A vivid depiction of the issues and tensions surrounding abolition and the development of Lincoln’s responses to them as the United States plunged into the Civil War.
From the first, Bolden adopts a personal voice that infuses her narrative with urgency—“Over the years, we rejoiced when a Northern state abolished the abomination. We agonized when a slave state entered the union.” The account opens with scenes of hushed abolitionist vigils as the hour that the proclamation would officially go into effect approaches; it closes with glimpses of the joyous celebrations that followed. In between, the author tracks rising tides of both rhetoric and violence, as well as the evolution of President Abraham Lincoln’s determined efforts to forge a policy that would serve military, political and moral necessities alike. Along with relevant sections of the Constitution and the final proclamation’s full text (both with glosses), the author adds to her narrative a heavy infusion of impassioned rhetoric from contemporary writers and orators. These, plus a spectacular set of big, sharply reproduced prints, photos and paintings, offer cogent insights into major events and the overall tenor of the public discourse.
A convincing, handsomely produced argument that the proclamation, for all its acknowledged limitations, remains a watershed document.
(endnotes, bibliography, extensive timeline)
A graphic-novel account of the science and history that first created and then, theoretically, destroyed the terrifying Dust Bowl storms that raged in the United States during the “dirty thirties.”
“A speck of dust is a tiny thing. Five of them could fit on the period at the end of this sentence.” This white-lettered opening is set against a roiling mass of dark clouds that spills from verso to recto as a cartoon farmer and scores of wildlife flee for their lives. The dialogue balloon for the farmer—“Oh my God! Here it comes!”—is the first of many quotations (most of them more informative) from transcripts of eyewitnesses. These factual accounts are interspersed with eloquently simple explanations of the geology of the Great Plains, the mistake of replacing bison with cattle and other lead-ups to the devastations of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. The comic-book–style characters create relief from the relentlessly grim stories of hardship and loss, set in frames appropriately backgrounded in grays and browns. Although readers learn of how the U.S. government finally intervened to help out, the text does not spare them from accounts of crippling droughts even in the current decade.
From its enticing, dramatic cover to its brown endpapers to a comical Grant Wood–esque final image, this is a worthy contribution to the nonfiction shelves.
(bibliography, source notes, photographs)
(Graphic nonfiction. 10 & up)
“Anyone who reads the Torah will see that a lot of it doesn’t make sense,” Ehrlich writes in her introduction. “It is repetitive, inconsistent, even contradictory.” Oddly enough, though, a writer who’s skeptical about the Bible turns out to be the perfect person to translate it.
This Bible begins: “At the beginning, the earth was wild and empty….” She’s changed the traditional phrasing just enough that some readers will find it more approachable, and others will find it surprising and unfamiliar. She describes Moses’ basket as “a little ark of papyrus,” reminding readers of how much danger the baby was in, floating in the middle of the Nile. Nevins’ paintings may also change the way people think about the text. When Jacob wrestles an angel, the two of them look almost like one being. The pictures seem to be painted with more colors than exist in nature. They glow. Not every word of the Bible has been included, the text having been pared down to a series of interconnected stories. The book of Numbers is suddenly much shorter and much sadder, consisting of a sobering numbering of the dead. Even readers who are not at all skeptical about the Bible may find that they need this version; it’s so beautiful and new.
Ehrlich’s transcendent verse translation renders these familiar stories as shocking, perplexing and remarkably compelling—just as they always have been.
(map, genealogy, endnotes)
An engaging biography of the man who “snatched lightning from the sky and the scepter from tyrants.”
Benjamin Franklin ran away from his apprenticeship in Boston and arrived in Philadelphia a tired, dirty and hungry 17-year-old who impressed 15-year-old Deborah Read, his future wife, as a young man with a “most awkward ridiculous appearance.” With characteristic grace, Freedman sketches his subject’s career: Franklin settled into life in Philadelphia and became a printer, first publishing Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1733. Franklin led the Junto, which fostered such civic improvements as America’s first lending library, lighting Philadelphia’s streets, and founding the firefighting company, the first hospital and Philadelphia’s first college. By age 44, Franklin was prosperous enough to retire from business, but he continued to be busy, inventing bifocals, the lightning rod and the Franklin stove. He was active in the creation of a new nation, signing all of the major documents that created the United States. Freedman is a master at shaping stories that bring history to life, with clear and lively prose rooted in solid research. The stylish volume includes many reproductions of portraits, engravings, and newspaper and almanac pages to enliven the fascinating portrait of Franklin and his times.
A superb addition to Freedman’s previous volumes on the Revolutionary period.
(timeline, source notes, picture credits, bibliography, index)
(Biography. 10 & up)
Frost explores the wide-ranging impact of wartime aggression through the intimate lens of two 12-year-old boys caught in the crossfire of the War of 1812.
Anikwa, a member of the Miami tribe hailing from Kekionga, often spends his days hunting and playing in the forest with James Gray, whose home is in the stockade near Fort Wayne. For centuries, Anikwa’s ancestors have lived in this area, and James’ family has enjoyed amicable relations with the Miami and other Native Americans with whom they exchange goods. While these differing communities have learned from and helped support each other through adverse conditions, British and American claims to the Indiana Territory near Fort Wayne force them to re-examine their relationship. As other tribes and thousands of American soldiers gather to fight to establish the border between Canada and the United States, Anikwa’s grandmother laments, “We can’t stop things from changing. I hope / the children will remember how our life has been,” foreshadowing how the boys’ friendship, which has always been able to bridge cultural and language gaps, will face unprecedented challenges. Frost deftly tells the tale through each boy’s voice, employing distinct verse patterns to distinguish them yet imbuing both characters with the same degree of openness and introspection needed to tackle the hard issues of ethnocentrism and unbridled violence.
Sensitive and smart: a poetic vista for historical insight as well as cultural awareness.
(Verse novel. 10-14)
Thirteen-year-old Paolo Crivelli dreams of being a hero in Nazi-occupied Florence.
It’s a tricky business living in an occupied city. The Allies are advancing from the south, Paolo’s father is missing (thought to be fighting for the Partisans), and the Crivelli family is caught between the Nazi occupiers and the sometimes ruthless Partisans. This first novel by acclaimed children’s picture-book writer and illustrator Hughes expertly captures the tension in the Crivelli home, as Rosemary tries to raise her two children and keep them safe while covertly supporting the Partisan cause. Not so easy with a son like Paolo, who risks sneaking out at night on his bicycle, looking for his own way to be a hero for the cause. There are plenty of heroes here, as layers of resistance to the Nazis are carefully delineated—the obvious bold resistance of the Partisans in the countryside, Rosemary’s agreement to house escaped prisoners of war in her cellar, a lifesaving tip from the captain of the local military police and even a sympathetic member of the Gestapo who conveniently finds nothing when searching the Crivellis’ cellar. The townspeople, a dog and even Paolo’s bicycle play a role in the resistance movement, though the dangers and the realities of war are always tangible in this fine novel.
A superb historical thriller.
(Historical fiction. 10-14)
Kephart has crafted a deeply satisfying tale that’s richly evocative of its time and place.
Playing masterfully with words, knitting them into new and deliciously expressive forms, Kephart’s story is one of loss and then redemption. William Quinn is only 14. With his father in the Cherry Hill prison and his genially wayward older brother, Francis, recently beaten to death by a brutal policeman, his mother has ground herself into unbearable, paralyzing grief, and the boy has to find a way to save them both. He has help from many: Career, his cheerfully ambitious best friend; Pearl, a good-hearted prostitute; Molly, a neighbor child who’s deeply smitten with Career; a wayward goat named Daisy; and the abiding memory of Francis. Gradually, William finds a way to make right some terrible wrongs that are only revealed at a perfectly measured pace. Stark, spare illustrations provide an effective counterpoint to the flowing, poetic language. Against the 1871 Philadelphia setting (five years before the related Dangerous Neighbors, 2010), a faultlessly depicted world of sound, energy and ample filth, the fully developed characters of William and Career are trapped in a bleakly hopeless situation. But they never fully give up hoping. Like the very best of historical fiction, this effort combines a timeless tale with a vividly recreated, fascinating world.
An outstanding and ultimately life-affirming tale.
(Historical fiction. 11 & up)
Siena’s ability to see glimpses of the past juxtaposed on the present intensifies when she moves to a house in Maine that is oddly familiar.
Her parents are focused on 3-year-old Lucca, who has stopped speaking. Siena feels responsible for Lucca’s silence and spends lots of time playing with him and hoping that he will talk. She also collects all sorts of found items that she deems abandoned. In Maine, she sees and hears members of the family who lived in her house during World War II. When she writes with an old pen found in the house, it produces not her handwriting, but that of Sarah, a girl from the earlier period. Even more astonishing, she seems to actually enter Sarah’s mind, seeing and feeling everything along with her. She also is able to share Sarah’s brother Joshua’s war experiences, which send him home psychologically damaged. Through a compassionate act of courage, Siena’s gift ultimately provides satisfying solutions for Sarah’s family and her own. LaFleur deftly handles the tale’s many layers, never allowing readers to get lost. Events and characters are fully developed and are completely believable, without any sense of contrivance. Tender and brave, Siena is a heroine to be admired.
Past meets present and all is well in this lovely and magical tale.
Introspective and accessible, this fictionalized history of a Jewish child surviving the Nazi occupation of France uses an elegant simplicity of language.
Odette, quite young, lives comfortably in a Paris apartment “on a cobblestone square / with a splashing fountain.” Watching a newsreel, she sees “soldiers march, / their legs and arms straight as sticks. / A funny-looking man with a mustache / shouts a speech.” The next day, she sees a Jewish-owned store with smashed windows. Mama and Papa are secular, but “[w]e are Polish Jews because / Mama’s and Papa’s parents and grandparents / in faraway Poland / are all Jews.” Papa joins the French army and is taken prisoner; yellow stars are assigned; Mama sends Odette out of Paris. For 2 1/2 years, Odette practices Catholicism in one village and then another, growing attached to religious ritual and the countryside. Macdonald’s free verse uses unadorned images: a blanket from Odette’s devoted (Christian) godmother; schoolchildren pounding out “La Marseillaise” on desks with their fists to drown out rowdy German soldiers; those same children rolling Odette in a thorn bush when they suspect her secret. Odette’s first-person voice matures subtly as she grows in age and in comprehension of the war’s horrors.
Based on the real Odette Meyers (nee Melspajz), this thoughtful, affecting piece makes an ideal Holocaust introduction for readers unready for death-camp scenes.
(timeline, historical photographs, author’s note)
(Historical verse fiction. 9-15)
A remarkable collection of documents paints a picture of the Klondike gold rush in vivid detail.
In 1897, two 20-something Yale grads, Stanley Pearce and Marshall Bond, were among the first to hear about the gold found in the Klondike. They quickly booked tickets on a ship, gathered food and equipment, and headed north, hoping to strike it rich. Their mining backgrounds and monetary help from their families gave them an edge over their fellow fortune seekers, but the obstacles were still enormous, as their letters make clear, including two months of grueling travel over mountain passes and down the Yukon River. Adding only transitional paragraphs, the authors skillfully arrange these letters plus diary entries, telegrams and Pearce’s articles for the Denver Republican to convey the men’s story in compelling, first-person voices. The attractive design incorporates intriguing pull-out quotes, maps, posters, documents and many well-chosen, captioned photographs, including one of Jack London, who camped near Pearce and Bond’s cabin. London, also mentioned in a diary entry, later kept in touch with Bond and based the fictional dog Buck on one of Bond’s dogs, making this an excellent companion to The Call of the Wild.
A memorable adventure, told with great immediacy.
(timeline, author’s notes, bibliography, resources)
(Nonfiction. 11 & up)
Napoli (Treasury of Greek Mythology, 2011) again challenges readers to regard the old gods in new ways.
The author provocatively explores the thesis that ancient Egyptian worship could be considered monotheistic, considering how closely intertwined the culture’s gods were in origins and natures. She introduces 17 major deities and a handful of minor ones in a mix of equally lively stories and exposition, beginning with Ra’s self-creation from the unchanging (“Boring, really”) waters of Nun. The divine council known as the Pesedjet convenes, and Usir (Osiris) is killed by Set but magically revived for one night with his beloved Aset (Isis). A final chapter introduces Imhotep, architect of the first pyramid, who was born human but later deified. Depicted in a flat, art-deco style but reminiscent of Leo and Diane Dillon’s figures in gravitas and richness of color and detail, deities and earthly creatures lend visual dimension to the mystical, larger-than-life grandeur of the stories as well as reflecting their more human griefs, jealousies and joys. Reinforcing a sense of otherness, Napoli uses the Egyptian forms of names throughout, though they are paired to their more recognizable Greek equivalents in running footers. To shed light on the mortal Egyptians, she intersperses boxed cultural notes, as well as chapters on mummification and “The Great Nile.”
Sumptuous of format, magisterial of content, stimulating for heart and mind both.
(map, timeline, gallery of deities, postscript discussion of sources, bibliography, index)
In this winsome, sparely spun graphic novel by Phelan (The Storm in the Barn, 2011), Henry Harrison gets a tantalizing taste of the outside world when a young Buster Keaton and more vacationing vaudevillians tumble into his small Michigan town.
The scene opens on a tranquil Muskegon street, with a glimpse of the suspender-sporting Henry sweeping up his dad’s hardware store. Strolling men in bowler hats, long-skirted women and a June 1908 calendar offer the initial whiff of an era long gone. Nothing like an elephant to shake things up! When the show people come to town one summer, nearby Bluffton springs to life, as does Henry’s yearslong infatuation with Buster Keaton, who, wincingly, was then best known as the tossed-around but indestructible “Human Mop.” Frame by frame, in pencil and watercolor, the artist captures the joys of lakeside summers of fishing, baseball and harmless pranks, all the while skillfully communicating the emotional intensity of youth. Despite the painful sense of longing the worldly Buster stirs up in Henry, a 1927 epilogue of sorts assures readers that Henry finds his own path in life…and his own special brand of show biz. An author’s note explains that the Actors’ Colony at Bluffton really did exist, from 1908 to 1938.
Thrilling—a spirited, poignant coming-of-age vignette and an intriguing window into a little-known chapter in vaudeville history.
(art not seen in full color)
(author’s note) (Graphic historical fiction. 9-12)
Rhodes’ book elegantly chronicles the hope of one 10-year-old girl seeking a bigger world in post–Civil War America.
When Chinese laborers arrive, Sugar finally believes in a world beyond River Road Plantation. In 1870, five years after the Emancipation Proclamation, many former slaves remain on their plantations—only now working for a bleak slave wage. Sugar was born into slavery on a sugar plantation and still lives there, feeling constricted and anything but free. To the complicated relationship she enjoys with the plantation owner’s son, Billy, is added another, with newly arrived “Chinamen” Bo/Beau and Master Liu. Most Americans are aware of the brutality of slavery, but few stop to consider that the abolition of slavery created a new turmoil for former slaves. How would they make a living? Rhodes exposes the reality of post–Civil War economics, when freed slaves vacated plantations, leaving former slave masters with a need for labor. In doing so, she illuminates a little-known aspect of the Reconstruction Era, when Chinese immigrants were encouraged to come to America and work alongside ex-slaves. Her prose shines, reading with a spare lyricism that flows naturally. All Sugar’s hurt, longing, pain and triumph shine through.
A magical story of hope from Coretta Scott King Honor winner Rhodes.
(Historical fiction. 8-12)
This stunning portrayal of early efforts to explore Canada’s Northwest Passage presents Rogers’ 1981 song in combination with glorious illustrations, historical commentary and a gallery of explorers.
Called Canada’s “other national anthem” by a former prime minister, Rogers’ well-known lyrics describe Sir John Franklin’s disastrous expedition of the 1840s, comparing it with the singer’s own travels across the country. Franklin’s ships became icebound. His men disappeared and may have resorted to cannibalism before starving to death. Nevertheless, the English explorer has been honored as the discoverer of the Northwest Passage. Today, with the ice diminished and Canada and other Arctic countries looking forward to a year-round shipping route, this history has become even more relevant. James supplies a timeline of exploration and an account of this failed journey that explain Rogers’ allusions, and, more strikingly, he illustrates the song’s various threads. With bold acrylic strokes and India-ink outlines, he paints scenes from the historical journey as well as the singer’s more modern one. Deep blues and whites predominate, and there is a sense of desolation. Oversized double-page spreads sometimes meld the explorers’ experiences with Rogers’ own. Panels depict the historical episodes. Both realistic and allusive, these images are as haunting as the song.
For U.S. readers, an illumination of a little-known history; for all Americans, a treasure.
(words and music, sources)
(Informational picture book. 8 & up)
The fascinating untold story of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, America’s first black paratroopers.
While white American soldiers battled Hitler’s tyranny overseas, African-Americans who enlisted to fight for their country faced the tyranny of racial discrimination on the homefront. Segregated from white soldiers and relegated to service duties and menial tasks, enlisted black men faced what Ashley Bryan calls in the foreword “the racism that was our daily fare at the time.” When 1st Sgt. Walter Morris, whose men served as guards at The Parachute School at Fort Benning, saw white soldiers training to be paratroopers, he knew his men would have to train and act like them to be treated like soldiers. Daring initiative and leadership led to the creation of the “Triple Nickles.” Defying the deeply ingrained stereotypes of the time, the Triple Nickles proved themselves as capable and tough as any white soldiers, but they were never used in combat, serving instead as smoke jumpers extinguishing Japanese-ignited forest fires in the Pacific Northwest. Stone’s richly layered narrative explores the cultural and institutional prejudices of the time as well as the history of African-Americans in the military. Her interviews with veterans of the unit provide groundbreaking insight. Among the archival illustrations in this handsomely designed book are drawings Bryan created while he served in World War II.
An exceptionally well-researched, lovingly crafted and important tribute to unsung American heroes.
(photographs, chronology, sources note, bibliography)
(Nonfiction. 10 & up)
A 10-year-old Choctaw boy recounts the beginnings of the forced resettlement of his people from their Mississippi-area homelands in 1830.
He begins his story with a compelling hook: “Maybe you have never read a book written by a ghost before. I am a ghost. I am not a ghost when this book begins, so you have to pay very close attention.” Readers meet Isaac, his family and their dog, Jumper, on the day that Treaty Talk changes everything. Even as the Choctaw prepare to leave their homes, Isaac begins to have unsettling visions: Some elders are engulfed in flames, and others are covered in oozing pustules. As Isaac and his family set out on the Choctaw Trail of Tears, these visions begin to come true, as some are burned to death by the Nahullos and others perish due to smallpox-infested blankets distributed on the trail. But the Choctaw barrier between life and death is a fluid one, and ghosts follow Isaac, providing reassurance and advice that allow him to help his family and others as well as to prepare for his own impending death. Storyteller Tingle’s tale unfolds in Isaac’s conversational voice; readers “hear” his story with comforting clarity and are plunged into the Choctaw belief system, so they can begin to understand it from the inside out.
The beginning of a trilogy, this tale is valuable for both its recounting of a historical tragedy and its immersive Choctaw perspective
. (Historical fiction. 8-12)
Readers will cheer the return of the three sisters who captured hearts in the Newbery Honor–winning One Crazy Summer (2010).
The sequel finds sisters Delphine, Vonetta and Fern returning to their Brooklyn home, full of excitement about visiting their mother in Oakland, Calif. The girls, especially Delphine, are also eager to begin a new school year. However, home is a little different: Their father has a girlfriend, the teacher Delphine had been eagerly expecting has exchanged places with one from Zambia, and their beloved Uncle Darnell is returning home from Vietnam. But their favorite singing group, the Jackson Five, is coming to town, too. With the help of their father’s girlfriend, Miss Hendrix, the girls set out to save to attend the concert. Through all of their experiences, Delphine uses her new connection with her mother to understand things, questioning, challenging and reaching for a mother’s guidance. Whenever she pushes a bit too hard, Cecile’s tart, repeated advice to “be eleven”—even when she turns 12—resonates. Williams-Garcia’s skilled writing takes readers to a deeper understanding of Delphine as she grows up and is forced to watch her family take a new shape. Disappointments are not glossed over, even when they involve heartbreaking betrayal.
This thoughtful story, told with humor and heart, rings with the rhythms and the dilemmas of the ’60s through characters real enough to touch.
(Historical fiction. 9-14)