“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!
Waiting for Pumpsie
Author: Barry Wittenstein
Illustrator: London Ladd
Published February 21st, 2017 by Charlesbridge Publishing
Summary: In 1959 the Boston Red Sox was the last team in the Major Leagues to integrate. But when they call Elijah “Pumpsie” Green up from the minors, Bernard is overjoyed to see a black player on his beloved home team. And, when Pumpsie’s first home game is scheduled, Bernard and his family head to Fenway Park. Bernard is proud of Pumpsie and hopeful that this historic event is the start of great change in America.
This fictionalized account captures the true story of baseball player Pumpsie Green’s rise to the major leagues. The story is a snapshot of the Civil Rights Movement and a great discussion starter about the state of race relations in the United States today.
About the Author: Barry Wittenstein has tended bar, driven a taxi, worked at CBS Records and CBS News back in the day, spent a decade writing music and lyrics, toiled six years as a web editor and writer for Major League Baseball, and three years as a substitute elementary school teacher. He could be Walter Mitty’s brother.
Barry loves to write narrative nonfiction picture books. He is the author of Waiting for Pumpsie and The Boo-Boos That Changed the World. In 2019, he will publish two more nonfiction picture books—Sonny’s Bridge, about the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins; and A Place to Land (with illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney) about how Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech. He is currently working on a YA novel. He lives in New York City with his wife. To learn more, and to download free curriculum guides, visit his website: https://onedogwoof.
“A grand slam” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Bernard’s conversational narration creates a warm bond with readers from the get-go, and although Wittenstein and Ladd never sugarcoat instances of racial prejudice, the story’s moments of triumph sound the loudest notes.” — Publisher’s Weekly
“This uplifting account of a family and the integration of Boston baseball will be inspiring to many youngsters.” — School Library Journal
“This picture book contributes to children’s understanding of America’s past, while telling a good story”— Booklist
Kellee’s Review: This story was one that is new to me, and as a baseball fan and interested in social justice history, I found it so fascinating! Like the author’s note suggests, the history of baseball integration has been skewed in its telling over time because it does seem to those ignorant in the history that Jackie Robinson started up, fought the racial prejudice, then everyone was integrated; however, Pumpsie’s story shows us that this false truth is far from the truth. I really love that the author took something he did not know about and wrote a book to share the story with an audience.
The author and illustrator told Pumpsie’s story from the point of view of a young Red Sox fan named Bernard and his anticipation for a Black baseball player on the team he loves and how one player can change the morale of fans.
Ricki’s Review: This is a wonderful book. My family is divided (half Yankees fans and half Red Sox fans), and yet, no one seemed to mind that this story featured Pumpsie, a Red Sox player. He isn’t one of the more famous, well-known Red Sox players, but he truly should be. This book gives careful insight into Pumpsie, his career, and his struggles, and readers will see layers of topics—even beyond baseball and equity. The illustrations and dialogue bring readers right to the stadium and field during the time period. My older son had a lot of questions as we read the book, and it felt good to navigate such a richly complex text with him. This is a must-have for libraries. It offers great themes to be discussed in the classroom setting, and students will be interested in this piece of our history. Also, it makes for a great read aloud. We were roaring right along with the stadium. 🙂
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are so many different ways that this story can be integrated into a classroom setting! First and foremost, it is a fantastic read aloud. The narrative will suck students in and will lead to some great discussion. Additionally, it could be used in equity discussions when looking at the history of the fight for equal rights. Lastly, I can definitely see this picture book being an asset in a baseball history book clubs/lit circles.
- Why was Pumpsie’s debut so important to Bernard?
- How does Pumpsie’s story change how baseball integration is traditionally told?
- How does Pumpsie’s story fit into a bigger story of Civil Rights in the United States?
- Other than baseball and equity, what other topics does this text touch on?
- Who did the prejudice man in the stands represent within the larger world?
Read This If You Love: I am Jackie Robinson by Brad Meltzer, Henry Aaron’s Dream by Matt Tavares, Baseball Is… by Louise Borden, Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss, Something to Prove by Robert Skead, Silent Star by Bill Wise
**Thank you to Blue Slip Media and Charlesbridge for providing copies for review and giveaway!**
Searching for Lottie
Author: Susan L. Ross
Publication Date: February 26th, 2019 by Holiday House
Summary: Lottie, a talented violinist, disappears during the Holocaust. Can her grand-niece, Charlie, discover what happened?
A long-lost cousin, a mysterious locket, a visit to Nana Rose in Florida, a diary written in German, and a very special violin all lead twelve-year-old Charlie to the truth about her great-aunt Lottie in this intriguing, intergenerational mystery. 12-year-old middle schooler Charlie, a budding violinist, decides to research the life of her great-aunt and namesake for a school ancestry project. Everyone in Charlie’s family believes Great-Aunt Charlotte (Lottie), a violin prodigy, died at the hands of the Nazis, but the more Charlie uncovers about her long-lost relative, the more muddied Great-Aunt Lottie’s story becomes. Could it be that Lottie somehow survived the war by hiding in Hungary? Could she even still be alive today? In Searching for Lottie, Susan Ross has written a highly personal work of historical fiction that is closely inspired by her own family members whose lives were lost in the Holocaust.
About the Author: Susan Ross grew up in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine, and divides her time between Connecticut and Maine. She attended Brown University and NYU School of Law.
After practicing law, Susan taught legal writing in Brooklyn and in Budapest, and creative writing to kids and adults in Connecticut. She especially loves author visits. There is nothing Susan enjoys more than hanging out in a classroom talking to students about her books and teaching kids about writing and literature!
Kiki and Jacques was inspired by the experience of Somali refugees who moved to Susan’s hometown in Maine. Susan worked with refugee teenagers in writing the book and was greatly moved by their amazing positive energy and hopeful determination.
Searching for Lottie was inspired by stories from members of Susan’s family, whose lives were forever changed by the Holocaust.
Susan teaches writing at Westport Writers Workshop and is a trustee at the Westport Library.
Review: I think historical fiction is one of the most important genres because it makes us relive history in ways that we never could without story. Searching for Lottie is interesting because it is contemporary but also includes a historical narrative as Charlie learns more and more about Lottie. This makes it a great choice for students who may not like historical fiction but are interested in history.
I am also a fan of Susan Ross’s writing because she does a fabulous job taking a tough subject and writing a middle grade novel that gives an introduction to the topic without being too mature but also while not sugar coating it. It is so important to have middle grade books for our students that show the real world in an appropriate yet real way.
And it really helps that the stories are interesting and many kids will connect with the conflicts and events the characters take part in.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Searching for Lottie is inspired by true events, specifically those of Susan’s family. She shares much on her website including this background information:
Charlotte Kulka (called Lotte — in English, “Lottie”) was my mother’s teenage cousin. She lived in Prague with her father, a doctor. Her mother passed away when she was little. Tragically, Charlotte and her father both perished, but her beloved aunt, my Cousin Vally Szemere, survived with false papers in Budapest. Vally boarded with a Catholic family who protected her and they became lifelong friends. My middle name was given in Lotte’s memory.
Another relative, Magda Szemere, was a famous young violin soloist in Europe before she, too, was arrested and forever disappeared. I wrote about my bittersweet delight at finding her music in the essay, “Sweet Strings of Sorrow.”
In doing the research for this book, I discovered to my astonishment that her music had been preserved on gramophone recordings and remains available in music archives.
My mother’s cousin, Magda Krizan, survived the war posing as a model and nanny in Hungary — and was a member of the resistance. She escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia with her husband in 1968 and came to America.
My mother, Erika Lencz, escaped Vienna in 1938 with her brother, Erwin. She was twenty years old. My grandparents and nearly all of the rest of her family were lost. Mom worked in a pillow factory in Brooklyn and as a nanny before settling down in Maine with my father, where she ran our family wedding gown shop and had five children.”
Visit http://www.authorsusanross.com/about-searching-for-lottie/ to listen to the recording and view photos.
This information along with Charlie’s project in the book makes me want to ask students to learn about their family (remember to have a plan for any adopted, foster, or other kids with no access to family history!).
Parts of the story also would be a great addition to an orchestra classroom as Charlie and Lottie write about different pieces, specifically the music journal that Lottie kept.
Finally, as with most historical fiction novels, this story would be a fantastic jumping off point for inquiry in the classroom about our world’s past.
- After listening to the pieces that Charlie and Lottie share in the book, which piece is your favorite?
- What other ways did Jews and other ostracized humans escape Nazi-occupied territory during World War II?
- What traits did Charlie show when researching her namesake?
- How did the research change her relationship with her brother?
- Using evidence from the text, how can you tell that Charlie loves music?
Flagged Passages: “‘Lottie was Nana’s sister, right?’
‘Yes, Lottie was several years older. Your nana told me how clever she was; how determined…just like you.’ Mom smiled. ‘And here’s another thing you two have in common–Lottie played the violin. In fact, Lottie played so beautifully that she performed with the Vienna Philharmonic when she was a teenage.’
‘Seriously?’ That was a weird coincidence. Violin was her thing, too. Charlie had begged her parents for lessons when she was still in kindergarten. She’d always loved music, and she liked pop and hip-hop as much as any kid at Hillmont Middle School…but there was something about classical that made her heart skip. She could lose herself in a symphony in a strange way that she never tried to explain to her friends. Only her best friend, Sarah, understood that feeling, but Sarah had moved to Boston over the summer…
‘What else do you know about Lottie?’
‘Well, the family was from Vienna, the capital of Austria. Her father was a math professor at the university.’
‘And…what exactly happened to them.’
Mom hesitated, then let out a long sigh. ‘Honestly, I’m not entirely certain. When the Germans invaded Austria, the Jews were at the mercy of the Nazis. I know that Lottie was lost, along with my grandfather. My grandmother and Nana Rose were lucky to escape. They came to America on a ship.’
‘So Lottie died…right?’ Charlie swallowed hard.
‘Yes, I guess she must have.’ Mom looked uncomfortable.
‘You guess? You don’t know for sure?’ Charlie sat up straight. She searched her mother’s blank face and glanced down at the photo. Lottie’s eyes were bright, with long dark lashes, and they were staring back up at her.
‘The truth is that nobody knows exactly what happened to Lottie…'” (p. 7-9)
Read This If You Love: Music, World War II historical fiction novels, History, Family
**Thank you to the author for providing a copy of the book for review!!**
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Published September 25th, 2018 by Scholastic Press
Summary: Before humans, and before human history, there were the apes.
Snub is a young gorilla, living in the heart what will eventually be known as Africa. She is jealous of her mother’s new baby . . . and restless in her need to explore. When a natural disaster shakes up her family, Snub finds herself as the guardian of her young sibling . . . and lost in a reshaped world.
Snub may feel orphaned, but she is not alone. There are other creatures stalking through the woods — a new form of predator, walking on two legs. One of their kind is also orphaned, and is taken in by Snub. But the intersection of the human world and the gorilla world will bring both new connections and new battles.
In his boldest work yet, two-time National Book Award finalist Eliot Schrefer shows us a riveting, heartbreaking early encounter between ape and man — told from the ape’s point of view. It is a journey unlike any other in recent literature.
About the Author: Eliot Schrefer is a New York Times-bestselling author, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. In naming him an Editor’s Choice, the New York Times has called his work “dazzling… big-hearted.” He is also the author of two novels for adults and four other novels for children and young adults. His books have been named to the NPR “best of the year” list, the ALA best fiction list for young adults, and the Chicago Public Library’s “Best of the Best.” His work has also been selected to the Amelia Bloomer List, recognizing best feminist books for young readers, and he has been a finalist for the Walden Award and won the Green Earth Book Award and Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. He lives in New York City, where he reviews books for USAToday.
Praise: “Scientific accuracy paired with lyrical, subjective language describing the young gorilla’s impressions of her surroundings and bodily needs make this book an imaginative, eloquent evocation of a little-known era in prehistory from an animal’s viewpoint. A plausibly authentic account skillfully avoiding risk of excessive anthropomorphism.” – Kirkus Reviews
Review: What a fascinating book! Orphaned is so different than Schrefer’s other novels but in a way that is new and so well done. Where Endangered, Rescued, and Threatened were about humans interacting with apes in a contemporary setting, Orphaned is about apes interacting with early humans in a pre-historic setting. There is no book like this! And it is done beautifully.
When we visited virtually with Eliot Schrefer he shared with us that the story was originally told in prose but his editor, David Levithan, pointed out to him that apes, though intelligent, would not think the way that Eliot writes prose. That their thoughts would be focused on immediate needs and would lack in descriptive and fluffy language. He then completely rewrote the story in verse and WOW! Snub’s voice is perfect.
While I originally thought that the point of view and setting would make the story a challenge, but it was the contrary–it made it just that more interesting!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: What a great mentor text for point of view and setting! Have students write a story with an animals main character in an interesting setting. Then have them change from prose to verse to hone in on the point of view of the animal and make sure they are including the setting as a main aspect of the story.
- How does the inclusion of the ape “language” help with the realism of the story?
- Why do you think the author included the illustrations of what apes were currently in the story at the top of the page?
- How did the change from prose to verse storytelling impact the way the story was perceived?
- How do you think the early humans perceived the gorillas when they interacted with them?
- How does the point of view shape this story?
- How did the eruption change the life of the gorillas and early humans?
- How are gorillas and early humans similar and different?
“Central Eastern Africa
600,000 Years Ago
Until this time, gorillas lived by the millions in a broad band of jungle across Africa. Then a series of volcanic eruptions, many times more foreful than any the modern world has experience, occurred in the Great Rift Valley. The shift in landscape allowed tribes of early humans to travel south into this area for the first time.
It would be the first meeting between ape and human.
Part One: Home
Snub looks between the two, thinking.
This tree keeps its nuts high in its branches–
a fallen one is a lucky treat.
She imagines rolling the inside nugget in her mouth,
biting its oily flesh.
Tongue between her teeth, brow scrunched,
she raps the rock on top of the nut.
It does not crack.
She licks the rock.
The rock tastes like rock.
She licks the nut.
The nut tastes like dirt.
Snub twists the woody halves.
They will not part.
Opening nuts is Mother’s job,
but Mother let Snub go off alone.
Fresh fury surges.
Snub hurts the nut, aiming
at a pair of magpies.
It goes wide and disappears into the foliage.
Snub looks to see if anyone has
been impressed by her rage.
But this only reminds her:
Her family is not here.”
Read This If You Love: The Ape Quartet books #1-3, Early humans, Gorillas
A Perilous Journey of Danger & Mayhem: A Dastardly Plot
Author: Christopher Healy
Published September 25th, 2018
Summary: It is 1883—the Age of Invention! A time when great men like Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Nicola Tesla, and George Eastman work to turn the country into a mechanical-electrical-
Unless, of course, you’re a woman.
Molly Pepper, daughter of brilliant but unknown inventor Cassandra Pepper, lives with her mother in New York. By day, they make ends meet running a small pickle shop; but by night, they toil and dream of Cassandra shattering the glass ceiling of the Inventors Guild and taking her place among the most famous inventors in America. In an attempt to find a way to exhibit Cassandra’s work at the 1883 World’s Fair, they break into the Inventors Guild—and discover a mysterious and dastardly plot to destroy New York. The evidence points to the involvement of one of the world’s most famous inventors, and now it’s up to Molly, Cassandra, and a shop hand named Emmett Lee to uncover the truth—even if no one will ever know it was they who did it.
Christopher Healy, author of the acclaimed Hero’s Guide series, returns with the first book in a rip-roaring adventure about the inventors history remembers—and more than a few that it’s forgotten.
About the Author: Christopher Healy is the author of The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, as well as its two sequels, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle and The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw. Before becoming a writer, he worked as an actor, an ad copywriter, a toy store display designer, a fact-checker, a dishwasher, a journalist, a costume shop clothing stitcher, a children’s entertainment reviewer, and a haunted house zombie. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, two children, and a dog named Duncan. You can visit him online at www.christopherhealy.com
“A zany, rollicking series opener.”– Kirkus Reviews
“Plot twists and banter hit at breakneck speeds in this heartfelt yet tongue-in-cheek look at the tumultuous Age of Invention, and its focus on two often marginalized groups—immigrants and women—allows for relevant social commentary.”– Publishers Weekly
“Healy has created a steampunk-inspired alternative history featuring some of the greatest minds in invention (including a number of women) in this series opener. A solid choice for adventurous readers.”– Booklist
“Christopher Healy, author of the Hero’s Guide series knows how to tell a good story. He’s done it again with the adventures of a determined girl named Molly Pepper.”– Brightly
Review: This is the exact book the world needed! Our traditionally told history is lacking in all things diversity because it was told by bias individuals who left out people who made huge differences despite their gender or race. I love that Christopher Healy was able to take this fact, show the ridiculousness of lack of great female minds being included in history and create this book filled with humor, adventure, heart, and a bit of history. He also includes prejudice against immigrants in the story in a way that will make any reader realize how undeserving these humans just looking for a life are of this prejudice.
Now starting my review that way may make you think that the book is preachy or boring, but it is anything but. Right from the beginning, you want to see if Cassandra and her brilliant inventions will ever be acknowledged and if they are going to be able to stop New York from being destroyed. Now throw in deceit from men the Peppers and Emmett trust, inventions of all sorts, a gang of men trying to kill whomever get in their way, and a group of brilliant women who won’t let anything stop them, and you will get this crazy adventure of Molly’s and Emmett’s.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Although the book is fiction, much of what is included is shrouded in fact. The author includes “What’s Real and Not…” in the back matter which allows for inquiry into the historical elements of the story. This also allows teachers to see what parts of the story include more fact than fiction and different aspects could be pulled out when learning about the different historical elements.
- What part of the books were historical and what parts were fiction?
- Would you consider the book historical fiction or science fiction or steam punk?
- What invention would you want to make?
- Research Edison. Do you think he deserves as much recognition as he gets?
- Research the World’s Fair. Why do we not have them anymore?
- Which deceitful events in the story surprised you? Were your predictions correct?
- How did meeting Emmett and the MOI change Molly’s life trajectory?
- Other than for entertainment, why do you think the author chose to write this story?
Read This If You Love: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin by Elinor Teele, Explorers: Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress
Don’t miss out on the other blog tour stops!
|24-Sep||Novel Novice Post by Christopher Healy||https://novelnovice.com/|
|25-Sep||A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust||http://www.foodiebibliophile.com/|
|27-Sep||Teach Mentor Texts||http://www.teachmentortexts.com|
|28-Sep||Novel Novice Review||https://novelnovice.com/|
|1-Oct||The Flashlight Reader||http://www.theflashlightreader.com/|
|2-Oct||Nerdy Book Club||https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/|
|3-Oct||Novel Novice Q and A with Chris||https://novelnovice.com/|
**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing copies for review and giveaway!**
Journey of the Pale Bear
Author: Susan Fletcher
Publication Date: October 2nd, 2018 by McElderry Books
Summary: The polar bear is a royal bear, a gift from the King of Norway to the King of England. The first time Arthur encounters the bear, he is shoved in her cage as payback for stealing food. Restless and deadly, the bear terrifies him. Yet, strangely, she doesn’t harm him—though she has attacked anyone else who comes near. That makes Arthur valuable to the doctor in charge of getting the bear safely to London. So Arthur, who has run away from home, finds himself taking care of a polar bear on a ship to England.
Tasked with feeding and cleaning up after the bear, Arthur’s fears slowly lessen as he begins to feel a connection to this bear, who like him, has been cut off from her family. But the journey holds many dangers, and Arthur knows his own freedom—perhaps even his life—depends on keeping the bear from harm. When pirates attack and the ship founders, Arthur must make a choice—does he do everything he can to save himself, or does he help the bear to find freedom?
About the Author: SUSAN FLETCHER is the acclaimed author of the Dragon Chronicles as well as the award-winning Alphabet of Dreams, Shadow Spinner, Walk Across the Sea, and Falcon in the Glass. Ms. Fletcher lives in Bryan, Texas. To read about the fascinating story behind the inspiration for Journey of the Pale Bear, visit her website, SusanFletcher.com
Praise: ★”A stupendous coming-of-age tale stuffed with adventure and laced with deeper questions.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Review: When I first read about this book it sounded pretty good, enough for me to pick it up, but it was SO GOOD! Like so good that even though it was a school week, I read it in 2 days!
First, it takes place in a time period that is hardly ever in books which is fascinating. I found myself looking up some of the history that was mentioned in the book, but the author did a great job of making sure that not knowing about the details of the time period wouldn’t effect the reading experience.
Second, it looks at animal treatment and truly makes you think about how an animal feels when it is put in captivity. Although told only in a realistic manner, the animal is such an integral part of the story that its behaviors are shared in detail allowing it to become a full character within the book.
Third, did you know there used to be a menagerie in the Tower of London? Me neither! But that took me down a suck hole of Google research. So fascinating!
Fourth, wow! The adventure is EPIC: sailing, bullies, pirates, shipwrecks, storms. It never stops!
So in review: Fascinating, thought-provoking, curious, and action-packed. All in all, a book I truly recommend and enjoyed.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The main home for this book will be in libraries; however, I can definitely see portions of it being used in classrooms.
- First, I could see it being used during a history lesson to discuss the politics and war shared in the book.
- Second, there are so many scenes that could be pulled out as mentor texts for writing. I’ll share some of my favorites below.
- Third, I would love to see some creative writing done from the bear’s point of view.
- Fourth, it is a fascinating look at animal treatment and how it has (and has not) changed over the years.
But in the end, it belongs in kids’ hands! Get it there!
- Why did Arthur agree to take care of the bear?
- What examples throughout the book show that the bear loved and trusted Arthur?
- What does the whole story of a polar bear being sent from Norway to England show you about the respect of animals during the time period of the novel?
- How did Arthur’s involvement make the bear’s life better?
- Do you believe that the doctor cared about Arthur as he said he did? Explain.
- How did Arthur earn the respect of the sailors on the ship?
“Its eyes, small and dark, were alert, curious, aware. I felt the faint stirring of its breath against my cheeks. I drew in the rich, ripe scent of bear until I seemed to sink down below the surface of it, drowning. From somewhere far away I heard Hauk and the lantern boy arguing, but the sounds fell away behind the throbbing in my ears and the thrill of the running-hum in my limbs.
The bear rumbled deep in its throat.
I rose to my feet, stepped back, and felt the iron bars press cold against me. I kept my eyes fixed on the pale, wide face, as if the force of my gaze could prevent the bear from lunging at me with its enormous paws or raking me with is claws–claws that I could see out of the corner of my eyes, massive claws, claws from a nightmare of monsters.” (Chapter 3)
“Before we saw the bear, we heard her—a heavy rhythmic read, a thump, a clang. Beyond the reek of fish, I sniffed out the feral musk of her.
We crept through the dark warehouse–the doctor, the captain, and I–until I made out a large, pale, moving form in the deep gloom ahead. The doctor motioned us to stop, and we watched from behind a stack of crates and bales. The bear was as tall as a pony, longer than a caribou, and as wide as two bulls. Back and forth she paced in her cage, and back and forth again, her head swinging side to side on her long neck, the convex bow of her snout lending her an air of nobility. The bear-smell now filled the air, and the stench of dung as well. A surge of fear rose up in me, turning my bones and sinews to liquid.” (Chapter 6)
Read This If You Love: Seekers by Erin Hunter, The Vanishing Islands by Barry Wolverton, Pirates! by Celia Rees, The Ravenmaster’s Secret by Elvira Woodruff
**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review and McElderry Books for providing a copy for giveaway!**
Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968
Author: Alice Faye Duncan
Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie
Publication Date September 11th, 2018 by Calkins Creek
Summary: This historical fiction picture book presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed […]
Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968
Author: Alice Faye Duncan
Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie
Publication Date September 11th, 2018 by Calkins Creek
Summary: This historical fiction picture book presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final stand for justice before his assassination–when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest.
In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this unfortunately would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Mason Temple Church. Inspired by the memories of a teacher who participated in the strike as a child, author Alice Faye Duncan reveals the story of the Memphis sanitation strike from the perspective of a young girl with a riveting combination of poetry and prose.
About the Creators:
Alice Faye Duncan is the author of multiple children’s books, including Honey Baby Sugar Child, which received an NAACP Image Award Nomination for Outstanding Literary Work for Children. She is a librarian in Memphis and is a National Board Certified Educator.
R. Gregory Christie has illustrated more than fifty books for young adults and children. His work has won a Caldecott Honor, a New York Times 10 Best Illustrated Children’s Books of the Year Award (two times), the Coretta Scott King Honor in Illustration (three times), the NAACP’s Image Award, the Boston Globe-Horn BookAward, and the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. He currently operates his store of autographed children’s books, GAS-ART Gifts, in Decatur, Georgia.
★ “Duncan creates 9-year-old Lorraine Jackson to tell the full story of the Memphis sanitation strike of 1968. The author’s choice to not focus on the singular efforts of King but on the dedicated efforts of community signals a deeply important lesson for young readers. Strong historical details back up the organizing feat…(t)he narrative is set in vignettes that jump between verse and prose, set against Christie’s bold paintings… encapsulates the bravery, intrigue, and compassion that defined a generation, presenting a history that everyone should know: required and inspired.” – Kirkus Reviews, starred review
★“In this impressive picture book, a character inspired by an African American family involved in the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike tells her first-person account of the experience in verse and prose. Each full-page spread functions as a chapter with…informative back matter (which)…includes a time line and source notes. The excellent gouache art is typical of Christie’s distinctive and impactful style, with impressionistic images set on pages saturated with shades of blue, yellow, or orange. Most gratifyingly, the determination of the characters and the import of this part of history are imbued with dignity throughout.” – Booklist, starred review
Review: I was lucky enough to hear Alice Faye Duncan speak about this book. As a librarian, she wanted to tell this story, and, if I remember correctly, she wrote many different versions of this story. And when Boyd Mills Press first acquired her story, she once again revised the text. And wow! I am so happy that she kept going because the book which she, with R. Gregory Christie’s absolutely beautiful illustrations, created a brilliant picture book.
It wasn’t until I read Chasing King’s Killer that I knew the whole story about why Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis at the time he was assassinated. Thirty-six years old is too late to learn about the last fight that MLK was able to stand behind. The story is written in vignettes in a first-person point of view of a Memphis resident who was nine at the time of the sanitation strikes. With the past look, it allowed Duncan’s character to have insight into things a nine-year-old may not while also being able to give a first hand account. The mixture led to a historical narrative filled with emotion and truths.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use this book. However it works in your classroom. It can be used in a history, reading, writing, or art lesson. Or the text for all of the above. The writing, art, and history in this book is one that needs to be shared.
- Lorraine is our main character. How could you change the title to show her part of the story?
- How did the author intertwine Lorraine’s and MLK’s stories to tell this story?
- Why did the sanitation workers strike in Memphis is 1968?
- How does a first person point of view differ the text versus a third person?
- As a class, take a historical event and create a multi-format book about the event.
Read This If You Love: Be a King by Carole Boston Weatherford, Chasing King’s Killer by James L. Swanson, Books (historical fiction or nonfiction) about the Civil Rights Movement
**Thank you to Workman Publishing for providing copies for review!**
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