader’s Annotation:

When Dodger realizes the girl he rescued may still be in danger, he sets off with his brass knuckles and wit to find her assailants.

Information About the Author:

Sir Terry Pratchett was born April 28, 1948 and grew up in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. He credits the local library as his main source of education. But even though he was a reader, he describes himself as a “nondescript student.”

When he was thirteen, he published a short story in the school magazine. He published again two years later in Science Fantasy and used his earnings to purchase a typewriter. He decided to try journalism and when a job became available on the Bucks Free Press, he left school in 1965. Terry took the responsibility of writing stories for the children’s column. In total he wrote sixty short stories, “never missing an episode for over 250 issues.”

While interviewing Peter Bander van Duren, a director of the publishing company Colin Smythe Limited, he mentioned he had written a book. The Carpet People was published in 1972. He is a prolific writer that was honored in 1998, at fifty years of age, by receiving an appointment as an Officer of the order of the British Emipire in the Queen’s 1998 Birthday Honours list ‘for services to literature.’

In 2007, Terry learned that he had a form of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2008, he donated a million dollars to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust. In 2009 he was appointed a Knight Bachelor.

Terry has written over fifty books and has co-authored an additional fifty (Smythe, 2011).

For a complete listing of his extensive bibliography please visit his site. The site also includes a really good publication timeline.

Genre:

  • Adventure stories
  • Humorous stories
  • Alternative histories (Fiction)

Curriculum Ties:

  • English

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Book Trailer of the first chapter:
  • http://youtu.be/GRgiZeekrpM
  • Talk about Dickens and the Artful Dodger – and relate how Pratchett builds on an well-established literary tradtion.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

Pratchett must be included in any teen library.

Reviews:

“Though the plot of the novel is relatively simple, there is as much pleasure in seeing Dodger charm, sneak and sometimes bash his way in and out of a series of dark and dangerous encounters as he seeks to protect Simplicity, as there is in reading Pratchett’s prose. Here, once again, is the mark of a great writer; that we are captivated by ingenious word-building on every page.”

  • Phelan, C. (2013). Dodger. Booklist, 109(9), 4.

“The pleasure of reading the novel is in the language as much as in the characters and well-researched period setting. . . . This Victorian romp is lovingly crafted and completely enjoyable.”

  • Dodger. (2012). Kirkus Reviews, 77.

“Historical fiction in the hands of the inimitable Sir Terry brings the sights and the smells (most certainly the smells) of Old London wonderfully to life, in no small part due to the masterful third-person narration that adopts Dodger’s voice with utmost conviction.

Unexpected, drily funny and full of the pathos and wonder of life: Don’t miss it.”

References:

Smythe, C. (2011). Terry Pratchett Retrieved May 5, 2013 from http://www.colinsmythe.co.uk/terrypages/tpindex.htm

Terry Pratchett. (n.d.). Retrieved May 5, 2013 from http://www.terrypratchettbooks.com/

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

three day roadBibliographic Information:

Boyden, J. (2008). Three day road. Toronto: Penguin Canada. (978-0-14-301789-8)

Plot Summary:

Xavier and Elijah are two Cree boys who decide to enlist in the army in World War I. In the War they become snipers because of their hunting background. It is also the story of Niska, an Oji-Cree medicine woman who refuses to lose the traditions of the past. When Xavier returns from the War, during the three day paddle home, the two characters relate their pasts; Niska to draw Xavier back from the horror of the War and Xavier to find redemption.

Three Day Road is the first of a planned trilogy. Through the Black Spruce won the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Critical Evaluation:

Three Day Road is the type of books that can be read on a variety levels. It can be read as conflict of culture – native and European. It can be a book about assimilation or about being true to one’s culture and roots. It can be used as a companion book to All Quiet on the Western Front because of its’ depiction of the human cost of war.

One can also discuss the character development in the novel. The evolution and devolution of the characters of Xavier and Elijah would make a fascinating discussion. The contrast of these two young men who went away to war is marked.

One can also read the novel with a focus on the differences in the voices of Xavier and Niska. Both relate their histories during their three day road. Through the telling of their tales the reader is introduced to the loss of the native culture and the assimilation into the dominant European culture. There is a sadness about this loss and a recognition that a very important part of the people was lost during this time.

Reader’s Annotation:

Two young Cree men leave their community to become snipers in World War I. Three Day Road tells the story of how they change during the War and what comes back after the fighting was done.

Information About the Author:

Joseph Boyden grew up listening to the true stories of his father, a World War II medical doctor. Raymond Wilfrid Boyden was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He also heard stories about a grandfather and uncle who served in the First World War (Nurse). Joseph’s uncle Erl, lived a more traditional lifestyle with a strong respect from Ojibwa traditions which included making his own clothes and living in a teepee. Erl and his father as well as another native war hero, Francis Pegahmagobow, influence Boyden’s plots and characters (McKay, 2012).

Joseph Boyden was born in 1966 in Willowdale, Ontario. He was a voracious reader as a child who was reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica, volume by volume, by the time he was six. After high school he worked on his creative writing degree at York University and at the University of New Orleans. Now, he teaches Canadian literature and creative writing at the University of New Orleans.

For more information please read Joseph Boyden’s biography. He tells his story much better than I can. http://www.josephboyden.com/bio.htm

Genre:

  • Historical

Curriculum Ties:

  • Canadian History
  • First Nations
  • English – Canadian author

Booktalking Ideas:

  • First Nations and World War I

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up
  • Adult

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

The main reason that I included Three Day Road is that it is a beautiful example of Canadian literature and, in my opinion, should be an essential text in Canadian literature collections.

Reviews:

“The characters of Xavier and Niska and, to a slightly lesser extent, Elijah are full to the brim with life – they’re quite satisfying and believable as they are, and need no further stamp of authentication.”

  • Keymer, D. (2005). Three-Day Road. Library Journal, 130(9), 104.

“In straightforward, concrete prose, first novelist Boyden evokes a ghastly poetry of death: “small red flowers bloom…around dead soldiers and their rifles…cover[ing] up the horror before the flowers are pounded into black slime by artillery.” This is an exceptional tale of hell barely survived during World War I. Enthusiastically recommended for public libraries.”

Awards:

  • Nominee for the 2005 Governor General’s Awards.
  • Winner of the McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year Award.
  • Winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for 2005
  • Winner of the CBA Libris Fiction Book of the Year

References:

McKay, J. (12 Oct. 2008). Archive: Writer in Resident Joseph Boyden Biography. Retrieved from http://writer-in-residence.athabascau.ca/archive/JosephBoyden/bio/

 

Nurse, D.B. (March 2005). Joseph Boyden: Way of the warrior. Retrieved April 3, 2012 from http://www.quillandquire.com/authors/profile.cfm?article_id=6573

In Darkness by Nick Lake

in darknessBibliographic Information:

Lake, N. (2012). In darkness. New York: Bloomsbury. (ISBN 978-1599907437)

Plot Summary:

When an earthquake destroys the hospital where he was staying, fifteen-year-old Shorty is buried in the rubble. While he is waiting to be rescued or to die, he tells the reader the story of his life. In the darkness, he also makes a connection with Toussaint L’Ouverture, the slave who became the leader of the 18th-century Haitian revolution.

Through alternating chapters In Darkness  provides the reader the historical background so the reader can understand the systemic violence and poverty that is part of the real Haiti today.

Critical Evaluation:

When a novel’s plot revolves around a violent and bleak reality it can make for a difficult read. This is not the case with In Darkness. The events the plot is based on are an ugly reality. Shorty’s narration of his life with the death of his father, poverty, and killings he participated in hardly make him a sympathetic character. He is a self-described gangster.

Lake has added a mystical layer to the tale by merging the plot with Hatian mythology and religion.  Orenstein (2012) makes a great observation when she explains that “Shorty, L’Ouverture and Haiti itself are all connected to this metaphor [of the zombie] – each lost in darkness, near death…It’s a beautifully complex metaphor, but a disturbing way to bind a novel – that is, if you want to leave a young reader with hope.” In the end, Lake does leave the reader with hope through his two protagonists.

There is a very important element that takes this novel to another level and that is the strong and carefully crafted characters of Shorty and Toussaint. There is hope and beauty in these two men – and nobility. The plot reveals an internal struggle between that which is beautiful in life and the ugly and brutal. The language Lake uses adds to this internal struggle. Lake has pared away all the unnecessary words. I am sure his interest in linguistics was a benefit as he melded together the various languages and dialects of Haiti. The result is a narrative that is both lyrical and descriptive.

Reader’s Annotation:

A gritty story about a young boy and an old man trying to create meaning in a culture that sees them as little more than beasts.

Information About the Author:

Nick Lake is the Editorial Director for fiction at HarperCollins Children’s Books UK. during the day. Although In Darkness is his first book for adults and teens, he has published a couple of children’s books including the Blood Ninja trilogy.

He lives in England but he grew up in Luxembourg. He received a degree in English from Oxford University (Nick Lake biography). He has a Master’s Degree in Linguistics.

For more information please see Nick Lake’s website

Genre:

  • Realistic fiction
  • Historical fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • Social justice course
  • World Issues
  • English

Booktalking Ideas:

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence
  • Language

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

This book is one of the reasons I really appreciate the Printz Awards. This is not a book that I would have picked up on my own. It was added to my reading list because it won the Printz Awards.

Reviews:

In darkness. (2012). Kirkus Reviews, 71.

“While the images of slavery and slum brutality are not for the fainthearted, and Shorty’s view of humanitarian workers may stir debate, readers will be inspired to learn more about Haiti’s complex history.”

Larson, G. (2012). In Darkness. School Library Journal, 58(12), 122.

“The relentless oppression, poverty, violence, and instability of the country is vividly conveyed through Shorty’s stark, graphic narrative. Toussaint’s story provides historical background for the socioeconomic and political conflicts that continue today.”

Rochman, H. (2012). In Darkness. Booklist, 108(9/10), 110-112.

Awards:

  • 2013 Michael L. Printz Award
  • 2013 ALA Best Fiction for Young Readers

References:

Nick Lake biography. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://authors.simonandschuster.ca/Nick-Lake/62647477/biography

Orenstein, K. (2012). Haiti Rising ‘In Darkness,’ by Nick Lake. Sunday Book Reives (2012). Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/books/review/in-darkness-by-nick-lake.html?_r=0

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

SweetnessBibliographic Information:

Bradley, A. (2009). The sweetness at the bottom of the pie. Toronto: Anchor Canada. (978-0-385-66583-4)

Flavia de Luce series, bk. 1

Plot Summary:

Flavia de Luce is having an interesting day. First, she escapes from being blindfolded and tied up in her closet by her sisters. Then she is present to see the fear on her father’s face when he finds a dead bird with a postage stamp in its’ beak on their doorstep. Later, she overhears her father arguing with a mystery man in his study – only to find this same man dead in their cucumber patch the next morning.

And so, a new detective is born. As she says, “I wish I could say I was afraid but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.” But it will not be her last. In her investigations she will search a man’s room, climb a tower, be kidnapped, and of course, perform some chemistry. In the end, will it be enough to save her father from prison or will she find herself sharing the cell beside him?

Critical Evaluation:

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is an excellent example of how a character comes from a certain place and time. In this case, Flavia needs to come from a home where she has a great deal of freedom so she can investigate the crime but also so she can do her chemistry experiments. Further, she comes from a world where girls are not expected to be adventurous or interested in worldly matters. Much of the humor of the novel comes from Flavia’s unconventional responses or her reactions to people’s expectations of her. Part of this can be attributed to her age. She is young enough at eleven to still be outspoken and be a hoyden. These behaviors may not have been as believable in a heroine at sixteen, for example.

Flavia’s ongoing spates with her sisters and irrepressible personality add a level of normalcy and humor to her character. As a result her character is Anne of Green Gables meets Sherlock Holmes.

Reader’s Annotation:

Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce decides she must solve the murder of the man found in her cucumber patch to save her father from prison.

Information About the Author:

Born in Toronto Ontario in 1938, Alan Bradley has had a long and varied career as a writer, teacher and media technologist. After attending Ryerson University, Bradley worked as a television engineer in Ontario and Saskatoon (Jessop, 2012). Later, he served for 25 years as the Director of Television Engineering in the media centre at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

Bradley has written screenplays and short stories and has taught Script Writing and Television Production Courses at the University of Saskatchewan. He has been involved in the local literary scene. He was the first President of the Saskatoon Writers and a founding member of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. He is also a founding member of The Casebook of Saskatoon, “a society devoted to the study of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockian writings” (Author’s bio, 2013)

Alan Bradley was 70 when he wrote the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The story started out as a 15-page excerpt that he had written and submitted to The British Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger Award, which he won in 2007.

Interestingly, although the novel is set in England, Bradley had not been to England himself until he went to receive his award in 2007. But, he says, he grew up submersed in the English culture through his English grandparents and the English books and magazines he read. He also credits his wife, Shirley, with helping him research the subject (Catto, 2009)


Click here for an interesting conversation between Alan Bradley and Shelagh Rogers about Flavia de Luce and his newest novel, Speaking From Among the Bones.

Genre:

  • Mystery – detective stories
  • Historical fiction
  • Crossover

Curriculum Ties:

  • Chemistry
  • English
    • Mystery novels
    • Character development

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read from page 11 as Flavia adds poison ivy oil to her sister’s lipstick
    • Talk about pranks between siblings
  • Read from page 24 when she eavesdrops on her father to finding the dead man

Reading Level/Interest Age:

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

I do not read detective stories very often but this series has received a lot of press lately. I heard an interview with Alan Bradley a few weeks ago and decided to read it. It was funny, smart, and had a good mystery.

Reviews:

Coon, J. (2009). The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Booklist, 105(17), 35. (star review)

 “Only those who dislike precocious young heroines with extraordinary vocabulary and audacious courage can fail to like this amazingly entertaining book.”

Goldsmith, F. (2009). The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. School Library Journal, 55(5), 140.

“Flavia is brave and true and hilarious, and the murder mystery is clever and satisfying.

The sweetness at the bottom of the pie. (2009). Kirkus Reviews, 77(5), 49.

Brilliant, irresistible and incorrigible, Flavia has a long future ahead of her. Bradley’s mystery debut is a standout chock full of the intellectual asides so beloved by Jonathan Gash readers. It might even send budding sleuths to chemistry classes.

Awards:

  • 2007 Debut Dagger Award
  • 2009 Agatha Award, Best First Novel
  • 2010 Amelia Bloomer List, Young Adult Fiction
  • 2010 Alex Award nominee
  • 2010 Arthur Ellis Awards, Best First Novel
  • Macavity Awards, Best First Mystery Novel
  • 2010 Best Books for Young Adults

References:

Author’s bio.(2013) Retrieved from http://www.flaviadeluce.com/view-authors-bio/

Catto, S. (2009). Alan Bradley: The old/new face of fiction. Quill & Quire. Retrieved from http://www.quillandquire.com/authors/profile.cfm?article_id=10492

Jessop, P. (2012). Alan Bradley. In The Canadian encyclopedia. Retrieved from

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/alan-bradley

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

book thiefBibliographic Information:

Zusak, M. (2006). The book thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. (978-0375842207)

Plot Summary:

Liesel Meminger is learning to live with a new foster family in a small town in Germany during World War II. In many ways, Liesel is a typical child; she fights with boys, she makes friends, struggles with loss and how to understand a world going mad around her.

She is also a book thief. After her stepfather, Hans Hubermann notices the first book she stole, The Grave Digger’s Handbook, he decides to teach her how to read and write thus cementing the growing bond between the pair and helping Liesel feel like she belongs. Books continue to help Liesel relate to her community and her neighbours through the ensuring years.

When the son of a Jewish friend, Max Vandenburg, needs a place to hide, the Hubermanns  bring him to live in their basement. Liesel soon befriends the confused and frightened young man. Their friendship is tested when the Hubermanns decide to send him away when a kind act performed by Hans brings them to the notice of the Nazis.

Critical Evaluation:

The lyrical quality of Zusak’s writing immediately captivated me. The mood of this sophisticated story is wistful and intriguing; much like how the narrator feels about the humans he walks among. Zusak’s use of language is beautiful and absolutely necessary for a book that is, fundamentally, about the power of words. Death as the narrator is a convention that is used very successfully in The Book Thief. One could write a paper just on the character of Death. Using Death as a narrator does allow the author a certain latitude with the timeline.

To begin with, Death is relating this as a story already lived. As a result, there is a lot of foreshadowing since Death already knows the outcome. The fluid nature of time also fits very well with the episodic nature of the story. Because the plot covers a number of years, it is necessary to have a natural reason to skip to the important episodes or events. Death’s visiting of this town and checking in on Liesel provides an excellent reason for the pacing of the novel. Another interesting result of having Death as a narrator is that the reader is able to see at a macro level, the scope of the War, and at the micro level of individual lives in a small town in Germany. So, although the Holocaust is in the backdrop of the story, The Book Thief is not a Holocaust story.

The Book Thief is also a book about books. Most of Liesel’s relationships can be described through the stealing, reading, and creation of books.

Reader’s Annotation:

The Book Thief is the story about the power of words to bring death and hope to the residents of a small town in Germany during World War II.

Information About the Author:

Markus Zusak was born in Australia on 23 June 1975 but his roots actually go back to the Germany of his mother’s childhood. In his Printz Award Honor speech Zusak (2007) said that his childhood was different than his friends because his parents’ stories were of the War they lived through in Austria and Germany. He praises his parents for their ability to tell their stories “in a beautiful, meaningful, and compelling way (p. 17).  

Markus started writing when he was sixteen years old, which he also credits his parents for. He says that his parents felt it was important that he could read in English and filled their house with books. Before he became an author, Zusak was a high school English teacher after attending the University of Sydney.

For more information on Markus Zusak, please see his biography.

Genre:

  • Historical fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • World War II
  • Holocaust
  • Point of view

Booktalking Idea:

  • Start with book burning activity
  • Feature a reading of Death’s description of War
  • Book trailer by ExpandedBooks

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up
  • Reading level 5.1

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

I read The Book Thief after I read the review in Kirkus and fell in love with the language.

Awards:

  • 2006 – Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (South East Asia & South Pacific)
  • 2006 – Horn Book Fanfare
  • 2006 – Kirkus Reviews Editor Choice  Award
  • 2006 – School Library Journal Best  Book of the Year
  • 2006 – Publishers Weekly Best Children Book of the Year
  • 2006 – Booklist Children Editors’ Choice
  • 2007 – ALA Best Books for Young Adults
  • 2007 – Michael L. Printz Honor Book
  • 2009 – Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Master List

References

Markus Zusak. (2009) Contemporary Authors Online. Gale.

Markus Zusak. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.randomhouse.com/features/
markuszusak/author.html

Zusak, M. (2007). Printz Award Honor Speech. Young Adult Library Services,
6(1), 16-17.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

code name verity

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Bibliographic Information:

Wein, E. (2012). Code Name Verity. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, c2012. (978-0-385-67654-0)

Plot Summary:

When a female spy is captured by the Germans in France during World War II, she is tortured until she agrees to tell everything she knows about the Allied plans. Her “confession” takes on a journal-like tone as she talks to and about her jailers. Through her writing, the spy peels back a corner of her own prison thus allowing the reader to understand her own courage, pain, and despair.

A secondary plot develops as she relates how she came to France and her concerns that her pilot, her friend Maddie, may have been killed when their plane crashed. While divulging England’s military secrets, the story of two very different young women growing up in England emerges.


Critical Evaluation:

It should be noted that often, one can discuss the literary aspects of a novel without giving away the twists of the plot. This is one novel where that is very difficult to do. Wein was very creative in the development of her plot. This is one component that would be well worth discussing as would the use of voice in a narrative.

Many writers fall into the trap of wanting to tell their reader too much. The omniscient narrator does allow the writer to convey requisite background material needed to advance the plot to the reader quickly. This technique, however, can often distance the reader from the character (which may be an excellent technique depending on the story). A much more difficult task is to have the protagonist tell the story with a believable voice. The reason this can be difficult is that much of what is important to the plot must be inferred or naturally infused into the conversation or action of the tale. Wein decided to tell the story through the papers her protagonist was forced to write. This act suggests an implicit censoring and bias must be present while still being true to that character’s personality and voice. Code Name Verity is an excellent example of this type of narrative.

Further, one of the most important aspects of a realistic historical novel is that it is historically accurate. Although I am not a historian, it does appear that Wein did her homework. At the back of the book she provides an author’s note (Author’s Debriefing) in which she notes where she explains how history becomes fiction. She also discusses her research and provides a bibliography of additional reading for the interested reader.


Reader’s Annotation:

Two women who become friends during World War II meet again while working for the War effort in England; one is a pilot and the other is a spy.

Information About the Author:

On her site, American-born author Elizabeth Wein explains she spent her early years in England and Jamaica. After her parents separated she returned to the United States and lived with her mother in Pennsylvania. She and her husband returned to live in English in 1995. She currently lives in Scotland.

Wein loves flying and has her private pilot’s license. She and her husband have flown all over England, Scotland as well  other parts of the world.

Elizabeth Wein is an accomplished young adult writer. Her Lion Hunters: The Arthurian/Aksumite Cycle novels have received excellent reviews and The Lion Hunter was short-listed for the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2008.

Please click the following link to read an interview with Elizabeth Wein talking about Code Name Verity on the Girls Like Giants blog.

Genre:

  • Historical fiction
  • Adventure fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • Social Studies – World War II
  • English – journal writingBooktalking Ideas:
  • Journals and personal papers
  • Friendship
  • Truth and lies
  • Strong female protagonists
  • Book Trailer

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14-

Challenge Issues:

  • none

Why did you include book?:

  • Received starred reviews from Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.
  • 2013 Printz Honor Book.