(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 →
(YA writing level – a good amount of violence, also several adult situations)
This book is set during the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution. On the U.S. side of the border, skirmishes have broken out between Tejanos and the Texas Rangers, as the Rangers sought to trample the rights of the Tejanos through a war of terror. The main protagonist is Joaquin Del Toro, a Tejano who has fallen in love with Dulcena Villa. The plotline follows loosely along with the structure of a Romeo and Juliet romance (without the death of the two main characters), however, really the plot is more focused on the tension between the Rangers and the Tejanos.
Both Shame the Stars and All the Stars Denied are well written, and they do their best when they discuss the often untold history. Both stories cover topics that receive only a cursory glance in most American history classes. The first was more of a love story, while the second was a story about a family. My only issue was that neither really explain what life was like before historical events unfold. As result, I found it difficult to form a connection with the characters. Also, if a reader is unfamiliar with either topic, it’s would be really difficult for them to understand the historical detail. Beyond that, I thought that these books would make a great addition to any classroom library.More info →
(Middle-Grade reading level - racism, mentions a lynching, an assault - however, all is dealt with appropriately)
This was a book I wished I had as a child. A "Little House on the Praire" styled book, but with a more worldly point of view. Hanna is a half-Chinese girl trying to make her way with her father in the Dakota Territory. She's an aspiring dressmaker who just wants the opportunity to attend school and be accepted by the all-white community. Written by Linda Sue Park, the text and story are expertly crafted at the perfect level for middle school readers. There are big and complex ideas framed with simple language.
The history of this time is embedded within the story without being too dark or needlessly laborious. Hanna is an incredibly likable and sympathetic character. The frustrations she faces from family, racism, and the social mores of the time are real and muddy. None of the characters fit into a neat box. This book deserves just as much love as the Wilder series, and I would love to see several more written.More info →
Although one could never say that there is one way to write historical fiction, this book certainly does it correctly. The core of this story is a group of families living along the California coast in the 1970s. The men work in the logging industry while the women raise the families. At first the story seems to focus just on the families, however, the early environmental movement, and the use of DDT gradually work their way into the plot in a way that feels natural and real. If you've been a bit perplexed by the popularity of Where the Crawdads Sing, you might prefer this book instead.More info →
(Middle Grade writing level – no content concerns)
Attack of the Turtle takes place during the Revolutionary War. Nathan Wade has grown up a Patriot and he is there when his cousin, David Bushnell (a real historical figure) invents the first submarine
With this story, the history was much stronger than the character development. The text was written with a fifth-grade mentality and a 7th-grade vocabulary. Really the kind of “gee-whiz” attitude of the main protagonist was a bit too peppy to seem real. Beyond that, the story was a bit thin for a full book. I think this book is great for that student who just loves anything about war, but it’s just a book for the classroom shelf. Place it on the shelf and hand it out to that student who keeps asking you when you’ll be teaching about World War II.More info →
This book was a revelation in historical writing. There are 12 chapters in all, and each focuses on the story of one individual and the ideas that pushed their thinking towards rebellion, revolution, or change. Each was written by a historian who is an expert on that topic.
This book doesn’t center around the typical men or topics that take up most of the space in any regular book about the Revolutionary era. Instead, one chapter is devoted to a Seneca leader, another focuses on a geologist, there’s a painter, a mathematician, and many more. Although they are not overtly explained, questions of freedom, equality, and race intersect and envelop each other in each of the 12 stories.
Though this book centers around historical events occurring in 1789, the way in which the stories were presented made them feel current and modern. This might be partly due to the fact that the people in these stories aren’t the same tired forefathers who seem so dead and distant. Further, by examining the inner thoughts of each of the historical actors, their concerns and passions seem much more universal.
I’ve often preached about the necessity of rewriting the narrative of U.S. History. This book does so well, and in a way that should be emulated. (A small plea to the writers - could you create a middle-grade version?)
This book would be a fantastic addition to any U.S. History class where the teacher has the time to devote a good couple of weeks to deep-diving into the Revolutionary era. Divide the chapters among students - have them dissect the topics and find the commonalities among the ideas. Technically, this book was labeled as a YA book, however, I would suggest it’s best for students in grades 10 through 12. This book does require students who can teach at a high school level, however, some chapters were more approachable than others.More info →
This novel starts from the perspective of Travis Wren, a man who has been hired to search for Maggie St. James. His search leads him to a reclusive commune called the pastoral.
A History of Wild Places is not about any history, instead, it's more of a contemporary dystopia. This book had a timeless quality. It could have taken place in the 1950s or the current day. The story follows the path of three characters as they become lost within the the world of a reclusive commune. Without giving away the plot, I would note that the novel really explores conceptions of reality - and how that conception can be so blurred by invasive ideas. I do wish that the author had explored some of the more details that are embedded along the way. Still, this novel was very engrossing and I was finished read it with a few days.More info →
Four Treasures of the Sky takes on the history of Chinese immigration during the era of the Exclusion Act. Daiyu is abandoned by her grandparents at a very young age after her parents are kidnapped for their political activism. Teetering on the edge of existence, Daiyu's life is largely controlled by her gender and her race, and those issues remain constant as she smuggled to the U.S. and then migrates to Idaho. This is not an uplifting story - but unlike many historical fiction novels, this book reflects the reality of the history during this time. In many ways, it seemed like an adult companion to Prairie Lotus.More info →
(YA writing level – some violence, otherwise no content concerns)
A sequel to Shame the Stars, this book tells the story of a girl named Estrella Del Toro, who is living in Texas during the Great Depression. Estrella and her family are caught up in the deportations of Mexicans (both citizens and non-citizens) during that time. This book explores how the racist “repatriations” impacted a typical family. By delving into the details of the deportations of this era, this story covers a topic that receives only a cursory glance in most American history classes. The sequel focuses more on family and the love that binds a family despite the struggles they encounter. My only issue is that, like the first book (Shame the Stars), regular life is never really described to the reader before historical events unfold. As result, it's difficult to form a connection with the characters. Also, if a reader is unfamiliar with the topic, it’s would be really difficult for them to understand the historical detail. Beyond that, I thought that these books would make a great addition to any classroom library.More info →
I'm so excited every time I get a chance to read a Steve Sheinkin book! He takes a fascinating story that is just meant to be told and writes that story with text that a middle schooler can actually understand and appreciate. I know, one would think it's common sense, but honestly, these books are so refreshing to read. This book is his latest release, and it could be considered a sequel to his previous book - Bomb. Fallout discusses the astronomical tension that developed during the Cold War between Kennedy and Khrushchev and the events that led to the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Sheinkin incorporates anecdotes about the two leaders (like Kennedy's constant back pain) to make the topic more relatable and personable. The narrative is written with short chapters and thriller-like text that would draw in any middle schooler. Pick up this book for your classroom and check out the rest. I plan on adding all of his titles to my classroom bookshelves next year.More info →