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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
This book is a must-have for any teenager who is enthralled by war or terrorism. Kamran, an Iranian American teenager, is caught up in a whirlwind of hate and suspicion after his brother is caught on video attacking a U.S. embassy. Soon after, Kamran and his parents are taken in by the CIA for questioning. Though the story of the family and the terrorist act are all fictional, the greater topics of the war on terror, racial profiling, and the news media all reflect the reality of our time.
From an adult's eyes, the story lacks believability. There are too many implausible connections made and the character storyline just doesn't reflect the reality of terrorism. Still, I think this is an excellent attempt to examine a multifaceted issue while keeping the story comprehensible for a middle schooler.More info →
Like many students of history, I took a philosophy course as an undergraduate student. As a freshman in college, I definitely didn't appreciate the idea of philosophy. Now, with my age and wisdom (laughs in millennial) I've grown to greatly appreciate the discussion of the great questions of life. I watched The Good Place with absolute glee and I picked up this book with certainty that I would enjoy the content. After all, I've pretty much devoured everything that Mike Schur has created.
Of course, I was not disappointed. This book reviews the basic philosophical discussions that were inherent to the Good Place, but with the luxury of the written word, Schur is able to go into much more depth. As he is not a philosopher, however, he places the ideas of philosophy (existentialism, utilitarianism, deontology, and ubuntu (among others) within the context of practical questions that humans face in their daily life. There are also jokes - he is a comedy writer after all.
The book had me brimming with possible questions for students and possible applications for my classes next year. I know that this book will be read more than once, and I'm so glad I added it to my shelf.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 - 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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I was delighted when I was asked to review Megan's new book, Major Events in American History. I know that Megan's work is always researched based and her point of view on history is one that I trust. Major Events in American History provides the perfect concise introductory text for students and teachers. Forbes' writing is crisp and grade-appropriate, however, she often goes beyond the standard narrative to include enlightening and thought-provoking detail.
I could see this book in many classrooms across the country, particularly when the teacher finds it necessary to introduce a new topic. I was particularly delighted to see that Forbes' often recommended further middle-grade historical fiction titles at the end of many topics for students to conduct a further investigation.More info →
Well, I started this book about 36 hours ago, and I'm now finished.
I'm well versed in the story of the Freedom Rides. I read a full book outlining the events when I was younger, I have taken more than one class on the Civil Rights movement, and have shown more than one documentary in class. Still, the gripping account of Charles Person's experience with the Freedom Rides during the Civil Rights movement enthralled me from cover to cover. The authenticity in his story and in the emotion he relays is unparalleled. It's one of the best historical memoirs I've read.
For instance, in one section, Person explains the fear one feels when one encounters pure racial hate. As he notes, " If you want to know what Anniston felt like when our bus arrived, go to the deadly sites- the deadly nights - of the Civil Rights Era... fix your thoughts on what it must have been like on each of those solemn, horrific, now sacred, nights. Stand still..." He then goes on to describe the racial violence the Freedom Riders encountered when they arrived in Anniston, Alabama. Person discusses many accounts of violent attacks and many accounts of friendship, bravery, and true white allyship. Still, it's the way he describes them that makes this book enthralling and timeless. It's simply a must-read.
More people should be talking about and reading this book. It is one of the best accounts I've read that draws a throughline between the protests of the Civil Rights era to today. If you teach U.S. History, grab a copy of this book, display it in your classroom, and share the story with students. You can read sections to a full class and I have no doubt that it will keep their attention.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 →