Tag Archives: history

Action-packed Fantasy (with a bit of history and mythology, too)

The Dragon’s Tooth by N. D. Wilson

In the middle of America (Wisconsin, to be precise), twelve-year-old Cyrus Smith and his older siblings Antigone and Daniel are living their everyday hum-drum lives. Of course, their version of “hum drum” involves living parent-less, managing a run-down motel, and eating pancakes for just about every meal while pretending to the outside world that all is well. But when a strange tattooed man claiming to know their deceased father shows up, a strange turn of events (and one wild taxi ride) takes them to Ashtown and the steps of the Order of Brendan, the secret society of famous explorers throughout history. Thrown headfirst into a world of conspiracy, secrets, and adventure, they fight to prove themselves and stay alive in what is a sometimes crazy, sometimes scary, and always entertaining journey.

N. D. Wilson, author of the 100 Cupboards series, has created an adventurous and magical world that could almost exist in your own backyard. Think Harry Potter but in America and with real historical people as characters. Continue reading Action-packed Fantasy (with a bit of history and mythology, too)

History Turns Into Itself in This Newbery Winner

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Jack Gantos has a whole summer planned full of baseball, history books, and war movies when suddenly, caught in the middle of his quarreling parents, he becomes “grounded for life,” ruining everything. Even though he lives in the dying town of Norvelt (originally founded by Eleanor Roosevelt to help poor families) and there’s not much to do, when his mom volunteers him to help an aging neighbor type up the town’s obituaries, he’s less than thrilled. Soon, though, Jack finds himself absorbed in the town’s history and the “original” Norvelters, as his spunky neighbor calls them, and he’ll do anything to get out of house arrest and over to help her in her task. Soon he’s involved not only with the obituaries but in a feud with an old man who ride’s a trike, play-acting the Grim Reaper, distributing Girl Scout cookies, digging a fake bomb shelter, and a near-constant nose bleed, not to mention a potential murder. Suddenly his summer is anything but dull!

Described as “melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional,” Dead End in Norvelt is a most-times funny and sometimes heart-breaking story of a boy coming of age in an old town past its prime full of wacky yet believable characters. Both darker and lighter themes blend with Gantos’ humor as Jack finds himself imbedded in nearly everything going on in town. The relationships between Jack’s parents and himself are enough to fill a book, but author Gantos has woven an entire town’s worth of personalities and interactions together seamlessly. Continue reading History Turns Into Itself in This Newbery Winner

French History, the Lord Death, and a Convent of Assassins

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (His Fair Assassin, book one)

Review based on an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC).

Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae has had a harsh life: born the daughter of death, her “mortal” father fears and hates her, and after years of beatings and abuse, she is sold into an arranged marriage. When strangers help her to escape, she finds herself taken to the convent of St. Mortain, where she learns that she is not only Death’s daughter but also a tool of Death’s revenge. At the convent Ismae becomes strong, learning everything from poisons and hand-to-hand combat to societal etiquette and effective spying techniques. Over the years, she develops friendships, new skills, and a place she calls home. (All of this takes place in 15th-Century Brittany.)

Several years later and in the midst of her first assassination assignment–her job is to find a man “marked” with Death’s fingerprint and perform His will–she encounters a handsome but frustrating nobleman, Duval, and he becomes a complication that follows her into her next trip and provides riddles as to the protection of the Duchess of Brittany, Death’s true intent, and the way the world truly functions. As the political intrigue grows, Duval and Ismae grow closer, supposedly working together while struggling to trust one another. When the convent determines it is Death’s will that Duval be assassinated, Ismae finds herself in an emotionally tumultuous position, unsure of her loyalties and her developing feelings. All the while Brittany is threatened by attack from France and the young Duchess is in ever-growing danger and in need of Ismae’s protection. Without giving away too much of the plot or romance, let’s just say it’s a really good page-turner! Continue reading French History, the Lord Death, and a Convent of Assassins

Oh my Zeus! Is that a Greek god in that book?!

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Really? you must be asking yourselves. Rick Riordan? Hasn’t the whole world pretty much reviewed his books, like, years ago?

Well, yeah.

But hey, I loved the books! (Also, I’d rather review The Son of Neptune than clean my room.)

On the off chance that nobody here has read (or heard of) the Percy Jackson series, here’s a brief overview: ancient Greek gods and goddesses are real, and they never disappeared–they’ve followed the rise of Western culture and currently reside on Mt. Olympus over the Empire State Building. Percy Jackson–main character, obviously–discovers he’s a “hero” or Greek “demigod”, a half-mortal, and his father is Poseidon, which turns out to be problematic. After a brief time at Camp Half Blood, he and his new friends are off on a quest full of mythical beasts, minor deities, and worldwide catastrophe. It’s rollicking good fun, incredibly smart, and impressively accurate on the ancient history/mythology level. Alas, after five books, the series was done.

But wait! There’s more! Continue reading Oh my Zeus! Is that a Greek god in that book?!

Guest Review: Marin

A warm welcome to our friend Marin, a fellow kids’ and teen book enthusiast! Marin is currently a grad student in library school and loves reviewing books as much as we do. Here’s her latest review of the Caldecott Award winning book by Brian Selznick, soon to be released as a movie in theaters.


The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

A unique portrayal with equal amounts narrative and wordless illustrations of a 12-year-old orphan who is trying to survive on his own in 1930s Paris.

A grumpy man, a brash girl, a broken automaton, filmmaking and Paris; what do these things have in common? Selznick combines them in descriptive prose and emotive illustrations to construct a unique reading experience. A young orphan living in a hidden room in a Parisian train station in 1931 is skilled at fixing things but has to shoplift to survive. One day he is caught stealing and the fast-paced adventure begins.

Going back and forth seamlessly between series of wordless images and more traditional text the narrative describes what happens when Hugo becomes an apprentice to a mysterious grumpy toy booth owner and meets his god-daughter. The two children set out to unravel a mystery that changes all of their lives.

Pencil sketches combine with historical photographs of Paris and stills from black and white movies to create a distinctive setting and mood for the characters’ adventures. A fun way to introduce readers to silent films, the study and practice of magic, and the creativity and variety of possibility in invention.

2008 Caldecott Award Winner

Age 9-12

Copyright January 2007

ISBN: 9780439813785


Also be sure to check out Brian Selznick’s newest book in the same mixed style of beautiful images and text, Wonderstruck, released just last week to critical acclaim (see what the New York Times has to say here). And thanks to Marin for sharing her review and love of awesome books!

Bold, Beautiful Picture Book on the Underground Railroad

Underground: Find the Light to Freedom written and illustrated by Shane W. Evans

In this unique picture book, Evans explores the emotional and physical journey of fugitive slaves running to freedom in pre-emancipation America. Evans pairs short, direct sentences (nineteen in all) with bold pictures in contrasting colors: dark blue with white and yellow, orange with brown and green. The portrayals of the trials of escaped slaves as well as a gratefulness for the help of others is achieved in absolute minimalism with phrases like “The darkness,” “the fear,” “Some don’t make it,” “the sun.” His beautiful illustrations pair well with the brief narration, and overall the book is successful and triumphant.

So here’s the problem: while other reviewers recommended Underground for ages through grade 3, I had a really hard time determining intended age range. The language is so simple it might be annoying to older readers, while the emotional and historical concepts behind the narration would be too old for younger kids. That said, it’s definitely worth using if an appropriate unit can be found, whether used as an Continue reading Bold, Beautiful Picture Book on the Underground Railroad

Accesible American History

How Did Slaves Find a Route to Freedom? And Other Questions About the Underground Railroad (Six Questions of American History) by Laura Hamilton Waxton

Whether you’re a kid curious about American history or an educator looking for some good classroom books, How Did the Slaves Find a Route to Freedom? is a good choice. Waxton’s non-fiction book covers major questions about the Underground Railroad, fugitive slaves, and the abolitionist movement, an important and difficult time in history. The book is based on six questions, one leading clearly into the next, and mixed media illustrations keep the information interesting through the use of photographs, maps, quotes, and newspaper clippings. Designed for student research, it’s full of interesting and well-organized information; I learned a lot, both specific facts and general history, and–nerd that I am–I enjoyed it.

Though mainly intended as a history source, Waxton’s book is also takes care to define a primary source of research and includes a follow-up activity that lets readers attempt to piece together their own narrative of what might have happened to an individual of the time. The back of the book contains a timeline that reiterates much of the book’s content as well as source notes, a selected bibliography, further reading recommendations, and a concise index. The publisher, Lerner Publications, also offers additional study materials online. Continue reading Accesible American History

Mystery and Murder in Victorian London

A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee

It is Victorian England, and Mary Quinn, a savvy twelve-year-old orphan with a secret, has been caught stealing food and is sentenced to hang. Through good graces and a series of sneaky maneuvers, she is rescued by a stranger and taken to the Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls for a proper upbringing where she will learn a lady’s traits.

Fast forward a few years, and Mary–now a well-respected and well-cultured young woman–is grateful but frustrated, unsure what she’s fit for and bored of needlework and polite conversation. When she finds out the academy is also a cover for the Agency, a women’s secret spy corporation, she’s swept up in the journey and learning, determined to further prove herself to those women who saved her that day on the street years ago. Sent on her first mission to listen in on conversations and observe while a more accomplished insider takes control, Mary quickly finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery and throws herself into the case, deeper than her peers would like. To add to the trouble she’s already in, a dark, mysterious man–a little broody, but rather like other romantic interests in the historical genre–keeps getting in her way and observing her attempts at infiltration. Mary quickly realizes that she must agree to partner up for the information they both so desperately seek. Romance, though forbidden, is in the air… And all the while, a murderer and master thief is on the loose. Continue reading Mystery and Murder in Victorian London

History’s Strangest Cures

I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat: History’s Strangest Cures written and illustrated by Carlyn Beccia

Which of these helped to heal wounds: spider webs, moldy bread, or a dead man’s skull? (Trick answer: all three!)

In this fun look at ancient “cures” for physical ailments, author and illustrator Carlyn Beccia has cleverly combined ancient history and modern medicine to create an interesting picture book for kids of varying ages. Beccia’s illustrations are colorful, and the start of each section (Colds, Wounds, Fevers, etc.) gives at least three potential cures, asking the reader which they think will prove beneficial, before continuing on with the answer(s) (along with origins of the “cure” all the way from pre-historic man to modern-day research). Some ailments or treatments include an expanded note on history. (Have you ever noticed, for example, how the modern-day symbol for Rx looks similar to–and may have originated from–the hieroglyph for the Eye of Horus?) Continue reading History’s Strangest Cures

An Amazing Whirlwind of Emotions and History

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

(Review based on ARC of the book.)

You’ve got to respect a historical fiction novel for teens that has three pages of bibliography.

In this emotional whirlwind of a book, an American high school student–lost in despair over the death of her younger brother and the mental instability of her mother–finds herself through music and the history of the French revolution.

Andi is the equivalent of a musical prodigy, and when her brother dies, music is the only thing besides caring for her mother that keeps her going. (The anti-depressants help, but only just.) She’s flunking out of her private school, and she gets an ultimatum: complete a well-orchestrated senior thesis or don’t graduate.

Andi’s dad sweeps her off to Paris, hoping she can focus on graduation while he tests a 200-year-old heart for proof that it belonged to the dauphin, son of Marie-Antoinette. In the process, Andi discovers a hidden diary belonging to another 17-year-old girl, Alexandrine Paradis, the daughter of a puppeteer, who finds herself companion to the dauphin right before the start of the French revolution. Andi’s depression continues to rise and fall, and she gets pulled into Alexandrine’s story of pain, faith, and hope as Alex tries to survive the bloody massacres of her time and save the child prince. As Alex writes, “They are a truthful account of these bitter, bloody days.” Andi finds herself absorbed in the past, so much so that one night she finds herself thrown into the horror of Alexandrine’s world, unsure of what is dream and what is reality. Continue reading An Amazing Whirlwind of Emotions and History