Thursday, December 14, 2017

FROM FAMILY TREE TO HISTORICAL FICTION by Mary Louise Sanchez


As the holiday season  is once again upon us, our thoughts turn to family. We remember Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other holiday gatherings. What a wealth of story nuggets we have available to us if we open our eyes and ears at family gatherings. These nuggets can make for authentic stories of historical fiction.
Authors of historical fiction often draw inspiration from their own lives and lives of their family members. Children can do the same thing. Teachers should encourage children to write and share their own stories. As Isabel Campo says, "Our universe is made up of 'vacant silences'. There is room for seven billion stories, one written by each person in this tiny planet."

Holidays are golden opportunities to get names of ancestors and details of the lives of family members, particularly the elderly. When I was a young girl, after the Thanksgiving foods were divided and the dishes were washed and dried, my maternal grandmother used to encourage me to play songs on the piano. I played the songs she enjoyed singing as a girl, when she attended school taught by  the Sisters of Loretto in New Mexico. Grandma particularly enjoyed singing The Old Oaken Bucket.



We also learned Santa Claus never visited our ancestors—not even my parents, who were born in the 1920s. In fact, my dad's northern New Mexican Christmas traditions resembled Halloween Trick or Treat today. He and his siblings went house to house gathering goodies as they asked for "Mis Christmas".  
On many Christmas Day evenings our dad played a Spanish version of the dreidel game with us. We bet using pinon nuts and never  realized this was a Jewish game because the only Jews we knew were in the Bible. How did my ancestors learn this game in their rural, northern New Mexico homes?


In my work-in-progress, The Wind Called My Name, the story is loosely based on my mother's life growing up in a small Wyoming town during the 1930s. I used the fact that Santa Claus was not a predominate figure in my dad or mom's lives in the story. My mother's maternal grandmother lived with the family in Wyoming. So, I put my great-grandmother in the story because I knew her from my mother's stories. My other great-grandmother plays a part in the story too. I actually knew her and used a little idiosyncrasy about her in the story. Some other ancestors have a part in the story because I've met them through my genealogy research. (I'm toying with putting a family tree in the Acknowledgement page).

 I gave my mom my first draft of my story as a gift about twelve years ago. Since then, I have made quite a few revisions. My father used to say my story was "all lies" because of all the changes I made to the story. He thought if you used real people in the story, then the story should be all factual. Thus, adults, as well as children, need to be taught and should understand that historical fiction stories are a combination of true facts and made-up details.

In the study of a historical fiction novel, it would be helpful to make a grid so that students can write down what they believe is factual and what they believe is imaginary. Then they can do research in various ways to check the facts about characters, settings, and plot.  These are things I do to learn more about the author and what he/she writes. This activity could certainly be used with my middle grade historical fiction novel, The Wind Calls My Name. Its anticipated debut is summer of 2018.

1.  Read the author's dedication for mention of people that might be in the story.

2.  Read the author's notes about settings.

3.  Read the author's Acknowledgement page.

4. Research character's names; historical events; places




Encourage your students to turn off their digital devices and connect to real people in their lives and family tree and see what roots they discover.

What story nuggets do you have from your own family or that you have learned about in stories?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

December 7—A Day That Will Live in Infamy

Today, December 7th, is Pearl Harbor Day. On this date in 1941 Japan attacked the United States Navy fleet lying at anchor in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. President Franklin D. Roosevelt went to the Congress the day after the attack to ask for a declaration of war. In his remarks to the members of Congress he called December 7 “a day that will live in infamy.” Congress passed the resolution of war, and three days later Germany and Italy (Japan’s axis partners) declared war against the United States. After years of isolationism, America fully committed itself to participate in World War II.

This largest of world wars deserves the study and understanding by all citizens of a free world. The war had a significant personal influence on my life as a young boy, and its aftermath impacted my military service and civilian employment as I matured.

The Bombing of Pearl Harbor by John F. Wukovits is a book in the World History Series published by Lucent Books. The author, a retired junior high school teacher, knows how to write for younger readers. Wukovits explains the menace facing peace-loving people before the United States entered World War II. Throughout the 1930s, the majority of Americans strongly believed in isolation. They wanted nothing to do with the warfare that Japan, Germany, and Italy were inflicting on their enemies. The book tells how President Franklin D. Roosevelt worked to prepare America for war while appeasing those who opposed him. The book explains why Japan decided to start the war with America and the impact of that choice upon the Japanese people. Photographs provide vivid illustrations of the destruction of the fleet at Pearl Harbor and of airplanes on nearby airfields. Wukovits builds his agonizing story from both primary and secondary sources. He concludes by discussing the effort required following the attack to rebuild the Navy and how the sneak attack changed the attitude of Americans overnight.

World War II in the Pacific by Don Nardo is another book in the World History Series by Lucent Books. The author, having written over 200 books, is recognized as a leader in producing history lessons for younger readers. He contrasts the cultures of the United States and Japan, and delves into the transformation of Japan into a world power. Nardo writes vividly about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Excellent maps enhance the reader’s understanding of how the Japanese pulled off the surprise. He explains the defeat of the Americans in the Philippines, and discusses the horrors of the Bataan Death March. Twenty-two thousand Americans died on the march. My first grade teacher’s husband was one of the few survivors of the Japanese atrocities committed against their prisoners in the Philippines. Nardo appropriately documents the turning point in the Pacific War as the Battle of Midway, when the United States reestablished its supremacy of the seas. The American aircraft carrier USS Yorktown was sunk during that battle. An uncle of mine was one of the survivors of that sinking. Nardo discusses the development of the nuclear bomb and explains why President Harry S. Truman dropped two bombs on Japan. The author concludes by explaining how this horrible event caused the Japanese to surrender.

Kamikazes by Earle Rice, Jr., is a title in Lucent Books’ The American War Library Series. The Japanese high command created the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps late in the war. Rice explains how Emperor Hirohito approved the use of this suicide weapon after determining the war was not going well for his country. Kamikaze means “divine wind” and carries strong religious overtones. The sacrifice of one pilot and one airplane in exchange for sinking one American warship became an acceptable way to die for one’s country. The Japanese Army already had a reputation for seldom surrendering. Japanese soldiers died in banzai charges against the Allied troops confronting them in the Pacific. The author explains how the Japanese warrior had traditionally committed honorable death through seppuku. Disemboweling oneself with a sword, known in the vernacular as hara-kiri, had been the preferred way for warriors to die since the days of the samurai. The book is well illustrated with the destructive actions the Kamikazes inflicted on the American fleet. Today’s younger reader is aware of the suicide bombings committed by radical Islamic terrorists. This book confirms that such a way of attacking an enemy is not new.

Yet another book in the World History Series by Lucent Books is The Making of the Atom Bomb by Victoria Sherrow. The author begins by explaining what led to World War II and how it generated an arms race that resulted in the United States developing the atomic bomb. She provides a section on the science of nuclear physics and the roles played by such famous men as Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi. She writes about the secretive Manhattan Project under the supervision of Robert Oppenheimer, known as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb.” To test this unproven weapon, the Army detonated the first atomic bomb near Alamogordo, a town in central New Mexico. I had recently completed the second grade in Hobbs, New Mexico, when on that July 16, 1945, morning, the first bomb was exploded at 5:30 AM. Those in my town who were awake at that time described an unusually bright light appearing in the sky 200 miles to the west. Ms. Sherrow covers the planning and execution of dropping the first bomb by the aircrew of the B-29, Enola Gay. She delves at some length into the horrific death and destruction to Japan caused by the event. After a second bomb fell on Japan, the country surrendered, and the war in the Pacific concluded. Ms. Sherrow ends her book with a discussion of what might happen to the world if atomic weapons’ development continues. The concerns she identifies impacted me when I served as an Army officer during the Cold War. In the decades following World War II, the threat of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union resulted in me being stationed in Europe when the Berlin Wall was erected. Later, I was stationed on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean as part of the U.S. National Nuclear Test Readiness Program. Since then, several nations have acquired the atomic bomb. The question of further nuclear proliferation is pertinent today because of the ongoing disagreement between the United States and North Korea over their desires to possess nuclear weapons.

World War II—Pacific by Barbara Williams is part of Lerner Publications’ America’s Wars Series. This book summarizes the entirety of World War II in the Pacific. Excellent maps allow the reader to follow the war from the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 through the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The author covers each of the major battles through the intervening years. She provides information on the soldiers and sailors as well as the ships, aircraft, and armaments they used to wage war. A brother-in-law of mine served as a bomber pilot in the battles fought in the South Pacific. Ms. Williams also describes the effort required on the home front to support the war. She includes a short section on the unfortunate Japanese-American internment camps where thousands of men, women, and children were incarcerated in the United States during the conflict. The author writes about the special effort American women provided during the war. Williams’ book includes a timeline of the significant battles and events comprising the Pacific war. Although shorter than the other titles reviewed here, Williams’ book provides the younger reader an easily understood account of the entire war in the Pacific.

Today, December 7, is a good day for middle-grade students to commence or continue their study of World War II. They live in a world created by the results of that mammoth conflict.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

TO HOLIDAY or NOT TO HOLIDAY Does making a holiday book limit its relevance? by Eden Unger Bowditch



In The Ravens of Solemano… there is a grand Christmas event. Well, things go a bit wacky, but it is a celebration of a holiday. That said, this is not a Christmas book so the celebration does not stand out or make the book feel ‘out of season’ if it isn’t read in December. Does creating a book around a holiday make it problematic as a reading choice for other times of the year?

For our family, yes and no. We have always had books that are in the winter holiday box, to be read when everyone is cuddling together over hot cocoa. We have books that live in the costume box with other Halloween things and only come out in October. But there are also wonderful, timeless books that may have a special place during Halloween or the winter holidays, but are a pleasure all year round. Chris Van Allsburg’s The Widow’s Broom is one. It is a story that has special meaning during the holidays, but is meaningful anytime, for readers of all ages.

In winter, we read books that take place



in summer. In summer, we read books that take place during the school year. It seems that we don’t discriminate when it comes to seasons Yet, when we feel compelled to write a book that takes place during a holiday, we may encounter resistance from publishers or agents since sales are holiday dependent. Perhaps consider how that book may retain relevance throughout the year and use that in your pitch. As readers, we can consider the same. While it makes sense to gravitate towards holiday-specific books during those holidays, we should consider a ‘Christmas book’ in August or a ‘Halloween book’ whenever we feel spooky!


I’d love to hear from you about books that you love year-round that might be considered specific to a holiday.

- Eden

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Great Christmas Books for Middle Grade Readers

  Everyone loves a good Christmas read. Here's a short list of some of the best for middle grade readers.

Jingle Night, the second in The Anderson Chronicles, my series of contemporary novels for middle grade readers. Hector Anderson just can't get in the holiday spirit. He's loaded down with homework, and too broke to buy presents for his family or his heart throb, Sandy. Meanwhile, sister Chloe wants to be the angel of death in the holiday play, a role as silent as younger brother Calvin's been since the loss of his hand puppet, Mr. Buttons. Little brother Stevie can only remember four words from the song he must sing at the Little Leapers Preschool Pageant, but he uses his slingshot to spread Christmas cheer, which Hec's perfectionist Father doesn't appreciate. Hec is determined to solve his problems, and while Mom tries to eggnog and carol everyone into the Christmas spirit, he and his best buddy Eddie embark on a madcap plan to solve Hec's Christmas dilemma.




As if reenacting the game of Clue, The Green Glass House takes place in an old inn that's usually quiet at Christmastime. But this year, it fills with a hodge-podge of quirky guests, all of whom seem to be searching for the answer to a different mystery. Twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers' adopted son, turns into the sleuth who must solve them all. This story is part mystery, part folk tale, and part ghost story, with enough twists and turns to keep even the most finicky reader entertained.



The main character in Richard Peck's A Season of Gifts is twelve year old Bob, the son of a preacher and new kid in town, but the heart of this sequel to the Newbery Award winning A Long Way to Chicago and the Newbery Honor book A Year Down Yonder is the eccentric Mrs. Dowdel, an elderly, grumpy, gun-wielding woman who claims to have no interest in neighboring or in church, but has special gifts to share with both her neighbors and their new church.
 Children of Christmas has six stories by the Newbery Honor winning author Cynthia Rylant that are perfect for reading aloud, if you can control your emotions. Like Hans Christian Andersen's Little Match Girl, these poignant stories of lonely and desperate people are are  guaranteed to make you cry, yet her exquisite writing also conveys the special joy of the season, Stories include one of a lonely man who raises Christmas trees, a stray cat who finds shelter, an elderly widower missing his wife, an Appalachian boy who waits each year for a train bringing gifts, and more.

 From Anna, by Jean Little, begins in Germany in 1933. Anna Solden is the youngest and clumsiest in a large family that treats her like the incompetent baby. After they immigrate to America to escape the worsening political scene, the family discovers that Anna can barely see. A new pair of glasses and a special class for the visually impaired helps her blossom into a proficient and confident child. The climax features a Christmas during the depression that might have been dismal had it not been for the pluck and cheerfulness of the family, and at which Anna comes into her own and proves to her family - and herself - that she can do anything she sets her mind to.


How was Christmas celebrated in 13th century England? Nathaniel Marshall, the son of a knight, spends Chrismas at Glastonbury Abbey in my novel On Fledgling Wings. Nathaniel waits to see if the legend that the animals will speak at midnight is true, wonders if the saints looking down on him from the church friezes are watching him, and gets to serve the roast boar at the Christmas day banquet. But all too soon the peace of the season will pass, and Nathaniel will be embroiled in a battle for power at the manor house.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Our #Holiday Shopping Guide: Books for Historical Fiction Lovers

In plenty of time for the holidays, here are some of our group’s fabulous historical novels for middle grade kids – or any age!

The Eyes of Pharaoh, by Chris Eboch: When Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt? Then Reya disappears. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty, and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police. Will Seshta and Horus escape the traps set for them, rescue Reya, and stop the plot against Egypt in time?

The Eyes of Pharaoh, set in Egypt in 1177 BC, brings an ancient world to life. “Mid School students and their teachers will love this fast paced mystery that has so much history and culture hidden in plain sight…. You won’t be able to put the book down until you learn what happens to the three friends.”

The Well of Sacrifice, by Chris Eboch: Eveningstar Macaw lives in a glorious Mayan city in the ninth century. When the king falls ill and dies, the city begins to crumble. An evil high priest, Great Skull Zero, orders the sacrifice of those who might become king, including Eveningstar’s beloved brother. Suspicious of the High Priest’s motives, Eveningstar attempts to save her brother, thus becoming the High Priest’s enemy. Condemned to be thrown into the Well of Sacrifice, Eveningstar must find a way not only to save her own life but to rescue her family and her city from the tyrannical grasp of Great Skull Zero.

“[An] engrossing first novel….Eboch crafts an exciting narrative with a richly textured depiction of ancient Mayan society….The novel shines not only for a faithful recreation of an unfamiliar, ancient world, but also for the introduction of a brave, likable and determined heroine.” - Kirkus Reviews

The Genie’s Gift, by Chris Eboch: Shy and timid Anise determines to find the Genie Shakayak and claim the Gift of Sweet Speech. But the way is barred by a series of challenges, both ordinary and magical. How will Anise get past a vicious she-ghoul, a sorceress who turns people to stone, and mysterious sea monsters, when she can’t even speak in front of strangers?

The Genie’s Gift is a lighthearted action novel set in the fifteenth-century Middle East, drawing on the mythology of The Arabian Nights.


After the Ashes, by Sara K Joiner: Katrien lives on Java in the Dutch East Indies in 1883. She is determined to prove Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Unfortunately, nothing causes her Aunt Greet more angst than Katrien crawling around the muddy jungle collecting bugs in the name of science―and in the company of a native boy, no less! If only Katrien would take an interest in running a household and making friends with other girls. But Katrien has no interest in changing, especially if it means socializing with the likes of mean Brigitta Burkhart.

Then, one stifling afternoon, Katrien’s world turns upside-down when the nearby volcano Krakatau erupts with a terrifying blast. For days, a deathly ash rains down on the Javan coast. Amidst the chaos, Katrien knows her only hope of survival is to flee the jungle with the one person she vowed she’d never befriend.

Learn more at Sara K Joiner‘s website or Amazon.

Bull Rider, by Suzanne Morgan Williams: Cam O’Mara, grandson and younger brother of bull-riding champions, is not interested in partaking in the family sport. Cam is a skateboarder, and perfecting his tricks—frontside flips, 360s—means everything until his older brother, Ben, comes home from Iraq, paralyzed from a brain injury. What would make a skateboarder take a different kind of ride? And what would get him on a monstrosity of a bull named Ugly? If Cam can stay on for the requisite eight seconds, could the $15,000 prize bring hope and a future for his big brother?

Bull Rider, set during the Iraq War, is a Junior Library Guild Selection, is on state award lists in Texas, Nevada, Missouri, Wyoming, and Indiana, and won a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City. 

Suzanne’s nonfiction titles include Pinatas and Smiling Skeleton. The Inuit, Made in China, and China’s Daughters. Visit her website or Amazon page.

The Amethyst Road, by Louise Spiegler: In a society similar to ours in some ways and very different in others, 16-year-old Serena and her older sister, Willow, struggle to get by in a tough, crime-infested urban neighborhood. By birth they are half Yulang, half Gorgio, but are accepted by neither race. The sisters get no help from the Yulang, because Willow’s child was born out of wedlock and the family has been declared outcast. The Gorgios are even worse, trying to take the child away. A run-in with social services launches Serena on a journey that is at once an escape and a quest to reunite her family.

With the help of a boy named Shem, who is on a quest of his own, Serena travels deep into the mountains, where precious gems are mined, and across barren plains, where white-clad Trident Riders are terrorizing anyone who is not Gorgio. Along the way, Serena finds the answers she seeks—and some she didn’t even know she was looking for.

The Amethyst Road, a fantasy set in an alternative Pacific Northwest, was a Junior Library Book selection, a New York Library Book for the Teen Age and a finalist for the Andre Norton Award (Hugo-Nebula Award Scheme) among other honors.

The Jewel and the Key, by Louise Spiegler: An earthquake and the discovery of a mysterious antique mirror unleash forces that jolt sixteen-year-old Addie McNeal back to 1917 Seattle, just as the United States is entering World War I. Addie finds herself shuttling back and forth between past and present, drawn in both times to the grand Jewel Theater. In both decades the existence of the Jewel is threatened and war is looming … and someone she cares about is determined to fight.

Eventually, Addie realizes that only she has the key to saving the Jewel—and the lives of her friends. But will she figure out how to manipulate the intricately woven threads of time and truly set things right?

To learn more about Louise Spiegler and to see examples of class-plans to accompany the books, visit her website. You can also find the books on her Amazon page.

The Young Inventors Guild series, by Eden Unger Bowditch: The Atomic Weight of Secrets is set in 1903. Five truly brilliant young inventors, the children of the world’s most important scientists, went about their lives and their work as they always had.

But all that changed the day the men in black arrived.

An amazing story about the wonders of science and the still greater wonders of friendship, The Atomic Weight of Secrets or the Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black, the first book of theYoung Inventors Guild trilogy, is a truly original novel. Young readers will forever treasure Eden Unger Bowditch’s funny, inventive, poignant, and wonderfully fun fiction debut.

The Ravens of Solemano: It has been mere days since the brilliant children of the Young Inventors Guild slipped through the fingers of the horrible Komar Romak. They have escaped with their lovely and caring schoolteacher, Miss Brett; with their long-absent parents; and with their bizarre captors, or protectors, or both – the Mysterious Men in Black. Now they are traveling by train, destined for parts unknown.

But a note in the hands of a dead man in a New York tunnel guarantees that safety is but an illusion. When the children’s world is blown open, life will never be the same again.

From the rolling plains of America to the wide-open waters of the Atlantic, through the Strait of Gibraltar to the remarkable village in the hills of Abruzzo, Italy, The Ravens of Solemano or The Order of the Mysterious Men in Black, is an adventure like no other.



On Fledgling Wings, by Jennifer Bohnhoff: Nathaniel Marshal is a bully with a short temper and an empty place in his heart left by the mother who disappeared when he was a baby. The spoiled boy can’t wait to leave boring Staywell and begin training so he can become a knight like his father, the cold and distant Sir Amren. But when he arrives at Farleigh, he finds himself in a place of death and danger.

Set in the period of Richard the Lionheart, this is a coming of age story about a boy who must confront issues that many modern boys will recognize: the need to control one’s temper and destiny, the quest for acceptance, the desire for fitting in, and the awakening of love.

The Bent Reed: A novel about Gettysburg, by Jennifer Bohnhoff: It’s June of 1863 and Sarah McCoombs feels isolated and uncomfortable when her mother pulls her from school and allows a doctor to treat her scoliosis with a cumbersome body cast. She thinks life can't get much worse, but she's wrong.

Physically and socially awkward, 15-year-old Sarah thinks her life is crumbling. She worries about her brother Micah and neighbor Martin, both serving in the Union Army.  She frets over rumors that rebel forces are approaching the nearby town of Gettysburg. When the McCoombs farm becomes a battle field and then a hospital, Sarah must reach deep inside herself to find the strength to cope as she nurses wounded soldiers from both sides.  Can she find even more courage to continue to follow her dreams despite her physical disabilities and her disapproving mother?

Code: Elephants on the Moon, by Jennifer Bohnhoff: “And now some special messages,” the radio announcer said.  “The siren has bleached hair.  Electricity dates from the twentieth century.  The moon is full of elephants.”

Elephants on the moon doesn’t make any sense to Eponine Lambaol.  Little has made sense since General Petain, the leader of the French government, allowed the German army to occupy half of  France in the spring of 1940. After her father is conscripted to work on German fortifications, Eponine's mother moves to Amblie, a small town near the coast of Normandy.  They are the only Bretons, and most of the natives seem to hate them even more than they hate the Germans.  After Sarah, a Jewish classmate, disappears under mysterious circumstances, Rene, the charming and handsome son of the mayor, becomes the only remaining villager who treats Eponine well. He's hard to resist, but is he any safer than the disfigured German sergeant who tries to befriend her?

As rumors of an allied invasion swirl around her, Eponine begins to understand that nothing and no one is what it seems, and that the phrase ‘The moon is full of elephants’ makes more sense and is fraught with more danger than she could have ever believed possible.

Learn more at Jennifer’s website or her Amazon page.

The Iron Horse Chronicles, by Robert Lee Murphy: Eagle Talons, Book One, follows the adventures of Will Braddock, a fourteen-year-old orphan, who sets out in 1867 on a quest to determine his own destiny and winds up being involved in the building of the first transcontinental railroad. Will must prove to his newfound fictional friends, as well as numerous historical personages, that he possesses the gumption to make his own way in the dangerous West. He learns after many hard knocks that he must rely upon himself to achieve his goal. 

Bear Claws, Book Two, takes Will across Wyoming, through Utah and Nevada, and on into the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Will Braddock continues as a hunter for his uncle’s survey team as the transcontinental railroad crosses Wyoming in 1868. But Paddy O’Hannigan’s vendetta grows more sinister, and Will is forced to use all his skills to save Ulysses S. Grant when Paddy attempts to blow up the presidential candidate’s train.

Golden Spike concludes the trilogy. The driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in Utah on May 10, 1869, almost didn’t happen. None of the history books mention this crucial event. Only five people were aware of the incident. Will Braddock knew. He was one of those five. It all started when Paddy O’Hannigan attacked Will; his uncle, Sean Corcoran; and Homer Garcon, in Echo City, Utah, four months earlier. When Will chases after Paddy, the Irish thug traps Will into a bigger mess. 

To learn more about Robert, visit his website. See Robert’s books on Amazon or B&N.