Spies, Communists, the FBI, the McCarthy era, New York City, and an unhappy marriage... The main character is Katharina Edgeworth. She worked for the UN during WWII as a translator, and now she has settled down as a wife and mother. She is miserable in that role and wallowing in self-pity when she is recruited by the FBI to spy on a Communist organization centered in NYC.
This story is much more so about a woman that feels trapped in her marriage and motherhood. The history is there, however, it often reads like background noise to her personal story. She doesn’t really question the role she’s playing for the FBI, or whether Communism is really a threat. Really, she’s just excited to have a life outside of her apartment and away from her boys. I really wish the author had focused more on the history, as the setup for that history was really engaging. Instead, much of the book focuses on Katharina’s internal monologue.
If you’re looking for a book about motherhood and all of its trials, this is definitely a book for you. However, don’t pick up this book expecting to learn more about the McCarthy era.More info →
(Middle-Grade reading level - most of the fighting takes place far away, however, Sophia does witness the hanging of Nathan Hale at the beginning of the story.)
I've been a fan of Avi ever since I devoured the True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle when I was a kid. In Sophia's war, Sophia’s brother, a soldier, goes missing after the Battle of Brooklyn. Sophia befriends a British lieutenant, Andre, who comes to New York City and is stationed in her home. She hopes she’ll find help in him locating her brother, however, her brother languishes and dies on a British prison ship. Her brother's death inspires Sophia to become a spy embedded with the British Army, and she uncovers a crucial piece of information that will change the course of the war.
The pace of Avi's writing style will hook middle-grade readers and keep them engaged. This book incorporates tons of historical information, including discussions of the prison ships for Patriot soldiers in New York City, the betrayal of Benedict Arnold, the quartering of soldiers, and the general experience of life during wartime. It definitely belongs in any middle-grade history teacher's classroom library.
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Adult Historical Fiction
This book takes place in the post-Civil War era. Libertie is born in Brooklyn, and she is raised by her mother, who is a physician. (This portion of the story is based on actual history. There was a black woman doctor practicing in Brooklyn during this time, and she did have a daughter.) Libertie is trained by her mother to become a doctor also, although her enthusiasm towards the practice is lacking. The darkness off Libertie's skin compared with the lightness of her mother's complicates the story also, as Libertie questions whether she also wants to practice medicine.
Although the topics of Reconstruction and the issues surrounding that era are a part of the story, they don't take center stage. Really, this book is more about the trauma of the boundaries that surround those who are legally free, and how it can manifest itself in many forms. The end of slavery didn't mean automatic happiness and "liberty" for Black people. Colorism, race, feminism... all these ideas push and pull the characters. I really enjoyed reading a book from the perspective of free Black people immediately after the Civil War, as it is not one that is commonly written. The way that language is used in this text renders it almost surreal and dreamlike. An imaginative, distinct, and absorbing read sure to land on many best books of the year list.More info →
Stamped From the Beginning seeks to explain the narrative thread of racism that has run throughout the whole of American (Colonial and U.S.) History. It begins with Portuguese exploration and ends with the present day. This book provides a more succinct narrative of the history of racism in the United States than the original epic tome written by Ibram X. Kendi. Jason Reynolds took the original work and parsed it down into an engaging dialogue that makes the work feel much more like a conversation than a history textbook. (As Reyolds notes many times, it is NOT a history book!). Reynolds explores how the racist segregationists (the racist haters), assimilationists (basically accommodationists) and antiracists (the lovers) have all pushed and pull history, and how, unfortunately, the racists have often controlled that narrative. Reynolds draws from the many examples provided by Kendi, and the book generally follows the same historical narrative as Kendi's original.
This book is labeled for ages 12 and up, but honestly, I think it's best suited for high school students. There is so much to contextualize and explain, and I think the narrative or nuance would become lost if a teacher finds that they have to provide background for the twenty different concepts interwoven on a single page. High schoolers will be able to really explore the themes that are central to the text. I think a teacher could even spend a week working through just one of the chapters with students. (For instance, I know that could spend a full class period with students explaining why the phrase "I have black friends," doesn't exempt one from racist ideas and how that was basically an unsaid motto of Thomas Jefferson.)
Also, this book is for teachers. Especially those well-meaning teachers who picked up the original Stamped From the Beginning, realized that the text was incredibly dense, and then placed the book on their shelf to collect dust. This book breaks down the major concepts of the book without the incredible detail. If you're one of those teachers (shh, I won't tell), definitely pick up this book for yourself.
For a plethora of reasons, teachers might not be able to implement this full text in their classrooms, however, I hope they think about how they can.More info →
Have you seen Honest History pop up on your Instagram feed? Their tagline is, "a magazine for young historians." I know that if this had existed when I was a kid, I would have read every issue cover to cover!
When I saw that a book had been released by Honest History I immediately requested a preview. History is Inventive does a deeper dive into the stories of several of the famous inventors and really lays out the complexity of that invention. (Spoiler ______ invented the _______ is never the whole story.) Knight pulls from a wide breadth of history and picks topics that will interest a wide variety of children. Surgery? Makeup? The telescope? Alternating current? All are discussed and each passage includes unique details that I've not seen elsewhere. If anything, this book will make kids want to know more about many of the topics, and do some more investigation on their own!
I'm also a sucker for well done graphic design and the layout of this book is quite appealing also. This book is perfect for a curious kid.More info →
(Middle Grade reading level - No real content concerns, although it does discuss the trauma of slavery)
This book chronicles the life of Harriet Tubman. It includes details about her early life, her work on the Underground Railroad, her service in the Civil War, and her circumstances after the war. Dunbar takes the biographic information about Tubman and combines it with a more informal narrative to imbue humanity into the details of Tubman's life. Tubman's life is so incredible and unimaginable, and Dunbar made her seem human and vulnerable.
This book really demonstrated how biographies should be written for middle-grade readers. Students at that level need to have a connection to historical characters. The emotions and the inner monologue of a person like Tubman makes the story of her life seem much more recent and modern. I flew through this book as it read much more like a novel than a historical biography.
Truly, this is an excellent book. It's a must-have for your classroom library.More info →
(Middle Grade Reading Level - a depiction of the reality of slavery including - violence, rape, death, and murder)
Copper Sun is a well-crafted story with impeccable research and accuracy. Amari is in her mid-teens when she is captured and sold into slavery along the African coast. She is shipped across the Atlantic ocean, sold to an enslaver, and gradually finds a place in the new reality she is forced to endure. This book is realistic in its depictions and traumatically sad as a result. One of the best aspects of this story is the awareness of the spectrum of freedom for women in this time. Amari is certainly in slavery, however, the other women she encounters - Polly, an indentured servant, or Mrs. Derby, the young wife of Amari's enslaver - aren't quite free either. Worthy of a read-aloud in any classroom, as long as students are made aware of the truth of the unflinching story that will be told.More info →
(Middle Grade reading level - No content concerns - if you have a student who's VERY squeamish, this book might not be the book for them.)
So, a biography of "Typhoid Mary" turned out WAY more relevant than it should be in the "panda" era of 2021.😬 If you don't know that backstory of Typhoid Mary, basically, she was a carrier of Typhoid, but she didn't show any symptoms herself, and never remembered having the disease. She was a transient Irish immigrant in the early 1900s, and she made her living as a cook, so she kept reinfecting people as she transferred from job to job. Mary was eventually tracked down by the rudimentary health inspectors of the day, but she was in complete denial that she could be a carrier. She was then confined to an island off the coast of New York City so that she could be tested for typhoid. Mary's reaction to these events proved most relevant. She fought against any accusations, and once she was released, she would go onto take more jobs (one in a hospital!) and infect more people. She also refused surgery to remove her gallbladder, which may have cured her of the disease. Still, she had reasons to feel the way she did, and as an immigrant woman, she was just lambasted by the press. Her story represented why confusion and pushback against what might be CLEAR medical decisions are so deeply connected to one's understanding of the world. This book would certainly generate some great conversations in the classroom. More info →
I have a weakness for any story centered around British children sent to live in the countryside during WWII. I know that it's a common topic, but I just can't help myself. Bedknobs and Broomsticks anyone? The Chronicles of Narina? Unlike those fanciful tales, A Place to Hang the Moon is firmly centered in reality. Yet, this story still held a magical nostalgia and charm that I adored. The three children at the center of the story - William, Edmund, and Anna - have been recently orphaned, and they're sent to live with a family as evacuees. There is hope in this decision that they will find a family that will adopt them after the war's end.
I absolutely devoured this story. The nostalgia, the sweetness, and the character development are all there. The children are incredibly sympathetic and realistic all the same. While this story is historical fiction, the history lies very much in the background while the children's lives and experiences take center stage. Still, there is much to learn about the experiences of young evacuees during WWII and the hardships of daily life during that time. I even enjoyed the descriptions of the meals the children ate. I'm not sure this story has a place in the classroom, however, it is the perfect story to read to your children at bedtime. Like me, you might enjoy reading it all on your own!More info →
Clint Smith’s book, How the Word is Passed, was absolutely once of my favorites this year. I devoured the text, and definitely put off more pressing matters in favor of reading his words.
Smith sought to reckon with slavery in America by reconciling his own personal experiences with the story of slavery. He visited many historical landmarks, interviewed tour guides and visitors, and then reflected on what he saw and what they had to say.
Although I was aware of much of the history that Smith discussed, the combination of his reflections, his interviews, and his descriptions of each place made the process of reading this book summarily enlightening. Smith’s writing is so lyrical that it almost felt like I was reading a long form poem instead of a narrative.
Honestly, I think this book is for every American. I’ve seen so many fellow teachers post about this book, and now I see why! I could see teachers assigning a chapter or two for either an English or a History class. Please pick up a copy for yourself.More info →
Meghan's book is perfect for kids in the middle-grade level who might be curious about these individuals. It's also great for a teacher to utilize sections in the classroom. My favorite part of this book is that it was written by an actual middle school History teacher. Meghan has taught at this level for many years, and this book is written in a clever and engaging style that reflects that experience. There are many short biographies of famous Americans floating around the internet, however, Meghan's shines through the stack. The research she put into each biography and her experience teaching are reflected on every page.
History is Delicious is the second book in a series by Honest History. It contains a wealth of knowledge about types of food from around the world including simple recipes for kids, cultural connections, and historical contexts for each area. The main component of the book includes descriptions of popular recipes from around the world. The book is broken into four major categories, Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and there are a multitude of recipe descriptions for each location. This book would be great for a World Cultures class and could provide a starting point for conversations with students. I know that my students are probably unfamiliar with 95% of the recipes mentioned in this book, and I could easily assign them a particular recipe for a group discussion. Teachers could utilize the historical context sections for the introduction to a lesson, as that text is written at more of a YA level.
Fair warning, however, you absolutely cannot pick up this book if you are in any way hungry. In the absence of any Korean barbecue or Dim Sum, I ended up snarfing down several vanilla wafers from my kitchen. (It's very helpful that Door Dash doesn't deliver to my country farmhouse.)More info →