Most of us have heard the name Benedict Arnold, often used to describe a traitor. What did the man do to deserve such a reputation?
With engrossing narrative and riveting descriptions, Steve Sheinkin gives a full biography of the brilliant and brave yet violent and self-absorbed Benedict Arnold. How could the same man who heroically saved the American cause in Saratoga stoop so low as to jeopardize West Point and General George Washington?
Boys in particular who are looking for good “war stories” should enjoy this book. Note: Some swearing (pp.26-36).
Awards/Lists: Boston Globe – Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, 2011.
When his father is promoted to Commandant of Auschwitz Concentration Camp,
nine-year-old Bruno moves with his family from Berlin to “Out-With” .
Their new home overlooks the camp, so Bruno and his sister ask themselves, “Who are all those people wearing striped pajamas, and what are they doing there?”
Without his family’s knowledge, Bruno goes exploring and befriends a boy “from the other side of the fence.”
Most afternoons Bruno and Shmuel meet at the fence, away from patrolling soldiers, where they sit on the ground facing each other and talk.
Using Bruno’s innocent voice, the author raises important questions such as “Were the people different?” and “Who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?”
John Boyne, in the Author’s Notes, states:
I believed that the only respectful way for me to deal with this subject was through the eyes of a child, and particularly through the eyes of a rather naive child who couldn’t possibly understand the terrible things that were taking place around him. After all, only the victims and survivors can truly comprehend the awfulness of that time and place; the rest of us live on the other side of the fence, staring through from our own comfortable place, trying in our own clumsy ways to make sense of it all.
Ultimately, this book raises the issue of complacency in the face of evil.
Bruno’s father justifies his work based on his belief that the Jews were not people at all (p.53). He asks Bruno, “Do you think that I would have made such a succes of my life if I hadn’t learned when to argue and when to keep my mouth shut and follow orders?” (p.49)
Bruno’s mother takes frequent naps and “medicinal sherries.”
When Bruno tries to talk with the family’s maid about his feelings, she counsels him to “stay quiet . . . . We must all just keep ourselves safe . . . . What more can we do than that after all? It’s not up to us to change things.” (p.65)
Every generation faces its own evils.
While this book engages our emotions about the Holocaust, it should shake us awake from complacency about evil in our time.
In 1975, 10-year-old Hà flees Vietnam with her family as Saigon falls to the Communists.
Using a series of poems, Hà tells the story of her life from one Tê´t (first day of the lunar calendar) to the next.
She begins by describing her family’s life in Vietnam, including the day her father went missing while on a navy mission. Her story continues as her family flees to safety on a naval ship and finally relocates in Alabama.
This novel in verse is based on Thanhha Lai’s own experiences. In her author’s note she writes, “Aside from remembering facts, I worked hard to capture Hà’s emotional life.” This is what shines through and makes this Newbery Honor book so outstanding.
Sure to increase the reader’s empathy for refugees, this book is highly recommended for grades 4-6. The sparse novel in verse format should appeal to reluctant readers who are required to read a Newbery book.
Awards/Lists: Newbery Honor, 2012; Best Books of the Year 2011; National Book Award, 2011; Notable Children’s Books
Louie Zamperini, Olympic runner, joins the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941. As a bombadier aboard a B-24, he defies death and escapes enemy fire while flying dangerous missions. Nevertheless, the day comes when his plane goes down in the Pacific Ocean, and Louie must survive the terrors of the open waters as well as enemy-occupied land.
Never was there a more fitting title for a book. Louie’s spirit, from childhood on, was indomitable. Yet the unimaginable things he experienced during World War II brought him to the brink of destruction. Like many war veterans, his body returned from the war but his mind and spirit were not at peace. That is, until one blinding moment of redemption, when everything changed for Louie Zamperini.
It’s 1962, and 5th-grader Franny Chapman lives in fear of an atomic attack by the Russians on her Washington, D.C.-area neighborhood.
Air-raid drills at school, her Air Force father on high alert, President Kennedy delivering somber speeches on TV, and her Uncle Otts building a bomb shelter in their yard–all these things add to her worries.
Then there’s the preteen angst of fighting with her best friend and crushing on the cute boy down the road.
This substantial documentary novel (377 p.) began as a picture book in the author’s mind way back in 1996 but is now just book one in “The Sixties Trilogy.” Primary source materials (song lyrics, photographs, quotes, posters, etc.) are interspersed throughout the book.
Deborah Wiles sets this story in the very neighborhood where she grew up. As someone born in 1959 who also grew up in this area, I thoroughly enjoyed the authentic stroll down memory lane with Deborah.
Obviously an incredible amount of research and planning went into the content and format of this book. Writing an historical fiction book about the Cold War era is a tricky thing. What I’m not sure about is how many readers in the targeted audience will make it all the way through this novel. I have a lot of emotional attachment and background knowledge surrounding the time and place, so I don’t consider myself a competent judge in this matter. However, even I felt like the story dragged a bit in the middle.
Nonetheless, Deborah Wiles has admirably completed an amazing book which conveys both information and emotion about the Cold War era. I hope that it finds a spot in some social studies classes.
Recommended for grades 5-8.
Awards/Lists: Children’s Books of the Year 2011–Ages 12-14; Booklist Books for Middle Readers 2010; Notable Children’s Books 2011; Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts 2011; Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2011; Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Children’s Books 2010
Life in Kate’s Hungarian family never seems to stop changing. They move into Kate’s father’s brother’s house, where Kate learns to live with her cousin, Jansci. They take in a spoiled girl named Lily. Kate’s father, Sandor Nagy, and Jansci’s father, Marton Nagy, leave to fight in World War I. The family takes in people suffering from the war such as their grandparents, a young woman named Mari, six Russian prisoners, and six German children.
As a young teenager, Kate is confused by the differences and language barriers at first, but she learns to accept them. She realizes that all people, no matter what nationality, are “all same,” as the Russian prisoner Grigori told her. The German child, Hans, accepts the Russians and begins to like them despite the bad but untrue things he had heard about Russians in his hometown.
When Marton Nagy returned from the war, he told his family a true story that happened while he was in the army: He and the other soldiers were tired and weary. There were no animals or other living things in sight, and they thought they would never see any again. They noticed one lone apple tree covered with singing birds. This tree, which they called the “singing tree,” gave them new hope.
This book shows the horrors of war and the power of compassion. There is suspense in finding out which characters survived the war and which did not. A kind storekeeper named Uncle Moses was a Jew who helped people to disbelieve the lies about Jews that were being spread at that time.
I really enjoyed reading The Singing Tree, sequel toThe Good Master. Kate Seredy gives the reader a clear picture of life during World War I, and this book shows how people feel when someone they love is in the military. It also shows how in a war, an individual who to some people is just another soldier or even an enemy, to someone else could be a friend or relative. I recommend The Singing Tree to anyone who is interested in war-time historical fiction or stories so realistic it feels like you are really there.
“Curzon, having matured from boy to man over the course of the winter with the army at Valley Forge, worries that someone will learn he is a runaway slave passing for free, and tries to figure out the meaning of his friendship with Isabel.”(Follett Titlewave)
This is the second book in the Seeds of America series. The first book, Chains, won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and was a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist.
Set in New York City during the Revolutionary War, Chains tells the story of a slave girl, Isabel, who befriends a slave boy, Curzon, along the way. They escape together at the end of Chains, and their stories are again intertwined in the second book, Forge, but this time Curson is the main character.
Loved this book even more than the first one–which was also great. The story mainly takes place at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778.
I learned a lot about how the soldiers and officers lived through that winter–as well as the way enlisted freedman and the officer’s slaves were treated.
The only battle scenes (which are somewhat graphic) are in the opening chapters so they are not indicative of the book’s overall level of violence. No swearing.
Laurie Halse Anderson is a tremendously gifted author whose writing varies widely from a picture-book biography and a basically innocent series about animal rescuers (Vet Volunteers) to award-winning historical fiction (Fever, 1793) and young adult psychological fiction on such intensely emotional topics as eating disorders (Wintergirls) and date rape (Speak).
Her Speak has been challenged and some have gone so far as to label it “soft porn,” so read each of her titles and judge them separately.
I highly recommend Chains and Forge for grades 6-10.
President Lincoln recognized the value of many advances in technology such as railroads, the telegraph, surveillance balloons, iron-clads, and high-powerd weapons and utilized them as commander-in-chief to help win the Civil War.
History buffs will love this clear, riveting description of how many advances in technology were used and pushed forward by the exigencies of war and the vision of President Lincoln.
Eighth-grader Tomikazu Najaki is playing catch with his best friend, Billy, when suddenly Japanese planes thunder overhead and drop bombs on the warships in nearby Pearl Harbor. Although Tomi is an American-born Japanese, Tomi’s father and grandfather are suspected as spies and taken away to internment camps.
The author, Graham Salisbury, grew up in Hawaii. He writes an authentic, satisfying, even-handed story about what life was like for Japanese Americans in Hawaii following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Highly recommended for grades 5-8.
Awards/Lists: Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction; Notable/Best Books (American Library Association); Books for the Teen Age (New York Public Library)
It’s 1914, and the flames of World War I are ignited by the assassination of Prince Alek’s parents. Fifteen-year-old Alek flees for his life in a walking military machine along with a few trusted men. While trying to evade his enemies, Alex befriends Derwyn , a girl who pretends to be a boy so that she can sail aboard an airship that is set upon destroying Alek’s kingdom.
In this alternate reality, World War I is being fought between the Clankers (Germans and Austrians) who use fantastical war machines, and the Darwinists (Russia, France and Britain) who have created fighting beasts by cross-breeding creatures.
I found the story a little confusing at the the beginning, but once I got a clearer idea of what Clankers and Darwinists were, I became engrossed in the plot. Fans of Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn/Skybreaker/Starclimber alternate-past trilogy should like this new series.
Scott Westerfeld (author of the popular Uglies series) has combined into one book all the things that boys crave–military machines, fighting beasts, war, action and adventure. But he hasn’t forgotten potential girl readers who will appreciate the plucky girl co-protagonist, Dylan (a.k.a. Derwyn), and the hint of romance between Alek and her.
This is the first book in a planned four-part series. The sequel will find Alek in Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
The book’s shelf appeal is off the charts. The lavishly embossed cover, brilliantly white, thick paper, large type and generous white space all shout. “Read me! Savor the experience!” The frequent black-and-white illustrations match the setting perfectly and help the reader visualize the imaginary creatures and machines as they are described. The book is heavy but inviting, and holding it reminded me of the first time I opened the pages of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
Westerfeld’s treatment of the evolution debate in this book is subtle. On the surface it would seem that he presents both sides of the debate evenly as he has the Clankers and Darwinists equally disliking and distrusting the other group.
By describing the Clankers as those who “were afraid of fabricated species, and worshipped their mechanical engines” (p. 115) and Darwinists as those who “worshipped science” (p. 263) , Westerfeld casts the debate in religious terms. Clankers called the fabricated beasts “godless things” and the work of the fabricators “ungodly science” (p. 262).
Unfortunately, the Clankers come off as superstitious and fearful of evolution as well as other advances in science. Dr. Barlow, one of the scientists who fabricates the beasts, was described by Alex as “the incarnation of everything he’d been taught to fear” (p. 433).
A flight captain and Derwyn had the following conversation about the fabricated beasts (pp.30-31):
“Not bad, not bad,” the flight captain said. “I’m glad to see so few of our young men succumbing to common superstition.
Deryn snorted. A few people–Monkey Luddites, they were called–were afraid of Darwinist beasties on principle. They thought that crossbreeding natural creatures was more blasphemy than science . . . .
Another time Alek accuses the Darwinists of healing “people with . . . leeches or something.” Dylan laughs and answers, “Not that I know of . . . .Of course, we do use bread mold to stop infections” to which Alek replies, “I certainly hope you’re kidding.” (p. 278)
Of course, this is an allusion to the antibiotic, penicillin, which can be extracted from a species of bread mold. Alek’s mistrust of the Darwinists and Dylan’s blythe acceptance of his scorn coupled with her matter-of-fact attribution of this pivotal true-to-life scientific discovery of penicillin to the Darwinists paints the Clankers as ignorant and fearful of true science, the Darwinists as confident in their science.
Westerfeld’s own opinion of Darwin is a high one. He has Alek describe Darwin as “the man who fathomed the very threads of life” (p. 433). And in his afterword, Westerfeld states that ”Darwin . . . made the discoveries that are at the core of modern biology” (p.438).
Westerfeld even dips his pen into the genetic engineering debate by mentioning that “human life chains were off-limits for fabricaiton” by the Darwinists.
So does this book belong in a Christian school collection? I plan to buy a copy for our library. The book is about a lot of other things besides evolution. And I think that our students need to be exposed to opposing viewpoints; reading this book might sharpen their critical thinking skills. Parents may want to read it with their child and discuss it. I would love to use it in a reading club, to help the students pinpoint and think critically about the subtle messages concerning the evolution/creation debate woven into the plot.