A Night Divided had me hooked from the first pages. The main character, Greta, lives with her mother and her brother in East Germany, while her father and other brother have escaped to the other side. Trapped in the city by the Berlin Wall, the three are compelled to stifle any misgivings they may have about the Communist government and the Stasi. Early on in the story, Greta devises a plan to break free, and the tension surrounding whether her plan will achieve success consumes much of the rest of the story.
The hardship of daily life and the trauma of living under a Communist regime are depicted with some inconsistent historical accuracy. The story was engaging, and I legitimately wanted to see if Gerta and her family would achieve success in their task. With that said, the book could have been much better researched. As many German readers have pointed out, there were quite a few historical inaccuracies that made the major plot points implausible. Also, as a Goodreads reviewer noted, "to stay (in East Germany) is bad, to leave is bad." A bit more discussion of those difficult choices would have provided levity to the plot. However, with that caveat noted, for students unfamiliar with life under Communism, this book provides a sound introduction.More info →
(Younger Middle-Grade Level - No content concerns either than the reality of war)
Lauren Tarshis does her usual, masterful job at crafting a hero whose dangerous journey offers young readers a more emotional path to learning and I’ll admit it, I admire her for not sparing those readers from the harder-to-swallow truths. Whether it's Nathaniel’s struggles as a young orphan or his confusion over the place of slavery in a society committed to all men being equal, Tarshis certainly offers a more realistic view of early America.
Given the mix of misfortune that befalls Nathan and the strong focus on action and relationship building over history, this book is probably best for the young reader who is mature enough to handle the adult themes but who needs to be more emotionally engaged in the American Revolution before moving on to its “how’s and why's.”More info →
(Middle-Grade Reading Level - Content warning - death, war, gun violence, racism, racial slurs, antisemitism, bullying, medical procedures)
With Allies, Gratz once again combined several disparate perspectives to tell the story of a major historical event. Although this book touches on several topics related to WWII - including the French occupation, the Holocaust, and the treatment of Black soldiers - the book's central focus is the D-Day invasion of Normandy beach. Given the brutality and enormity of that invasion, Gratz made the wise decision to just tell the story of the main characters without trying to tackle all the death that occurred on that day. I do feel that Gratz tried to incorporate too many narratives into the plot and it appeared that some of the characters were dropped along the way. Despite that flaw, Gratz once again delivered an adrenaline-inducing narrative that deftly combined historical detail with interwoven points of view. This book is perfect for the student who's always asking you, "When are you going to teach about WWII?"More info →
(Middle Grade reading level - This book does show a realistic deptition of how a white teen girl might act towards the enslaved people that her family owns. She is somewhat oblivious to their concerns. Some students might find that attitude frustrating.)
This is a rare book that is told from the perspective of the experience of a southern girl named Susanna Bolling. Bolling lived on a plantation near Richmond, Virginia that was invaded and occupied by General Cornwallis in 1781. Most of the story is centered around Boling herioc nighttime journey to warn General Lafyette of an impending British attack. She displays a realistic perspective of the time, as she is rather ignorant of the plight of the enslaved people live and work on the plantation in close proximity. Still, I found that this story of her heroism fascinating enough to still recommend the story.More info →
(Younger Middle-Grade Reading Level - No content concerns)
Richard Peck is one of those authors that I grew up reading. His books were among my favorites, as he was an expert at world-building and character development. I always felt like I was able to fall within his stories. With Fair Weather, Peck continues to envelop readers in history as the main character, 13-year-old Rosie Beckett, is offered a chance to visit the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. This book is a quick read, and the characters possess Peck's ever-present wit and charm. However, it is not my favorite of Peck's books, and I feel like he could have done a bit more with the story. If you have a young student who would like to learn more about the World's Fair in Chicago, this book is a great first step. (Then, when they're older, hand them Devil in the White City to scare the bejesus out of them!)More info →
Reading this novel was such a bittersweet experience for me. Alan Gratz does his usual, masterful job of creating a spellbinding story with two amazing protagonists and with an almost minute-by-minute review of the collapse of the two towers. Basically, I couldn’t put this book down. First, there’s Brandon, who quickly grows up as he struggles to survive the collapse of the twin towers on 9/11 in 2001. The second protagonist is Reshmina, a young Afghani girl caught in the crossfire between the U.S. and Taliban nearly two decades later. Reshmina is forced to make a choice between vengeance or the path of peace.
I didn’t start this novel until after the fall of the U.S. backed government, and yet that only makes its lessons even more timely. Will a new generation avoid the mistakes of their elders, or will the cycle of violence continue? I only hope that Gratz never has the need to write an epilogue.More info →
WWI has ended, and Ben (13 years old) and Lotti (age 12) have both suffered losses that have left them largely on their own in England. They love the freedom of a little canal narrowboat called the Sparrowhawk, but the local authorities are closing in. In an attempt to reclaim their freedom, the two attempt to take the canal boat over the channel to France to find their family.
This book was a sweet palate cleanser from some of the sadder stories I've been reading as of late. Although the synopsis might indicate otherwise, there are no great stakes in this book and the writing honestly felt like it was from another time. This book is historical fiction only in the sense that it takes place in history. Beyond that, it's an endearing little story with classically written characters. It's best for younger middle-grade readers and it would be perfect for a bedtime read also.More info →