Friday, October 12, 2018

Lest We Forget, by Elizabeth W.C. Junner. All photographs of the fields, Ruth E. Millan

courtesy R.E. Millan

 ‘On the breast of that huge Mississippi of falsehood called History, a foam bell more or less is no consequence’. Such is the Victorian poet, critic, and inspector of schools, Matthew Arnold’s opinion of history. British schoolboy lore is more pungent: ‘History is bunk’. Nevertheless, the grains of truth are always there somewhere, and diligent historians spare no pains in attempting to unearth them.

November 11th 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that brought the Great War to an end. The question of what triggered the First World War, ‘the War to End All Wars’, is still a matter of debate among historians. The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, on 28th June 1914 by Serbian terrorists is generally ascribed as being the last straw which provoked hostilities. Under the London Treaty of 1839, Britain was honour bound to protect neutral, recently independent Belgium. So when Germany, in direct violation of the treaty,  invaded Belgium in August, 1914, Britain declared war on 4th August. The German Chancellor of the time, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, told the British Ambassador he could not believe the two countries would go to war ‘over a scrap of paper’. It is worth noting in her biography of  Princess Victoria, An Uncommon Woman, Hannah Pakula includes a photograph of the future Wilhelm ll ‘Kaiser Bill’ in Highland dress, on which he has scrawled ‘I bide my time.’ 
There are many fiction books on the Great War for Middle Graders. One is Ernest K. Gann’s In The Company of Eagles. It features the French pilot Paul Chamay and his quest to find and shoot down Kupper, the German pilot who had ruthlessly killed Raymonde, his lifelong friend, after crippling his plane. In the end, Chamay encounters Kupper in a  long drawn out dogfight between just the two of them. Kupper outwits Chamay, ending close on his tail – and does not fire. His guns have jammed. Now Kupper is at Chamay’s mercy. Poised to kill, Chamay recalls someone saying to take revenge leads to madness. Instead, he pulls alongside Kupper, looks him in the eye, salutes and flies off.  It’s somewhat difficult to read, but an interesting book telling the story from the French and German viewpoint.

Murder on the Ridge, by Ted Stenhouse, is the story of Will and his

Blackfoot Indian friend, Arthur. It is a tale of murder and treachery, a cover-up  of what really happened at Vimy Ridge to Wolfleg, the Blackfoot medico. Afterwards on their return to Canada, burning for justice for Wolfleg, the lads seek the help of Arthur's grandfather, a traditional Blackfoot medicine man. We follow their tortuous experiences in the sweat lodge, and how they finally come to a sort of peace. It's a book that probably would not see print today, both Arthur and Will having recourse to the whisky bottle, yet it is another viewpoint on the bloody slaughterhouse that was Vimy, told from the Indian side.

Charlie Wilcox’sWar is based on a Newfoundland lad’s experiences in the war. Newfoundland only joined Canada in 1949; as a British protectorate she sent an enormous number of her men to fight in the war, and in consequence suffered horrendous losses. The emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment was a caribou, and a great bronze caribou is the heart of the Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont-Hamel in France. A grandchild has my copy of the book, but if memory serves me right Charlie survived the war, returns to complete his studies as a medical doctor at McGill University in MontrĂ©al, and marries his hometown sweetheart. Thousands of his compatriots lie in unknown graves, with this Memorial as a lasting tribute to their courage and determination.
Not Flanders Field, but McCrae's 'we are the Dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow. Loved and were loved, and now we lie...' is appropriate. 

Sign reminding visitors this is sacred ground, and requesting them to respect it as such.

Although Beaumont-Hamel is primarily a Canadian Memorial, there is also a Memorial and Cemetery for Scottish Regiments. The ground has been left untouched and visitors can walk through a trench. In this late summer of 2018 the grass is green and the ground dry, a sharp contrast to so much of the Great War when memories were mainly of cold, rain, and mud. Especially mud.

It is a sobering experience, one hundred years later. All those crosses  and headstones, all those lives lost. I'm sure no-one can visit these battlefields without reflecting on the many hundreds who have no grave to mark where they lie. We should never forget the sacrifice.

My final choice of books is War Horse, by Michael Morpurgo. Told by Joey, a beautiful red bay, with a remarkable white cross on his forehead, this story is based on truth. Befriended by Albert, the farmer’s son, Joey was sold to the Army to pay off debts. Albert joined up to be with Joey but inevitably the two were separated. Joey was used to haul field ambulances; this book does not spare the reader from the senseless slaughter, the courage of the men and horses, the stupidity of their orders but it does so in a masterful way. It is fast paced, and easy to read. Joey ends up in German hands, and then in one of those little miracles he makes his way alone into no-man’s-land where he is found – simultaneously - by a German and a Welshman. The men chat for a few minutes about the futility of war, and agree to toss for Joey. The Welshman won, took Joey back to his regiment – and there also was Albert. The story proceeds with more ups and downs for Joey to a satisfying conclusion.
And here are my final photographs, a sculpture of a soldier comforting his wounded horse. My niece Ruth happened to visit this site at the same time as a group from London came to lay a wreath in memory of a London regiment and one man's grandfather who was killed 100 years to the day. They held a prayer service, a most moving and special moment.
'Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget - lest we forget!' Kipling. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Get kids ready for #Halloween with #ghost stories that share #history!

Some children find it difficult to connect to history. How about trying a ghost story? Some ghost stories are also set in historical times, while others feature a modern child connecting to a ghost. While these books may or may not be strongly rooted in history, they can be a way to get kids interested in stories from the past.

For example, in my Haunted series, thirteen-year-old Jon and his eleven-year-old sister, Tania, are typical modern kids – except for the fact that Tania can communicate with ghosts. 

In The Ghost on the Stairs, the kids help investigate a hundred-year-old tragedy in Colorado silver mining country. The Riverboat Phantom puts them on the Mississippi River on an antique riverboat. For The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, Jon and Tania travel to the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, where the ghost of an old miner is still looking for his lost mine. 

In this series, the ghosts are being held in this world by something that happened in the past. In order to help free the ghosts, Jon and Tania must understand that past.

“Haunted is a fun read with some thrills and chills and has the added bonus of some genuine, compassionate personalities.” - School Library Journal

“I LOVED this book. My daughter who is 11 could not put this book down. She read it so quickly and is asking for more!”

“My 10 year old daughter HATES to read. These books kept her interested and wanting to read more. I downloaded all 4 in this series. THANK YOU!!”

“What I loved most of all, was the way my 4th grade daughter got sucked into the story. She's a reluctant reader so it was a joy to see her completely absorbed in a book; she immediately started the second book in the series when she finished, and can't wait for more.” – Amazon readers

Get all four books in the series from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or other retailers.


Thirteen-year-old Jon and his eleven-year-old sister, Tania, are typical kids – except for the fact that Tania can communicate with ghosts. Their mom and stepdad are producers of a ghost-hunter reality television show, but they don’t know about Tania’s gift, and Tania wants to keep it that way.

Jon can't see ghosts and didn't believe in them, but things are getting too crazy for any other explanation. And if softhearted Tania wants to help the ghosts, Jon will have to protect her and try to keep them both out of trouble.

First the siblings have to find out what happened to keep each ghost trapped in this world. Then they need to help the ghosts move on—sometimes by letting them take over Tania’s body. All this while dealing with their overprotective mother, a stepfather who’d want to exploit Tania’s gift, and a changing assortment of human troublemakers.

Life gets interesting when your sister sees ghosts. And the TV show’s shooting season is just beginning....

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.

Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Past, The People, and Politics

I remember when I believed the world would be divided into the countries behind the Iron Curtain - under the influence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - and the Western World forever. Then journalists coined the terms "Third World" and "Developing World" for those countries not caught up in the Cold War. Many of these had been subjected to European and U.S. colonialism and had yet to gain their independence.

I remember when the map of Africa included French West Africa which was a vast expanse on that map, the Belgian Congo, German East Africa, and the United Kingdom held colonies of Rhodesia, South Africa, Kenya etc. As children, we not only learned the names of these countries but who "owned" them.  Education like that effects children's view of the world. We were taught to own countries, to divide the world, and, in fact, that some people were more deserving of freedom and independence than others. Our text books supported this.

But literature did not. Read Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, as I did in ninth grade and your view shifts. Read The Family Romanov, a nonfiction narrative by Candice Fleming and you will understand more of how the Soviet Union came into being. Read The Soong Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave and you'll get a peek at modern Chinese history and the government it led to. Literature takes up topics that text books do not. Which is our mandate as authors: to write the stories that are buried or forgotten - sometimes for specific political or national reasons.

Today, with education standards being focused on skills - reading, math, technology, and perhaps science - the past is often left out of curriculum. So is foreign language. Cultural information may be limited to celebrations of food or certain days. Authors, artists, dancers, and musicians are more important than ever. Our work shines a light on our commonality as people. It exposes the human spirit. It can speak truth in the guise of art. This is why art is  often discouraged in totalitarian regimes. It's why street art may upset the mainstream culture. It's why I continue to write.

Because people create change. The Iron Curtain fell. Africa now has fifty-four independent nations. China is one of the most powerful countries in the world. Look to art and literature for the changes that are coming. Politicians and autocrats may hold power, but artists create the culture. We see the future and it always belongs to the people.

I am optomistic. I've been blessed to meet, laugh with and learn from people from around the world. I have traveled across the U.S. and Canada speaking at schools and conferences. There are so many stories to be told - and they aren't the "official" ones. They are the ones with heart, the stories of freedom and hard decisions and small daily  heroic acts. We owe it to our children to write, read, and study Middle Grade History.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Sara K Joiner: Review of "The Warden's Daughter"

The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli tells the story of Cammie O'Reilly, the titular daughter of the warden. She lives in an apartment above a prison in Pennsylvania in 1959. While she has a good life and enjoys a certain notoriety as the warden's daughter, she has one goal for the summer--to find a new mother.

Her own mother died in an act of sacrifice that saved Cammie when she was only a baby but resulted in her mother being struck and killed by a truck. Cammie knows the story, but she is haunted by it. She refuses to ride her bike near the intersection where the accident happened, which she dubs The Corner.

To find a new mother, Cammie focuses on some of the women in the prison--in particular their trustee housekeeper Eloda, and Boo Boo, a shoplifter. Ultimately, Cammie wants someone to mother her; she's not truly looking for her father to marry this person. She wants to feel the unconditional love from someone that she knows her real mother felt for her. But she doesn't remember what that feeling is like.

Now that Cammie is twelve going on thirteen, life is becoming increasingly difficult. Her best friend is trying out lipstick and hoping to be on American Bandstand. Other girls in the neighborhood want to hang out in the prison yard (without the prisoners) and exploit their relationship with Cammie. The boys she plays pick-up baseball games with have found her ruthless way of playing too much to handle and kick her off the field.

Cammie is an angry child, and she's not always pleasant to be around. Even she knows she's unhappy. Losing a parent is never easy, and Cammie's loss is amplified by losing hers in such a manner. How can you ever come to terms with the death of someone who is, by her last act, a hero?

She turns that anger outward and tries to generate feelings from Eloda by picking fights with her. She smokes a cigarette in front of her. She calls her the maid. Nothing seems to work.

It's not until Cammie reaches her own psychological breaking point and begins to heal that she fully understands her relationship with Eloda.

While I found the ending a bit rushed, everything up to that point was a delight. Cammie is an angry girl, but books with characters like her--simmering with barely controlled hostility to anyone--is such a rarity in books for young readers that she was a breath of fresh air. Especially since she was a girl.

Having lost a parent when I was a child (not as young as Cammie), I understood that hurt and that anger and that desire to lash out at anyone who seemed like their life was so much better than yours. Hindsight gives us all regrets, and Cammie has her own by the end of the book. She grows and matures and finds a well of strength inside herself that helps her come to terms with her mother's death.

The ending only feels a bit rushed because we've spent so much time with Cammie in her everyday life in the summer of 1959 that jumping forward a couple years is a bit disconcerting.

So much rage is in a story that seems almost old-fashioned. Cammie rides her bike around a picturesque American town. She befriends a number of interesting and quirky characters. But underneath all that old-fashioned charm is a deeply unhappy female protagonist who is utterly real and human.

I highly recommend The Warden's Daughter.

Sara K Joiner is the author of After the Ashes. She is also a public librarian.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Indonesia: Researching Elusive Subjects

When researching, my first stop is the local library, my second is WorldCat, and my third is the Internet. For this blog, I wanted to gather a list of middle-grade Indonesian historical fiction, but discovered right away that the topic is thin at best. Fortunately, I didn't have to look far to find my first book. 

Check Your Backyard

I already knew of After the Ashes by our own Sara K. Joiner on this blog--which just goes to show that sometimes you don’t need to go over the rainbow to find what you are looking for. After the Ashes is set on Java during the eruption of Krakatau in 1883. 

Next Stop? The library, of course!

My library turned up a handful of educational nonfiction on Indonesia and one middle-grade historical fiction: Judy: Prisoner of War by Laurie Calkhoven, which is set in Southeast Asia prior to and during WWII. This is part of the G.I. Dogs series--history through the eyes of a canine protagonist seems to be a trend. I found this under "Indonesia-History" in the subject search. And that was it. Although there were young adult, middle-grade, and elementary titles in the subject area, there were no more middle-grade historical fiction.

It was time to turn to the world's largest catalog of holdings Worldcat lists over 2 billion items from thousands of libraries around the world. You can narrow your search by language and type: fiction/nonfiction, juvenile, etc. The items are not directly available from WorldCat, but there is a list of where to obtain them. I'm a huge fan of inter-library loan. You can also buy some items from listed vendors.  

One problem with WorldCat is that it lists items but does not vet them. Some titles looked intriguing, but when I searched for reviews, I discovered that they might not be well written or not appropriate for middle-grade. A couple looked intriguing, but reviews noted that they were extremely sad or violent. I don't shy away from such books, but I want to leave that to your discretion. Checking Goodreads for reviews may help you decide. Goodreads, by the way, is another resource for finding books by subject and age.

Another problem with Worldcat is that items published in other countries might be hard to obtain. Here are two that looked good, but you probably need to buy them used:  A Garland of Emeralds, by Laverne Boulgne Van Ryk is a WWII Dutch family experience, which might also be for older teens.Tiger Stone: by Deryn Mansell had good reviews, but was criticized for book-ending the ancient story with modern scenes. 

The Internet

The Internet is a vast and often confusing ocean, but I found some book lists that were helpful such as Children's Books from Southeast Asia

The outstanding title I found here ( and then located in my local library as an e-book--but which was not listed under the subject Indonesia!)  is My Night in the Museum, written and illustrated by Innosanto Nagara. Nagara relates a memoir through the eyes of his 7-year-old self. 

"A beautiful introduction to the history and culture of Indonesia, . . . an engaging, thought-provoking starting point for a discussion of colonialism, political corruption, and artistic resistance."

A Few MoreTips

I found that "Indonesia" as a search subject was far too broad. Indonesia is the 4th most populated country in the world, with over 700 living languages, and is composed of 17,500 islands (although not all of these are inhabited). To narrow the search, I used specific islands, such as Java, Sumatra, and Bali.

Another tip is to search by specific event: volcanic eruption, Krakatau (or Krakatoa"), Tsunami--Indonesia or Tsunami--Indian Ocean.


Research is a skill to hone, but sometimes serendipity turns up a jewel. I came across The Bee Tree while researching Cinco Puntos Press. It isn't strictly a historical fiction, but I think it will be. It certainly offers a lovely glimpse into a slice of Indonesia.

Not about Indonesia, but a fun high-
 seas adventure set in the time of
Dutch colonialism.
I first began to research Indonesia for an educational nonfiction I wrote. I was woefully ignorant about this part of the world, but in some ways, I can see why. There just isn't a good body of work available for English speaking children--or perhaps I need to keep looking for it. I'm sure there must be books that can be translated. Perhaps publishers need to acquire foreign rights to books already published to make them more accessible. In the meantime. I hope this list will aid you in opening this part of the world to your middle-grade readers.

This looks lovely. I'm going to put in an
 inter-library loan!

Michele Hathaway is an author and freelance editor. She has an M. A. in Social Anthropology and has worked in libraries in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She writes middle-grade nonfiction and stories set in culturally diverse, historical periods.

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Back to School: Historical Fiction Resources for the Classroom

The end of summer is looming – depending on where you live, school may have already started. If you'd like to find some new historical fiction resources for your classroom or home school use, check out these sources.

Confessions of a Teaching Junkie has some great resources in her Hooray for Historical Fiction! post. She lists books on the Civil War, Immigration to the US, World War II, and the 1960s/Civil Rights. She also provides guidelines on using Mentor texts and classroom activities.

Scholastic has a post by Tarry Lindquist on Why and How I Teach With Historical Fiction: Why one teacher uses historical fiction in the classroom, tips for choosing good historical fiction, and strategies for helping students differentiate between fact and fiction.

Student cartoons illustrating scenes from The Well of Sacrifice.
The Curriculum Corner website seems unavailable as of this writing, but you might check to see if it comes back online. It offered a download of Historical Fiction Resources. Some of these sound really interesting, with lessons on Comparing Fact and Fiction, Visualizing the Time Period, comparing books, comparing the past to today, and thinking about how characters in the story might present themselves in modern social media. The package also offers journal response pages, a comic strip template, book club celebration ideas, and much more.

Share My Lesson has thousands of items under the Historical Fiction heading, including general lessons for reading/understanding/writing historical fiction, and lesson plans for specific books. You can find my lesson plans for The Well of Sacrifice (pre-Columbian Mayan times), The Eyes of Pharaoh, and The Genie's Gift here as well. As a bonus, all of the lessons here are free!

Teachers Pay Teachers offers a variety of lesson plans when searching for historical fiction. Prices vary from free to over $20. A teacher has provided an extensive, chapter by chapter guide to my novel, The Well of Sacrifice, for $14, or you can get lesson plans I've provided for free. The site also has, for free, A CCSS-Aligned Guide for The Eyes of Pharaoh, my middle grade novel set in ancient Egypt, and a Teaching Guide for The Genie's Gift, a middle grade historical fantasy set in the time of the Ottoman Empire.

Teacher Vision has over 150 items tagged as Historical Fiction, including many book discussion guides.

If you are interested in getting classroom sets of The Eyes of Pharaoh or The Genie's Gift at a discount, contact the publisher, Spellbound River Press, or order direct through Ingram.

Chris Eboch is the author of over 50 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

FAMILIES IN STORIES: by Mary Louise Sanchez

My soon to debut book, The Wind Called My Name,
is based on my mother's life growing up in a small southern Wyoming town during the Great Depression. Her Hispanic family plays a big part in the story.  Below is a picture of the real Margarita Sandoval with her brother, Ernesto.
When I was writing the Author's Note, I often thought I should include a genealogy chart because my two maternal great-grandmothers are in the story, as well as my maternal grandparents, and some of my mother's siblings.

The family in my story is intact, but that was the case for many families during the Great Depression era, even though the fathers were sometimes away working.  In my story, the father and eldest son are working for the Union Pacific Railroad in Wyoming, while the remainder of the family is in New Mexico.
After a year, they are reunited in Wyoming, but do not have their large extended family nearby, and now they must rely only on each other to be strong in the face of adversity.

So many children's books today show a picture where children deal with divorce and even abandonment, but I want readers to see a strong family unit and how it deals with injustices of the time. Hopefully readers will come away with a sense of what family meant to the Sandovals.

Here are some middle grade historical fiction books that exemplify the kind of family unit you will read about in my novel, The Wind Called My Name. The release date is September 18, 2018 which happens to be the birthday of my maternal grandmother, Josefita (Maes) Sandoval.