“Why Mix Fantasy and History?”
The Ghosts of Ordinary Objects series is a bit hard to categorize. Set in a small Appalachian coal mining community in 1942, both Bone’s Gift and the newest book, Lingering Echoes, mix history with a bit of folklore, mystery, and fantasy/magical realism. Just as her little […]
“Why Mix Fantasy and History?”
The Ghosts of Ordinary Objects series is a bit hard to categorize. Set in a small Appalachian coal mining community in 1942, both Bone’s Gift and the newest book, Lingering Echoes, mix history with a bit of folklore, mystery, and fantasy/magical realism. Just as her little community is being changed by World War II, Bone Phillips (12) is going through some changes of her own. She’s coming into her Gift, as her Mamaw calls it. Many people in her family have special ability, or Gift. Bone’s is the ability to see the ghosts—or stories—inside ordinary objects. And she needs to use her Gift—which she’s none too happy about—to solve a few mysteries. Why mix fantasy, mystery, and/or magical realism with history (or vice versa), particularly with middle grade readers?
Lately, I’ve been asked this question a lot! My answer has a few parts. First, these are the kind of stories I love. I adore stories that mix genres, such as fantasy and history (or even alternate history) Think The Book Thief, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, The Night Circus, The Discovery of Witches, or the Golem and the Jinni. When I was much younger, I devoured everything Anne Rice or Chelsea Quinn Yarbro wrote. And I started those books for the magicians, witches, and vampires but stayed for the history–much like today’s middle grade readers do.
Secondly, several teachers and librarians have told me they appreciate these series for this very reason. Many kids might not pick up a straight historical novel—but they would devour one that had a mystery, fantastical, and/or scary element. In Lingering Echoes, for instance, Bone has to use her Gift to solve the mystery of an object—in this case a jelly jar—that has a power all its own. All around her, though, World War II is being waged on the home front as well as in battlefields far away. Hopefully, readers will come for the fantasy and mystery and stay for the history!
But, finally, fantasy isn’t just something to draw the readers in. For me, fantasy (and science fiction, too) is essential to what I like to read and write. Fantasy explores and evokes a sense of wonder, which we all desperately need. Children are born with that sense of wonder, a mixture of curiosity and awe about the world. As we get older, though, we tend to lose that sense. And that process of de-wonderfication (just made that up!) starts in the middle grade years. (At least, I think it does.) So, I like to mix fantasy with history (and vice versa) to remind readers (and myself) that magic can even be found in the ghosts of ordinary places, past and present.
Note: On my website, I have a number of lesson plans and activities as well as historical info for teachers and librarians: https://www.angiesmibert.com/blog/?page_id=1861
Read about Bone’s Gift at http://www.unleashingreaders.com/?p=15806.
Summary: Bone has a Gift. When she touches certain objects, images wash over her, and she sees stories—the joyful, surprising, or even terrifying events that occurred as someone gripped those objects.
So when Bone’s best friend, Will, brings her an object unlike any other Bone has encountered, he asks her to tell him its story. It’s the jelly jar he inherited from his father—the same jelly jar his father clutched during the coal-mining cave-in that killed him.
Bone only has to put her hand near the jar to feel the strange power in it, to see flashes of her friend—who has been mute for as long as she can remember—talking with his dad. And when Will opens the empty jar, sounds float out.
This jar isn’t just a witness to history; it’s something more, something dangerous. Could it have a Gift of its own? In this second haunting installment of The Ghosts of Ordinary Objects series, Bone must use her wits and her Gift not only to uncover the truth but to make sure Will isn’t sucked away by long-forgotten memories.
About the Author: Angie is the author of the middle grade historical fantasy series, Ghosts of Ordinary Objects, which includes Bone’s Gift (2018), Lingering Echoes (2019), and The Truce (2020). She’s also written three young adult science fiction novels: Memento Nora, The Forgetting Curve, and The Meme Plague. In addition to numerous short stories, she’s published over two dozen science/technology books for kids. Angie teaches young adult and speculative fiction for Southern New Hampshire University’s creative writing M.F.A. program as well as professional writing for Indiana University East. Before doing all this, she was a science writer and web developer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. She lives in Roanoke with a goofy dog (named after a telescope) and two bickering cats (named after Tennessee Williams characters), and puts her vast store of useless knowledge to work at the weekly pub quiz.
This series is really a fascinating look at a the past with a dash of fantasy! Thank you, Angie, for this look into your creative process!
The Lost Girl
Author: Anne Ursu
Published February 12th, 2019 by Walden Pond Press
Summary: When you’re an identical twin, your story always starts with someone else. For Iris, that means her story starts with Lark. Iris has always been the grounded, capable, and rational one; Lark has been inventive, dreamy, and brilliant—and from their first moments in the world together, they’ve never left each other’s side. Everyone around them realized early on what the two sisters already knew: they had better outcomes when they were together.
When fifth grade arrives, however, it is decided that Iris and Lark should be split into different classrooms, and something breaks in them both. Iris is no longer so confident; Lark retreats into herself as she deals with challenges at school. And at the same time, something strange is happening in the city around them, things both great and small going missing without a trace. As Iris begins to understand that anything can be lost in the blink of an eye, she decides it’s up to her to find a way to keep her sister safe.
About the Author: Anne Ursu is the author of Breadcrumbs, named one of the best books of 2011 by Publishers Weekly and the Chicago Public Library, and The Real Boy, which was longlisted for the National Book Award. She is also a member of the faculty at Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Anne lives in Minneapolis with her family and an ever-growing number of cats. You can visit her online at www.anneursu.com.
“The Lost Girl is a jewel of a book—hard, bright, sharp, and precious. It reminds us of the boundless and subversive power of sisterhood and the inherent magic of girls.”—Kelly Barnhill, Newbery-Medal winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon
“I raced through The Lost Girl, breathless. And when I was finished, I found myself full of hope. It’s a beautiful, riveting, important book.”—Laurel Snyder, award-winning author of Orphan Island
“When the world makes no sense, I read books by Anne Ursu. When the world makes all the wrong kinds of sense, I read books by Anne Ursu. If you crave a story with the wit, wisdom, and magic to unriddle the world, then you need to read The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu.”—William Alexander, award-winning author of A Festival of Ghosts
“A beautiful, timeless tale of love conquering darkness in the midst of mystery and the angst of change. A must-have for any middle grade collection.” School Library Journal (starred review)
“This suspenseful mystery offers a story of empowerment, showing how one girl with the help of others can triumph.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“National Book Award nominee Ursu laces her story with fairy-tale elements and real-life monsters, while taking great care to cast girls in an empowering light and as authors (and heroes) of their own stories.” Booklist (starred review)
Review: Anne Ursu has a way of telling what seems like an ordinary tale and adding twists and turns that the reader does not expect but once you are on the narrative ride she has created, you never want to get off! And although I am always skeptical of magical realism, she does it in a way that just makes her books seem like realistic fiction that just happens to be bit magical, so it is hard not to buy in. In The Lost Girl, the story also is fascinating in the way that the author plays with the narrator/point of view as well as how she shapes both girls equally as the story moves between their narratives and shows the strengths and weaknesses in both. It is impossible to tell who the lost girl is and who is the ones saving because both sisters feel like they play a part in saving the other. I’m still thinking about responsibilities, love, and protection long after the book ended. You are going to love Lark and Iris and will root for both of them until you turn that final page.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are readers who need this book. There are kids that don’t feel like they belong in this world or kids who feel like they don’t mesh with others their own age or kids dealing with a huge change in their life. These are the kid who will need this book. They need the lost girl to guide them.
- Which of the twins is the lost girl?
- How did the crows play a part in the story?
- Without the magic in the story, how would everything have been different?
- What mistakes does Iris make in her decision making once the girls enter 5th grade?
- What lesson are the adults trying to teach the girls?
- How did the Club Awesome girls turn out differently than Iris assumed? What does this tell you about them? Iris?
- How are the sisters alike? Different?
Flagged Passages: “Once upon a time, there were two sisters, alike in every way, except for all the ways that they were different. Iris and Lark Maguire were identical twins, and people who only looked at the surface of things could not tell them apart. Same long busy black hair, same pale skin, same smattering of freckles around the cheeks, same bright hazel eyes and open face.
But Iris and Lark had no patience with people who only looked at the surface of things, when what lay beneath was the stuff that truly mattered.
Because the girls were identical, but not the same.
Iris was the one who always knew where she’d left her shoes. Iris was the one who could tell what the collective nouns were for different animals and that Minnesota was home to the world’s largest ball of twine. Iris always knew when her library books were due.
Lark always knew when their parents had been arguing. Lark could tell you what the consequences for stealing were in different fairy tales, and that the best bad guys had interesting back stories. Lark always knew which books she wanted to check out from the library next.
No they were not the same.” (p. 1-2)
Read This If You Love: The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, Watch Hollow by Greg Funaro, The Explorers by Adrienne Kress, Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner
Don’t miss out on the other stops in the blog tour!
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 1: Teach Mentor Texts
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2: About to Mock
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 3: Novel Novice
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4: Maria’s Melange
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5: A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 6: Bluestocking Thinking
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7: Kirsticall.com
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 8: Unleashing Readers
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 9: Book Monsters
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 10: Fat Girl Reading
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11: Word Spelunker
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12: Nerdy Book Club
**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy for review!**
The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X. R. Pan
Published: March 20, 2018 by Little, Brown
Goodreads Summary: Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.
Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.
Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.
My Review: I just finished discussing this book with my class, and they loved it. It is a bit of a longer book and moves somewhat slowly, but even my students who didn’t finish it in time insisted that I should use it again next year. The writing is absolutely stunning. Pan depicts humanity in ways that are very powerful. She integrates color and emotion to connect readers to the characters. We had two one-hour class periods to discuss this book, and there were so many things to talk about. Discussion was easy, and students made meaningful connections with the book. This book is simply unforgettable. I recommend it highly and hope it wins some awards in January!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My students said that they Googled the colors within the text as they read. We spent a lot of time talking about the colors as an effective writing tool. I asked students to think of a moment in their lives that they’d be willing to share. Then, I asked them to attach a color with the moment. They shared beautiful stories of working at drive-ins, meeting their SOs, visiting places with friends, etc. The colors they attached with the images were fascinating and made the stories come alive.
- How does the author incorporate magical realism in the text? Is it effective?
- Did Leigh and Axel’s relationship feel realistic to you? Why or why not?
- Which scenes are beautifully written, and how do they demonstrate excellent writing?
- Should we forgive Leigh’s father? Why might he make the decisions he makes?
We Flagged: “Once you figure out what matters, you’ll figure out how to be brave.”
Read This If You Loved: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, Miles Away From You by A. B. Rutledge, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
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