Thursday, December 6, 2018

Our #Holiday Shopping Guide: #KidLit 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.


The Wind Called My Name, By Mary Louise Sanchez: Some days, ten-year-old Margarita Sandoval feels as if the wind might blow her away. The country has been gripped by the Great Depression, so times are hard everywhere. Then she has to leave her família in New Mexico -- especially her beloved Abuelita -- to move to Fort Steele, Wyoming, where her father has taken a job on the railroad.

When Margarita meets Caroline, she's excited to have a friend her own age in Wyoming. But it often seems like Caroline, like many other people in town, doesn't understand or appreciate the Sandovals' Hispanic heritage. At the same time, the Sandovals discover that Abuelita might lose her home unless they can pay off her tax bill. Can Margarita keep her friend, help her family in New Mexico, and find a place in Fort Steele for good? Learn more at https://marylouisesanchez.com/ or her Amazon page.

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.

More young adult than middle grade, but definitely worth a read – 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 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.

Get ready for Christmas with Jingle Night: A Christmas Story, part of The Anderson Family Chronicles by Jennifer Bohnhoff: Christmas is on its way, and despite Mom's attempts to eggnog and carol everyone into the holiday spirit, no one in the Anderson family is feeling it. Chloe, Hec’s drama queen older sister, won't be happy until she can be the angel of death in the holiday play. Hec’s younger brother Calvin is left speechless when his obnoxious puppet, Mr. Buttons suffers a tragic accident. Stevie can only remember four words from the song he must sing at the Little Leapers Preschool Pageant. And only the perfect tree and the perfect string of lights can lighten Dad's mood. In spite of being loaded down with homework, Hec and his best buddy Eddie embark on a madcap plan to save Christmas. Only a giant white bear stands in the way of his plans to convert the jingle in his pocket into presents under the tree.

You'll also want to pick up Tweet Sarts: A Valentine's Day Story, for next year!

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.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Rest of the Story by Mary Louise Sanchez

         


When I was growing up, our radio dial was always tuned to Paul Harvey. Later he had a program called The Rest of the Story which showed Mr. Harvey was also a great history teacher, because in about three minutes, he told us little known stories about people, events, and things. I'd like to take you behind the scenes to give you a little more insight into The Wind Called My Name. 

 The pages and texts refer to the book and  The ANNOTATIONS are the Rest of the Story along with some pictures. 


TITLE-PAGE ANNOTATION: On the path to publication, my story was originally called Just Plain Maggie. This was a seventeen page, spiral bound story I gave my mom for Christmas in 1996. My brother Patrick drew about four illustrations. Around 2005 I renamed it Margarita's Gift, and later it became The Wind Called My Name.

Page 5 Claudette kicked up a trail of dust as she moved down the dirt roads. Abuela held her gold-colored statue of Mary, the Queen of Heaven, on her lap, but she should have been holding Nuestra Señora de los Dolores—because it seemed like our hearts too were pierced by swords.

ANNOTATION: My great-grandmother, Rufina (Maldonado) Maes brought her statue of Saint Mary to Fort Steele when she moved from New Mexico to Wyoming. It now belongs to my aunt, Phyllis (Sandoval) Aguilar Torres.



Page 12 "This is new," I said. I held my square tortilla up so everyone could see its shape. Papá smiled. "I made tortillas in the shape of Wyoming to welcome you. And square ones taste better than round ones."

ANNOTATION: To this day, my first tortilla of the batch I am making seems to be a square one.








Page 22 "They [torta de huevos] reminded me of how puffed up I was with myself and so sure I'd make a friend quickly."

ANNOTATION: This is a Lenten egg dish, typically eaten on Good Friday. It is made by mixing egg yolks into whipped egg whites with the addition of a small amount of flour. Dollops of this mixture are deep fried and topped with a red chile sauce.



Page 27 I caught a glimpse of myself in a long mirror. My dress, which used to be Felicita's reached just above my knobby knees. My hair looked like Ernesto's with the same bowl cut. 








Page 50 (a letter from Margarita's grandmother, Cruzita Cardenas Sandoval, who stays in New Mexico and is learning English.)



July 15, 1934
Dear Margarita,
          Thanks to God the family is together. I am busy with Blanca. She give me much  milk to make cheese. I sell all my cheese to the artists who paint pictures of our mountains.

ANNOTATION: As a child we visited my great-grandmother in El Carmen, New Mexico where she milked her white goat and gave us warm goat milk to drink. I was turned off from drinking any milk for a long while after that experience. However, now I wish I could get raw goat's milk to make fresh goat cheese like you can find in rural areas of New Mexico. It's delicious!
The artists I'm referring to are artists like Georgia O'Keefe who made northern New Mexico their new home. 


Page  115 She [Miss Shugart-teacher] got up from her desk and walked between the rows. "As you know, after the Civil War, some of those soldiers came right here to Fort Steele, to protect the men who built the railroad. Students, raise your hand if someone in your family fought in the Civil War."

. . . "Phyllis, you had your hand raised," Miss Shugart said. Felícita stood up and said," Our great-grandfather Jose del Carmel Cardenas fought for the Union at the Battle of Valverde."

ANNOTATION: This is one of my ancestor's papers showing he was entitled to a pension from the United States government for his service during the Civil War. The map shows where he fought in New Mexico.





Page 8 . . . and he [Alberto] sang a song called "Beyond the Blue Horizon," which he said he heard on the radio.

ANNOTATION: In my research for songs from the 1930s, I discovered this tune was made popular by Jeanette MacDonald and would have most likely still be played on the radio in 1934. The song also became popular in recent times. I played the song for our granddaughter, Emily, and asked if she had heard it. She hadn't, but I said I was going to put the song in the story in homage to her 2018 graduation from Horizon High School. My editor suggested I cut the reference, but I explained that Alberto might have tried to show how savvy he was with pop culture of the times and could have sung the song to his family. I must have done a good sales pitch to my editor, because the reference to the song stayed in the story! On YouTube, enjoy this 1930 Phil Spitalny version from the Paramont Production of "Monte Carlo". 
Beyond the Blue Horizon



Page 23 Alberto cleared his throat. "At least we have it good in Fort Steele. I read in the paper where some mejicanos from Durango who live in Worland have to pick sugar beets, if they can get work at all. They're trying to send money home like us. But many of them were sent back to Mexico—even some who were born here in the United States—just because there isn't enough work. The townspeople don't want to help them, especially since Wyoming is hurting from this Depression. They think Mexicans should go back where they came from.

            I thought about that girl asking me if I was from Mexico.



ANNOTATION: "The 1930s also saw an unprecedented deportation program that targeted those considered "aliens." This was especially acute in sugar beet communities where in many cases sugar companies and local charity organizations coordinated repatriation to move Mexicans out of depressed areas. The deportation drives disproportionately focused on Mexicans—regardless of citizenship—due to the racialized view of them as "welfare dependent" and the proximity of Mexico."

Merleaux, Sugar and Civilization, p. 248; "Mexico Offers Aid To Its Subjects," Worland Grit, January 6, 1938.



Page 55 He [Mr. Sims] kept driving north until he stopped near a big house made of pink stone. It had three levels of windows that led up to a tower. People were eating under a covered porch.

            Caroline clapped her hands. "This is where the rich Ferris family lives. Everyone calls this the Ferris Mansion."


ANNOTATION: This beautiful Victorian mansion is in Rawlins, Wyoming and was built from sandstone found nearby. When I was in kindergarten, my teacher, Miss Lila Lantz, lived there. There have been some scary stories published about the house. Later it became a bed and breakfast inn.



Page 55 Mr. Sims drove down the street and turned right. "That's the big house," he said, nodding to a building nearby. It stretched from one corner of the street almost all the way to the next corner. 


            "This mansion is bigger. Who lives there?" I asked.

              Caroline laughed. "Prisoners. That's the state prison."

            "It must hold a lot of people."

            "Yep. That's why it's called the big house."

ANNOTATION: The Wyoming state penitentiary is located in Rawlins, Wyoming. As a girl, we often sat on the penitentiary grounds in the summer where the penitentiary band entertained the townspeople. The prisoners must have had lots of time on their hands to practice their instruments! When I was in college, my parents moved to a house about two blocks from the pen. Even though I was born and raised in Rawlins and my uncle, Pete Lucero, was a guard there, I never saw the inside of the old prison until it was turned into a museum after the new penitentiary was built.

Page 97 Back in the kitchen, Mamá read the ingredients on the box [Bisquick]. "This has flour, shortening, salt, baking powder. . . . Yes it has everything we need to make tortillas."

ANNOTATION: Bisquick was invented in 1930 and was still popular in my family in the 1960s when I got married. My mother's cooking advice to me as a new bride was to have a box of Bisquick handy. I also fondly remember how my mother's eldest sister, Ruth (Sandoval) Lucero sometimes made her tortillas from Bisquick.




Now you know some of the rest of the story to THE WIND CALLED MY NAME. I hope you'll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I'd love to see your comments (hopefully positive) on Amazon or Goodreads. Please click the link to see a synopsis of The Wind Called My Name.            

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month , and although I believe Native American literature belongs in every month of the year, an opportunity to highlight it is always welcome.

This is not a comprehensive list, but rather some of the most often cited middle-grade historical fiction with Native American themes and characters.







I must begin with Joseph Bruchac, whose contribution to Native American children's literature is beyond measure. Some favorite historical fiction are: Children of the Long House, Hidden Roots (for upper middle-grade as the subject is genocide), and my personal favorite Code Talkers (A WWII story, which is sometimes listed as YA, but I think is appropriate for for upper middle-grade).










Louise Erdrich is a prolific author in multiple genres and forms. Her Birchbark series has become a staple of Native American historical fiction.

"[In this] story of a young Ojibwa girl, Omakayas, living on an island in Lake Superior around 1847, Louise Erdrich is reversing the narrative perspective used in most children's stories about nineteenth-century Native Americans. Instead of looking out at 'them' as dangers or curiosities, Erdrich, drawing on her family's history, wants to tell about 'us', from the inside. The Birchbark House establishes its own ground, in the vicinity of Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Little House' books." --The New York Times Book Review










How I Became a Ghost, by Tim Tingle is on most lists for 
middle grade Native American historical fiction: "A Choctaw boy tells the story of his tribe's removal from its Mississippi homeland, and how its exodus to the American West led him to become a ghost --one able to help those left behind." Amazon Review. It is followed by Book 2, When a Ghost Talks, Listen.














Michael Dorris's  Morning Girl  is "a tale based on an entry in the diary of Christopher Columbus that tells of a native family living in a vibrant community striving to coexist with the natural world." Amazon. Sees Behind Trees is about a "Native American boy with a special gift to 'see' beyond his poor eyesight journeys with an old warrior to a land of mystery and beauty." Amazon. And Guests is a favorite Thanksgiving story with a wonderful twist of perspective. Dorris is an award winning author for children and adults.











You can find these and many more on lists at these websites:

https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/p/best-books.html
https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/native-american-middle-grade-books/
http://homeschoollifemag.com/blog/2017/11/20/great-books-for-studying-native-american-history-middle-school
https://www.nativerealities.com/collections
http://www.colorincolorado.org/booklist/historical-fiction-american-indian-heritage-grades-6-12
https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lists/teaching-content/native-american-historical-fiction-book-list/
https://www.pragmaticmom.com/2010/06/top-10-native-american-childrens-books-ages-2-16/

Thursday, October 18, 2018

NEW BOOK ON THE HORIZON - by Mary Louise Sanchez


There are so many new middle grade historical fiction novels being published. It just so happens that my book, The Wind Called My Name will be one of them on the horizon. Thank you to Jennifer Bohnhoff for giving her time slot on this blog to promote my book!
I never thought about it until I wrote this post, but the beautiful book cover, illustrated by the Pura Belpre award illustrator Raul Colon, shows my protagonist, Margarita, looking towards the horizon and what might lie ahead of her.

My book's birth is scheduled for October 30, 2018 after we had false labor pains on September 18 and October 16 because of a paper shortage. 
As a writer of historical fiction, I love the research portion of writing a book because you learn so many interesting things. Of course not all the research ends up on the final pages. I thought you might enjoy a peek into my research that did end up on the page.
Near the beginning of the book, the Sandoval family is in the eldest brother's car named Collette (named for movie star Collette Coburn) as they leave their ancestral New Mexico home and head to Wyoming to join Papa. It's 1934 and he and Alberto have been fortunate to find work on the Union Pacific railroad. They've been working for a year now, separated from the family. 
p. 8  " We continued north into Colorado, passing Trinidad, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Denver. the towns' names changed from Spanish to English. Sometimes we talked and sometimes we slept or sang. Alberto tried to teach us a song called "I've Been Working on the Railroad," and he sang one called "Beyond the Blue Horizon," which he said he heard on the radio." 

I remember listening to this song in my youth. Perhaps I heard it on the Lawrence Welk Show. This television show certainly enlarged my musical history knowledge.
 In my research for songs from the 1930s, I discovered this tune was made popular by Jeanette MacDonald and would have most likely still be played on the radio in 1934. The song also became popular in recent times. I played the song for our granddaughter, Emily, and asked if she had heard it since I had recently heard a new arrangement of the song on YouTube. She hadn't heard the song, but I said I was going to put the song in the story in homage to her 2018 graduation from Horizon High School. My editor, Cheryl Klein, suggested I cut the reference, but I explained that Alberto might have tried to show how savvy he was with pop culture of the times and might have sung it to his family. The reference to the song stayed in the story! 
I hope you'll listen to this beautiful new arrangement of the song which I found on YouTube, and also pick up a copy of my book and read it. I'd love to read your comments about my book on Goodreads or Amazon. 

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 Montréal, 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.
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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.