Tag Archives: children’s historical fiction

The Impossible Journey, by Gloria Whelan, 2003, Book Review, and a Sea Cutter Giveaway!

“Comrade Sergei Kirov was killed on the first day of December. That same night my parents disappeared.”

It is 1934 and Kirov was the man competing with Joseph Stalin for control of Russia’s Communist Party. Stalin wanted no competition. So Kirov was conveniently assassinated, and in the name of justice hundreds, perhaps thousands of arrests were made, even thought the killer was already in custody. Those “suspects” weren’t really suspected in the murder at all. They were simply too outspoken against the Communist regime.

Among those taken were Marya’s parents. Their crime? They once were rich. Her mother was sent to Siberia for three years; her father sent to a coal mine. Twelve-year-old Marya was left to care for her little brother all alone. They lived for a time with greedy neighbors who emptied their apartment of Mama and Papa’s things. But Marya knew it couldn’t be long before they landed in an orphanage. Then Mama’s letter came in the mail, and on it was a return address. Marya decides the family has been split apart long enough. She and little Georgi set out on the long, long trip to find her.

This is an eye-opening look at what really went on after the Russian Revolution. The disappearances, the secret police, the way aristocrats were turned into second class citizens, the seizure of farms, the disregard for human life. It was a terrible, terrible time in Russia’s history. Cleanly written and appropriate for ten-year-olds, it’s a fabulous way for kids to “see” what happened. They’ll live history with Marya and Georgi. The story takes place nearly twenty years after the revolution, however, and gives very little history about how the Communist regime came into being. It feels a little like jumping into a movie that’s half over. Some research into the 1917 revolution might be helpful.

Not my favorite book by Gloria Whelan, but I don’t think that woman can write a bad one. She always writes with an eloquence that makes the pages fly past, and she gives her characters such life. And I’ve always been fascinate by Russian history. I recommend The Impossible Journey.

Beneath the Slashings, by…Oh, look! It’s by me!

Okay, is it, like, totally brazen to review my own book for MMGM?

Um, yes, it probably is.

I’m sorry. Please forgive me just this once, because my new book launches in less than a week and I’m terribly excited. To celebrate, I’m giving away the very ARC we used to make final corrections. I’ll draw a winner next Monday. To enter, just leave a comment. But first, let me tell you what the book is about. I won’t just give you the blurb; I’m going to review it like I review every other book on my blog. And if I hadn’t told you, you might not have know the difference!

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Beneath the Slashings is the final book in Ms. Isenhoff’s Divided Decade Trilogy (this is so wierd!), which views the American Civil War from three different angles. But because they’re only loosely related, each book can be read independently. For more on the series, click here.

The story begins with 12-year-old Grace Nickerson celebrating the end of the war. After four long years, Pa’s finally coming home! Grace is eager to move back to the family farm (from her aunt and uncle’s house) and resume a normal life. But then Pa’s letter comes in the mail–he’s sold the farm and taken a job in a lumber camp, and Grace and her twin brother, Sam, are to go with him.

Grace is devastated. She’s never been brave. “She wasn’t one to swing out over the creek on a hot summer day and drop blindly into a pool.” And her fear quickly turns to anger. When her tears and tantrums don’t change Pa’s mind, she stops speaking to him altogether.

In camp, Grace spends long hours working with Sam and Ivan, the surly Russian cook, but at least in the kitchen she’s safe from the lumberjacks. She’s seen them from the window. They’re rough, unkept, and terrifying. But slowly, with Sam’s help, she comes to understand they’re all missing home and recovering from loss, just like she is. Her fear begins to evaporate–until she learns one of them is trying to kill Pa.

This is more than a suspenseful adventure, it’s a little slice of history wrapped up in entertainment. Many returning Civil War vets really did look to the lumber camps for a fresh start. The setting is authentic and well-researched, and the colorful language of the logging camps is employed. The author even touches on the challenges that arose from so many new black freemen and the tragedy of diminishing Native American cultures. The years after the war were a time of uncertainty, rebuilding, and learning to live with changes. Isenhoff, with her distinctive prose, captures them beautifully. But mostly, this is a story of family and forgiveness.

Language and content are perfectly appropriate for kids ages 10+. Highly recommended.

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Shameless. Absolutely shameless, aren’t I? So, who wants the ARC?

5-Q Interview With Author Lisa Rivero

If you missed yesterday’s post, check out my book review of Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux, by Lisa Rivero.  You won’t want to miss this one.  Ms. Rivero has graciously donated a paperback copy for my readers.  Click here for giveaway details.

Before reading Oscar’s Gift, I was not familiar with Oscar Micheaux. What inspired this story?

I stumbled on to the historical figure of Oscar while doing research on the area where I grew up so as to understand the background of family diaries that I am transcribing. From the beginning, Oscar’s life fascinated me, in part because of his experience as an African-American homesteader (a part of the homesteading era I hadn’t known much about) and in part because of his later literary career. He took hold in my mind, somehow, and I knew I needed to find a way to write about him.

What kind of research did you have to do to recreate this time in Oscar’s life and place him in an authentic setting?

The setting was the easiest part to write about because it’s where I spent the first eighteen years of my life. The geography of the Great Plains is a part of who I am, even more so the longer I live elsewhere. The research for Oscar’s life and the time period happened slowly over the span of a couple of years. I read biographies of his life, analysis of his movies, and two of his novels, which are semi-autobiographical. Some of the other aspects of the story specific to the time period (for example, the 1904 issue of The Youth’s Companion) were little gifts that popped up along the way.

I especially enjoyed the character of Tomas. He was an excellent way to  “see” and “hear” Oscar, but he was also an unforgettable character in  his own right. How did his creation come about?

I’m so happy that the character of Tomas came alive for you! He’s the part of the story whose origin I can’t quite explain, except that he was inspired by several young people I’ve known and worked with, all of whom were sensitive and curious and idealistic in the best possible way. Tomas was my first experience with a character’s leading me through what was supposed to happen in a story, rather than the other way around.

Is this your first work of fiction? What other titles have you written?

This is my first published work of fiction, and I have a lot of other in-progress pieces lying about. I’ve written two previous non-fiction books about homeschooling (Creative Home Schooling, Great Potential Press, 2002, and The Homeschooling Option, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) and two non-fiction books about intense, creative, and otherwise gifted teens (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Teens and Smart Teens’ Guide to Living with Intensity, both 2010 Great Potential Press books). I also blog for Psychology Today.

And lastly, list some of your favorite books and authors.

There are so many! Here are a few titles and authors, in no particular order and from varying genres:

The Voyage to the Bunny Planet Trilogy, by Rosemary Wells
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, by Kathleen Norris
To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
Anything by Willa Cather or Eudora Welty
Dubliners, by James Joyce
What the Dog Saw, by Malcolm Gladwell
Heidi, by Johanna Spyri

Lisa, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, and thank you also for your book donation.  I’ve no doubt the winner will enjoy it as much as I did.

Click here for your own copy of Oscar’s Gift.

Lisa’s website:  http://www.lisarivero.com.

Moon over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool, 2010, Book Review

PDF Creation in Quark 7I loved, loved, LOVED this book! Recommended to me by a sixth grade literature teacher, I gobbled it up in a two sittings. A few days later, I learned it won this year’s Newbery. Well-earned, I say!

Following an illness, twelve-year-old Abilene’s father, Gideon, sends her away to friends in Manifest, Kansas, a town that strongly influenced his childhood, though he never talked about it much. It’s hot and dry, the dustbowl era, right smack in the middle of the Depression, and Abilene holds out desperate hope that her father will come back for her. But the rails, he told her, are no place for a young lady.

While she’s there, Abilene uncovers stories from 1917 that lead her on a spy hunt with two friends. The stories tie her to the town and develop a love within her for its people. But love, she learns, can be devastating.

Moon Over Manifest is Ms. Vanderpool’s first novel, but it is so tight. Every colorful detail eventually finds a place in the book’s final picture. Every single character becomes important. Everything fits together. And the human emotion it paints for us is still relevant eighty years after the book takes place.

The story does contain a spiritual element in the form of a gypsy story-teller who also poses as a medium. Abilene is skeptical of her the whole time, and nothing weird actually happens. The woman’s past later becomes intricately woven in the plot.

Great choice for readers 10 and up, especially those who enjoy nostalgic, small-town flavor. I almost think adults would like this one better than kids. It’s a powerful little story. A definite must-read.