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. 

Monday, July 23, 2018


(Before the post...Today is my father’s birthday. Dan Unger was a remarkable man and always a champion of his children. He was a lover of traveling and inspired us all to seek new horizons and expand our worlds. I miss him so. Cheers on your birthday, Dad!)

Goosebumps about going out on book events in your neighbourhood? What about traveling across the globe? While planning any book tour can be daunting, the idea of planning to travel abroad to support your books might seem over the top. And it is. Especially if you are doing it all yourself. But, believe me, it is something you can do and it can be a wonderful adventure!

Here are some helpful ideas I can share. Hopefully, this will inspire you to travel, see the world, and get to talk about your books in strange and wonderful lands.

Traveling abroad for MG book events is best done during the school year. I have had the reverse problem. Having lived in Egypt for eleven year, I never was able to visit classes in the US during the school year. This was a bummer because book events in the summer might be nice (bookshops and libraries and book fairs) but school visits are really important. SKYPE visits are fine, but do not offer the same thing as being up close and in person. Summers are when kids are away. Bookshops and libraries have events, but they are not as successful as events planned during the school year.

There are international schools all over the world. My kids went to Cairo American College (CAC), which is a fabulous school with a visiting author budget. And Egypt is a great place to visit!  I was invited to speak at several other international schools in Cairo and had a blast! Egypt not on your list? How about Jarkarta? Bangladesh? New Delhi? All have great international schools! And even places like Borneo have schools that welcome visiting authors! One of my favorite a wonderful trips was a visit to BRG XIV in Vienna! Look at a globe or read some travel magazines and consider a few places you'd like to visit. Then look at the schools.

Most of the larger international schools have significant budgets for visiting authors and book events. Once you have decided on a few places that would be fun to visit, look at the international schools. Many will have information about visiting authors on their websites. If you cannot find this information, look up librarians and events directors. These are usually the people who will invite authors and have the budgets. Sometimes you will find that there are more than one international school not far from one another. Sometimes, these schools will pool resources.  You may find that you can get more than one visit out of the journey. Be sure to ask about travel expenses, accommodations, and per diem. Some places offer to house authors with host families. Some offer hotel rooms. Be sure everything is set to get you to the school. Also, ask to see the schedule! I once agreed to do a visit that included NO BREAKS, from 8am-4pm! Make sure you get lunch and offer to eat with the book club or enthusiastic readers.

Once you have secured your visit, be sure to investigate local sites and places to visit while you are there. As noted above, visiting author packages should include airfare and accommodations, as well as per diem, but every school is different. You can ask to have a free day after or during the visit. Often, a tour of the city is included by schools who know how to be good hosts! It is absolutely OK to ask about getting a tour or having students show you around.

This is a great way to get invitations to other schools! A great visit gets noted and shared among librarians and teachers. Often, over the years, staff and administrators will stay in the international circuit, from school to school, country to country. Kids, too! Be sure to give your contact information to the kids at the schools you visit. You may find book reports from strange countries by kids who have moved! Building contacts is a very good thing!

 All good wishes,
Eden Unger Bowditch

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Independence Month

Independence Month? There is no such month; however, July might very well qualify if one were to be designated. Two of the world’s greatest democracies celebrate their independence in July. Citizens of the United States of America celebrate their freedom from the then tyrannical British Crown on July 4—Independence Day. The people of the French Republic celebrate their freedom from their own abusive monarchy on July 14—Bastille Day.

An understanding of the many events leading up to and occurring during the American Revolution is essential for the middle grade student. Dozens of histories have been written on the subject. As I have mentioned in previous blogs on other subjects, I favor the DK Eyewitness Books as the most engaging way to learn about a particular subject. Their book American Revolution accomplishes the requirement admirably. Not only is it well written, it is beautifully illustrated with contemporary artwork and maps, as well as photographs of pertinent artifacts. Stuart Murray, the author, has reworked the text recently to make it more readable by younger persons. 

Reading history might be considered boring to some middle-grade students, so a more thrilling read is a perfectly acceptable way to introduce young people to the importance of the American Revolution. In my opinion, the best novel ever written on this subject is Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. Her historical novel won the 1944 Newbery Medal. I read the book when I was a middle-grade student shortly after it was first published. I have read it several times since. The fourteen-year-old protagonist is a messenger for the Sons of Liberty. As such, he meets John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Dr. Joseph Warren, and many other historical personages who helped shape the events of the American Revolution. If you read only one book out of my recommendations in this blog, make it this one.

In my review of middle-grade literature pertinent to the American Revolution, I came across a fascinating book that makes a usually dull subject more enjoyable. We all know the Declaration of Independence proclaimed the reasons for the colonists’ revolt, but the original document presented on a slab of parchment paper makes for some tough reading. Sam Fink has written and illustrated a delightful book entitled, of all things, The Declaration of Independence. He includes the complete text of the Declaration and cleverly illustrates the meaning of the clauses with wonderful drawings. This visual presentation will make for a better understanding of the sometimes-archaic terminology.

The task of identifying books to recommend for Bastille Day was a little more formidable than for the Fourth of July. The details of the French Revolution are not studied in depth in American schools, but I discovered one volume that particularly appealed to me. The French Revolution: The Fall of the Monarchy by John M. Dunn is one of a series of books about History’s Greatest Defeats. The book is concisely written, acquainting the reader with the key facts and the principal participants. The illustrations and the maps make for a comprehensive, yet compact, presentation.

Middle-grade readers may be more interested in learning about the French Revolution by picking up a good piece of fiction. Although it is usually rated for high school readers, I believe the best historical novel on this subject is Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The brutality of the revolt will appeal to middle-graders who are enamored with the current dystopian literature. Since it might be difficult for younger readers, there are several abridged versions of the novel. One that should satisfy the curious is A Tale of Two Cities: Dimension Classics Abridged Edition (Illustrated), edited by D W Schlueter and illustrated by Liubou Soltan. It has been abridged to read like a novel rather than a study-guide.

I hope everyone in the United States and France in 2018 have had a great Fourth of July and a grand Bastille Day.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Sara K Joiner: Undocumented Immigrants

With the news about families being separated at the border, I thought it might be a good time to read some books about the lives of undocumented people trying to live in the United States. The history of the US is filled with stories of immigrants and refugees finding a new home in this country and making a better life for themselves and their families. The following books are fictional stories about more recent arrivals and the hardships they endure.

Picture Books
Two White Rabbits - Jairo Buitrago
A young girl and her father travel north to the United States for her father to find work.

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant's Tale - Duncan Tonatiuh
Pancho, guided by a coyote, heads to El Norte to find Papa Rabbit, who has not returned home in some time.

Middle Grade
Journey of the Sparrows - Fran Leeper Buss
Maria and her siblings are refugees from El Salvador. After being smuggled into the United States, they try to survive in their new lives in Chicago.

Until I Find Julian - Patricia Reilly Giff
Mateo's brother Julian is living and working in the United States. When the family doesn't hear from him, Mateo decides to journey north to find his brother.

Growing Up Rita - Michael de Guzman
Rita is a natural-born American citizen, but her mother is undocumented from Mexico. When they are separated after an immigration raid, Rita needs to find the courage to reunite with her mother.

Star In the Forest - Laura Resau
Zitlally's father has been deported back to Mexico, and Zitlally is heartbroken. After a finding a stray dog, she believes the only way her father will return is by keeping the dog safe.

The Sky At Our Feet - Nadia Hashimi
Jason's mother is from Afghanistan, but Jason was born in the United States. After he learns she is undocumented, he worries about the threat of deportation his mother faces. When the worst happens, he heads to New York City alone to find his aunt.

Illegal - Bettina Restrepo
Nora is fifteen years old and makes a harrowing cross of the border with her mother to search for her father who has gone missing in Houston.

The Border - Steve Schafer
When their families are murdered in Mexico, four teens flee across the Sonoran Desert into Arizona while being pursued by the gang that killed their loved ones.

Something in Between - Melissa de la Cruz
Filipino immigrant Jasmine expects to get a full scholarship to her dream college. But when her parents tell her that the entire family is in the country illegally, Jasmine's dreams collapse.

Crossing the Wire - Will Hobbs
Victor is a fifteen-year-old boy in central Mexico who is desperate to help his family. He decides to cross the border into Arizona to find work.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Ranging Through Time with Kate Messner's Time Traveling Rescue Dog

Need a stack of books to sustain your 2nd to 4th graders (and up!) on a road trip this summer? Look no further. The Ranger in Time series will eat up the miles. Why someone hasn't written about a time-travelling rescue dog before now is a mystery, but perhaps Ranger was waiting for Kate Messner to show up, and for Kelley McMorris to capture him in her winsome illustrations.

Squirrel Problems

Ranger is the best rescue dog on the planet. He just has one small problem--squirrels! Chasing one of the fluffy-tailed critters during his rescue test cost him his certification. But Ranger doesn't need paperwork to travel through time, find the lost, save lives, or hope for bacon. He returns home from each mission satisfied with a job well done and a small memento, reminders of the people he's met.

Corners of History

Ranger ends up in often overlooked corners of history.  Messner firmly sets her narrative in these corners without overwhelming young readers with facts. For example, Ranger in Time: Danger in Ancient Rome, leads us beneath the Roman Coliseum, with its wild lions, elaborate stage machinery, and tunnel to the Ludus Magnus gladiatorial school.

In Long Road to Freedom we learn about the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 in the United States and it's devastating consequences for escaped slaves, and the abolitionists who tried to help them. Journey Through Ash and Smoke takes us to 934 A.D. and Viking Iceland where, rather than raiding, we see Viking families settling in a new land--a land of unexpected volcanic eruptions.

Inquiring minds can find many more fascinating facts in the end notes of all the books as well as personal photos from Messner's travels and her first hand observations.

Shadow and Light

History is a messy place full of shadow and light, hard edges and beautiful sunsets. Messner presents readers with fictional protagonists in true stories that include the shadows, but are still accessible to young readers.

For example, Race to the South Pole follows the fictional Jack Nin, a boy of Chinese and Maori descent from New Zealand who stows away on the fateful Scott Expedition to the South Pole. Although a few men survived the expedition, most did not, as well as all the ponies and some sled dogs. Hard truths well told.

Tid Bits:

It's the small concrete details that win me over in any story. Here's one from the Oregon Trail:

"The Fergusons had something called a roadometer attached to their wagon. It used cogs and gears to record the number of times the wagon wheels went around, and then turned that number to miles."

Who knew?!

"Imagine saying good-bye to your house, almost all of your friends and extended family, and most of your possessions. Imagine leaving everything you know to begin a long, long journey to a new home in a place you've never seen." --Ranger in Time: Rescue on the Oregon Trail 

The theme of home runs through the series. Each child Ranger encounters in his time travels is on a journey toward home in some way, whether they are pioneer children, Roman or American slaves, or a viking daughter. Jack Nin journeys to the South Pole looking for adventure and glory only to discover home is the only place he wants to be.

"Ranger stood in the mud and looked up, too. It felt like something should happen. He'd rescued Pa. Would Luke come and take him home now? But when he heard the words 'Good job,' it was Sam's voice--not Luke's."

Home is a theme for Ranger, too. After a job well done of finding and rescuing, Ranger longs to return home to his boy, Luke. Eventually, he does, of course. Yet, each time the call for help comes Ranger answers without hesitation.

Eight Books and Counting!

The Ranger in Time series is eight books strong and counting. The series covers these topics:

1. Oregon Trail, 1850
2. Ancient Rome: Gladiators
3.The Underground Railroad
4. The Scot South Pole Expedition
5. Vikings in Iceland
6. San Francisco Earthquake
7. D-day
8. Hurricane Katrina
9. The Titanic (forthcoming Jan. 2019!)

Ranger in Time has appeal for both boys and girls. I highly recommend them for reluctant readers and agree with others that they are a next step for anyone who has devoured The Magic Tree House series.

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, June 28, 2018

What is MG Historical Fiction?

When people ask me what I write, most of the time I say middle grade historical fiction. Because that’s an answer not everyone understands, and it’s not completely true, I thought I’d explain it further.

Middle-grade (MG) fiction does not mean fiction that has been written for readers that are in middle school. Rather, they are books written for readers who are capable of reading more than simple chapter books, but not yet ready for more adult fare. Generally, these are readers between age 8 and 12. These books are often between 30,000 and 50,000 words long. While fantasy and not historical fiction, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is still considered a Middle-grade novel even though it contains close to 77,000 words. On Fledgling Wings, my novel about a boy who wants to become a knight during the Middle Ages, at under 50,000 words, is closer to the MG average, while Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a slim 25,000 words.

MG fiction usually has little or no profanity, graphic violence, or sexuality. If there is any romance in a Middle-grade novel, it is limited to a crush or a first kiss. That doesn’t mean that MG is all sweetness and light. Look at Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, a novel set in WWII Germany and narrated by death itself, or Fever 1793, Laurie Anderson’s tale about the yellow fever epidemic of 1973 in Philadelphia. When a class of fifth graders read The Bent Reed, my novel set during the battle of Gettysburg, the violence that most disturbed them was the death of the family cow.

Because middle-grade readers like to look ahead at what’s coming in their lives, protagonists in MG books are typically on the upper edge of the age range of their readers. The Eyes of the Pharaoh, Chris Eboch’s mystery set in ancient Egypt features a 13 year old, while Hattie Brooks, the heroine of Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson is 16. Jemmy and Raul, the two protagonists of Valverde, my novel set in New Mexico during the Civil War, are 14 and 13 years old.

Finally, Middle-grade novels tend to end happily. While Crispin, the protagonist in Avi’s MG novel Crispin: the Cross of Lead, becomes an orphan, is falsely accused of murder and theft, and must run away to escape execution, he become a free man in the end. Rodzina, the plucky heroine of Karen Cushman’s book on an orphan girl in the American West, finds a home after a long, arduous, and disheartening search. Eponine, the young French girl in my novel Code: Elephants on the Moon loses her horse, but is able to help with the Allied invasion on D-Day and learn some important secrets from her past.

 So why did I say that it’s not completely true that my novels are historical fiction for Middle-grade readers? I’ve written a few books that don’t quite fit the category. My two books in The Anderson Chronicles: Tweet Sarts and Jingle Night are the right size to be MG books, the protagonist is the right age, and they end on a happy note. However, they are not set in the past and are therefore not historical. And Swan Song, my novel based on Beowulf, is definitely not written for Middle-grade readers. At 75,000 words, it is too long. The two intertwined plots, one set in the modern era and the other in the Neolithic period but both based on a 5th century English saga, makes the book more complex than most young readers could tolerate. More important, the content includes two rapes, several violent deaths, and a primitive ritual to release the fecundity of spring. It is definitely too adult in nature for anyone younger than their upper teens.

So yes, I write Middle-grade historical fiction, but I am not limited to that genre. Nor are my books limited to Middle-grade readers. Many adults
have enjoyed my books, even the ones that are labeled as MG. It’s just another example of how you can’t judge a book by its label.

Jennifer Bohnhoff teaches 7th and 8th grade Language Arts in a rural school in central New Mexico. You can read more about her books on her website by clicking this link.