Exploring American History Through Children’s Literature (by Catherine)

“ ‘This is not our fight’, the old man said. ‘British or American, that is not the choice. You must choose your own side, find your road through the valley of darkness that will lead you to the river Jordan. . . Look hard for your river Jordan, my child. You’ll find it.’”  –Chains, Laurie Halse AndersonImage

            For many Americans, July 4th means fireworks, celebrating American independence, and bbqs. But something crucial is missing from that list: A book from the historical fiction genre for children—namely—one set during the colonial period in America. What better way to celebrate the birth of our county than to become immersed in a gripping story set during the Revolutionary War?

That’s why the blog is going to focus on several historical books Catherine thinks are particularly good for this time of the summer, books that have received awards and good reviews from young readers. Certainly, we can learn about history from history books, documentaries, and films, but we think engaging with history through a well-written, engaging, and vivid children’s or young adult novel is just as exciting and informative. Of course, authors of historical fiction should write books that are historically accurate and reflect thorough research about the particular historical era in which that book is set. Not all works of historical fiction that are published will reflect historical accuracy, so the reader (or the adult selecting the book) should have some set of standards for evaluating that kind of fiction for children.

Chains (2008) by Laurie Halse Anderson is Catherine’s first pick. Set during 1776, the story follows the difficult journey of thirteen year old Isabel, a slave, who is sold, along with her younger sister Ruth, to a couple who take them to New York City. Isabel has a complicated task; she must look out for her sister who suffers from epilepsy, a disease that those in the 18th century hardly understood. Master and Madam Lockton support King George’s British rule of the colonies, and the girls endure terrible treatment at the hands of the Locktons. All the while, however, Isabel ponders and plans how to escape, and consistently questions the logic and justice of the idea that while a country fights for freedom for its people, it keeps a segment of its population in chains.

As a result, the novel offers readers the opportunity to consider the plight of the African-American during this crucial period in history. Additionally, Anderson’s detailed historical research paints a vivid picture of the tensions between those in the colonies who wanted freedom from King George and those who preferred to remain under British rule. The characters created by Anderson in Chains are superbly depicted, and readers will surely think about Isabel and Ruth after they have turned the last few pages of the novel. This historical novel was nominated for the National Book Award in 2008 and in 2009 it received the Scott O’Dell Award, which is given for the best work of historical fiction. It is also an ALA Notable Children’s Book for Older Readers (2009). Readers who want to find out what happens to the characters in Chains after it ends would do well to pick up the sequel, Forge, which will be reviewed on this blog in the near future.

If you read Chains and you would like to explore some links related to the novel, here are a few to get you started:

http://books.simonandschuster.com/Chains/Laurie-Halse-Anderson/9781416905851/

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781416905868

What Katie Read

Impossible Information–Upcoming Fantasy Podcast

“What do these children do without storybooks?” Naftali asked.

And Reb Zebulun replied: “They have to make do. Storybooks aren’t bread. You can live without them.”

“I couldn’t live without them,” Naftali said. –Isaac Bashevis Singer, Naftali the Storyteller and His Horse, Sus

In preparation for our second podcast focused on fantasy literature for children and young adults, with a special focus on Incarceron and Inkheart, Catherine and K.L. give you a preview of some terms they might use about this genre of impossible literature.

Fantasy literature involves something most would consider unrealistic or impossible. Some dimension of the magical, the supernatural, or the impossible is present in this literature.

Low fantasy takes place in the primary world, the world as we know it, but some magical elements make the story unrealistic. Tom’s Midnight Garden is an example of low fantasy.

High fantasy is set in a secondary world, a world founded on rules that are totally impossible in our primary world. Works of high fantasy may move between a secondary and primary world, while others may remain completely in the secondary, fantastic world.

Science fiction is a type of fantasy that incorporates scientific ideas that may contain some real dimensions, but something about the story and the way the story treats those scientific theories takes it into the realm of the impossible. Authors may write science fiction in order to imagine a possible, future world.

Science fantasy may be situated within some scientific theory, but unlike science fiction, the story is also framed with fantasy elements. This is a kind of hybrid genre that could incorporate elements of high fantasy such as hobbits or wizards or fairies, but also includes elements of science fiction such as aliens or spaceships.

Questions for you to Consider:

How about Incarceron and Inkheart? How do they fit into this discussion of fantasy terms? Would they be low fantasy or high fantasy? Stay tuned for our second podcast to find out!

What Katie Read

A Flight into Fantasy – By Catherine Posey

“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality.                                                         

It’s a way of understanding it.” –Lloyd Alexander

In our first podcast episode, we discussed several works of fantasy literature. Both of us (Catherine and K.L.) think the fantasy genre is a significant one for the field of children’s and young adult literature, and that it is an especially wonderful type of literature for readers, both young and old! Obviously, we both read quite a few fantasy stories. Here, we explore a few of the titles we mentioned a bit more in hopes that you might also read them, if you have not already! Stay tuned for more titles in future episodes.

Tom’s Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

Published in 1958, this British classic for children is a must-read for all ages! At some time or another, we have all struggled with loneliness and the desire to connect with someone else in a meaningful way. When Tom hears the clock strike 13, he goes to investigate and discovers that the back garden is a portal to the past, where he befriends a girl, also experiencing loneliness, named Hattie. Hattie and Tom’s friendship endures its ups and downs, and the reader will surely discover a gem of a story as he or she follows this fascinating fantasy.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Yes, the film version of The Hobbit is being released this December, but the 1937 story is one you must read! It is especially a wonderful novel for a summer read, and as the prelude to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this epic fantasy is a page-turner, filled with fascinating characters, impossible adventures, spiritual themes and ideas, and a rich world of hobbits, magic rings, dwarves, dragons,and elves. We won’t say much more–go get the book!

What Katie Read

Summer Reading

Here are some of our favorite books for the summer! Click the titles to check out links to the book on Good Reads where you can find out more about the books’ plots. We may discuss these in the next few podcasts, and if there is a book you are particularly interested in hearing us talk about, e-mail us.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (From Catherine: This is a YA novel and I would recommend for at least 14 and up, due to the violence in the book).

Delirium by Lauren Oliver (YA novel–recommended for age 14 and up)

What Katie Read